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« Putting a Stop to Car Talk | Main | Elsewhere »

June 28, 2008

An Astonishing Art Rediscovery

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Revolution continues to shake the art world. Well into the process of being overturned are the reputations of hegemonist white males whose corporeal forms long since flatlined to room temperature (or to express the thought more crudely, died). May maggots feast on their canvasses as well as their carcasses!

We have come far, my friends. The atrophying of Abstract Expressionist painting (mere wall-decorations lacking any semblance to irony, intellectual content or political meaning) opened doors to bold new artistic concepts. First Pop Art. Then Op Art. Minimalism. Earth. Performance. Conceptual. Neo-Dada. Installation. The parade of our triumphs seems endless.

Best of all, I now have the extreme pleasure of announcing the latest breakthrough in the war to stamp out that vile oppression known as Western Culture. Behold: Anthropomorphic Art!!

His Station and Four Aces - C.M. Coolidge, 1903

This discovery -- in fact, a shatteringly important re-discovery -- is the body of work by the too-long obscure artist Cassius Marcellus Coolidge who we have every hope was no relation of the foul, heartless Calvin of the same last name. His genre has been known as Dogs Playing Poker, but an effort is hereby underway to devise and popularize a more politically relevant label for this landmark series of paintings. The second link indicates that a pair of Coolidge's series were auctioned together for a sum greater than half a million dollars. Clearly, even the market (I spit on its name) has begun to recognize Anthropomorphic Art.

Allow me to analyze the painting so that you may better understand how it will reshape the world of art.

The use of anthropomorphic dogs is appropriate since the shared DNA of canines and humans is a very high percentage of each species' total. Indeed, this is the prime thrust of Anthropomorphic Art: driving home to viewers that human hubris is the acting-out of a profoundly unjustifiable genetic delusion.

Its salient defect is the fact that all the subjects depicted are wearing male clothing. Grudging allowance should be made in consideration of the date of its completion; presumably, future Anthropomorphic Art will redress this grave imbalance. On the other hand, the possibility that one of the subjects is in fact transgendered cannot be entirely ruled out -- consider the standing figure grasping the umbrella, for example.

Another defect is that three subjects are shown with pipes in their mouths. Since no actual smoke is seen, they clearly are not smoking. Nevertheless, the presence of the pipes is disturbing in a non-ironic way.

Although the dress of the card players appears bourgeois, the game itself is proletarian (note especially that the playing-table is colored red). This presents us an ironic commentary on the imagery of self-presentation in a society shot through with falsehoods within falsehoods.

Of special note is the authority-figure of the train conductor. His blue costume is in striking contrast to the ochres and browns of the others. His hat is clearly a képi of a design not far removed from the headgear of the French Foreign Legion who, at the time the painting was made, were oppressing indigenous North African populations. Even so, the card players (except, perhaps, the dog with the aces) are ignoring completely this symbolically imperialistic imposition, giving viewers the courage to continue the struggle for social justice.

More points can be made, but I hope I have offered enough so that you can appreciate the momentous significance of the Anthropomorphic Art movement.



posted by Donald at June 28, 2008


Sorry for this "off topic" comment regarding this painter and his genre, but we had his painting of two dogs cheating (by passing a card under the table using their hind legs) in our living room, and it is the first "painting" I can remember seeing. I was too young to understand the concept of cheating, so that part of the painting escaped me, but my parents used to have people over to play cards all the time and I thought it was so funny that here was a picture of DOGS 1) playing cards, just like my parents and their friends, and sitting at a table very much like ours, but 2) they were using their hind legs (or toes) to play the game! So I've always had a soft spot in my heart for these paintings.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on June 28, 2008 8:44 PM

You and Homer Simpson. Well, not exactly a "soft spot", though that's how I somehow remembered it: Youtube clip.

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on June 28, 2008 11:04 PM

You're mean. I like his paintings.

Posted by: SFG on June 28, 2008 11:12 PM

Thank you for bringing this Unknown Soldier of the Culture War to light!

Seriously, I didn't know the creator of the paintings was known, or that there was a series of these works.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on June 28, 2008 11:54 PM

Not having seen the whole "Simpsons" episode, I don't understand Bart's attitude toward, and Homer Simpson reaction to, the Coolidge painting on view (in this case, the one I was remembering, which apparently is the most famous one, "A Friend in Need").

In any case, my South Bronx / Queens family was much more Archie and Edith Bunker (without the bigotry), with me being a male version of Gloria. And I found it interesting that one of the internet articles on "Dogs Playing Poker" that I ran across does in fact actually say that, ". . . the nine [Coolidge paintings] in which dogs are seated around a card table have become derisively well-known in the United States as examples of manly working-class taste in home decoration." In other words, just the kind of painting that an Archie Bunker would choose for his castle. (And if I remember correctly, one of the other "fun" things about this painting was that I'd occasionally run into slightly different versions (different tint, different frame, etc.) of "our" painting in the homes of relatives and family friends also.

Looking up on the internet "Cassius Coolidge," "Dog's Playing Poker" and "A Friend in Need" (the name of the painting with the dogs cheating) there's apparently quite a bit of background information for those interested -- although none of what I found during my quick search was the leftist / critical studies kind of over analyzing that Donald apparently was (justifiably) poking fun at. (One article did claim, however, that the painting was particularly popular with the Dutch during the German occupation -- as they supposedly saw the cheating dogs as FDR helping Winston Churchill!)

Another thing I like about these paintings: even though the artist is focusing on the dogs, I think the backgrounds he painted do in fact reflect, at least to a certain degree, the interior decoration "style" of "everyday people" during this period. Aside from reminding me a bit of our South Bronx apartment (although our apartment was far less sparse and "severe," I'm sure), these interiors remind of early 20th Century scenes in Elia Kazan's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," the Godfather movies, Woody Allen's "Purple Rose of Cairo," and the TV version of "Annie."

One of the articles I found most interesting was a lighthearted one in the "New York Times," written by Dan Barry (6/14/2002). He actually interviewed Coolidge's daughter who was then 92 and living in California.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on June 29, 2008 5:29 PM

P.S. -- Sorry, Donald, I see that two of the articles I "found" during my search of the internet are actually the same Wikipedia articles you provided links to in your original post!

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on June 29, 2008 5:51 PM

Well Donald, you obviously know nothing about Art.

Posted by: Sister Wolf on June 29, 2008 11:55 PM

Unfortunately, it appears that with the advent of the internet, the Anthropomorphic Art movement has evolved into the deviants of the Furry subculture:

Posted by: Sbard on July 1, 2008 1:11 PM

Also amusing that the same artist invented those life-size painted cutouts that people pose behind for photos at Coney Island and elsewhere. I remember an interview with John Waters in which he expressed his amazement that the same person created both pop culture icons.

Posted by: PapayaSF on July 6, 2008 6:49 PM

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