Archive for gratification

Shallow Experiences and Imagined Communities

Posted in Anthropology, Art, Criticism, Pop-culture, Social Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 5 January, 2010 by endlessslug

How do we define the difference between rich or deep experiences and those experiences which have little to no direct impact on our lives?  Secondly, how do we make another understand that there is, in fact,  a distinct difference?  And further, how do we explain that these richer, fuller experiences do not have to have anything to do with religion although people often immediately point at some sort of spiritual or religious explanation when having a meaningful relaitonship with an experience.

These are some thoughts which keep me sleepless sometimes.

It occurred to me one day that these new generations of people are very ignorant with no change in behavior in sight.  We are constructing a culture of pure ‘stupid’ in the full definition of that word – I do not mean it as a slight but as an observation.  I consider myself rather stupid when it comes to using Adobe Illustrator, for instance.  But the difference between me and the rest of the society I seem to find myself in, is that I strive to improve on that stupidity, at least when I am aware of it.  And thus, my epiphany: When unaware, the public continues as if there are no problems in the world at all – which relatively, there are not.  We cannot argue.  The cell-phone and text-message phase of human evolution is a dangerous step towards extinction.  I don’t mean extinction of the species, but of something else: extensively shared meaning.

Sit in a Wal-Mart sometime and watch the teens walk around with their cells.  Try not to be creepy, please.  You’ll observe that the act of being with friends at the store, the act of being at the store at all, and the act of meeting people is far outweighed with the personal interest involved in the text messages which will erupt on their phones every few seconds.  This is because there is a much more intensively personal imagined community occurring in their minds (cf Benedict Andersen).  Why would anyone pay attention to the world they are currently walking around in when much more important things are happening between the space constructed mentally between texts – the text-web, as I sometimes call it.  So many experiences of life are being completely ignored – so many social skills are going unlearned, undeveloped, as people Twitter, ironically, about what they are currently doing, sometimes so quickly that the Twit is posted before the action even occurs.

One might argue that with new technologies and innovations, new behaviors and identities will form.  Sure, I cannot disagree.  I also text message, use Facebook, obviously blog, and have occasional public conversations on my cellphone.  But with the use of these handy tools, I understand a certain context for them.  I have had life experiences which did not include these things.  I have had many experiences which were deep to the core of my character and have developed me in much more rich and powerful ways than I expect any of these kids on celly’s will ever in their lives – and I am sad for them.

-To a point.  Instead, I look elsewhere, for others like me.  I thought I could find them in the art world, where they used to be, but the art world now is ridiculously involved with itself and its little shallow messages to itself.  Fine art today is like a sad kid who sends himself text messages in a language he does not understand, but up high so all can see.  Bravo.

Moral: Get off your damn phone and talk to a human you don’t yet know.  Then, get their number.  You are not anywhere near as important as the act of direct interaction between people is.

Victory! (for me, sorta)

Posted in Anthropology, Art, Artists, Contemorary Art, Criticism, Film, Literature, Music, Pop-culture, Social Science, Technique, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 5 September, 2009 by endlessslug

I had an unexpected epiphany today: I was right, damnit.

About five years ago at an embassy dinner, I was put on-the-spot by a number of other Americans because, apparently, they were offended by a comment I had made to another person earlier that day. I had said, “[serious] painters should not work to sell, but should work to communicate.” This statement was made to a girl who had no idea about fine art as we were looking at some total street-crap local art being sold by some opportunistic ex-pat geared at selling at tourists. Of course, the statement was perverted by this idiot to “he said artists should never sell their work,” which was not only what I said, but it also suggests a plethora of other related meanings that make me sound like the idiot. Well, this all came up at this dinner at a table of about 20 intellectuals, made up mostly of excellent graduate students and some government officials. I was really very unprepared for an argument and was in the middle of marking down some field notes when all the sudden I was fighting for my artistic life. Partly, I couldn’t remember what I had said exactly, because I have stated that I don’t think artists should sell work – but at the student or amateur level as a means to make them think a bit more outside their little selfish boxes. The point when I lost the argument came when my attacker said, “So, you’re saying artists should not sell their work, then what about choreographers? They live only by hiring people and showing otherwise there’s no art…” I really didn’t have an answer to that and clearly had lost the argument by then. This has always annoyed me because I could never explain myself. But today I figured it out.

Choreographers are illustrators they are not painters.

Here’s some explanation: For years, I’ve followed the social science of Levi-strauss, Geertz, and Bourdieu, meaning structuralism (with a hint of functionalism), interpretivism, and very early post-structuralism. I, like these people and most other humans, polarize and categorize the world around me. One of the most misunderstood aspects of polarism is that the poles always represent the extremes which most people are not – most people fall somewhere in between and are made up of millions of interrelated polemics which affect one another – much like a gene structure. An early painting teacher turned me on to thinking of art in a polemic – there are painters and there are illustrators, with drawing students somewhere in the middle but more towards painting and watercolorists more toward illustration. The basic distinction is not the materials used because uneducated people believe that whenever you use paint in a painting that makes you a painter – this is untrue. The distinction is in the function of the work, is it having a conversation with me or is it simply telling me something? We converse with Van Gogh’s color and movement, Rothko’s panels, Degas’ atmospheres, Hemingway’s doomed protagonists, Maupassant’s surprises, Dante’s longing, Pavolva’s rending Dying Swan, and literally with the humor of Pak Edy’s Punakawan puppets (wayang kulit clowns). We are told what’s happening in comic books, mystery novels, children’s books, modern public murals, social-commentary art, computer-aided art, and musicals. This is not to set firm categories which are unchangeable, but to acknowledge that there are general categories. It’s called observational data (science!). We must also distinguish between the stuff we personally just ‘like’ vs. the stuff which everyone should be able to converse with at some time or another. Every male American should be able to understand and enjoy Hemingway at about 30 years old, if not, 40. Every college student should be able to understand and enjoy Shakespeare in most of his levels. I’ve noticed the aging artists tend to really enjoy ballet – I’m not a huge fan but I do respect it greatly and look forward to the experience. Yes, I am a master of sweeping generalizations, but then again, that’s what science and art are all about. The “fine” part of fine art is the refinement of the generalization in the attempt to develop something akin to scientific laws. We want the laws of art because we cannot always explain why certain works evoke a conversation or emotion and why other works do not. As we teach in my anthropology courses, fine art is the ability to communicate something efficiently, which is otherwise impossible or too complex for simple vocal conversation (words). The poet manipulates language for efficiency in emotion, the short story author gets to the point, the novelist takes us on a journey, the novella author – well, nevermind this, no one knows what a novella is anymore, the painter evokes feelings long lost, the dancer gives us hope, the musician makes us move – they invoke.

So, what does the choreographer do? In the modern world, the choreographer gets much of the ‘props,’ which is something I did not know when entering my argument years ago. Why? Because we live in a world where the people require immediate gratification and complete knowledge of every aspect of the show they’re going to see before, during, and after they see it. The dancer has been removed as the central point to the dance. It is now in the hands of the director, producer, lighting guy, stagehands even, everything except that person on the stage doing all the work. As an acting teacher of mine said many years ago: “[Dancers, like] actors are taught their parts. An actor is just portraying what they’re paid to do and only the best actor for a part is hired by the director. Thus, there are bad plays and bad directors, and thus there are no bad actors. However, there are great actors who go above and beyond the part, bringing it alive and communicating with the audience in front of them. Essentially, to be an actor you must play the part. To be a great actor, you must become the part.” This is how it was. Great movies and great plays still are defined greatly by the actors, although many film friends of mine might say differently. Really, a film, play, or dance, is created by all of it’s parts, there really is no ‘one thing’ which defines it, and I think this is where the public generally is. The public doesn’t know why the liked something, they don’t need to, but they want to, leading to millions of water-cooler conversations about aspects of movies the public thinks made it a ‘good one you should see, man’.

So here it is: The choreographer instructs the dancers on every aspect of the dance, the whens, hows, whys, wheres, and so on. It is their job to make sure that the show looks good to bring in future audiences. I would never claim these people are not artists, they surely are. But their art falls on that illustrator side of the pole. They are putting together a show to tell the audience something based on a script. They cannot create a communication as a lone dancer can. They can set the stage for it, literally, and hope it happens, but it stops there. Their job is to bring in the clients, by making art, yes, but they don’t do it for free. And this was my point in that argument five years ago. Fine artists who are creating something powerful, are often aware of it and create it to create it for themselves and others, not because they’re looking for a sale. “I’m painting this because I want to talk to you. ‘You’ being humans for the next 500 years.”

As a final note, here’s a quote from Anna Pavlova about her dancing: “What exactly is success? For me it is to be found not in applause, but in the satisfaction of feeling that one is realizing one’s ideal. When, a small child rambling over there by the fir trees, I thought that success spelled happiness. I was wrong. Happiness is like a butterfly which appears and delights us for one brief moment, but soon flits away.”

If you think everyone can be an artist, and that all artists are fine artists, you think as a child.  But this is fine, it simply means that there is much more for you to learn.

I win.
Nooge.

Bar Bar Broke

Posted in Artists, Social Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 12 August, 2009 by endlessslug

One of the worst things you can do when you’re a very, very broke artist, is agree to go to a casino.  Even if the buffet is free, even if you get a handful of cash to start your day off, even if it’s a special day for the one whom asked you – do not go.  Now, I’m bad luck to begin with so it was to nobody’s surprise that I would fail so badly, but there was a much larger price: creative energy.  Casinos, like strip-clubs, drain just about all sense of creativity and life from the artist, especially when the artist loses.  Casinos are not a place of life, they are anti-life.  This is not to suggest the obvious polar opposite of “death”.  Anti-life is not a state, it is a resisting force.  Once, a literature professor told me that all art is hope.  I disagreed.  I suggested that all art has an aspect of security within it, which is often interpreted as hope.  Casino’s and strip clubs were my examples.  Hope drips from every crevasse in both establishments, but it is a hope divorced from security – in fact, security is completely non-existent, except maybe in that one can always come back again.  Of course, I cannot make some sort of reverse proof where hope or security is art, these states exist mutually exclusively from the aesthetic communication which is art.   But we have a stagnation in aesthetic development while one wastes away at these places.  There is little beautiful in these places, merely immediate gratification of sort in which the business specializes in.

This is not a plea to boycott these establishments.  This is a warning to artists, writers, poets, dancers, puppetteers, and so on, to think twice about these places.  The casino today just extinguished any sense of creativity I was slowing building over time.  I’m not even sure when I’ll get back into the studio again.  There was so much anti-life, so little socialization, so much greed, so much hurt (watching others watch others win) – that no art can come of it.

But I did make $100.