There’s this house I pass on my way to work that has a yard cluttered with kitschy lawn ornaments – plywood cutouts in vague shapes, garishly painted as bunnies and deer and toadstools and whatnot. They’re for sale; the guy makes them in his shop out back. It’s a harmless enough thing, but high art it’s not.
Near the front door, casually placed just beside this orgy of low taste, is a half-size cast reproduction of a classic greco-roman statue, a draped woman pouring from an urn on her shoulder.A touch of class? Another corner of the same aesthetic? A gift from a distant relation? The last relic of a fall from higher station? So many speculations can be speculated as long as closer investigation is foregone….
No matter what, whatever services of status elevation this object could possibly supply (assuming this is its objective) are pretty much disqualified by its framing surrounds: the low commerce, the kitsch aesthetic, the diy workshop on premises, the dollar store curtains in the windows. Of course we may hope for an ironic touch, perhaps even a droll nose-thumbing at the snobbery of borrowed taste that seeks to plunder the charisma of dead civilizations. Is a conscious juxtaposition of these mismatched yet oddly equivalent artifacts too much to imagine? I’ve seen worse in upscale galleries….
Well again, speculation is cheap. Let’s think more about framing. Does it do this yard more service to take it in as a whole, or to focus selectively? Assuming the classical sculpture is a bit like a bow on a sow, wouldn’t it be friendly to focus on the bow? It’s not like this house is going to be a mansion anytime soon; the commerce of kitsch is no doubt part of its conditions of existence; a little corner of uplift may be all that those constraints afford. (Another version of this would be the tricked out car or truck parked in the lawn of a rundown trailer. Bang for the buck, status-wise.) The best move of course is to see it all and to love it for what it is. That zen is not widely distributed in the population, so selective focus may be the most realistic option; and in the presence of ideals that we all fall short of, realistically the best.
I think of this in relation to the feminist critique of the ‘objectifying’ masculine gaze. Men viciously pull women apart into dismembered boobs here, butts there, legs stacked in the corner, maybe necklines and brow ridges in another pile if we’re classy. The violence of this procedure is undeniable. I’m fine with my bits but I certainly wouldn’t want them hacked off and taken as representations of my whole being or used without my express written consent and approval.
But isn’t there also a loving way of applying our attention selectively that isn’t violently reductive? My wife loves my lips, and I hers; we lovingly ignore the smells that come out of them in the morning. We’re both overweight, with bumps and curves where they ought not to be; our loving gazes select around these visual inconveniences, eventually finding their way to the ideal within the real. We both have our black moods and bad moments. These are just some of the many infelicities, little and big, that pass unremarked and unsanctioned in a successful relationship.
Isn’t the nicest thing someone can do for us sometimes to carve us up into bits and focus on the good ones? Don’t we do this ourselves when we make assessments of our assets and deficits, ornaments and stigmas, and turn ourselves toward people and situations to foreground the former and background the latter? Don’t the strategies of information-management and identity performance described by Erving Goffman require this sort of polite complicity from their audiences? And aren’t people too big to keep all of in mind all the time anyway?
I offer this as a meditation on our object orientations.