This is my fanatical face
O, The Pilgrims! They dipped their brains in Vermeer yellow and dotted them with gaping Picasso eyes and fortified them with flying buttresses. Seeking rebirth, they sailed across the Atlantic to the neon mosaic of Manhattan and played among its multicolored tesserae. They learned to inhabit the uninhabitable thicket of a Pollock and love the unlovable toilet of Duchamp.
A pilgrim isn’t a pilgrim with rooted feet, and so they sought out a new frontier. It was an artless place, a wasteland of lost people who could hardly feel the earthquake of New York and would never stand on the unshakeable marble of Europe.
To travel to this Northwest and spread the Word was a matter of moral obligation–and destiny.
If you don’t believe that this story could be conveyed in a single glance, you don’t know my art history teacher. I went to her office to discuss the latest interpretation of “Fountain” and the conversation eventually swung around to my blog.
“I adventure around Eugene and write about art,” I explained. She fixed me with the puzzled, pitying look of an enlightened art missionary.
“But, really, what is there to see?” she said. “I lived in New York for eight years. There’s nothing in Eugene.”
She really and truly said this, in her adorable European accent. It was a bit of a punch to the face but it wasn’t a shock. I was three weeks into my arts reporting class, which leans heavily on “The New York Times Reader: Arts and Culture.” The book is a brilliant collection of arts pieces but the introduction (and everything else written by editor Don McLeese) reads like propaganda.
The New York times gives critics more space and it takes their work more seriously than any other general-interest news organization in the country (if not the world).
Something about the smug little note at the end really does it. Don McLeese, I pronounce you the king of parenthetical snobbery…
Other cities may approach New York’s significance in various arts (we’ll give the movies to Hollywood), but no publication rivals The Times as the epicenter of arts and culture criticism, most broadly defined.
He’ll give the West Coast the Transformers franchise, but we’d better keep our grubby hands off everything else.
I’m being mean, but that’s only because love hurts. I fell hard for New York last December when I accompanied my Dad on a business trip there. While he worked, I wandered the streets in a giant grey coat, sipping lattes and listening to “Empire State of Mind” over and over.
New York’s buildings are so big that everything looks small afterward. Its art is so great that nothing will ever compare. It feels like the news, like culture, like the center of the world. That’s what I thought after one week, so you really can’t blame Don McLeese. His eyes have been filled with skyscrapers for years.
To leave New York and return to a small city in the Pacific Northwest was a heartbreaker. The affair continued from afar with a subscription to the New Yorker, but I knew I’d never be complete until I lived there.
Over the next few months, I transformed into something worse than a snobby New Yorker. I was a snobby New Yorker wannabe, willfully blinding myself to all but the most romantic notions of the Big Apple. By the time I’d hung a framed photo of the Empire State Building on my wall, I was vaguely aware that I might be getting duped. The Mad Men had me good.
After a long, lonely winter I started applying for NYC museum internships for next year. As Don McLeese will tell you many, many times, any aspiring arts writer must live in New York. Did I say “applying” just then? Actually, all of the deadlines had passed. I was forced to broaden my scope to the nowhere of everywhere else.
Memory, all alone in the moooonlight
That’s how I landed an internship at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, NM. When I started telling people about it I got two reactions.
Nearly everyone: “What’s in Santa Fe? Cacti?”
One person: “Santa Fe? That has, like, the third largest art market in the country.”
This offhand comment made me incredibly excited. I mentioned it later to the head of the O’Keeffe program.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “I think it’s actually the second largest.”
If Santa Fe can’t decide whether it’s second or third, then there’s probably at least one other burgeoning arts center out there that isn’t really sure either. Maybe there are dozens of places that thrive even in the shadow of the all-important NYC.
Santa Fe is now a few weeks away, and I’m thinking of asking my art history teacher on a blog adventure.
“Come explore Eugene with me,” I’ll say. “It’s either the 2nd, or 3rd, or 172nd largest art market in the country.”
She’ll roll her eyes and I’ll smile. Welcome to the Wild West, prof. Grab your shotgun cuz we’re going art huntin’!
P.S. Coming up: Mark Rothko! You’re going to love it… or love to hate it.