I Grok Art

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Final thoughts about Stranger in a Strange Land.  If every book had this much “thought content” in it, I wouldn’t have time to read more books.

The character of Jubal Hershaw is a lover of certain types of art, and he has a replica of Rodin’s “Fallen Caryatid Carrying Her Stone.” 

Okay, so what’s a caryatid?  It’s a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or pillar, supporting a entablature on her head (thank you Wiki).

There’s no picture in the book, so I went out and found it for better context of the way he described it.  That order is probably best, so here’s the description.

“For three thousand years architects designed buildings with columns shaped as female figures. At last, Rodin pointed out that this work was too heavy for a girl. He didn’t say, ‘Look, you jerks, if you must do this, make it a brawny male figure.’ No, he showed it.  This poor little caryatid has fallen under the load.  She’s a good girl – look at her face.  Serious, unhappy at her failure, not blaming anyone, not even the gods... and she’s still trying to shoulder her load, after she’s crumpled under it.”

I don’t know if this was Heinlein’s personal observation, something he read, or something he learned in school.  But the description reads “a lot” into something unseen.  So read it again, scroll down for the picture, and return here.


Welcome back.

I don’t know if I fully agree with his assessment, especially the notion that she’s not blaming the gods as there’s no context for that, but this type of insightfulness might make me more appreciative of the arts... if I didn’t have to stare and figure it out myself absent a solid reference point (i.e., what’s a caryatid?) or suffer a stern lecture about it.

But all art is not that meaningful.  Heinlein sees that too, taking a shot at abstract art and others:

“It's up to the artist to use language that can be understood, not hide it in some private code. Most of these jokers don't even want to use language you and I know or can learn . . . they would rather sneer at us and be smug, because we 'fail' to see what they are driving at. If indeed they are driving at anything--obscurity is usually the refuge of incompetence.”

Well, often, I’d think that’s true.  My wife, herself an artist, and I frequently recall a lady commenting on her splish splash of whatever as representing “a period of change in my life.”

Like, gag me with a spoon.  

And, I remember a high school friend’s father, an architect, upon rejecting an applicant’s portfolio at page one.  It was introduced as “I’ve been aware of space ever since I was in the womb.”   Clever, eh?

Another favorite quote (author unknown):  “Silence is a beautiful thing.  Make sure that when you speak, you improve upon it.”  Or my version, “Non-Art is a beautiful thing.  Make sure that when you create, you improve upon it.”

But I like (some) abstract art – assembled colors may not mean anything, but they can elevate the color of a room and help form a mood in the space.  That doesn’t make it bad.

Bad art is without purpose and/or benefit.  Like a stick people I might draw, it’s just there.   

“Support for the arts -- merde! A government-supported artist is an incompetent whore!”

And that was before 1/7th of the populace became whores, but I digress.

There’s the notion that (good) art becomes valuable after the artist dies.  Sometimes that’s true.  It’s also true that good artists can make money while they’re alive.  It’s not easy, and in a world where financially successful people are believed to have achieved their wealth unfairly (at the cost of others), then it’s a fairly easy fallback position to say, “You know, these starving artists are creative people.  They can’t make it in the real world because they’re not cheating bastards like those rich people who hoard all the cash.  They need help.  And giving them government other people’s money is just the fix.”  It doesn’t cost anyone, right?

Obviously, I like Heinlein’s notion here.  Privately funded sources should be used to pay for public/civil displays, and they often are.

I don’t know whether these are publicly or privately funded, but here’s some fun ones.

(scroll for picture)












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