Art, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. No one has come up with a workable definition of art that can universally separate garbage like Karen Finley's body goo from Michelangelo's "David." And because art is so difficult, so amorphous and difficult to define, civilized people have shied away from attempting to place limits on it. The best policy, we have decided, is to allow everything into the artistic marketplace, and let history and time sort it all out.
There's only one problem with this strategy: If you pollute the artistic marketplace with unmitigated crap, no one will want to visit the marketplace. Art itself will die, or at least be relegated to the few, proud elitists who busily wade through mountains of manure, proclaiming it intellectual gold.
Art thrives most when it has reasonable limits. When there are no hard limits, artists who push the envelope are given the most attention. Those "artists" attract the most imitators. And so the "artist" who drops a crucifix in a jar of urine breeds the "artist" who douses herself in chocolate syrup. The "artist" who douses herself in chocolate syrup breeds the "artist" who engages in acts of sodomy before a live audience.
And all of these artists breed the "artist" who supposedly artificially inseminates herself, induces her own miscarriages, films those miscarriages, saves the blood, mixes it with Vaseline, spreads the mixture on saran wrap and then projects the video of her miscarriages onto the saran wrap screen.
Last week, a national furor arose over Yale student Aliza Shvarts' "art" project, which contemplated doing just that: projecting abortion videos onto abortion leftovers. The political right was understandably outraged -- the immorality of the abortions is sick-making on its own. The political left was, somewhat puzzlingly, also perturbed -- they condemned Shvarts' "approach and presentation," though one struggles to see their problem, considering Shvarts' repeated abortions are legal only due to their adamant support for abortion-on-demand.
The art world was largely silent on Shvarts' project. They were not silent, however, on the prospect of censorship. "Public media has been practicing vigilant self-censorship ever since (Sept. 11, 2001) -- in my opinion, a very irresponsible choice," said performance artist, Yale lecturer and probable Shvarts-advisor Pia Lindman said. "I am still waiting for this self-aggrandizing mass psychosis; the uncritical belief in the omnipotence and goodness of the American people, troops and government, to dissolve and have it replaced with sober self-reflection."