Somebody said “art” and I thought they meant “Art-Art”.
So I just watched the premiere of Fear No Art Chicago on WTTW11. It is essentially the same thing as Metromix or 190 North – shallow human-interest features that showcase local businesses and entrepreneurs with a clever or creative twist. This is perfectly fine, but the big problem with Fear No Art is that it’s allegedly about “art” and opening up the audience’s perceptions and attitudes about what art can be. The pilot episode consists of a blues guitarist*, a fashion designer & a restaurant. These are all creative professions, but none of it is Art. There’s Art with an “A” Art and there’s “the arts”. Music is one of the arts. Fashion is more of an applied art, like graphic design. And then cooking, which I guess is “the culinary arts.”
Don’t mistake my position as being conservative, far from it. I posit that it is the show that’s conservative. The interests of the show are incredibly pedestrian, average and safe. To even graze the surface of challenging a general viewing audience’s “fears” about art would require a much more conversational and verbal discourse, think Check, Please! That would be ideal, since it engages an expert host with people from various backgrounds. But the format is the standard method of a host going out on the town and visiting friends, hearing some music, trying on some dresses and tasting some food.
Banner promoting the MCA, Chicago photographed by R.L. Segal
When I first got the email, I thought it would be more along the lines of classics like Check, Please! or the well-researched productions about Chicago’s myriad histories Geoffrey Baer puts together. With it’s title I thought contemporary art content was a given, especially since it’s lifted from the Museum of Contemporary Art. I understand, and even applaud the idea of bringing attention to art practices beyond traditional painting or sculpture. But rather than going in an expansive direction, this show opts for the conventional. There is nothing fresh or new about covering things that already have plenty of representation in the media. And it is not as though this fashion designer is trying to be considered in an art context, or that the chefs are trying to be anything other than avant-garde cooks (if anything they are going for the “scientist in the kitchen” gimmick). But this is all moot because in no way does the show engage in any sort of discourse, let alone about art. Should I be mean? I’ll be mean. Here’s an example. It’s not that mean, it’s just some dialog from the segment at the restaurant:
Host: “So you see this as an artistic production?”
Chef: “Yes [… it’s] an open forum, an open canvas.”
And again, this light approach to interesting local creativity is fine, but not under the pretense of expanding cultural horizons or fostering open dialogue about challenging cultural production. But maybe I am taking this all much too seriously. Maybe it’s just a nice show about art-like things. While I don’t expect hardcore art theory from PBS and WTTW I do expect more than this.
The saddest bit of all is that the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation is one of the show’s lead sponsor. The Driehaus Foundation used to award Chicago’s most generous and prestigious prize for artists, going to one established and one emerging artist but discontinued it after 2008. Other lead sponsors of Fear No Art Chicago include the Chicago Fashion Foundation, Fashion Studies at Columbia College and Le Cordon Bleu colleges.
* I missed the first few minutes, so I don’t know if his paintings, which are, “abstract in nature; raw, organic, primitive, and completely original in [their] approach” were discussed or not.
> FEAR — NO ART — CHICAGO