On Books. Sympathy vs. Empathy. And Approval.
Way Too Much has been written (“purged” or “spewed” perhaps?) on the blogosphere in the past few weeks about Daisy Rockwell and her new, little book of paintings and essays The Little Book of Terror including a myopic rant on Glenn Beck’s Blaze blog. Such dumbeddown commentary is to be expected from the likes of Beck and Limbaugh, but nevertheless scary to any artist. Daisy just paints and writes. Personal attacks against someone who is simply painting or writing are still lamentably commonplace, but really are quite shocking—especially if they happen to be directed at you or your friends. Stuff like this falls outside the Civil Discourse. It doesn’t help calm the immediate commotion at all, but of course we all know that if Daisy were painting paintings and writing writings that pleased the jingoist, moleheaded rabble, then Daisy would not be doing work that had any integrity at all. She would not be doing work that Helped. And all artwork should help—hopefully in some immediately inappreciable—way.
It reminds me of one of Ernest Hemingway’s letters actually. I believe that when the Modernist author had just published, in our time it was quite negatively reviewed by Hemingway’s mother’s book club back in Illinois. Grace Hemingway wrote to her son about her concerns and he wrote back to her from Paris something to the effect of, “Mother, if were writing books that pleased the Ladies’ Good Literature Club of Oak Park, I wouldn’t consider myself much of a writer.” Indeed.
We loved Daisy’s show here at the Museum last summer, and we are proud that she will do a book signing here this Friday. But we are also still a bit miffed, a bit discouraged, that America still seems to be, in general, too Literal. Why is it that we collectively see everything in black and white; that we tend to kill the messengers, and to confuse the display of an image with the moral approval of the same? Does Daisy really have “Sympathy for the Devil?” Does she “hate America?” If Ms. Rockwell paints a painting of Mohamed Alessa with his cat, Tuna Princess, is she to glorifying him—or glorifying Tuna Princess for that matter? If Daisy Rockwell paints terrorists must she also love them? We don’t think so. In fact, quite the opposite. She may in fact be using the best weapon we have against terror—humor. For terrorists need to be taken seriously—to be considered terrible.
Those who would hold us hostage, who would harm innocent people, who would attempt to destroy the ordinary, fair and decent lives that the vast majority of us attempt to lead can only do so if they are sucessful in cultivating their reputations as extra-human (either above or below, it matters not.) They need create a fictive identity as monsters and evil geniuses. Humor dispels these. Daisy shows us “Putin with a Poodle,” “Paramilitary Barbi,” or Alessa and a large fluffy cat, and the masks come off almost immediately. What most of the commentators, on both sides of this issue, have overlooked is that Daisy’s paintings (and their titles too) are funny. And perhaps we need that now more than ever. But don’t take my word for it, come and see for yourself on Friday.
The reception is from 6 to 8 p.m., Friday the 30th of March at the newly refurbished and expanded Reading Room of the Main Street Museum. Come meet the author, she’s really fun and nice. You’ll like everything you find here! Refreshments provided, and its all Free! (but don’t let that stop you from becoming a Museum Member—you’ll feel so much better afterwards if you do!)
Glenn Beck’s screed: 
_____________________ Some Reviews: Booker Prize nominee Mohammed Hanif says,
"The Little Book of Terror is profound, sometimes profane, but always practical. Th is book takes terror out of terrorism and replaces it with exuberant little details that look stunning on the page."
New Yorker contributor and author of Open City, Teju Cole, tells us:
"The Little Book of Terror is a marvelous, ethical, and funny book. It is deceptively modest, and a much-needed reminder that however much we might wish it, true justice is never available on the cheap."
World renowned artist Kanishka Raja offers us this praise:
"These lurid paintings will fool you at first look: all ironic pose and technicolor confection. Look again though and look hard: they’re like little smart bombs of empathy; deployed—with loving touch and wry humor—expressly to combat the monochromatic fog of stereotype and ignorance."
Rockwell has exhibited in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, North Adams, Massachusetts and White River Junction, Vermont. She grew up in a family of artists in western Massachusetts, some whose work adorns the surfaces of chinaware and brightens up the waiting rooms of dentists’ offices, and others whose artistic output has found more select audiences.