An earlier version of this article was posted June 3, 2015
Miriam Elia illustrates a point
In America, older generations than mine grew up with “Dick and Jane” books. The simple words and clean cut imagery of these works were meant as a teaching tool for young readers.
It seems the British version was “Peter and Jane.” The names might have been different, but the intent was the same: an educational experience for kids, presented in an easily assimilated, non-threatening format.
As society grew more cynical, succinct statements like “Look Jane, see Dick” took on an unwholesome, ironic taint. The images now evoke a whole vanished era, a time of earnest naivete and lost innocence.
UK artist and writer Miriam Elia took full advantage of this gentle nostalgic vibe in 2014. She released “We Go To The Gallery,” appropriating the traditional format associated with Ladybird, the British publisher of children’s easy reader books. But in Elia’s version, the kids are being subjected to the soul crushing ordeal of viewing contemporary establishment art.
In panel after panel, Elia skewers the nasty nihilistic productions of the decadent cultural elitists.
Along the way many recognizable conceptual art works are referenced, with the Mummy character spewing the stale turpitude so essential to post modern poseurs. The corruption and presumptions of culture industry hacks make them ripe targets for such mockery.
On her site Elia used to advertise a lecture on “learning principles”:
-Helping children understand there is nothing to understand
-Ensuring the child’s own opinions match those of the arts elite
-Preparing young people for a lifetime of crippling uncertainty
She’s presenting this as a joke. But when I realize that is exactly what our institutions are actively doing for real, I find it less amusing.
When I first discovered this book in 2015, it was unavailable. It seems the traditional publisher didn’t appreciate the mockery and some legal shenanigans ensued. In some of the images on the internet the character names were changed to John and Susan, and I wonder if that wasn’t an effort to bypass some of the copyright concerns. Now, in 2021, We Go the Gallery is back at Amazon; the site explains: “The 2014 limited edition of We Go to the Gallery was threatened with a lawsuit by Penguin UK (owners of the Ladybird imprint), which was withdrawn following a recent change in UK copyright law allowing for parody and satire.”
There is an extreme disconnect between the feebleness of contemporary art and the attitude of sophisticated superiority the elitists display. Irony was once their weapon. Now it is their shield. Soon it will be their tomb.
A generation’s worth of careers, reputations and investments have been built in a dead end, a pitfall of decadence and power lust. Outside of their carefully screened zones of consensus they are meaningless. But we can’t cede the custodianship of our civilization to these perpetrators. It’s time we start invading their enclaves and confronting their failures both as artists and as human beings.
Concise observations like Elia’s, presented with inescapable deadpan humor, will be the death of the current art bubble. Smart people are looking for the exits already.
RICHARD BLEDSOE is a visual story teller; a painter of fables and parables. He received his BFA in Painting from Virginia Commonwealth University. Richard has been an exhibiting artist for over 25 years, in both the United States and internationally. He lives and paints happily in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife Michele and cat Motorhead. He is the author of Remodern America: How the Renewal of the Arts Will Change the Course of Western Civilization.
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My wife Michele Bledsoe has written her own inspirational book, Painting, Passion and the Art of Life.
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