25 Days: Pick Your Metaphor
When the bar is set at $68 million, the challenge is financial, but it’s also attitudinal.
At this level, we’re not dealing with money as we usually know it. This isn’t “street money” but something very different. It’s high-end art market money, which, as you know from our previous entry, is in a class by itself.
The Gross Clinic might well be worth only $48 million. Or it could be worth $88 million, or $108 million, for that matter. Even the increments are daunting (or devastating) in the high-end art market. It’s the nature of the beast.
Sure, we the people could deal with a $1 million challenge (as we did in the 1987 “Save Billy Penn” campaign). We could deal with a $10 million challenge, as the folks of Fort Worth Texas did to keep Eakins’ The Swimming Hole in their town in 1990. But $68 million?
To properly approach an amount this far out of our usual line of sight, we need an especially robust metaphor. Far too often, in the last 20 days, we’ve heard the “pie” metaphor. “It’s only so big,” we’re told. We’d be stealing from our other many pressing needs.
The pie metaphor takes us down a narrow, queasy path. If we are to make a sure-footed case for the painting, we need to reject the pie metaphor as short sighted and unworthy — as kleptocratic. But what will be our metaphor of choice?
When he discussed the virulent spread of ideas, Thomas Jefferson liked the notion that a taper, a candle:
…the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lites his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.
If we can embrace Jefferson’s taper metaphor and deny “The Kleptocratic Oath,” we will have embraced a powerful, positive attitude toward our community that considers all of our resources: our funds, our ideas, our leadership and our ability to think and act in big, new ways.
Now all we need is a handful of billionaires to believe we really mean it.