Sunday, August 19, 2007

Noblesse Oblige

--The idea that people born into the nobility or upper social classes must behave in an honorable and generous way toward those less privileged.

Eleanor Roosevelt believed this. As First Lady she constantly badgered FDR to do the right thing regarding the poor, civil rights, and women's rights. John Kennedy believed this. As President, after reading a book on poverty in America* he publicly declared war on it--a cause championed by Lyndon Johnson after JFK's death. Bobby Kennedy believed this. In his last years he was an enlightened crusader against poverty, injustice, and inequality, and then he was assassinated. And perhaps the idea that those in power have a responsibility to help those less fortunate died as well that early June day in 1968, leaving us to a string of leaders whose actions spoke less of altruism and more of avarice**. Which brings us to the present day, our present regime and its "Fuck You!" attitude towards the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised, the environment, and anything remotely threatening to their "kick ass take names" approach to making obscene amounts of money--the war in Iraq the apotheosis of this, as the U.S. spends 100 million dollars on the war every 12 hours! So what has this got to do with ART you might ask? Simple. We follow the example our leaders set for us. Nixon was just in the right place at the wrong time. Back then an air of "Sixties righteousness" still floated about--a national conscience, if you will. But now after several decades of doublespeak, disinformation, propagandizing pundits, soundbites, and religious dogma we've devolved into what Hobbes called a "war of all against all" (or "my Hummer's bigger than your Hummer!"). How curious that Bush cronies decry evolution in favor of "intelligent design" but yet their actions exemplify the heart of Darwinism--survival of the fittest! Or rather, survival of the richest! Which brings us back to art. With this redefined Darwinism in mind, most artists are not very fit, and might indeed find that they have more in common with the dodo bird than with the wealthy Republican. So in an atmosphere of wealth at any cost and the devil take the hindmost, how is art and the artist in America to survive? Five hundred dollars for an original one-of-a-kind piece of artwork is rather low-end, as far as prices go for fine art. However, your average middle-class American does not have $500 to spend in such a way (enter Pier One and Michael's Craft House!). Which leaves it up to the rich to keep art and artists afloat. The rich have the money. They have the big houses with the wallspace. Now all they need is taste and a generous spirit--the first I believe a possibility, the second, well... Until a new national conscience is forged, a conscience that is much more Bobby Kennedy and much less George Bush, I think the arts and our artists are in for a bad time.

* "The Other America: Poverty in the United States" by Michael Harrington
** Jimmy Carter notwithstanding, who was well-meaning, but nevertheless knuckled under to public opinion and political pressure generated by the conservative ideologues allied against him. A salient example being his decision on aid to El Salvador.