Today’s Will column, with links

The George Will column I put on today's page is one of his oblique ones — the closest thing to a point in it is what I said in the headline, which is that in a National Endowment for Humanities project, of all places, Mr. Will seems to have found what he regards as "A government program worth the money."

But the column caused me to look up some of the artworks he describes, and I enjoyed doing that. Of course, I couldn't reproduce them on the page itself, but I can run the column here with links, to make it easier for you to look at them yourself. Enjoy:

The Washington Post
In Winslow Homer’s 1865 painting “The Veteran in a New Field,” a farmer, bathed in sunshine, his back to the viewer, his Union uniform jacket cast on the ground, harvests wheat with a single-bladed scythe. That tool was out of date, and Homer first depicted the farmer wielding a more modern implement. Homer then painted over it, replacing it with what evokes a timeless symbol of death — the grim reaper’s scythe. The painting reminds viewers how much Civil War blood was shed, as at Gettysburg, in wheat fields.
    Homer’s painting is one of 40 works of art that the National Endowment for Humanities is distributing, in 24-by-36-inch reproductions, with teaching guides, to all primary and secondary schools and libraries that ask for them. About one-third of them already have done so, according to Bruce Cole, the NEH’s chairman.
    So as Washington’s dreariest year in decades sags to an end — a year in which trillion-dollar improvisations that will debase the dollar have been bracketed by a stimulus that did not stimulate and a rescue that will prolong automakers’ drownings — at the end of this feast of folly, consider something rarer than rubies. It is a 2008 government program that costs next to nothing — $2.6 million this year; a rounding error in the smallest of the bailouts. And “Picturing America” adds to the public stock of something scarce — understanding of the nation’s past and present.
    The 40 works of art include some almost universally familiar ones — John Singleton Copley’s 1768 portrait of a silversmith named Paul Revere; Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 “Washington Crossing the Delaware”; Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ bronze relief sculpture “Robert Gould Shaw and the Fifty-fourth Regiment Memorial” on Boston Common. But “Picturing America” is not, Cole takes pains to insist, “the government’s ‘top 40.’ ” Forty times 40 other selections of art and architecture could just as effectively illustrate how visual works are revealing records of the nation’s history and culture, and how visual stimulation can spark the synthesizing of information by students.
    The colorful impressionism of Childe Hassam’s flag-filled painting “Allies Day, May 1917” captures America’s waxing nationalism a month after entry into World War I. And it makes all the more moving the waning of hope captured in Dorothea Lange’s 1936 photograph “Migrant Mother.” This haunting image of a destitute 32-year old pea picker, a mother of seven, is a springboard into John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath.
    One of the 40 images in “Picturing America” is more timely than Cole could have suspected when the project was launched in February. It is a photograph of Manhattan’s Chrysler Building.
    Built between 1926 and 1930 — between the giddy ascent of the ’20s stock market and the Crash — this art deco monument to the might of America’s automobile industry is decorated with motifs of machines and streamlining. There are winged forms of a Chrysler radiator cap; an ornamental frieze replicates a band of hubcaps. The stainless steel of the famous spire suggests the signature of the automobile industry in its salad days — chrome.
    To understand the animal spirits that drove New York’s skyscraper competition — the Chrysler Building was the world’s tallest for less than a year, until the Empire State Building was completed 202 feet higher — is to understand an era. Two eras, actually — the one that built the building, and ours, which has reasons to be reminded of the evanescence of seemingly solid supremacies.
    After seven years of service, Cole, the longest-serving chairman in the 43-year history of the NEH, is leaving to head the American Revolution Center at Valley Forge. America has thousands of museums, including the Studebaker National Museum (South Bend, Ind.), the Packard Museum (Dayton, Ohio) — yes, Virginia, there was a time when automobile companies were allowed to perish — the Hammer Museum (Haines, Alaska), the Mustard Museum (Mount Horeb, Wis.), and the Spam Museum (Austin, Minn.) featuring the sort-of-meat, not the Internet annoyance. There is, however, no museum devoted to the most important political event that ever happened, here or anywhere else — the American Revolution.
    Cole says there will be one, at Valley Forge. It will be built mostly by private money, for an infinitesimally tiny fraction of the sum of public money currently being lavished on corporations. Perhaps a subsequent iteration of “Picturing America” will feature a thought-provoking photograph of the gleaming towers that currently house, among other things, General Motors’ headquarters. Looming over Detroit’s moonscape desolation, the building is called the Renaissance Center. Really.

Write to Mr. Will at

7 thoughts on “Today’s Will column, with links

  1. p.m.

    It’s a small world after all, considering Brad said he was singing my previous poesy to a Dylan tune-without-tune, which inspired me to dig a little deeper for this spate of rhyme, in an attempt to be more Dylanesque, but lapsing still too much into myself. Nevertheless, I was drawn to art deco, and George Will, coincidence of coincidences, or something more subliminal, has brought it up.
    So here it is, not a response to Will, but to Brad, three days ago:
    Sorghum lips and lespedeza
    Laughing at the shrinking man
    Another lifeless geezer
    Making one last lifeless stand.
    He sees the sun go up and down
    And worships Notre Dame.
    He swears he heard a frying sound
    From the Hiroshima bomb.
    And still he can
    Or so he says
    Yes, he’s a man
    Replete with fez.
    Elvis lives in Mississippi
    In the shadow of his fame
    He dresses as a hippie.
    Thus he looks not much the same.
    He sees the sun go up and down
    But cares more for the moon
    Yet even with his life unwound
    He can’t escape one tune.
    Heartbreak Hotel
    Envelops him.
    It is his hell.
    It is his hymn.
    The colors fade
    The statement made
    Has lost its echo.
    The past recedes;
    We will not need
    Much more art deco.

  2. Phillip

    Will observes that there is no centralized museum about the Revolution, but of course there are countless parks and museums scattered across the eastern US commemorating and providing extensive information about the Revolution-connected events (military and political) that took place at those particular locations. Many of these are administered by the National Park Service, whose budgets took a hit in the early Bush Administration days, then rebounded a bit toward the end, before everything was cast into doubt by the latest economic distress.
    A centralized museum about the Revolution is nice, but there’s no substitute for kids (or adults) to learn about the events of 1775-83 than a first-hand visit to the important sites themselves. Perhaps the NPS will be a natural avenue for some of the public works projects that the Obama Administration will pursue, given the geographic dispersion of the sites in question. Especially where these historic sites are concerned, this too would be a wise investment for our future, the better to convey to future generations of Americans (and visitors to our shores) the most important tale in our nation’s history, the remarkable story of its founding.

  3. Lee Muller

    As someone who has been fortunate enough to travel around these United States, I have tried to make a point to visit the battlefields of the American Revolution, War Between the States, even the War of 1812 and Indian Wars.
    Just going to a single museum for an hour or so is fine for an overview, but it is so much better to climb the slopes of Kings Mountain, or peer out of the trenches of Vicksburg. Walking around Valley Forge in the snow cannot be simulated in a museum.

  4. bud

    Gettysburg gave me chills when I visited a few years back. It’s sacred ground. Museums are great but money spent on sight maintenance is much more important.

  5. John

    I quit reading Will when it was revealed that he was being paid on the side by corporations to write favorably about them in his columns. How or why that did not end his career I will never know.

  6. honeydollar

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