There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."
Issac Asimov, from a column in Newsweek (21 January 1980)
When this image went around on Facebook a while ago, it annoyed me; unattributed as it was (you know how I feel about that!), I guessed (no doubt correctly) that it was created by an artist using PhotoShop to mine the cultural divide.
However a friend, who works at the Berkshire Museum, recently sent me a link to an online publication, The Curator and the essay, “On the validity of the Vogel collection” by one Sarina Higginswho declares: “I do believe that the Vogel collection is a fraud.” Higgins supports her thesis with shadowy photos of “a few geometrical lines drawn on paper with colored pencils, a triangle of steel in the corner of the baseboards, a series of pieces of notebook paper with a few drops of watercolor paint” taken with a point-and-shoot camera.
On its “About” page, The Curator denies being a religious publication (which means it is, or there would be no reason to deny it).
Instead, like its parent organization, IAM (International Arts Movement), the publication says it’s geared toward “people of faith” with a desire to create “the world as it ought to be”—a world that clearly does not include the Vogel collection, Marina Abramovic or, by extension, most modern art from Malevich on.
The Curator also explicitly claims “no singular affinity toward ‘highbrow’ art or ‘pop’ culture.”
About the same time, I read “Haven,” a wonderfully subtle short story by Alice Munro in The New Yorker (March 5, 2012), about a teenage girl and her physician uncle, whose antipathy toward classical music causes a breach in the family:
“Now tell me,” my uncle is saying, addressing me as if nobody else were there, “tell me, do your parents go in for this sort of thing? What I mean is, this kind of music? Concerts and the like? They ever pay money to sit down for a couple of hours and wear their bottoms out listening to something they wouldn’t recognize half a day later? Pay money simply to perpetrate a fraud? You ever know them to do this?”
I said no, and it was the truth. I had never known them to go to a concert, though they were in favor of concerts in general.
“See? They’ve got too much sense, your parents. Too much sense to join all these people who are fussing and clapping and carrying on, like it’s just the wonder of the world. You know the kind of people I mean? They’re lying. A load of horse manure. All in the hope of appearing high class. Or more likely, giving in to their wives’ hope to appear high class. Remember that when you get out into the world, O.K.?
It all makes me think that the differences between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, may be more than political, even a matter of neurology, as some have suggested. Or it could simply be that there are people who thrive on nuance, ambiguity, complexity and paradox, while others are fearful of anything, including art (and possibly democracy), which poses questions to which there are no concrete answers.
I offer no solutions.