Bananas. Watch, then read on.
Imagine having something on the walls of your high school as fascinating as an original 13-panel history of George Washington’s life painted by a communist protege of Diego Rivera — and wanting to destroy it. The artist, Victor Arnautoff, was a respected painter and professor, not some hack brought in to brighten up the kiddies’ surroundings. He was commissioned to paint the series in 1936 by FDR’s Works Progress Administration, making the murals part of U.S. history in more than one way. Even his process in creating the works was remarkable:
When Arnautoff created the George Washington mural series, he used the rare buon fresco process, painting with earth-tone pigments directly onto the building’s wet plaster before it dried. The artist covered about nine feet of wall per day, and worked ten to twelve hours per day.
“Mr. Arnautoff had to follow right behind the plasterers, and a scene, once begun, had to be completed that same day, in order that the walls did not dry. Carpenters and plasterers worked all around the building, while Mr. Arnautoff was above on a scaffold,” according to outsidelands.org.
You can get a good look at some of the panels in this NYT story from last month about the debate over whether to remove them. I think they’re amazing, far too good to be hidden away from most of the public on the walls of a high school. Even if they were of lesser quality, it’d be a hoot to see Washington’s career laid out through the eyes of a socialist realist.
The punchline is that the controversial imagery involving slaves and a dead Native American slain by American frontiersmen was included by Arnautoff precisely because he didn’t want art about Washington to be hagiographic. He wanted the ugly details of the Founding laid beside the glorious ones. Via the College Fix, historian Fergus Bordewich explained recently that Arnautoff “included those images not to glorify Washington, but rather to provoke a nuanced evaluation of his legacy. The scene with the dead Native American, for instance, calls attention to the price of ‘manifest destiny.’ Arnautoff’s murals also portray the slaves with humanity and the several live Indians as vigorous and manly.”
This is, in short, “woke” art, not a whitewashing. Yet because the “working group” assigned to figure out what to do with the murals is worried about students being upset by the uglier details, which was Arnautoff’s entire point in including them, the paintings may be … literally whitewashed. “This mural doesn’t represent SFUSD values of social justice, diversity, united, student-centered. It’s not student-centered if it’s focused on the legacy of artists, rather than the experience of the students,” said the working group in a statement last month. “It’s not a counter-narrative if [the mural] traumatizes students and community members.” Their recommendation was to have the murals removed, and by “removed” they mean destroyed. They can’t be relocated due to the fact that they’re incorporated into the plaster. The only way to “save” them would be to digitize them before painting over them.
Essentially, they’re going to burn a book because it made a point of describing its subject accurately and unsparingly. Ironically, if Arnautoff had been more inclined to hagiography and excluded the details on slaves and Native Americans, his murals might be safe on grounds that although they celebrate one of the cishet white male oppressors of America’s Founding, they at least aren’t overtly “triggering.” We’re watching wokeness devour itself here.
The Times notes that when an English teacher assigned essays to 49 freshmen at the school on whether the murals should stay or go, fully 45 voted for stay. (“The fresco is a warning and reminder of the fallibility of our hallowed leaders.”) There may be hope for the next generation. But not this one. Exit quotation: “Joely Proudfit, director of the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center in San Marcos, said it is not worth saving the art if one native student ‘is triggered by that.'”