Tuesday, April 05, 2011

In Defense of Great Art

Last Friday, a woman at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. attacked a masterpiece by Paul Gaugin. According to documents at The Smoking Gun:

“ … a female, subsequently identified as Susan BURNS .. walked over to Exhibit 145, an oil painting by Paul Gauguin entitled “Two Tahitian Women” valued at an estimated 80 million dollars. BURNS grabbed the frame holding said painting on its left side and attempted to pull it off the wall, in the process succeeding in pulling part of the bottom part of the frame off the wall … Ms. BURNS then struck the middle of the painting with her right fist. …”

What caused Ms. Burns to attack the painting? It was not a critical reaction to Gaugin’s use of cloisonnism:

“I feel that Gauguin is evil. He has nudity and is bad for the children. He has two women in the painting and it’s very homosexual. …”

Now wait a minute, does this look like a man who would create a “very homosexual” painting of two women?

Uh, well, yes, I guess he does.

But in this case, I think Ms. Burns is incorrectly interpreting Gauguin’s masterpiece, “Two Tahitian Women”:

True, the two women in the painting are topless, but this in and of itself does not suggest that they are lesbian lovers. Gauguin lived and painted in the tropics during the late 19th century and early 20th century. This was an era before widespread air conditioning and thus it was very common for women in tropical south pacific islands to go around topless. If Ms. Burns were more familiar with Gauguin’s Tahitian paintings, she would realize that two women seen together topless were the norm of that time and place. It did not imply homosexuality.

Ms. Burns perhaps thought the woman on the right was checking out the breasts of the woman on the left. But, let’s take a closer look:

The woman on the right is clearly checking out the plate of delicious looking food (papaya?) being held by the woman on the left.

Of course, even if Gauguin’s painting were “very homosexual” that would not justify damaging it. Such destruction would never be justified (unless, of course, the painting depicted the prophet Muhammad or the burning of a Koran – which it doesn’t).

Hopefully this post in defense of fine art will help get Fraters Libertas un-banned by libraries.