Image via pictify.
Is this porcelain replica of an AK-47 any less beautiful than it was a few weeks ago? Is it any less thought provoking, challenging or inspiring?
It’s a question that is confounding the art world after it’s creator, Seattle ceramicist Charles Krafft, was ‘outed’ as a holocaust denier in an online journal. Prior to this, Krafft and his work, which also includes porcelain teapots in the shape of Adolf Hitler’s head and hand grenades, had been described as ‘ironic satire’.
If, as some have speculated, Krafft had set out to dupe the public – perhaps he got off on the idea of liberals placing likenesses of dictators on their mantlepieces and then carefully spelling out the irony to silent dinner party guests – then it worked. That explanation places blame (for these days, loss of face or even mild embarrassment confers some sort of victimhood) comfortably with Krafft, and redeems those who he cruelly tricked into stroking Nazi teapots.
But before we finish sweeping up the broken pieces of our shattered egos and placing them in that convenient little box, should we not take the opportunity to examine why we’re so keen to pursue an explanation that absolves us of responsibility so completely? The New Yorker asks, in an article examining the events, “how an artist’s intent should influence our evaluation of his work“, but I think a more appropriate question in the circumstances might be “how OUR intent influences evaluation of an artist’s work“.
An artist’s work is, for the most part, an expression of their feelings on a particular subject. Although the degree to which an audience empathises with the manner of expression generally decides whether a piece of art is deemed successful, it is no less or more valid for that. It simply ‘is’.
This implies that at least some of the burden of art appreciation is in the reflection. If we appreciate, and choose to vocalise our appreciation of art; a piece of music, a painting, a sculpture or whatever, we’re obviously keen to associate ourselves with it and accept what this confers upon us.
We liked the porcelain AK-47 and the hand grenades before we learned that they emerged from a man whose political views are anathema to the majority of right thinking people. We now feel tainted by that, as though others might think we agree with him, and must absolve ourselves.
Art is supposed to challenge us. We are supposed to challenge art. If we insist on using it to convey complex messages about ourselves to others without really understanding it, or at least engaging with it on any kind of intellectual level, we probably deserve to have our conceits dismantled right in front of our eyes .
It’s a Hitler teapot, for goodness’ sake.