If I address negative comments about talk radio assentingly, somebody calls me a "disgruntled ex-employee." If I admire a host or am interested in a topic, I am branded an apologist or defender of bad things.
Yes, I used to work at radio stations in Florida and Southeastern New England. Back when a kid could get pretty far up the corporate ladder with a clear speaking voice and an English degree. But not too far if the ladder only has four rungs and you're the fifth guy hired. (Here: Learn where the best deals are on the coffee, and get a car that works in the snow. There.)
It's been fifteen years since I've been on the air, and the last time I saw anyone from the last station I worked at, the old guy had me confused with another guy who left the station at around the same time I left. Unfortunately, the old guy had me confused with a felon.
So much for a job reference.
And so, when a bunch of my friends stage an art exhibition at a privately-funded gallery in Downtown New Bedford and the kooks come out to insist they shouldn't, I take it personally. Gallery X is an artist collaborative, Executively Directed by a friend. And according to this recent article, is a welcome addition to New Bedford. I should start waving my defiance at the "uneducated and artless."
The talk radio crowd will be quick to point out that big companies won't come to the SouthCoast because we don't have a good educational or cultural scene. They will also scream and stamp their feet about paying teachers and "allowing" art they "don't get" in galleries they think their tax dollars control. They also think guards and signs and walls should keep children "under 18" from seeing the show. Sorry. Wrong. On all counts.
Because this little "controversy" keeps repeating, whenever the subject of art or sex education or honest language in film or theater is mentioned, I'll repeat myself: You do not have to like art. In a lot of cases, that's the point. And such is the case with "Sex At The X."
In a big squeamish Catholic and Calvinist community of people who've never seen themselves naked, you're bound to offend somebody when you put up an image of a penis. Whether it's a painting, a photograph, a sculpture, or a puppet in a turtleneck sweater. That looks like a penis.
It would be easy to say that "Sex At The X" is a nose-thumbing at stodgy mores, that it's a big mutinous middle finger of rebellion. But it's not. It is simply the most honest art show I've been to in a long long time. Imagine that you're living in a world of honest artists looking at sexuality, gender, nudity, and using the lexicon of artistry to encourage the debate. The strength of erotica is its honesty. If you're expecting to walk into a dimly- but tastefully-lit gallery full of photographs of demure models and strategically-hidden genitalia you might be offended.
Art is not always easy, and art that pulls back a curtain or flings open a door or looks under a bed (or on top of a bed) can be unsettling. Or funny. Or calming. Or infuriating.
But an erotic art show should not be controversial, per se. The only controversy about erotica is its definition, since the term "erotica" can illustrate so many different concepts. The discussion is what matters. At the artists' reception Saturday night, I had the opportunity to talk to a number of artists about the difference between art, erotica, and pornography.
The reception was way too short.
Yes, Mike painted a headless guy handing his skull to a nude reclining woman. The irony, and the pun, was not lost. Yes, Ellen mounted and framed merkins. Yes, Milton depicted a detailed strip club, with locally recognizable patrons. Roger's was a huge and obscene OTC ("over the couch") cartoon. Nik's tiny, detailed, intmate scenes held people's rapt attention.
I was thrilled. (No, not like that.) As a purebred SouthCoast prude with brief gusts into skinny-dipping and "frank" sex talks with hot chicks, I was glad to see the works there boldly lit and unashamed.
Too bad the show will only be up for a few more weeks, but Gallery X has a schedule, and the Tenth Anniversary High School Select show goes up March 11.
Let's hope the honest discussion continues. Especially about those high school kids...