Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You: An Anyone Could Do That Open Thread
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.
---Inaugural Address by President John F. Kennedy - January 20th 1961
JT Kirkland, who was kind enough to stop into the gallery while visting New York last weekend, asked in the thread about Tara Donovan:
Can we get a post dedicated to the "anyone could do that" sentiment towards art? That is about the most asinine statement around in terms of art. I would love to see the work that these (presumably) artists make and is impossible for anyone else to recreate. To a degree anyone can make any piece of art if they dedicate the time to learning the craft. We might not all be able to get Artist ABC's work exactly right, but it would be close enough.
So my question is this... who is making work today that no one could recreate? And does that necessarily mean it's any good?
Whenever I hear anyone offer the "anyone could do that" critique about a work of art, I begin to quote JFK in response.
"Ask not what your country can do for you," I'll say. They'll usually respond with a monosyllabic grunt of inquiry, like "Huh?"
I'll continue, "Who said, 'Ask not what your country can do for you?'" And usually (unless they're uncommonly dim) they'll say "JFK."
"Well, perhaps once," I'll push on. "But I just said it...me...me...me! I said 'Ask not what your country can do for you.' ME!!! Those were my words."
"Yes, but JFK said them first," they'll answer.
"Ahhh.... Yes," I'll condescend. "Indeed...and he's credited with them, even though there's nothing on earth that prevents me or you or the man down the street from uttering them now. Again and again if we like, but that would never fool anyone because they will know that JFK said them first."
Sometimes I'll see a light bulb go off over their heads and sometimes I'm met with a blank stare.
"Those eight words are nothing special in and of themselves," I'll continue, regardless of their response (loving to hear myself talk, as I do). "Any beggar can speak them. But for you and I and millions around the world they have special meaning because of who said them first and what he meant when he said them...what the context was...what it was about our world that those words changed."
By this time, if they're not getting it, I'll generally pat them on the head and suggest we go drink instead.
But that's just me...
Now there's a subtle point within JT's prose that I don't quite agree with (I'm not sure any work is recreatable, per se), but I do appreciate his point that it's silly to assert that some work is more valuable than others because of the degree of supposed "craft" that went into them. Academies' warehouses are filled with soulless, but supposedly well-executed work. It's a useless criteria on its own. But I suspect there's a lot more to this issue than that...as even as I type I see others responding to that thread...
Consider this an open thread on Anyone Could Do That