Portrait of an Artist - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Portrait of an Artist

I recall thinking after reading Paul Johnson’s Modern Times that if I could remember everything that was in it, I’d never have to read another book again. Not only is it a grand history of the 20th century, but along the way Johnson slaughters just about every liberal sacred cow in existence. But I couldn’t remember it all, so I go on reading and rereading.

Now Johnson has agreed to write a monthly column—London Calling—for The American Spectator. Our readers should be overjoyed by their good fortune, as our new columnist is one of the great historians and writers of our time. And we, those who publish and edit The American Spectator, are overjoyed by our good fortune, as adding Johnson to these pages reassures us that our little magazine is at the very apex of American opinion writing, and reinforces our conviction that we provide readers with information and insights they’re not likely to find anywhere else.

The topic Johnson has chosen for his first TAS column—portrait painting—is indicative of his breadth of mind. Johnson not only writes about art, but he is an accomplished artist as well. When I visited him in London several years ago he offered me, as I was leaving, a choice of one of his books or one of his paintings. Thinking that carrying a painting back to Washington might be difficult, I chose the book. It occurred to me only later that I could have easily purchased the book in any bookstore, but the painting would have been a unique possession (although the book he gave me—The Quest for God—I would recommend to anybody whose faith needs a boost).

Among Paul Johnson’s many books is Art: A New History, often described as a provocative (as is Johnson’s wont in all that he does) look at art through the ages. Johnson believes that art is essential to man’s wellbeing, and in his column this month he wastes no time telling us that the 20th century was a catastrophe for fine art, and that we are living in a wasteland “dominated by the most brutal form of commercialism, ephemeral fashion, and cynical abuse of talent.” But there is hope. It comes not from Johnson’s Britain or from Europe, but from the United States, at least partially from the efforts of one Charles Cecil. The result, according to Johnson, is that art has become a joy again instead of an exercise in fraudulence. Provocative indeed, and we are delighted he is now an American, rather than Brit, Spectator.

On the subject of Brits and Americans, let me call special attention to Jim Piereson’s compelling essay-review of Masters and Commanders, a fourway biography of FDR and Churchill and their respective military chiefs of staff, Gen. George C. Marshall and Gen. Alan Brooke. World War II has been the subject of more books, novels, movies, memoirs, articles, and television specials than virtually any other conflict; one has to wonder what else there is to say. But, according to Piereson, British historian Andrew Roberts (a contributor to TAS as well) has dug up much new material, and tells his story in a graceful writing style that clarifies “one complex debate after another over wartime strategy.”

Don’t think for a minute that we are neglecting politics; readers can count on our incessant critique of the current administration’s attempt to move the country as far to the left as it can get away with. We offer plenty of that with this summer issue, not the least of which is our own Philip Klein’s eluci dating demolition of the myths that are driving the health care debate, which, if conservatives don’t pay attention, will lead in short order to the European ization of the best health care system ever known to man.

One has to wonder just what the proponents of this madness have in mind, but one can assume their agenda involves more than just providing health insurance to the uninsured. The ideology of the left, the ideology that has captivated so many otherwise intelligent people over the past century or so, continues to do its damage wherever it erupts. Talk about ugly portraits.

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