Forever Victims

An opinion piece from AZCentral:

A few weeks ago, I attended a holiday party at a downtown Phoenix restaurant. I walked around to view the photographs on the wall.

Then a photograph caught my attention.

Friends said, “It’s coal miners at a pub after work.” It was a photograph of coal miners with blackened faces. I asked a Latinx and white woman for their opinion. They said it looked like coal miners at a pub after work. Then they stepped back, frowned and said it’s men in blackface.

I asked the waitress to speak with a manager. Instead, I spoke with a white restaurant owner. I explained to him why the photograph was offensive. Evidently, someone else had made a similar comment about the photograph before.

Yet, the photograph remained on the wall. He said he would talk to the other owners and get back to me. While leaving, I asked him had he spoke with the other owners. He had not spoken with them, but mentioned Google said it’s coal miners after work.

In art, everyone sees something different

Who determines what’s offensive?

For me, the coal miners disappeared and a film honored for its artistic merit, despite being the most racist propaganda films ever, D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” (1915) surfaces, in which white actors appeared in blackface. The white owner saw coal miners in the photograph. Therefore, it was not offensive.

And a little further down:

Viewers cannot determine the intention of an artist’s work. Art also exposes society’s blind spots. Blackface is only a glimpse of a larger issue. The larger issue is the lack of representation of marginalized people and their voices in Phoenix.

Frequently, I enter art galleries and I am not represented in the art, which leads to uneducated curation for exhibitions. While shopping I am ignored because it is assumed I unable to purchase anything, or I am followed by a security guard because it is assumed that I am a threat to the store.

Each assumption is based on a stereotype. Blackface caricatures stereotypes of black people.

At the downtown Phoenix restaurant, my concern that the photograph of men in blackface was a threat to me and my face and voice were ignored.

A business’ photograph of men with blackened faces culturally says to me, “Whites Only.” It says people like me are not welcome.

Here is the photograph in question.

coalminers

Coal miners enjoying a beer after work: RACIST!!!

It really is quite sad.  I could not possibly live my life acting like a victim for every single thing I perceive as some kind of assault to my existence.  Newsflash, Rashaad, it is not all about you.  I’m sorry (no) that you aren’t represented in the art at the art gallery you went to.  Similarly, white people don’t sit around all day wondering how we can offend and marginalize black people.  We honestly don’t care that much about you.  Most of us just want to live our lives and be left alone.  You should do the same.

Perpetual victimhood is almost like a disease.  It is the ressentiment that Nietzsche frequently wrote about.  And it is the kind of internal negativity that can destroy a person.  Who wants to live their life as a victim anyways?  Why would you want to give anyone that much control over how you feel and act?  Stop being so pathetically weak and whiny.

Lastly, Rashaad, the world you are asking for would be a totalitarian shithole.  You could not possibly put out any art if the deciding factor was whether it offended someone or not.  That is completely insane.

The Course of Empire

Thomas Cole (1801-1848) was an English-born painter who emigrated to the United States as a teenager.  He painted a series of paintings called “The Course of Empire” and put out the first of five in 1834.  Cole took out newspaper ads for the series, and quoted a verse from Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage that summarizes its theme nicely:

There is the moral of all human tales;

‘Tis but the same rehearsal of the past.
First freedom and then Glory – when that fails,
Wealth, vice, corruption – barbarism at last.
And History, with all her volumes vast,
Hath but one page…

The paintings depict the rise and fall of some great civilization, depicted as a city along a river.  Throughout the five paintings you’ll notice the big boulder in the background, and the paintings are along different aspects of the river but the boulder remains in all of them.  Some see Greece, others Roman, and yet others the American Empire.  The series depicts the vicious cycle and serves as a strong visual warning of what may be ahead if we are not careful, if we can even control it at all.

The series begins with The Savage State.  There is very little going on; it is the great wilderness.  The frontier.  Pioneer life.  Some think Cole here is depicting Native American life.  He was known for his landscape paintings and surely was inspired by the American wilderness, having lived in Ohio.  The painting is largely dominated by nature, with man but a small piece of it.

The second painting in the series is The Arcadian or Pastoral State.  Things have built up a little bit.  This one probably resembles Greece the most.  Nature is still very much dominant here, but with some impressive structures constructed as well.  Notice the temple for worship with smoke billowing out of it from some sacrifice.  I highly suggest clicking on the links from the captions for a bigger version of each painting because there’s a lot of detail.  There are a lot more activities going on in this painting, even including a man sketching some apparent geometric problem or perhaps sketching a structure to build.  Things are beginning to develop.

The Consummation of Empire is the third painting in the series and represents the height of the empire.  A massive change has taken place, but notice we are looking at the same area with our boulder as our marker, albeit from a different viewpoint.  This is surely inspired by the Roman Empire at its height.  The sky is sunny and bright, temples and marble structures abound, the entire painting is bustling with activity and commerce, and technologically things have progressed quite a bit as well given the fountains, buildings, and vehicles.  There are ornate decorations everywhere, and there appears to be some kind of party or celebration going on.  Some think the ornate detail and overall decadence of the painting foreshadows the impending doom.  At this point nature has clearly taken a back seat to civilization with very little harmony, only dominance.

Destruction.  A similar viewpoint as the previous painting but pulled out a bit more.  Death and destruction.  The city is being sacked, warships are everywhere and the city has been set ablaze.  Some think the scene is inspired by the Vandal sack of Rome in 455.  The statue in particular stands out.  He seems to be plodding forward, but with the decapitated head perhaps suggesting an uncertain future.  Clearly this is the downfall of the civilization.  How it got there can be speculated on, or left to the imagination of the viewer.

The last piece is entitled Desolation.  A significant time has passed.  All we see are some remains of what was the once great Empire.  Nature has begun to work Her magic.

 

The collection as a whole is fantastic and really gives one pause.  Apply it to past civilizations or ours today, but learn from it.  I often wonder where we are in this cycle, or whether the cycle must inevitably end up the same way every time.  Perhaps we peaked in the 1950s, or with the moon landing.  Or perhaps we’re still ascending but with a few more bumps, trials, and tribulations along the way.  Either way, appreciate the time we are in, learn from the past, and do what we can to preserve and build up our great civilization for future generations.

Is Beauty Objective?

In short, yes.  But, once you get beyond that there is a subjective side as well.  Great vid here by The Golden One about this down below.  But in short, this BS about how everything is up for interpretation is garbage.  Aesthetics are important.  And whether we’re talking about people, art, architecture, music, or anything else, you know deep down whether something is beautiful or not.  This post-modernist drivel they try and jam down our throats is garbage.  And you feel it, and know it instinctively.  The same goes for “art games” in the video game world.  Here is a great essay by Alex Kierkegaard on this very topic.

There is a concerted effort to make things ugly.  It sounds silly and stupid, but it’s true.  And they want to normalize ugliness and make you think that everything is subjective and up for interpretation.  Don’t buy into that crap.  There is objective truth, and objective beauty, in the world.

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