Tuesday, November 13, 2007

tired of shakespeare, pt. 2

So I asked the 12-year-old girl Chairman Gioia's question: How many living artists can you name? She thought for about 3 seconds and said: "There's too many to count!" Her friends, singers and songwriters she likes, teachers who are creative. "When it comes down to it, pretty much everybody I know is an artist in some way." Chairman Gioia: zero. 7th grader: everybody. Awesome.

Monday, November 12, 2007

tired of shakespeare

The Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts recently said that if you polled college students asking them how many of today's artists they could name, the answer would be zero. I think this statement actually says more about the limitations of our artistic inclusivity than it does about the limits of college students' knowledge. While such a poll may not turn up the names of Robert Pinsky or Robert Rauchenberg, it will likely include a long list of songwriters, performance artists, filmakers, graphic novelists, designers, hip-hop choreographers, etc. And even more exciting is that many of young people's favorite artists will be their friends --- photographers, printmakers, musicians and poets in their community, whether a local or a virtual community. And thanks to iTunes and MySpace, there are entire new marketplaces and opportunities for audience-building available to artists today that are broad-reaching and accessible. Rather than assuming that college students' lack of knowledge or interest in Thornton Wilder and Aaron Copland is an indicator that the arts are not visible in their lives, I think there is great evidence that the arts are often so integrated into their lives as to be invisible.

When a collector goes to a galley and buys a $1000 painting to support one artist, we call them a patron of the arts. When a college student spends $1000 on iTunes to buy 1000 songs by 1000 artists, we call them a consumer. Is the difference really in an understanding of art, or is the difference in language and perception?

If we continue to insist that the traditional canon of artists and art forms is the foundation of enlightenment, we will lose young people and miss the opportunity to share the value of creative expression, not to mention the chance to learn from them what it is they value in the multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural, informal art forms they support. The responsibility lies with educators and institutions to expand our definition of artists and the arts, and provide ways for young people to find relevance and resonance through the artistic expressions they are already accessing. Like Cake's album art? You'll love Andy Warhol. PJ Harvey fan? Try Anne Sexton. The distance is closer than we think...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

i pledge allegiance to the...

Dear NPR,

Thanks for another episode of "guess who has more money!" I have been troubling myself with the pesky questions of who has a viable strategy to get us out of Iraq and start mending all the fences we've burned, who will take universal healthcare seriously, who will hold corporate polluters accountable, who will restore our civil liberties, release the "enemy combatants" (or at least give them a trial), give our teachers back the ability to teach evolution and sex-ed... I have been worrying over all these choices, choices, choices and voila! It seems they've been narrowed down.

I was concerned that I still had 384 days to choose between Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Stephen Colbert, Christopher Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Don J. Grundmann, Bryan Malatesta, Diane Beall Templin, Alan Keyes, Jim Gilchrist, Jerome Cors, Jared Ball, Elaine Brown, Jesse Johnson, Jerry Kann, Kent Mesplay, Kat Swift, Daniel Imperato, Bob Jackson, Mike Jingozian, Steve Kubby, Alden Link, George Phillies, Wayne Allyn Root, Christine Smith, Sam Brownback, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, Alan Keyes, John McCain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Tom Tancredo, and Fred Thompson.

And wow, that's a lot of choices! When it comes to soy milk, I'm happy to have 39 options, but 39 presidential candidates? That's just crazy. Apparently all we need to know is who has more money. I've never actually given to a campaign myself, and I don't know anybody else who does either, but somewhere somebody is coughing up cash for their favorite and that's good enough for me.

I'm glad NPR doesn't bother with an analysis of where the money comes from -- corporations vs. individuals, drug companies and oil executives, tree-huggers and the ACLU. It's just too hard to try to stay informed, and I'd rather my news source do the hard thinking for me. Whew. Thanks, NPR!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

how easily we forget...

I watched this house move a few weeks ago, saw it severed from its foundation and raised on steel bars and connected to a truck and moved a few lots away. I saw it, I took pictures of it, I remarked on it. And today, walking by the lot where the house used to stand, I thought "what used to be here?" The basement has been filled with dirt, the top covered in sod, and even the lines of sod have wedded together so that it's almost impossible to say that anything was ever there.

I'm one of those people who remembers pretty much everything -- conversations from grade school, names, big experiental things, little detaily things... But this act of forgetting made me think of all the things we must insist on remembering, no matter how much dirt, grass, or time has filled in the hole. Not the house. I don't care about the house.

Revisionist history has damaged our collective memory. Remember when we were told there was a connection to Iraq and the 9/11 attacks? When U.N. weapons inspectors searched for months for "weapons of mass destruction" and found nothing? When we were told that all Americans would have access to affordable healthcare? That children weren't going to be left behind??

People want us to forget. Forget we were lied to, forget we ever had a choice. What good is it to insist that 2+2=4 if everyone else swears it is 5? Reality is collective mythology. Lay some sod and change the story.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


We have been fooled by America's abundance...

We are enthusiastic over how many kinds of peanut butter we have to choose from, but are satisfied with two political parties.

We settle for convenience every time -- the one-stop-shopping mega-mart with the treeless parking lot -- while losing a life of thoughtfulness and intention.

We believe that having so much should cost so little, an idea that has instead cost us our manufacturing, our economic security, and our ability to provide for each other.

It is easy to say I will consume less, I will tread softer on this ground, I will leave behind less residue and refuse. But my guilty pleasures lure me into "just this once" indulgences I still struggle to resist. Cute things. Fuzzy things. Yummy smelly girly things. Lately, making art satisfies me (especially making cute fuzzy girly things!), and does so without the rotten hangover of empty consumption. So maybe art is my new guilty pleasure...

Monday, September 24, 2007

cost of war and other things

This is a great site: www.costofwar.com. The National Priorities Project analyzes and clarifies federal data so that people can understand and influence how their tax dollars are spent.

The Trade-Offs section of the site allows you to select your district or state and calculate what federal spending in key areas is equivalent to if spent differently. For example, Rhode Island's percentage of the $56.5 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% this year could have instead provided 467,262 homes with renewable electricity.

After the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq reached 3,000, my partner started wearing a tape on his jacket every day with the current death toll and a button that said "stop the war". Nobody really paid attention. But then he started wearing a second piece of tape with the amount of money spent on the war (today's tapes, for example, would say "3,801" and "$455,083,589,643"). A super crazy long number with a dollar sign in front of it definitely gets more attention... (by the way, that's the direct dollar amount spent, and does not include the longer-term costs of providing medical treatment to the more than 25,000 wounded soldiers and other expenses that put Iraq war-related spending well into the trillions...)

We've considered how we might include the estimated number of Iraqis dead in a way that would have an impact. "A September 14, 2007 estimate by Opinion Research Business, an independent British polling agency, suggests that the total Iraqi violent death toll due to the Iraq War since the US-led invasion is in excess of 1.2 million (1,220,580)." (thanks, wikipedia!)

For some not-entirely-corrollary math, that's roughly $372,843 spent by the US per Iraqi death (I just spent the last 20 minutes dividing the dollar figure by Iraqi casualty number in long-hand division because I couldn't find a calculator that could handle numbers that large!! yes, I could have lobbed off a few decimal places and estimated, but when was the last time I got to use my 3rd grade long-division skills to such an extent??).

Anyway, my point is, what the fuck are we doing????!!! This incredible money spent, the bodies piling up on both sides (no, I don't think US soldiers have killed all 1.2 million Iraqis, but we unleashed something that has caused these deaths and we have to take some responsibility for that), this catastrophic gluttonous enormous consumption of life and resources... For every social issue, every education bill, every small business incentive, every job training program, every environmental policy that we are told we cannot afford, this is such an incredible lie. We pay for what we value. Follow the money. We don't put real dollars behind education, social programs, the environment, and real human-scale business assistance because most of the people with power in this country don't really give a shit about any of that. What they want is victory, whatever that means, and what they have in dangerous abundance is pride.

It isn't a shortage of money that we have, it's a mess of priorities. Hence, the national priorities project...