Thursday, March 11, 2010


The blog called “the” has been developing a series of posts about being an “alpha male” in a time (now) that requires men to be vanilla pudding. My short answer would be “stop trying to be a wolf and be a mensch” but that will never fly. Anyway, one of the exhibits is a set of videos called “The Century of the Self,” which is what I intended to write about today.

I’ve been working too late at night which means waking up late and gradually slipping over into day-for-night, a bit of a hazard for a person living alone. Getting out of sync. But this morning I got a phone call at 7AM that could not have been more welcome. It was from Harry Jackson, the sculptor, who was calling from Italy where it was 3PM. Afternoon in Italy in Spring. What an image. I wish it could have poured through the wires. I think it did a little bit.

Harry Jackson is the Western sculptor who is most like Bob Scriver though their actual sculpts are not much the same. But they each had their own foundry and each cast by “Roman block investment” lost wax rather than quick-and-cheap ceramic shell. Harry’s foundry is in Italy but he also has a gallery and so on in Cody, Wyoming.

In the Sixties Harry came to visit us, landing in a charter plane out at Heart Butte where the landing strip is a pasture with a wind sock. The pilots coming in (more usually hunters bringing something for Bob to mount in the early years) would either contact the sheriff’s office via radio who then called us by land line or else buzzed the museum, which is why the word “museum” is painted on the roof, because someone had to go out there and haze the cows out of the way.

The last time I saw Harry was when he flew out. He walked away from Bob and I across the grass and I, like a dog or horse who’s gotten attached, followed a few steps. He looked back and saw that, returned and gave me a giant hug. One thing about Harry is that he’s always understood the value of women. (Take note, aspiring Alphas.)

Even before I got to Browning, I had a soft spot for (oh, all right, call them “alphas”) guys who were exceptional, intense, maybe even a little over the top. Non-conventional. I have a personal, almost secret, way of keeping them with me. Today I’m wearing a Dickies khaki workshirt, which is what Bob always wore. But in my closet are a lot of blue and white striped shirts in honor of Harry Jackson, because that’s what he was wearing when he hugged me. (When I’m wearing a dark denim cowboy shirt with pearl snaps, I’m thinking of Paul Dyck.) Bob, Harry and Paul are a kind of trinity of guys who were powerful Western artists and major characters, meaning they could also be a LOT of trouble. But they were achievers. Things got done.

The guys on the Rawness get all caught up in the problems of sex and violence, esp. since our times -- while demanding vanilla pudding men -- entwines and enshrines the two, holding up Clint Eastwood as a model. It has something to do with WWII maybe. They seem to be mostly that age. Harry is 86, but Paul and Bob are dead. As Harry insists, as far as we’re concerned, they’re still here.

These were men who understood force as well as violence. Not big domineering men, but men who could set goals and stick to them, survive adversity (Harry took a head wound in WWII.), and do tough physical things like pouring bronze. They could attract plenty of women even before they were rich and famous, but the women couldn’t always endure the relentlessness of their lives. Harry was on wife number three when he visited us in the Sixties and I was Bob’s wife number three at the time. The true and permanent marriage was between Paul and Star Dyck, which I attribute to Star, a role model I could not live up to. Part of it was that on some level I’d just as soon be an Alpha Male myself, which is maybe why I wear their shirts. But not their pants.

Women who marry Alphas are not Alphas. (Hey, I don’t like this Alpha term after all. An earlier version on the Rawness was tagged “Renaissance man.” That’s closer but it’s still a man’s category.) I’m not maternal enough to devote myself entirely to someone else, which is why I deliberately had no children. I wanted to THINK and I wanted space and I wanted time for reading and writing. I’ve got that now.

They say that Caravaggio is currently the “hot” artist from the Renaissance past. Michelangelo is taking a rest. People like the danger, the brooding, the shafts of light, the stories of swordfights and leaping over walls, the dubious friends. (Now we’re talking Tim Barrus. I wonder what sort of shirt. A black T-shirt, maybe.) But is Caravaggio an alpha, a Renaissance man? He’s a lot like Cellini who was sort of the sculptural equivalent. These are guys outside the rules, or rather living in a set of rules that is an alternative to the steady middle class. They are the ferment, the leaven in the lump, the cutting edge and all that. But they were capable of sustained, skillful, meaningful work. That’s where I think many modern men go off the track. They slide into “jobs” instead of finding a truly meaningful kind of work. They wait and are not called.

It needn’t be art. But too many of the commentors on are so preoccupied with fistfights and sex that they never mention any higher aspirations. (I hope they don’t want to write famous novels! Forget that. No longer an option.) No one wanted to discover the cure for cancer or save lost boys or bring peace to the world. They don’t aim very high. Not that everyone can perform such feats, but the attempts can be pretty powerful. And exciting. They create lives that they don’t regret on their death beds. Mostly.

Tomorrow I’ll tie this to “The Century of the Self.” But just remember the idea of the goal I have is Caravaggio, not Woody Allen. Harry Jackson will do fine. Not quite so wicked and a helluva lot longer-lived.

1 comment:

Art Durkee said...

I think the whole concept of alpha male is pack-based, and doesn't account at all for those mavericks such as Caravaggio, or different kinds of mavericks such as Woody Allen. Basically I'm agreeing with you that the usual definition of alpha male is those who dominate the tried-and-true, the normative mainstream, the unexceptional. Donald Trump is an alpha male, but Frank Lloyd Wright was not. In order to be acclaimed as an alpha male, you not only have to abide by the socially normative value-set, rather than be an outsider, you have to adopt those normative values for yourself. Alpha males are not rule-breakers, they're rule-masters. Most of the great artists who were mavericks cannot be called alpha males precisely because they departed from the normative social rules—that was the whole point and manifestation of their genius, in many examples. (Obviously we're getting into the "history is made by great men" paradigm here, which is one I do question, but it serves to give the lie to the assumption that "great men" were alpha males when in fact they were innovators not dominators.)