Art and Truth: A Reading List for AGO Creative Minds
Toronto Public Library is proud to support the Art and Truth: AGO Creative Minds at Massey Hall event that is happening on April 4th, 2018. Moderated by CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti, internationally celebrated writer Salman Rushdie, provocative performance artist Andrea Fraser, award-winning filmmaker Charles Officer and JUNO-nominated musician Iskwé take to the stage to debate the role of art in distinguishing right from wrong, and to consider how notions of truth are related to broader social, economic, political and intellectual forces.
IMAGE CREDITS: Salman Rushdie photo by Beowulf Sheehan, Andrea Fraser photo by Jürgen Schulzki, Charles Officer photo by Justin Morris.
Salman Rushdie needs little introduction. His 1988 novel Satanic Verses was widely criticized and he was condemned to death by Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran's religious (and political) leader. I began working at TPL in 1988 and recall the first copies coming into the library at the time — and the concern about possible protests or worse to remove it. Rushdie went into hiding for quite some time and his entire career (in fact, life) would subsequently be coloured by this work of fiction and the response to it. Thirty years later TPL still has over 70 copies of Satanic Verses and they're still in demand.
There's literary criticism about the book and the impact of the fatwa on him. There are also books that discuss Islam and censorship and more broadly, the issue of religious censorship. I don't want to suggest that artistic (or literary) censorship only comes from religion or from one religion alone. One need only recall the American National Endowment for the Arts and the brutal culture wars and eventual cuts to funding they faced in the 1980s and 90s. Heavy controversy swirled around institutions that dared show the photographic work of artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and his nude/gay/S&M images, or the objections of some Christians to the photography of Andres Serrano. One must also remember the Nazis' attack on the so-called Degenerate Art in the 1930s.
You may also find these titles interesting:
- Books on Fire: The Destruction of Libraries Throughout History
- A Right To Offend: Freedom of Expression in Twenty-First Century
- Hate Spin: The Manufacture of Religious Offense and its Threat to Democracy
- Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction
- Open Letter on Blasphemy, Islamophobia, and the True Enemies of Free Expression
- We are Not Charlie Hebdo! Free Thinkers Question the French 9/11
But, as we know, it's not only literature that suffers from censorship.
- Controversies: A Legal and Ethical History of Photography
- Ethics and the Visual Arts
- This is Not Art: Activism and Other 'Not-Art'
- The Future of the Image
- What Art Is or After the End of Art (Arthur C. Danto)
Andrea Fraser has established herself firmly in the artistic world as a performance artist. "Best known for her performance critiques of art institutions, art publications, art sponsorship, and cultural transfer — think subversive museum docent — Andrea Fraser is one of the more prominent artists to raise institutional criticism to the level of art itself."
Interested in performance art but not all that familiar with it ... these may help?
There's something about performance art (its accessibility — the use of one's self?) that is especially attractive to more marginalized communities and artists especially women like Fraser and also Mona Hatoum, Yoko Ono, Linda Mary Montano, Karen Finley and Marina Abramović.
- New Media in Late 20th-Century Art
- Double Exposures: Performance as Photography, Photography as Performance
- A Bigger Splash: Painting After Performance
- The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now
- The Concrete Body: Yvonne Rainer, Carolee Schneemann, Vito Acconci
Enough about art for the moment — what about truth?
- Truth: Engagements Across Philosophical Traditions
- Truth and Existence: A Philosophical Inquiry
- Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth
- A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind
- The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life's Biggest Questions
- Philosophy at 3 AM: Questions and Answers with 25 Top Philosophers
- Living With a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth About Everything
Within the Canadian cultural context, the word 'truth' right now is inexorably tied to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. There has been much painful work done and healing begun around the residential schools abuses and indigenous peoples, Métis and Inuit.
And the opposite of truth is of course ... fake news.
You may also be interested in these titles:
- How Democracies Die
- It's Even Worse Than you Think: What the Trump Administration is Doing to America
- The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America
Let's turn to something a bit more hopeful, the truth-telling of award-winning filmmaker, Charles Officer. He showed us a forgotten truth in his 2011 film Mighty Jerome = le grand Jerome, the not well enough known story of black Canadian athlete and Olympian, Harry Jerome.
We've seen censorship in literature and art, but film is also a ripe area for control.
Officer's 2017 Hot Docs entry Unarmed Verses (winner of the best Canadian feature) tells the story of 12-year-old girl and her family facing relocation as their Toronto Community Housing neighborhood is revitalized. Her truth comes forward through his art, and part of the power of his art is that her truth wouldn't be told without it. He's giving voice to the hidden voiceless, to the marginalized and he's also giving voice to his own reality as well.
And lastly, a shout-out to the amazing singer Iskwé (she's of Cree/Dene and Irish heritage). She is not only a singer, but also the co-author of a graphic novel Will I See?. You can hear a podcast interview with her here: Indigenous in Music with Larry K.
CREATIVE MINDS is a landmark series of discussions that brings together visionary artists to discuss their work and the urgent social, political and cultural issues of our time. Four leading Canadian cultural institutions — the Art Gallery of Ontario, Massey Hall, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Banff Centre for Arts + Creativity — have come together to create this initiative with the support of Series Presenters, Jonas and Lynda Prince, whose leadership inspired the development of the project. The conversations are moderated by a leading journalist and each event opens with a musical performance, a nod to the legacy of Massey Hall. The events are streamed online and broadcast on radio by CBC, giving audiences across Canada an opportunity to hear what the artists have to say.
Editor's note: The headline was updated on March, 28, 2018.