I use the term popular culture. “In simple words, popular culture can be understood as a set of cultural products, practices, beliefs, and objects dominating society. It affects and influences the people it comes across towards these sets of objects or beliefs. From music to dance, movies, literature, fashion, it encompasses everything that is believed and consumed by the majority of people in any society.”1
The key here, for me, is dominating society. That would be American popular culture exported as a commercial endeavour.
I live in Canada, raised in a deeply religious British protestant popular culture home where everything foreign is bad. Drive like a white man was heard often.
Being born in 1953 I saw the arrival of American pop culture with the advent of television in our home. It was Las Vegas entertainment on the Ed Sullivan show, and the Beatles shocked my mother by daring to wear hair on their foreheads. Billy Graham espoused a Puritan God.
Now it’s 2021. I spent the day yesterday collaborating with Elie, a self portrait artist2. Her and her work had been thrown off Facebook and Insta, as was mine, for displaying the female form, we met on Twitter. I posted the results of our collaboration on Flikr 3.
Having been through a British art school here on the Alberta prairies, it was a constant battle between American Puritan censorship, European history and tradition, the Vegas stripper pole aesthetic and the primarily racist British deep distrust of anything foreign.
The bottom line at art school was the bottom line. The cognitive distortion4 is that your work must be ‘good for something’ and that something is money. A steady reliable way to create income in the arts has always been titillation. Art for arts sake beauty for the sake of beauty were the allowed excursions of school but once you graduated if you wanted a gallery representation, the gate keepers of art sales, you had better manufacture what sells. That would be modernism in this part of the world. Nothing controversial to go over the couch in the corporate home or God forbid, the office. Simply a pleasing arrangement of shape line tone colour texture rhythm please.
The Vegas American pop culture is a titillating equal and opposite reaction to Puritan restraint. It is a garish eyesore in platform heels, a true obscenity of women prostituted for money using violence and drugs. It is as if the masses became the Catholic priests raping children in a culture of extremes. Watch the movie Spotlight. Utah, the Mormon state, consumes the most amount of porn and anti-depressants, I read somewhere on the net.
The European Fine Art aesthetic I was taught is that of subtle refined elegance, and yes this is what it’s buyers have been taught to desire. It is as pervasive in their culture as American television is in ours.
I hadn’t watched regular American television programming for 20 years, until I was sent to the stroke ward for 6 months physio. The large screens were on 24/7 in the common rooms. To make it feel like home. Once I turned it off at breakfast to just catch a break and have a conversation, a roofer with a broken spine from his fall became violent, he was sent home to watch his programs. The television was turned back on.
If it wasn’t women in platform heels it was men doing stupid human tricks also on drugs to enhance their performance in homoerotic displays like football and such. 24/7.
So is the collaboration between Ellie and myself a Vegas titillation? Yes, it skirts that edge, because titillation is fun and it’s a social skill. But unlike Vegas, tittilation is not the point. It also incorporates Japanese high culture and popular graphics embedded into the work, with European classical poses for the figure as well as aspects of Warhol’s pop-art repetitivness.
Why do I feel such an intense pleasure, such an intense satisfaction with this art making? The point is, satisfaction in art making and the right of ownership of our bodies and our images of them and our pleasure in them. As Tom Robbins said somewhere, Thank God for young women getting naked on the internet.