Across the Art Divide

*There is no good reason for the enmity and name-calling that has peppered the recent and current county-wide dialog engendered by the consideration and ultimate exhibition of the artwork of Reading native, Keith Haring. I have a great deal of respect for the responsible citizens with positions on both sides of the often polarized discussions that have occurred and continue to occur here. I have also called attention to the irresponsible invective hurled by extremists of both stripes upon those who disagree with their own strongly held positions.What is clear is that those with the loudest and most contrary voices on both sides have politicized and emotionally loaded the debate with their own problematic belief systems. Keith was a social activist but he was not interested in mere politics. In all the years I knew him I never heard him utter a disparaging word against even those who virulently opposed his work. Keith saw the kind of political and emotional battles conducted by people predominantly as issues of knowledge versus ignorance. He had compassion for those who generated and expressed negative emotions – even those directed at him. He expressed himself very clearly about this. Keith was a gentle person who held ill will toward no one.For these reasons it does seem to me that to conduct a dialog or debate that involves either criticizing or supporting Keith’s work with name-calling, disrespect, or undue emotionalism is actually disrespectful of the sense of decorum that Keith maintained. I recall a situation in which he was pursued by a band of East Village radicals who accused him of “selling out” when he opened his first Pop Shop. They actually threw buckets of sticky black tar and bags of feathers upon him as he ran as fast as he could to escape. Afterward Keith had no negative words to say about the gang except to say he felt sorry for them and their level of personal disturbance.During my recent interview on WEEU’s Feedback program, I made it a point to note my respect for those whose opinions about Keith’s work differ from mine. I also indicated I understand the reasons why Keith’s “City Kids” mural was not hung. Furthermore, I acknowledged that the Commissioners who were doing their elected jobs acted in good faith.There is no acceptable reason to descend into the emotional nether regions of human relations when discussing the merits or lack of same of Keith’s life and work. If you feel a need to do so, no matter what your personal belief system may dictate, it would be better for all of us if you would restrain yourself. As I see it, the most sensible citizens hold the position that this dialog is and has been a good thing for us. It is one of the reasons art has value.

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