What Art Would a Tucker Carlson Like?
Jean-Honoré Fragonard “The Fountain of Love,” ca. 1785, oil on canvas, 25 1/4 x 20 3/4”. Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum
In today’s art world, where so much art addresses social and political issues and great emphasis is placed on the inclusion of people of varying backgrounds, races, and sexual preferences, I’m tempted to ask, in contrast, what kind of art would a right-wing bigot like Tucker Carlson like?
Perhaps paintings by Jean Honoré Fragonard who portrayed aristocratic 18th century white people enjoying the fruits of their entitlement. Or maybe the pompous 1877 “Vanity Fair” caricature of John Sholto Douglas, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry. Douglas’s most infamous act was participation in the trial of Oscar Wilde, resulting in the writer’s conviction for gross indecency and sentencing to two years of hard labor. From our (and his) own time, Carlson might like the balloon sculptures of Jeff Koons, expressing as they do nostalgia for a privileged childhood.
Then there is “The Scream” (2017) by indigenous Canadian artist Kent Monkman, a narrative depiction of how, a century ago, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, alongside priests and nuns, tore indigenous children away from their parents. Monkman’s image uncannily anticipates the Trump Administration’s Family Separation Policy, which the likes of Carlson strongly approved of. The earlier doctrine also separated children from their families, sending them to boarding schools where they were forced to unlearn their native language and culture.
Would Carlson admire the work of Post-Impressionist Paul Cezanne, whose “The Negro Scipio” (1867) depicts an exhausted slave? Or of Vincent van Gogh, whose “The Potato Eaters” (1885) transforms five peasants into a high-minded allegory. Or the early 20th century Ashcan School artists, such as Robert Henri and George Luks, who celebrated working-class people in gritty, urban settings. George Bellows’ “Cliff Dwellers” (1913) depicts a crowded outdoor tenement scene punctuated by lines of drying laundry fluttering above the tenants as they seek fresh air on a hot day. Would he see such an image as an homage to landlords such as Fred Trump?
Kent Monkman (Fisher River Band Cree), “The Scream,” 2017, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 132”. Courtesy of the Denver Art Museum. © Kent Monkman
What would Carlson say about the early 20th-century Cubists who unabashedly expressed their social opinions and depicted them in their artworks? Pablo Picasso rejected art as primarily a source of aesthetic pleasure: “What do you think an artist is? ... he is a political being, constantly aware of the heart breaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. Painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war." “Guernica” (1937) was his response to the bombing of Guernica in northern Spain by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, an expressive depiction of the immorality of war and the suffering inflicted on innocent civilians.
John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queenberry
(Statesman No. 261, “a good light weight.”)”
Paul Cezanne, “The Negro Scipio,” 1867. Courtesy of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris
And how would Carlson feel about the 2019 exhibition, “Monsters and Myths: Surrealism and War in the 1930s and 1940s,” at the Baltimore Museum of Art? Featuring work by Picasso, Max Ernst, André Masson, and others, the show explored the idea that atrocities in the real world, particularly those of war, violence, and exile, breed monsters in various art forms, producing work of exceptional creativity.
Masson’s painting in the show, “There Is No Finished World” (1942), with its abstract grotesques that reference ancient mythologies and the primal unconscious, was condemned, with so much other art of the time, as “degenerate” by the Nazis, only to be rehabilitated after the war. Yet as we move deeper into the 21st century, Naziism is again rearing its ugly head, its central tenet of replacement theory promoted by commentators such as Carlson. Recent laws passed in Florida make “There Is No Finished World” suddenly more relevant than ever — and once again threatened with political sequestering on the theory that it might make some children feel badly about themselves. On May 4 Jarvis DeBerry wrote in the MSNBC blog that, “Because the remark about white men fighting honorably came from text-message Carlson, we can assume it’s what he really believes. That he may be representative of a growing number of Americans who share his racist, ignorant belief is terrible to contemplate.”
André Masson, “There is no Finished World,” 1942, oil on canvas, 53 x 68”. Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art
Since at least the advent of 19th century Realism and Impressionism, when artists railed against the juried Salon system, they have been addressing humankind’s struggles, as well as our triumphs over personal and societal adversity. And contrary to what artworks the former Fox News anchor might favor, it becomes apparent how much art created over the past two centuries has focused on critiquing the human condition.
It is often pointed out that today’s art world is, on the whole, a bastion of liberalism. To be sure, there exists art tailored to appeal to conservative true believers, but there are good reasons that it is of marginal aesthetic interest. It panders, and does so from the wrong side of history. But I subscribe to what Oscar Wilde said: "Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”