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Published in the Columbia Daily Tribune 14 May 2006

Strike a Blow for Liberty

Wine & cheese.  It's the standard fare at just about every art opening I've been to.  It helps to lubricate conversation and sales, gives people something to do with their hands.  Oh, sure, there are usually plenty of other great dishes to delight the palate, sometimes coordinated to go with the theme of a show or even paired with specific works of art.  But 'wine & cheese' is the classic, so much so that it has become something of a cliche.  You'll hear intellectuals sometimes referred to as the 'wine drinking set,' partly because of the association between wine's subtle flavors and the nuance of good art.

The Columbia Art League's 48th annual Art in the Park is June 3 & 4.  This year, for the first time, it will be held at Stephens Lake Park, just down East Broadway from the traditional venue on the Stephens College campus.  This is good for several reasons.  There should be more room, so the fair can grow (this year there will be about a 20% increase in the number of participating artists).  Additional activities can be included.  More people can attend.  More people will get to see Stephens Lake Park, one of the finest in the city.  And there can be wine sales.

Yup, thanks to a recent City Council decision, wine sales will be permitted at Art in the Park this year.  Les Bourgeois Winery will have a sales tent, selling bottles and giving away samples.  Given how closely the Art League and Les Bourgeois have worked together the last few years on the Collector's Series wine label competition, this just makes sense.

There is a Puritanical strain in American history, and in some flavors of current religion, which condemns both alcohol and art (particularly the kind of art that has nekkid people in it).  In this view, as I understand it, both alcohol and art are the tools of the Devil; or put another way, a celebration of the worldly in opposition to the holy.

OK, granted, artists tend to celebrate the worldly.  They love color, and texture, sound and scent and flavor.  The joys of the body and the mind.  A touch of hedonism does crop up here and there, though most artists I know are typical Midwesterners in their range of beliefs and behaviors.  They are no more inclined to evil excess than anyone else and just as likely to be the church-going kind of people as their neighbors.  Some of the artists I've worked with are quite devout in their religious conviction, and see their artwork as being in service to their beliefs.

It doesn't seem that there was much in the way of opposition to wine sales at Art in the Park based on religion, though I'm sure that there will be those who will complain, as there are those who complain that some art is "pornographic."  But their complaints should be ignored.  If those individuals don't want to try the wine at Art in the Park, they don't have to.  That's their choice.  Same as if they happen to come across a work of art which offends them:  they can choose not to look at it.

You, however, should celebrate your freedom as an American to go enjoy both the art and the wine (well, the latter permitted you are of legal age, anyway).  As Harry S Truman used to say:  "strike a blow for liberty."  Sure, he did so before having his morning shot of Bourbon, not while drinking a glass of wine at an art fair, but still the principle applies.  Go to Art in the Park, savor a glass of wine, enjoy yourself.  And remember, for an artist, purchase is the highest form of flattery.

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