Visual art plays an important role in Humboldt: Or, The Power of Positive Thinking. The novel references many real works of art, such as Robert Indiana’s sculpture LOVE, Red Blue, Robert Frank’s 1955 photograph Trolley, Cyrus Edwin Dallin’s sculpture Appeal to the Great Spirit, and Raphael’s School of Athens. And numerous scenes from the novel take place in real art institutions, such as the Rothko Chapel, the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Tino Sehgal’s exhibition This Progress at the Guggenheim, and Marina Abramović’s exhibition The Artist is Present at the Museum of Modern Art. These last two exhibitions are particularly important as they reinforce one of the novel’s primary themes: love is performance art.
To give an example of how art is used in the novel, I’ve recorded a Soundcloud file. Here are the two paintings mentioned in the audio file, both of which are installed in the new American Wing of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts:
Washington at Dorchester Heights by Gilbert Stuart
Paul Revere by John Singleton Copley
As for other annotations that appear within this particular passage, the annotation about George Washington losing Revolutionary War battles reads:
If George Washington had been a NBA head coach instead of a war general, he would have been fired early in the Continental Army’s campaign due to his extremely poor won/loss record.
And the one about Washington not getting Thomas Paine out of prison reads:
During the French Revolution, notorious international hell-raiser Thomas Paine was a member of both the French National Convention and the Committee of Nine. When the Jacobins seized power, Paine and his fellow Girondins were arrested. Paine himself was imprisoned from late December 1793 to November 1794. While stewing in the slammer, Paine blamed his former friend George Washington for the delay in gaining his freedom. His anger boiled over in a letter to Washington, in which he hissed: “treacherous in private friendship, and a hypocrite in public life, the world will be puzzled to decide, whether you are an apostate or an imposter, whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any?” When this letter was published in America, it ruined Paine’s reputation. History has shown that the real culprit for Paine’s dilemma was not Washington, but rather Gouverneur Morris, who had a long history of political animosity with Paine. At the time of Paine’s incarceration, Morris was America’s envoy to France.
As for the joke about George Washington courting old wealthy widows, I ain’t saying he was a Gold Digger, but he wasn’t messin’ with no broke widows!
Phillips Exeter Academy is an elite boarding school in New Hampshire.
In The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons ranks the 1986 Boston Celtics as the greatest team in NBA history.