In talking about his latest PBS documentary, “War,” filmmaker Ken Burns comments with regret about how little the generations born after 1950 know about the America of my parents’ generation how the blue collar and middle class of the 30’s and 40’s shared a sense of values that were distinctly American and, in some general if unspoken consensus, held those values above or at least alongside their personal preferences and desires. Burns notes how this was exemplified by the common cause, across class lines, of sacrifice and commitment during World War II.
This led me to think about how that same generation served a very important role in furthering the value of the arts in American society and how there is no longer a common generational champion in that role today.“We have lived to see the disappearance of the middlebrow culture that…supported the fine arts and mediated them to the larger public, made them more accessible to that public. That culture is gone. And with it we’ve lost the route by which ordinary people found their way into high culture and…were encouraged to take it seriously and to support it.”I generally subscribe to the pendulum theory of life – things may swing far in one direction, then equally far the other way, but more of the pendulum’s time is spent in a productive middle arc of sense and reason. Perhaps the growing trend among young people to “make things” (from their own music videos to the emerging passion for knitting among college students) is the beginning of a return to the appreciation for craft and creative vision that will again underpin an appreciation of the arts.
Finally, two discipline-crossing bon-mots. One serious, the other not so:
Nude Descending a Staircase
X. J. Kennedy
Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
A gold of lemon, root and rind,
She sifts in sunlight down the stairs
With nothing on. Nor on her mind.
We spy beneath the banister
A constant thresh of thigh on thigh
Her lips imprint the swinging air
That parts to let her parts go by.
One-woman waterfall, she wears
Her slow descent like a long cape
And pausing, on the final stair
Collects her motions into shape.
Marcel Duchamp. “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” (1912)
Oil on canvas, 58 inches x 35 inches.
Museum of Art. The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection.