QUOTE: “. . .the people shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master and then relapse into it again.” Alexis de Tocqueville

“I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world.

The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives.

Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate.

That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing.

For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Landscape by John Francis Murphy
landscape by John Francis Murphy

Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community.

It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA by Alexis de Tocqueville

Landscape by Henry Ward Ranger
Landscape by Henry Ward Ranger

**Featured painting Pastoral by Jerome Thompson

A Modest Proposal

Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.

I do therefore humbly offer it to publick consideration, that of the hundred and twenty thousand children, already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, whereof only one fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle, or swine, and my reason is, that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore, one male will be sufficient to serve four females. That the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in sale to the persons of quality and fortune, through the kingdom, always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump, and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends, and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt, will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.

I have reckoned upon a medium, that a child just born will weigh 12 pounds, and in a solar year, if tolerably nursed, encreaseth to 28 pounds.

I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.

Infant’s flesh will be in season throughout the year, but more plentiful in March, and a little before and after; for we are told by a grave author, an eminent French physician, that fish being a prolifick dyet, there are more children born in Roman Catholick countries about nine months after Lent, the markets will be more glutted than usual, because the number of Popish infants, is at least three to one in this kingdom, and therefore it will have one other collateral advantage, by lessening the number of Papists among us.” from A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift


Painter Kenyon Cox


Cox, adamantly loyal to the preservation of the “older methods”, set himself in opposition to modern styles. In his 1917 book Concerning Painting: Considerations Theoretical and Historical, Cox restated his earlier feelings about the “Two Ways of Painting” saying:

For at least fourteen thousand years, then, from the time of the cavemen to our own day, painting has been an imitative art, and it seems likely that it will continue to be so. That it should, within a few years, entirely reverse its current, and should flow in the opposite direction for thousands of years to come seems highly improbable, not to say incredible. Yet we are gravely told that it is about to do this; that, at the hands of its representative element, reached its final and definite form, and that no further changes are possible. Henceforth, as long as men live in the world they are to be satisfied with a non-representative art — an art fundamentally different from that which they have known and practiced and enjoyed.[8]

Kenyon Cox, Portrait of Louise Howland King Cox, 1892. Kenyon Cox wrote his mother, "Long before I felt the thrill of love, I knew that she would make the best wife in the world for me if I should love her . . . When love came to add to the friendship and confidence, I felt safe and so we mean to marry as soon as we can." Wikipedia
Kenyon Cox, Portrait of Louise Howland King Cox, 1892. Kenyon Cox wrote his mother, “Long before I felt the thrill of love, I knew that she would make the best wife in the world for me if I should love her . . . When love came to add to the friendship and confidence, I felt safe and so we mean to marry as soon as we can.” Wikipedia

3-D Beauty in a Flat Screen World

The nobility of men lost in a sea of toys.  courtesy Pinterest
The nobility of men lost in a sea of toys.
courtesy Pinterest

Imagine spending 15 years on a work that people see in passing, can touch if they want to, but hardly notice. Plastic Barbie dolls and Star Wars figurines, Pier One trinkets and Walmart cement garden gnomes are hardly capable of producing the emotions and awe once felt by viewers of  public sculpture. But can you blame us modern consumers? Can we really turn to modern abstract and often ugly sculpture with the same sense of wonder and optimism as the men and women living in the “American Renaissance”?

Augustus Saint-Gaudens by Kenyon Cox
Augustus Saint-Gaudens by Kenyon Cox

Here’s Augustus Saint Gaudens working. Kenyon Cox, another artist looks on. How easy on the eyes this portrait, lovingly rendered, is. Yet Augustus Saint Gaudens was a sculptor and in a world of flat screens and paper books a sculptor’s work looks dull.

My husband and I visited a local ironworks art weekend crowded with people trying to be different, shocking and mysterious. What lacked was beauty and heart. (and art). My husband does not fancy himself a sculptor, but the house he built for our ducks has integrity and a loveliness that springs from something deeper than wanting to be cool.

Augustus didn’t come from wealth. His father recognized an artistic sensibility in his son and apprenticed him to a cameo maker. Later he took classes at Cooper Union and went to Paris where one day he spotted a young fellow American art student. Maybe he whispered a sweet nothing, but she could not hear him.  Augusta Fisher Homer was deaf but not blind to the charms of a young, sensitive and ultimately extremely generous man. They fell in love and married.

Atop Madison Square Garden. courtesy thehistoryblog.com
Atop Madison Square Garden. courtesy thehistoryblog.com

Public men paid for beauty back then. This was when people thought art was interchangeable with beauty. Pompous, greedy men some of them were but these materialist businessmen  still commissioned a Diana for everyone to admire or a William Tecumseh Sherman (before modern and often sloppy scholarship made him such a villain). What do modern magnates do, I wonder? Maybe some quietly do great things, but I long for public beauty not abstraction and Piss Christ.

If you’ve ever gone to the MET in New York you notice in the Greek Art galleries a hush almost as if people know they should truly love the beauty so unlike what they see just outside on the busy street. It’s difficult to sit with these sculptures because we’ve become so unused to sublime beauty. Where’s the color? Where’s the stuff that makes our blood boil? Maybe these quiet sculptures shame us when they remind us how easily our tastes are satisfied with McDonalds happy meal sculptures of the girl from FROZEN.

shermanHo hum I’ve often felt passing one of the greatest American equestrian sculptures ever. Yes, Sherman helped win a war. Now we debate motives and hate them for their lack of purity. But who are we? Lost in a modern world of cynicism and inertia. Happy to point fingers–you’re racist! sexist! elitist! Determined to view the pit and drag it into every conversation and every art work.

Summer painted at the artist colony founded by Saint Gaudens by Thomas Wilmer Dewing
Summer painted at the artist colony founded by Saint Gaudens by
Thomas Wilmer Dewing

Augustus Saint-Gaudens in his naivete may have thought the men who commissioned his work were doing a fair-to-middling job with the country. I don’t know but Louis Auchincloss had this to say about the men and women of the late 19th century and Augustus Saint Gaudens in particular: “Yet when I turn back to Saint-Gaudens’s work, including the portrait bas-reliefs–those wonderful, grave, reflective men, women and children, so subtly conceived and so exquisitely rendered–I have a sense that the American Renaissance may have been a better time in which to live than ours. Its people seem so serious, so high-minded. They seem so determined to make a better and more beautiful world, so concerned with order and dignity. I envy their apparent tranquility. I wish I could share their sense of purpose and progress.”