Woman Blaming as Art Form

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Let's talk art, for a moment. Artomatic, which has been running since May in D.C. is an art festival, free to the public, and boasting nine floors of visual and installation art, as well as performances. I'll admit right away that I've never been. One of the exhibits that's been given a bit of press, is Deb Jansen's installation titled Catharsis & Karma: An Open Thank You Letter to a Homewrecker, which features a quite vitriolic (and there's nothing wrong with vitriol, mind you) letter addressed to the "other woman" with whom her husband had an affair. In their column The Reliable Source, from the Washington Post, on July 3rd titled "Pardon Me, Your Heart Is Showing" (I'm giving all the specifics because I can't seem to find a dedicated link to the article), Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger, suggest that if Mark Sanford had seen the piece, perhaps he would have thought twice about straying. But whatever, Mark Sanford, I actually don't care too much about you. What I want to talk about is the piece itself.

Roberts and Argetsinger quote the letter as beginning, "Thank you from the bottom of my heart for [sleeping with] my spineless narcissist of a husband. But he was my husband -- not yours. You had no right." Jansen goes on to describe this other woman as a "chubby, boring...jan brady wanna be" and goes so far as to reproduce a photo of her next to the letter, granted with eyes blacked out.

Now, as far as I can tell, it was her husband who did the cheating, not this other woman. And if the other woman was cheating as well, it would have been on her own husband, not on Ms. Jansen. Last I checked (which was actually about a month ago, when I got married myself), that promise is made between two very specific people, and they're the only ones with the power to break it. Not only does Jansen displace the burden of blame which should be falling on her husband onto this woman, but she uses fat-hating language as though by labeling her "chubby" the artist is justified in her attack. As though this other woman's body, through both that descriptor and the use of her picture, can be hijacked and used as a weapon for attack against her.

At the end of their post, Roberts and Argetsinger attempt to elicit discussion by writing: "Compelling stuff... but is it art?" When they posed that question to Jansen, she said, "If art is something that channels right out of your soul, and if creativity can heal then yes. But no, I wouldn't want it over my couch, either." Umm, are you kidding me? Is it art? How is this even a question? It's not. It's a silly question for silly minds to debate because it doesn't friggin' matter. Is it art. Give me a break. No one gives a shit of you think it's art or not (that can't be defined anyway, so shut up about it before you even begin). The real question is why does this woman, this artist, feel the need to so publicly blame another woman when she should be blaming her husband. Sure, she blames him, but it's not his picture reproduced next to the letter. He's not the one being taken to task here for his behavior.

So, since I subscribe to the broadest possible definition of what constitutes art, I'll tell you this. Yes, it is art. Bad art.


Pat said...

Hi Andrea! Thanks to Apostate, I've had the pleasure of reading your blog to date. Love it! Adding it to my to-be-read-regularly blog list. Thanks for the thoughtful, well-written posts. Looking forward to so much more!

Apostate said...

Why the need to tear down the "other woman"? Such a timeless question. I think I figured out the quite obvious answer: Because the other woman seems to have been preferred over oneself and is therefore threatening, and so there is a compulsion to tear her down. Only by denigrating her can you get your own self-respect back.

Having "cheated" myself (with a married man once, and once on my husband), and now in an open marriage, I know it's usually not such a simple calculus as preferring another over your spouse/partner, and so I wouldn't feel the same resentment for the other woman. But most people react in the ordinary human way and feel immediately devalued.

Agree that it's rotten art, except if art is whatever gets people talking about important issues (even if it doesn't add anything new or insightful to the discourse), in which case it's superb art.

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