Art for the Artist, or for the Public?
I enjoyed George F. Spicka's and Kenneth Willaman's letters in The Sun April 18 and 19. I assume both these men are legitimate artists in the field of music. My interest as a layman is: Who or what are illegitimate artists, or is there such a breed?
The term artist is batted around more than a slow-pitch softball, without any definition of the term. I believe the unwashed's main complaint with National Endowment for the Arts funding is primarily in the field of art (painting, sculpture, etc.) where the level of training and ability is somehow mixed up with creativity, originality and uniqueness.
It seems to me that child prodigies in the field of art are similar to those in the field of music, i.e., they have uncanny natural ability. Both music and art talent is structured. We do not recognize early skills in dribbling paint, drawing squares or taking photographs (any youngster can do this).
In both these arenas, recognized talent is nurtured and developed over the years. While progress, especially in the performing realm, is relatively simple to evaluate, frequently the creative "genius" in art takes on the economic flavor of a con game rather than the display of real skill in today's adults.
Most art and music over the centuries have been created with the viewer and listener in mind. Both developed and changed over the years with many new innovations unacceptable to the public at the time.
However, they were basically in a form to which the layman could relate. Many of today's artists work under the guise of creating some esoteric piece, displaying little of the traditional art skills, but trying to attract attention through some non-artistic ploy.
In addition, fine arts now are suffering from technological advancements; photography is replacing painting and drawing; records, tapes and CDs are drastically reducing the need for live musical performances; and movies continue to curtail live drama.
Also, besides creative artists not being able to improve upon past works, the market is flooded with all the great works of art, music and literature, easily accessible to the average citizen. These new media allow for a practically perfect interpretation of a picture, musical selection or drama through modern techniques.
Another problem which has plagued the fine arts world for some time is the question of whether artists or laymen are determining what art is. Today's artists would like to claim that the unsophisticated viewer is no judge of art.
Using Mr. Willaman's statement that artists "are the people who examine what we feel, what we sense, that can't be expressed in any other manner," I, the epitome of unsophistication, consider Remington, Moses, Wyeth, even Marin, American artists, as opposed to Pollock, De Kooning, Johns, and Warhol, who are technicians relying on gimmicks. Thus, I feel that aesthetics is an integral part of art. Sometimes someone has to establish values. As our moral values have declined, our artistic skills have waned. Art does not automatically improve with time.
If we are destined to follow our recent socialist bent of subsidizing every group in the country, let us hope it does not breed the mediocrity in art that the government has generated in other areas.
If the common man will not voluntarily support museums, orchestras and poetry readings, then our culture will continue to deteriorate under the influence of bogus art, much the same as Soviet art and music decayed. A great deal of this "art" reflects our everyday lives. We are living off our accumulated wealth, producing electric carving knives and hundreds of shades of lipstick.
We waste resources, ignore education, stagnate in front of bigger and bigger TV sets and are obsessed with our own looks and status. No wonder we cannot produce works of beauty with the materialistic mentality pervading our egocentric lives.
I hope Mr. Willaman and Mr. Spicka will continue to grow and progress as real artists, but not simply from government grants. I hope they will receive the recognition they deserve from the public. But unless the fine arts community offers some value judgments, the country will continue to be inundated with more and more junk.
R. D. Bush
Incineration vs. Recycling
I am not sure what prompted Bruce W. Piasecki to write from Long Island, N.Y., to promote trash incineration in Montgomery County, Md. (Opinion * Commentary article, "While We Fight Over Incinerators, Landfills Fill Up," April 21).
But we in this state should be careful of his incomplete and misleading presentation of the facts on this crucial issue.
A closer look points all the more clearly to why we need to move away from mass-burn trash incineration and toward reduction, reuse and recycling.
Mr. Piasecki promotes incineration as an alternative to landfills, and he laments that so much unrecycled and unincinerated trash ends up in municipal dumps. He fails to mention, however, that unlike recycled materials, incinerated trash eventually goes to a landfill as well.
In fact, Kenneth Strong, Baltimore City's recycling coordinator, pointed out in The Sun on April 20 that the ash remaining from incinerated garbage, which must be land-filled, can be 20-to-25 percent of the original material. Furthermore, this ash is often highly toxic and its fine texture means that contaminants are more likely to leach out of the landfill.
Mr. Piasecki also tries to reassure us of the compatibility of recycling and mass-burn incineration by saying that incinerators have a "built-in economic incentive to divert metal, glass and yard waste" from the facility.
Here, however, he neglects to mention paper, which is overwhelmingly recyclable, and which now accounts for about 40 percent of Baltimore's incinerator load. Surely there is no "built-in economic incentive" to divert this highly burnable material from such a facility.
In fact not only does burning this paper rob the material from recycling, it is shamefully wasteful from an energy standpoint as well. Comparative studies show that many times more energy is saved by recycling paper into new paper than is ever recovered through burning it in an incinerator. The figures are even more dramatic for plastic.
There are specific policies which will bring us toward a future which is brighter both economically and environmentally, and which will lessen our dangerous dependence on both landfills and incinerators. Since Congress is now reauthorizing the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the nation's chief law governing solid waste, now is a crucial time to voice our concerns to our nation legislators.
First of all, we need a national container deposit law, or "bottle bill," which now works successfully in nine states. By putting a refundable deposit on beverage containers, encouraging customers to return them to the point of purchase, we can remove 85 to 95 percent of these bottles and cans from the waste stream for reuse and recycling at no cost to the taxpayer. This proposal is currently a bill in Congress, and Maryland representatives Wayne Gilchrest, Kweisi Mfume and Connie Morella are co-sponsors.
Secondly, we need to spur markets for recycled materials. Although more and more are being collected for recycling, U.S. industries have so far refused to use the material in the manufacture of new consumer products.
Requiring 50 percent recycled content in newsprint and packaging by the year 2000 and establishing government procurement policies for recycled products will enable us to break this logjam and start realizing even more economic benefits from recycling. Rep. Gilchrest has been the first Maryland congressman to sign onto the bill that contains these measures.
Thirdly, we do indeed need a moratorium on new trash incinerators. We are already burning a tremendous amount of our garbage, and new facilities will certainly cripple our fledgling recycling programs. Maryland representatives Beverly Byron, Ben Cardin, Tom McMillen and Gilchrest are all co-sponsors of a proposed federal incinerator moratorium.
Congress will be taking up all of these proposals in the next month, and our elected officials need to know that people are concerned about the future of public health and recycling in Maryland. In particular, we must look to Rep. McMillen, with his seat on the committee that is considering RCRA, for leadership on this crucial issue.
The public commitment to recycling has never been stronger. Community collection programs are growing, and many are seeing through the ill-founded arguments of mass-burn incinerator proponents like Mr. Piasecki.
It is time for leadership from elected officials in Washington to make sure we don't throw all this progress out with the trash.
Daniel J. Pontious
The writer is executive director of Maryland Public Interest Research Group.
Letter-writer J. Terry Edmonds is not alone in feeling a bit queasy about the Academy Awards success of "Silence of the Lambs." However, he misses the point when he suggests that our addiction to this kind of entertainment is based on the need for "titillation."
To be sure, we expect to be titillated when we go to the movies and "Silence" delivered on that count. But the reason "Silence" was so disquieting is that it stirred up ancient memories which lie deeply buried in our collective unconscious. These memories -- called "archetypes" by psychologist Carl Jung -- can be wakened by images of themselves; and no one is better at creating such images than today's film maker.
In short, "Silence of the Lambs" evoked the dark side of the human condition, not only as it exists all around us but as it exists inside each one of us, a vestige from our most primitive past.
Titillation is hardly adequate to describe such a profound process, but I salute Mr. Edmonds for asking what our continuous immersion in this kind of "entertainment" is doing to us.
Baseball's Brilliant Symmetry
Where George F. Will sees asymmetry in baseball (column, "Framing a Game of Asymmetry," April 5), I find symmetry.
The 3s in 3 strikes, 3 outs, 9 innings or 3-squared, etc., amply prove baseball's stunning mathematical perfection, not the opposite.
The number 3, I would point out to Mr. Will, has always been a singular, virtually sacred integer no less in human culture as in mathematics and geometry. Three, for instance, is the first typical (that is, odd) prime number, i.e., a number that is divisible only by itself and 1.
For other reasons, 3 since time immemorial has been universally regarded in human culture and many religions as magical or divine and as an indispensable building block.
Far from being considered asymmetrical in its connotation or applications, 3 has appeared to mankind to stand firmly on its feet like a 3-legged stool. The Christian trinity is merely one of many examples of 3's quality in this respect. So is mathematicians' attraction to the 3-sided figure known as a triangle, particularly the "right" one with its 90-degree angle.
Moreover, much of everyday speech and life is built upon stable triads or "tripods" such as morning, noon and night; breakfast, lunch and dinner; mother, father and child; red, white and blue; even legislative, executive and judicial.
Nature's fondness for hexagons (in beehives, snow crystals, and other structures) only buttresses the reverence for 3 (2x3=6).
Baseball's brilliant symmetry strikes a spectator the instant he walks up the ramp and views the glorious diamond. Laid out as though by divine plan is the tripartite panorama with the 3 sacks, the 3 outfields, the host of signs and numbers on the scoreboard (e.g., hits/runs/errors) that are multiples of 3 or of 2 (also a prime number); ditto triadic baseball scoring initials like RBI, ERA, LOB, etc.
It is no accident, finally, that our second/minute/hour clock time and our geographical as well as astronomical/navigational measurement are built upon 2 and 3 and are divisible by these primes. Thus: 24 hours, 360 degrees, 60 minutes, and 60 seconds -- all of which are conveniently divisible by both 2 and 3, and, in fact, 4.
No, Mr. Will, in terms of number, baseball celebrates the regular, not the irregular; the familiar, the divine, not the profane. Besides a 3-ring circus, baseball is, in fact, the most symmetrical spectacle one can think of.
Albert L. Weeks
Death in California
Although I read in horror the account of Robert Alton Harris' execution, I applaud you for publishing the news article by Gregg Zoroya April 22. It strongly reinforced my objections to the death penalty.
To me, it is a simple moral issue -- one human being does not have the right to take the life of another, regardless of the reason.
I pray to God that I never have to face a person who has killed my child, as did the parents of Harris' victims. They say that I cannot understand their grief and therefore cannot understand their passions for seeing him killed. They are right, I cannot.
I do believe that they are the only people justified to feel such hatred for a person to want him gassed to death. The others who cheered on Harris' execution or any other execution I do not understand and never will.
"Cruel and Unusual Punishment" is a phrase much in the news. It
has been used in connection with the eradication of double-murderer Robert Harris.
Why is not the same phrase used in connection with the victims of the heinous act committed by Harris? The same question applies also to victims of rape, incest, sexual molestation of children and other such outrages.
The principal argument against the death penalty, by any method, as expressed by that eminent syndicated columnist Carl T. Rowan is: "It is clear beyond
debate that the death penalty is no deterrent to any violent crime." This is the specious argument used by bleeding-heart liberals (including The Sun) for as long as I can remember.
It is a known fact the death penalty does not deter crime, violent or otherwise, anywhere in the world. However, its effect on the rate of repetition of a crime by a miscreant is chilling and less costly to the public than life imprisonment without parole.
It is indeed unfortunate that our judiciary is composed of many of the same type of people that make up the American Civil Liberties Union. That is, people who put the rights of felons above the rights of their victims. The judiciary not only permits frivolous appeals, but encourages them. The cost of such appeals is borne by the public -- the victims. This travesty makes our country a world leader in idiocy.
George B. Gammie