Sunday, December 15, 2019

Bruegel The Elder and Trump

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 of apocalypse!

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment