William Quesenbury
A Defenseless Punching Bag?
From Russell Cushman

To carlosamantea@yahoo.com

Re: William Quesenbury

I am trying to research William Quesenbury, someone for all his faults, and failures, is worthy of study and in the light of his contemporaries, was no better or worse than them. Racism, alcoholism, bad taste and unschooled talent were common to the culture of that day. He made an important contribution, if for no better reason, because he was there, had experiences and provided illustrations. It is obvious from your description that he also had some fun doing it. He looks like a rather kind old grandfatherly gentleman to me. Are you really that offended by claims of hardship, addiction, or primitive talent? I think not. He is just a great, irresistible, defenseless punching bag, for your own political hates.

And although his drawings may not be "art" to you, his observations are valuable to us who are trying to better understand those times. "Art" is a very personal and ambiguous thing. I was drummed out of a university art program as a young man, because of my world view, and yet have made a living for the past forty years selling my works. Reformers who hated my beliefs tried to kill my life's work. That is what you are doing with this tirade. The obvious philosophical and political bias of it does nothing to give your cynical assassination of this man any credibility. You manage to flush "Tea-party" and such down with him. Tea party folks are not the haters you would suggest, and have nothing to do with Quesenbury or slavery or any other absurd parallel you have drawn.

You cannot study history and judge its participants with any wisdom if you screen them through your cultural bias before you even consider them. Jefferson, Washington, and thousands of men of their times were slave owners. They were deadened by a cultural delusion, wrong in their practices, but were no worse than you or me in ours. We had a terrible war to solve that inexcusable outrage in our culture. To drag it up and bludgeon poor mediocre Quesenbury just to stick a sharp point in my eye makes you small and untrustworthy with our history. Whoever you are.

While you ignore Quesenbury's passion as a picture-crafter, (if not an artist) and his incredible travels all over the west, in very dangerous and unpleasant conditions, not to mention the large number of people his fanciful landscapes (or whatever) entertained and inspired, in a time when there was no TV, not even a magazine stand on the corner, you hold him to a standard that he was not held to in his own time, when people were less sophisticated, and perhaps more easily impressed. Give the guy a break! You seem pompous, condescending and way too subjective to be doing book reviews.

Would you make fun of and disrespect the stick figures on Native American buffalo robes? The naivete of Grandma Moses? The borrowed commercial motifs of Warhol? The insanity of Van Gogh? The excesses of Picasso? Funny how almost any expression is legitimate except that of American anglo males.

Still, you have writing ability, but you could sure stand to dull your sword a little. Don't write to tear down. Create to guide this generation towards better understanding. Really. That is what pitiful, drunk old Quesenbury was doing. And because of that, his contribution will always be a legacy. We are not discussing somebody who didn't draw because he was average, didn't go because he was unmotivated, didn't aspire because somebody would rip him. He was a man of action, of courage and adventure. We are discussing a man, who breathed the same air that you do. With feelings and hopes and dreams and yes, even ethics, who made the most of his life. We would all do well to do as much.

My suggestion, unsolicited I know, is to write in the future... respectfully, as if you would have to face and defend your comments to your subject, aka victim, a living person. You can still not like what they do, and say so, but you might dampen your vitriol.

--- Russell Cushman
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