Artists refuse to tell us why
what we do every day is drudgery,
but for them, joy. They love
what they do, they declare, but
they know we dig the same holes
with a sense of woe. We’re
dying but they thrive. What
we do is called work, but for
them it is more… it is
something entirely different.
It’s a kick and they are rewarded
for it. They sell the holes they dig.
They’re able to see in the dark.
They can go about barefooted or
drive a car without a license.
In their world a toilet is not
merely a throne; it’s a rack for
sombreros, a podium for speeches,
and, if not that, then an umbrella stand
But putting objects to use is not
the sole talent of artists. Anyone can do that.
No, their talent includes the ability
to wrest power. Their skill involves
class warfare. They’ve managed
near and far to disenchant the gentry,
to rob the ruling class of its glamour.
Everyone wants to be Picasso, not the Duke
of Devon. The planter class in Mississippi
has been displaced by Elvis. Nobody
thinks the Taylors, the McFaddens,
or Walker Percy’s family are anything special.
People want to meet the poet in his garret,
not the lord of the manor, however grand
his six thousand acres may be. Women
threw themselves at Dylan Thomas,
not at Nelson Rockefeller. Tiny Tim counts,
but not the Queen’s poorer cousins. Madonna
holds court, as did Andy Warhol. David Bowie
is imagined to have something to say, but not
the little old lady from Pasadena.
An entire class has been displaced by singer
song writers and horny painters. One thinks of Lucien
Freud and Francis Bacon with their paint brushes.
They have more in common with stable
boys than aristocrats, but are much more likely
to be called milord and greeted with applause
than some eccentric landowner with a six-car garage.
Artists did that, not the French Revolution,
and don’t you forget it. “Madame Bovary” lives.
Charles Bukowski appears in Sean Penn’s dreams.
Movie stars love his vomit. Even dreck has cachet.
Even the Chinese value Rothko. Hitler knew not to
bomb Paris. American pilots steered clear
of Kyoto. And it wasn’t to save gas.
This is why the world was shocked when the Americans
left the Baghdad Museum unguarded, not by the bombing
of civilians. In modern times, you can incinerate the people,
but one mustn’t abandon the Titian. J. Paul Getty
valued Fabergé Eggs, not herds of cattle. Art is life. Today,
Elvis’s shorts lie beneath protective glass guarded by the sheriff.
His landlord’s underwear was given to charity.
The same thing applies to Japan and Brazil:
stars are from the country, not the countryside. Get out
there and claim your hole. Put a circle around it
and name it. Modern art is about making something
from nothing. Artists are nobodies, not has-beens.
They belong to tomorrow.
[David Lohrey was born on the Hudson River but grew up on the Mississippi in Memphis. He currently teaches in Tokyo. He has reviewed books for The Los Angeles Times and The Orange County Register, has been a member of the Dramatists Guild in New York, and he is currently writing a memoir of his years living on the Persian Gulf. His latest book, The Other Is Oneself: Postcolonial Identity in a Century of War: 20th Century African and American Writers Respond to Survival and Genocide, is available on Amazon. A book of his poetry, entitled “Machiavelli’s Backyard” will be released before 2018.]