Paul Greenberg

"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape -- the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show." --Andrew Wyeth

A cold Friday in January was the perfect day to die, at least for Andrew Wyeth at 91. It was the very depth of the season as a cold wave swept the country. What perfect timing for a man who luxuriated in solitude. The artist was never much for company, which made him suspect in America, the land of togetherness. To be certifiably American, you must be smiling, preferably in the company of other smiling faces. Happiness, or at least the appearance thereof, is mandatory.

People who need people are the luckiest pee-e-eple in the world!

In this entirely too open society, a citizen is expected not only to believe but broadcast those beliefs. For your beliefs will never impress others unless they are displayed, and what else are beliefs good for? To validate your existence, they need to be regularly spit-shined, polished and rolled out, preferably in a portentous Edward R. Murrow voice:

THIS I Believe....

Not to broadcast your beliefs is to be selfish, antisocial, a miser with your emotions. You must Share Your Feelings. It's good for you. All the advice columnists say so. What's not permitted is to be alone with your thoughts. It is assumed -- which is the most effective form of being decreed -- that one cannot be happy alone. It's considered almost a law of physics.

What a solitary joy to see that law violated by the life and work of Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009). Maybe that's why his windswept "Christina's World" became an -- there's no avoiding the word -- iconic American painting. Along with Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks," another study in aloneness.

Was Wyeth a kind of rural Hopper, or Hopper an urban Wyeth, and does it matter? Both painted solitude, exulted in it. Both were abstractionists who were dubbed realists....

But I can feel myself slipping into artspeak, and that way lies nothing good. Wyeth's paintings may appeal to many of us, but he'll never be fashionable. Even his poor fizzle of a scandal -- the Helga pictures -- wasn't much of one, just something for the Art World to talk about in a slow season.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 


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