trompe l’oeil

In an ancient Greek parable a celebrated painter, once hoped to triumph over his rivals.  He attempted a trompe l’oeil or to fool the eye.  His painting featured a child holding a bowl of grapes.  His critics judged his work a failure when birds were not frightened off by the child as they flew down to steal the painted grapes.  William Harnett the painter of Attention Company! was similarly gifted at painting highly realistic still life of fruit.  This is his only known figure painting.  It is on display at the Amon Carter Museum.  The same attention to detail that Harnett, a ninetieth century Irish immigrant, demonstrated by replicating the complex textures of fruit is seen in the boy’s tattered clothes and crisp newspaper hat.  “To find a subject that paints well is not an easy task,” Harnett once explained.  This comment makes only more intriguing his decision to focus on the face of this one black child.

A good orator can do with words what a skilled painter does with his brushes.  Orators paint stories with their words.  From a math teacher teaching her class the Pythagorean Theorem to a minister preaching on Sunday, both forms of oratory communicate a story.  Speech can paint a picture in the mind’s eye that the trompe l’oeil painter can only envy.  Political speech by its very nature is intended to be exhortation.  A politician should make you believe, but war is outside the keen of what passes as American politics these days.  I sat down to watch Tuesday night’s speech, determined not to be swayed by rhetoric.

President Obama spoke to the nation on Tuesday night about Afghanistan.  With his announcement that he plans on sending an additional 30,000 Americans to Afghanistan he contradicted his campaign’s premise.  He mentioned that he was dealt a bad hand by his predecessor, but he knew that would be his hand when he asked for the job.  To be honest, I don’t think that there was a right decision.  We can’t walk away, but Afghanistan does have a pretty good track record on the Jeopardy question, “Where do empires go to die?”  One thing is clear though, this is Obama’s war now.  Time will tell if America is successful with Afghanistan.  Two things are certain now though.  Obama will be belittled for his military prowess.  This post’s painting in the context of this debate so aptly epitomizes these attacks.  Second, he will be criticized no matter if the birds are frightened off or not.

Leave a Reply