Tag Archives: Mallarme

Bronc bustin’ the Code of the West

Buffalo Bill circus poster, ca. 1899. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C./Wikimedia Commons

By Bob Hicks

So it’s happened. Oregon’s House of Representatives has officially endorsed the Code of the West, a business opportunity ridin’ hard out of the hills of Texas into the hearts of legislators from Cheyenne to Salem. A trademarked moral compass, as it were, ready-made for tryin’ times. Keep ‘er simple. Keep ‘er pure. And please buy the book.

Before the Code becomes part of Oregon law, the state Senate must also consider the bill. Bet on its passing. In tough times, this is quick and easy symbolism, roughly on the order of naming an official state lizard or proclaiming State Barleycorn Growers Appreciation Day. And basically as harmless, although the Code has whomped up a bit of consternation among people who point out that the settler ethic didn’t work out so well for, say, the native Americans who were here before the place was called the West. Or the Chinese and Japanese settlers who made the mistake of thinking they were free to carve out lives of their own on the frontier. Or the black families legislated brusquely elsewhere by Oregon’s strict exclusion laws.

Still. That was then and this is now. The cowboy code, if historically imperfect and a tad romanticized (and isn’t all history imperfect and much of it romanticized?) is not a perversely unreasonable document. It appeals to the virtues of good old-fashioned common sense. It’s also considerably shorter, easier to understand, and vastly more entertaining than the Oregon State Building Code. By comparison, the Code of the West is downright literature.

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Birth of Impressionism, death of kings

Stéphane Mallarmé. 1876. Edouard Manet (1832-1883). Oil on canvas. 11 x 14 inches. RMN (Musée d’Orsay)/Hervé Lewandowski.

By Bob Hicks

SAN FRANCISCO — Two clichés come to mind today: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

I wouldn’t call my attitude toward Impressionist painting contempt, exactly. Far from it: This is great stuff, and you’d have to be a fool not to recognize that, even if, as in my case, your attention has been elsewhere of late.

I confess to having had a touch of fatigue, a sense of been-there-seen-that, a feeling that yesterday’s artistic revolution had become today’s wallpaper, the essence of nice. (Another cliché pops into my head: “guilt by association.” I gradually came to undervalue the real thing, I think, on the evidence of innumerable encounters with contemporary paintings in which a sort of generic, Impressionist-lite fuzzing of the image attempts to obscure the artists’ inability to be compelling or precise.)

Birth of Venus.  1879.  William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905).  Oil on canvas, 9 ft. 10 1/8 inches x 7 ft. 5/8 inches. RMN (Musée d’Orsay)/Hervé LewandowskiThank you, Musee d’Orsay and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, for shaking me out of that nonsense. Birth of Impressionism, the show of masterworks from the Paris museum on display through Sept. 6 at the Fine Arts Museums’ de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, reinvigorates the Impressionistic moment by putting it in the context of its own time and the art world that existed when it knocked on the door and was found unsuitable company for dinner with the establishment.

That historical grounding had been absent from my thinking for a while. It reminded me of why the Impressionist movement was groundbreaking, and reawakened my fondness for works whose value should have been self-evident. (A followup exhibition from the d’Orsay, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay, opens Sept. 25 and runs through Jan. 18, 2011.)

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