Art expresses how you view the world or how you wish the world to be or what you are striving to make the world to be. This is evidenced by Chuck Close with his close ups of himself and others expressing a deep need to be seen. The need for the multiple parts of ourselves to be known and to be known how the parts make us is part of the message of his pixeled portraits. Is this not what selfies are about on a surface level? We do not know why, but we feel the need for everything to be documented. We are compelled to say we are here and the hope that somehow, we will always be here.
The great American prophet Frederick Douglass was raised in slavery. He spent his life declaring the humanity of the enslaved. He believed photography works as a type of democratizer. It was no longer only the realm of the powerful and rich to have their portraits made. The camera made portraits possible for all. We can all have access to our own images. This will allow us importance and the ability to reveal to the world who we are. No longer will the world depict us in its language and art as something less than. Jackson Pollock is a scream as much as Munch’s Scream The world after World War II no longer holds an identifiable form to us. Nuclear calamity stands at the brink ready to destroy all the forms of life as we know them. His art is trying to find the beauty in a world that no longer holds together. This is also what Van Gogh is doing. He is searching to discover some beauty in the swirling passions in his diseased mind. We do not want the world to be senseless. We want to find the code that delivers meaning and peace to the world. His is a struggle to find beauty in the small and ordinary things. His art is an attempt to let us examine how our wanting to be ‘big’ is destroying us. We cannot think big if we have not discovered the beauty and meaning of the small. Mark Rothko the abstract painter finds it in the colors of nature, this sunset before him may be the last to be seen on this earth given the nature of the world as he knew at the time. We can no longer look at a sunset in the same way with the ongoing threats and chaos of the world. He sees beyond the world a shape of beauty found in color and impression that waits to express itself as the calm of a sunset. Sunsets may disappear but at least he hopes the colors will remain. An abstract of ourselves and our humanity will remain and to this hope he clings. In the landscapes of the Hudson River School and the Luminists lies the aspirations of a newly forming country. This is the world we have ‘discovered’ can we leave it this way. Can humans as depicted retain its small almost insignificant place in this world. Or will we bend the world to fit our image and destroy once again the Eden laid before us.
All art is political some is knowingly presenting itself and others has the political hidden. The bucolic scene of a regionalist is trying to say to the urban world we have things to offer that you are forgetting, sometimes to your own detriment. We are not flyovers observed from afar but are engaged with the world oftentimes in the same manner as you. See us. Hear us. Know us. We are a life not butchered by technology. We find in the paintings of Edwad Hopper the advance of technology into these once bucolic scenes. The emptiness and isolation it is creating not only in ourselves but in our towns and land. Yet he attempts to show we may find ourselves if we truly look at the reality we are creating. Beneath it all is some hope if we look at each other or we allow the sun to bathe us with insight. This might lead to our salvation. Can you imagine what the German Expressionists were trying to depict with watching Hitler rising. The ghoulish portraits revealing the death, and ghoul that lies within us. The agony of watching what is being enacted by Hitler in the world.
Franz Marc’s attempt to bring the world back to the wild horse who can graze in the field alongside the other horses. He tries to show the beauty and sometimes fractured nature of these horses but still beyond the horses fractured selves lies their original peaceful nature and beauty. Is this why Hitler declared the work degenerate art. It exposed the confusion at the soul of Germany at the time he rose to power. He needed an that clearly envisioned the greatness of humanity and the Germanic people as a tool to manipulate the world.
Is/was this the appeal of Trump? Trump would have us envision an America that never was but as you wished it had been. See only in the regionalist painter’s message to have an America without the threatening atmosphere of modern society demonstrated by the urban world or the shithole countries. Everything is okay if only we could see it that way. I must hide my eyes to the change that is happening around me. I must cover my eyes from the other that challenges the beauty of the world as I see and want it. I must see myself and my world as not only as beautiful but as needing me to save and fulfill it. Meaning must be found in me. And if meaning must be found in me it also must be found in my ancestors who have left me behind to live out their destiny. They cannot be flawed or ghoulish in nature. I reject that. For that would point to our own flaws and ghoulishness leaving me partly responsible for the chaotic and gruesome world that surrounds me. The great artists of the world saw it as exactly as it was in their time with all its flaws and elements of hopelessness. Yet, seeing the potential for the ghoulish in all of us, they managed to see the eternal and the hope that might come out of the moment. May this be our vision.