In his Feb. 18 review of "Facing History," the exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, William Wilson berates the use of curating to examine views held in former times. He contrasts this style of curating with "the old detached, scholarly, art-for-its-own-sake religion" (Wilson's words and faith).
Wilson apologizes for Samuel Jennings' painting, saying it looks "unbearably condescending but it was painted with good intentions as an abolitionist tract." Wilson's own words belie the weak foundation of his critical stance. An abolitionist whose views are condescending cannot be much of a champion of civil rights; even if his vote is politically correct. ("Some of my best friends are. . . .")
Art often expresses what cannot be said--with or without the artist's full awareness. Good art is often a deeper vessel than it at first appears, whether or not its contents are desired.
This is not only the reason that art is such a penetrating scope into ideas. It is also the reason art cannot be severed from its times. The "wider context of economics, politics and sociology" (Wilson's phrase) will always leak into a full understanding of art.
Wilson's "art-for-its-own-sake" religion is a church built on the impenetrability of perfect white walls. Those walls are down and crumbled--fodder for those who can enjoy knowing that art is life.
ADAM J. LEVENTHAL