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What This County Needs: Art With...

The good fairy came to Orange County the other day to try to get a decent tan and do some shopping. We asked her what she would be giving the visual art scene in the ‘90s.

“Sorry, I’m off duty,” she murmured, setting the alarm on her Porsche. We begged her for just a moment of her time.

“Well, off the top of my head. . . .” She adjusted her faux tortoise sunglasses with a flourish. “Perhaps an open mind.”

Come again?

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“You know how it is,” she said, picking her way across the mall’s parking lot and waving her wand imperiously at cars that speeded up at the crosswalks. “There are people who adore Norman Rockwell or Andrew Wyeth but despise contemporary art as an utter hoax.

“And there are people who think Jeff Koons--that guy who passes off mass-produced kitsch as art--is one of the greatest artists of our time. But these same folks wouldn’t be caught dead at an exhibit of California Impressionism.

“Some viewers who know a thing or two about good design are puzzled that an artist would want to spend time to make something depressing or ugly. Other people think art always means pouring out your soul and exposing your deepest secrets.

“Then there are the purists, who turn up their noses at art that isn’t based on a complicated theory about language and society.

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“Of course, so many people think only paintings, sculptures and drawings are art. And they think making good art means making an exact copy of a little piece of the world. It’s pretty hard to persuade these poor souls that art comes in many guises, and in some unexpected places.”

The good fairy paused for a moment to squint dubiously at a Day-Glo banner advertising a fast-food restaurant.

“Then there are people who don’t think museums should show art reflecting homosexual life styles or showing the President in a bad light. Some worrywarts don’t want to allow children to look at nude paintings in museums and other public places.

“And there are plenty of good citizens who think art education in the public schools is a useless frill. If some people had their way, there would be no government support of art at all. Why, I know of some people. . . .”

We nodded impatiently. We already knew these things. The good fairy pursed her lips.

“I do tend to run on, I know,” she admitted. “But you see, the problem is that we live in a world split into so many little special-interest groups. Each is convinced it has a monopoly on the truth.

“That’s why I’m going to give each of the gallery-goers and board members and donors and curators and city administrators and critics an open mind--so they’ll be able to listen to each other wholeheartedly and maybe find at least a particle of truth on the other side.

“I learned something many years ago, from a poem by William Blake: ‘The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.’ Rather good, isn’t it? And now, my dear, I absolutely must enjoy this divine weather in peace.”

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We watched her sashay into the distance until her starry headdress disappeared in the dazzle of the midday sun.


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