The latest art exhibition at R. Michelson Galleries on Northampton’s Main Street has a few things to say about the current state of American politics. The images, however, are anything but angry. They’re inhabited by cartoon dogs, smiling bears, and multicolored fish, accompanied by gentle captions, such as “We Are All in the Same Pond.” The art expresses its concerns in terms even a small child could understand.
But, then, the creator of these charming political doodles is adept at communicating across generations. Striding into the gallery for a reception in his honor, he’s a bearded and bespectacled character wearing a turtleneck and green Doc Martens boots. His graying, shoulder-length hair is tucked behind his ears and beneath a fiddler cap. Scampering at his heels is his family’s miniature schnauzer, Vincent. The dog looks an awful lot like his master.
Soft City is a compelling storehouse of midcentury anxieties. Even if these anxieties are no longer quite the same — if we now inhabit a world in which the absence of work is more terrifying than its overbearing presence — there is still value to Pushwagner’s vision. Ware may perhaps overstate the case when he writes, in his introduction, that “now, forty years later, [Soft City] still feels revolutionary.” But revolutions in art are not quite the same as revolutions in political consciousness: we don’t need to share each and every one of an artist’s fears to understand the significance of his or her work. Today we are differently alienated. But in depicting a world that was a precursor to our own, even if that world is now less recognizable, Soft City turned an era’s apprehensions into art.
And from “The Happiest Kids in the World,” I’ve picked up a Dutch mantra: “Doe maar gewoon dan doe je al gek genoeg.” In other words, Acosta and Hutchison explain, “Just act normal, that’s crazy enough,” or “Calm down.”
For American parents reading too many of these books, that may be the most important advice of all.
Autism Awareness Month, now in its 13th year, does raise awareness, or at least boosts Web searches on autism. But awareness is different than recognition. Awareness doesn’t increase the number of places where parents like me can take our behaviorally challenged children, for example. My son can’t sit still in a movie theater for the length of a movie. He gets overstimulated in children’s museums. In most restaurants, his yelps and difficulty staying seated draw sharp looks. People want to eat in peace. I get that, but I don’t want to be a prisoner in my home either. And I can only spend so much time at the laundromat, where Finn can generally bang on the machines and push around the ancient carts without disturbing anyone.