“The Invisible Dragon: Essays on Beauty” by Dave Hickey was originally published in 1993 - this would have been my first full year of college - and was reprinted not too terribly long ago in 2012. I just finished this edition.
Last week was a crummy week for being creative. I made it to my Thursday night drawing session, but tax season, work concerns, and just regular old life took precedence. But I did finish this book.
Finishing a damn book seems like something deserving of a gold star and a pat on the head anymore. I involuntarily squint and glare when I think of my train buddies who all sit together and chatter on loudly when I’m obviously reading. What’s wrong with people that they prefer noisy human interaction to an hour of quiet solitude?
I knew of Dave Hickey. I recall reading some of “Air Guitar“ a million years ago and found it resonant. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t become a Hickey disciple in college or grad school - I would have had critical ammunition for my angst and given my professors ulcers.
Once in a while you find someone who can express what you feel, what you know to be true, but lack the vocabulary to articulate. And what a vocabulary! It’s not often I find myself looking up multiple words in a paragraph. I like to think I’m pretty smart. (Just ask me). But it’s humbling and inspiring to read Hickey.
“The Invisible Dragon” opens with the accidental blurting “beauty” in response to a question at a panel discussion and concludes by framing the American principle that the self-evidently true right to the pursuit of happiness, in the form of beauty, is itself fundamental.
Here’s a quote:
The beaux-arts agora that provided a site for arguing about our likes and likenesses is relocated deep in the wilderness of popular culture. The beaux-arts historical project of saving everything we ever loved just stops. We lose the object, our sophistication, and the pleasure we once took in outfitting official virtue in the clown suit of folly—the very emblem of civilized sedition. Word walls arise to water-board works of art with verbiage and stunt their life expectancies. The amateurs who built those halls of culture, who filled them with treasures, are relegated to the dark past, their passions relinquished into the custody of philistine colonizers for use in outreach projects to the skateboard community.
Hickey drew me in with his mockery and dismemberment the tedious, preachy, prescriptive, art-school nonsense which sucked all the joy from being a creative person. He keeps me by appealing to my patriotism, democracy, and freedom. This is a book I need to re-read.