I recently finished reading The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T. J. Stiles, a terrific biography that gives great insight into the beginnings of American capitalism in the first half of the 19th century. Much could be said bout this book, but I’m not going to review it, just pass along a little anecdote that I bookmarked as I passed through it.
Vanderbilt was involved with the transportation of passengers to the gold fields of California in the 1850s. The steamship plus overland route he worked on developing went through Nicaragua. For a time a private army of Americans called “filibusters” had taken over the country.
“Filibustering” had entered the American vocabulary around 1850 as a name for armed invasions of foreign territory by private American citizens– generally with the hope of annexing those lands to the United States.
That occupation only lasted a short time, but some had hopes for what it might bring:
Soon after Walker [the leader of the filibusters] landed in Nicaragua, Paulding [a US Navy officer] wrote to his wife, “Central America will soon be brought into harmonious action by the introduction of our own beautiful system of government.”
Evidently Dick Cheney never studied this part of American history.
Those of us who are engaged in art are familiar with he question: Why is that art? The question comes from folks who are either very new to engaging in art, or folks who generally have not become interested in art at all.
It has taken me a long time* to figure out that there are two kinds of art:
- Art for people who are interested in art
- Art for people who are not interested in art
People who are interested in art generally enjoy finding new art, new challenges, getting new information, having to contend with the unfamiliar (and that could be ancient art as well as contemporary art).
People who are not interested in art (I think that’s OK, by the way) just don’t have the same purposes for art. The art for people who are not interested in art tends to be stuff that fits comfortably into home decor—because that is the most generally accepted function for art.
My friend and colleague Terri Hopkins illustrates the idea like this:
Imagine that you are a real baseball fan, you’ve been following the game since you were a kid, you know all the current and past statistics, baseball is almost a religion for you. Imagine you have a friend who recently moved here from abroad, and just doesn’t get the “baseball thing.” So you take him to a game. It’s a beautiful summer day, the stands are full, and, wonder of wonders, there’s a great “pitchers’ duel.” And one of the pitchers pitches a no-hitter! The game ends 1-0. As you leave you say to your new friend, “Wow. That was great!” And he replies, “What do you mean? Nothing happened.”
Hard to have baseball for people who aren’t interested in baseball.
*One of my favorite sayings: You get too soon old and too late smart.