I was saddened to hear about Tom Wolfe’s passing this week (May 14). The world has lost a uniquely insightful man. While Tom Wolfe’s fiction was wildly popular, and his many articles were amusing, frustrating, and thought-provoking (often all of these), it is his small tome “The Painted Word” that rocked my world the most.
I had the privilege of seeing Mr. Wolfe in person while taking a class many years ago at the University of Oklahoma. He had already donned his “Southern Gent persona” of white suit, tie, shoes, and hat. I remember being surprised at his slight physical frame. Somehow I had expected the author of “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” to be as large a presence as his characters. When he spoke, he kept one hand in his pocket and leaned on the speaker’s podium. He was relaxed and animated at the same time. It was a remarkable evening.
I didn’t agree with a lot of his political or moral musings, but I enjoyed reading his work because he always made me THINK – and often laugh at the same time. When I read “The Painted Word”, I finally realized why I was so deeply distressed and frustrated with the art “establishment” of the late 60’s. I wished then and now that I were wealthy enough to give a copy of this book to every young person aspiring to be an artist. It exposes what most of us know in our gut about what passes for “high art” today: the Emperor has no clothes. Or, more to the point of the book: unless someone runs before him explaining the nuances of his procession, people will initially assume the Emperor has no clothes. And really, he has no clothes.
Mr. Wolfe is quoted in several interviews as saying he had at least five more books being conjured “in the wings”. I am so terribly sorry he has left us before those could be shared with us. I am so sad for his wife of 40 years and his adult children and my prayers will be with them as they move through this time of loss. Mr. Wolfe is and will be missed.