Don’t make any waves!

[Spring 1994]

by Robert Legendre

Dear Jacques,

Dear Luc,

In CV Photo‘s recent editorial (No.26), Marcel Blouin discussed the lack of perceptiveness (and lack of open-mindedness and of culture, I might add) of certain journalists, critics, essayists and thinkers in the analyses they make of art — in general, and that which has come to be called contemporary art, in particular.

It is regarding this latter that we observe these people exhibiting a righteous obsession to demonstrate that the artists lack pragmatism, specifically, in their thought processes and in the works they create: there is a fear of the unknown.

But he careful not to make any waves!

Waves, ripples. Thank God! — at any rate, this is still full of it! These “socio-artis-tic” critics — people of letters and words, it

must be pointed out — have, for time in memoriam, devoted themselves (and fervently!) to the systematic bludgeoning of any who might stand out from the crowd. In the name of good taste, of course (and to come up with copy, too).

You fellows are truly of admirable mettle. Such a stance permits you — without any risk to yourselves — to go crusading in all flamboyancy, wearing a halo of indisputable gallantry (this takes no great effort!) that is sure to preclude any bothersome backlash.

During slack times (when very little is happening that is newsworthy), the issues to be tackled must be carefully chosen if we are to maintain even briefly these rare oases of social harmony.

Comfortably installed in their armchairs, with a portable lap-top computer (top-of-the-line) in the balminess of a renovated condo, they dish us out, once again, that much-needed tutelage by a well-traveled, savvy and informed taxpayer — from One Who Knows and who becomes disquieted, every now and again, by the fashion in which our devoted and respectable leaders are squandering our tax money.

Good conscience dictates that we choose our targets prudently.

The results of these obtuse discourses are to be found everywhere in daily life. One has only to go for a walk through the streets of our cities to fully appreciate the sheer size and dullness of them; or better yet, spend a couple of evenings in front of a TV, channel unimportant. Figures and clever calculations can be used to “prove” anything.

Don’t upset the peace of mind of honest citizens.

Talk to people about just any old thing. Why not rail against certain “social abusers”? This serves as a fine distraction and shields the populace from things distinctly less pleasant to see and hear — but most importantly, from having too many ideas. Would people know what to do with them? Whence this desire to reduce everything to a simple-minded level on the pretext of democracy, accessibility, entertainment and taxes. The quality of the décor of our lives is directly proportional to the economic and social (and therefore political) weight of this connivance as well as this cowardliness.

But don’t make any waves!

A work of art has, for a long time, been the Product — in general — of a single creator. The artist’s individualism, comprehension of things (including him — or herself), culture, training and dominion over the concept that is the motive force driving the creation assures that the work is to a certain extent unique and would be difficult to dissociate from its author. This is why artists are like they are. They make waves. It is in their nature.

In the face of the work, the onlooker/spectator/acolyte must make an effort. That is the way of it. The artist — for his or her part — creates. This is the basic principle of all communication. Nothing is simple! Nothing is easy!

Ought comes but through effort!

This democratic point of view (which certain of our “thinkers” are defending) that would have art be the apotheosis of all that is beautiful, be accessible to all and be measurable in terms of the artist’s ability to “correctly reproduce reality”, reflects a clearly backward – looking and erroneous vision of what art, artists and their works have always been. It also denies any form of human evolution on the level of culture, thought and even technology. Did the average Greek or Roman (these are the traditional Western references for art) “understand” something in the Victory of Samothrace, in the Discobolus or in the Venus de Milo (works that are, we must admit, sure bets)? Really, what is there to understand in these works? Aside from a few bodybuilders, with what “real people” can we identify these bodies?

Don’t make any waves!

All of this is well and fine, but Jacques Dufresne’s remarks and the figures put together by Luc Chartrand1 — ostensibly presented in a Populist and democratic spirit, glorified by a pretension to sound management of public funds — is, say I, purely elitist. To provide a truly complete demonstration, Chartrand should have compared both the incomes of the artists cited in his discussion and the “understanding – return for the masses” of what they produce with the corresponding statistics for MPs and civil servants. To have stated the comparative average incomes of an artist, an MP and a civil servant would also have been very interesting for the elite — and truly enlightening for the masses.

Dufresne is repudiating thirty-five years of profound changes in a society that has succeeded in emerging from a past that has always been determined by its elite. His position forbids this society the right to look at (evaluate) the work it has done on itself and on its citizens. It forbids this society the right to change, to evolution and to a distinct character.

Thirty-five years ago, there were no crowds in our museums or our theatres. Book shows were inexistent and Quebec and Canadian authors on the bookshelves a distressing rarity.

Thirty-five years ago, there wasn’t a lot of choice for the majority of citizens. It would behoove today’s “socio-artistic” critics, people of letters and of words, to bone up on Combats d’un révolutionnaire tranquille, propos et confidences2 de Paul Gérin-Lajoie. This gives perspective to a theory. For God’s sake, down with backward-looking discourse! We humans have not attained perfection and perhaps never will attain it. Thank God! This is what makes life tolerable! This is why, four or five million years ago in Africa, we came down out of the trees.

Ditto for photography.

Ditto for a great many other things.

And this is natural…

Robert Legendre, Montreal, February 14,1994

1 L’Actualité, October 15, 1993

2 Paul Gérin-Lajoie, Combats d’un révolutionnaire tranquille, propos et confidences (Quebec: Centre Éducatif et Culturel inc., 1989)