Defending art one rebuttal at a time

    If you live in Philadelphia, you hear a lot of things on the subway. Weird things: one-sided cell-phone arguments, unsolicited political opinions, romantic apologies, free-styling. In January, 2011, Amy Scheidegger heard this one at the 34th Street station of the Blue Line:

    “Art is the most useless degree anyone can get,” said a young man to his friend. “They have a degree in making s**t with popsicle sticks.”

    “They were so young,” said Scheidegger, who had just gotten a graduate degree in Arts Administration. “I thought people younger than I am were generally more open to creative practices.”

    Scheidegger had heard such sentiments before, but this time she got angry. So she got even.

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    Artistic Rebuttal is an ongoing web and publishing project, wherein artists and art-lovers submit reasons why art matters:

    “Artists designed the clothes on your back and the ads that enticed you to buy them.”

    “The fact that drawing is a spontaneous activity that an overwhelming majority of children participate in suggest the dual biological association of art and human development.”

    “Without art the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”

    Arguments cite the origins of practical product design, therapeutic coping mechanisms, and primal urges to create. Each statement is couched in its own visualization. Only a few dozen copies of the first edition (2011) were published. Copies were sent to politicians, business leaders, even President Obama.

    “My mission with the book was to place it in businesses and organizations where artists don’t frequent,” said Scheidegger. “I don’t want to preach to the choir with this book. I want people who don’t make art to pick up the book and say, hey…maybe art doesn’t have a huge impact on my life, but it has an impact on other people’s lives. And it has impacted my life more than I think it does.”

    Originally, Scheidegger did not put any restriction on the contributors, asking only for reactions to the accusation she overheard on the subway. The accusation, as quoted–“art is the most useless degree anyone can get”–created its own teapot of controversy. Some adamantly self-taught artists believe that, yes, an art degree is useless, but art itself is of primary importance. “I had a lot of people ask me if I was perpetuating the idea that only an artist with a degree is a legitimate artist,” said Scheidegger.

    For the second round she altered the parameters. In 2012 people were asked to work within a theme. “Even if you don’t make art, but are an art appreciator you feel that instinct to defend it,” said Scheidegger. “Instinct was the theme.”

    There are three versions of the book: one featuring Pennsylvania artists, one with contributions from across the country, and a third with submissions by children. Each is available as a printable download.

    To raise money for a hardcopy print run of the 2nd edition, the Artistic Rebuttal Project is hosting a fundraising event on May 3rd, at Replica Global (33 South 18th Street, Philadelphia), 6PM – 9PM.

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