Art History Hotties: Setting the World on Fire

7:00 AM

Setting the World on Fire, Michael McClard, 1981

By ROSIE PASQUALINI

WARNING: This work of "art" is a lie.

You probably think that the pupil-less man in all his awkward glory started the fire. I mean, he's holding a lighted match. He's got that perfect pyromaniac glare, and I fully sympathize with his struggle. After all, if I had no neck, I'd set the planet ablaze out of sheer spite. But he didn't start the fire, obviously, because it's been always burning since the world's been turning. He struck that match, took a gander around, and said, "Drat. They beat me to it." In any case-- just look at those luscious flames. They seem three-dimensional on the frame, kinda sorta, like a sculpture or something. Guau. That's some rad perspective work. And by that I mean better than in the painting itself, which is undeniably bad. Nevertheless, I can't help but quasi-admire this piece for its bold terribleness and weirdness. It's charming, like little kids who sing even though they can't, or the clumsy protagonist in your favorite novel who magically falls up the stairs only we don't care cuz she's hot. This painting, too, is H-A-W-T hot. In fact, as a wise man (Bruno Mars) once said (in 2014), it is "too hot, HOT DAMN. Call the police and the fireman."

...No, seriously. Pick up the phone. There's something wrong here. This is what Hitler would've created if he'd gone to art school.

This painting is a wreck, but that's not why it caught my attention. It gave me that two a.m. feeling, that twinge of what-the-hell-am-I-ness that sets in when you realize all your friends are asleep. Or when you realize you don't have friends. You gaze dramatically up at the ceiling, which you can't actually see because it's nighttime, and wonder at the value of your pathetic human life. The fire on the frame--not the (meh) execution, but the concept-- brought up a topic I usually avoid at all costs, which is whether or not art has a significant, long-term impact. Whether or not it matters. I mean, it matters, but does it matter matter? Mr. McClard suggests that the world within a piece can directly affect the world without. This is what we, as pretentious perpetrators of mediocrity, strive for; not to change people, exactly, but to make them notice those little sprinkles of truth that live always in the mind.

At least, that's what we usually want. Except one time I went to Dean & Deluca to waste my parents' life savings on a sandwich, and the kid constructing said sandwich noticed my shirt, which featured A Clockwork Orange. (By "kid" I mean "twenty-something." I'm practicing for when I get old.) The following exchange occurred:

KID: Nice shirt.
ME: It's a good book.
KID: Real horrorshow.
ME: Ha. *thinks: Guau. Connecting with strangers through literature! Art is a catalyst for positive social change!*
KID: That book was my childhood, man. You should've seen what I did in high school. Those were the days.
ME: What?
KID: *hands me sandwich* That'll be two thousand dollars.

I love A Clockwork Orange because it provides insight into our natural evils and the mutability of morality. I also love it because there ain't nothing more titillating than Ludwig Van Beetgarden's music (if you remember That Scene you'll know exactly what I'm talking about). But after conversing with the sandwich dude, my own passion for the book repulsed me. I felt like those people who argue that Marya Hornbacker's Wasted promotes screwing with your body, even though she wrote it-- in part-- to warn the morbidly interested that screwing with your body is stupid. Art is dangerous. It thrives primarily on negative emotion; even the joy we write and paint is tragic, because it is temporary. In a utopia there would be no art, or at least no word for it. In a utopia there would be no self. Sometimes it seems as though everything we create is a mere echo of that great problem of self-awareness we've been screaming about for centuries. We present the problems, but no solutions; we keep returning to our egos, to our writing and our painting and our human-ing.

And it's awesome.

Whether or not it helps or hurts, we are all born with some drive within us, that innate flame of creation. After all, we didn't start the fire.

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