Attempting to assimilate the all-in-all of what the Philly Free School has accomplished, artistically and socially, on the surface and in the depths of the American psyche (and, without support from mainstream media outlets, our accomplishments must function largely in the depths at the current time), I will attempt to explain, to those who might be receptive, what I feel is most salient in its individuality about us, against what has passed, in previous eras, for American haute culture and street life. In this way, we may move towards a realization of what PFS has the capacity to change in America, over long and short periods of time. The way in which the most high-maintenance art produced by PFS functions is against a backdrop of many centuries, rather than in the eternal, ephemeral present largely prized by American art before us. We, in our work and in our lives, accepted history, and historical thinking came naturally to us. We worked as artists to establish continuity with past eras, rather than to obliterate them, as was the tendency of Modern and post-modern art— Abby had French Neo-Classicism, I had English Romanticism, but we both copped to the instinct that, for high art, the twentieth century had largely been a shuck and jive routine. Yet we were working from America, in which the normative pressure put on individual artists is enormous to op against any dominating influences from overseas, especially from past centuries. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts are relatively liberal on this level, as I found U of Penn to be— and so having at least a moderate wind in our sails was not entirely unexpected.
Yet there are deeper issues facing both Abby and I, our work, and the forces which are bound to oppose us, in this country and elsewhere. The human race, as a whole, has a horrible time admitting this simple, profound truth: some human beings are just more gifted than others. Some human beings have gifts which most other human beings do not; have, in fact, extraordinary gifts. What we want to introduce to America (the “Death” in our dossier, so to speak) is the idea that those with extraordinary gifts should be given extraordinary opportunities, which (again) not all people will receive or deserve. Humanity, in its naivete, has attempted to forge (in the main) a society, both surface-level and subterranean, around a denial of extraordinary gifts, or giftedness— that everyone must receive roughly the same treatment, and become involved in the same games, often destructive, and pointlessly destructive ones. The harbinger PFS holds for America is that this now has to change. We may see, in this century and through our influence, the extraordinarily gifted— scientists, philosophers, higher artists, and architects— given pride of place over the American rank-and-file. The argument of PFS (take it or leave it) is that this is the way it should be, and that those sufficiently gifted should be granted time to develop their gifts in peace.
With the canon of Neo-Romanticism in tow, America may now move towards absolute parity with the countries of Western Europe. We also now have claims to a substantial national heritage, akin to their own. The fake idols, shallow goals, and adolescent mentalities of our past must also be a part of our present too— no one incision into any relevant sector can change humanity that much— but a start has been made towards redeeming the terrible blarneying excesses of the twentieth century, up until the Nineties. We also have the capacity to establish, if allowed enough influence in relevant sectors, a wholesome attitude towards gender equality, gay rights, and all kinds of sexual freedom, both in practice and in thought, for individuals. My essay from 2014, “Enlightened Elitism/Enlightened Classicism,” makes a point that all the peccadilloes associated in America with history-conscious artists— stodginess, unwillingness to participate in larger society, rigidity, blind hypocrisy against innovation— are not ones Abby or I suffered from. If we were enlightened, in Aughts Philadelphia, it is because we were active agents in the world we inhabited, rather than passive ones. We always chose participation over non-participation. And, as space had clearly been made for us in Philadelphia by father-figures wise-enough to understand what our gifts were worth (and who could’ve sponsored someone else), we made constructive use of our time to make our gifts active agents also.