Wednesday, September 16, 2015

An Open Letter To Guns.com

So, last week, one of my new "Gunlicker" paintings was printed in The Huffington Post's inaugural "Hot Off the Easel" blog, a monthly showcase designed to show freshly minted paintings. The image was seen by some folks at guns.com, and spread widely via Facebook, and to some anti-gun, but, primarily, gun advocate sites. Hateful and threatening comments across many social media platforms ensued. It was not hard to see firsthand that there is, indeed, a correlation between anger issues, and the most extreme of gun owners. I am grateful for artist friends and anti-gun advocates who came to my defense: I was keeping a low profile so as not to engage. I am most grateful for the few gun owners who tried to mitigate: they were not threatened by the images, because they confidently knew that the images were not about them, and saw the paintings as an accurate reflection of our country's obsession with guns and the most extreme members of the pro-gun movement. I received two interview requests: one from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, which will be published today, and one from Guns.com. Guns.com, to its credit, seems to run neutral, unbiased news stories, but is clearly paid for by gun advertising. I penned a letter in response to the interview request:

"Dear Daniel@guns.com,

I thank you for your interview request for guns.com, but am not going to do the interview, for the following reason: I have been to your website, and I don't think it would be wise for me to be represented there. I have mostly been silent since the paintings have gone public, and there will soon be an interview published in the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence blog, where I will say my piece. I have been silent because I have received the most heinous, ugly, misogynistic threats in every type of social media from pro-gun advocates, which only reinforce any ideas that I hold about (not gun owners, but) gun extremists. Although I have my stance on these issues, which is probably more centrist than the pro-gun people think and the anti-gun people would prefer, first and foremost, I am artist. I am not making propaganda..... I make my work to process and understand contemporary society and things that make no sense to me. 

The "Gunlickers" series is my response to open carry advocates and those who think there should be NO laws or restrictions on gun ownership, in a country that has shameful, ridiculous statistics on gun deaths. More importantly, it is part of a larger series about entitlement and the need to dominate, or, to put it simply, bullies, in every area of life. When "The Gunlickers" are finished, I will go on to the next sub-series of the larger series, one that will focus on corporate bullies. I have already done some work, and will do some more, on man's need to dominate animals. Artists have reasons for doing things that seem to be difficult for people in other areas to understand. In some ways, a painting is no different than a cartoon, an article, a book, or a song, all of which can express an idea, but artists often employ metaphor, a concept that non-art people seem to have a hard time grasping.
 
Most things we encounter in life are literal, rather than metaphorical, and since arts education has been deemed unnecessary and has been all but obliterated from our schools, I expect that these occasional clashes when art meets the general public are only going to get worse. For some reason, cartoonists, authors, journalists, and songwriters, even though they might express strong ideas, are rarely/never targeted the way I have been. (I think my being female might have something to do with it, from the types of comments I have received?) In any event, I have no interest in subjecting myself or my family to any more poisonous, hateful comments or threats. Feel free to publish my statement, but only if it is published in its entirety.

Best, Kate"

Since these images "broke", I have been so busy writing two grants on deadline, teaching, and trying to finish my new website, that I have barely had time to think, much less read all the vitriol. In the spare moments I have, I am thinking about the clash (that has now happened twice) when The Art World and the real world collide. Ideally, art is supposed to be "for everyone": certainly, one of the reasons I have chosen to work in a representational manner is that the work might be accessible to viewers with or without an art education. But, we are not a literary society: our reality-show culture has lowered the common denominator for comprehension of anything above literal interpretation. In another context, I recently realized that one of my biggest obstacles in life is that, thanks to my father and my amazing AP English teacher, Ms. Dwyer, I process practically everything in the world as if I am being asked to do a literary interpretation: What is the overall theme? Is it a comedy, a tragedy? What are the precedents? What is this character's "tragic flaw"? Does this character follow an archetype? I will be mulling over this collision of worlds and what it means for the next few weeks as I carry on....

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