Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Obama Art: entry 6



Sorry Roger this is a betrayal of the secret rules available to those only born of Jewish mothers. Rule 17: “Think Yiddish. Speak British.” You have thought and spoken strictly in British.

If this essay is a product of cultural studies, then so are the essays of Lionel Trilling and his colleagues and acolytes who sought to link art to culture, though they trafficked typically in more renowned artefacts. Dismissing something as a “product of cultural studies” without attending to the argument being made and the (here rich, expertly knowing and wonderfully well written) concrete specification of that argument is less than helpful.

I think your point of departure is beside the point. The issue is not the wonderful contest of American democracy and the wonderful fact iof America having elected a black man, though it contains some of that. The cultural issue is the reverence Obamism engendered in contrast with the hatred W. engendered as manifest in the art products surrounding them both. The ssue further is how that reverence harkened back to a devotional art now in significant departure from art as ironically distanced and rooted in ill thought through notions of alienation and transgression. These ill thought through notionss have marked much of the relation between artists and society in America throughout the twentieth century.

And this respectfully is less than you: “It remains true that a black president with a weird name became president. If that doesn't resonate with you, as either a nice liberal or a nasty racist, then you miss the main thing. If Obama turns out to be a rather poor president, it will only show that, well, black folks, even those who have done well, are only human too.”

While the racial aspect of Obama’s campaign, victory and presidency is complicated and there throughout, and is an integral component of the art Lewis analyses, I’d say it is a minor theme. The major themes, knowing something of Lewis’s politics, are the nature of the world as Obama faces it, the distance between the oracular and the real, the tendency of artists—not the world’s most hard-headed folk—to ricochet off the walls of false extremes, the impinging of the hard and real world on "hope" and "yes we can", the poetry of campaigning and the prose of governing, and the cultural moment Obama represented as illuminated by the art that surrounded him and surrounded George W. Bush.

There is nothing in any of the above, finally, or in what Lewis wrote, to suggest that the election of a black man as president is not resonant. And that resonance, or its absence, has not little to do with anything Lewis said as I read him, or what I think.

No comments:

Post a Comment