It has become somewhat of a cultural staple to regularly drag some act of art out into the open and to generate outrage about it - often with the purpose to ridicule art (or, if you’re Republican, to cut even more of the funding that goes into art). Some artists now use incorporate this process into their own art - see this recent attempt - even though most artists would be well advised to leave stuff like that to real experts like, say, The Onion.
In any case, quite a bit of outrage was very recently generated by the case of an artist who supposedly (let’s remember this little word!) put a dog into an art gallery to let it starve to death. It’s probably a sign of the times that there even is a blog about the case, and I’m sure your inbox has seen quite a few forwarded emails urging you to sign the petition to stop a repetition of the art piece.
I’m a vegetarian, in part because what is going on in slaughterhouses every day - to provide the meat that is supposed to be served as a meal - by far exceeds the cruelty of the supposed art piece.
But when I read about the story, the first thing I wondered is whether this could be really true. And then I asked myself if the dog had indeed been present in the gallery why no one had given it any food or water. Actually, art or no art, if I had been present I would have simply untied the dog and taken it to a shelter. So it would seem that none of the visitors of the art gallery had done this. So who should I be outraged about?
And it seems that that reaction, or actually non-reaction, is exactly what the artist had in mind: “The purpose of the work was not to cause any type of infliction on the poor, innocent creature, but rather to illustrate a point. In my home city of San Jose, Costa Rica, tens of thousands of stray dogs starve and die of illness each year in the streets and no one pays them a second thought.” (this is taken from that aforementioned blog, and I can’t verify the original source). That’s a pretty valid point, isn’t it? Why are we outraged about a single dog in a gallery, when we don’t care about thousands of starving dogs outside that very same gallery?
Of course, that all would still not be a good explanation for starving the dog to death, except that did not happen. It seems the actual facts are hard to come by, but according to the Humane Society (an animal rights organisation [that I am a member of btw]) the dog did not starve to death: “We are aware of this story and have asked our contacts in Central America for more information. According to local animal welfare organizations, the dog was in a state of starvation when he was captured from the street for display in the exhibit. We have also been informed that the dog spent one day in the exhibit and later escaped the gallery. We do not condone the actions of this so-called “artist,” and condemn the use of live animals in exhibits such as this. An animal welfare organization in Honduras, where the next art show will be held, is keeping close watch on the case and assures us that the artist will not repeat his objectionable exhibit.” (source)
I guess it is still hard to define what art is, but we have made quite an art form out of generating an outrage, have we?
PS: Another example for this kind of outrage was caused by some British TV chef recently (here is the story): “‘It only costs a bit more to give a chicken a natural life and a reasonably pleasant death,’ he told the champagne-sipping audience before he stunned the chicken, cut an artery inside its throat, and let it bleed to death, all in accordance with British standards for humane slaughter. Mr. Oliver said that he wanted people to confront the reality that eating any kind of meat involves killing an animal, even if it is done with a minimum of pain.” I personally do not condone the killing of an animal so it can be eaten - but I’m sure lots of people who signed the petition about the dog abuse had no problem with having a hamburger, say, for lunch, while venting to their friends and colleagues about an artist and his revolting idea of art.