24 October 2008

The enemy of my enemy is ... my ... ummm...

I am shudderingly reminded by the New Yorker extract from Julie Heyward quotes in her "Collecting Art" post, of how often the intersection of our friends and our allies is smaller than we would wish.

My life seems to be full of people who think as I do on a subject that I believe to be important, but horrify me in other ways. And, conversely, of people who are opposed to me on issues central to me but are, nonetheless, minds and hearts to which I warm.

Not always, of course; there are plenty of friends who also share my views; but it certainly isn't always so.

There are too many peace activists who play violent mind games. There are too many people whose objections to physical violence by political opponents are resolved through the same methods but superior numbers.

"We're going to terrorise the vicious bastards off the streets", someone once said to me in reference to a political faction which he and I both found repugnant. After that, I wandered off to find new political allies elsewhere...

I have a feeling that, in the section which Julie quotes, I would personally prefer the Proctor piece ("It’s three slabs of clay cemented to a board...") described by the father to the painting ("...a group of cats playing musical instruments. It sounds hokey on paper — cute, even — but in real life it’s pleasantly revolting, the musicians looking more like monsters than like anything you’d keep as a pet"). But the father is a bully of the worst kind, and I feel myself aligning viscerally with the son against him.

Then, though, I read the full original source article ... and I realise that there are different sorts of bullying. The son is as much concerned with oneupmanship, power, superiority, as his parents; his methods are just more subtle than his father's. Art is the family battle ground, and I wonder (but who can tell?) whether they took up collecting simply to combat his snobbishness. On the other hand, the son is at least aware of this fact and laughs at himself ... but then, perhaps (given the chance in print; who can tell?) his parents would do the same. Better to wander off and leave them to it, perhaps.

(As an irrelevant aside, I find that the author is talking about an art gallery I used to know.It's a strange feeling to discover it as part of a battleground.)

Returning to the point ... Ray Girvan and I had an interesting conversation, a long time ago, about the feasibility of separating artist from art. If we feel that Pablo Picasso, for example, or John Fowles, was an unpleasant person ... to what extent is it possible to avoid our perception of the painting or writing being coloured by that feeling? I know that when I read a passionate condemnation of war by the man who later became Adolf Hitler, I was unable to take it seriously ... but I have changed my own mind about things over the course of my life, and don't see the earlier me as having been therefore insincere.

Intellectually, I believe that John Fowles' writing should be viewed completely separately from John Fowles the man. The author is dead, and all that. But in reality, I suspect that my ability to actually manage this may have to do with whether they step over some undefined line in the sand ... up to this point, I separate; beyond there it cross contaminates. Which is another way of saying that I am a hypocrite, I suppose.

Before posting this, I went back to Unreal Nature to check something ... and found a new entry called "What's left (or is it right?)" ... which seems like a good title for this one, though I won't steal it...


Poor Pothecary said...

Art is the family battle ground

By the look of it. Partly, my reaction was to take the account with a pinch of salt because of an indefinable smell of unreliable narratorship. And partly, I can't resist the urge to check out backstory: see the Wikipedia article on David Sedaris, which confirms my suspicion of embroidery (there turns out to have been critical dispute about this). It also mentions that Sedaris is gay, which sounds a likely reason for his father's hostility, sublimated into hostility against his son's taste in art.

Felix Grant said...

Poor Pothecary: On the pinch of salt and unreliable narratorship I couldn't agree more. Choosing to fight this sort of family squabble in public print rings loud alarm bells, for a start.

Sexuality is, as you say, a frequent cause of intergenerational conflict — and Sedaris' inclusion of a confrontation between his father and his boyfriend (with father painted as villain of the piece) underlines it.

On the other hand ... parables don't have to be accurate to be illustrative.