This work began as something quite different, refused to go there and morphed into something else, and then morphed into something else again. That, perhaps, reflects a certain artistic immaturity, which I freely admit to. On the one hand it can lead to indistinct, forgettable works of indistinct style. On the other hand, it can also, once in a while, break new ground that defines a completely new and innovative style.
It usually takes me a while to figure out which of those has happened.
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There is an illustration floating around on social media of a rural family – man, woman, and child – holding hands, backs to the viewer, gazing off into the sunset, with the caption ”I just want to live in the America I grew up in”. Seen this, right?
It’s among the dumbest things I’ve ever seen.
In the first place, that idyllic America never existed. Rural American families – particularly the farm families depicted in the described illustration – were generally dirt poor, hard scrabble, and grossly uneducated to anything outside their peripheral. They worked their asses off; there was no time or energy for empathy. Health care, infrastructure, schools, and economic structures were generally lacking, and we’re not just talking historically – it’s STILL like that. Remembering some idyllic childhood is to ignore the reality that, as a child, ignorance is bliss. And in those rare instances when, indeed, life was sweet, it was achieved on the backs of others; others who were even poorer, or people of color. People who had been robbed and/or disenfranchised.
That said, it frames the problem. We have evolved into a population of grumpy old men complaining that everything was better back in their day.
In the America in which I grew up, I thought there were only a few handfuls of those old codgers, and we could laugh at them, then ignore them (I was wrong – see how that works). Now, it’s upwards to at least a third of the population. That’s roughly 120 MILLION people living a rationalization. A fantasy. We’ve simply come so far so fast, so many changes sociologically, technologically, economically, that an enormous number of our neighbors and relatives are unable to cope and have thus invented an alternate reality.
And they have no compunction from adopting an authoritarian, even fascist ideology as a means of imposing that fantasy.
There are parallels in Art. Episodes when artists so pushed reality as to overwhelm traditionalists and leave them behind.
The hue and cry created by Picasso.
The hue and cry created by Jackson Pollock.
The hue and cry created by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns.
Thus it’s clear. America is The Brothel of Avignon.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.