Thursday, January 31, 2019

Traipsing Through The Arts -In Cold Civil War Times-The Benumbed Will Always Be With Us-In Lieu Of The Inside Scoop On Sex And Sensibility In The Artistry Of Edward Hopper-Down And Dirty With The Holy Goofs

Traipsing Through The Arts -In Cold Civil War Times-The Benumbed Will Always Be With Us-In Lieu Of The Inside Scoop On Sex And Sensibility In The Artistry Of Edward Hopper-Down And Dirty With The Holy Goofs

By Laura Perkins –

But, first… (originally an introduction but now its own piece) 

[I often wondered, questioned him about it too, why Sam Lowell, my long-time companion and fellow writer at American Left History as well as associated and connected publications, on occasion used brackets to introduce an idea, maybe get something off his mind when what he wanted to write about went into the other direction. What he would answer, and did recently when I inquired again, is that sometimes you don’t want to mess up the thread of what your main topic is with a lot of bilious ramblings. That notion struck right to the heart of why I asked the question. Through default, basically Sam being hung up on another project, site manager Greg Green asked me to start out a series on various pieces of art, American art for now, in order to correct what he saw as an on-going imbalance in the subjects covered at publications under his direction. Art getting short shrift against politics, literature and music. After giving him the obligatory “I am no art critic” which he countered with “Hell, you are the only one left standing who will admit to having gone to an art museum,” getting an assurance that Greg would have my back if I went a little sideways in my pieces I agreed.           

Fair enough and I thought that would be that. Although Sam, through many years of experience, especially on-line knows that you never know who is going to get their hackles raised by anything put on the Internet. Who will discover quite by chance when Googling something totally different that he or she has found a nice little home to throw grenades from-and that at least metaphorically not too far off the mark. Not to belabor the point unnecessarily Sam pointed out that one time when he was writing a big piece for Allan Jackson, the previous site manager, on the history of rock and roll he was waylaid by an irate clot of what he assumed were older women who had not gotten off the notion that “rock and roll was the devil’s music” and that he ought to ashamed to even be talking about the subject. Here is the ouch part, that lasted unendingly right up to the very last piece in the series. So you see what can happen almost by accident. (By the way an 2018 encore presentation of that history edited by Allan drew no fire from that quarter either they have passed from the scene or are holding forth elsewhere.)

That being dogged by holy goofs and lonely hearts had been the case with the first three artists, 19th century artists, who I covered. My common theme, consciously pursued, was to highlight the off-hand sexuality of the three pieces under review (Sargent’s The Portrait of Madame X, Alexander’s Isabella, and the Pot Of Basil and Whistler’s The White Girl so the knowledgeable art devotee will know where I was heading). Two things happened as a result. The first is that I got into a running battle with a three-named Boston Brahmin progeny attempting to whitewash any thought of sex or sensuality in high society painting back then. The thorn in the side’s name was Arthur Gilmore Doyle and he was relentless for a while stating the obvious- “I am no art critic.” Fortunately, with a little help from Sam and his vast experience with these people who apparently have plenty of time on their hands I finally got him off my ass, yes, I said that to him directly, by a cute little devise, or rather two, one was to head to the 20th century where every artist almost by definition is going on and on about sex and sensuality and by NOT saying anything at all about the “s” words in my fourth piece, my overview of some of Edward Hopper’s works.

That seemingly was the easy part. The hard part still with me is what Sam calls the “trolls,” those unlike say Doyle who at least was trying to make an argument, an art argument, just go on and on about whatever drove them to this publication in the first place. What I have gathered in though is a clot, cohort of born-agains, evangelicals, some kind of Christian cultists. Not all from the same denomination, not all with the same theology by any means but all with that tell-tale readiness to smite anything that is not some straight-forward homage to the Christian god. They have on occasion formed what Frank Jackman would call an unholy united front to denounce not my views on art, heavens no, they could care less about that but that I have talked about sex and sensuality in the public square. Worried themselves sick that any susceptible young person might see these reviews and do, do, do I don’t know what except maybe rapidly go back to texting or something (this worry courtesy of one woman who signed her name Irate Christian mother). WTF.

Now, and talking to Sam bears this out, normally this publication is far removed from any interest such types might have, left-wing politics, culture war stuff, literary things which are far removed from the salvation trips they like to pursue. In any case from early on, from that first piece about the whorish ways of Madame X (who everybody now knows was the wannabe courtesan Madame Guiteau who climbed her way up the high society ladder an old-fashioned way not acceptable today, not in the wake of the #MeToo movement certainly.) Here is the odd thing, the very odd thing about the collective troll response-there was not an ounce of Christian pity or sorrow for what Madame had to do to get ahead in a world where a woman’s profession beauty was her calling card. I don’t like it, don’t like that woman had to do it to get ahead in a narrow world but I don’t condemn her for eternity These holy goofs obviously have forgotten the streetwalker Mary Magdalene who had to ply her trade to keep herself ducats or whatever the coin of the realm was back then in their vaunted Jesus story. She may, or may not, have slept with him before becoming a follower, although most certainly with at least one of the apostles. Not all of them were closet homosexuals or asexual by any means the jury is still out on Jesus’ sexual orientation. Yet if I am not mistaken MM became a saint, at least in the Catholic Church so you never can tell. 

What is outrageous for me to hear and see is these good Christians who apparently in their theology don’t have room for post-mortem salvation threw mud at Madame X’s name, called her whore, slut, lesbian (never proven as far as a I know and beside the point since sleeping your way to the top in those days, in the 19th century, was as much a co-ed sport as in modern times), defamer, slattern and a whole bunch more that do not bear repeating here. What made this craziness hard for me to hear was that say a guy like David Trout, an evangelical preacher of some note who slept with half his congregation, male and female, or like Reverend Ben Devine who was charged under the Mann Act drew a pass from these same people, get “redemption” just because they said they were sorry and asked the “Lord’s forgiveness.” Bullshit.

[Weirdly, apparently the trolls only salivate at the “s” words, nobody high-born or low challenged my insight about Madame X’s hideous bird-like nose forcing her to never allow a frontal portrait which would have at least given us a common theme around concepts of beauty in various ages, you know artistic ideas.] 

It didn’t get any better with Alexander’s Isabella, where I mentioned that Isabella way back in the 1500s was obviously involved in some dark satanic lustful severed head cult which has been going on since about John the Baptist and maybe before and that the plants, on good authority, were not basil but poppies, the stuff of opium and heroin dreams. They went wild on that one talking about pagan worship and Keil the devil’s servant, Keil being me as the messenger. Me, making it okay for them to blaspheme beloved Johnny who if I am not mistaken believed that only adults who have Jesus within should be baptized naked as jaybirds in a river running north to south and all others should wait until they meet those conditions. Yeah, Johnny was a weird dude as Salome or whoever had their insatiable desires granted with that severed head to while away her sweaty nights. Frankly I had never heard of Keil, assumed they were taking their lead from the Bible, from Scripture and when I looked it up I was shocked to find that there was a Keil who had indeed been the devil’s earthly servant but that from the Zoroaster religion, the religion of ancient Iran.     

Although if I am not mistaken were are in modern times many of the respondents gave their dire warnings of the approaching End Times (they always capitalize so I will follow their lead and maybe avoid a couple of Punch and Judy rabbit punches by a guy named Oswald who has been particularly adamant that I was maybe more than Keil the devil’s servant but maybe the big man himself in woman’s clothing, it would not be the first time that a woman had led the candid world astray according to reliable sources). What the hell End Times has to do with analyzing a private severed head community of  aficionados is beside me unless of course that is their way to warn me off where I have been heading. Of course it goes downhill from there once they get up to speed (really once somebody, somebody other than me since I refuse to get involved in the back and forth which would waste my time, time I could be spending looking at art works for future “sketches,” that’s Sam’s term for what we do, I prefer in general “piece” signifying a chunk of something, a nugget in the mother lode). 

They, really Wanda from Wabash on this tidbit, went on and on about the sanctity of blood ever since Christ pored it for a foreboding world and that some secret cult involving of all people Johnny the B, was beyond the pale, was outre. Funny nobody in this day in age involved as we are in the epidemic opioid crisis gave a rat’s ass about that discovery that the plants were serious opium producers even if Bella did pine away for her Johnny Cakes without a care in the world after handling the product.         

As I mentioned once this clot, no, Laura, be respectful, cohort, got on a roll, started to get into that ecstatic funk they brew up once they get holy rolling and moaning about E.T., about salvation about the redemption of the blood (making me wonder if they were really serious about being down on that cultish severed head worship) they kept accumulating brethren until it got rather maddening-I was getting a thousand hits a day of people reading and responding to each new twist on stuff that basically was an art-lover’s opinion. Here is where it really got weird when I started in on Whistler’s The White Girl and through much more research than I thought I would ever need discovered that what Brother Whistler was really paying homage to was not his live-in girlfriend at the time (mistress or whatever he was telling the landlady who was starting to worry that her freaking cold water flats were becoming the homesteads for “immoral” purposes, maybe low-end bordellos) but the sanctified whore of Babylon. The key: that wolf’s head which has been the “sign” of the courtesan, the ad that tells everyone who wants to know that she was open for business. I thought nothing of it but if you thought I took a beating with the pagan severed head cult take on Isabella’s fetish you should have seen how crazy they were to denounce the whore of Babylon, the poor gal who decided to model for and play house with old Whistler. I swear if I had said Jezebel I couldn’t have gotten a more rabid response from these yahoos.

The last piece though, the one that got Doyle off my ass was like a feast for this evangelical crowd once I said not one word about sex or sensuality. They were all in ready to fill in the blanks for me. That is when I finally figured out none of this had anything to do with art, which I kind of knew anyway but with giving them essentially a free whipping girl to proselytize around their fringes, grab people, maybe the young and dissolute who needed some saving, maybe some who need to work out some simple theology, need to spent all day Sunday not at some art museum or on the golf links but sweating in some backwater uncooled church listening to some reprobates going on and on about say E.T. Here was the key-“and everybody knows, every art lover knows, that once you get into the 20th century (and now beyond) everything from abstract expressionism to color field work is all about sex.” Which of course is true and allowed me to skip having to mention anything about it when I dealt with staid old Hopper. It broke Doyle but only inflamed the, uh, cohort.

Basically, the crowd took on every piece of modern art possible except of course the Velvet Elvis stuff that adorns their trailer living rooms and perhaps the famous painting of dogs playing poker. Not to critique it but to cast it to the ash heap. I finally found out what it must have been like when Hitler and the boys called for burning books and destroying “degenerate” art. Found out how nasty some people can be when the hammer comes down and there are no known limits to their depravity. I will give one example which should suffuse because despite the Promethean uphill battle I am facing just to avoid all their hateful bullshit I will be discussing below in the real part of this piece sex and sensuality in Hopper, dirty old man. In Hopper’s most recognized work Nighthawks there are three customers, two, a man and a woman, whom you can see and a third, a man with his back to the viewer and of course the fourth is the rum-dum wino night short order cook serving up the goo. Serving the washed-out coffee and the steamed unto death midnight special calculated so since the clientele at the midnight hour have passed beyond caring about quality food have drunken the whiskey sills dry. Out of this devil’s work scene Wanda was able to see that the woman, “the fallen woman,” Wanda’s term so you know where this is going already, what was she called a modern day whore of Babylon (with the accompanying twelve million citations from Scripture about her, our your doom without J.C. which need not detain us just check the Bible at your local library), and was ready to “go to work” on the poor jamoka beside her. Get this though the rum-dum night cook was pimping her off (with another Wanda twelve million quotes along the same line about abetting and begetting sin, the eternal same line that I have been dealing with for weeks). This about par for the course.

[Again nobody gave a damn about the true revelation on Hopper, that he had flunked drawing people’s faces where they had to show something more than an ironic world-wary smile in what passed for art class in his day. An interesting real art tidbit which goes a long way to explaining his “king of the mopes” reputation.]   

There you have in a nutshell about why I have followed Sam Lowell’s advice and put the bullshit, the publicity flak hand-outs and press agent noise here where any self-respecting reader can totally ignore the noise but I just had to vent a little-Laura Perkins]               

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