A couple weeks back I was in Charleston on a Friday evening, and they had one of those art walks, wherein the art galleries open their doors and serve cheap wine. Free cheap wine! It’s used in much the same way that cheese is used to tempt rats; it brings out a certain crowd. The goal is, I think, to stuff as many of this crowd as possible into as small a place as possible.
As part of this art-walk, I visited quite a few galleries, and I was amazed at how terrible almost every single piece was. Certainly some fine pieces, but on the whole, a load of junk:
Bland landscapes (or seascapes). And sailboats. Sweet lord, so many sailboats. Sailboats with green sails, sailboats in sunsets, sailboats in the harbor, a gang of sailboats chilling together. Basically, the type of painting that takes almost no imagination to create. But meanwhile has a nice little $20,000 price tag on it. One of those high-priced items in which the placing of the price is, itself, the justification of the price.
It shook me a bit. It can be troublesome to come across an aesthetic sense so deeply antithetical to your own.
What I realized, after I had escaped that mass of well-dressed genteel folk and their vapid paintings, was that I think artists should attempt to say something with their work. Merely noticing something pretty and then painting that pretty thing in a poor impression of a photograph bores me. An artist is not a camera. Better to say that an artist is like a train. Take me somewhere new.
There are blondes and blondes and it is almost a joke word nowadays. All blondes have their points, except perhaps the metallic ones who are as blond as a Zulu under the bleach and as to disposition as soft as a sidewalk. There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an iceblue glare. There is the blonde who gives you the up-fromunder look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very very tired when you take her home. She makes that helpless gesture and has that goddamned headache and you would like to slug her except that you are glad you found out about the headache before you invested too much time and money and hope in her. Because the headache will always be there, a weapon that never wears out and is as deadly as the bravo’s rapier or Lucrezia’s poison vial.
There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn’t care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Roof and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pal and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review. There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can’t lay a finger on her because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provençal. She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.
And lastly there is the gorgeous show piece who will outlast three kingpin racketeers and then marry a couple of millionaires at a million a head and end up with a pale rose villa at Cap Antibes, an Alfa-Romeo town car complete with pilot and co-pilot, and a stable of shopworn aristocrats, all of whom she will treat with the affectionate absent-mindedness of an elderly duke saying goodnight to his butler.
(PS Raymond Chandler is my very fave; especially because the very next paragraph after this is: “The dream across the way was none of these, not even of that kind of world. She was unclassifiable, as remote and clear as mountain water, as elusive as its color.”)
The sycamore tree
outside my window
is known to like
I play my saxophone,
and watch it
were the first
When I lost
of her eyebrows,
I knew I’d lost
for her eyes.
Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
Or as Buckaroo Banzai said: “No matter where you go, there you are.”
The other day as I was strolling in a flowing flowery park, a fine fire-haired mademoiselle anchored on my arm, I came across a man with a wild and unkempt beard and in his hand, he held a tyrannosaurus rex.
“Hoa,” said I. “Don’t throw yon terrible king mine way.”
“Capitalist pig!” he shouted and threw yon terrible king mine way.
It landed nearly atop me, but not quite crushing me, and instead of devouring me, as its bearded hurler might have meant, it heard the tell-tale signs of an icecream truck. The whippirworl ring-a-ding, a sound that always reminded me of pedophiles, and I sincerely hoped the terrible king was not a pedosaur, as it fled off toward the sound.
“Hoa,” said I. “I guess you missed.”
“Don’t bully me,” said he, and fled, tears spraying from his eyes.
Later on, as the fine fire-haired mademoiselle and I were sipping on the blood of Earl Grey, I remembered that my father had once warned me against the throwers of dinosaurs. “Never trust a man who can’t obey the laws of physics; for such a man, will never obey anything, not even the laws of his own mind.”
Yes. Words of wisdom, words to live by.
I’m envious of writers of literary fiction. They have a faith in humanity I don’t have.
I think most people are essentially surface creatures, the Eloi if you will. I think you need to entertain people before you can illuminate them. You need thrill and suspense and explosions and sex, all preferably set in exotic locales. Such things constitute the trojan horse needed to sneak into the readers’ attentions.
But literary writers, pssshaw. They eschew such things as car chases and spaceships and steamy sex scenes. Sure, they have sex because that’s part of humanity, but it’s all 1940s Playboy: “He put his hand on her thigh” and then fade to next chapter.
When the literary writer writes a novel, there’s a trust in the readers, a trust in the empathy of the reader. All you need is a well-defined character and for that character to have desires and for those desires to be frustrated. Fill it out with prose and insight and tada: you have a couple having a conversation in a park filled with flowers. Trust in the reader’s voyeurism, have faith in humanity’s willingness to contemplate, to ponder, to feel.
…conservatives have bastardized the concept of the American Dream, and progressives largely have let them get away with it. According to today’s conservative dogma, the American Dream represents the chance in America to go from humble beginnings to vast fame and fortune through hard work. To conservatives, Steve Jobs represents the American Dream. In my mind, the real American Dream is entirely different. It is simply the ability of any American who works hard — a teacher, a cop, an auto worker — to enjoy a good life.