Sunday, February 26, 2006

Art by the Masses?

Okay, so I’ve got this questions that has been nibbling at me for the past week or so. It doesn’t really have any “should we or shouldn’t we” vein in it at all. Just inneresting, s’all.

I was telling a friend about an exhibit I saw at SF MOMA in the mid-90’s. An entire floor was given over to video installation artist Bill Viola (who, I learned from the book I bought in the gift shop on the way out, graduated from my alma mater, Syracuse University), and every inch was essentially part of the exhibit. There was pointedly no map or signs. One long hallway was painted entirely black; midway down that hallway, another very narrow and also black hallway split off, such that you wouldn’t notice it was there if you didn’t look directly at it, and opened up into another piece in the exhibit. You had to explore, take chances, to see everything that was there.

And, the individual pieces were incredibly immersive. Entering one area through a narrow passage, you first see an assemblage of copper pipes and an old faucet directly in front of you. Turning right, you find a gigantic video screen showing the view of a live camera focused down the narrow passageway through the drip hanging precariously from the faucet; seconds earlier, you were the subject of the piece you are now viewing. There were giant video screen cubes to walk through, and an electric chair to sit in while watching a video of the artist sitting in that same chair trying to stay awake for 48 hours straight and occasionally being whacked in the head with a giant mallet that cues a deafening crash in the speakers mounted to the chair.

Just fucking fantastic stuff. I sat in the café after and wrote for a couple of hours trying to capture as much of my reaction as possible.

So, I’m telling my friend about it, and he notes that there was a time when there was a lot of this type of work going on, but not anymore. We kind of decided in this case that it had to do with the greater availability of the equipment needed to produce the work – hack artists teched out dulled the audiences receptivity for the style of work. Viola’s work was in a way more visionary because it was so difficult to pull off, much like Steven Reich’s early work with phase-splicing audio tapes was revolutionary because of the precision of the execution, but might not be so today when I can mimic the effect on a PC in less than an hour.

This had led me to this series of questions – Is the impact of a work of art with a medium diminished by the availability and ease of use of the tools of the medium? Is there an exchange between art and democracy when a process is made easier and the product more accessible? Does art have a necessary component in process? Is that which is too easily produced less for the fact it therefore had less time to evolve?

When I’m thinking about these questions of process and product, what I’m talking about is a kind of literacy – the basic knowledge of a medium that allows one to both consume and produce that medium. And, I’m all for democratization of literacy. The Canon is filled with dead white guys that lived at times when chicks and non-whites had less access to the literacy of the printed word – expanding written/read literacy is an important empowering move. And clearly one I support in every way. But, I’m just curious if there is a cost involved. I mean, is the spread of literacy partially to blame for Danielle Steele having a marketplace?

Really, the question becomes most interesting for me when we invoke technological literacy. Is there a higher percentage of bullshit online now than in 1994 because so many more people have access to and facility with various authoring tools? Aren’t there a lot more crappy short films now than there were in the mid-70s, before the personal video revolution?

Like I said, I’m not advocating for anything here, but am interested in establishing just what the negotiation is, though I’m wondering if there isn’t just a bit of elitism for artists at work, too.

Chewing…. chewing…. Chew along if you’d like.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

All Natural Kiddy Steroids!

I have a ton of homework I'm ignoring, but have to have to have to share this little bit of Bizarro world Babylon we live in...

Driving to school early this morning and listening to KJR-AM sports radio, trying to stay awake and stay between the dashed lines in the pouring rain, I suddenly really tuned in to the ad I was hearing.

"My fifteen year old doesn't seem as tall as other kids his age. Is there anything I can do?"

"As a matter of fact there is - HeightMax, the all-natural formula for promoting height growth in 12- to 25-year olds."

No shit. The site is right here.

Are you fucking kidding me? I mean seriously, are you motherfucking kidding me?

Hey, want to teach your child that there is a pill for every possible inadequacy? Need some training wheels for eventual dependency on performance-enhacing drugs of all stripes? Have we got a product for you!

Why am I not surprised the first (30-day trial) dose is free?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Potty Training Daddy

I have dreaded potty training since I first found out I would be a father. Not entirely sure why. I didn’t really have much of a clue as to what it entailed, but I was sure I would be bad at it and likely scar my child for life.

And I’ve always known that it would fall to me, if not the actual training period then at least the ramifications. Our original plan had been for me to be in school until my daughter was about two, at which point I would take over childcare so my wife could return to work. As it turns out, she was just past one when I became stay-at-home Daddy, but, with no real prospects for being the breadwinner that my wife is better suited to be (she has a Finance degree, I’m a writer, do the math), I knew that changed little. I’d still be the primary when potty training came ‘round.

And, actually, it may have made the transition harder. I’ve had time to get used to taking care of the diapered child.

We are deep in the training right now. After many fits and starts and much reluctance from both child and Daddy, my wife is, bless her soul, using her vacation to help out with, okay actually lead, the training efforts. We’ve had some accidents and victories already, and I’m sure she’ll get it. More cleaning and laundry than unusual for a while, but that is so much easier with my wife home than it would be if I was juggling this with the rest of my household responsibilities.

Really, I might be most leery of the post-training period.

Y’see, a child that uses a diaper is much easier to manage in public than one that uses the restroom, which means I have to plan our trips out into the world more thoughtfully than I do now. Used to be, we’d roll out to the playground, about a twelve block walk, any old time we wanted. Now, it must not only work around my housework and the child’s moods and my moods and whatever errands we have, but also her potty schedule, lest I want to be sprinting a stroller twelve blocks back to my house hollering “You can hold it, baby girl, you can do it!” all the way.

Yes, of course, we can use public bathrooms. But, even besides that fact that my daughter is already terrified of the echoing sound of flushing in restrooms, are you aware just how much dirtier men’s rooms are than women’s? This isn’t conjecture. I worked a number of my stepfather’s janitorial contracts in my teens, so I have had ample opportunity to compare and contrast, and men are pigs. We smell bad, our public hygiene sucks, and I’m not sure why people think men make better soldiers with the shitty aim we apparently have. I’m not looking forward to taking my little girl into such places, especially once she begins to recognize that she is the only girl inside. I remember how I felt being dragged into women’s rooms as a little boy, how emasculating it felt.

Those blessed places, like our local library and Qwest Field, that have family restrooms are suddenly going to jump to the top of our destination lists. I’m going to grow even more thankful for my association with places like Seattle Rep, where I can duck in with the child and find a clean and quiet restroom. Coffeeshops and stores that are closer to home will get privileged status. In short, our daily routines are going to be retrained.

I’m a creature of habit, and an advocate of the path of least resistance when dealing with the mundane details of daily life, and these changes are not welcome. Yes, I want to stop the endless parade of diapers through my life and into landfills, and I was really moved by the amount of pride my girl showed yesterday when she decided on her own that she wanted to go sit on the potty and then produced the tiny brown object of our training, but I’m resisting deep down inside, gritting my teeth and bearing it, trying unsuccessfully to chill out.

But it is tough. I know I’m whining, and it isn’t a big deal, and I will likely forget as much of the next few months as she will, but damnit, Daddy didn’t want to get potty trained.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Sexual Morality vs Sexual Education

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a questions posed by Stine in a recent TBO-hosted Spout Off on age of consent laws, namely that of sexual morality vs sexual education. The question arose from discussions of who is best situated to determine the maturity of adolescents, in which I sided with parents.

Depending on how you look at it, I’m not sure there is a difference.

From the point of view of a parent, it seems like sexual education and sexual morality will go hand in hand. It seems even on some level irresponsible to equip children with knowledge without also offering up a moral framework for how to use that knowledge (you don’t have to look far beyond our struggles with issues of technology to see the potential danger of moral/ethical development lagging behind intellectual development).

Really, how could we expect parents not to rely on their own moral compasses in teaching their children about sexuality? The question seems to hinge on how we feel about the moral systems being taught, and I can’t support any dictum to parents on what they can and cannot teach their own children.

And yet, it seems to me there is a public interest in having a sexually educated public. There is a social cost for unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases and even the psychological scars than can be created in children raised in sexually-repressive environments.

This is where I think the concern arises. If the moral systems parents’ teach require an incomplete sexual education, and there is a social cost to incomplete sexual education, then is there not a public interest in comprehensive sexual education? When the moral dictates of a family require abstinence-only education, and the results of such programs are higher incident rates of unwanted pregnancy and risky sexual behavior, how do we balance public interest vs privacy rights, and indeed religious freedom (because we can’t infringe upon the religious rights of fundamentalist Christians without tacitly approving the infringement of the religious rights of every other persuasion)?

If sexual morality and sexual education go hand-in-hand for parents, is it schools that take the responsibility for comprehensive sexual education? And what will the moral element be (because I’m not particularly comfortable giving schools a blank check for moral instruction, especially given the atrocities the Right could perpetrate with such power)?

Where exactly should the line be drawn in such programs? Does a comprehensive public sexual education include descriptions of fisting? Is it, should it be limited to biology? The procreative and disease-prevention aspects? How do we justify what is included beyond such considerations? How will homosexuality be addressed? What about BDSM or fetish? Because don’t the answers to those questions also indicate a moral education? Can’t we expect students to read the text of what is included and what is not included in a sexual education program as indications of what is “normal” or “abnormal”?

I see the value in the distinction – sexual morality concentrates on what you should and should not do, leaving you ill equipped to handle your own deviations from the prescribed course. But, other than encouraging parents to allow children to make their own choices, and to equip their children with the knowledge necessary to make good choices, there isn’t much we can do. If I have the power to tell a fundamentalist that they must teach beyond their moral boundaries, what is to prevent them from telling me I have to teach within theirs? Because, really, as much as it feels like we are doing the right thing, empowering people to make their own choices, we are really just applying our own moral system to the lives of others.

This is why the question interested me so much, because I think it pushes up against the liberal paradox. You can’t fight oppression by oppressing oppressors.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Dear Artists, Fuck You. Love, the Audience.

I’ve had this post, or something in this vein, brewing in me for a while. And, it’s rearing its ugly head now for two reasons: 1) TBO’s very reasonable request that my ass no longer appear at the top of my blog should he be looking at it at work (though, I have to say, hits have soared since my bottom made itself known), and 2) as a response to a comment from the recent Spout Off TBO hosted between myself and Hounderama, namely “if art's whatever you say it is, should ANYONE be paid to be an artist?”

My quick answer to the question, which I grant I am taking out of context and whoring as my own little point of departure, is NO, nobody should be paid to be an artist. The key to the statement being “should” – I have serious, um, what did that social worker ex-girlfriend like to say? oh, yeah, issues with that word. It is entirely acceptable, even highly desirable, that an artist may be paid, will be paid, but NO artist SHOULD be paid.

It can’t be art and be your job for the same reasons. If you are doing it, whatever it is, primarily to be paid, it’s a job, and if you are doing it primarily to speak or love or be, then it’s art. The twain may negotiate, but shall never meet.

And, when I step back and look at art from the side of the audience, or rather Audience (lets get archetypical), I want to say fuck you artists for not remembering, for too often disrespecting, this fact.

I’m sick of hearing artists bitch about apathetic audiences, about a community that doesn’t understand the value of art, about any variety of angle on “nobody gets me.”

Where is the magic time of artists paid to create work without regard for audience? From where springs any notion that the Artist SHOULD be paid? Art is a negotiation between artist and audience always. Artists earn the right to fail by engaging an audience honestly and without expectation, and only sometimes even then, and mind that failure here is not “disliking” a work of art, as value is gained when an audience hates in the right way, but rather failure is the inability to demand engagement. If an artist works to paid, finds some should in his work, the work has to be about the audience. If the artist renounces the should, works for another reason, it can be about the artist, and perhaps they will still get paid.

I just get the idea talking to some artists that they care fuckall for what audiences want, until it comes time to draw a paycheck. I think if you care fuckall about the audience you have to care fuckall about the paycheck, and can’t even really mumble under your breath “well, I SHOULD be getting paid, this is my work, I’m an artist.”

Having it both ways is such a rare and wonderful thing that you make it crass to have any sense of entitlement to it.

So, artists, fuck you for not caring about us, and still wanting our support. Fuck you for belittling our support for art you deem unworthy. Fuck you for thinking you have the high hand at this table.

And know, too, that when it all comes together, when you get us in spite of ourselves and you love us in spite of yourself, we will fuck you. As much as you want.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Time to Pay Up

Congratulations, Brandi and all other Steeler fans. You got yourself the Lombardi Trophy and my ass. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Putting My Ass on the Line

In case you needed one more reason to pull for the 'Hawks this weekend...

I have a good friend from college that lives in Pittsburgh. We worked together at Syracuse University, and I will always fondly remember the night she called in horny. "Yeah, uh, boss, I'm going to be having sex here in a minute, so I'll be a little late." Awesome chick.

Did I mention she is a HUGE season-ticket-havin', Terrible-Towel-wavin' Steelers fan?

We've been talking trash the last week by email, and today the wager was set.

The loser's ass will appear right here, on this page. Quite probably with a derogatory message about their own team Sharpied across the cheeks.

Alright, m'boys, let's do this. Mike, you owe me for losing with the Pack while a Broncos fan danced on my coffeetable. Lofa, baby, two picks, minimum. Matthew, oooh Matthew - three letters. M. V. P.

Or it's my ass.


Quarter to two Pacific.

Let's get it on!