|The Triumph of Death 1562|
I got up this morning and listened to a podcast about the
unfolding impeachment. The presenters were not optimistic that decisions would
be made that would promote fair and transparent politics. More to the point,
Trump will likely win reelection and all fair-minded people who strive to do
good will suffer.
When I sat at my computer, I thought what image best invokes
this impending catastrophe. For every age history assigns an iconic image that
sums up thousands of books and op-eds about the experience. There is Guernica
by Picasso which represents the Spanish Civil War; or the photo of a naked Vietnamese
girl fleeing a napalm bombing.
So, what images will represent our times?
When I think about evil, apocalyptic scenarios I often think
about the period before photography when giant canvases were filled with scenes
of religious epics and battles. In museums one stand tiny in front of these
massive works of art – their sheer size elevating the already lofty so that they
play at volume setting eleven.
Although I got a visceral boost from sourcing Pieter Bruegel
the Elder’s the Triumph of Death, likening Trump’s fascists to an army of
skeletons, ultimately this doesn’t work. In the right corner of the painting are
two lovers who apparently escape the onslaught of the skeleton army by lute
playing and staring dreamily into the other’s eyes. Nice moralism in the face
A dark abstract painting might better represent our era, or just
a tape loop spouting nonsense ad infinitum. I don’t see Trump as having any
underlying values, being motivated solely by self-enrichment. Anything bad today
could be good tomorrow, if the switch sets the stage to Trump’s advantage.
I will continue to go to museums and search for transcendent
meaning, and if I can’t find that, maybe a pretty picture will suffice.