Saturday, November 12, 2011

Antidote to Crystal Bridges snobbery

Posted By on Sat, Nov 12, 2011 at 1:05 PM

WARWICK SABIN: Art is who we are.
  • WARWICK SABIN: Art is 'who we are.'
Public radio today had piece that included some effete eastern art snobs complaining about how a rich Arkie name of Walton acquired a bunch of art and put it in a building in her hometown. Like no other tycoon ever did the same in Boston, New York or Philadelphia.

Now here's Warwick Sabin, publisher of the Oxford American, writing in the Washington Post about why a smallish city in Arkansas is a great spot for Crystal Bridges. He takes on the elitists.

With a mix of bemusement, condescension and occasional disgust, outside observers remarked on the treasure trove of fine art that would be far away from the country’s major metropolitan areas. Even when the concept received a nice pat on the head (“After all, people in the middle of the country should get to see some good art too,” Rebecca Solnit wrote for the Nation), there was an underlying sense that this great cultural resource somehow doesn’t belong here — that it is being wasted on hicks who won’t appreciate it and therefore don’t deserve it.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Crystal Bridges resides in the region that has come to define American culture, and the South is exactly where our nation’s most ambitious new cultural institution belongs.

... In fact, Bentonville is almost exactly the right place for a new institution dedicated to showcasing the history and range of American art, not only because it sits in a breathtaking natural setting in the middle of the country, but particularly because it is in the South.

This region has provided much of what the rest of the world thinks of as American culture. From music to literature to cuisine and other forms of artistic expression, the South has played a unique role in defining our national identity. Ask someone from another country to name “American” foods, and they will most likely begin with fried chicken and barbecue. Or ask them to name “American” music, and they will probably say jazz, blues and rock-and-roll. The short list of essential American writers always includes William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams.

To this day, Southerners experience and perpetuate their culture in ways that most of us take for granted, because it is a part of our day-to-day existence. We are surrounded by it, actually. But we don’t often recognize it for what it is.

New York and California are where art goes to be feted and marketed. In the South, it is simply part of who we are.

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