Chuck Close is an American artist noted for his highly inventive techniques used to paint the human face. He is best known for his large-scale, Photo-Realist portraits.
In 1988 a spinal blood clot left Close almost completely paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. A brush-holding device strapped to his wrist and forearm, however, allowed him to continue working. In the 1990s he replaced the minute detail of his earlier paintings with a grid of tiles daubed with colourful elliptical and ovoid shapes. Viewed up close, each tile was in itself an abstract painting; when seen from a distance, the tiles came together to form a dynamic deconstruction of the human face. In 1998 the Museum of Modern Art in New York City mounted a major retrospective of Close's portraits. Close has been called a Photo-Realist, a Minimalist, and an Abstract Expressionist but, as the 1998 retrospective proved, his commitment to his unique vision and his evolving techniques defy any easy categorization.
Topic: The contemporary artist on what it means to be an American.
Chuck Close: The thing that’s made America better than most other – The United States better than most – I can’t even call it America because there are lots of Americas. It’s the United States – Better than a lot of other systems, is our ability to tolerate ideas other than our own, our willingness to be offended for the greater good of a free and open society. That tolerance is what has made us who we are.
And I hate to see us retreat into a world in which we surround ourselves with people with whom we agree, who say things that we like to hear, and we only preach to the converted or talk to the choir.
It’s a real exercise in tolerance to have to hear stuff which you personally find offensive. And whether it’s the Nazis that paraded through Skulky, Illinois, or whatever, it was worth it. It was absolutely worth it. It was actually the Klan that was marching through that, I guess.
And sensitivity to other people’s feelings is one thing, and not trying not to be rude or injurious to somebody of some minority group, or whatever, is really important. But the more important issue for me is that we maintain this; you should be fearless about what you say. You should be able to say it without fear that you will have to pay the price for what you say. You have to take responsibility for what you say. But it’s really important that you have the right to do it, clearly.
And I wonder if we had to pass laws today to guarantee us what the Bill of Rights guarantees us; it wouldn’t make it through Congress. Miranda laws wouldn’t go through Congress. In fact, Miranda laws are very close to being removed. Some of the decisions of the Supreme Court now are saying, well maybe we don’t need to read the person their rights, and maybe we can take things that were said without a lawyer present, and we can use it against them. This is all that has kept us from being like many other countries that ride rough shod over its population.
Sure, an occasional guilty person is going to fall through the cracks if you have Miranda Rights and if you go by the rules. But do we really want to be like them? Or do we really want to stick to what makes us better than them?
Recorded on: February 5, 2009