To the Editor:
After reading Terry Teachout’s endorsement of Arlene Croce’s (in)famous article in the New Yorker [“Victim Art,” March], several questions which had been nagging me finally crystallized: Is there a distinction between “victim art” and documentaries of victims? What is “art for art’s sake”? What is meant by “political art”?
The first question is of primary importance because Still/Here, the Bill T. Jones dance piece at the heart of the furor, incorporated videotape of real people talking about their life-threatening afflictions. It seems clear to me that what Croce objects to most is the inclusion of documentary footage; the use of these people and their stories is what places Jones’s piece beyond criticism, because who can criticize a cancer victim’s portrayal of her condition? And yet, many victims have had their stories made into vital art. Surely there is a difference between a videotaped testimonial of a syphilis victim and a performance of Ibsen’s Ghosts; between an interview with a stroke victim and Arthur Kopit’s Wings; between a Holocaust testimonial and Schindler’s List.
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