The latest scandal in Salisbury, NC is a local news story about Clyde Overcash, an artist, who is pressing charges against Anne Caldwell Cave, the director of the Rowan Arts Council, because he hung a pair of underwear in front of his building and called it art — and she took it down.
This reminds me of a course I took in college. It was a philosophy seminar called “The Philosophy of Art.”
Dr. Helm, our professor, was an extremely kind, elderly gentleman. In fact, I thought he was pretty old. A little research reveals that he was actually only four or five years older than I am now.
Here’s a bit about Dr. Helm and some photos.
Dr. Helm infuriated me with some of his ideas:
‘A well prepared meal is a work of art,’ he would say. I couldn’t relate to this. Most of my meals at the time came from slightly raunchy restaurants, or our absolutely raunchy kitchen in the house I shared with other students, or from the Wake Forest cafeteria, a.k.a. “The Pit.”
‘A soap opera episode, in some cases, can be a work of art,’ Dr. Helm would also say.
This also didn’t seem to make sense to me. My soap opera experience was based on time I spent visiting my grandmother while she watched. The story never seemed to go anywhere!
Of course these statements were meant to provoke discussion around the seminar table, and they did.
I don’t remember much content from a class that took place 32 years ago, but I remember the emotion quite well. I was frustrated. It was a seminar. The others in the class were upper class philosophy majors and I wasn’t. The other students were better at the lingo and referred to other philosophers. I fancied myself a poet (a kind of artist) — and although I loved philosophy, I wasn’t much of a talker on the subject. So I mostly just sat there, wanting to participate but too afraid, and listened.
But I do have my opinion about the underwear. In my view, it depends on whose underwear it is. If it’s a pair of my underwear, hanging from a tree in front of my house, then it’s just underwear. I’m not that kind of artist.
Clyde Overcash, on the other hand, consistently produces visual art. I own a number of his paintings. His underwear, hanging in front of his gallery — is certainly a work of art.
It may stink, but it’s still a work of art.
The fact that someone in the art world assumes the role of art police and censors the work proves his point even further: it’s a provocative work of art.
Maybe the whole thing is staged media hype — a publicity stunt for Salisbury artists.
In a phone call this evening, I reported the incident to my son (a painter and musician). He likes to get the latest updates from Salisbury.
“That’s a juicy story,” he said.
When I told him I was blogging about it, he suggested I allude to Duchamp’s Fountain.