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art (you call **that** art!?) [Jan. 16th, 2007|10:35 am]
joculum
It would scarcely be worth the effort of accumulating the photographs and doing the Photoshoppery, but the best way to clarify the meaning of Kate Kretz’s briefly notorious “Blessed Art Thou” painting would be to produce perhaps a hundred or two hundred images in which the faces of intellectual and political heroes of every school of thought and racial or ethnic grouping would be superimposed upon Renaissance religious iconography (and it would be fun if an Asian artist would do the same series using the bodhisattvas of the Dunhuang paintings, but an American couldn’t pull that off), with each one floating above the appropriate earthly scene: Michel Foucault above a seminar room, Carl Schmitt above a government conference table, Ayn Rand, Richard Feynman, any foundational thinker you care to name, living or dead. Then it would be apparent that all of us operate as though our saints were the guarantors of the intrinsic superiority of our world view, and all others are obviously either deluded lunatics or insufficiently educated. Or else involved in pathetic trivialities, while we are working with the serious stuff, or we are the cool guys opposed to an uncool world around us, or whatever.

This holds for painters, poets, and pop stars as it does for physicists and philosophers and psychoanalysts and all others whose titles lend themselves to rhetorical alliteration.

All of us would feel satisfaction at seeing the other guy’s divinities skewered, and discomfort at seeing our own made fun of.

Maybe the same scenes should be circulated through a variety of iconographic traditions, including those of various revolutions, in order to make the point.

I guarantee that the maker of such a series would not get through the week without being assassinated by somebody, perhaps by two or three different groups at once.

Unless, of course, she or he were like the saint who was raising a sheep (never mind why just one; this is an allegory, and allegories don’t have to make sense). A thief slipped up to the saint’s cave one night, determined to steal the prize animal.

(I am not only stealing, but transmuting, the source from which I take this story. I hope the writer got it from someone else in turn, and didn’t just make it up.)

At the same moment, a devil, frustrated that the saint had been converting so many locals to virtue, crept up to do away with the saint.

The thief and devil collided outside the cave. Surprised, each blurted out his mission. The devil thought, “If I let the thief go in to steal the sheep, he may awaken the saint, and I won’t be able to catch him unawares.” The thief thought, “If I let the devil go in to kill the saint, he may make so much noise doing it that it will rouse the village before I can make off with the sheep.” So they took to fighting, until the saint came out to see what all the fuss was about. So did the villagers, and collectively they gave both thief and devil a sound thrashing and chased them from the neighborhood.

If thief and devil had decided to work in collaboration, the results would have been very different. But of course, those who begin from such presuppositions seldom perceive that someone’s seemingly competing self-interest might be made to work in harmony with their own self-interest, if all parties could redefine their starting points.

In spite of decades of mushy rhetoric, ranging from yesteryear’s I’m-o.k.-you’re-o.k. to the proverbial win-win situation, we still kill one another over questions of style and expression and short-term material interest. Unsurprisingly. On a global context, we are all in the situation of Henry Kissinger’s explanation of the intensity of Harvard faculty conflicts: the passions run so high because the stakes are so low.

We simply never have any idea of what the real stakes are in any situation.
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