More Real Than Reality

Wyeth

As we continue to move into the new age of liberalism in a American and traditional values come under greater and greater scrutiny, images from one of the great artists of the middle Twentieth Century haunt the corridors of our national consciousness. I don’t think the political shift is totally and outright tragic and, at least in the short run, these policies may even be effective—or at least not tragic. After all, extremities either way have their detriments and dangers. But the paralysis that is present in “Christina’s World” above has a chilling potential. What if we drift too far? Is it really possible? Although within sight, for Christina home is forever beyond her reach, conjuring the fate of Tantalus.

Andrew Wyeth, the painter responsible for this and many others, passed away earlier this year. In his art there is both strength and warning in equal parts. Perhaps better than anyone he was able to capture the tensions of self-government and what it means to be American. Pregnant with the potential for unimaginable feats of strength, beauty, and love, yet so fragile at the same time, human life is such a fascinating paradigm. I think America has been forged from the same material. Andrew Wyeth captures the “both/and” about as good as anybody can. I found this in one of the obits last January:

Wyeth gave America a prim and flinty view of Puritan rectitude, starchily sentimental, through parched gray and brown pictures of spooky frame houses, desiccated fields, deserted beaches, circling buzzards and craggy-faced New Englanders. A virtual Rorschach test for American culture during the better part of the last century, Wyeth split public opinion as vigorously as, and probably even more so than, any other American painter including the other modern Andy, Warhol, whose milieu was as urban as Wyeth’s was rural.

Because of his popularity, a bad sign to many art world insiders, Wyeth came to represent middle-class values and ideals that modernism claimed to reject, so that arguments about his work extended beyond painting to societal splits along class, geographical and educational lines. One art historian, in response to a 1977 survey in Art News magazine about the most underrated and overrated artists of the century, nominated Wyeth for both categories.

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