Jan 24, 2008

Of Art and Privilege and Politics: Washington, D.C.

I swear, I could abide with the traffic exacerbated by over-long traffic lights. I could smile and learn the five other languages necessary for casual communication on any given day. I would gladly resign myself to the fact that our nation's very heart of institutions is run by footlings and their hand-picked family members, to the exclusion of anyone with a brain or sense of professionalism. All this I would cheerfully suffer to be in proximity of The National Gallery of Art.

It must be visited over and over, and much like my visit to London's National Gallery, this one was a quest to see some beloved prizes. Like some game hunter zeroing in on the one magnificent specimen for the trophy wall, I was circling around the other galleries, appreciating the other fine epochs of art, the evolutionary procession of time and technique. All wonderful, all thrilling, and too marvelous to detail just yet.

But I knew I wanted to immerse myself in the world of light and dark, the mastery of shadow and show, the inexpressibly heart-stopping awe of Rembrandt. I know at one point I was gaping at a work purported to a Rembrandt's Workshop (great name for a band!) creation. It was just slightly overdone, a bit too slick, belying the self-conscious attention to detail and perfection of some young apprentice eager for the master's approval. But totally inspiring to see. I know I was gaping because someone came up to me and followed my gaze, and then settled in beside me to admire the piercing eyes gazing back at us from the canvas. Someone from the middle of the 15th century sat in costume for a school of artists, and half a millennia later fixes his gaze upon an unaccompanied woman in a leather coat and velvet scarf who has the temerity to stare boldly back at him with mouth slightly agape in wonder.

I would give body parts to live in that gallery.

How awesome it was to surround myself with the dark and brooding colors of the Dutch painters, and then allow myself to drift over to the French Impressionists. The lighter-than-air Monets, Cezannes, Renoirs! The contrastive Degas, then rounding a corner to be greeted by Gaugain's planes of color and shape, primitive renderings of the primitive peoples.

I was in heaven! My taxes at work, bringing me real value! Awesome!

It was only marred by the security person standing around filing her acrylic nails while posted near the Cezanne, and the incessant noise of the other guard hitting on her that made me go and look for the captain of the guard. Not finding him, I decided to at least fill out a comment card alerting the curators to the damaging acrylic dust particles settling on their priceless art, (more than one guard was filing her acrylic nails next to priceless art. Grrr!) and the obnoxious prating of the male guard. After all, visitors were getting remonstrated for where they stood and how loud they spoke, while the rent-a-cops were whooping it up like it was Friday night at the bar.

I returned with my comment card to find the guards still partying, so I asked the gentleman for his name. He refused, playfully, and walked away. I insisted on reading his name tag, and noted it for my comments. He then became a bit concerned, hoping I was writing something good, pursuing me around the room, trying to read my comments. He was dogging me at one point, to the point of arousing a bit of fear in me. His insistence on reading my card was alarming, and by the time I located the captain of the guard I was shaking. I turned my remarks over to him and left the museum.

Now, I will certainly cop to being less than worthy of some of the people and places I've been privileged to acquaint myself with. I've been known to not appreciate things properly, to my shame and consternation. I know when I am outclassed and out-of-place in certain situations. It's why I won't even pretend to any sort of scholarly exposition on the art I experienced. But, it's just a fact of life that we can't legislate cultural understanding into or out of a society.

In the strictly esoteric and transcendent translation of that moment and the singular beauty to be found in that gallery-- the juxtaposition of the magnificent art and those hired to "protect" it could not have been more pronounced. Our National Gallery apparently lets just anybody pretend to protect its priceless treasures.

And I would give body parts for such a post of honor.

Or so I say. Maybe I'd fall into the familiar contempt bred in constant association with magnificence and become ungrateful, unmindful of my privilege. Maybe I'd take certain abiding truths and freedoms for granted and throw away precious things. I'm capable of it, sad to say. Hopefully, I'm still capable of knowing how wrong it is, too. We don't do what we ought and know to do, but our saving grace is in feeling the weight of it.


In saying all the above, I'll bring it to this point: It is artless and soulless not to enter into the first level of political and social interaction by act of your priceless right to vote. It affects the high and the low of everything else we enjoy and take for granted. Do not vote for any unworthy candidate, Left or Right, who would stand at their post of honor, honing their ego at the expense of freedom and with the pretense of protection.

We appoint priceless value to a bit of oily paint, resin, and canvas from across the ages. We do well to uphold the lasting impression these works of art leave upon civilization. We should do as well to uphold our part in the masterful work of Freedom, rendered in priceless blood and sacrifice, and not sell it out for a personal stake in less enduring pursuits.

Don't sell your vote. Don't vote for anyone who wants to buy it.

Good luck with that.

5 comments:

Mark said...

"It is artless and soulless not to enter into the first level of political and social interaction by act of your priceless right to vote. It affects the high and the low of everything else we enjoy and take for granted. Do not vote for any unworthy candidate, Left or Right, who would stand at their post of honor, honing their ego at the expense of freedom and the pretense of protection."

I stand in awe of you, Joan. Thanks for this heartfelt admonition and reminder to the rest of us.

Great posts are few and far between. This was one.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Oh! Thanks, Mark. I was about to delete it for being so all over the map. But it has more ideas that I want to flesh out later.

Your feedback is so welcome. And I was just kidding about de-linking you...

:o)

Mark said...

"for being so all over the map."

Makes me wonder how my brain fires but I thought it went pretty linearly to the point.

Okay, I thought I made up "linearly", but Firefox isn't underlining it in red, unlike the word "Okay".

WEIRD.

"I was just kidding about de-linking you..."

Oh thank god. I know it was an almost unpardonable offense!

;o)>

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"We appoint priceless value to a bit of oily paint, resin, and canvas from across the ages. We do well to uphold the lasting impression these works of art leave upon civilization. We should do as well to uphold our part in the masterful work of Freedom, rendered in priceless blood and sacrifice, and not sell it out for a personal stake in less enduring pursuits."

Amen to that, Sister!
Like Mark, I stand in Awe!
Great writing, Joan! :^)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Or so I say. Maybe I'd fall into the familiar contempt bred in constant association with magnificence and become ungrateful, unmindful of my privilege. Maybe I'd take certain abiding truths and freedoms for granted and throw away precious things. I'm capable of it, sad to say. Hopefully, I'm still capable of knowing how wrong it is, too. We don't do what we ought and know to do, but our saving grace is in feeling the weight of it."

And don't we all? Conviction. Without it, we have no soul.
You have written, so elegantly, the struggle we all face.

Thanks, Joan!