Monday, April 13, 2009

PCA/ACA follow up: Masters of Comics and the "Canon"

This post is in response to the lively discussion that followed my presentation Beyond High & Low: How Comics and Museums Learned to Co-Exist at the PCA/ACA conference on Saturday. Talking about Masters of American Comics and his choice to pick an all-male (and pretty much all white) “canon,” John Carlin tells Leslie Jones (Art on Paper magazine) that he realizes that the term “masters” seems like sort of an anachronism in this postmodern age and goes on to explain his thinking:

"This is an old-fashioned type of art exhibition that I would never organize or curate if I working in the art field…I really felt that the canon hadn’t been established in a coherent way. This attempts to do that and to create something that people can then criticize and move beyond. To be designated as a “master” for the purposes of this show you really had to combine two things: one was the highest level of craftsmanship and technical mastery… the other was a kind of formal innovation that added something to the medium so that everybody that comes after him, whether they imitate him or not, has to pay homage to his work."

The article continues with more of his thoughts on the artists and works selected for the show. Another useful article, in which Carlin goes into detail about some of the problems the show faced, was written by Scott Timberg for the LA Times. Lastly, there’s the ArtNews article on female comic artists I mentioned. I believe all these articles are available on J-Stor:
  • Carly Berwick. Why Have There Been No Great Women Comic-Book Artists? ArtNews. Vol. 104, No.10 (November 2005). 166-169.

  • Leslie Jones. Cracking the Comics Canon. Art on Paper. Vol. 10, No. 2 November/December 2005). 44-49.

  • Scott Timberg. An uneasy accord: L.A. museums open their walls to comics as true works of art. Is it long overdue, still an odd mix, or simply inviting cartoonists to a party they might not want to attend? Los Angeles Times. October 23, 2005. E33.
I admit that I wish that the curators could have found a way to be more inclusive, but as a researcher/curator myself, I also know that you can never include everything you'd like, and that it's assumed that someone else is either going to argue with or build on your work. Starting a dialog seems to be what it's all about (or is it the Hokey-Pokey? I get confused...)
Thanks for all the great questions!

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