Art and the Painting Pachyderm

Sometimes one gets to experience a cliché. Today, dear readers, we experience "going from the sublime to the ridiculous."

When last we met I took up the Libertarian Party's enlistment in the "War Against Terror" [the Party of "Blank out."] with their discovery that the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency are now requirements for American liberty.

That was sublime. Now for the ridiculous…

While having dinner at my Mother's, "60 Minutes" was on the television. Her TV is out of sight of the dining room, but you can hear it. Reporters were blathering about Martin Luther King's family. My Mother's dinner was more appetizing and interesting.

The next story caught my attention: Christie’s has been selling for large amounts of money paintings done by, if memory serves, a Thai elephant.

Good food is one thing, but examples of living in, "The Best of All Possible Worlds," another.

Most of the French side of my family have been artists. Many, but not most, of the Spanish side have done artistic work. Art is something with which both sides of my family have worked.

The reporters brought in an art critic who gushed that the elephant's was, "as good as De Kooning."

My mother and I got up to see this. Full marks for the critic! C'est vrai. Nous sommes d'accord. La peinture de l'elephant ressemble a celle de De Kooning. Mais le question devrait etre: Est ce que la peinture de De Kooing est vraiment de l'art? [Translation: It's true, we agree. The elephant's painting resembles De Kooning. But the question should be: Is De Kooning's painting really art?]

My mother's grandfather Paul's critique of modern "art" seems apt: Un cochon avec un pincaue dans ce derrier ferait mieux. [Translation: A pig with a paintbrush in his behind could do better. It does sound better in French].

How about this corollary to the art critic: De Kooning's oeuvre is no better than an elephant smearing with a paintbrush. By that standard, De Kooning is not alone.

When confronted with nonsense on so many levels, my time in, "this movement of ours" pays off. Where, I wondered had the mailed fist of the State given the finger?

It didn't take long to find: a local branch of "a criminal gang with flags" had banned harvesting the forest. This diktat per the reporters left the elephants unemployed. Unemployed? The reporters did not grasp that elephants, in this setting, are a species [sorry] of capital called "livestock."

Were the elephants getting wages for their work before?

The "unemployed" should refer to the Thai lumberjacks. Economic ignorance by reporters is routine, but one should note them.

Our painting pachyderm was shown carrying "his" canvas, paintbrushes and sporting a French artist’s cap as he trundled off for a place for artistic inspiration. Why a French artist’s cap? Don't Thai artists have special hats? Once one accepts an elephant as an artist, quibbling about a French or Thai artist’s hats becomes unarguable. Quoting Johnny Carson, "Once you buy the bit, you buy the premise."

Over a hundred years ago aesthetics took a hit from which it hasn't recovered. Thus Rembrandt, Titian, Michelangelo and Rubens are said to be equivalent with Mondrian, De Kooning, Picasso and now a Thai elephant.

States erode the institutions of voluntary human action. From art to economics, language to sociology, in time society catches the statist bug.

The idea of art, as being art only if it touches the human soul by being intelligible falls away. In an almost Greshamite fashion, the cliché of "obscurantism being the refuge of the incompetent" is fulfilled.

If there is no line in the sand of aesthetics, let me "draw" the following:

To be art it must be intelligible to human comprehension. Yes, one needs to study art to appreciate it. This doesn't relieve an artist from creating intelligible art.

Abstract designs can be aesthetic. Aesthetics implies standards by which art may be analyzed.

Standards for art? We haven't heard that in a long while and it shows.

Treating this painting pachyderm's output, except as absurdity, is an act of cynicism: a linchpin of today's "art" world. Before Picasso was famous he painted well. His stuff was good, if not great. To achieve fame and fortune he played epater le bourgeoisie by painting rubbish.

He became famous: his rubbish sold. As he stood on a Paris balcony the night of his first opening he said of the crowds, "When I was painting good stuff, they ignored me. Now I paint s**t and they love it."

As my Uncle Tito put it, "Mixing horses**t with ice cream doesn't hurt the horses**t, but it knocks the hell out of the ice cream."

Why complain about a Thai [con] artist selling his elephant’s "paintings" to crazy Westerners with Christie's and "60 Minutes" complicity? To cite von Mises: we all have a stake in civilization.

Let's take a measure of civilization and the arts. From a vaudeville sketch:

A man asks his dog, "What's on top of a house?" The dog barks, "roof." The man asks, "What does sandpaper feel like?" The dog barks, "ruff." The man asks, "Who is the greatest baseball player?" The dog barks, "ruth." The man asks the audience, "Is this a smart dog or what, folks?"

The joke is the man's stupidity in projecting human consciousness to the dog. We laugh at his foolishness. We laugh, because at some time we have been the fool.

What was a vaudeville joke is today's art world.

There are other sins in this: 60 Minutes said people were buying the smearings to help unemployed lumberjacks and "preserve" other forests.

Let's recap the story and its import:

  1. Thai state prohibits forest harvesting [Mailed fist state action].
  2. Thai lumberjack gives elephant a paintbrush that smears on canvases.
  3. Christie’s pretends the smears are art [Intellectual fraud posing as modernity, sign of erosion of artistic standards. Velvet glove of state action.].
  4. 60 Minutes pretends the smears are art, that the elephant is an artist and that this is a wonderful story [see #3].
  5. Buyers purchase the smears to help unemployed lumberjacks and to further restrict forest harvesting [Aristocracy aids cultural erosion. Wealth transferred from modernity-lovers to state.].

Here are some Paleo-libertarian counter-points: First, define the terms "art," "con games" and "states." Second, remove state, Thai or others, restrictions on natural resources. Third, return state "property" to its rightful owners or treat as subject to homesteading.

Finally, when visiting your Mother for dinner: leave the TV off.

August 12, 2002