A Paradox

Beltane                                                                                       Waning Last Frost Moon

Groceries.  Bees.  Check in for cruise.  That’s my day today.  Well, I might watch a bit of the 500, just see how it goes.

It Broke From Within (see post below) is based on a quote from a p.r. piece for an early Walker project that read:  Remember France?  It broke from within.  That can happen here.

It goes on:  We can only protect our own country within by making more of us more understanding of each other’s freedom and each other’s work and possessions.  We must learn to place a high value on the things that we have created and built and which we would inevitably lose through disunity and social revolution.  Nothing is more important to us than those civic institutions, of which the art center is one, that create a broader appreciation of our common bonds–our homes, our work, and our personal expressions.

At first I read this as an artist’s statement by Goshka Macuga and wrestled with its obviously conservative tone, especially in the sentence:  We must learn to place a high value on the things we have created and built and which we would inevitably lose through disunity and social revolution.  The first we here seems to encompass all, all Minneapolis, all Twin Cities, all Minnesota, all USA while the second we encompasses those who build and create, mostly the upper classes, who then, the third we, stand to lose things during a period of disunity and social revolution.

Then I realized that, no, it was not an artist’s statement, but a statement from the Walker Art Center fund drive brochure in 1941.  Oh.  Well, it makes sense then. However, in that time between first reading it and realizing it was a fund drive brochure quote, I did consider a conundrum, a paradox that dogs my thinking and my working life.

It is this.  Since the mid-60’s I have considered myself a political radical, willing to act outside the law if necessary to protest and resist unjust laws and unjust governmental or corporate actions.  I’ve not only considered myself a radical, but have, on many occasions, been a direct action activist.  What I’m saying here is that my political sympathies and my political work lie considerably left of center and left of liberal.

Here’s the rub.  I love art.  I love being around art and talking to other folks about art.  Especially in the context of a museum.  I love the outdoors and mother earth.  I love being outside and talking with others about being outside. I love the garden and growing things, working with bees.  I love my family, keeping them close and supporting them.  I love the classics in literature and music, too.  I love them enough to learn Latin and translate a 2000 year old Latin text.  These are all conservative impulses.

Art in museums and the purpose of a docent lies in admiring and sharing the work of artists over thousands of years and vast spans of geography.  This requires, quite literally, conservation and an appreciation for the past.  Working on behalf of mother earth and our great outdoors, even gardening and beekeeping, are, by definition, conservative.  That is, they act to conserve our natural world through good stewardship.  Loving family is a time honored conservative theme, because it too, quite literally, preserves and conserves our  species.  Even religion, which has been an important part of my life for a long time, entails conforming ones life to an often ancient code and deposit of tradition.

So.  There it is.  Radical leftist in politics.  Conservative in many of the areas about which I’m most passionate.  What’s that?  They’re categorically different uses of the word?  Well, maybe, but I think the underlying theme suggested in the Walker Brochure tries to argue for a universal conservative impulse, one oriented toward stability and fear of social chaos, yes, but also toward preserving the best of what we have learned, of what we have come to believe important.

Here is my current thought.  While I love art, nature, and family and will and do act to protect and nourish them, conservative intuitions, I also recognize that not all folks have equal access to art, to the natural world, even to stable families.  Those of us who have “created and built” must understand that all wish to do so.  That the culture and the families we love must see to it that others have that privilege, too.

We also must recognize that while we cherish certain institutions and achievements, others have them, too, often ones we have not recognized.  Jazz is a good example.  So is the native american’s delicate dialogue with the natural world.  So is the rich extended family life of the Latino culture.  They wish to conserve the things they have created and built just as much as we of the middle-upper and upper classes want to conserve ours.

It is this tension between what could be and what it is that drives the difference between the radical and the conservative.  And ever will.

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