Art & Other Mutations

Julian Schnabel was created by the same moral or spiritual forces that gave us President Reagan.

There have been mediocre or sub-mediocre artists before, but never anyone so successful as Schnabel. There have been unqualified Presidents before, but they never seemed more than amiable nonentities.

In Warren Harding's time, there was an artist named Leon Kroll, who sold at very good prices and won Carnegie Prizes, while poor Alfred Steiglitz kept John Marin and Arthur Dove going at his own expense.

However, in the 1920s, not only was there a Steiglitz who sacrificed for his artists instead of speculating in them, but there was also an H. L. Mencken who called things as he saw them.

Homo Europeanus has mutated since that time, and we seem to have lost the genetic or cellular memory of the values Steiglitz and Mencken fought for. McKenna appears a highly intelligent person, both in her writings and in her radio interviews on KCRW. Intelligence as such is not enough, though.

Both Reagan and Schnabel invoke a great past, not only in their words but (shudder) in their deeds. They misunderstand themselves, and McKenna misunderstands Schnabel. She is of the new race, and her view of the old humanistic values seems academic and reminiscent, since her instincts don't serve her well when she is confronted by an inauthentic expression.

Whether Schnabel and Reagan have real talents or good natures is irrelevant. They have chosen not to make much of their real gifts, but instead have gone fishing in the troubled waters of the late 20th Century and hauled up immense public success.

Just as we now can look at Reagan more "objectively" as his star sinks, so we are now invited by Schnabel to look at his paintings. I suppose even a retrospective view is useful, but from what vantage point can a mutated race look?


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