Frankly, that was plain rude

Don’t complain about the crassness of our president when you behave just as badly.


America, 2016, by Maurizio Cattelan, installed in a restroom at the Guggenheim.
The interesting thing wasn’t that someone sent me this story about the Guggenheim’s refusal to loan the Trumps a painting for the White House. The interesting thing was how manypeople sent it to me. Clearly it hit a nerve.
In brief, the Trumps requested the loan of Vincent van Gogh’s 1888 Landscape with Snow for use in their private living quarters. Curator Nancy Spector refused the loan because the painting has just come off tour. Had she left it at that, nobody would have raised an eyebrow.
But as a New York intellectual, Spector hates Donald Trump. She’s made no secret of it, using social media to trumpet her opinions. She has every right to do that.
La Nona Ora, by Maurizio Cattelan (1999), wax, clothing, polyester resin with metallic powder, volcanic rock, carpet, glass, sold at Christie’s for $886,000.
But it was sophomoric and rude to offer the Trumps a gold toilet on behalf of the Guggenheim. (You can read her letter here.)
Why should major museums loan artwork for a politician’s private residence in the first place? Since the Johnson administration, presidents have been borrowing important works from major American museums. “It might be a friend, it might be a decorator … but it was someone designated by the president and first lady to come to the National Gallery of Art and choose work,” curator Mark Rosenthal toldNPR. “It’s very much [like] a kid in a candy store.” A list of the 47 pieces borrowed by the Obamas can be read here.
America, the toilet, is the creation of contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan and was installed for the past year in a public restroom on the Guggenheim’s fifth floor, intended for the use of visitors. Cattelan’s schtick is poking fun at the wealthy and powerful. His La Nona Ora (1999) shows Pope John Paul being struck down by a meteor. L.O.V.E. (2010) is a crippled hand giving the finger to the Milan stock exchange. This is the kind of thing some people think of as high-concept pranking. Apparently, they’ve never had teenaged sons.
The Ballad of Trotsky, 1996, by Maurizio Cattelan, sold in 2004 for $2.1 million.
America took $1 million in gold to create. What kind of artist can get his hands on that much gold? Only a wealthy one, or one with rich and adoring friends.
I usually ignore this stuff. I don’t admire it, any more than Nancy Spector admires what I do. But I believe in courtesy and decorum as the basis of a civilized society. Rudeness has become so unremarkable that even ladies who lunch feel free to do it. Lewd and crude commentary is the order of our day. But even those of us who did not support Trump in 2016 ought to respect the office of the Presidency and the White House.
Landscape with Snow, 1888, Vincent van Gogh. President Trump has been accused of having bad taste in art, but I too prefer this over Cattelan’s toilet.
Nancy Spector suffers from Groupthink, which means, sadly, that her snarkiness is going to be applauded, not condemned, in her insular little world. That doesn’t mean it will play in Peoria. While Spector’s gesture was meant as a slap at Trump, it’s felt by the people he represents.
Ironically, the crass and coarse President rose above the fray and did not deign to comment.

How did that happen?

My beady little eye on the world.
Since I had no use for either major-party candidate, I went to bed early last night. As the wits were saying, the bad news was that one of them would be elected. However, my phone pinged at 11 PM. It was a friend who is an ardent Hillary supporter, talking about how she wanted to die. After chatting with her, I went on Facebook and saw innumerable shocked and angry posts. (I’m an artist from New York, so the majority of my friends are liberal.) The same people who’d been celebrating all day yesterday for electing the first woman president were posting things along the lines of, “I’m trying to understand. How did this happen?”
In the 1950s, psychologist Leon Festinger developed a theory of cognitive dissonance, which basically says that holding contradictory beliefs is stressful and people will do anything to squirm out of it. The more deeply held the belief, the stronger the dissonance. Among the strategies we use to cope is confirmation bias. This is our tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. When we read and remember information selectively (and we all do), we are engaging in confirmation bias.
Today our best friends are machines that do that biasing for us. The average American spends 11 hours a day using electronic gadgets. All of these have some kind of confirmation bias built in (the channels you select, for example, affect the news and commercials you see) but the most insidious are your computer and your smart phone.
Yes, your computer is watching you, and yes, it is developing a profile for you based on the sites you visit, your search terms, your purchases and social media profile. That’s relatively innocuous when it comes to what salad dressing you buy, but in 2012, the major parties started using the same tools to target political ads. We started seeing advertising that reinforced, rather than challenged, our beliefs.
Our clickstreams also influence the results we get when we are searching. Google has complicated (and patented) algorithms that say that when we search for A, B, and C, the result will be offered in a particular order. That’s based on user history, and it has a tendency to lump us into herds.
Then there’s the fallacy that you choose your friends. Every time you open Facebook, it scans and collects all the posts made by all your friends and ranks them. The algorithm is complicated and hidden, but how frequently you interact with the poster is certainly part of it. So too is hiding similar posts.
Needless to say, you very rapidly weed out the people you don’t particularly like, the ones you find boring, or—in many cases—the ones who disagree with you. Most users only see the top few hundred posts, which they’ve selected through their own internal biases. The machine then takes over and reinforces these biases. The posts you favor influence the posts you see. This is why last night so many people posted things like, “But I don’t know a single person who supported him!”
This creates terribly bad assumptions about our group behavior and further polarizes us. It’s why so many of us were blindsided by the results. I’m not saying you should ditch your computer—heck, I want you to continue reading my blog—but I am saying that you need to test its version of reality.

The end of Reason

A million-year-old figure sketch by Carol L. Douglas

Figure sketch by Carol L. Douglas
I’ve been blessedly ignorant of the American election for weeks. I would occasionally hear TV news when stuck in a waiting room, but generally I had too little personal bandwidth to take it in. When Canadians would ask my opinion, they did so lightheartedly. No surprise there; it’s not their train wreck.
At this point, I plan to vote for neither candidate; I was born and raised in New York and have followed both of them for a long time. A plague on both their houses.

Please don’t send me any links explaining why I’m wrong. All that ‘information’ is a big part of the problem.
“That’s how men are,” is one argument that has been prematurely dismissed this week. Most of us are rightfully offended on behalf of our own fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. In fact, alpha males have behaved like this for a long time, and we live in a society of extreme moral grunge, so none of this should come as a particular surprise.
Every woman at some point holds a friend’s hand while she experiences the death of her marriage. It’s devastating. The most private things become public while, at the same time, the grief is overwhelming. Sadly, there’s a common thread running through many of these stories: the wife always knew he was a jerk; she just never believed she could do better. I’m always immensely saddened when a friend comes to that realization. Of course she deserved better. As a nation, so do we.
I wonder how Lyndon Baines Johnson would have fared in today’s world of electronic eavesdropping. He was famously crude and said to have been repeatedly unfaithful to Lady Bird. I doubt I would have liked him much, but he was an undeniably effective politician.
In the Sixties, we hid facts to make our politicians more palatable. Today, we create facts to make them less palatable. I receive hundreds of emails a day and an equal number of messages via other platforms. For five weeks, I had a respite, since I simply deleted everything from my phone without reading it. Coming back, I feel like I’ve taken a load of birdshot in the face.
There is no way I can sort out the truthiness in the barrage. Add TV (which I don’t watch) to that mix, and it’s safe to say that we’re all bathing in a stew of disinformation. It is impossible to sort hard news from opinion or, worse, absolute slander.
In 2016, none of us can agree on anything. Prove something and someone will immediately prove that the opposite is actually the truth. This is the end of rationalism, the death of the Age of Reason, brought to us by an overload of information. I’m not enjoying it particularly. Are you?