Editorial: It's our job to challenge mainstream

19:24, Feb 06 2013

There are only two classes of mankind in the world - doctors and patients. Rudyard Kipling, English author and poet (1865-1936).

Art. For many, the subject is only just below religion and politics as a topic not to be raised in polite company. For others, it is the only issue to be discussed. And passionately.

Maddie Leach's intriguing project, If You Find The Good Oil Let Us Know, and the involvement of the Taranaki Daily News, has created some discussion.

Much of it has been negative, which is not surprising in a city gripped by the lively, kinetic debate over the Len Lye Centre and the value of art, and indeed artists, to a community.

In our defence, the Daily News acknowledges that the 'letters' have bent our own rules in much the same way that a howling westerly gale will distort and threaten to dismantle Lye's own controversial wind wand.

But we undertook to run the correspondence only on days where there was extra space and their publication would not undermine regular, more traditional letters and sections. That meant many of them appeared during what we call the 'silly season'. Which some readers might find ironic and strangely appropriate.


And we refused to print a couple of the letters, which were felt to be impenetrable and dangerously misleading.

That at least one letter was deemed too esoteric for general consumption oddly enough hints at the potential value in running the series. It raises questions of language and accessibility that run through, under and around the frequent debates about modern art and its contribution, including that of our old friend Lye. The language used by Leach and her contributors would suggest that art and artists live in a world removed from the mainstream, free of the rules that bind the rest of us.

Most of the letters would have simply confirmed long-held prejudices about art, reinforced perceptions of elitism and snobbery. And maybe inspired new adherents to that way of thinking.

But there are many pages and sections within a newspaper that service certain particular communities through a highly refined use of language and jargon. Seemingly at the expense of those looking in.

Certainly many readers would find racing pages and results as indecipherable as Leach's project, along with sports and business content. But that does not undermine the legitimacy of those particular communities. And art and artists in Taranaki are a legitimate community. Despite what some people might say and write.

Each of these spheres of interest has an entry point, a gateway through which the rules, the language, the motivations and outcomes, are easy to understand. But as one moves deeper into that sphere the lexicon can shift, intensify, befuddle, requiring a higher level of learning and understanding. And often at the exclusion of the mainstream.

That Leach chose, and the Daily News allowed, a mainstream forum as the vehicle for her 'artwork' means both must weather any criticism, and praise, for that work and the process that enriches it.

Which, ironically, reinforces the value of the exercise: Art and our Opinion page should always challenge the mainstream and test the boundaries of our comfort zones.

Taranaki Daily News