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What is Art?

Artist Susan Cassidy Wilhoit, who painted all 50 capitol buildings in the U.S.  

I saw an exhibit of state capitol buildings.  The artist, a woman called Susan Cassidy Wilhoit, shown in the picture, went around the country and painted all fifty of them.   I told her that the journey around the U.S. to all the states to paint the pictures would be a great story in itself.  I like representational art with a story.

Most of the capitols look a lot alike.   Classical domes - more or less resembling the national capitol – are most popular, but there is a significant share of non-descript tall office buildings.   North Dakota & Nebraska have particularly drab capitols.   That is Nebraska's against the far war, BTW.  In fact, I wonder if those buildings even deserve the name capitol, which implies a more august building. Below is Wisconsin's capitol.

Painting of Wisconsin state capitol in Madison 

I suppose some people would decry the lack of imagination among legislatures.   I don’t.  When you got a good thing, stick with it.  Most “innovative” architecture sucks, especially when a government is paying the bills and the architects can run wild with the public purse.  Left unchecked, they often indulge their idiosyncratic proclivities and pursue novelty w/o value.  It gets to be like the “Emperor’s New Clothes.”   Few people like those awful buildings, but who wants to say so out loud and appear to be a philistine in front of the cool sophisticates?   

Most great art and great architecture derives from the tension between artists trying push the limits to express their own particular vision and someone paying the bills and mitigating the creative but selfish impulses of the visionary, which, IMO, is why artists work better when they have to satisfy patrons, markets or somebody else in general.  Give an artist a no-strings-attached grant and they fall off the deep end of autoerotic peculiarity.   

Germania building in Milwaukee, Wi 

Above is the Germania Building in Milwaukee, built in 1898. This is interesting, although not unique, architecture. The domes look like Kaiser helmets and my mother told me that there was some gnashing of teeth about that during WWI.  The vagaries of memory are funny.  When I looked at this building last week it stimulated a previously buried memory from when I was eleven years old.  My mother used to take me downtown to visit a Dr Rath.  He was bone specialist who looked after me after I broke my leg. His job was to make sure my legs stayed more or less the same length and he succeeded. I would get to take a day off from school and my mother would take me around downtown after the appointment.  Of course, she didn't have any more personal memory of the WWI history of the Germania building than I do, and I cannot find confirmation on the Internet, but I think it is true. 

Another example of derivative but beautiful architecture is St. Stanislaw Church below.  

St Stanislaw Church, Milwaukee Wi 


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