September 21, 2009

Gazing into the Eye of Polyphemus

Gazing into the Eye of Polyphemus
I have on display this month at the Ciel Art Gallery in Charlotte the mosaic sculpture, pictured above, of a cyclops ( also known as Polyphemus). This particular work was once described on PBS as "disturbing." The mouth is smooth, fleshy feeling and sensual. It would be kissable but for the distraction of that immense staring eye smack in the middle of the head. The mosaic base is made from ceramic tiles but the eye is a large piece of fused glass that is essentially enameling on top of a melted German marble.
I’ve been very busy lately. With two conferences to prepare for I’ve really been too busy to be contributing to this blog site that very few people actually read. But I had been distracted from my usual commentary about my studio work and the business of being an artist by something that was rather disturbing. I was distracted much like the way someone might be distracted by seeing someone being beaten up by the side of the road on the way to work. What can one do but pull over and either stop the fight or call 911?
What I was responding to was the fallout from all the recent writing about the foibles of South Carolina politicians. Things had been brewing for quite some time - the ironic columns about our governor who went AWOL and, more recently, of course, our congressman’s now infamous yelp on the House floor during President Obama’s health care speech. But what began as jocular jabs about the foibles of South Carolina politicians - Oh you silly southerners and the unprogressive people you vote for ( I actually hadn’t voted for either of the politicians in question) - turned sinister after the publication of writing that was cruel. Responses from around the country in the news media changed from sneering to downright threatening, invoking a darker, waste and burn mentality. A case in point was the reader who wrote, and I am quoting here, "Sherman didn’t go far enough." Well, lest such a nutcase decide to venture hither to burn down our Statehouse, I decided at the very least I could take issue with that.
So I did what every good citizen should do and wrote to the New York Times about the tone of some of these articles they were spewing out and how it would seem to me that writers such as Maureen Dowd were putting a slant on things that were not only inaccurate but counter to President Obama’s call for civil discourse. The letter never saw the light of day of course so I decided to write down my observations in my art blog instead - this way about 30 people could see it rather than no one. My article (see below), discussed how the media can be irresponsibly manipulated by politics (and politicians) which in turn manipulates the thinking of the public. I did this by pointing out numerous errors in fact finding and judgement in the op ed articles "Rapping Joe’s Knuckles" and "Boy, oh Boy" and how they encouraged stereotyping and finding scape goats.
The feverish pitch of politics has died down of late, thankfully. But as I was watching Bill Moyer’s Journal the other night, a discussion of the demise of the political left and the party of labor in America made me think of the recent insanity in that context. The fascism of Joe McCarthy was brought to light again, as an illustration of what happens in America as the left sleeps and the right takes over. It’s the same old mantra that I’ve heard for decades - that we can become a fascist state and that the fascism will come from the far right extremists. That’s funny, I thought, because the fascist-sounding rants that I had been hearing of late came from enthusiastic endorsements of writing from the so-called socially progressive media. So could fascism broad side us from a direction that our eyes have been trained away from? Or is it possible that labor parties are right about the right but it now comes at us still unexpectedly because the left is the new right? A strange thought occurred to me here. Could it be that our country has progressively moved so far to the right in its ideology that there isn’t even a left anymore? Could it mean that the United States, once a county of the left, the liberal, the conservatives, the moderates, and the right is now the land of the right, the far right and the cuckoo? And if this is so, how did we become so monolithic in our thinking - like a smooth talking one-eyed Polyphemus who convinces us to endorse one point of view only.
Let’s begin with how politics have narrowed our thinking by crunching the meaning out of words and by extension the motivation for behaving in ways that those great words would have us do. Take the word liberal. I got a letter recently from Jim DeMint asking me if I agreed with him that we need to take measures to assure ourselves that congress isn’t "taken over by the liberals." I underlined that phrase, wrote that I was a liberal (or at least aspired to be one) and proud of it. I then mailed the letter back to him. Here is in part the American Heritage Dictionary definition of liberal:
"Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes or dogma, free from bigotry. Tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others. Broad-minded."
Heaven forbid that our country should be overrun by broad minded, tolerant people with an aversion to authoritarianism. But what I do wish to underscore here is that the recent op ed articles that I had read in the New York Times also did not qualify as tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others. So the trouble is that we have people who rail against those who are themselves not demonstrating the ideals that they profess to hold dear.
My time is too short to enumerate all the other ways our thinking has been narrowed but a very large part of it has to do with the way everything we do is based upon the model of corporate America, especially, disastrously, our education system so I’ll save that for another time.

1 comment:

Patricia Perrine said...

I for one would feel poorer if you did not blog... When Ted Kennedy passed away, I felt as if a shining knight was taken from us. He embodied the best of that great label "liberal." I too struggle to live up to that label. And I can't help but smile ironically that the broad-minded tolerance belonging to us liberals can also handicap us. But as those wiser than I have said: if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. (My apologies to the four-legged ones).