Wednesday, May 11, 2011

ARTISTS AT WAR, part 3


In September 1940 Hitler began his blitz campaign of dropping incendiary bombs on the major population centers of Britain, hoping to burn the civilians into submission. Night after night for months, London was set aflame. After a particularly vicious bombing run on December 29, Winston Churchill ruefully cabled Franklin Roosevelt, "They burned a large part of the city of London last night."        

Citizens risked their lives to form auxiliary fire brigades in an effort to douse the flames and save as many homes, factories and lives as possible.  A number of the firemen caught in the inferno felt compelled to record their trauma in art.

The painting above is by a fireman whose comrades were rushing with sand buckets to put out an incendiary. The painting below is by fireman / artist Leonard Rosoman who witnessed two firemen buried under a collapsing wall of red hot brick.  One of the two firemen had just relieved Rosoman who had been holding that hose moments before.


These painters had little equipment or resources. Firefighter W. Matvyn Wright painted the following image on the only surface available, a ping pong table top:


These artists clung to art through their desperate ordeal.  Threatened with imminent invasion by the Nazis, watching their precious national heritage turn to ash, art helped them to cope.  For them, art was no cultural luxury.  It was serious business.

Another person who is reputed to understand the seriousness of art is private equity fund manager Stephen Schwarzman, one of Wall street's 25 Most "Serious" Art Collectors.  Schwarzman, a multi-bilionaire with five mansions worth a combined $125 million,  recently spent $3 million on his own birthday party.  He had beautiful models parading around dressed as James Bond girls, and paid singer Rod Stewart to serenade him.

A substantial percentage of Schwarzman's immense wealth came from lobbying for favorable laws and special tax treatment. For example, Schwarzman fought the Sarbanes Oxley laws against corporate misconduct and backed special tax benefits for profits from private equity funds.   Recently, when President Obama questioned whether a person worth $8 billion should continue to have a lower tax rate than the chauffer who drives him around, an outraged Schwarzman complained, "It’s a war, like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”

So both Schwarzman and the firefighters of the London blitz share a common perspective: they both know the horrors of war with Hitler, and they both seek to find solace through art.   
 
But what else do these two experiences of art have in common?  
I like the paintings by the London firefighters-- they are powerful and sincere and I think that some of them (such as that first painting) are quite good. However, it is highly likely that Schwarzman, who majored in "Intensive Culture" at Yale, has more refined taste than the humble firefighters.  I'm guessing his pictures by Rembrandt and Picasso qualify as superior to the paintings by firemen in the war. After all, a picture should not be downgraded for the loathsomeness of the creature who owns it.

If the firefighters' paintings are more meaningful and urgent and relevant to daily life than Schwarzman's prestigious collection, those qualities are worth taking into consideration. That still doesn't make the firefighters better artists but it reminds us that there is more than one yardstick for measuring art.

26 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, you are being unfair to Stephen Schwarzman. Although maintaining his concern for President Obama’s inability to work productively with the business community for the benefit of the overall economy, Schwarzman did apologize for his inappropriate analogy.

5/11/2011 6:02 PM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

Unfortunately Anonanon, Schwarzman's comment was not so much offensive as it was incredibly stupid (though it was offensive). He can apologise for the offense caused, but he can't take back the stupidity.

5/11/2011 6:18 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

The morals don't matter. Who cares if the art is painted by a saint or owned by a devil? The picture alone is what matters.

5/11/2011 6:19 PM  
Blogger António Araújo said...

>"It’s a war, like when Hitler >invaded Poland in 1939.”

...yes it is, only Schwarzman is playing Adolph.

But there are better analogies. If creeps like him keep pushing, this will end up more like the French revolution. People want to bring back manufacturing jobs, and somebody has to make the guillotines.

>President Obama’s inability to >work productively with the >business community

you must be fucking kidding me....

...unless you mean his failure to drag the bastards into a courtroom, that is.

5/11/2011 6:56 PM  
Blogger Neil Toulch said...

Your blog has taught me as much about art as any college prof could impart. Emphasis on art not politics, - for the record I agree with the 1st commenter; - you're out of line on Schwarzman - but for the sake of knowledge I'll suffer your indulgencence.

5/12/2011 8:06 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous and Neil Toulch-- I don't know Schwarzman personally, but I've met other successful Wall Street quants, as well as the largest institutional investors and leading corporate governance figures. Because of my work, I've spent more time in the world of corporate finance than I spend in the world of art; I've worked with the Sarbanes Oxley laws and securities regulations on behalf of some of the world's largest corporations and I was personally an eyewitness to preparations for last year's Congressional hearings with Wall street witnesses on the financial meltdown. So my comment about Schwarzman wasn't totally off the cuff. Perhaps we should find a blog dealing with tax policy or corporate finance so we can give these issues the attention they really deserve.

For the limited purposes of this art blog, I would summarize my view as follows: Schwarzman is clearly a brighter and more complex human being than can be encapsulated in a single quote on a blog post; he has a god given talent for M & A work and I am grateful for his substantial charitable contributions. However, I think Schwarzman and several of his peers have done more than Karl Marx to undermine the long term future of capitalism. The notion that a man who makes $8 billion will lack an incentive to work (and thus help the "overall economy") if he only retains $5 billion strikes me as morally depraved.

5/12/2011 11:14 AM  
Blogger Black Pete said...

Amen, David. Amen.

5/12/2011 12:27 PM  
Blogger António Araújo said...

> I think Schwarzman and several of >his peers have done more than Karl >Marx to undermine the long term >future of capitalism.

That exactly it (you are channeling Keynes by the way, I think he used more or less those same words disputing with Hayek). But even Adam Smith already knew and often stated that the greatest enemies of free competition are the tradesmen themselves - all of them naturally feel that free competition is fine for others, but, as for themselves, they'd like monopoly and crony capitalism. If you want harsh words about capitalism, forget Marx and read the wealth of nations.

Capitalism is a funny system in that it must work against the wishes of its very actors. Lately we have become enfatuated with capitalists, and that isn't good. Greed may actually be beneficial, sometimes, via the "invisible hand", but that doesn't mean it should be praised. It is a snake that must be handled carefully, and all its benefits are side-effects - what it really wants to do is bite! A government that wants capitalism to work must love capitalism but hate the capitalists and keep them at bay. It is a tough act to work out. Today, the system has been completely derailed and the time is quite desperate. We hang somewhere between a new guilded age or too strong a reaction in the other direction - or worse, some new aberration, as some press keeps talking of how China shows us a new way: picture Rockefeller french-kissing Mao - a future so bright you have to wear shades (and hold a barf bag between shaking knees).

I find myself, far beyond the proper age, embracing the left as a desperate means of saving capitalism from its own suicidal tendencies. The Scharzmans have managed to turn class struggle from an old cliché into the main narrative of our day.

You know what bothers me? With all their greed, they don't seem to consider their long term survival as carefully as they should. There's only so much that society can take. Is it greed *and* stupidity?

5/12/2011 12:35 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

My apologies to all those who commented on this post, and whose comments have been (temporarily, I hope)eradicated by blogger. I thought we were beginning to settle into a very nice little conversation. Apparently I underestimated the reach of Stephen Schwarzman, for I no sooner finished maligning him than blogger mysteriously collapsed.

5/13/2011 4:39 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

New Yorker Magazine (2/11/2008) has a long article on Schwarzman titled “The Birthday Party” by James Stewart. For better or worse, you get a good understanding of this self-made man from Philadelphia’s strengths and weaknesses and can judge for yourself if he is being treated fairly by the press. It appears Schwarzman is learning the hard way to embrace the time-honored balance between wealth, class, good works and self-restraint.

I was intrigued with the article’s general observation that in America supporting the arts can “cleanse a man of any taint of new money and can temper populist resentment to great wealth.” As an artist, I know making art can have a cathartic effect on me but it’s comforting to think it might carry over to others. I'm reminded of the famous line from a William Congreve play.

Music has charms to soothe a savage breast,
to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.
I've read, that things inanimate have moved,
and, as with living souls, have been informed,
by magic numbers and persuasive sound.
What then am I? Am I more senseless grown
than trees, or flint? O force of constant woe!
'Tis not in harmony to calm my griefs.
Anselmo sleeps, and is at peace; last night
the silent tomb received the good old king;
he and his sorrows now are safely lodged
within its cold, but hospitable bosom.
Why am not I at peace?

“The Mourning Bride”, 1697

5/13/2011 5:46 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

With the help of Blogger, I am now going to reinstall the previous comments, many of which I think were very thoughtful.

5/13/2011 7:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, you are being unfair to Stephen Schwarzman. Although maintaining his concern for President Obama’s inability to work productively with the business community for the benefit of the overall economy, Schwarzman did apologize for his inappropriate analogy.



Posted by Anonymous to ILLUSTRATION ART at 5/11/2011 6:02 PM

5/13/2011 7:48 PM  
Anonymous Matthew Adams said...

Unfortunately Anonanon, Schwarzman's comment was not so much offensive as it was incredibly stupid (though it was offensive). He can apologise for the offense caused, but he can't take back the stupidity.



Posted by Matthew Adams to ILLUSTRATION ART at 5/11/2011 6:18 PM

5/13/2011 7:49 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

The morals don't matter. Who cares if the art is painted by a saint or owned by a devil? The picture alone is what matters.



Posted by MORAN to ILLUSTRATION ART at 5/11/2011 6:19 PM

5/13/2011 7:50 PM  
Anonymous Antonio Araujo said...

>"It’s a war, like when Hitler >invaded Poland in 1939.”

...yes it is, only Schwarzman is playing Adolph.

But there are better analogies. If creeps like him keep pushing, this will end up more like the French revolution. People want to bring back manufacturing jobs, and somebody has to make the guillotines.

>President Obama’s inability to >work productively with the >business community

you must be fucking kidding me....

...unless you mean his failure to drag the bastards into a courtroom, that is.



Posted by António Araújo to ILLUSTRATION ART at 5/11/2011 6:56 PM

5/13/2011 7:51 PM  
Anonymous Neil Toulch said...

Your blog has taught me as much about art as any college prof could impart. Emphasis on art not politics, - for the record I agree with the 1st commenter; - you're out of line on Schwarzman - but for the sake of knowledge I'll suffer your indulgencence.



Posted by Neil Toulch to ILLUSTRATION ART at 5/12/2011 8:06 AM

5/13/2011 7:52 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous and Neil Toulch-- I don't know Schwarzman personally, but I've met other successful Wall Street quants, as well as the largest institutional investors and leading corporate governance figures. Because of my work, I've spent more time in the world of corporate finance than I spend in the world of art; I've worked with the Sarbanes Oxley laws and securities regulations on behalf of some of the world's largest corporations and I was personally an eyewitness to preparations for last year's Congressional hearings with Wall street witnesses on the financial meltdown. So my comment about Schwarzman wasn't totally off the cuff. Perhaps we should find a blog dealing with tax policy or corporate finance so we can give these issues the attention they really deserve.

For the limited purposes of this art blog, I would summarize my view as follows: Schwarzman is clearly a brighter and more complex human being than can be encapsulated in a single quote on a blog post; he has a god given talent for M & A work and I am grateful for his substantial charitable contributions. However, I think Schwarzman and several of his peers have done more than Karl Marx to undermine the long term future of capitalism. The notion that a man who makes $8 billion will lack an incentive to work (and thus help the "overall economy") if he only retains $5 billion strikes me as morally depraved.



Posted by David to ILLUSTRATION ART at 5/12/2011 11:14 AM

5/13/2011 7:54 PM  
Anonymous Black Pete said...

Amen, David. Amen.



Posted by Black Pete to ILLUSTRATION ART at 5/12/2011 12:27 PM

5/13/2011 7:55 PM  
Anonymous Antonio Araujo said...

> I think Schwarzman and several of >his peers have done more than Karl >Marx to undermine the long term >future of capitalism.

That exactly it (you are channeling Keynes by the way, I think he used more or less those same words disputing with Hayek). But even Adam Smith already knew and often stated that the greatest enemies of free competition are the tradesmen themselves - all of them naturally feel that free competition is fine for others, but, as for themselves, they'd like monopoly and crony capitalism. If you want harsh words about capitalism, forget Marx and read the wealth of nations.

Capitalism is a funny system in that it must work against the wishes of its very actors. Lately we have become enfatuated with capitalists, and that isn't good. Greed may actually be beneficial, sometimes, via the "invisible hand", but that doesn't mean it should be praised. It is a snake that must be handled carefully, and all its benefits are side-effects - what it really wants to do is bite! A government that wants capitalism to work must love capitalism but hate the capitalists and keep them at bay. It is a tough act to work out. Today, the system has been completely derailed and the time is quite desperate. We hang somewhere between a new guilded age or too strong a reaction in the other direction - or worse, some new aberration, as some press keeps talking of how China shows us a new way: picture Rockefeller french-kissing Mao - a future so bright you have to wear shades (and hold a barf bag between shaking knees).

I find myself, far beyond the proper age, embracing the left as a desperate means of saving capitalism from its own suicidal tendencies. The Scharzmans have managed to turn class struggle from an old cliché into the main narrative of our day.

You know what bothers me? With all their greed, they don't seem to consider their long term survival as carefully as they should. There's only so much that society can take. Is it greed *and* stupidity?



Posted by António to ILLUSTRATION ART at 5/12/2011 12:35 PM

5/13/2011 7:56 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

"He had beautiful models parading around dressed as James Bond girls" ~ That's beyond FANTASTIC!

"Schwarzman's connoisseur collection" ~ I don't know what he has collected, but if its just Rembrandt, Picasso, and the like …does buying art pictured in The Worlds 100 Masterpieces of Painting make one a connoisseur?

A guilty elite may be healthier for society than a self-righteous one. Teddy Roosevelt and his cousins Eleanor and Franklin worked as hard as they did in part because they felt their privilege was unearned. They were also a little bit afraid; nobody wants to end up in the tumbrils on the way to the guillotine like the French aristocracy. Best look after the people before things get out of hand.


Take it away Danny ~ It's, just, rock 'n' roll.

5/14/2011 7:35 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन-- And which James Bond girl was your favorite?

I am quite sympathetic to your quote about the guilty elite. I suspect Schwarzman's class is on the path to self-destruction because they lack that protective sense of shame, or even the will to pretend to have one. Absent a sense of shame, an intellectual understanding of the role that luck played in their good fortune might also prolong their reign, but alas, that seems to be asking too much.

Thanks for once again expanding my musical repertoire.

5/16/2011 10:55 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

"which James Bond girl was your favorite?"

Isn't that what the Sphinx asked? The head spins! Since one gifted us with an A&B side~

Puss 'n Boots

5/16/2011 5:49 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन-- I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that "gifted us with an A&B side" refers only to a record.

You know what I said about thanks for exposing me to new music? Well, this time not so much.

5/17/2011 5:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hm, I wonder what it is about this Wall Street billionaire named Schwarzman that makes him want to remind everyone about Hitler to bolster his argument even when it's inappropriate to the context of the situation. That's a real puzzle.

5/17/2011 10:11 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous wrote, "I wonder what it is about this Wall Street billionaire named Schwarzman that makes him want to remind everyone about Hitler"

Unfortunately, such statements are not restricted to people with particular ethnic names. Newt Gingrich, practicing fine Christian values, recently wrote that Obama's “secular socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.” And of course, posters of Obama with a Hitler mustache are frequently displayed at tea part rallies.

One of the best things about a society with free speech is that it is a lot easier to identify who the jackasses are.

5/17/2011 12:28 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

"this time not so much."

Maybe you'd prefer to drop the needle on a Grace Jones groove.

~ Odd, can't seem to get away from this guy!

5/19/2011 7:50 AM  

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