Ever heard of George McGovern? There’s a story about this guy’s run for presidency that’s instructive for any of us looking to do good work in the world.
See that picture above? It’s a bunch of artists contributing pieces to a large mural in support if George’s run for presidency. (He ran against Nixon.)
I randomly stumbled upon this picture while staying in a friend’s house. It was in a book about artists and writers and the parties they threw in the Hamptons from 1950-1980.
As I flipped through the pages, taking in all the famous faces pictured in house parties and on sandy beaches with cigarettes and coffee mugs and cocktail glasses in their hands, a fable about these people evolved in my head.
It made me think about my own work and my own friends who are doing good work. It made me think about some parties I’ve attended and the faces of other people who were there.
And a kind of fable about the people in this particular picture (the one above, here’s a bigger version) sort of came clear in my head.
Here’s some ideas that stuck with me.
(Please spare any political tirades or history lessons. I don’t know much about this time or these people. Don’t care to.)
Must have been a lot of work getting everyone together to work on this.
I bet these artists think they’re doing something big. I bet they think they are big deals.
I have a little reach myself. I’ve been in (extremely minor) situations where I felt similarly, when someone thought my contribution would help in an important way.
“People pay attention to me. I’m sort of a big-ish deal,” they think to themselves. “Sure, I’ll help support the cause.”
I have never heard of George McGovern. I can paint a bit of a picture: he was the democrat running against Nixon. Artists love dems, traditionally… or so I’ve heard.
“Hey guys, let’s do something big, something important to make a stand. To make a statement and support this guy. We can’t let the republicans ruin this country. Let’s do something together… let’s make it count.”
But then George didn’t win.
What did they feel then? What do they think looking back? Did they already know they’re help wasn’t going to matter? “We tried. Whatever. Meh.”
Were they discouraged? “Last time I ply my oars for this backwards fucking party… backwards fucking country, too.”
Again this is all some fable in my head. I don’t know if any of this shit is true. But I could imagine myself as one of the artists here. It’s a fable, but it’s instructive for any of us trying to do something big, something that makes a change, something that brings light to darkness and joy in the suffering.
Many of our projects will end up being campaigns for George. If, instead of trying, we hold ourselves back, don’t contribute, we’ll save a little face. We won’t have put our necks out for a loser.
But I see another story in these photos. I don’t see anything about a president. I don’t see any real purpose.
I see an excuse for a bunch of weirdos and ragamuffins to get together and make something.
I don’t see art critics talking about “what this means.” I see a weird dude in a hat painting on his friend’s back.
I see cocktails on a massive canvas.
I see an old dude in a chair smiling lackadaisically and another old dude on his knees measuring meticulously.
In episode 47 of the podcast I intro us as the muppets. And at the end I mention this great quote about the moral of the muppet movie:
“The message of the movie is that a bunch of wonderfully eccentric, creative and outlandish individuals can somehow be brought together and stay together, because they take great joy in what they do.”
That’s what I see most in these pictures.
The guy they were rooting for didn’t win. George lost.
These folks painted anyways, almost as if they were dancing to their own music, following the joy and groove of the making, doing what they can with what they have focusing on what they can control (the making) disconnected from what results may come.
It’s just a fable in my head, but I want to get into that groove, the joy in the making, more… For a while at least.
When you work for yourself you need results too. I gotta make that coin. But I’m prone to an imbalance, and when I’m too results-focused I make worse stuff… Because I’m smiling less in the making.
Go get some friends together and help a George get elected.
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