Tuesday, August 28, 2007


We have art in order not to die of the truth.

-Friedrich Nietzsche

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hail to the Chief

Here’s what a Baghdad schoolteacher had to say to Bush after this morning’s news of civilians dying in Iraq and Afghanistan:


Sir Bush,
Each time I see you on TV, waving and smiling, I start imagining that I am asking you,”Do you watch TV? “What is your favorite show?"

I wonder if you watch the news everyday, the reports about your ‘democracy’ in Iraq, the progress and stability you have given to Iraq. You speak to your military ‘heroes’ and insist that your mission is going well.

It is not only you SIR...there are millions of you in this world who are able to smile while millions of children are crying because of the fear you have forced upon them. Many of them were orphaned. Women choke back their tears unable to describe their sadness and you smile easily. Men like you who deprive women of husband, son, or brother every hour can smile easily, I guess.

This means either you are happy for their grief or you have no idea about what is happening (which is impossible to me to believe).

Laugh higher Sir. I heard the news today. The Iraqi children are drinking dirty water because there is no water in the pipes. More women and men are homeless—squatting in the ruins of a bombed houses or buildings. More bombed cars kill at least 50 civilians every day. Neighboring houses received more idle refugees driven from their homes by crazed militias.

Giggle higher Sir. It is easy to steal children's laughter. It is very easy to cut down water and electricity; easier than providing them to the needy people of Iraq.

Laugh Sir. It is your big day. You see your accomplished mission turning an entire nation into ruins. Widows are suffering day and night. Men are hopeless and pathetic. What kind of human beings you are?

Does your conscious hurt you for the Iraqi woman who lost her five sons all at once? Your phony promises of a free Iraq: more children going to school, more electricity, more jobs for men…

What is your feeling when so many American citizens demand your impeachment?

How do you feel when a person, one American person feels shame because of you?

If you really feel all of that you won’t smile. You won’t be proud. You won’t even wave any more, I guess.

121 Contact Iraq

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Individual Spark

What do you do when the goal that you have been working toward has already been achieved - by someone else?

What if your way of working, your hand, and your influences lead naturally to that goal?

In the world of art, there's room for only one Richard Currier, one Rembrandt, one Turner, one Goya, one you, one me - but what is your voice?

"Don't worry about your originality. You couldn't get rid of it even if you wanted to. It will stick with you and show up for better or worse in spite of all you or anyone else can do." - Robert Henri

Testing Subconscious Gender Bias

In response to an interesting discussion on cultural gender biases on Edward Winkleman, my friend Steven LaRose posted a poll asking one's preference of two still life paintings to test the subject.

Though, since they are in two fairly different styles it will be hard to isolate whether people have a preference for style or whether it's a gender based impulse. It certainly helps that I'm not familiar with either of these artists and so their genders are anonymous.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Good Art / Bad Art/or Not Art?

At what point does really bad art cross the line to being not art?

<- Micheal Zahn

Apropos PostModernism

There are lots of things I don't understand -- say, the latest debates over whether neutrinos have mass or the way that Fermat's last theorem was (apparently) proven recently. But from 50 years in this game, I have learned two things: (1) I can ask friends who work in these areas to explain it to me at a level that I can understand, and they can do so, without particular difficulty; (2) if I'm interested, I can proceed to learn more so that I will come to understand it. Now Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, Kristeva, etc. --- even Foucault, whom I knew and liked, and who was somewhat different from the rest --- write things that I also don't understand, but (1) and (2) don't hold: no one who says they do understand can explain it to me and I haven't a clue as to how to proceed to overcome my failures. That leaves one of two possibilities: (a) some new advance in intellectual life has been made, perhaps some sudden genetic mutation, which has created a form of "theory" that is beyond quantum theory, topology, etc., in depth and profundity; or (b) ... I won't spell it out.

Noam Chomsky

In the blog biblioklept, there is an interesting rebuttal (though not as articulate as Chomsky), where the author produces yet more quotes on the subject from Noam Chomsky. Here is part of his rebuttal.
Which brings me to point two–Chomsky is primarily a political figure, and really a pragmatist at heart. The core of his argument is not so much that po-mo writing is high-falutin’ nonsense, but rather that it ultimately serves no practical purpose. Here is where I would strongly disagree. The people that Chomsky attacks and their followers are re-evaluating the canon and the very notion of received wisdom. Chomsky attacks them for “misreading the classics”–but just what are the classics, and whose value systems created the notion that the classics were indeed “classic”? If Derrida & co. appear to “misread,” it is because they seek to recover the marginalized knowledge that has been buried under a sediment of givens as “truth.” Yes, the post-modern movement might have elitist tendencies, and yes, the subjects and themes of their work might not have much to do on the surface with the plight of a refugee (cf. MoMo in Jordan in 1948)…but the goal is actually in line with Chomsky’s goal–to make people question the powers that structure their lives.
-Chris Pearson

I suggest checking out the whole post to understand this in context. However, I don't think that Pearson fully comprehends this issue, and given the clearly ambiguous nature of post-modern "philosophy", is not surprising.

But it all boils down to this: The nature of deconstruction (and by extension, post-modernism) is to de-construct, not make anyone question anything. Post-modernism has no goal because that would imply a hierarchy: i.e. questioning is better than not questioning. Thus, the only goal is to have no goal, the only order to have no order, the only logic to have no logic. It is a circuitous, self defeating, paradoxical thought process which begins nowhere and ends nowhere, like the serpent Ouroboros who eats his own tail.

Deconstruction is a process of thought and not a philosophical conclusion.

Monday, August 13, 2007

What We Can Look Forward To

Dear Adjunct Faculty Member,

It's come to our attention that we may have openings to teach two upper-level classes next fall, and although we can't offer you appointments at this point, we would like the names of those interested in teaching these required courses. We need to make clear that indicating your willingness to teach these classes in no way guarantees your employment next year.

In order to be eligible to teach the classes, you must have: a Ph.D., experience teaching the subject matter, a good teaching record, and an intangible quality that we don't want to define because we feel that definition would make it tangible. We will pay you roughly $4,000 a class regardless of your experience.

We will, however, need a complete job file, a letter of intent, and a criminal background check if you wish to become part of the department in this manner. We can't be expected to know who you are -- even those of you who have been here for too long.

At this point in the academic year, we know that people tend to get anxious about whether they will be able to feed themselves or their families in the future, or if they should sign a lease for next year since so few of you seem to own your own houses.

In light of the desperate situation many of you seem to find yourself in, we'd like to take this opportunity to offer some suggestions if you really want to be rehired:

  • Win a teaching award. That makes us look good, and we like that.
  • Get high student evaluations. Even though none of us take these seriously, because many of us don't get high student evaluations, it is an indication that students won't complain about you. And again, that makes us look good.
  • Be a man. When we do decide to turn a part-time job into a full-time temporary position or to hire a full-time administrator for a program -- although we won't guarantee those people future employment either -- they are somewhat more secure, and it is always a man who gets the job. That is not, as some have suggested, "gender bias." It's just that men are better. We find that to be true even among our tenured faculty members.
  • Be young. We like to think of you as our children (the ones who didn't get into private schools), and that becomes difficult when you become older than us.
  • Marry one of us. While we cannot guarantee you a tenured position unless you marry a really important one of us, we can guarantee that you won't have to stand in line like everyone else to get your class assignments, and you will always be able to teach upper-level courses, even if there are other adjuncts more qualified than you. If you have to divorce someone else in order to marry one of us, well, let's just say there's precedent.
  • Know your place. You are teaching staff. We are research staff. Don't give papers. We thought we made it clear by not giving you any release time or travel money that we don't want you to produce scholarship. Even though it has been statistically proven that many non-tenure faculty members will be in residence longer than some of their tenure-track counterparts, even though many of you have taught more classes than some of the rest of us will teach in our lifetimes, we prefer to pour all of our money and support into people who will complete a book and then leave us for someplace "better" or "warmer."
  • Who needs money? Last year it came to our attention that those of you who didn't have sufficient income needed to retain another job. Don't do this. When it comes time to report your outside activities to the state, that is a problem for us. We prefer the alternative that many of you reported -- food stamps and other welfare programs. Take heart. Even on a poverty-level income, you are a philanthropist. You, along with the Mellon Foundation, support our research.

We trust that with your education you will be able to understand the complexities of our sentiments -- that you are all completely invaluable and yet expendable. It is, after all, the human condition. And we are in the humanities.

We want to remind you that this is a great university, with a great faculty. We are excited about things to come.


The Assistant Directors of Something Large and Important


Sunday, August 12, 2007

To Wish I Had a One Track Mind

What makes one a genius? Einstein couldn't tie his shoes, flunked out of math class, and yet is hailed as the greatest mind of the 20th century (and certainly on the top ten list of history). This man, Steven Wiltshire, is called autistic. Does one have to be a renaissance man to be a genius?
The jack of all trades or the great master of one?

Let's take it a step further. Does genius comprise merely of natural talent as apposed to cultivated skill? Is it limited to the intellect or can it also describe physical achievement, willpower, or tenacity?

In short, what is genius and does it lie hidden within each of us simply waiting to be voiced? One could spend 20 lifetimes searching for that perfect phrase to speak - perhaps it's a blessing to have fewer words to choose from.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Grasping Goya

Not too long ago I gave a lecture at a high school in rural Georgia for a group of freshmen who had never encountered art before. The topic was a basic lesson on how to analyze and read art. I, of course, included all the usual suspects - but stuck with more representational art (how do you teach thirty fourteen year olds, with no previous knowledge about art, how to read a Jackson Pollack?).

They were surprisingly interested in the work I showed them: Rembrandt, da Vinci, Picasso..... but when I came to this piece Saturn Devouring his Children they let out a collective gasp! Suddenly, even the few who had before been passing notes, were rapt with attention. I remember asking myself how they might see this painting. I wanted to look through their eyes and see it again for the first time.

What is it about this piece that can be so universally understood? These teenagers, who had never even heard the name Picasso, got this painting immediately. When I asked them to describe it they were amazingly articulate (they surprised even their teacher). They described how it was terrifying, yet at the same time, one somehow identifies with Saturn and not the body being eaten. They thought that maybe it was because Saturn himself looks terrified by what he is compelled to do.

This is something that everyone can identify with. It is some inherent part of human nature. Somehow this painting applies both to the individual and to the state of mankind. What does this reveal to us about art? What does it reveal about ourselves?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The March of Time and the Time of March

drifted with the current. Here and there a dapple of sunlight bent against the skin of my wife's arm and a breeze peeled away the grimy layers of city that encased me like a protective cynical shell. And slowly I could feel my depths drinking in the solitude, like the roots of the tree in cool, dark, mossy soil.

What is that scent - Lilac?

The paddle-boat took us to a bend and I wondered what might lay beyond. What about this context gives me the curious anticipation of life instead of the post traumatic subway-noise disorder that relegates all sensory perception in my brain to incessant racket?

But this, now this, was life. Something palpable, something gently visceral that I could fully explore without my mind turning on the blaze from sheer sensory overload. I again let myself relax and run my fingers through the water....Then thought better of it.

True, I couldn't hear any car horns. I couldn't hear loud rap music. I couldn't even see a building. But I was still in Brooklyn. I was amazed that one could find such a remote place in this city. But for one afternoon we drifted along in the sun. We were wrapped in the kind of peace and beauty that I could not see anywhere else since I moved here two years before. And all the weight of years, all the damp corridors of the subway, all the cacophony of noise that was our constant companion seemed but a ripple on the surface of the water. I could almost feel the fabric of time stretching back through my ancestors, the immensity of it- the incontrovertible evidence that no matter how much we rush about, no matter how we busy ourselves, we will not make more. It continues inexorably on, at a slow and peaceful rhythm. And we might just be a little happier, we might actually experience the very little time we do have, if we did the same.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Eyes Wide Open

My Dear friends of peace,

Bruce Wallace and Nesreen ( her last name is omitted for her safety) will be speaking on Staten Island Tuesday, Aug 7 at the Eyes Wide Open Exhibit.

Nesreen lives in Baghdad, Iraq and is visiting the U.S. this summer for a speaking tour. She is an English teacher who has linked her students with their counterparts (Bruce's students) in Brooklyn, New York through the One-to-One Contact Program. This email exchange has provided the participants with both

1) a chance to tell their stories, which helps them heal from the effects of prolonged trauma, and

2) a means of learning that although they are very different, they are also very much the same—young people across the world in search of peaceful, successful, and stable lives.

Bruce Wallace is a member of Peaceful Tomorrows and is the director of the One-to-One Contact Program which has been connecting students and teachers in Baghdad and New York City for four years. A witness to the events of Ground Zero on 9/11, his work for peace is dedicated to his nephew, Supreme Court Officer Mitch Wallace, an innocent victim of political violence who died while rescuing people at Ground Zero.

Eyes Wide Open, the American Friends Service Committee's exhibition on the human cost of the Iraq War, features a pair of boots honoring each U.S. military casualty, a field of shoes and a Wall of Remembrance to memorialize the Iraqis killed in the conflict, and a multimedia display exploring the history, cost and consequences of the war.

As the exhibit makes its appearances across the country, families and friends come to grieve for lost loved ones and strangers honor those who gave their lives to a cause far from home. At each stop, person after person leaves notes of commemoration, photographs of lost soldiers, identification tags, flowers, and American flags to accompany the boots on their journey.

Although a majority of Americans now believe this war is a tragic misadventure, the human cost of the Iraq War grows every day. How many more boots will be standing at silent attention before this war ends, before Iraqis and American soldiers are out of harm's way? This traveling exhibit is a memorial to those who have fallen and a witness to our belief that no war can justify its human cost.

In loving kindness,

Bruce & Nesreen

I thought you might be interested in this event. I think it is a testament that art can have the power to change lives - and open eyes. And I believe that we as artists have a responsibility to use our art wisely.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Whispers in the Crowd

I attended the opening at Flowers Gallery of three alumni from the New York Academy: Christian Johnson, Amy Mahnick, and Vithya Truong Moreau.

As a preface, in the interest of full disclosure and fair journalism (though art criticism never is), I must admit I have a clear bias in opinion. I have known and been friends with Vithya for some time. I have seen Christian and Amy, but never really met them.

Christian Johnson produced some beautiful charcoal drawings of figures in dynamic poses, which evokes the linear searching of Degas' sketches. His piece Nightsong is a wonderfull amalgam of Klimt and an emotionally controlled German expressionism. I found his compositions to be inquisitive and powerful.

However, the room was completely dominated by Vithya's triptych of sinks (the picture above does them no justice). They loomed over the crowd with the emotional intensity of the Eschaton or Rothko's Seagram's series, and actually created a physical abscess around which the viewers paused. It was almost uncomfortable to get too close, yet you were inexorably drawn to the beauty of the brush, the opalescent glimmer of each glaze of color, and the foggy light of Rembrandt filtered through the lenses of Turner and Whistler.

Yet, not in contest with their beauty, these paintings were not without intellectual fruition. I could almost hear the very voices of Rothko, Rembrandt, and Turner in a whispered debate over the precepts of Duchamp.

[The lights dim, and the various conversations merge into a gentle background hum. A slight chill runs through the air.]

[Almost inaudibly]

Rembrandt: The subject of the spirit is light.

Rothko, Turner: Yes, Absolutely!

Turner: But expression resides in the soul and not the mind. The hand can communicate the soul, but the found object cannot convey what is most meaningful to man.

Rothko: Yet, there are emotions which are colored by the intellect, which are only revealed through the intellect.

Rembrant: The contrast of the grotesque serves to emphasize the beauty. The intellect must be subservient to the expression of these.

Rothko: But we are thinking creatures. We must cut through this but somehow harness this for pure expression.

The lights return to normal, but it doesn't appear that anyone else has noticed. Was I the only one who heard the voices? I am not certain, but there is one thing I know. This is very nearly the answer to the chasm of passion splitting through the art world. Vithya is on to something, something which evokes the stirrings within the human heart through harnessing the human mind. This work has sincerity. This work has passion. And I think it merits the greatest compliment that Rothko could bestow upon anyone's work. This work has humanity.