These are troubling times.
An economy gone bad and the waning days of an American presidential election season that, no surprise, has been reduced to a state in which sound byte and image are valued over sound policy and imagination. We’ve been here before of course. A historical perspective might prove useful.
Andrew Jackson appeared on the US twenty dollar bill in 1929, the year of the Great Depression (the often used benchmark for today’s events). A military hero and self-made man he was considered by many to be a great president, hence the honor. He paid off the national debt (a short lived benefit as the country shortly thereafter slid into economic depression). Jackson initiated the spoils system of political patronage; he was a womanizer; and as has come to be the norm, his administration was racked by scandal and cronyism. He exhausted a great deal of political capital in his unyielding efforts to shut down the Second National US Bank (a pre-cursor to the Federal Reserve). Most chilling was his oversight of the Indian Removal Acts and the brutal decimation and forced relocation of Native peoples that came to be known as the Trail of Tears.
More than any other figure whose visage graces a (formerly) almighty US dollar, there is a strong and dedicated movement to remove Jackson from the double sawbuck. Willingly or not I keep him close to my skin (and to up the ante “I’m gonna hold on to him ‘till that eagle grins”. Luckily with the recent redesign of the twenty they’ve included the eagle. At least we’ve got something to hold onto).
But to bring this around to an artist’s statement ... I’m reminded of an anecdote told to me by a student of the great photographer Harry Callahan. It was the first day of class at the Institute of Design in Chicago and Callahan, not much of a talker but a damn good teacher, said to his students “I know that you’re busy today getting your classes in order for the semester— so our first meeting will be brief. I do however want to give you your first lesson in photography.” Callahan took out his wallet and removed a twenty dollar bill. He folded it carefully into a paper airplane, and walked over to an open window. He let it fly. “Class dismissed”.