Not gonna lie — I’m amused by all the art critics in the world. Who knew, in a country with so few college degrees, that so many were qualified to pass judgment on a couple of portraits?
Of course, anyone can pass judgment on art, and you don’t need a college degree to do it. But a 100-level humanities class will probably cover the 1913 Armory Show, and the debate over traditional representational vs. nontraditional modern art. You could hear echoes of it in the many who said, “But that pitcher don’t look nothing like Michelle Obama.”
I am showing my cards here, not that they were ever in doubt. I loved Kehinde Wiley before he was announced as POTUS 44’s official portraitist, and I was willing to give Amy Sherald the benefit of the doubt on the FLOTUS portrait. I knew both paintings would be nontraditional, which would befit a nontraditional first couple. We all knew that once the drape was dropped, the usual suspects would find something, anything to hate about them, because that’s what they do. Their vinegary souls are fed in the dankest basements of the internet, and it sucks to be them because they are crabbed, broken people.
I have my own disappointments. I wish Wiley had just walked out in his windowpane-check suit and said, “It’s yours now. Your meaning is your own,” instead of explaining the symbolism of the various flowers in the background. The world is full of sleuths who would have been comparing them to floral databases and have them named within the hour, and we would have at least have the pleasure of figuring it out for ourselves.
But the people whose opinions really chap my ass are the ones who say the paintings are somehow “lacking in dignity,” or some other bullshit. I was in the Michigan state capitol shooting photos a few weeks ago, and took a lap of the gubernatorial portraits. They had all the dignity these littlebrains want, the stuff they can explain to fourth-graders: “He’s looking out the window, which represents the future. And his hand is resting on a globe, because he was interested in foreign affairs. The stack of books on his desk shows his commitment to education…” And so on. Blech. All but one was utterly forgettable, a white man in a business suit and a tie. The one that wasn’t was remarkable only because it was of a white woman, and look, her hand is on a globe. Only this globe represents tax incentives. OK.
I notice some of the conservative “news” sites posted a composite of presidential portraits, including the newest one, asking “which one doesn’t belong?” Well, Obama’s, obvs, because it’s the one that actually qualifies as art instead of a wall-filler in some national museum.
At least in the opinion of this art critic.
There was a painter in Fort Wayne I wrote about once. Nice guy, very Catholic, extremely traditional. I forget what the angle was — he was trying to give an altarpiece to the Diocese, or something. He explained the panels to me: “Now this represents pro-life,” he said, pointing to a bunch of intertwined babies. Thanks for explaining that, because man that would have been impenetrable otherwise. I don’t know what he’s doing now. Maybe he morphed into this guy, who’ll surely be tapped to paint 45’s portrait.
There may be more to Michelle’s picture than you think, and it’s all in the dress.
What else? Louise Linton, Bond villainess of the current administration, explains herself. She lives at SoulCycle!
My best friend used to work at a magazine dedicated to the good ol’ days, almost all the content written and submitted by readers, who had one thing in common: Rose-colored glasses. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the good ol’ days really were swell, and in the course of her time there, the magazine published a book all about the Depression, which readers remembered quite fondly. I understand that one good thing about times that hard is that almost everyone is going through it together, and poverty isn’t so obvious and painful when your neighbors are in the same boat. But man, some of these old people were weird. They loved, loved their memories of public assistance, when you didn’t get food stamps or an EBT card or cash for clothing, but actually had to go to the local fairgrounds, stand in line and carry your allotment home in boxes. (You all remember government cheese, right? Like that, only all your groceries, not just cheese.) It was better this way, the old people all said. So I guess they’re going to love the new idea for a downmarket Blue Apron for the poor.
You know what was really weird about that Depression book? Some readers recalled that if you got “relief,” as it was called, you had to eventually pay it back, and oh that was just wonderful, when daddy made the last payment! Why don’t we do that now? And so on.
OK, have to walk Wendy and figure out what frozen dinner to make in the microwave. Man, I want this project to be capital-O Over.