About two years ago, I started collecting art. Nothing too elaborate, thank you very much, but just enough that I could point to a few pieces on the wall, proclaim their pedigree, and seem very self-important.
The first prints I bought were by Francisco de Goya. You ve probably (hopefully) heard of him. He was the great Spanish painter of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and was one of the first to use art as a pointed political weapon. There is no more dramatic expression of the senseless slaughter of unarmed men than the white-clad peasant of The Shootings of May Third 1808, his arms thrown up in helplessness, his gaze fixed on those soldiers who mean his murder. Goya s portraits of rulers show cruelty in their eyes, but reproduce the subject so faithfully that his talents were in constant demand. Series of prints such as Los desastres de la guerra are undisguised appeals to the spirits of the Enlightenment, and reflections of the reality of man s inhumanity to man.
I wish I could tell you that my fascination with Goya began in my college art history seminar, when I realized the extent of his genius and his ability to touch the soul. In truth, what I know now has been the result of a process that started at age seven. In those days of yore, my parents regularly enrolled me in art classes at the Des Moines Art Center. One of my assigned projects was to copy a painting I liked, so I copied a Goya canvas of a young man standing by a chair with a yellow dog perched jauntily on the seat (Don Manuel Garcia de la Prada, since you were wondering). Somehow the painting made it into the Children s Gallery, under P is for Painting. It was the last and deservedly so piece of artwork I ve ever had displayed. At seven, whatever you do is cute enough that a complete and utter lack of talent means naught.
The second set of prints I purchased was by an artist named Alan Bean. If the name sounds familiar, you re a child of the Space Age like I am. Bean was the fourth man to walk on the moon during the voyage of Apollo 12, and commanded a two-month mission to Skylab.
What most people don t know is that after his retirement, he became an accomplished artist. One of his commissions was to do a commemorative poster for the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, Fla. In his work titled Reaching for the Stars, he painted a central panel of a stylized astronaut extending his hand skyward, then enlisted surviving Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts to sign the border of the work. And it only gets better: Bean imprinted his lunar boots onto the textured surface of the work and embedded a dollop of moon dust in the pigment. As a kid who grew up idolizing anything and anyone NASA, a signed and numbered copy of the work is an object of worship in my home.
Regrettably, other icons from my childhood are fading from the scene. I was honestly upset at the recent passing of Mister Rogers. Even today, if I m flipping channels and run across his show, I will involuntarily stop to watch. When I realize what I m doing, my first impulse is to change the channel in shame. But then I realize that I really do care what happens to Daniel Striped Tiger, and I want to sing about a snappy new day. (Yes, I know all the songs).
Even the cast of the veritable Sesame Street is not immune to cultural revolution. I recently stumbled across a report that describes a new initiative to improve the health of our children. Senators Bill Frist, MD (R-Ten) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore) joined Sesame Street characters Elmo, Rosita, and Maria to announce the Healthy Habits for Life project, which strives to encourage the development of healthy habits in preschoolers (translated, I think, as paste only once a week ). Senator Frist s website even has a picture of him conferring with Elmo, which is about the most intellectual dialogue I ve seen from any Senator of either party for quite some time ( Elmo thinks we should look in Oscar s can for WMD. ) Most conspicuous by his absence from the health initiative was the main consumer of food on our idyllic urban lane. I m referring, of course, to our chubby friend Cookie Monster.
I ll be the first to acknowledge that the omission of Cookie from the nutrition trio may truly disturb only me. Ever since I broke 40 and was more than halfway done by all the average lifespan stuff, I ve tended to hang on to the past. I simply can t pay bills electronically; I need to write the checks to make it seem real. I truly have no idea who anybody on the Delta Airlines inflight entertainment system is anymore. And I m still angry over the fact that they took Buck Owens off of Hee Haw.
But I do understand why Cookie is out of the Healthy Troika. Big Blue is anything but an advocate for good nutrition. He s fat, fuzzy and blue (fortunately, we have no issues with colorism or texturism). It s a pity, really. We re just supposed to assume he got that way because of poor nutrition. But maybe it was something else. Maybe he has a genetic disorder. For that matter, did we ever see his family? Maybe they re all big boned. Heck, maybe if we saw some other Cookie Monsters running through the meadow, we d find that they re all huge, four-ton monstrosities, and the Cookie Monster we know is an of acme sveltness and exhibits moderation in all things.
Of course, if I was thinking as a public health person (and the State of Florida pays me to do that), I might say that while these are all valid reasons for an obesity problem, there is still the issue of self-control. And, let s be honest, Cookie Monster and impulsive behavior have a symbiotic relationship. Physical activity rarely enters his worldview, unless it s in the midst of a counterproductive frenzy of cookie consumption.
But if we drop Cookie Monster in the name of nutritional correctness, what s next? Should we dump Big Bird? He s more than a bit round about the middle, but he eats bird seed, for heaven s sake. Do we extend from our television world and start leaving carrot sticks for Santa, and narrow our chimneys to encourage his weight loss? It may just be me, but he seems to have done pretty well despite being a textbook example of every cardiac risk factor known to man.