From the editor's desk  |  By Elizabeth Pochoda

Editor's letter, May/June 2013

May 8, 2013  |  

Our cover shows an early and uncharacteristically jaunty paint­ing by George Ault, part of the Lunder Collection featured in the article about the Colby College Museum of Art. Elsewhere in the issue an example of Ault's later, more hard-boiled style can be seen in Marica and Jan Vilcek's collection of 

early American modern­ism. Ault was by most accounts an impossible person who rendered the discouraging reality he perceived around him in his own form of vernacular cubism.  His View from Brooklyn is a favorite of mine.

Not to be too squish-headed about it, but the presence of two George Aults here suggests a kind of karma running through this issue. Not quite intentionally, we have paid tribute in a variety of articles to our peculiarly American form of arts patronage: The Vilceks and their foundation; the Alfond and Lunder families and their gifts to Colby; the arts patrons of Fort Worth who staged a remarkable art exhibition for President and Mrs. Kennedy in their hotel suite on the eve of the assassination in 1963; the collectors who contributed to the show of early American needlework at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in California; Alex Katz, artist and benefactor. They are part of the crazy quilt of private founda­tions and donations across the country that make up the American way of giving, which in its helter-skelter fashion turns out to be remarkably efficient and probably less monochromatic and politicized than the European model of state money for the arts.

I yield to no one in my appreciation for the National Endowment for the Arts, but that legacy of the Kennedy/Johnson years waxes and wanes in influence depending on the state of our political and cultural wars. (Just now, for instance, we have an outgoing chairman of the NEA who will probably be judged the most negligible chairman in the organization's history.) But the Rockefellers and the Mellons, the Alfond-Lunders, the Vilceks, and their like keep on giv­ing, lifting us above the political fray...at least as long as the tax code is not changed.

What they cannot do despite their numbers and their largesse is to create a


 national cli­mate in which the arts matter, in which artists and their work are seen as part of everything else in American life. But our leaders can. Roosevelt did so with a string of organizations during the Depression that treated writers and artists as useful workers. Some of the results were good  and a lot were mediocre, but the larger point was made, however briefly. At the other end of the cultural spectrum the Kennedys talked the talk of high art and walked the walk for a time as well. but that legacy of the Kennedy/Johnson years waxes and wanes in influence depending on the state of our political and cultural wars. (Just now, for instance, we have an outgoing chairman of the NEA who will probably be judged the most negligible chairman in the organization's history.) But the Rockefellers and the Mellons, the Alfond-Lunders, the Vilceks, and their like keep on giv­ing, lifting us above the political fray...at least as long as the tax code is not changed. 

Somewhere in the present day, beyond the current worship of the avant-garde on one hand and the evangelical vilification of the arts on the other, we urgently need a national voice for all the arts that recognizes their essential place in enlarging the human spirit. It is a question of leadership, not money. 

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