Arts The Death of Whimsy
posted by January 22 at 11:12 AMon
New public art along the nearly completed Fire Station 10.
Why is this art weak? Because it is whimsical. Whimsical in the sense that it is playful. It plays with the idea of a race of fire hydrants. This red race is much like the human race—it is has kids, mothers, father figures, and so on.
So, what is wrong with whimsy? Elsewhere I have advanced the concept of an art criticism that must find its foundation in Tardian sociology (people/mind/body as social, as associations, as a network of clusters, pathways, and patterns). To expose the history and truth of this funny race of fire hydrants, however, one only needs basic Marxist tools. What these tools help us to see is that whimsy once had its place in what Marx and Engels called the “bad side”—the side that is opposed to power, to a ruling order. In the case of whimsy, the opposition was the rigid regime of the business elite, of profit calculations, charts, statistics, Taylorism in the factories, organization men in the office—the science of capitalism. Whimsy was to the order of scientific capitalism what romanticism was to the order of Newtonian enlightenment. In Seattle, the capital of whimsy was (and still is) Fremont—the defining locus for artists who found in whimsy a weapon against the ruling determinations and aesthetic of the business elite.
Today, whimsy is far from revolutionary. It has been absorbed by the order it originally opposed. Once a weapon for change, it is now a tool of control. For example, the videos that dominate commercial enterprises like MySpace and YouTube are whimsical—a dog on a surfboard, a homemade catapult, a drunk doing something drunk. Whimsy has no power because it has no enemy. It is now nothing more than a form of mindless distraction, a form that is not on the bad side of business interests.
The main reason the sculptures in front of the Fire Station 10 are weak is they reproduce and enforce the regime of whimsy.
This stone sculpture, also in front of the fire station, at least has the honesty of being heavy.