Monthly Archives: August 2015

Art for the People

diesel engine

There’s a law in the city that mandates the erection of public of art with the construction of major buildings in the city. It’s meant to add culture and prevent the city from looking like a jungle of right angles. Of course, not everyone is pleased with every choice of art that is erected in public, but I guess that is true with most artwork. It won’t please everyone. The statue of a proposing man below for example doesn’t really do it for me. Instead of inspiring thought, it is about as shallow as Ronald Macdonald sitting on a bench. It is kitsch kneeling for all eternity.

proposal

I believe it’s not a private commission, but Borofsky’s Hammering Man, which I see almost every day, is borne out of the same desire to bring culture out in the streets. Now this, I like.

Hammering Man

I understand not everyone likes it, but I do hope that more public art will be like this. Not necessarily as grand as Borofsky’s works, but less kitschy. Granted, there is value in cutesy and lighthearted works, but the jokes wear thin after a while… really thin if you see the same joke every working day.

It reminds me of what my old art instructor did a few years ago, when he had his students erect colorful sculptures to “liven up” downtown. Some of the works were fun, but after a while, it makes one wonder why muddy and honestly what looked like amateurish works were littered downtown. It’s like a giant dropped his old, unused toys on his way to the flea market.

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How We Are Here

Double_Virgin

Simon and Garfunkel looked at loneliness and isolation as something like a super power, a super human ability to be impervious to what drags most people down. We are social creatures. We take strength from our neighbors. But this reliance on others makes us vulnerable to our neighbors’ weaknesses as well. Looking back at Simon and Garfunkel, after spending an intimate afternoon with Cecilia and forming what I assume are more than just sexual bonds with another person, Cecilia starts having sex with another man the minute either Simon or Garfunkel leaves the room to wash their face. Being a rock, being an island would have been better. At least one doesn’t have to deal with the humiliation and emotional battery.

Unfortunately, true isolation is rarely possible. By virtue of being raised by someone, or the minute we take interest in another person, be it sexually or emotionally, we are trapped. Our lives are connected regardless of whether the other person cares, and the dynamics of this relationship ultimately affects our happiness.

Which brings me to what a friend of mine told to me the other day:

I’ve come to full terms with the fact that my father is a bit of a deadbeat. He is someone who saw the first opportunity to retire and took it, not even caring about what happens in the future. He would rather be lazy, not work and lead a mediocre life, than work and actually do interesting things, be interesting… travel the world, contribute to society, have a freakin’ hobby, do something. And that’s what got to me the most… people like that, and the way they drag other people down into an especially tedious and mediocre existence.

Because he doesn’t work, he relies on his children for money. His children are just starting their own families, their own lives. Instead of saving money for their own children, or maybe using that money to make their lives a bit more exciting, a trip to Disneyland or something, they end up sending that money to their father, someone who has no interest in working. Instead of just one person leading an uneventful life, he drags his children’s life to the same mediocre existence, only they are working harder for it. He isn’t. He’s “retired.” 

Now, this hit me a little close. Being the breadwinner, I have to worry about providing for my wife. Ideally, we would be DINKs (Double Income, No Kids). But for one reason or another, my wife would not be able to survive by her income alone. And by some miracle, the one who graduated with an arts degree is the breadwinner of the family. I don’t mind this much. I believe, as Dan Savage said, this is the price of admission. This is the price I pay for being with my wife. I’m fine with it. My wife is a good person and I am fortunate to have found someone like her. Unfortunately, the price I pay is not limited to money. It is also the scope of what I could dream, what I could accomplish.

This is not news, but marriage ties finances. And because finances are tied to another person, instead of considering just one’s self when thinking about the future, a person has to consider their partner. Now, this would be good if the other person can carry their own weight (or even better if they could help out considerably). But it’s a tad problematic if they can’t. My dreams, what I can accomplish, are tied down by the needs of those that are around me. It’s true to varying degrees with everyone who’s married. A husband can’t get that new car he always wanted, or a wife has to give up on her dreams of moving out of their small town. We are all tethered to each other, and I believe, more often than not, it grounds us. It makes our lives more mediocre. Now, imagine if there was another person in the mix, like a deadbeat dad.

Which brings me back to my friend. It seems that he has surrounded himself with people that tie him down financially: his wife, his kids, and now his deadbeat dad. If he was single, with his salary, he could lead a rather exciting life. But because of his social bonds and obligations, he leads what he considers a rather normal, run-of-the-mill life. It is the price of admission for love and family.

Wouldn’t it be great to be a rock? A lonely rock that has more disposable income?

Life without his wife, his kids, even his deadbeat dad, would be more depressing. It’s easy to dream about all the money we could be spending on ourselves, to be free from the responsibility for other people, but it’s not so fun thinking about a life that we don’t share with anyone. I think it’s more realistic to dream about a life where others contribute as much to your life the same way you contribute to theirs. Instead of people tying our dreams down, they make our dreams possible.

I gave him an encouraging sermon, which is basically what this whole entry is about. He was a tad depressed, but really, who’s married and never had stuff like this to worry about?

Then I introduced him to the uplifting music of Elliott Smith.

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An Arm and a Leg

prosthetics

I visited an area of town where they sell prosthetic limbs. Store after store of prosthetic arms and legs.  It’s fascinating, depressing, then fascinating all over again. It’s easy to imagine people who lost limbs and how sad it must be to come to such a place, but it’s also amazing that such people could also regain some of their freedom due to the amazing technology we have these days. We live in amazing times. We have prosthetic arms and legs on window displays!

It also got me wondering at how people get into the prosthetic manufacturing business. Whatever choices in life could’ve led people to devoting their skills and talents to making arms and limbs. And how did it all begin? How do people go up and just decide, “you know what, there’s a lot of money to be made here. Let’s start a prosthetic limbs store!” In any case, however they got there, I’m jealous at what they do. At least they wake up in the morning knowing they’re making someone’s life be better. They’re helping people walk or regain the use of their arms again. Not many people can claim to change lives on a regular basis as much as these people.

Unfortunately, to get there, I had to pass by a little hidden red light district. Afterwards, I had to go through an area frequented by homeless people. Under the certain conditions, my little stroll yesterday could’ve driven me to depression.

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Yeaaargh!

Rat King

Unhappiness is a Rat King that grows, tangles, and gnaws from the inside. It helps however to be distracted now and then, to smile and pretend you’re happy and content. A person can live like it’s not even there. You start getting used to it. It hollows you out as it eats your insides. But it also fills you up with its hairy warmth, despite its teeth and claws. The multiple hearts beating, the friction of fur on fur, the heat from the collecting feces, can be strange comfort sometimes. Like a hug coming from the inside. Life can be manageable with a Rat King.

Unfortunately, it would eventually grow too big and burst forth, grossing everyone out.

As it scurries off, and struggles to run away from the light, it’s a little difficult trying to be happy. Not only are you a hollow shell of your former self, but you’re also a disgusting, bloody corpse on the floor.

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Can’t we just draw, paint, or sculpt?

Bee

Bee

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2239504/As-prices-Damien-Hirsts-works-plummet-pity-credulous-saps-spent-fortunes-tosh.html

Yes!!! Yes!!! Please, art world, please! Let’s make this happen. Let’s stop alienating the rest of the world with pieces that we all pretend is high art but is nothing but schlock.

Apparently, Hirst’s works are now dropping in value. What were once hot commodities are now failing to sell, and people who invested on his works are losing money. While the British press has always seem to have been against Hirst’s bombastic brand of kitsch, it seems like the rest of the world is finally starting to catch up. I hope this trend continues. I hope we all stop paying attention to what is shocking and excessive, and not trust people trained in sales to see what is really not there. “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” Sure… maybe… or it could very well be just pieces of fish submerged in formaldehyde. Was it hard imagining such concept? Maybe?  It’s also not hard imagining a bicycle wheel stuck on a stool. But the difference between Marcel Duchamp and Damien Hirst is that Duchamp’s readymades seek to arrive at a higher purpose, to find an antidote to art that is purely visual. Duchamp’s works gave form to conceptual art, where the idea came first and the visual arrives soon after. There is humor in them. He challenged what is and what is not art. The rise of Hirst however tells me nothing but the story of excess. Of how a good salesman who knows the right people could make ridiculous amount of money selling pointless art that shocks. Nothing else.

Like a scary movie based on jump scares, as opposed to a psychological thriller which haunts you… you get over it and move on with your life. The makers of the movie however, make off with your money.

The reason why I’m happy about the news regarding Hirst is that I believe that the art world, if it continues to celebrate shocking, pointless art, it’s bound to self-destruct. Artists will be creating pointless, self-promoting pieces in the hopes of getting rewarded, while traditional artists move on with their life and get “real” jobs. It reinforces the stereotype that art is pointless and weird, and lay people would continue to devalue it. Instead of learning how to paint or draw, young artists would be incentivized to thinking of schemes on how to grab headlines. A vagina painting here, a semen painting there. Forget drawing or painting figures, how could you make a story go viral? And that is the danger. That is the nail in the coffin. “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone” is like the “Gangnam Style” of the art world. It’s a shallow concept with an interesting visual. If anything, most of the beauty of the piece stems from the shark’s very nature. A person would be better off looking at a real shark in an aquarium. The work grabs headlines, but in the long run it is not as significant conceptually and artistically as Duchamp’s name on a urinal. It does not teach us anything. What shocks a person now would not shock a person ten or twenty years from now. That makes whatever is viral right now utterly boring and forgettable in a few years.

The Guardian piece notes, “Artists should be able to draw, paint, or sculpt, says the ordinary person, but all Hirst and his ilk can do is shock.” I agree to this sentiment to an extent. One of the criticisms to the movie “Whiplash” is that it pushes the notion that you can train someone to become a genius. True, great artists are sometimes just born, and training and technical accomplishment alone does not make someone a great artist. But what about the work? Let us judge artists by their works and not the artist as a person (although I could talk forever about my frustration with some artists marketing themselves instead of their works). Is the work in itself genius? Is there an incredible amount of skill involved in its creation? What I despise about the rise of Hirst, is that the works are called genius despite the fact that there is no skill or technical accomplishment displayed in the pieces. And as for genius, I believe the idea is schlock and not that special at all.

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