I have a Gustav Klimt magnet of "Adele Bloch" on my refrigerator and "The Three Ages of Woman" poster stored away somewhere in my garage. A friend of mine in college had Klimt's "The Kiss" postcard hanging over her bed. Indeed Klimt comes in many shapes and sizes--more especially postcards, magnets, bags and t-shirts, tea towels, cups and posters.
Klimt once said that "art is a line around your thoughts." I love that quote. He might well have said art is a line around politics or can be--especially since it can help us understand politicians like Donald Trump. And no, for the record I don't have any posters of Donald Trump hanging over my bed or magnets on my fridge.
When we think mass appeal we think Gustav Klimt, not Donald Trump. What then do several famous gold-inflected paintings of Gustav Klimt and Donald Trump have in common when it comes to mass appeal, and how do they differ?
Is all that glitters ever truly gold?
Klimt was born in Austria in 1862. Unlike Trump thrice married, he never married; never painted a single self-portrait; and never claimed to be changing or revolutionizing art in any way, to make it great again--in fact he lived quite a solitary public life. (His private life which is well known he kept very private.)
It is ironic that much of his so-called erotic-for-its-time and criticized artwork was stolen and divided up amongst the several top Nazis, including Hitler and Hermann Goring. His "Adele Bloch -Bauer I", a gold painting was eventually purchased by Ronald S. Lauder for the Neue Gallery for 135 million--coincidentally the highest sum ever paid for a painting by any artist. I'm sure the Donald meanwhile has some better paintings.
Klimt is my favorite painter. What I admire most about Gustav Klimt is his ability to turn his suffering into beauty and strength - to become a better person, to inspire others through his art.
He knew suffering firsthand. As a child, Klimt lived at more than five different addresses, where his parents were always looking for cheaper housing. His father was a gold engraver. In addition to financial hardship as a kid, his family experienced tragedy and loss. In 1874, Klimt's younger sister, Anna, died at the age of five from illness. Not long after, his sister Klara suffered a mental breakdown. Klimt was twelve years old at the time. By the end of 1892, at age 30, he suffered the sudden devastating loss of his father and brother, which would change his life and art forever.
The loss of his father and brother profoundly affected Klimt--and his work. As a result, the pace of his work slowed down and he also began questioning the conventions of academic painting, which would lead to some remarkable paintings we all love and appreciate. All of his struggles and losses made Klimt a more compassionate man, a more empathetic soul. This shows in his art. With paintings like "The Tree of Life" he asks larger questions of humanity, forces us to be bigger than ourselves, to think outside of ourselves and to others.
In sharp contrast to this, when it comes to Trump and humanity we have a different story to tell. Could Trump ever truly understand suffering as most Americans do living below the poverty line? Or how about a strangled middle-class America suffering silently and struggling to keep its head above water?
Trump inherited much money from his father. Donald Trump is not the average person, never was and as Atticus Finch states, "You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them." I think Trump finds it difficult to stand in anyone else's shoes since he's so focused on his own--unless of course it's major hate groups related to the Ku Klux Klan the day before Super Tuesday where the entire clan, their hillbilly cousins, and their cousin's cousins will get to vote.
This past Sunday I listened to Trump speak before a 30,000 person crowd in Alabama. Trump rallied the crowd up nicely in anger--preying upon people's fears. The entertainer in him did not disappoint a crowd who came to see their so-called gladiator. "Is this now what you want?" I had to turn him off after four minutes. His rhetoric regarding Marco Rubio, his mocking tone, his negativity, his rousing the crowd in hate told me all I needed to know: this man is a piper, an entertainer playing his tune and leading a mass of oblivious and uninformed folks all the way to his supposed nomination in Cleveland (which by the way I still believe will not happen).
Klimt meanwhile in complete contrast silently understood how art, poetry and music have the power to make people truly happy and inspire--and that's how he inspired. He was also compassionate and kind to the poor. If I have learned anything from Klimt it's that we must lift others up at all times, not beat them when they are down; we must remain positive, inspire them, love them, and love ourselves - and never attack each other with messages of hate. We must leave our own egos aside. I understand this might be difficult for Donald Trump who enjoys pouring gasoline on people's fears. He hates criticism but like every bully thoroughly enjoys bullying others.
Donald Trump also believes in inciting hate and fear. He believes in telling lies and falsehoods, cheating Americans into believing he is somehow doing any of this solely for their good. And this makes him a weak man.
And where Gustav Klimt felt called to battle the sickness, greed and unhappiness in the world through his paintings, Trump chooses a different route. Trump's soul, identity and his machinations are on display in the canvas he currently paints--or will paint, if given a chance.
In short, there are no excuses for supporting racism. Why would Donald Trump pretend to be so uninformed, so ignorant of American history that he refuses to pass judgment on the Ku Klux Klan? As Joe Scarborough asks in his op-ed piece in The Washington Post, "what kind of facts could possibly mitigate a century of sins committed by a violent hate group whose racist crimes terrorized Americans and placed a shameful blot on this nation's history?" Indeed Joe Scarborough questions, "Is this what Germany looked like in 1933?" and "Is this how the party of Abraham Lincoln dies?" Scarborough raises the question we are all asking? How and why do we let this happen?
And speaking of Germany in the 1930s, we return to Klimt and his gold. In the essay, "Gustav Klimt: What's The Secret to his Mass Appeal?" we discover: "There's a sense of freedom about Klimt's work," and "an uplifting quality that people relate to." Apparently Klimt is golden, as is his work because everyone can relate to him.
What conclusions can we draw about Trump's popularity from this? In truth, if an uplifting quality reminds me of any GOP presidential candidate that would be John Kasich, and not Trump. Is there some freedom about Trump, some uplifting quality that people relate to? If yes, I don't see it.
The answer to this question of mass appeal for both Klimt and Donald Trump is simply that people like gold--literally and figuratively. Indeed, Dr. Alfred Weidinger, vice director of the Belvedere Museum in Vienna, which holds the world's biggest collection of Klimt paintings believes Klimt's appeal is truly global and golden.
If you haven't seen The Woman in Gold, a 2015 movie starring Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren, I urge you to do so where the Belvedere Museum is featured--as is the title painting, The Woman in Gold, Austria's Mona Lisa, as she was called. It's really a true story about lies, misperception, stolen identities--and gold.
In addition, from an NPR segment: "'Immortalized As 'The Woman In Gold,' How A Young Jew Became A Secular Icon'" we learn that 'Klimt titled the portrait simply Adele Bloch-Bauer, but when the Nazis seized the painting and displayed it in the early 1940s, they removed her name and called her "The Woman in Gold" instead. "They took away her identity," Stagg says. Without a Jewish name, the work became appropriate to show in Hitler's Third Reich. "So it is a betrayal on the grandest scale."
And speaking of betrayal, Donald Trump is no man of gold. But recently he has projected himself in public as so--or his followers have. According to John Oliver and his segment, "John Oliver Finally Goes in on Donald Trump," Oliver informs us that Trump's followers who they interviewed believe him to be "a man of gold," that he is "independent," "not beholden to anyone," and that "he tells it like it is."
And an intriguing article in Vanity Fair entitled "Why Donald Trump Will Always be a Short-Fingered Vulgarian," Graydon Carter informs us the difference between Klimt and Trump comes down to how they handle their gold. The fact that Trump uses a golden Sharpie to correct people about "the actual size of his hands," sends pictures and circles the photograph of his hands in gold, is as John Oliver states, " something that gives the passing appearance of wealth but is just a cheap tool."
Finally, Carter tells us, "Most people who own private jets include their initials as part of the tail number. Not Trump. On his campaign jet, a Boeing 757, his name runs from the cockpit to the wings--in gold letters,10 feet high." Think also of the Trump Towers signs in gold that hang from his buildings.
Again, Klimt never painted himself even once let alone paint his name in gold 10-feet high. Instead, he painted others painstakingly in gold leaf, which made him one of the most revered painters of all time. And while Klimt is painting every detail of these beautiful golden dresses he ironically pays no attention to his own attire--every day he wears the same brown worn-out smock and sandals. "There is nothing that special to see when looking at me." He was a humble man.
In conclusion, all that glitters is not gold. Donald Trump is no Klimt or Klimt painting. As the history of the painting "Adele Bloch" stolen from a Jewish woman and renamed really tells a true story about lies, misperception, stolen identity and gold, Donald Trump tells similar lies. You cannot seek to fashion an idol, a golden calf in the form of some God. The Israelites learned that. They sacrificed to the golden calf, bowed before it, ate, drank; they even enjoyed themselves in song and dance.
Unless you're Gustav Klimt and even then all that glitters is not gold. Hopefully a large percentage of Americans across the country will realize this soon--as the GOP primary heads north. We must remember that something overlaid with gold is just that, wood covered in gold and it can be burned just as easily as it was fashioned. Trump is merely a wooden Emperor self-dipped in gold with no clothes on.