Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Could Things Be More Polarized Than They Are? “Beautiful” Paintings and the Fascist Spirit

I’ve done a curious thing with this blog, which possibly dooms it: I write about images, image-makers, as well as what goes on in the heads of people who perceive them, and yet. . .I provide no images.  Terrible of me, I know.  Perhaps I will correct it someday.

For now, however, I will ask you, dear reader, to follow my words down a lovely primrose lane, where the past of your fondest fantasies is still alive and you can say childish things to your mother.  Don’t restrain yourself; she wants you to say them.  “Care for any milk, my darling?  I’ll get it for you.  Just relax. You’re safe here for the rest of your life.”    

Down this path, we live lives that are in perfect harmony with our vision of what is Good and Right; lives that revolve around funny gossip and adorable grandparents.  Lives that are imbued with The Scripture; enriched by the feats of our fighting men; and made safe by corporate America, which looks after our interests even when we’re sleeping.  We love our neighbors and treat our pets as if they’re family.  We don’t know much about how other people live because they live Over There.  Isn’t that where dad goes to get the car fixed sometimes?  He’ll mention it now and then because “bad things happen Over There” and we need to know because, sometimes, the world is not safe.  But here's the pot roast and, well, why talk about such things at dinner? 

Yes, it is a lovely sort of place which, seen in retrospect, has a sort of glow – not the glow of a lamp-light, but the glow of Memory, which keeps it all warm and fuzzy.  I want my memories to smell good.  I know you do too.   

Am I exaggerating too much?  Well, all right.  Let’s say there’s a little more ambiguity in such lives – in such a fantasy.  People do get hurt, leave their marriages, and lose jobs they thought they’d have for life.  But in such a great country – which takes care of them because we take care of ourselves first – such things are little toe-stubs that heal virtually overnight.  And when they don’t and troubled times descend for a while, we know they’ll be over because morning always comes and all Americans are protected.

That’s better, isn’t it?  A little hardship, a spot of bad times, then we’re right back among good people and desirable outcomes.  And all of our furniture, which we love all the more because our dogs – which help us hunt for the things we shoot and kill – mess it up now and then.  We like to be comfortable that way, like all Americans.  At least all of the Americans we know.

America has become so polarized that women are, on the one hand, bearers of children – which requires sex; and sluts, without which (sex, I mean) sluts are not possible.  Bearers of children – provided their wombs and moral sensibilities are cleared by the state - are Good.  Sluts, however, are not.  They have sex because they like it.  Or they have sex because they’re bored.  Or they have sex because their boyfriends (or rapists) insist upon it.  Whatever the case, they’re sluts because they are not bearing children.  Should they bear a child, as a result of various depraved activities, there will be hell to pay.  Yes, hell.  Where is hell?  Don’t bother to look down; it is in us already.

Yes, small wonder in a country that is so polarized in terms of its intelligence quotient that a whole chunk of it can deny scientific proof of things it doesn’t even believe – or cannot believe – exists.  Yes, there are a great many people who believe that People have absolutely no impact on a breathing organism – even if they might acknowledge that, if you stuck an exhaust pipe down somebody’s throat it is likely to kill him.  In global/environmental/macrocosmic terms, however, they refuse to entertain such a notion.  These people are not merely stupid, and perhaps not stupid at all.  To, however, accept Mr. Gore’s “inconvenient truth” would mean that they’d have to question, and perhaps discard, all of the trappings they’ve come to believe as containing and embodying the Good Life.  In order to conserve energy, they’d have to move closer to town.  In order to attend public schools and therefore keep an eye on them. . .ditto.  In order to participate in a pluralistic democracy. . .yes, ditto again! 

To do these things would make them hippies.  (Are there hippies anymore?  Haven’t they died off or gone to prison?)  It would most certainly make them un-American, as they understand Americans to be.  It would also make them secular, it would make them inclusive, it would make them inquiring.  It would mean that they’d not only have to acknowledge the existence of Other People, they would have to move in with them. 

Why?  Because, according to the best intelligence on the subject, verticality is the most energy-efficient way of organizing large populations.  Verticality – or at least old-fashioned, New York City-style living – would promote Population Density Living – which only people in New York City can presumably stand.  New York City – that Land Of Heretics, that Isle Of Subversive Creativity, that Repository Of Objectionable Alternatives for which the suburbs – as well as the Rest of the Country – is a serene and viable corrective. 

I’m not living with those heretics.  Last I looked, it was a free country, which means I can raise my family anywhere I please.  So don’t go fucking up my law and order, my church, and my belief system, which is already written down, thank you very much.  In fact, I will quote it for you because I memorized back in school!  

I’ve tried to warm you, dear reader, up with a little rhetoric because I want to talk for a little while about the polarity between the Red State, or Republican, vision of America and the one that is taken by the sort of inquiring minds that go into painting because it is a window onto the world and not a tiny chink in the wall that shuts it out.  And since I’ve been writing about images and image-makers, I want to go back to them.

Nor will I be naming names.  In order to examine the perpetrators, use key words like “Impressionism”, “Landscape Painting”, “Western artists”, and possibly “beautiful paintings.”  Somebody like Thomas Kinkade is an easy target, so I will dispense with him.  There are all sorts of more subtle fabulists who roam our Great Plains, our Mountain Majesties, and our Shining Seas, not as our nation’s pilgrims did, but in all sorts of enormous vehicles which have been variously called SUV’s, Off-road Vehicles, and what’s that other one?  Jack Nicholson did it in a very funny movie about useless old age and its despairing attempts to find meaning. 

Since the 1990’s, painting has flowered in a way nobody could have anticipated.  It is so various and multi-faceted and all-inclusive that there’s no getting one’s arms around it.  There is, quite literally, Something For Everyone.  And not just at the top, where elegant experiments and interesting variations on classical ideations occur.  Nor at the so-called Cutting Edge, which deals in alternative media and the collisions of a thousand cultures.  There is something for the career military man who remembers an idyllic childhood (idyllic for him) which was spent with a father who loved to go and shoot things.  Or fish for them.  There is something for the lady who loves Old World cultures, where people play dress-up all the time and ply the visitor with exotic foods and recipes.  There is something for the nature lover, who went off by him or herself and looked at Monument Valley.  There is a lot of stuff for nature lovers, as long as that nature is pre-vetted and pristine.  I frankly don’t see a lot of nature-lover stuff that shows a once-unspoiled nature that’s contaminated by what mining does to it.  There’s very little nature-lover stuff that deals with the shearing-off of mountains – or the less spectacular shearing-off of places that eventually become our suburbs.  (I now understand the universal aversion – and I must interpret it as such because there are very few paintings of suburban communities – to rendering the aseptic life of so many Americans.  Just a little “hmmmm” to think about.)  No, there isn’t a lot of nature-lover imagery that deals in the depredations of our species.  Unless it’s just built in.  Some very beautiful lakes are actually dead.  But nobody has to know that.  I once painted a few pictures of Onondaga Lake in Syracuse, New York. And why not?  It shimmers in the sunshine as if fish were leaping around inside of it.  As if you could mosey up to the shoreline, stretch the stretch of contentment, and ladle up a handful of clean water.  As if its murky bottom were not coated with a chemical cocktail that would kill anybody who cared to explore it for a while.  The pictures I made of it are delightful.  They are the sort of America the Beautiful pictures I can’t help making now and again because, by crackey, America IS Beautiful – even the parts of it we’ve fucked up very badly.  It’s sometimes hard to take a critical attitude about this America.  But someone has to do it and, because I’m attempting to lambast a kind of sleeping consciousness here, I should take it up again.

Yes, there are so many aesthetic possibilities for people who just want to be in swell places that I’m going to create a sort of subject glossary and try to “paint with words” the kinds of paintings these people like.  (And, yes.  I did say “these people.”  Consider me a polarizing force too.  In this world, everyone is guilty.)  For every subject, you’ll find hundreds of paintings.  (I call – and somebody’s already responded.  Ain’t that somethin’?)

Mountain majesty, with the shore of a spring-fed lake.

Mountain majesty, with the shore of a so-so lake that could dry up in August.

Foothills that bloom with all sorts of intriguing vegetation.

Foothills that are lacking vegetation for no good reason, but are still foothills and therefore “wild and free”.

Purling streams surrounded with cottonwoods.

Sluggish streams that are appealing because somebody’s just reeled in a “big one”.

Oceanfront property that looks like a million dollars because it costs that much.

Oceanfront property that looks like a million dollars because the ocean’s in it.

Oceanfront property that makes the argument for living a little away from the ocean.

Oceanfront property that’s so sexy you can not only smell the ocean, you imagine yourself ripping away at the sheets in the bedroom and feeling slightly embarrassed, but not really.

Nice people feeding a horse, often near the Plaza Hotel in New York City.  It is the one circumstance under which New York City is acceptable – unless firefighters are standing in front of a nearly-destroyed World Trade Center.

A carriage ride (“Fuck the horses!” saith my inner animal, discreetly) anywhere.  I stand corrected.  New York City is acceptable here too.

Horses off by themselves; horses being ridden, preferably by somebody who’s bothered to purchase a riding-habit; horses (or just a horse) being combed by a young girl with blondish ringlets.  Why brown-haired people don’t hack it is a mystery to me.

Dogs in any place, any position.  (When cats appear, they are oddly stationery.  I don’t know why.)

Marketplaces in foreign lands.  And cafes too.  If the flag of that nation is flying somewhere, that’s a plus.

Any picture of Venice, Rome or Paris.  A hand-holding couple helps, but is not necessary.  When the picture’s set in Rome, some people like to see old guys drinking.  I don’t understand that either.

Such is Red State aesthetics, albeit in a few broad swatches.  Hundreds of other possibilities could be created out of whole – or, rather, whole-minus-something – cloth.  Think: it’s gotta be nice, it should have something spectacular in it, and, if the people aren’t white or well-heeled, they have to be “picturesque.”  The white people are often smiling.  Or are about to.  Or have just been.

Now: I have nothing against “beautiful nature” or pretty places – at least in moderation.  But if you believe, as I do, that everything is contextualized, these kinds of things have social meanings.  They mean that those who are creating and consuming them are dying to return to a time and place in which the complexities and difficult choices of our times are absent.  They mean that there is a ready market for such denial and a vast number of people who wish to supply it.  They mean that it’s going to be very hard, if not impossible, to get any God-fearin’, gun-sympathizing, birth control-averse American to do anything but run for the hills.  Or just stay in them.

The passage below was written about an actual painting.  I want to offer it as a personal response to the kind of work I’ve been talking about:

These are just the kinds of bad paintings (I've been talking about.)  The painter knows what she's doing in terms of creating space and enlivening the painted surface, but she dips into the Great and Inexhaustible Vat Of Embarrassing Cliches and fishes for her subjects.  I can't believe how many people do this until I think about the geography and politics of the United States.  The so-called intelligence centers - aside from various universities, which are largely cut off from the communities they are supposed to serve - are in the Northeast.  In spite of the internet, Red State people still think what they thought in the 1930's - except they have nicer cars and live away (by choice and gas mileage) from the poor and colored.  And so they create, with impunity, ridiculous fantasies about an America That Never Was - or an America that consists of mountain majesties and fresh lakes and streams.  To call such egregious lies "art" is to pervert the artistic spirit, which is one of inquiry.  These people's minds were always made up.  And they create and purchase paintings that reflect that implicitly.

When John Sloan was in the Southwest, he almost singlehandedly discovered – for white people, I mean - the arts and crafts of Native Americans.  He was so taken by them that he started a movement that culminated in various exhibitions of such art – as well as an “Indian gallery” that sold them.  He was ashamed of the gewgaws tourists bought and, by supporting the genuine article, he made it possible for Native Americans to rediscover their own heritage.  Here was a man who was always dedicated to staking out what was genuine about our country, no matter where it might take him.  As a younger man, he was considered an “apostle of ugliness” because he dared to do pictures of people walking around New York City.  Or the City itself.  They were considered vulgar, unappetizing, obtuse.  Over time, people came around, but the virus of sentimentality continued to spread.  Now it has infected an enormous segment of our population, which hearkens after the Good Old Days when a smaller proportion of American’s couldn’t vote and a much larger proportion was terrorized if it did.  These Good Old Days presumably brought peace and prosperity to a country that has always wanted to be perceived as synonymous with these things.  The actual story is more complicated, as such stories always are. 

Why am I so “down” on our country?  I want it to acknowledge the sins of its past, I want it to see what the future might become when it attempts to solve its problems without the military, and I want it to embrace, rather than persecute, the diversity it claims to be its strength.  We are now officially in decline.  We will go ever so much farther down that road if we march in lockstep with the denial into which so many of our countrymen immerse themselves, as if it were the warm bath their mother used to draw.  It may be warm, but there’s all kinds of shit in it.    


  1. Sorry Brett...
    would like to have read it but impossible with
    the black print over dark background.

  2. Yup, one can now read it simply by clicking the left hand mouse pointer.
    Could I make a suggestion for your next blog to give a further enlightenment on how fascism and socialism are both sides of the same coin in many ways...Recall that Hitler's
    party was the National SOCIALIST Party and today China's
    Communist core is also FASCIST.
    The term 'fascist' is tossed around today by folks who have little knowledge or recognition of where it came from and how it was derived.
    Yes Mussolini supposedly coined the specific word but it
    derived from fasces which dates back to at least the Romans. Albert Pike and his Italian colleague Giusseppi Mazzini, cultivated it and Mussolini plagiarized from them.

    This fascinating sequence of events is a suggestion unto
    itself for a 'painting' and Persia should not be left out
    of the picture either since if one does his homework, you
    can even find the fasces positioned quietly at the base
    of 5000 year old Persian architecture, pedestals, and statues.
    And on the subject of Persian antiquity, one can lucidly
    observe where the design of Solomon's Temple came from...
    at least one thousand years before it was built.
    A couple of the fasces designs can also be observed here too if you look closely.
    Paintings and art? Now HERE'S real painting and art....