Art Appreciation: Ralph Steadman

“Art is anything you can get away with.” – Marshall McLuhan

Last night, I watched “For No Good Reason” which is a documentary about visual artist Ralph Steadman. I’d never heard his name but I recognized his work. To be sure, his grotesque artwork is impossible to ignore. Watching him paint, you see a sort of interaction with his subconscious. The angriest, most frustrated depths of his Id come splattering out on the page: The rage, the social injustice, the malaise of modern life. It’s all there in sickening detail.

Steadman is best known as Hunter S. Thompson’s illustrator. Theor work embodies the ethos of the 60’s and 70’s when, according to Steven Pinker, “sanity was denigrated, and psychosis romanticized” in pop culture. In other words, a period of decivilizing in the mainstream that’s antithetical to today’s social media.

It’s fascinating to hear fellow Baby Boomers discuss Ralph’s art. The era of organized protest being taken seriously by young people is so fargone as to be completely foreign. From director Terry Gilliam: “The problem with protesters is that we got old and we got tired. We screamed and shouted and we did change the world to a degree, but not as much as we’d like. And that leads to a depression and a sense of semi-impotence, which I think after a while just begins to wear you down. You realize you did make these changes, and you see a new generation of people coming up, who are beneficiaries of a lot of the noise we made, and they don’t give a damn. They’re interested in shopping.” And therein lies the rub.

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