The Ugly American

Serendipity led me to Jean Burman’s site the other day.  She had a post about a TV show (which I have to admit I’m not familiar with) about two artists who set off from opposite coasts of the U. S. with only one buck in their pocket and their art supplies.  They have to work their way across the country by selling their art for their sustenance.

A tall order, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that this challenge takes place in the U.S. instead of someplace else.  We don’t value art here.  It isn’t part of our day to day lives.  Look at how much ugliness surrounds us, which doesn’t even phase us.

John Q. Middle American wakes up in a house that looks just like his neighbor’s, done in a color palette approved by his homeowner’s association.  (Don’t want any “individuality” creeping in or our property values will plummet even more!)

He goes to work in a low-slung brick and smoked-glass office building that could be mistaken for a government holding cell.  Inside his putty-grey cubicle he only has a few pictures in cheap frames of his family.  It’s really all that is allowed, except for perhaps a certificate of modest recognition for attending corporate training of some sort.

Where is there room for art or self-expression?  If Van Gogh himself walked up to him and offered to sell him “Starry Night” for 10 bucks he probably wouldn’t recognize it.  “What the hell am I gonna do with it?” he’d ask.  “Can I sell it on Ebay?”

Unlike Europe and other places, our workaholic, utilitarian society has culled out all the beautiful, non-revenue generating things in life.  I would say we treat art like toxic waste, but we spend billions to store our toxic waste, and we cut billions from the places that store our art.

The American has his cubicle, his vending-machine energy drink to get him through the afternoon, and a full inbox he has to respond to before he can go home.   The Frenchman has some of the world’s finest art and architecture, wine with his lunch, and his mistress at 3:00.

And we have the gall to make fun of the French!



5 thoughts on “The Ugly American

  1. Thanks for the mention Harry 🙂 … I really appreciate that. I’m so pleased you found my little website way over here on the other side of the world! LOL

    You know… Australia’s a pretty nice place but I’m sure there are places like you describe over here as well. We have our urban jungles and our flat grey suburbs where everything is the same… but the aussie people are for the most part reasonably upbeat and relatively friendly. We are lucky like that… and I’m not saying that to rub it in.

    Funnily enough when I was writing this post I did wonder myself what might have happened if the art race was run in Australia. I think [apart from the initial reaction of shock at being asked to barter in exchange] most people would instinctively get behind these guys and get them on their way. The little aussie battler is still the hero here. But it wouldn’t have been all plain sailing I’m sure.

    You paint a sad and scary picture of America. I’ve been a couple of times and loved the places I went to… but maybe as the recession bites harder… things are changing for the worse? I’d venture to say [now more than ever before]… the world has to try to look on the bright side. There’s plenty of bad stuff out there [and lots of criticism for anyone trying to understate it by being overtly cheerful – ask me boy do I know!] but I reckon it’s the only way to go and I won’t be changing anytime soon (((chuckles)))

    Thanks again Harry… love your blog. Better keep doing it! 🙂

    • I’ve actually been to Sydney twice, Perth twice, and even to Hobart, Tasmania! You are absolutely right, the Aussie’s are a plucky bunch that are a fun, friendly people in general.
      I didn’t mean to paint too depressing a picture, but the scenario I described holds true, unfortunately, for too many of us. We’ve been stretched too thin and given up too much autonomy, I think.
      When you are in a crowded room, and somebody says “Do you smell smoke?”, I’m just trying to be the guy pointing the way to the exit and fresh air!

      • Good for you Harry… it’s an important job you do. The complacent acceptance of “what is” needs to be continually questioned [and challenged]and I’m glad you’re there doing precisely that! I’ll be doing my bit over this side… [grin]

  2. Aww Harry it’s not that bad. Where I live in Arizona there are all kinds of mutants and oddities. There are many castes in America, not everybody fits that depressing scenario you describe. There are no cubicles here, though many people would be happy to work in one if only they could find a job.

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