My atypical 4th of July Post

Usually on this day, American bloggers will write a post on the freedom and independence of the United States of America, about the men and women who have died to protect it, and how American democracy and values are super-important.

It’s not that I disagree–well, not totally–with that, but everyone does it. And I found something else I want to rant about from the art world. So I’m going to creep you out with this.

That’s right: my 4th of July post is going to be about photography of organs in water.

I’m not going to put any pictures here, in case you don’t want to see. But suffice to say, its gross, its disgusting, and I dare say it drives home my point on “art” far better than the stuff in the Smithsonian. I mean, just look at its “theme:”

Liquid Ground offers a challenge to dominant modes of presenting the body’s interior, by rejecting the celebration of gore and horror, and likewise challenging the clinical neutrality sought within medical discourse. Despite the potential for morbidity in the subject matter, the works become strangely compelling evocations of our visceral fragility and the entwined nature of our biological and cultural selves.

Then take a look at the comments, including my favorite:

I’m sorry, if I find that floating in the water, I’m not going to awed by “our visceral fragility” or “the entwined nature of our biological and cultural selves”..

I’m going to hurl and call the fucking police.

To the person who wrote that, thank you. You are a normal human being in a very crazy world. As for those who actually said they found it “beautiful,” well, you’re disgusting. And probably crazy. They’re not beautiful, they’re sickly looking. And don’t tell me art is “subjective.” I know that and accept it. But this is just human organs floating in water. That’s gross. And if you think its gorgeous, beautiful “art,” well, I’m not sure I want to associate with you, because you scare me.

Yes, I am harsh. But that’s the truth. Apologizes for creeping out your 4th of July.

Libertarianism at the Smithsonian?

The other day, in my eternal fight against the wickedness of writer’s block, I went to the National Museum of African Art to jog my senses. I figured it might do me some good, and it’s the last bit of the Smithsonian (other than the Aquarium) that I haven’t seen yet.

I did not seriously expect anything cool to happen. Sure, I like African art, it’s one of those areas which I don’t see more of, mainly getting western and Asian art in my face. (Case in point, the Freer Gallery of Art is about 90% Asian, with a touch of Egyptian–wicked cool–and some French artist whose name escapes me.) I just didn’t expect a “Wow!” reaction from some of the things I saw.

Ebony staff with golden top of two dudes (not that)
"Eat your veggies!"

But I did. The mask made out of crushed spider eggs and spider silk to give it good luck, the picture of the massive snake outfit used for dancing, and the libertarianism on the display in the foyer. Wait, what?

No, really. They have a staff on display with two people sitting on top, eating some sort of food (I betcha its not McDonalds.) It’s called a “linguist staff,” and was carried by royal translators to show their position, quite an important one considering the variety of languages found in Africa. What I found to be the most interesting was that the image was a proverb, and the proverb was: “The food is for the one who owns it, not for the one who is hungry.” I mean…wow. That’s a very libertarian thought, from a place that does not have very much libertarianism at all (and don’t bring up Somalia as an example, or I will beat you over the head with a captured oil tanker.) They were using it in the context of the royal throne, but it plays well to just about anything else. Do not take from others, they have spent their resources and time in order to obtain this food, why should have they put it to waste?

Unfortunately, it is not a thought that is prevalent anywhere in the world (except maybe Patri Friedman’s yacht.) Day in and day out we have “activists” and politicians and others saying we need to take more resources away from one group and give it to another, namely the poor. There are people out there chanting that there needs to be a right to food, ignoring that such a right would force others to cater to it, effectively becoming a form of slavery. Why work when your results will be taken from you?

Our world would be a far better place if we respected property rights. We wouldn’t have a need for so many police officers, or locks, or be afraid of walking out our front door in many American cities. People would be far more civil–and more charitable as well, I believe, because without some government agency redirecting money from one pot to the next, they would see poverty as something they had to take care of, and moreover, they’d have more resources to be charitable with. True, if you’re a cop or a locksmith, it might not be so great, but I think in this case, the good of the many outweigh the good of the few. (Not so much needs, as you can get another job.)

But, unfortunately, that’s a massive and indeed fundamental societal change that exists only in fantasy, for now. There’s a long way to go before property rights and individual liberty regain the admiration they deserve.

There’s also a long way to go before art stops being so damn silly.

It’s a caricature–based totally on truth, I think–of artists and art critics being snobs. Well, maybe just critics. But I hear a lot in art about this piece being a manifestation of the will to live, or showcasing the underlying tension between spirit and conformity, or some such garbage. I remember one piece, being three red lines on a white background, supposedly representing humanity. I really don’t understand how such abstract lines and colors can represent something as complicated as humanity. I would think a blood stain on some dollar bills would make more sense.

But I think we may have finally jumped the shark.

Err, it's supposed to be a backbone. I think.
What is this I don't even

Now don’t get me wrong. The art in this exhibit is quite amazing. If you’re in the DC area, I heartily encourage you to check it out. When I’m rich and famous, I might get some of it in my lunar palace. But there’s a distinct difference between amazing artwork and pretentious artwork.

See the picture to the left for an example. Supposedly, this is a spine, laid bare. “Whether this is the result of treatment or trauma, we do not know.” Already, you can feel its nose begin to turn upwards. It does not hit the maximum point, though, until this: that it “explores the unifying structure of the backbone as a metaphor for political, social and mental stability” in another piece, which is really not that great either–it’s a bunch of burnt canvas, which is visually impressive, but how it gets its message is, well, not something I know either.

My question is: how does the above “explore” the backbone? How does it do anything? It’s a bunch of plywood. Interesting to look at, but it does not create a metaphor, nor conduct any metaphysical explorations. Maybe this is my arrogant writer talking, but I don’t think art can actually explore these concepts, unless it has some written component. (Films, which are derived from screenplays, count.) You have to work through these concepts in order to “explore” them, which can be done with characters who act and then react to the world around them. Putting up a static, abstract image does nothing. It may look pretty. It probably looks weird. But being the “metaphor for political, social, and mental stability” is just a leap of illogic.

But maybe that’s just me. Perhaps I’m way off base. Perhaps I’m just not seeing the other dimension to this work. Possible, since here it’s just 2D…What do you think?

On the dangers of “Art”

Art is a funny thing. Many people chase after it, unhappy with their works because it is not truly “art,” and they are not yet “artists.” But what is art? Quite frankly, I find a lot of art to be crap. And now its starting to get dangerous.

In the literary and dramatic world, I’m sure a lot of people–or at least a lot of literary critics–would label novels like Ethan Frome and plays such as “Waiting for Godot” to be art. But what are they? Godot is nothing–I mean, literally, nothing. Some snobbish twits talk about how its about existentialism and how nothing matters and how life is meaningless. What it is is a couple of guys sitting around doing nothing and waiting for nothing. There’s no big philosophical discovery there, which you could only extract if you’re a believer in extracting blood from a boulder. And Ethan Frome–well, I’m sorry to use indecorous, unparliamentary language here, but its the only way to explain it properly–is one of the most boring piece of shit novels ever written, and I go further to add it is certainly the most boring piece of shit novel I’ve ever read. There is absolutely nothing of value in it.*

This is why I hate literary fiction so much, because in the pursuit of “art” and literary excellence, they kill any story that could possibly be written.

But at least that meant that “art” was only boring. I’ll take boring over this new tripe that’s coming in any day.

First off, we have a museum that has dedicated an exhibit to graffiti. Now, I wouldn’t be, prima facie, opposed to such an exhibit. Graffiti exists, its out there, you can study it if you want to. The problem with this exhibit is that it completely ignores the vandalism, property violation, and coercion inherent in graffiti, and just treats it as harmless “art”:

But the core of Art in the Streets is a timeline of graffiti history that snakes around the discontinuous walls of the Geffen Contemporary. In a show devoid of explanatory wall essays, the timeline provides the best insight into how Deitch and his guest curators Roger Gastman and Aaron Rose conceive of graffiti and its social and civil context. In sum: vacuously. The timeline picks out such allegedly memorable moments in graffiti history as the emergence of bubble lettering on the New York subways (1972), the contributions of subway vandals Blade and the Crazy Five in 1974, who did “more damage than any other crew in the 1970s” (way to go!), the first defacement of freeway signs in Los Angeles (1988), and the start of the sticker phenomenon (1989) that allows greater speed and thus wider geographical coverage. All of these developments are presented with utter seriousness and, more importantly, without the slightest hint that they are crimes, that they appropriate and damage property without permission, and that they destroy urban vitality.

Over the last three decades an uncontested body of knowledge has evolved regarding the poisonous effect of graffiti on neighborhood cohesion and safety. You cannot responsibly present a show on graffiti without engaging with this body of knowledge, if only to reject it. Even Banksy mentioned the Broken Windows theory of public disorder in his book Wall and Piece (he predictably mocked the theory). And his publisher, Random House, at least wanly tried to distance itself from crime, with the ineffectual disclaimer: “This book contains the creative/artistic element of graffiti art and is not meant to encourage or induce graffiti where it is illegal or inappropriate.”

But Art in the Streets has no response to the argument that graffiti is a scourge on cities, because it simply chooses to ignore any idea that contravenes its simplistic celebration of property defacement. I found only three highly oblique acknowledgments in the show of graffiti’s illegal and destructive nature. The timeline notes that in 1972 the Philadelphia transit system began the country’s first anti-graffiti initiative. The timeline also ruefully acknowledges that in 1989, the New York transit system declared victory over graffiti (though, in an effort to keep hope alive, the timeline adds that the system failed to “stop writers such as Ghost”). That these transportation agencies would even try to eradicate graffiti comes as a complete surprise, since nothing in the show has hinted that graffiti is anything other than a productive pastime and delightful urban amenity.

You call this "art?" (David McNew/Getty Images)

This is ridiculous. Are we going to start classifying dirty phrases written on bathroom stall doors as poetry? Really, now. Let’s completely forget the fact that a graffiti “artist” is nothing more than a vandal that forcibly imposes his or her “artistic vision” onto another person’s property, whether that property belongs to an individual, a family, or a company (just because a company owns a property doesn’t make the graffiti permissible, either, else you’ll open a huge can of worms that essentially makes anybody you don’t like lose all of their rights, which can just as easily turned back upon you.) It’s like if I chose to write a novel upon your roll of toilet paper. Now, I could certainly write a novel upon a roll of toilet paper no problem, but that’s your toilet paper, which you’ve bought with your hard-earned money, and, well, you’d kinda like to use it now, wouldn’t you? But I’m afraid you can’t, now, because it’s “art.” (Or I may end up letting you use it, with the, ahem, indescribable activities destroying my writing and calling that art. Which is still some kind of insanity, but doesn’t justify taking your toilet paper without your permission.)

And this is before we get to the very subjective opinion I hold that graffiti is ugly. I have seen only two or three instances of graffiti in my life that were anything other than “grody,” and those are questionable, as they were likely commissioned by the city on abandoned buildings that stood out right next to a big boulevard. (I don’t have concrete proof, mind you, but that was the most likely outcome.) Those obese, gaudy letters, shaking and quaking all over their anointed real estate, bursting at the seems to get your attention, more like being puked up there by a very sick individual. This part is, of course, entirely my opinion, but I don’t see graffiti as being anything other than that word I used: “grody.”

But at the very least, graffiti harms property, not individuals. Some forms of art do.

Take the instance of a young man stabbing himself to death at open mic night.

An Oregon teenager shocked a crowd at a coffee shop last week when he stabbed himself to death on stage after singing at an open mic night.

Kipp Rusty Walker, 19, took the stage at Strictly Organic Coffee in the town of Bend, Or. on Thursday to perform a song he called “Sorry for the Mess.”

When he finished playing, he pulled out a knife with a double-edged 6 inch blade and stabbed himself multiple times in the chest in front of a confused crowd of roughly 15 people.

“It was really unclear at first what was even happening. Because, you know, it is an open mic and it’s a performance,” the shop’s co-owner Rhonda Ealy told local television station KTVZ. “People at first thought it was some sort of theatre.”

Some sort of theatre.


And yet, this is where we are now, to where “art” or “theatre” is now a form of “death.” Now, I can’t say whether or not the boy in question killed himself in order to make a work of “art,” but the idea of death or killing being art is not unprecedented. I read a comic once, where the artist took over a spaceship that is effectively an art museum, and for her latest artwork decided to blow it up and everyone else inside. I laughed at that, thought it was funny, thought no one would do that in real life, hence it was funny…not so funny now.

If this is what art is being turned into, I want no part of it. Rather, I would like to just tell cool stories and make a lot of money. That seems the more reasonable, the more sane, the more ethical way of doing things.

*Unless you want to use it as toilet paper.