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Did Trump’s First Year in Office Inspire Great Art?

December 31, 2017 in Blogs

By Max Cea, Salon

The first wave of Trump-inspired art has not been good.

In a December 1925 letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway famously referred to war as “the best subject of all” for the way it “groups the maximum of material and speeds up the action and brings out all sorts of stuff that normally you have to wait a lifetime to get.”

Though at the time Hemingway had not published much — on war or otherwise — war would indeed prove to be a ripe subject for the author. The things he experienced and witnessed as an ambulance driver for the Italian front in the first World War would inform much of his fiction — most notably, his 1929 novel, “A Farewell to Arms.” The novel, Hemingway’s second, was written from the perspective of Frederic Henry, an American expatriate who served as a lieutenant in the Italian Army’s ambulance corps, was wounded and carried on a love affair with one of his nurses. It was Hemingway’s first best-seller and a book that his biographer, Michael Reynolds, dubbed ”the premier American war novel from that debacle World War I.” Of course, Hemingway’s successes be damned — whether or not war is the “best subject” is entirely subjective and will eternally be up for debate. But by classifying it as such, Hemingway was arguably hitting on something bigger: that extraordinarily bad times are rich material for great art.

But what about Trump? The election of Donald Trump to the American presidency being both symbol and harbinger of bad times was the catalyst for Salon dedicating a series to the question of whether bad times make great art at the start of this year. Now, as we near the end of Year One of Trump — a year that saw the empowerment of white nationalists, sweeping deregulation and unprecedented mendacity — can we say whether these bad times make for great art?

On a macro level, probably not — or not yet, at least. Though I’ve written several timesabout how 2017 has felt like a particularly strong year for cinema, the truth is …read more


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