Words By Anonymous, Jenny Holzer, And Sarah Palin

Construction Wall, NYC

I’d like to get to know a little about you, dear reader, so here’s my version of a Rorschach test:  What response does this picture elicit?  What’s more significant, the words or the format?  Is this graffiti or art?  Do you care who wrote it?

Portland Museum of Art, Jenny Holzer Exhibit, 2010

We now live in a world where remaining anonymous is easy – there are many outlets to express ourselves without revealing our identities. Do you demand an author take full responsibility for their words?  Are there instances,  perhaps in the comments section of the New York Times or some other online forum, when you don’t own up yourself?

And when we do sign our names, where do freedom of speech and personal responsibility intersect?  Can we place blame for how words and messages are interpreted?  We cannot deny the power of our voice.

What is truth and what is propaganda?  And who among us is innocent?

Poetry by Wisława Szymborska, Projection by Jenny Holzer, 2010, Portland Museum of Art

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10 Comments

  1. Jill

     /  10 January 2011

    I believe that is the classic example of a Freudian slip!

    Reply
    • Kellie

       /  10 January 2011

      @Jill~Funny, I didn’t even catch that the first time around 😉 Good eye.

      Reply
  2. Cara

     /  11 January 2011

    I think there are two much bigger problems we need to face in response to the tragedy in Tucson. Sarah Palin’s cross-hairs (and the Democrats who published the same type of pictures for the 2004 Congressional elections) are merely symptons of these problems. 1. Pervasive violence in American society and 2. Staggering amount of mental illness in American society. Are they connected? I don’t know. But we certainly live in a culture that somehow values (!) violence as part of the rugged, individualistic American character. We see it in children’s stories, video games, reality shows, and as a prerequisite for holding public office (they call it a campaign after all). And the latest number I’ve seen is 26% of all Americans suffer from a mental illness in any given year. 26%! Really? More than 1/4 of us are disturbed so much we cannot function normally in society? Something is wrong with society when that many people are sick.
    So there are small things we can do to make sense of the recent murders, but maybe we really need to tackle some much bigger problems. See Bob Herbert’s editorial in the NYTimes: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/opinion/11herbert.html?hp

    Reply
    • Kellie

       /  12 January 2011

      @Cara ~ well-considered & well-written! Watching as many movies as I do, and now children’s shows, as well, I am horrified by the prevalence of guns and fighting and angry words. To even think that this doesn’t rub off on viewers is ridiculous, and dangerous. I start here and now – to reduce and eliminate violent influence from my life. I will choose more peaceful words, more peaceful news input and more peaceful entertainment. As for mental illness, well, I’ll start when I finish this bottle of prozac 😉

      Reply
      • Kellie

         /  12 January 2011

        (for those of you who don’t know me, I’m just kidding about the prozac – no drugs for me!)

        Reply
  3. Christopher

     /  14 January 2011

    Freud would have loved the first photo. He adored puns and word play, especially in the service of aggression. He would have smiled at the fact that to describe him the author used terms and concepts that he introduced into our contemporary world “Projected his psychosis” could not have been written without Freud to give us the concept of projective identification. He would have smiled at the idea of anyone considering him rich – especially after he fled to London to escape the Holocaust. He would have taken exception only to the term psychiatry, as he did not practice it and wrote an impassioned paper, “A Question of Lay Analysis” to promote the idea that medical instruments were not the right ones with which to study a mind.
    As for the influence of words and violence – we know that words influence our neuroreceptors in much the same way as oral or intravenous drugs. Think about how your body reacts to hearing something desired “Yes” or not desired “No” This is John’s gospel “In the beginning was the word” This is Hamlet, “Words, words, words” This is what every child holds us responsible to – “But you said!”
    And of course, there is a big difference between saying, “You’re early” and “We’re running right on time” 🙂

    Reply
  4. Christopher

     /  14 January 2011

    OK. I realize that in the land of words, I responded to the images and not the questions asked, so now let me try to do that
    What response does this picture elicit?
    Discouraged– I am close to this subject and become disheartened when it is mis-understood and when Freud in misunderstood.
    Is this graffiti or art?
    Neither (to me)
    Do you care who wrote it?
    I care about this person, yes.
    We now live in a world where remaining anonymous is easy – there are many outlets to express ourselves without revealing our identities.
    “I don’t have to tell you what a warm blanket anonymity is”
    – Vanessa Redgrave as Max in Mission Impossible 1996

    Do you demand an author take full responsibility for their words?
    Only if I am the author
    Are there instances, perhaps in the comments section of the New York Times or some other online forum, when you don’t own up yourself?
    No
    And when we do sign our names, where do freedom of speech and personal responsibility intersect?
    I am responsible for all that I say.
    Can we place blame for how words and messages are interpreted?
    I don’t understand this question
    We cannot deny the power of our voice.
    And when we do so, it is a double denial. We deny ourselves and we deny the world of us. Really quite stingy
    What is truth and what is propaganda? And who among us is innocent?
    Let’s settle something easier like Roe v Wade or gay marriage first.

    Reply
  5. Kellie

     /  15 January 2011

    @CAR ~ Thank you for such a thoughtful response…and for expertly clarifying the Freud perspective. Indeed, we can only be responsible for ourselves, and what we say. However, as I see how even well-meaning and mentally healthy people can receive an image, a headline, a piece of artwork, a concept – and come up with their own interpretation (which can be different than its original intention) – well, how do we address the fact that perhaps one quarter of Americans are suffering from mental illness? What is their world like, amid today’s madness? Don’t we have a social responsibility to be less aggressive and antagonistic?

    Reply
  6. Christopher

     /  15 January 2011

    “How do we address the fact that perhaps one quarter of Americans are suffering from mental illness?”
    Work to understand them
    Work to understand the cause
    Work to understand.
    “What is their world like, amid today’s madness?”
    No one answer here. Some are content – It is frequently observed that there is no such thing as someone who is mentally disturbed, only someone who is mentally disturbing.
    “Don’t we have a social responsibility to be less aggressive and antagonistic?”
    Not everyone thinks so.
    If, however, you do think so, what is the goal of less aggression and antagonism?

    Reply
    • Kellie

       /  17 January 2011

      “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
      Martin Luther King, Jr.

      Reply

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