Wednesday, December 26, 2018


In the past few days -- not directly related to Christmas -- I've been seen by others in surprising ways.  One was an email from an estate evaluator in the Northwest who wanted my advice on the price of a Western bronze from the Thirties.  She saw me as an historian and a Western art expert.  I guess I am those things, though I wasn't much use to her.  The general public never grasps that art works don't come with stickers on them that give a "list price" like a new car.  

Art works (everything really) are worth whatever people are willing to pay for them, and guessing what that is -- well, it's an art form.  The art work in question was particularly problematic because it was a recast, but one made decades ago -- not brand new.  Bronzes, as physical objects, are pretty easy to re-cast and if it's carefully done, the results can be good, even indistinguishable except for the shrinkage of the metal making it a bit smaller.  But the technology of casting bronze has been become so much simpler and cheaper that less skilled people do it with bad results.  What counts with bronzes (and paintings) is provenance: who owned it in succession from the artist.

So this evaluator was smart enough to call someone likely to know the big picture, but I'm not sure she grasped the core idea, that a popular piece or one that appeals strongly to a buyer, will sell for a higher price.  She asked about galleries, but most older Western bronzes are now sold at auctions.  Knowing where the "hot" auctions are is another art form.

The other contact was a UU minister, now compromising due to family so not in a prime pulpit.  Theoretically retired anyway.  But she believes that she and I have an affinity.  She doesn't know that I'm invisible to the UUA and sometimes in opposition to them.  She doesn't know that my life is problematic and far-flung, often secret for the sake of other people. Telling her that will make her more curious and insistent.

When my mother became a teacher in 1957 in order to put me through college, she attended all the union meetings and planning committees and so on.  Soon she was sharing the gossip with me.  I used to do the same thing when I was in elementary school -- I'd catch her when she was ironing and sit at the dining room table alongside.  She thought I chattered too much and interfered with her own thoughts, so in order to keep her interested, I'd tell her the most shocking neighbourhood news I'd heard through other kids. 

But finding out from her about the role-model teachers I knew -- who was lesbian, who had a lover, who was alcoholic, who was totally broke and so in trouble, which mother of which classmate was insane and had to be committed, and so on -- it was a lot to assimilate.  I suppose it was a little early to have a whole category of people revealed in all their worminess, but I was studying acting, after all, and that's the stuff that plays are about.  Writing, as well.

When I became a UU minister, the curtain was likewise swept aside from some people who disappointed me so much that I wept.  Even my dear friend, my own minister, turned out to be merely materialistic.  An accepted saint had a mistress who tore up my congregation. I'm not sure this person who wants to be my visiting friend has a grasp of that.  So many of those early brilliant men have died of old age that I'm reckless about telling their stories, which makes the remaining partners and children very angry.  It's easier to keep my distance.  Anyway, being a UU is very small part of my life now, and mostly over.  I have no interest in the entitlement wars.

The Sixties involvement in Western Art seems to be coming back but I see it quite differently now as a second or third generation phenomenon, the children and grandchildren taking over the galleries and historical societies.  Many of the customers in the old days were Republicans, even John Birchers, and rich in that unrepentant but confirmation-seeking way of puffed-up narcissists.  They haven't' changed much.  Bob was happy to play along in a cynical way until he was on the board of the CMR Museum and had an attack of virtue.  True enough, the deals and finagling were outrageous.  But the result was that he was black-balled and his work was discredited.  Even the book I wrote about him, "Bronze Inside and Out," was swept aside, never acknowledged.  I fought all that for a while and then gave it up.  I've moved on.

And I've gone deeper.  What is it that turns institutions evil?  Why can't democracies keep from corruption and injustice?  Why is it that the church that is most idealistic is the one most likely to become a home for fucking vipers?  It was fascinating to call up the "history of institutions" on Google.  It seems that more people than myself have been wondering about all this.  And no wonder: every school, town, police force and so on -- every one of them vital for making society functional and safe -- has been vulnerable to both the innocent, who really have no idea how it is done, and the wicked who know very well how to twist everything to their advantage.  

I see that car dealers are beginning to push the idea that "un-road-worthy cars" should be banned.  Not just palpable safety issues, but the year of making.  (This would paralyze me.)  The Trump administration is determined to eliminate every safety net and inflate all fees and fines so more of us will be sleeping in the street.  Our children are hostages dying in secret cages or shot in the street, on video.  Our addictions are permanent chains.  What was going to be reassurance for old people is now portrayed as deciding who will die by being denied meds.

It happened quickly and the legislators were paralyzed by something.  In fact, now that we begin to uncover the past, we discover that this sort of thing was dug in a long time ago.  Everyone just got kind of used to it until the inequities were too obvious to ignore.  

Years ago I got an email inquiry from a young man who was an English teacher but wanted to know about the UU ministry.  He said that of the twenty inquiry answers he got, mine was the only negative one.  The idea was that I was a crank and a grump, and I suppose I am.  But a solitary one.  I do NOT want anyone trying to hang around to "fix" me.  At the moment being a crank strikes me as virtuous.

The big planes from Malmstrom are in the air again tonight.

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