The Yogyakartan Candidate

An explanation of Bam’s aloof style and strategic cunning in terms of the idioms of traditional Javanese kingship, by Edward Fox in Aeon Magazine, here.   Fox could also have mentioned the first-term Cabinet of Rivals as another example of this idiom, absorbing one’s enemies.
An excerpt:

The Javanese have a word for this kind of bearing. They call it halus. The nearest literal equivalent in English might be ‘chivalrous’, which means not just finely mannered, but implies a complete code of noble behaviour and conduct. The American anthropologist Clifford Geertz, who wrote some of the most important studies of Javanese culture in English, defined halus in The Religion of Java (1976) as:
“Formality of bearing, restraint of expression, and bodily self-discipline … spontaneity or naturalness of gesture or speech is fitting only for those ‘not yet Javanese’ — ie, the mad, the simple-minded, and children.”
Even now, four decades after leaving Java, Obama exemplifies halus behaviour par excellence.
Halus is also the key characteristic of Javanese kingship, a tradition still followed by rulers of the modern state of Indonesia. During my period of study in Indonesia, I discovered that halus is the fundamental outward sign or proof of a ruler’s legitimacy. The tradition is described in ancient Javanese literature and in studies by modern anthropologists. The spirit of the halus ruler must burn with a constant flame, that is without (any outward) turbulence. In his classic essay, ‘The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture’ (1990), the Indonesian scholar Benedict Anderson describes the ruler’s halus as:
“The quality of not being disturbed, spotted, uneven, or discoloured. Smoothness of spirit means self-control, smoothness of appearance means beauty and elegance, smoothness of behaviour means politeness and sensitivity. Conversely, the antithetical quality of being kasar means lack of control, irregularity, imbalance, disharmony, ugliness, coarseness, and impurity.”
One can see the clear distinction between Obama’s ostensibly aloof style of political negotiation in contrast to the aggressive, backslapping, physically overbearing political style of a president such as Lyndon Johnson.
Traditionally, the Javanese ruler triumphs over his adversary without even appearing to exert himself. His adversary must have been defeated already, as a consequence of the ruler’s total command over natural and human forces. This is a common theme in traditional Javanese drama, where the halus hero effortlessly triumphs over his kasar (literally, unrefined or uncivilised) enemy. ‘In the traditional battle scenes,’ Anderson notes:
“The contrast between the two becomes strikingly apparent in the slow, smooth, impassive and elegant movements of the satria [hero], who scarcely stirs from his place, and the acrobatic leaps, somersaults, shrieks, taunts, lunges, and rapid sallies of his demonic opponent. The clash is especially well-symbolised at the moment when the satria [hero] stands perfectly still, eyes downcast, apparently defenceless, while his demonic adversary repeatedly strikes at him with dagger, club, or sword — but to no avail. The concentrated power of the satria [hero] makes him invulnerable.”
Even to seem to exert himself is vulgar, yet he wins. This style of confrontation echoes that first famous live TV debate in the election of 2012 between Obama and Romney, in which Obama seemed passive, with eyes downcast, apparently defenceless (some alleged ‘broken’) in the face of his enemy, only to triumph in later debates and in the election itself.
Like a Javanese king, Obama has never taken on a political fight that he has not, arguably, already won
But such a disposition is not just external posturing. Halus in a Javanese ruler is the outward sign of a visible inner harmony which gathers and concentrates power in him personally. In the West, we might call this charisma. Crucially, in the Javanese idea of kingship, the ruler does not conquer opposing political forces, but absorbs them all under himself. In the words of Anderson again, the Javanese ruler has ‘the ability to contain opposites and to absorb his adversaries’. The goal is a unity of power that spreads throughout the kingdom. To allow a multiplicity of contending forces in the kingdom is a sign of weakness. Power is achieved through spiritual discipline — yoga-like and ascetic practices. The ruler seeks nothing for himself; if he acquires wealth, it is a by-product of power. To actively seek wealth is a spiritual weakness, as is selfishness or any other personal motive other than the good of the kingdom.”

 

Multi-parliamentarians

The death of Joan Child reminded me of a fellow MP of hers who had served in both the British House of Commons and the Australian House of Representatives.   I thus thought it interesting to list people who had been elected to two or more parliaments or assemblies (excluding those belonging to both national and regional assemblies from federations,  such as the European Parliament, Australia, etc), and those elected to parliaments of successor states (such as Rhodesia and Zimbabwe).

  • Adolf Berman (1906-1978), Polish Sejm (Polish Workers Party, c. 1945-1950) and the Israeli Knesset (Mapam – United Workers Party and later Maki – Communist Party of Israel, 1951-1955).
  • Stanley Melbourne Bruce, 1st Viscount Bruce of Melbourne (1883-1967), Australian House of Representatives (Nationalist Party and United Australia Party, 1918-1933) and British House of Lords (Life Peerage, 1947-1967).  Bruce was the first Australian member of the House of Lords.
  • Hugh Childers (1827-1896), appointed member of the Legislative Council of the colony of Victoria (1852-c.1857), then elected member of the British House of Commons (1860-1892, peripatetically). In Britain, Childers held various senior ministerial positions in administrations of William Gladstone, including Secretary of State for War, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Home Secretary. Childers was the great-grandson of Sir Sampson Gideon, later Sampson Eardley, 1st Baron Eardley (1744-1824), the first British MP of Jewish descent (an MP from 1770-1802).
  • Mathias Corman (born in Belgium, 1970), Senator for Western Australia (2007-present) and Commonwealth Minister for Finance (2013-present), who was briefly a member of the municipal council of German-speaking Raeran, Leige, Belgium, before migrating to Australia in 1994.
  • Albert Hawke (1900-1986), member of the South Australian House of Assembly (1924-1927) and of the Western Australian House of Assembly (1933-1968). Premier of Western Australia (1953-1959). Uncle of Australian Prime Minister Robert James Lee Hawke (1983-1991).
  • Godfrey Huggins, 1st Viscount Malvern (1883-1971), elected member of the House of Assembly of Southern Rhodesia 1924-1953, Prime Minister 1933-1953, elected member of the Federal Parliament and Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland 1953-1956, appointed member of the British House of Lords 1955-1971. As he remained in Rhodesia following his retirement in 1956, it is not clear if Malvern ever sat in the Lords.
  • Marthinus Pretorius (1819-1901), President of the South African Republic (aka the Transvaal, 1857-September 1860, 1864-1871, 1880-1883) and for a period in 1860 simultaneously President of the Orange Free State (January 1860-1863).
  • Sir George Reid (1845-1918), twelfth Premier of New South Wales (1894-1899) and fourth Prime Minister of Australia (1904-1905), was a member of the Australian Commonwealth House of Representatives (1901-1909) and a member of the British House of Commons (1916-1918).
  • Sir Robert Richard Torrens (1814-1884), third Premier of South Australia (1857), was a member of the South Australian House of Assembly from 1851-1863 (initially appointed, then elected) and an elected member of the British House of Commons for Cambridge from 1868-1874. He created the land registration system known as Torrens Title.
  • William Yates (1921-2010), British House of Commons (Conservative and Unionist Party, 1955-1966) and the Australian House of Representatives (Liberal Party, 1975-1980).

Others who almost make this list are:

  • Daniel Cohn-Bendit (1945- ), Member of the European Parliament, who could readily be elected to both the French and the German national parliaments.
  • Andrew Clarke (1824-1902), Appointed member of the Legislative Council of Victoria (1853-1856), elected Member of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria (1856-1858), contested the constituency of Chatham in the British House of Commons in 1886 and 1892, both times unsuccessfully.  In between times, Clarke was Governor of Singapore and Governor of the Straits Settlements, 1873-1875.
  • Thomas Paine (1737-1809), who was secretary to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of (but not a delegate to) the Second Continental Congress (of the United States) and was a member of the French National Convention (1792-1793).
  • Ian Paisley (1926-2014), who was an elected member variously of the British House of Commons, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the European Parliament, and could probably also have been elected, had he so wished, to the Scottish Parliament.
  • Sir Garfield Todd (1908-2002), elected member of the House of Assembly of Southern Rhodesia (1948-1958, including Prime Minister, 1953-1958), appointed Senator in the Senate of Zimbabwe (1980-1985).  Todd was born in New Zealand, whose Government arranged for his knighthood.  In an act of spite of the Mugabe regime, his Zimbabwean citizenship was revoked in 2002.

Vale: Joan Child

Child-Joan-Speaker
The death has occurred of Mrs Joan Child (1921-2013), first female Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives (1986-1989) and Labor MHR for Henty in Melbourne (1974-1975, 1980-1990).  She was the first female Labor Party MHR, and only the fourth woman elected to the House.   That it took 73 years for the Australian Labor Party to elect a woman to the Lower House of Federal Parliament is quite telling about attitudes in the Party and in the wider society.  As Speaker, she refused to wear the traditional wig and gown, and was always very down-to-earth.   On the evening before the Queen’s opening of the new Australian Commonwealth Parliament House in 1988, for instance, Madame Speaker Child could be found relaxing where she often went – having a drink and playing the pokies at the Canberra Labor Club.  She was always quite approachable there, too.
Her SMH obit is here.
POSTSCRIPT (2013-03-29):  Here is James Button, son of former Labor Industry Minister, Senator John Button, writing about the ALP:

Outside Albania, was there ever a more macho party than the old ALP?  Its first female member of the House of Representatives, Joan Child, was not elected until 1974, thirty-one years after Enid Lyons became the first female conservative MP.  It was a party that prized hardness, humour, guts and aggression:  men who could hold their drink, hold their tongue when they had to, and hold their own in argument.  Its language was vivid, often vulgar.  Doing the numbers for Hawke, his backer Graham Richardson once said, was ‘better than sex and almost as exciting as a good feed’.”  (Button 2013, page 126 of large print edition)

James Button [2012]: Speechless:  A Year in my Father’s Business.  Melbourne, Australia:  Melbourne University Press.

Artists concat

Here is a listing of visual artists whose work speaks to me.  Minimalists and geometric abstractionists are over-represented, relative to their population in the world.  In due course, I will add posts about each of them.

  • Carel Fabritius (1622-1654)
  • Shi Tao (1641-1720)
  • Jin Nong (1687-c.1763)
  • Richard Wilson (1714-1782)
  • Thomas Jones (1742-1803)
  • Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849)
  • Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840)
  • John Sell Cotman (1782-1842)
  • Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858)
  • Thomas Cole (1801-1848)
  • Richard Parkes Bonington (1802–1828)
  • Thomas Chambers (1808-1869)
  • Thomas Moran (1837-1926)
  • Arkhip Kuindzhi (1842-1910)
  • Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)
  • Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943)
  • Alma Thomas (1891-1978)
  • Stuart Davis (1892-1964)
  • Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack (1893-1965)
  • László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
  • Kotozuka Eiichi (1906-1979)
  • Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912–2004)
  • Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
  • Jackson Pollock (1912–1956)
  • Gunther Gerzso (1915-2000)
  • Michael Kidner (1917-2009)
  • Guanzhong Wu (1919–2010)
  • Carlos Cruz-Diez (1923- )
  • Fred Williams (1927-1982)
  • Donald Judd (1928-1994)
  • Sol LeWitt (1928-2007)
  • Henry Munyaradzi (1931-1998)
  • Bridget Riley (1931- )
  • Norval Morrisseau (1932–2007)
  • Dan Flavin (1933-1996)
  • Patrick Tjungurrayi (1935-2018)
  • Jean-Pierre Bertrand (1937- )
  • Peter Campus (1937- )
  • Hélio Oiticica (1937–1980)
  • Prince of Wales Midpul (c.1937-2002)
  • Peter Struycken (1939- )
  • Alighiero e Boetti (1940-1994)
  • Alice Nampitjinpa (1943- )
  • Helicopter Tjungurrayi (1947- )
  • Cildo Meireles (1948- )
  • Jeremy Annear (1949- )
  • Louise van Terheijden (1954- )
  • Doreen Reid Nakamarra (1955-2009)
  • Peter Doig (1959- )
  • Katie Allen
  • Els van ‘t Klooster (1985- )
  • Este MacLeod

Gradgrinds de nos jours

Peter Hitchens reviews the latest jeremiad from Anthony Grayling in The Spectator, here:

‘Atheism is to theism,’ Anthony Grayling declares, ‘as not collecting stamps is to stamp-collecting’.  At this point, we are supposed to enjoy a little sneer, in which the religious are bracketed with bald, lonely men in thick glasses, picking over their collections of ancient stamps in attics, while unbelievers are funky people with busy social lives.
But the comparison is flatly untrue.  Non-collectors of stamps do not, for instance, write books devoted to mocking stamp-collectors, nor call for stamp-collecting’s status to be diminished, nor suggest — Richard Dawkins-like — that introducing the young to this hobby is comparable to child abuse.  They do not place advertisements on buses proclaiming that stamp-collecting is a waste of time, and suggesting that those who abandon it will enjoy their lives more.
Professor Grayling is too pleased with himself to have realised this. Intoxicated with amusement at his own dud metaphor, he asks: ‘How could someone be a militant non-stamp-collector?’  I rather think he has written the manual for anyone who might like to take up this activity.

It strikes me, once again, that the new atheists – particularly Grayling, Dawkins, Dennett, and C. Hitchens – want to show the world that they can think for themselves, that they are beholden not to churchly prince nor earthly potentate, neither to ideology nor tradition, in the formulation and articulation of their own views.   But thinking for themselves seems somehow insufficient to each of these people:  they want also to think for everyone else, to impose on the rest of us their own personal view.    Perhaps it’s that common affliction of people lacking in self-confidence:  by getting others to adopt their judgments (or beliefs, or consumer purchases, or career path), they can validate their own choices.
As I have remarked before, in my experience most people who profess religious belief and/or undertake religious practices do so because of some personal, transcendant experience they have had with non-material realms, or what they perceive to be such realms.  Grayling et al. tell all these people that they are each wrong:  Here’s what you should believe, not the evidence of your own lying eyes!   Who knows, our little Graylings may even be correct, and objective science may even – one day long in the future – show the delusion or invalidity of these many billions of subjective experiences.   But, in the meantime, it surely takes industrial-strength levels of presumption to assume that your own personal subjective viewpoint takes precedence over the subjective lived experience of others. 
Noticeable too, is the complete absence of any sense of wonder or awe at the unknown and the not-yet-explained in the writings of these folks (Sam Harris excepted).   It is remark-worthy, I think, that none of these people are poets, or artists, or musicians, or mathematicians, all people who seek regularly to wrangle the transcendant.   Gradgrinds the new atheists seem to be, as well as arrogantly presumptious.

Our impact on others

JOHN-Fritz 1953
A nice story about the possibly unknown effects of our actions, from a review by mathematician Marjorie Senechal of a book about German Jewish mathematicians:

Fritz John (1910–1994) [pictured in 1953], Jewish on his father’s side, left Germany in 1933 for England; in 1935 he was appointed assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.  Back in the 1930s, the University of Kentucky was small and isolated but, except for two years of war-related work, John stayed there until 1946, when he moved permanently to New York University.  Surely he was glad to rejoin his mentor, [mathematician Richard] Courant.  But he made a difference in Lexington; I don’t know if he ever knew it.
I grew up near Lexington and took piano lessons from a teacher in town named Helen Lipscomb.  Helen was a polio victim, confined to a wheelchair; her brother, Bill, was a chemist at the University of Minnesota.  I met Bill Lipscomb for the first time in 2009, two years before he died at the age of ninety-two.  By then he’d taught at Harvard for forty years and earned a Nobel prize (1976) [in Chemistry] for his work on boranes.  Unlike me, Bill had attended the University of Kentucky after a Lexington public high school; he’d had a music scholarship and studied chemistry on the side.  “Why did you decide to become a chemist instead of a musician?” I asked him. “What changed your mind?” “A math class,” he told me. “A math class taught by a German named Fritz John.” (page 213)

Reference:
Marjorie Senechal [2013]:   Review of:   Birgit Bergmann, Moritz Epple, and Ruti Ungar (Editors):  Transcending Tradition: Jewish Mathematicians in German-Speaking Academic Culture.   Springer Verlag, 2012.  Notices of the American Mathematical Society, 60 (2):  209-213.  Available here.

Vale: John Makumbe

This post is a tribute to Zimbabwean political scientist, John Makumbe (1949-2013), who has just died.  I first met him in Zimbabwe in 1981, and once traveled with him to Botswana.  We had many conversations on religion, where we disagreed greatly.  He became an outspoken and fearless opponent of Robert Mugabe’s corrupt regime, and had been planning to stand for election for his home region, Buhera, to the Zimbabwe House of Assembly at the forthcoming national elections.
The Telegraph (London) obituary is here, The Zimbabwe Mail here, and Nehanda Radio here.

The silence of the wolves

The tenth anniversary of the second Iraq War being upon us, there is naturally lots of commentary and coal-raking. Some of this involves re-writing of history.  For example, many of those who participated in the February 2003 demonstrations against the war seem to have forgotten that, in Britain, they were not able to convince a majority of MPs to vote against the House of Commons resolution supporting invasion, as Norm rightly notes.  However,  many then on the other side too seem to have forgotten something:  that the leaders of the West – President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Prime Ministers Blair and Howard – had to be dragged by the public, kicking and screaming and much against their will, to explain their decision to invade Iraq to their own citizens.
World-wide demonstrations against the war took place on Saturday 15 February 2003.    Only on that day itself did Tony Blair, in a speech in Glasgow, first present in public his arguments in favour of military action.   Only on 25 February 2003 – ten days after those massive street protests – did Tony Blair finally agree to a House of Commons debate on the issue.  Donald Rumsfeld was not able or not willing to provide a convincing justification to even the Foreign Minister of Germany, Joschka Fischer (“You have to make the case!”, Fischer said to Rumsfeld, in English, in the midst of  a speech in German, in public, at a security conference in Munich, 9 February 2003, video here.)  And most notoriously of all, the Australian Senate, for the first and only time in its (then) 102-year history passed on 5 February 2003 a censure motion against the Government and a vote  of no confidence in the Prime Minister John Howard, for their failure to provide any case at all for the Government’s support of the invasion.
Yet we now know that the decision by the Bush administration to invade Iraq had most probably been made by August 2002, and the question of invasion had been the focus of intense and loud public argument in every house and pub and office in the western world for at least three months.  The silence of our leaders was so noticeable that, at the time, I speculated whether there were other good reasons for that silence, beside cowardice or malfeasance (blog post of 2003-02-14).  We still don’t know for certain why no decision-maker would make their case public, but I suspect now it was because the case was built on decision-making about potential events with small probabilities but with catastrophic consequences:  IF Saddam Hussein acquired  weapons of mass destruction AND IF he used them against the West, the results would be far worse than even 9/11.    Although the probabilities of these conditions being true were judged to be very small, the consequences of them being true would be so serious that the conditions had to be precluded from happening, at all costs.  This, to me, would have been a compelling argument, had it ever been made in public.
Now our press carry stories of Tony Blair saying he had “long since given up trying to persuade people it was the right decision.”   For goodness sake, he hardly even tried!   Here is Andrew Rawnsley writing in The Observer on 14 September 2003:

Mr Blair is being punished not because he did the wrong thing, but because he went about it the wrong way. The Prime Minister didn’t trust the British people to follow the moral argument for dealing with Saddam. This mistrust in them they now reciprocate back to him.  For that, Tony Blair has only himself to blame.”

The afterlife of 19th-century mathematics

packed circles
I posted earlier some thoughts of mathematician Bill Thurston, here and here.  I have just encountered a reminiscence of Thurston and his specific contribution to mathematics by Philip Bowers of Florida State University.   What is noteworthy is Bowers’ view of Thurston’s style of doing mathematics – a reversion to the particularist and concrete style of 19th century mathematics, something very much out of place in the abstract and generalist world of 20th century mathematics.

It is 1978 and I have just begun my graduate studies in mathematics. There is some excitement in the air over ideas of Bill Thurston that purport to offer a way to resolve the Poincare conjecture by using nineteenth century mathematics – specifically, the noneuclidean geometry of Lobachevski and Bolyai – to classify all 3-manifolds.  These ideas finally appear in a set of notes from Princeton a couple of years later, and the notes are both fascinating and infuriating – theorems are left unstated and often unproved, chapters are missing never to be seen, the particular dominates – but the notes are bulging with beautiful and exciting ideas, often with but sketches of intricate arguments to support the landscape that Thurston sees as he surveys the topology of 3-manifolds.  Thurston’s vision is a throwback to the previous century, having much in common with the highly geometric, highly particular landscape that inspired Felix Klein and Max Dehn. These geometers walked around and within Riemann surfaces, one of the hot topics of the day, knew them intimately, and understood them in their particularity, not from the rarified heights that captured the mathematical world in general, and topology in particular, in the period from the 1930’s until the 1970’s.  The influence of Thurston’s Princeton notes on the development of topology over the next 30 years would be pervasive, not only in its mathematical content, but even more so in its vision of how to do mathematics. It gave a generation of topologists permission to get their collective hands dirty with the particular and to delve deeply into the study of specific structures on specific examples.
What has geometry to do with topology? Thurston reminded us what Klein had known, that the topology of manifolds is closely related to the geometric structures they support.  Just as surfaces may be classified and categorized using the mundane geometry of triangles and lines, Thurston suggested that the in finitely richer, more intricate world of 3-manifolds could, just possibly, be classified using the natural [page-break] 3-dimensional geometries, which he classified and of which there are eight. And if he were right, the resolution of the most celebrated puzzle of topology – the Poincare Conjecture – would be but a corollary to this geometric classification.
The Thurston Geometrization Conjecture dominated the discipline of geometric topology over the next three decades. Even after its recent resolution by Hamilton and Perelman, its imprint remains embedded in the working methodology of topologists, who have geometrized not only the topology of manifolds, but the fundamental groups attached to these manifolds. Thus we have as legacy the young and very active field of geometric group theory that avers that the algebraic and combinatorial properties of groups are closely related to the geometries on which they act. This seems to be a candidate for the next organizing principle in topology.
The decade of the 1980’s was an especially exciting and fertile time for topology as the geometric influence seemed to permeate everything. In the early part of the decade, Jim Cannon, inspired by Thurston, took up a careful study of the combinatorial structure of fundamental groups of surfaces and 3-manifolds, principally cocompact Fuchsian and Kleinian groups, constructing by hand on huge pieces of paper the Cayley graphs of example after example. He has relayed to me that the graphs of the groups associated to hyperbolic manifolds began to construct themselves, in the sense that he gained an immediate understanding of the rest of the graph, after he had constructed a large enough neighborhood of the identity.  There was something automatic that took over in the construction and, after a visit with Thurston at Princeton, automatic group theory emerged as a new idea that has found currency among topologists studying fundamental groups. In this work, Cannon anticipated the thin triangle condition as the sine qua non of negative curvature, itself the principal organizing feature of Thurston’s classification scheme.  He studied negatively curved groups, rather than negatively curved manifolds, and showed that the resulting geometric structure on the Cayley graphs of such groups provides combinatorial tools that make the structure of the group amenable to computer computations. This was a marriage of group theory with both geometry and computer science, and had immediate ramifications in the topology of manifolds.” (Bowers 2009, pages 511-512).

 
References:
Philip Bowers [2009]:Introduction to circle packing: a review.   Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (New Series), 46 (3): 511–525.
Circle packing has surprising connections to the theory of complex functions.   For introductions to the  mathematics of circle packing, see:
Kenneth Stephenson [2003]:  Circle packing:  a mathematical tale.  Notices of the American Mathematical Society, 50 (11): 1376-1388.  Available here (PDF).
Kenneth Stephenson [2005]:   Introduction to Circle Packing:  The Theory of Discrete Analytic Functions.  Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University Press.
The image shows a surface packed with circles of varying radii.

100 years ago at the Armory

ArmoryShow-1913
It is 100 years since the Armory Show, an influential exhibition of European and American visual art that toured New York, Chicago and Boston.   Some 70,000 people attended the New York exhibition (which ran from 1913-02-15 to 1913-03-17), and almost 190,000 the Chicago event.    The viewers included former President Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote a review of the show, here.  Although not a fan of the cubists and futurists, he was surprisingly open to innovation.   An excerpt:

The recent “International Exhibition of Modern Art” in New York was really noteworthy. Messrs. Davies, Kuhn, Gregg, and their fellow members of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors have done a work of very real value in securing such an exhibition of the works of both foreign and native painters and sculptors. Primarily their purpose was to give the public a chance to see what has recently been going on abroad. No similar collection of the works of European “moderns” has ever been exhibited in this country. The exhibitors are quite right as to the need of showing to our people in this manner the art forces which of late have been at work in Europe, forces which cannot be ignored.
This does not mean that I in the least accept the view that these men take of the European extremists whose pictures are here exhibited. It is true, as the champions of these extremists say, that there can be no life without change, no development without change, and that to be afraid of what is different or unfamiliar is to be afraid of life. It is no less true, however, that change may mean death and not life, and retrogression instead of development. Probably we err in treating most of these pictures seriously. It is likely that many of them represent in the painters the astute appreciation of the powers to make folly lucrative which the late P. T. Barnum showed with his faked mermaid. There are thousands of people who will pay small sums to look at a faked mermaid; and now and then one of this kind with enough money will buy a Cubist picture, or a picture of a misshapen nude woman, repellent from every standpoint.
In some ways it is the work of the American painters and sculptors which is of most interest in this collection, and a glance at this work must convince any one of the real good that is coming out of the new movements, fantastic though many of the developments of these new movements are. There was one note entirely absent from the exhibition, and that was the note of the commonplace. There was not a touch of simpering, self-satisfied conventionality anywhere in the exhibition. Any sculptor or painter who had in him something to express and the power of expressing it found the field open to him.  He did not have to be afraid because his work was not along ordinary lines. There was no stunting or dwarfing, no requirement that a man whose gift lay in new directions should measure up or down to stereotyped and fossilized standards.”

What with TR’s imperialism and all, it is easy to forget how good a writer he was, being a published author before becoming President.   Like another Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning President.
Reference:
Theodore Roosevelt [1913]: A Layman’s Views of an Art Exhibition. Outlook, 103 (29 March 1913): 718–720. Reprinted in Roderick Nash [1970] (Editor):   The Call of the Wild (1900–1916). New York: George Braziller.