December 17, 2007

Sublime Subliminal Art

Some years ago, when I was the president of the Society of American Mosaic Artists, I had an opportunity to interview a mosaic artist who lived not far from Hollywood. He told me that one of his mosaic spheres was a fixture in a television show and spoke with pride that his work was being seen by millions of viewers. It was through him that I first learned that Hollywood borrowed work from practicing artists to decorate their sets. I had never really noticed the art on the walls in films and television - and well I would not. Most viewers would probably never see the work or any art on the walls. This is because it is always in the backround with a loud gesticulating actor obscuring our view of it and distracting our attention from it. But ever since this mosaic artist brought my attention to this hidden art show I've viewed the set designs on television and in film differently. There is a veritable gallery of delights on the walls of these sets. (A great collection of figurative art hangs on the walls of the parents of the bride-to-be in the film "Sideways.")
On television, Jim's house in "The World According to Jim" has a large red on red abstract expressionist style canvas on the wall. Jim and Hans Hoffman? Check out the fine collection of landscape photography in "Two and a Half Men." And who knew that George Lopez collects folk art? A watercolor of an African dancer sometimes graces the wall on "Bernie Mack." There are numerous other examples.....if only those actors would step out of the way more often to give us a clearer view!
To be honest, you can't really see the art unless you look for it, and often it is out of focus because the camera is on the actors. But I wonder if all this art is perhaps still perceived subliminally. I posit this as an explanation for a public opinion finding that I touched upon in a previous blog about anti-intellectualism in popular culture in America. In that finding, about 75% of people polled said that they have a negative view of artists. The other part to that equation, which on the surface doesn't appear to make sense, is that 75% of people polled also said that they liked and desired art. So where would this seemingly counter-productive, illogical stance come from? Maybe, once again, we can look to mass media. For the same conduit of mass information that gives us David Letterman exclaiming to enthusiastic applause, "Who the Hell is Jackson Pollock?," and repeatedly sends us actors portraying maladjusted and practically demonic visual artists, also bombards us with images of fictitious homes with real art in them. The mass media tells us that artists are untrustworthy at best but that all our most endearing media personalities are collectors of fine art (Well, maybe not David Letterman). Perhaps the constant messages that art is desirable but that artists are not is the real fuel behind public opinion - because people believe what they hear and see often.

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