Monday, November 10, 2008



All artists decry a straw man and all politicians are--come on, face it, even you Obama triumphalists (congratulations, by the way!)--straw people or straw dogs, depending on your species-preference. A hairline crack divides mass culture and art culture especially at the level of gut-level scepticism. Those who endorse any brand of politics outside of aesthetic considerations tend to cheerlead and bark into a megaphone sculpted by (the audacity of?) hope. Artists are hopeful but refuse to reject that voice of doubt, casting cold eyes on the political process, its players, and the windy rhetoric that occasions reflections on that great windblower, Aelous, the Greek god of hot and cold air.

While it may be that artists will be invigorated by the Obama election and wish to represent the potential, the vast possibility, that his presence hearkens in the collective spirit of his supporters, writers, painters, sculptors, dancers, filmmakers of any stripe and style should maintain, if not a cold eye, a clear one. A vigilance of criticism and a modicum of disbelief, of unhope against hope, needs to be the kind of clairvoyant and eternal rite of passage and being for any artist worth her or his weight in gilded page, golden paints, or bronze sculpture.

Artists, poets in particular, are not the unacknowledged legislators of the world (pace Shelley!) nor should they be the lobbyists of received wisdom, public accolade, or social temperament. Some caller on Brian Lehrer's WYNC program today called for a return to political art. Fine: but most examples of political art in the past eight years have been hackneyed and minimally diverting. A political art arising from the optimism of the moment would, most likely, be unworthy of a space on one's personal refrigerator. But we'll see...and the artists will see even better and more deeply.

And of poets in particular and their relation to Presidents: JFK's inaugural choice for inaugural poet was Robert Frost. Not bad. Bill Clinton chose Maya Angelou, one of the worst poets writing in the English language. Who, pray tell, will Obama pick? Hopefully not someone happy to foresake their taste for the banalities of D.C. politics.

Cheers, Curley