Is Beauty Too Good for the Middle Class?

“Marbles” oil on canvas by Andrea Alvin
Copyright Andrea Alvin. All Rights Reserved.
With the recent passing of John Updike and the publication of a new monograph on John Cheever, writers, critics and pundits have been weighing in, again, on whether or not the middle class deserves the beauty that, in particular, those two artists conferred upon with their elegant and precise language.

“My subject is the American Protestant small town middle class,” Mr. Updike told Jane Howard in a 1966 interview for LIFE magazine. “I like middles,” he continued. “It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules.”

This richness of language garnered Updike comparisons with painters like Vermeer and Andrew Wyeth–both artists noted for their depictions of the everyday middle class life, in town or in the country–and both adored by the middle class and oftentimes (at least during their lifetimes) pilloried by the aesthetes for their relentless examination of the mundane. But, in fact, it is that intensity of observation that elevates their art–just like it does that of Updike and Cheever.

In a recent blog post that got picked up by the Twitter Universe (artists and art professionals, in particular,) the noted marketing expert Seth Godin stated that one can only collect art until the walls are full and then that activity ceases. We’ll forgive him for perhaps misunderstanding the true nature of collectors–that passion drives collecting–and that ‘stopping when the walls are full’ is the least likely of outcomes of a collector driven by urges (genetics, possibly, thank you Denis Dutton) that are as mysterious to many as, well, metaphors fail me…

Isn’t the point that the middle class, let’s include all socio-economic classes of people in this discussion, worthy of the attention of the arts class and the attendant critical review? Literature, visual arts, music; all must find their milieu, their essence in whatever way they may and be celebrated for their excellence (when due) by the cognescenti and those babbling bobbleheaded BOBOs of beauty. As an example of critical malfeascence, Updike was taken to task by critic John Wood in an essay, “John Updike’s Complacent God,” (1966) for wasting his beautiful prose on nothing. That nothing being Updike’s examination of a class of people deemed unworthy of critical and by extension artistic expression. Ach du lieber!


4 Responses to “Is Beauty Too Good for the Middle Class?”

  1. 1 andrea
    April 29, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    “babbling bobbleheaded BOBOs of beauty” BRILLIANT!

  2. 2 R. Mutt
    April 29, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Yup, me and Spiro Agnew…

  3. October 24, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Similarly, the James Wood criticism was recently used to condemn Franzen’s FREEDOM… http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/10/smaller-than-life/8212/1/

    • October 24, 2010 at 5:52 pm

      Yes, I read that as well, Lukas, and find it to be the status quo of criticism: a bunch of old heterosexual white guys bringing it down to the masses like Moses off of Mt. Sinai. But (and this may just be me) I don’t see any young critics coming up behind them that are being published in the mainstream press. Do you?

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© Robert Patrick, and Cultivar, 2008-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, photographs and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Patrick and Cultivar with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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