Today my Art Law Professor arranged a discussion with Arnold Mesches, who really needs no introduction. More importantly, I couldn’t give one if I tried. It will suffice to say that he has had a long career in the arts, has known and knows many artists of all stripes — actors, painters, and so on. Also, that his most resonant work has been the FBI FILES. Everyone should know about this work and what it means about the power of corrupt government — and why we need to limit its size and power! In any case, every student got to ask questions.
Mesches began with his views on “reactionaries” (a word that says more than it means). He wore a STOP BUSH pin. I had my Law School Republicans shirt on, so there was some balance. But as he moved into strong polemic against the administration and commerce, as well as the “absurd” world we live in alongside extraordinary invasions of privacy, more and more eyes turned to me, expecting me to challenge him.
Ah, my friends — it is important to know how to pick one’s fights!
Mesches has seen it all and he’s not in the mood to care too much for anyone else’s opinion. He is, after all, an artist who proclaims that he’s long hardened in his views and they have only become stronger in the passing years. Good for him. I found him a pleasant, if bombastic, personality. And his views on art may have helped shape my own.
As he is a successful artist, I wanted to know his artistic philosophy. He said he frowns upon thinking too hard about expressing some social message, though he prizes social art. I asked if there is such a thing as good art and bad art, and that if all art could just be an end in itself. He said there is certainly such a thing as good art and bad art, and that you know the difference after a while, studying the field as the best dealers do. [I am more and more coming to this view.] Yet, he also gave tremendous importance both to artists having a place in the historical art landscape, like a building looking like it belongs to a community, as well as intuition. He paints by intuition now.
I mentioned that our class had struggled with a definition of art, but that one interesting definition called art “scenario-building.” I asked him what he thought of that definition, and if he agreed with it, then are politicians artists?
Initially he reacted with skepticism that it was a question worthy of consideration. But he started to think about it and he reasoned his answer as he spoke. He recalled a friend who was a ditch digger in San Francisco — no doubt one of the proletariat! — who possessed a keen pride in his work because he did not see it as merely ditch digging, but as an indispensable, time-honored part of the whole. The work had its own essence.
All in all, a good discussion.