Terese Marie Mailhot
Arts & Entertainment | Opinion

Terese Mailhot: Another look at the state of criticism of Native 'art'





Writer Terese Marie Mailhot (Seabird Island Band) made waves when she questioned whether Native people were unwilling to call out bad "art" in the community and in media. She's back with a second look at the issue:
One thing I said in my editorial Quality and Control: How Native Artists Have Failed to Criticize Each Other, that bothered me after seeing it posted multiple times was, “The vacant work of some Native art is so lacking I’ve felt ashamed for staying quiet.” The heart of the sentence is true, but the word ‘vacant’ felt disingenuous to who I am, because no work is truly vacant of expression. The truth is that some ‘bad art,’ or work that I know I shouldn’t defend, based on my personal aesthetic, or artistic integrity, can be brilliant, and full, and more willful and guileless than anything else, and seeing the value in that is probably the biggest reason I wanted a Master’s of Fine Arts from the Institute of American Indian Arts: so that I could look at any one thing and see the dynamism in it—writing is a lot about that.

I can defend bad art that’s simply produced for consumers—that it’s the artist declaring, “I’ll be that” for the masses, which will consume her how they wish anyway. It could even be subversive, to give people what they want, while retiring in her Jacuzzi in the evenings, drinking champagne after pandering—because there is something substantive in performance.

There’s something subversive in working against the idea of ‘authenticity,’ and that we aren’t all liars who do what we have to. It could be there is no such thing as ‘real,’ borrowing from the theories regarding performativity. The idea that interiority could be something natural, individual, and not formed from our external world, which hits us time and time again, like a hammer, via the mass media, the patriarchy, institutions, the limitations and negations we’re given from 0-up, that could be the true master of our wills, and even rebellion, or ‘authenticity,’ it could simply be a reaction to it all—no different than ‘selling out,’ or admitting, there’s nothing wrong with reproduction when nothing can truly be reproduced, not exactly.

Read More on the Story:
Terese Mailhot: Making the Case for Bad Art While Holding the Line Against the Irredeemable (Indian Country Media Network 6/13)

Related Stories:
Terese Mailhot: I cringe at what passes as Native 'art' these days (June 9, 2017)