2/22/2006

WalMart Culture: Stuffed And Mounted


Rebecca Solnit has a wonderful piece at Truth Out, entitled "The Wal-Mart Biennale"about the purchase of Durand's "Kindred Spirits", a painting celebrating the friendship of Cole and Bryant set in the Catskill mountains, by Alice Walton for the Wal-Mart museum. Now certainly the puchase of a painting by a wealthy family is far from newsworthy, but perhaps what disturbs us is the irony of the fact that the painting is regarded as a celebration of nature and balance. Something that seems in contrast to the earth-pillaging tradition of the Walton family. Comparing this to the 'greenimagery' of Big Oil while they simultaneously fund researchers whose purpose is to deny their heinous footprints, Solnit articulates this irony well:(truncated)

"The trouble lies in what the painting means and what Alice Walton and her $18 billion mean. Art patronage has always been a kind of money-laundering, a pretty public face for fortunes made in uglier ways. The superb Rockefeller folk art collections in several American museums don't include paintings of the 1914 Ludlow Massacre of miners in Colorado, carried out by Rockefeller goons, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles doesn't say a thing about oil. But something about Wal-Mart and Kindred Spirits is more peculiar than all the robber barons and their chapels, galleries, and collections ever were, perhaps because, more than most works of art, Durand's painting is a touchstone for a set of American ideals that Wal-Mart has been savaging.

It may be true that, in an era when oil companies regularly take out advertisements proclaiming their commitment to environmentalism, halting global warming, promoting petroleum alternatives, and conservation measures, while many of them also fund arguments against climate change's very existence, nothing is too contrary to embrace. But Kindred Spirits is older, more idealistic, and more openly at odds with this age than most hostages to multinational image-making.

Kindred Spirits portrays Durand's friend, the great American landscape painter Thomas Cole, with his friend, the poet and editor William Cullen Bryant. The two stand on a projecting rock above a cataract in the Catskills, bathed like all the trees and air around them in golden light. The painting is about friendship freely given, including a sense of friendship, even passion, for the American landscape itself. In the work of Cole, Durand, and Bryant, as in the writing of Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman, you can see an emerging belief that the love of nature, beauty, truth, and freedom are naturally allied, a romantic vision that still lingers as one of the most idealistic versions of what it might mean to be an American. "

Now the criticism is certainly not of Walton's right to buy the painting, nor can we minimize the role of the wealthy in support for the arts. Certainly our history is filled with examples of art commissioned, supported, or collected by the wealthy who did not necessarily acquire their wealth in the most honorable ways. But consider the way Wal Mart as a corporation treats it's employees and the scams perpetrated against taxpayers:

"...as Wal-MartWatch.com points out, that the price of the painting equals what the state of Arkansas spends every two years providing for Wal-Mart's 3,971 employees on public assistance; or that the average Wal-Mart cashier makes $7.92 an hour and, since Wal-Mart likes to keep people on less than full-time schedules, works only 29 hours a week for an annual income of $11,948 - so a Wal-Mart cashier would have to work a little under 3,000 years to earn the price of the painting without taking any salary out for food, housing, or other expenses (and a few hundred more years to pay the taxes, if the state legislature didn't exempt our semi-immortal worker). "


In the spirit of Corruptco. Blogfest 2006, I will focus on corporate images and conservation. At Coalition For A Republican Free America, I hope to post about the relationships of corporate behavior to social services and the common struggles of the American family. Please consider the theme at your blog, and what might interest you.

33 comments:

Kvatch said...

I don't find contrasts between art patrons, artists, and the meaning of art to be at all surprising. Look at Peggy Guggenheim, a woman who by all accounts was batty on the subject of order in her life, and yet engaged in some very messy affairs with some very emotionally messy artists.

Filling in a hole emotionally speaking, I think. Same with the Waltons.

CV Rick said...

it's not art to them . . .

it's stuff. expensive stuff is better stuff and they like stuff, especially stuff other people don't have.

Lily Branford said...

I think the discussion about trying to use the wealth to distance one's self from the sleazy ways they come about it is an interesting issue. The contrast to box stores as well. For some reason, it reminds me of the Paul Simon song "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes". People are exploited and mistreated and in some cases killed because of 'things' and so often the people who acquire them lack any appreciation for the blood that taints them. Of course, art is important. Supporting art is important. But a painting that pays tribute to nature does not seem suitable for Boxstore Bitch.

Kvatch said...

Supporting art is important. But a painting that pays tribute to nature does not seem suitable for Boxstore Bitch.

Maybe since WalMart's don't have windows, she'll have a bazillion 'Thomas Kincaid' style copies made and hang them in every store, giving WalMart shoppers a glimpse of nature?

Lew Scannon said...

i think she probably bought it because it matches her sofa so well.

Neil Shakespeare said...

Must agree. Most art collections are built on the backs of the poor by the murderers of the poor. Nice to see the taxpayers have bought the Walton b***h a nice painting.

Zelle Brennan said...

Lew,
She bought it as described in the post as part of the acquisition of artwork for the Walton museum under construction currently in Bentonville. Cheers.

Rhino-itall said...

What is the problem with walmart again? They make a lot of money so their evil right? No one is forced to work there, if its not enough money, if the health benefits aren't enough why don't they work somewhere else?

Lily said...

Rhino,
You always say the "make money=evil" accusation, which never really summarizes the issue at least from where I stand. I don't typically make general statements like that. I go to Starbucks, too. Wanna spank me???

Do I think every company that makes money is evil? No. Do I think we would have innovation without profit ventures? Not to the extent we do, progress is a double edged sword, good and bad dynamics. Nobody is served by black/white thinking on business. Saying that there is a positive aspect of business or capitalism does not make every business positive, just as 'profit' is not fairly equated to evil.
We will save our communism/objectivism chat for another day though.
THAT said:
The difference with Wal Mart is with their particular cycle/model, they actually can cost local communities money, the costs get shifted to the taxpayer in the forms of UNREALIZED tax GAIN (AKA CORPORATE WELFARE!!!), social services, and a low taxable wage base. Often, they are lured to a community in need of jobs by a tax deal (ie, no taxes for three years) and this seems like a mutually beneficial deal. But financially, its not. Average taxpayers lose because we cannot live on their wages and would not work there but ultimately will pay for the sham.Wal Mart does not compete with business for labor, it competes with welfare. And welfare as you know, is now time limited. All Wal Mart needs to do is work on insurance avoidane, not wages, helped by Gingrich and Co. back in the nineties.

If I understand your position on business correctly, and I am not arguing that position, here's why YOU might think Wal Mart sucks even as a pinko-shunner:

-Corporate Welfare is anti-laissez faire, anti-capitalism. Subsidies are not 'free market'. You want free market to apply to the labor end of the equation, but it needs to apply to the business side too! Its counter-intuitive to apply supply/demand to labor but not to corporate subsidization. My issue is with "SELECTIVE CAPITALISTS" that apply their economic doctrines inconsistently. They use jobs as leverage to weasel out of taxes, and this costs the average taxpayer more, not less. They specifically benefit from 'big government' programs you probably disagree with, such as Vocational Rehab subsidization and other 'social'commie spending. Do you want to pay for a job coach twenty hours a week to help Johnny greet people, why not make Wal Mart bear the financial responsibility of training? Then there are the other hiring subsidies. I would say take less from the public kitty, more from Mrs. Walton.

-Wal Mart drives away small business owners, which is ultimately hurtful to communities and REDUCES business-community partnerships, which ends up costing government again. The local business owner is often a civic leader, donating to local charities and causes, participating in 'civic affairs', etc. Box tores have no such investment, and therefore the resources of communities shrink. Who picks up the slack? Government. Pinko's.

-Collecting art is not a crime. But muscling for legislation to reduce one's tax responsibility is a manipulation of an unfair tax code that I think we both agree should be thrown out.

-WalMart is a discriminating company, with practices unfair to women and minorities.

-WalMart specifically uses social service criteria to ENCOURAGE DEPENDENCY on social service and welfare. That is a good thing? More people on welfare?

-Once the local businesses are driven out, where is this competition you speak of? The idea of 'just go get another job'?

-And lastly, I typically don't get into family 'values' on this site, but if I WERE a conservative, I would realize that fair living wage translates into more stable family units. When a parent can be home with children, IF THEY CHOOSE, children and families can benefit. From a purely 'hourly wage' perspective, the more people work to pay living expenses, the less time they can spend nurturing values, character, reading the bible, watching the 700 Club, spreading anarchy, tree-sitting... WHATEVER your life choice because in America, we are all about liberty. Liberty requires some free time. Indoctrinating youth takes time as well.

I will concede that many bloggers just like to say "Bush sucks, down with business, etc." without reasons. But it is essneital that we have reasons, on every tiny position so as to avoid being caught by the looney virus.

Rhino-itall said...

Lily, ummm spanking is not really my thing, but if you like it, i'm in.

Your comments are very well thought out and i appreciate what you're saying, you seperate yourself from the average blog every day because you're not hysterical, and you're fair minded. I just wanted to let you know that i appreciate that.

I understand what you're saying about corporate welfare, but i don't see how you can blame that on Walmart. The system is in place, you said yourself they are lured in by local government with these incentives, and of course they take advantage of them.

I don't see how giving people jobs can cost the community more. Logic dictates that if these people had better jobs with health care benefits and more pay etc. they wouldn't leave it to be working at walmart. If they had NO job before, they were MORE dependent on welfare, not less. This seems like common sense to me.

As i have argued on this blog before, i think the tax code is an abomination. A flat tax across the board would be a solution in my opinion. No loopholes, no corporate tax breaks etc. But again, i don't blame walmart or anyone else for avoiding taxes within the law.

As for your other accusations, "encouraging dependency" "unfair hiring" i'm not buying it. I'm sure you can find statistics to back up your argument, i can find some on the other side. It's a big circle, i don't think we should go there.

The real issue with walmart as i understand it is that they're non union, and they avoid paying health care costs by keeping the employees part time. In return, they offer the lowest prices to the consumers.

Seems like a fair trade off to me, and since walmart is the largest retailer in the world, i don't think i'm alone.

Government can try to impose their will on Walmart, like they're doing in Maryland, but that will only force walmart to leave, or not expand in those states. That means no new jobs in that state. If all the states did it, that would force walmart to charge higher prices, and that wouldn't be good for anyone.

fosco said...

I am a believer in state's rights, and that is where I differ from many liberals I think. if you look at the disabilities issue, a small issue, it is a displaced form of welfare. Welfare is welfare, if its person, or a corporate entity, it is money being given from other people to redistribute resources along policy/ideology lines!!! This is not REALLY the purpose of government. Some say welfare is to help people, but it is not, people help people. Governments maintain peace. And make sure basic RIGHTS are protected. What is not a right, is not their role. The fact is that Wal Mart has the protected right to fuck anyone up the ass they wish. And they do. If you take away the right of business to fuck people up the ass, what happens? You take away gov's role in rights, their purpose, in exchange for fake feel good rules. It is not compassionate, all this crap and the feds do not care about being nice which is why they should be reeled in now! it is a tool for controlling peoples behaviors.Sometimes it is a tool for shifting costs from feds to states, and back. Sometimes it is a vehicle for exploiting a weakness in welfare laws and requirements. Welfare, corporate AND personal, interferes with free markets. Big government actually makes Wal Mart possible! Fuck the towns that lure them there then cry about their empty mainstreets. Educate your workforce so real industries are attracted. Don't sit in your trailer and wait for a casino or a Wal mart to open so your dreams can be fulfilled!
Let's try anecdotal silliness. I am mentally retarded and I am hired to get carts. My salary is a write-off and I have a job coach that makes 26,000 a year plus benefits plus administrative overhead, public dime. This job coach spends ten hours a week babysitting me while I 'work'. The alternative to work is not welfare, because being retarded is a lifelong condition and welfare as you know is capped and what I would be getting is Social Security, not welfare. I would get SSD. Federal money, versus the job coach paid by state money. The layer that people do not see in things like these corporate deals is the layer where funds are played around with, from state and federal levels. Now you might say who cares, cheap goods are cheap goods and tax money is money. And you might say Social Security sucks too.

But I oppose the way that the federal governemnt passes the big buck to the state through their regulations that actually create the need to raise taxes. They pass laws and regulations, like about how I am handled as a retarded person, but they do not pay for these top-down standards.

I think a conservative would favor state sovereignty, wouldn't they? We could get into education, and many other systems here.(No Child Left Behind Act) The concept of 'unfunded mandates' erodes state's rights. When conservatives support SCOTUS appointees like Alito who uphold state rights, they do so because a tenet of the conservative view is state sovereignty over federal.

Rhino-itall said...

I am with you on states rights, but i don't see the connection to walmart?
Maybe states rights/no child left behind is a subject for another post.
Or maybe i'm just confused and didn't get your point.

lily said...

I'm not hysterical? Tell Gisher on the thread about Impeachment up there! :)Oh thats right, I'm an idiot. Thank you, though. Encouragement can come from strange places.

This part:
"I don't see how giving people jobs can cost the community more. Logic dictates that if these people had better jobs with health care benefits and more pay etc. they wouldn't leave it to be working at walmart. If they had NO job before, they were MORE dependent on welfare, not less. This seems like common sense to me."

I have to think more about. I have to chew on this a bit.

Rhino-itall said...

lily i hope i never called you a idiot. if i did i apologize. i usually only call donkey and gadfly idiots, because i know them personally, and because well they're idiots.
Anyway, don't think too much, when i do it i get headaches.

Lily said...

Meaning, that our slaying of the wal mart dragon does not consider what people would do minus wal mart...but see, that argument is made to justify paying a third world peasant preschooler ten cents a day to sew Kathy Lee Gifford clothes too. Do you think that Wal Mart answers already in the form of the minimum wage? Good enough??? The rest constitutes liberal grunting?

You have me on one dilemma, I'll admit.
The healthcare matter might have to be treated separately. I think what some of us on the left are guilty of is yelling at wal mart because they do not provide health care because we juxtapose that with our desire for universal health care and we think that screeching about wal mart's cheapness is somehow related to that end when in fact, there are two camps: if you believe healthcare is a right, then you believe it to be the obligation of government then and not business. (Fosco made the point about the scope of government, DEBATABLE, to say the least-and if we agree that it is to protect rights, it would be impossible to suggest that the government contradict itself by taking AWAY the rights of autonomous business for healthcare, if that makes sense)

Government could never force anyone to provide insurance, so the distinction between rights and privilege is key here.

If it is a privilege, then you must concede that Wal mart can do as it pleases to avoid providing them. If the labor pool dried up, they might have to provide them to fill those blue smocks...

As a right, it is a matter for government and not private companies to be concerned with.

Thats what I am chewing....

Lily said...

No, actually I get called names more by the hippies than the nazis...A JOKE. Referring to the joke donkey made I think about Henry Rollins being Hitler, when he was mocking the way we call everyone Hitler... I thought it was funny, but it angered people. No, Gisher thinks I am an idiot because he says he is telling us a truck will hit us, and we stand there. He is at "Less People, Less Idiots". Apparently I went to sleep and did not answer a question in the comments on "Impeachment" or maybe he was asking TP, I lost track.

Rhino-itall said...

lily i know i'm going to catch hell for this one, but i'm anti minimum wage. i think it's a stupid law. That being said, check out this link.

http://www.townhall.com/opinion/columns/alanreynolds/2006/02/23/187536.html

Lily said...

Ouch. Right into my liberal heart. It burns...it burns...

I'll check it out. You cold rhinoculous.

Anita said...

I have absolutely no problem with really rich people being patrons of the arts. I think it is one of their many responsibilities to the community. No matter the motivation: Guilt, Vanity, Social Climbing, whatever. Even if they think it's their way into heaven. Fuck it. Our primary and secondary schools have been forced to cut their arts education budgets down to nothing. The NEA is constantly being hounded and beaten down.

Yes, the Guggenheims, (the original) J.P. Morgan, the Rockefellers, the Getty's or the Waltons are all in one way or another robber barons. But if what they do can bring a little girl or boy to dance class, allow a teenager to learn to discover themselves through poetry or painting or music, then hey, let's do it. And let's make them do more of it.

Lily said...

Rhino-

Those poor women who have to scurry home to make dinnr? See, I was reasonable until all that. Then I went pinko-crazy and started to spit at your image. (kidding)

What about a rebate for people who don't need the insurance? A bit of comprimise?

Of course I liked their plan to discourage lazy assed unfit people by giving them physical tasks to make them quit...that was sheer corporate brilliance...

Anita-
Rhino will probably say he's against the NEA. If damned painters can't peddle their wares, lets not have it be our problem... and NPR is rich as hell. They don't need fed charity.

He's so emotionally sterile. :)

Anita said...

Yeah, but what what else can one expect a damn Rhino ... such baby soft skin ... overly sensitive to be sure.

;)

wdhxm said...

Fosco, I certainly hope that you have discovered your "inner child" during these cold evenings ... hmmmm.

fosco said...

I oppose discovering yourself through poetry

Discover yourself out in the wilderness, not like a pussy. Anita I am of course joking, do not hit me.i disocver myself every night. Some call it poetry.

I think I got carried away on my walmart explanation and threw in too many ingredeints. I am just tired of walmartamartwalmart like there are no other problematic corporations.So she wants to buy a painting, why does that matter anyway. At least somebody will keep it safe and take care of it. who knows. Arkansas is the best place for art because who the fuck would ever bomb arkansas other than social darwinists?

Anita said...

oops, once again. wdhxm is Anita

Rhino-itall said...

ahh the scurrying spitting women.... now that is a rhino fantasy world..

I don't really have a problem with the NEA or NPR but if we start talking about cutting welfare programs, i think we should start right there. As for the schools, i don't want to get started on the voucher idea that i believe in very strongly, because i think lily is in NY and so am i and honestly, i fear her and her spanking talk.

Rory Shock said...

I think that painting sucks and that anyone who would pay that much money for it is an asshole, regardless of whether they are Wal-Mart assholes too, or not. It is true that she could buy it only because of the extent to which Wal-Mart fucks over workers and is shamelessly expoitative. So, the painting purchase does serve as a reminder of inequities and that redistribution of the Walton family wealth would be a worthy fuckin' mission. it would be nice to see Democracy brought to the nation of Wallmart workers ... Wall mart should be closed down ... it is a blight on nature ... Lily your comments are brilliant (not to neglect the others here which are impressive too)

Zelle Brennan said...

The point of the post was to highlight the irony of the art, celebrating nature as was its intention, and this 'blight'.

I suppose if people had a moral issue with Wal mart, their parking lot might not be stuffed every time I pass it.

I do not shop there. But like many morally subjective things, I do not deny others the freedom to decide for themselves. Ulitmately government cannot regulate morality, not for people and not for corporations. Now pollution and crimes are another matter but should be treated as crimes. Not giving somebody insurance is not a crime. Buying art is not a crime. But destroying commonly held natural resources is a crime. They need not receive corporate welfare though in their pursuit. No doubt they will charge admission as well to see it.

I think the painting is beautiful, I am in the Catskills and it is of regional importance.

The Mule Man of Manhattan said...

*COUGH*artlovers*COUGH*

Lily said...

Well...we welcome you, mule man...but it depends, downtown????

Donkeyhue said...

This is of no relevance to the discussion, but I found it funny. While at a dem nyc mayoral fundraiser, the candidate (no names, but the guy is a hot dog) made keeping WalMart out of NYC a key issue for his campaign and actually stated that New Yorkers, dont need cheap goods because they are used to a higher cost of living, and it was met by a roaring round of applause.

and the answer to your question is...open bar

lily said...

Aha! You knew my question! Free with the booze, those poor Dems, eh? Yeah, I've been to a few but years ago. I don't get into the city much nowadays and certainly am not involved in their politics like I used to be. Been years, because I used to take PATH into WTC.

I'm not sure what to make of that comment...

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