February 9, 2005

Two Comparisons via Diorama-Like Assemblages

Justin Katz

Only seventeen years old, and one Charlestown, Rhode Island, high school student already has the contemporary "no thought required" art world all figured out:

Jeffrey Eden devised his award-winning project less than 30 minutes after his high school art teacher asked him to express a thought or two in a three-dimensional way. ...

The student's diorama-like assemblage juxtaposes Hitler quotes with statements by Mr. Bush, Nazi swastikas with American flags, desert-colored toy soldiers with olive plastic figures. And so on.

He's got the Rhode Island education establishment figured out, too. Apart from an A from Lynn Norton, his teacher, Eden took home a "silver key" at the Rhode Island Scholastic Art Awards, and the work, "Bush/Hitler and How History Repeats Itself," is on display at the Seekonk, Massachusetts, Alperts Furniture Showplace. And to cap it all off, he's gotten art-world manna: publicity.

The man who "phoned TV stations and newspapers to complain about a high school student's art project" has gotten publicity, too. The Providence Journal begins its follow-up article by reporting that a "few of Paul Lewis' friends called him an 'angry Republican' yesterday." By way of contrast, the grownups who've pushed young master Eden into the spotlight haven't anything to say — teaching our state's youth another important lesson about the liberal strongholds of education and art:

Leaders of the art association refuse to identify the three judges who picked the project entered by Jeffrey Eden, a junior at Chariho Regional High School, to be one of the winners in the three-dimensional category.

Mary Wayland, who chaired the awards committee, and Christine Mullen, a teacher at Mt. Hope High School and president of the Rhode Island Art Education Association, say they want judges to have the freedom to make decisions without worrying about a public outcry.

No explanation of opinions is required. Standing up for principle isn't the job of the fifteen "teachers and professional artists." Even Ms. Norton doesn't step forward to edify the public about the work's merits — or defend the A that she gave it. Instead, the initial article saved that space for Jeff Eden to illustrate his further mastery of the artist's empty-nuance dodge:

He thinks they show that the work is comparing Hitler and President Bush -- not equating them.

"I felt I was clear about what I was trying to get across," he said. "I believe those who misconstrued the artwork didn't take the time to really read into it."

Those who do take the time to do some reading would discover the following:

To the right of President Bush, Eden's handwriting said "No justification" and "Saddam had no affiliation with the Taliban and there are no weapons of mass destruction."

We can only speculate that the fact that nobody has ever cared whether Saddam was affiliated with the Taliban was the reason Ms. Norton withheld the "+" from the grade. Or perhaps the artwork is brilliant after all... if its point is that one needn't be concerned with facts while making facile "comparisons" of the sitting President of the United States to one of the greatest monsters of the twentieth century.

Either way, there are at least sixteen adults who would be well served by the multipart educational supplement that Rocco DiPippo suggests for the seventeen year old. Perhaps during the "hour of post-liberation death camp videos showing the bodies of Hitler's victims being bulldozed into mass graves" one of the professional artists could contrive a "diorama-like assemblage" comparing bitter New England liberals with Iraqis dancing in the street and crying for joy at the opportunity to vote.

Of course, the desire of the former to secure the "freedom to make decisions without worrying about a public outcry" has meant that one side of the juxtaposition would be faceless. Luckily, the other side would have plenty of pictures, even though they were provided at the risk of their subjects' losing the freedom not to be decapitated.

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Got here via Michelle Malkin. Didn't see it in the Journal, since I only go there for two sports categories, sailing, and URI basketball, as pathetic as that is now.

I hope the people of CHArlestown, RIchmond and HOpkinton are proud. For those who don't know, those are the three towns that are served by the regional high school. You're on your own looking up the addresses of the town governments.

I had to find our local atrocity here in Baltimore on the internet yesterday. The radio news when I got up was about Mayor O'Malley (Dem) complaining that Gov Ehrlich's (Rep) people were spreading rumors that he was cheating on his wife, and that the Gov had fired someone over it (O'Malley should be worried, his father-in-law is the attorney general). It wasn't 'til I looked at some blogs that I found out O'Malley had compared the cuts to federal funding Baltimore in Bush's proposed budget to the 9/11 attacks. Up until now, I'd thought he was OK for a Dem (and squeaky clean by Providence standards)

Posted by: steevil (Dr Weevil's bro Steve) at February 10, 2005 6:58 AM

looked at the post again. It's telling that the Alperts store with the display was in MA. Most business' managements have the sense not to go out of there way to alienate potential customers, but apparently there are so few Republicans in MA that businesses feel safe in doing so.

BTW, if the kid had been punished for his project, that would be equally atrocious. I think the appropiate treatment would have been to hand it back, saying "this is art class, not politics class, you've got x weeks to hand in something else".

Posted by: steevil at February 10, 2005 9:57 AM

Who says that our education system isn't doing the job? Where are this kids parents? Doesn't somebody have the cajones to stop this crap. Blue state BS.

Posted by: Tim Smith at February 10, 2005 12:19 PM

Tim...where were his parents?

Where do you think young Jeffrey got his ideas and then the materials to make his 'art'?

I'll bet little Jeffrey got the materials from his folk's double-wide: the swastika flags and stickers off of Pa's dresser; the tattered American flag off of the burn-pile out behind the woodshed; the Hitler quotes from the signed copy of "Mein Kompf" on their family coffee table, etc.

Posted by: Robbie at February 10, 2005 5:00 PM

OK, what happened to "Zero Tolerance"? I see lots of little plastic "guns" there. This kid should be suspended like the girl with her butter knife, the boy with his plastic knife, the boy with the gun shaped necklace. Where are the GFWs when you need them??

Posted by: ron at February 10, 2005 8:08 PM

Good catch, Ron. If the kid had had toy soldiers and guns in a diorama favorable to Bush, that's probably what would have happened.

Posted by: steevil at February 11, 2005 7:09 AM

Parallels between Bush era and Nazi era are incontrovertible... really.

D in Art, A in History.

Posted by: Yuri6 at February 11, 2005 4:39 PM

I agree with Yuri 6. The history is out there for all to see if they read about the beginnings of WWII. But shame on the RhodeIsland school system if this is conciderred good senior level art , or shame on the judges for picking a mediocre peice of art for the politics over good art , but then again , one of Art's roles is to provoke social comment and , by golly, that is what is happening . So maybe I should take my words back and say that no matter how sophmoric the attempt was it did accomplish its goal. Progress not perfection is a good creedo to go by. To the artist, look to your faults to find yout strengths

Posted by: Mary Marx at February 11, 2005 5:11 PM


You and Yuri, with the assertion that "parallels between Bush era and Nazi era are incontrovertible" (which is only true inasmuch as it is left vague), have proven that you're wrong even in your assessment of the work's ability to spark conversation.

Nobody's talking about whether the slander is true. Instead, we're talking about the infantile state of the arts and the intellectual churlishness of the art and education establishments in Rhode Island. As I suggested in this post, if those were young Jeff's targets, then his work is brilliant.

Somehow, I doubt that's the case.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 11, 2005 5:26 PM

Well I'm talking about if the 'slander" is true.

Isn't that what the controversy is about? If we are only talking about the art I've given it a C.

Why, if the case is one of the quality of the art, are we talking about reeducation using the all purpose holocaust instead of sending him to a better art school? Maybe he'll meet Prince Harry at the reeducation camp. Contacts, always important for a young artist.

In it's ability to spark conversation I agree, it gets a "A" or "brilliant", regardless of intent.

For specifics as to parallels.
Hitler was not elected, neither Bush
9-11/ Reichstag
Patriot Act/ Enabling Act
Invasion of Iraq/ Invasion of Poland

The above is subject to assigning weight of course, as is most art.

If we want to reeducate young Eden we should include all holocausts, Operation Keelhaul, Deir Yassin, the US in Central America, even Eisenhower's Death Camps and the Jewish run camps in Poland detailed in John Sack's Book "An Eye for an Eye". In fact such a reeducation has the ability to produce some truly thought provoking art.

Posted by: Yuri6 at February 11, 2005 5:57 PM

I question the efficacy of spending additional time on this, but the controversy isn't over whether the slander is true. Your specifics illustrate that there isn't sufficient agreement about reality between us for controversy to be worthwhile. Neither is the controversy about Eden's artistic abilities.

The controversy is over the fact that this thoroughly unimaginative and undaring (in Eden's milieu) piece was granted an award in a statewide art competition. It is only "brilliant," therefore, if its point was that unimaginative and undaring work could be award winning in an artistic and educational establishment blinded by political hatred.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 11, 2005 6:43 PM

Who are you kidding? This is mainly about politics.

Your barely talking about art in your post. Your talking about 'bitter new England liberals', Sadaam, the Taliban, and dancing Iraqis and you say that 16 adults would be well served by holocaust 'reeducation'.

Oh you talk about art, but only when I bring up history in regards to the creepy idea of reeducation.

Art? Only 30 minutes were given to express what was on this 17 year old kids mind. Did he fulfill the assignment? Yes? Well then at least a C. After all the politics don't matter. Perhaps if he had been given "x weeks" he might have done better. What materials were available for this project? Was it creative use of the materials given 30 minutes? What did the other students produce? I'd like to see. Is the class graded on a curve? Those questions are not addressed.
Daring? No, it's not that daring to expose yourself to a nationwide slamming between those who firmly believe in the phony Left /Right Blue /Red ... because it is only a kids art class project.

Posted by: yuri6 at February 11, 2005 11:53 PM

I didn't say that it isn't about politics. I said that it isn't about either the subject of the piece (Bush v. Hitler) or the artistry of the piece. It's about the inanity of the adults who let their adolescent politics raise the piece, undaring in its milieu, from art class project to statewide award winner.

And one of us is misunderstanding the piece's genesis, because I got the impression that "devised" means "came up with the idea," not "finished completely." If you're correct that Eden threw the piece together in 30 minutes, then I'd suggest that it's even more scandalous that the piece one a statewide competition.

As for your view of "holocaust 'reeducation'," I'm almost curious to ask your opinion of the history. Did it happen? Did the Jews deserve it? To say the least, you must think it less calamitous than I if you believe that anything that the U.S. military has done during the war on terror is even remotely comparable.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 12, 2005 8:16 AM

Of course I think it happened. My father was in two Nazi controlled camps. I also have diaries in my possession detailing the American death camps along the Rhine which operated after the war, during the Nurnberg Trials for pity's sake. The irony has not escaped me.

Did it happen as popularly portrayed? No, certainly not. The story is full of holes but the list of debunked stories and unanswered questions is too vast to post here. It has been leveraged to justify, well, whatever is handy, and similar goes on today.
-->> http://emperors-clothes.com/milo/freezer1.htm#film

Did the Jews deserve it? Why Just the Jews? Do they own the Holocaust? Did anyone deserve it? Collective punishment is always wrong.

Calamitous? I suppose it depends on what you believe, if it happens to you and yours it's pretty calamitous. Ask the American Indians, the citizens of Hiroshima, Fallujah, Dresden or Deir Yassin.

Regarding the artwork my previous questions still apply and need to be included in the milieu. I don't know, is Jeff Koons worthy of his status?

This piece squarely fits into the genre of political cartoons. When is a political cartoon criticized or censored for the quality of the line? Hence, I don't think in this case it can ever be separated from the politics. Do you think, if this was a truly fine piece of art with the same message, that there would not be attempts to remove it?

Pieces have been removed from eBay, there is the "Bush Monkey" which was removed when the manager saw it the shows organizer said that "this manager saw the piece and the guy just kind of flipped out. 'The show is over. Get this work down or I'm gonna arrest you," We all remember the Dixie Chicks, that was all about the music? How about the Israeli ambassador's actual physical attack on Israeli artist Dror Feiler's exhibition in Sweden? And of course the original complaint about Eden's work was registered because Lewis sees zero relationship between Hitler and Bush.

Regarding the general state of art education and appreciation in the US, we apparently have little to disagree about, but much depends on the teacher. I agree that the teachers should give an explanation, of course, they owe it. They should not be cowed by fear.

Well, I'm about done here. I'll check back, but I think I have said all I needed to. Thanks for providing the forum.

Posted by: yuri6 at February 12, 2005 1:11 PM

Below a reply from Alperts to a email I sent them saying they lost a customer.


I am in receipt of your email of February 8 and would like to note that the very first amendment right which allows you to send this message to us is all that we are trying to protect. As Voltaire, the famous French philosopher said, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Alpert’s was not supporting the piece of art in question but rather the right of the artist to state his views. The right of free speech and free expression is the cornerstone of American liberty; and while I personally do not approve of the artist’s views, I will defend his right to express them.

Incidentally, this piece of art was one of 208 pieces done by artists 12 – 18 years old which were being exhibited for a period of 2 weeks in our store as a courtesy to the Rhode Island Scholastic Art Association; and we would have to had to close the exhibit rather than single out this one piece of art not to be shown had we succumbed to the pressures placed upon us. Since we were doing this as courtesy to the Rhode Island Scholastic Art Association and The Providence Journal, we did not feel that it was our place to censor this art.

Alpert’s receives no financial benefit from exhibiting this art and has exhibited art for the Rhode Island Scholastic Art Association award winners for 4 years as a community service. It is our intention to continue this service. I hope this explains our position.

Hershel Alpert



Posted by: Hammer at February 13, 2005 7:06 PM

Tim...where were his parents?

Where do you think young Jeffrey got his ideas and then the materials to make his 'art'?

I'll bet little Jeffrey got the materials from his folk's double-wide: the swastika flags and stickers off of Pa's dresser; the tattered American flag off of the burn-pile out behind the woodshed; the Hitler quotes from the signed copy of "Mein Kompf" on their family coffee table, etc.

Not true at all. Personal friend of the family, take it up with me. chargernatic06@yahoo.com

Posted by: Joey at February 13, 2005 7:23 PM

The laundry would like to know where this kids parents are as their burkas and towels are ready.

Posted by: Hammer at February 13, 2005 7:41 PM

I apologize for taking so long to offer this administrative note, but I think folks should make an effort to remember that — as Joey proves — these are actual people. The reality of the New England atmosphere is such that a teenager's repetition of MoveOn's inanities is only minimally revealing when it comes to the parents.

First of all, liberal tropes have wider currency around here. Indeed, the "suspect" families are those, such as mine, that are somewhere to the political right of Lincoln Chafee. And at any rate, kids of that age rebel. The Edens may be Left-wingers. They may be largely apolitical. For all we (often anonymous) Internet commentators know, they could be Republicans.

I should have offered this note more quickly after Robbie's comment, but I advise everybody to make a practice of writing under the assumption that the subject will read what you've written... and imagining that he/she/they would know who you are.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 13, 2005 8:14 PM

I think there's a big possibility that Teach or Mom and Dad helped him out a little. I can't or at least don't want to believe that the school keeps Nazi symbols and toy soldiers in the arts and crafts supplies cabinet alongside the glue and popsicle sticks.

Posted by: mjh at February 13, 2005 9:13 PM


Well, I don't think many people "keep Nazi symbols" around. Considering the ubiquity of computers, however, and the low cost of toy soldiers, the materials of the project aren't exactly hard to come by.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 13, 2005 10:28 PM

"Well, I don't think many people "keep Nazi symbols" around."
I don't know, where would you look for them?
Smear the family of Eden based on nothing. heh?


Posted by: yuri6 at February 15, 2005 12:50 PM

Letter written to Ms. Norten (Art Teacher)

You may think you're being a "hip" teacher by awarding a misinformed student an "A" for regurgitating left-wing quotes. You may think there's some "truth" to this unoriginal display of supposed art. If you do then you're even more misinformed then your student.

My grandmother lived her first twenty years under Hitler's rein, and I don't think she would be too happy seeing a comparison of the two gentlemen being displayed. A comparison between Hitler and anyone other than Stalin, Mao, Kim Jong Ill, or the Kmer Rouge (to name a few) would wreak of ignorance. I can understand the ignorance in your student, but to reward/encourage ignorance -- even if it is in art class -- is a far more greater wrong.

Yes, your guy didn't win the big election, but here's a suggestion: if you want anyone to respect your point of view , as left leaning as it is, please have some iota of history on your side.

Posted by: KTC at February 16, 2005 5:32 PM

Has anyone thought that there just may be a possibility that this boy just gave his own opinion and not his parents, come on, USA, the one government in the world where you can speak your opinion ,HMM, I thought free speech was a rite that we all have. We don't have to agree with anyones beliefs. Something tells me protest songs of the sixties got the same reaction, of couse it is a touchy subject in this time of war and these leaders depicted have shaped the world forever. I don't feel the parents,art teachers,history teachers,stores or anyone should recieve the grief they have taken over one boys opinion. By the way, I try to teach my children to speak their mind and stand up for their beliefs,kudos to his parents.

Posted by: pb at February 16, 2005 9:04 PM

Well, there might just be that possibility, though many that age are helped along. I teach my children the same thing but there are often consequences for speaking out on controversial matters. The critics also have their right to dissent. I don't think there's been enough information about Eden's parents to award them kudos, one way or the other.

Posted by: allen at February 22, 2005 8:50 AM

wow you people dont even no what your talking about. Jeff eden is one of my friends an goes to my school. You dont understand what he was trying to say in this project. He wasnt saying that hitler and Mr. Bush are the same at all he was just comparing them for a school art project. He didnt ask to be put online and have things posted about him all over, all he was simply doing was making a art project. Yeah he won and now a big controversy has started but you have to find out the facts before you start saying things because he parents didnt have anything to do with it, our school dosent keep nazi symbols or little plastic guns and the art teacher gave him an A because it was a good project. He said what was on his mind an now on accident he has gotten his point across.

Posted by: red rider at September 14, 2005 10:06 PM

That we are to stand by the president, right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.
~Theodore Roosevelt

Posted by: Doesn't Matter at September 18, 2005 8:14 PM