“Art in Politics: A Cubist Secretary Might Not Be Out of Place Among Other Squareheads” (E22)

  • Originally printed: Vanity Fair, March 1919
  • First reprinted in: Never reprinted
  • Original Byline: Robert C. Benchley


Taking his cue from a then-current push to create a Federal Department of the Fine Arts, complete with a cabinet level Secretary, the young Benchley takes the reader on a wild ride through the inevitable high culture war implications of such a step. Where would such a creature fit into the line of Presidential succession? And how soon would it be before some southern dominated Senate sub-committee, alerted to the rich possibilities of political conflict beyond the confines of “states’ rights” and the tariff, began shutting down metropolitan museums?

RCB envisions the grim advent of a new rhetorical hybrid plagued by all of the inadequacies of the undergraduate Art History essay and the machine stump speech, while possessing none of their virtues (if they in fact have any virtues). The resultant Fourth Party System, organized around a contest between an airy “Avant-Gardism” and hidebound “Americanism”, actually bears some passing resemblance to the state of affairs one observes in U.S. political discourse today, although, of course, it is not quite as stupid as that.

Favourite Moment:
“Vote for John A. Ossip! He kept us out of post-impressionism!”

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