Call me a snob, but I like my leaders to be worldly. I like to know that they are interested in culture and the arts, beyond the narrow confines of policy-making. So when Michelle Obama dons an Alexander McQueen dress for last night’s State Dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao, to me that choice is more substantial than just style. It sends a message of sophistication, of interest in current trends and global culture. It suggests an attitude that might translate into policy. A First Lady who takes a risk on an outré British fashion designer (hear this DnA segment about Alexander McQueen, when he took his life last year) might also consider taking a risk on new or different approaches to healthcare or to energy or industrial policy – or at least encourage her spouse, the president, to do so.
Conversely, when House Speaker John Boehner fails to even show up for the state dinner last night, not to mention two previous state dinners, that suggests to observers, especially those raised in foreign countries like myself, not only bad manners but an utter lack of interest in the rest of the world. Boehner may have had perfectly legitimate reasons for not attending, like allergies to fine wine and the best china. He may detest Obama and prefer to do business with his Chinese counterparts in private meetings. But why would he choose to miss an opportunity to meet such incredible creative talents as actor Jackie Chan or musician Herbie Hancock or fashion designer Vera Wang, all on the guest list? Mingling with such people might take him out of his comfort zone, and into worlds that might enrich his unnderstanding of other cultures and people that stand to be affected by his policy choices.
In sum, style matters.
On a related topic, the very night the Chinese premier was being wined and dined in Washington, new Chinese culture was getting a splashy welcome at opening parties for the just-opened Los Angeles Art Show, taking place at the Los Angeles Convention Center through January 23rd. DnA associate Olga Khazan was there, and witnessed the display of Chinese acrobats and actors performing as part of a theme to celebrate Asian artists, who are heavily represented at the wide-ranging show. Local lights Shepard and Amanda Fairey hosted the after-party. In terms of the art, Khazan reports that “installations range from mixed-media to traditional paintings to optical illusions that look like giant holes in the ground. On view through the 23rd, it’s definitely worth seeing, as long as you have several hours to spend just saying, “wow.”” Above, Alex Guofeng Cao, stands in front of one of his gigantic images of celebrities. Each teeny pixel is a tiny replica of a photograph that has a connection to the star. So Jackie O’s face is made up of a photo of JFK duplicated thousands of times. Marilyn Monroe is made up of multiple Mona Lisas.