My husband Sabin Howard has become enthralled with the inspiring video lectures on ted.com. I understand why. Sabin and I are seekers of enlightenment, and that spark is the intention behind the website. I usually don’t mind when Sabin brings his MacbookPro to the bedroom and insists that I watch. Although I wish he wouldn’t do it on Monday nights at 9:00, because I am really invested in Jack Bauer saving the world.
The latest two videos were Ben Zander on classical music and Sir Ken Robinson talking about how schools kill creativity.
I had reason to ruminate on Robinson’s words in light of a lecture I attended last week at the New York Academy of Art on The Young Michelangelo, given by a professor who has a forthcoming book of the same name.
Now, this professor meant well. He tried to enliven his speech by mentioning sodomy several times. Usually sodomy is a provocative subject. This time, the unfortunately pompous academician managed to make both sodomy and the young Michelangelo Buonarroti boring. It was an accomplishment that made my husband seethe with fury. Not because of the former subject but because Sabin, as the finest living figurative sculptor, considers himself a direct heir to Michelangelo, and the sculptor poised to rebirthe classical figurative statuary into the modern mind as a living, breathing, urgent topic of thought. For Sabin, the boringization of Michelangelo is a catastrophic evil.
He got so mad that I wiggled out of the dinner invitation with a group of NY Academy folk and the professor. I didn’t want to watch Sabin get into a fight. Sabin’s the pale German/British/Northern Italian genotype and there was an uncharacteristic red flush on his cheekbones. It didn’t bode well for a civilized dinner.
And I got an earful in the cab on the way home. Good thing I bowed us out of dinner.
But I sympathize with Sabin. I’ve seen this distressing academic syndrome before. Professor Zollner, whose books I revere, managed to make Leonardo Da Vinci boring, in a talk a few years ago at the NY Academy. How, you may ask, could anyone make Leonardo, one of the top 5 most fascinating human beings in human history, boring? Well, it takes talent.
And a sense of oneself as an entitled gate-keeper who is generously doling out information to the special few out of the largesse of one’s brilliant scholarly achievements.
George Bull, the translator of Vasari’s Lives Of the Artists, succeeded brilliantly in transforming Vasari’s commentary into something dry, dull, and off-putting. This is just an egregious violation of all things holy, good, and true. Vasari was one of the early PR legends and a genius of a gossip monger. Lives Of the Artists should be rendered in the juicy, salacious style of US Magazine. If it were, everyone would want to read it. Everyone would love and hate Benvenuto Cellini, that stormy and sociopathic artist who, it is rumored, threw his assistant into the furnace to get it hot enough to cast his sculpture.
I stand for the democratization of art and ideas. Great art belongs to everyone. It cuts across class, caste, and education levels. This is one reason why post modern art isn’t art. It’s merchandise. Worse, it’s a shame that the 20th/21st centuries will have to live down: that ridiculous crap (by which I mean Dung Madonna, Piss Christ, anything by Jeff Koons, etc.) doesn’t appeal to anyone who isn’t getting a PhD or doesn’t have a monetary interest in it. That is, art dealer$ and gallerie$ will swear to you it’s great, but that’s only because they want to $ell it to you.
When Sabin loads his heroic scale APHRODITE into a truck to transport it, everyone stops, awestruck, to admire. Everyone responds to beauty. Firemen, school teachers, garbagemen, the women running the florist shop, lawyers, bankers, the restaurateurs on the corner–they all comment. Random people in cars pull over, get out, and admire.
This is what great art must do: strike people like a lightning bolt and uplift them. It doesn’t require a PhD to behold and be uplifted by Michelangelo!
How would I have given a lecture on Michelangelo? I’m a storyteller, and I want everyone to love Michelangelo. I would have pushed the lectern out of the way, grinned, and said, “Michelangelo was one of the greatest artists ever. He was also a mean son-of-a-bitch and a liar, so cheap that he’d wear his leather pants until they cracked and fell off his stinking body.”