Thursday, February 2, 2017

Want to Know How Mr.Trump Really Feels About the Arts? Just Read This

by Nomad

Can the Arts be saved from President Trump's budget-slashing? If this story about a van Gogh painting is anything to go by, probably not. 

According to an article in The Hill, Trump's "skinny" budget includes slashing spending a lot of programs. Leaks from insiders on Trump's transition team say that, under Trump's proposed cuts, the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely.

Conservative groups like The Heritage Foundation have long considered this kind of spending to be throwing money onto an artsy-fartsy bonfire. Where's the return on the government investment? What's the bottom line?
This brings up the question: What are President Trump's views on the Arts in general?

Deal of the Art

A very short snippet of dialogue from a May 1990 New York Magazine article gives us an insight into this billionaire's sensibilities and what he thinks about the arts in general. 

The story is actually short and sweet. In the late 1980s, Australian billionaire Alan Bond was interested in purchasing the Hotel St. Moritz, a luxury hotel located at 50 Central Park South, from Mr. Trump. As part of the agreement, Trump demanded equity.
No probs.
Bond had a veritable treasure to offer up.

A couple of years before this negotiation, Bond had bought van Gogh’s Irises at Sotheby’s New York, paying nearly $60 million dollars, which, at that time, was the highest amount ever paid for a painting.   
"It’s not just a painting,” Mr. Bond told reporters according to the New York Times. ”It’s the most important painting in the world.”

Alan BondTwo years after the Bond's purchase, there were some rumors that there were some shady goings-on with the sale of the painting. According to some accounts, the auction house had lent Bond $27 million and that he hadn’t yet paid for the work, which led critics to call it a “manipulated sale.” 

To make matters worse, Mr. Bond had failed to repay that loan and the painting reportedly remained locked away at the auction house for the next two years.

Failure in All Things

Regardless of the details, it seems pretty clear that Bond valued the painting as a great work.
When it comes to appreciation of artwork, of course,  what is and what isn't important is a matter of opinion. So let's stick to the facts about the background of this painting.
Van Gogh painted "Irises" in May 1889 shortly after he voluntarily admitted himself into the St.-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy, France. The scene is of the garden to the south of the men's quarters--the only area van Gogh was permitted to work during the first month of his confinement.

Despite the grimness of his surroundings, van Gogh was able to find vibrant colors in the violet iris petals, rich red soil, and the bright orange marigolds.
One art critic described the painting like this:
The picture is about the regenerative power of resurgent nature, life teeming forth helter-skelter out of the death of winter.
Van Gogh died a year later by his own hand.penniless and considered himself a failure in all things. And not just as an artist.

Prior to his life as an artist, van Gogh had been a man of deep personal faith. He had sought out and lived among the poor, first as lay preacher, then as a volunteer missionary. The Church eventually rejected him as an unstable fanatic. 

Art had become his last hope and at the time of his death, van Gogh believed this pursuit had also failed. So, it could be said that van Gogh was as close to an opposite to a man like Trump as God ever created.
And yet, ironically, one of van Gogh's paintings would become part of business negotiations between successful billionaires.

The Eyes of the Beholder

Despite that history and beauty, Trump took one look and, according to the account was distinctly unimpressed by Alan Bond's offer.
"What would I do with Irises" he asked an acquaintance.
"Hang it on the wall? Some janitor might walk away with it. Charge people to look at it?
"You know what Irises is?" he went on. "It's a piece of canvas with some paint on it."
With that remark, Trump turned down the deal.

Of course, Trump is correct. The same, however, can be said of every great work of art.
We can say that Mozart and Debussy only strung together a series of notes. Michelangelo's David is really only a hunk of carved rock, showing some guy standing around in his birthday suit. (Trump would be impressed only by the size of David's hands, I suppose.)

One can go on and on but in the end, it becomes more about the eyes of the beholder- the limitations of that view- than about the quality of the art. There really are people in the world- perhaps a lot of people- who cannot be moved by great music, great art or great theater performances. They can only sit and stare blankly, feeling nothing at all.
Like cows at a concert.

On its own, Art means nothing without the human reaction or some level of appreciation. Without that appreciation, one of Van Gogh's most famous and beloved paintings really is only "canvas with some paint on it."
That's what makes the idea of President Trump's decision to cut funding for the Arts so tragic.
As a kind of footnote, there's a happy ending.

In 1990, exactly a hundred years after van Gogh's surrender, Alan Bond would sell the painting to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles for an undisclosed sum. Van Gogh would have been immensely pleased to know his work was on public display.

After all, it's a much more fitting place than hanging in Trump's Manhattan office or tucked away in his tacky gold-drenched bathroom at his palace in Florida.