The Blue Raccoon

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"It Is Impossible To Have Progress Without A Conscience."
Robert Rauschenberg dead--The sordid sad mess of current politics

Still life with dancers: "One of the seminal figures of modern art, visual artist Robert Rauschenberg was resident designer for Merce Cunningham Dance Company for ten years. His piece Minutiae was his first stage design for the company and was created in 1954 as the set for the Cunningham-Cage dance performance."

Artist Robert Rauschenberg, 82, one of the few protean makers of art this nation has produced, died Monday at this home in Captiva, Florida.

The expected death of an old man is not a tragedy, but one is reminded that the generation of the Deperession and World War II --and Rauschenberg went through both -- is packing up and leaving, like those scenes of departing trains in the old movies, where the person remaining on the platform runs alongside in the steam, trying to glimpse the lover's/spouse's face one last time.

"One of the last, there is no art anymore today, just repetition, pose, people posing as artists," commented Fisch, from Germany, on the New York Times page announcing Rauschenberg's death. I dunno, Fisch, I think there is art today, but the gallery system can function like the music industry, which is to say the entertainment industry, which is to say that the young are both product and consumer. It's a damned difficult, wearying and even wretched business, and it is a business, and Rauschenberg came along at a time when something new was being sought. Not just new, but an altering of fundamentals. And he was versatile. And his talents were important.

Rauschenberg was part of not just art history, but contemporary culture, from Black Mountain College to Merce Cunningham and John Cage to designing a Talking Heads album cover. Eulogized the Times' Michael Kimmelmann, "A painter, photographer, printmaker, choreographer, onstage performer, set designer and, in later years, even a composer, Mr. Rauschenberg defied the traditional idea that an artist stick to one medium or style. He pushed, prodded and sometimes reconceived all the mediums in which he worked."

Unlike the Abstract Expressionist painters who painted the world in pieces, he took pieces of the world and put it back together through his Combines. If a painting is to be about the real world, it must be made out of the real world, he said. He lived long enough to go from being a kind of Peck's Bad Boy of art to an institution. That's a curious path to travel.

I'm still not sure how I feel about his white canvases that were more about how they were viewed than what was stretched in the frame. Or how his Combines, often built of flimsy, deteriorating materials, can stand up to art of the ages. Or even they are meant to. Rauschenberg spent much of his life in the shadow of nuclear annihiliation, which, as Gunter Grass once put it, renders ridiculous the baroque notion of timelesseness. If it's all going to end in a pfffftph!, what's the point of making art that's supposed to be eternal? But I'm not resolving that issue here.

From the Times: “I usually work in a direction until I know how to do it, then I stop,” he said in an interview in the giant studio on Captiva in 2000. “At the time that I am bored or understand — I use those words interchangeably — another appetite has formed. A lot of people try to think up ideas. I’m not one. I’d rather accept the irresistible possibilities of what I can’t ignore.”

The Chariot Race

Speaking of irresistible possibilities that can't be ignored, today the voters of West Virginia are supposed to vote in astonishing numbers for Hillary Rodham Clinton because...beause she's not Barack Hussein Obama. Thinking about this political mishigas makes me tired. I see no good coming out of any of it. Even if Barack wins, which, to me, would be better than any other outcome given the brute realities with which we are saddled. The appalling mess of our politics is a bit like a Rauschenberg Combine, all pasted together borrowed images and found objects, the meaning of which seems, at times, ambiguous.

In awful desperation she has so much as said that the Democratic party has to nominate her because non-white people are unelectable -- forgetting for a moment that Barack Obama is as much white as he is black.

As James Howard Kunstler puts it, in rather purjorative terms, as directed to West Virginia and Kentucky:

"The spectacle of Hillary's un-making has been pretty horrible to witness, the efforts to stage her as a lumpenprole Nascar mom drinking boilermakers while celebrating her latest hunting exploits. (How worried is Hillary about making her mortgage payments, or filling her gas tank?)

Naturally, the final act of this nauseating play takes place in Hillbilly Heaven, the states of West Virginia and Kentucky, where Hillary expects to make a big "statement" about exactly whom voters will go for. She'll win big and the effort will symbolically disgrace her.

...Whatever America's fate may be in these very trying times of peak oil and climate change, a consensus seems to have formed that we can't afford to leave the same old cast of characters running things."

Thing is, I don't think she is going to get symbolically disgraced. You can read his whole post here.

But, though members of the billion-eyed audience have probably already seen it, I happened across James Wolcott's current Vanity Fair column about the political to-ing and fro-ing in the Democratic blogosphere being symbolic of the rift in the party, offline. In "When Democrats Go Post-Al" he compares this dueling for the party's nomination, which wasn't suppose to go like this, as the final grueling stretch of the culminating chariot race in Ben-Hur.

As James Branch Cabell wrote, if it were not all so heart breaking, it would be side splitting. And Wolcott did make me laugh aloud in parts though, it was rueful.

He addresses the two versions of the candidates: "Hillary’s candidacy promised to make things better; Obama’s to make us better: outward improvement versus inward transformation. With Hillary, you would earn your merit badges; with Obama, your wings. Hillary’s candidacy was warmed-over meat loaf—comfort food for those too old or fearful to Dream."

And concluding:

"Democrats have pulled their punches for so long that they know only how to hit themselves in the face, earning the reputation for masochism that gives Dick Cheney a good chuckle each night at bedtime as he’s being packed in ice."

For the juicy meat in the middle, go here.

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