Capitalism is now avant-garde. A recent issue of the New Art Examiner chronicled the pioneering work of two men from Battle Mountain, Nevada, who together constitute United Art Contractors. UAC explains their breakthrough in conceptual art as a shortcut to success:
Every artist wants success and fame and if they could get it easily they would. We just bought it. Instead of sucking up to get a show — a degrading — process we paid up. So easy, so clean, so American. Just bypass the entire art system of hoping, waiting, praying for the one big break and dance up with the dollars.
We have no talent or ability — just cash.
We paid … $1,000 cash for a show…The show will get great reviews because we’ll write the reviews and pay to have them published. Why wait for others to say nasty things about you when you can say nice things about yourself first?
We have no painting or sculpture — buying our way in is our art — there is nothing else.
No talent or ability — just cash? These Nevada artists are wasting their talents. They should move to Holly wood and produce television shows. cc
Poetry has replaced the wrecking ballin the latest version of urban renewal. In a recent issue of State of the Arts, the official publication of the California Arts Council, the deputy director of the council commented on a new program which subsidizes local arts initiatives:
There is a pleasing irony: the program combines the idea of the neighborhood and locale-concepts which give and reinforce strong identity-with the forces of art and poetry, which probe frontiers and shatter preconceptions.
There is irony, but perhaps it is not entirely pleasing. The deputy director is certainly correct about modern art and poetry. At their best, they do “probe new frontiers” of the imagination. More typically, they shatter something more serious than preconceptions. So much of modern literature and art has been informed by hatred of the way things are, not just in this historical period, but throughout human history. Distinctions of sex and class might have been with us from the moment we quit sleeping in the trees. No matter, our artists and intellectuals have a better idea. Private property and nations? Gone with the same winds that blew in dada and absurdism. Courage, loyalty, and respect for women-these are all preconceptions to be shattered. In fact, art has declared war on whatever simple and ordinary people cling to, their religious faith, their affection for their community, and devotion to their family.
It was not always so. The great poets an sculptors of antiquity — Homer, Sophocles, Vergil, Phidias, and Praxiteles — all served their communities and gave new and richer expression to the common ideals. Artists were not rebels until the Romantic era, and even then the best of them affirmed the values and traditions of their nations. Walter Scott began his literary career as a collector of ballads, while the rebels, Wordsworth and Coleridge, attempted to restore the language of everyday speech in lyric poetry. Scott was always a Tory; Wordsworth and Coleridge ended up almost as reactionaries.
Even in this century, our greatest artists have been traditionalists and reactionaries who affirmed the good ness of their national and local traditions. One thinks immediately of Yeats, Eliot, and Faulkner, of Charles Peguy and the author of And Quiet Flows the Don. Picasso at his best was a loyal Spaniard.
Yet somehow the aberrant equation of art and iconoclasm has gained government support in contemporary America-and not just in California. Anyone who has driven along Inter state 80 in Nebraska and has seen the publicly funded modern sculpture found at the rest stops knows that things are much the same in middle America. Given the location of Nebraska’s sculptures, they may have been vandalized, but as with much modern art it’s impossible to tell. In New York these days, public galleries now let “graffiti artists” receive com missions for doing in a clean well lighted place what they previously risked jail for doing in subways.
Perhaps by subsidizing local initiatives, California will encourage a new generation of Scotts and Phidiases, instead of the pretentious vandalism we have learned to expect from state supported artists.cc
The French government is out to make amendsfor its relentless attack on American culture. It is true that in the past they decorated the likes of Jerry Lewis and William Styron, but now-in a surprise reversal-they have decided to honor a great Ameri can artist, Clint Eastwood, as a chevalier des Artes et Lettres. Everyone is discovering Eastwood’s virtues — in England the Guardian called him a die-hard liberal. He has yet to win an Oscar, but the time may be almost right. If culture minister Jack Lang thought this award was another joke on the American people, he was mistaken. Eastwood, more than anyone in the film community, has dedicated his career to exploring the character of the American people. In the whole realm of the arts, he may be the best thing we’ve got in the 1980’s.
Most people associate Eastwood with “Dirty Harry,” the tough cop who refuses to play by the rules. Some have gone so far as to say that his only message is the self-reliance of the vigilante. How true that is even of Dirty Harry remains to be seen, but vigilantism does not have much to do with Eastwood’s strangest films, Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man, and The Outlaw Josey Wales. In Josey Wales, it’s true, Eastwood played a Confederate guerrilla who practically takes on the whole U.S. Army after the war, but why? In the unforgettable opening scenes, a hardworking Missouri farmer sees his family murdered, his house burned to the ground. He recovers from his suicidal anguish only when Bloody Bill Anderson (whose life story resembles Josey Wales) offers him an opportunity for revenge. It is not violence per se that the film celebrates, but the defense of a way of life. In the end, Josey Wales adopts a group of strays and begins a new life with a new family.
Eastwood’s best heroes — including Dirty Harry — have all lived the normal life of a family man but whose domestic world has been shattered by tragedy. Bronco Billy had been a shoe salesman in New Jersey until. he caught his wife in bed with another man. His revenge cost him a stretch in the penitentiary, where he began to dream of creating a wild West show. None of the members of his troupe are the real thing-any more than Bronco Billy — but, as one of them explains, the wild West show is the place where you can become what you want to be. Just in case we think it’s all illusion, Billy actually foils a bank holdup by shooting the gun out of the robber’s hand.
In a final scene worthy of Fellini, Billy puts on his show under a tent made out of American flags sewn together by the criminally insane. (They wanted to help him out after his tent burned, but flags were the only thing they knew how to make.) Billy’s advice to “the little pards” in the audience — to drink their milk and listen to Mom and Dad — is almost straight out of the Boy Scout Handbook, but in the bizarre context Eastwood gets away with it.
Clint Eastwood’s America is an almost Jeffersonian vision of decent country folks, hardworking men and women, and above all, of families. If, in his cop movies, he is saying that it takes a Dirty Harry to preserve that way of life, then it is easy to understand why he is so popular among Blacks, who know, perhaps better than anyone, what it means to live with the ugly consequences of failed utopian social policies.
Now, when everyone is busy discovering Eastwood the actor, Eastwood the auteur, and (fantastically) Eastwood the liberal, it is high time that someone recognized him for what he is: the moral conscience of the American entertainment industry. I almost hope he doesn’t win an Oscar: he’s too good for it. (TJF) cc
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