Gloomy today. And there’s a word that needs rethinking; since the “-y” makes something seem silly and trivial nowadays, it detracts from the power of the thing it’s describing. Gloomorous, then.
The sun just came out, so strike that.
No, there it goes again. That’s always a strange thing to see on a gloomorous afternoon; the sun suddenly illuminates everything in glory and warmth, then steals away. Like sitting in North Korea watching State TV and suddenly the Seoul channel pushes through for a few seconds. Color! Food! Commerce! Then it’s back to 15,000 youngsters doing a synchronized ballet to commemorate the invention of the polio vaccine by the Great Leader.
Interesting mail from yesterday; I expected I would get eye-rolling oh-puleez remarks about my act of vigilantism. If I infer correctly, it’s not that they approved of the kids swearing in the store – oh, my, no – and they didn’t exactly disapprove of someone telling them to knock it down, but I shouldn’t have done it, because it’s typical of everything that’s wrong with me. Fine. Next time I’ll call a store manager. Oh, wait – that’s typical too, since I’m a coward.
I agree, in one sense; nothing is more irritating than self-appointed guardians of public morality whose causes you do not share and whose motives you suspect. But I am mystified by people who get exasperated and impatient the moment you start talking about the small details of civil society, as if you want to push everyone into waistcoats and corsets and require men, by law, to not only wear stove-pipe hats but doff them to women and preachers. I am amused by smart people who defend uncouthness on the grounds that it’s honest. (Hypocrisy, after all, is a cardinal sin. Or would be if there were such things.) Dennis Prager was talking today about a dance troupe whose work is mostly base and gross, complete with naughty shocking words and on-stage wanking. They were lauded by critics for their honesty, of course. (The entire cultural top-tier crew, at least in the media, has the values of a Playmate. Turn-offs: Phony people.) I have no problem with the artists, since I don’t expect much from them anymore; those who add to the sum of ugliness are welcome to do so, but they have made themselves irrelevant. I do have a problem with the critics who applaud breaking taboos and stepping over lines, because it’s the cultural establishment – whatever that is – that has celebrated and enabled the decline of art in the 20th century.
No artistic standard, once erased, as has ever been replaced by a more technically demanding one.
Unless you believe that it is harder for a layman to fake a later DeKooning than a J-L David.
Anyway. It’s not so much the redefinition of standards that bothers me as the glee with which the old standards are trashed, and the sense that the arts have become unmoored from the larger culture.
This all sounds like some joyless pinch-arsed mini-me-sized Cotton Mather looking for people who are enjoying themselves so he can wallow in his own righteous bile, eh? I’m just suggesting people govern their tongues in public, and consider that the aesthetic pleasures and artistic merit of a play with some hairy naked dude engaging in self-frottage are less than those provided by “Swan Lake.” The old Keatsian equation. Truth in beauty, and in beauty, truth.
Okay, I’ll shut up. I’m repeating myself, anyway.
On the way home from the office I passed the local Russian Art Museum, and noted that today was the first day of the new exhibition. It’s Socialist Realism vs. post-Glasnost art. I pulled over and parked, sprinted through the rain across the street, handed over a fiver and entered the old church. The perfect antidote to the sentiments described above. Here was the real thing. Even the Soviet-era art was a tonic. Some stunning work – and when you consider that the artists actually had something against which to strive, a real live big nasty government that could remove their livelihoods or consign them to official disfavor, the work seems all the more brave and real. That these pieces made it across the decades and over steppes and seas to end up ten blocks from my house still seems a blessing; that they still have the power to evoke the emotions of people from a vanished political regime is a testament to the skill of the artists, the universality of the emotions they could evoke, and the fundamental decency of the temperaments on display. The ugliness of the world and the society is apparent by implication. But they teased a thread of beauty out of the rough and trampled tapestry, and made their own worlds. I said it before the last time I went to this museum: the grim irony of the 20th century painting tradition was the fact that it had its final flourish in the most repressive regime in the West. Without the Russians, abstraction would have owned the century. Not just dominated: owned.
And so you find yourself in sympathy with a massive canvas of a WW2 general and his granddaughter; he looks to the side, his face full of wary doubt, and she beams to the future with happy confidence. You know you would not agree with the things they believe, but the image seems drained of ideology. There is something else at stake here. It’s hard to turn away. Like so much of the art in this museum, it simply breaks your heart.
Or makes you laugh. There’s a big canvas by post-modern Socialist Realists, who expertly recycle the genre conventions. There’s a pop-art style painting that repurposes Molotov with a flaming Coke bottle. And there’s a work that literally made me burst out laughing: a small bronze of Lenin starting down Giacometti’s striding man.
Two versions of the 20th century, staring each other down.
Okay, people, YOU OWE ME ONE. Just kidding. But getting the daily content out today has been a trial – it’s my wife’s Bunco night, and that means I haven’t had more than 10 contiguous moments of peace all night. Yet somehow I managed to get the Diner out. (speaking of which – the reason the Midweek Movie may not have worked for some was due to bandwidth overages; seems I blew out my rather large allowance. Which is good news. I bought a wider pipe and more server space last night, so we should be good for the rest of 06.) And then there’s this to do, eh? Plus I have to do two other pieces by noon. Lucky for me I banged out the drivel posted above. So: MP3 version of the Diner is here; iTunes subscribers should get it automatically. Click on the link below to hear it with the pictures, if you wish.
Thanks for your patronage & indulgence; have fine weekend, and I’ll see you Monday. (And remember: the Quirk appears on Saturdays, too.)