In Defense of Broad Brushstrokes
I don’t know how many times someone has accused me of painting an issue using “broad brushstrokes” — as if there were only one legitimate kind of brush, one legitimate kind of stroke. As if the narrow, small brush that renders the excruciating details of an issue were somehow the be-all and end-all of the intellectual arts!
In a culture exploding with so much knowledge, any attempt to forge a wide and easy, Montaigne-like style is bound to meet with skepticism. Our hyper-specialized knowledge industry spreads a prejudice in favor of a hi-resolution treatment and renders our intellectual life bi-polar; we veer wildly from loudmouthed and shallow journalistic bullshit to hyper-specialized, academic claptrap.
But compare the brushwork of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” which is so fine it disappears into smokey thin air
to the broad brushstrokes of Edouard Manet’s “Olympia,” which appears slapdash and crude only beside Leonardo’s.
Leonardo is amazing, but so is Manet, in his own way. And it’s Manet who forged a whole new and modern direction in art.
The point is: there are many ways to lay down paint, and there are many ways to paint an issue; each one shows us aspects of the subject closed to the other. And an accusation of using “broad brushstrokes” is not, in itself, a damning argument against a treatment of any issue.
The more important and interesting question is this: what does a broad-brush treatment reveal?