Monday, December 5, 2011

Not All White Guys Are Bad – Robert Irwin, Arthur Shopenhauer, Ernest Hemingway, Andy Warhol, Peter Schjeldahl

As much as any stereotype, being a “white male” has a burden all of its own. In America, the white male is synonymous with power, wealth, oppression, dominance, history, devastation, pride, prejudice, and so on. All of these superlatives veer towards negative connotations these days because let’s face it, white guys have been in power for a very long time and have stopped at nothing to maintain and to strengthen this. The glory that was once outwardly asserted and flaunted has become, in some ways, very different then it used to be. Today’s white males have, ever so slowly, been taught that being the top dog in society isn’t something to brag about and frankly should be a source of inherited shame. This is largely in part due to the even slower pace, but gradual gain that women have been making in the workplace thus having capital strength in this capitalist society. Also, there were those wonderful, delirious decades just a few blinks ago that gave civil rights to everyone else in the country that was not a white male. The advances in these two areas has made the playing field, by no means even, but at least not the sheer cliff it once was.

Today’s white males, (we are speaking in general, mid to upper class terms), have lost not their true status but at least the bragging rights of that status publicly, so now what are they to do? Well, some are doing a born-again-bro-culture thing where they; have mustache and beard growing contests; make tie-dye shirts or embroidered bomber jackets to signify a “gang” they belong to; have bro-vacations, and bro-nights; and my fave, the bro-code which entails telling their friend he is dating a bitch or a slut relentlessly to his face and hers. But one has to sympathize with these efforts as every movie, TV show, wedisode, and commercial these days seems to feature 1. An in charge, she wears the pants and brings the bacon wife, or girlfriend who rolls eyes or smirks a lot 2. A male who is utterly inept, childish, scared of getting caught by wife/girlfriend 3. A child or dog as witness. This depiction must come from some truth in our society but it is utterly revulsing as it would be for any reduction of type casting a group.

Now, I’m not saying that white males have or are having a terrible time in this day in age, far from that, but in the pursuit of being fair and honest about all forms of oppressive behavior, it has to be admitted that not all white guys are the dev (aka the devil). I too have to call myself out in this situation because as an Asian American women, all of my boyfriends have been skinny white guys that are six feet or taller. That’s got to say something about my whole psychology and as much as that makes me think, gee-gah-ouchie about my preferences, it is what it is, although it does create pause. This whole thing is not to give white males any leeway or pass for all the crazy shit they have done for like eternity but let’s be consistent in our criticisms. Whiteness and maleness doesn’t make you a jerk, abuse of power and oppression with that power does.

Now, as is my want, I will list a few old or dead white guys that have been in my little pocket pet brain of late and who have been jazzing up my neurons in my thinking about life and art.

Robert Irwin – I have recently read the book about him entitled, Seeing is Forgetting, The Name of the Thing One Sees, 1982 and boy is that a protein shake for the mind. I have never seen Irwin’s work in person, or perhaps I have and just glazed over it, which is more then possible with his work. And although the focus of him being an artist is the grand point of it all, the book serves more as a guide or an annotated philosophy on what art means, can mean and more essentially who Robert Irwin is. He is a Californian artist and one learns about that whole scene and the culted Ferus Gallery and those ins and outs. One also learns about his methods; sitting in a room for hours on end, passing in and out of sleep, just looking at a wall, things like that. It tells how his holy grail is about perception and how he makes art to change this with the most intense controlled minuteness. I most like how he uses the ideas of science and those methods to art making. Most especially about logic and reason and how reason has slipped out of the conversation and methodologies of everything including science and art and how the system of logic, even if those systems are unevidenced theories, exert themselves as facts. He gave up things, lived off betting on horses and sports, loves Coca-Cola and didn’t have time for such frivolities as romance; these things are all interesting methods of achieving a life that is art. I wish I could talk more about it, but that’s basically the jist. It is not the best composed book but a good book to read especially if you have cast yourself into a void, such as I have recently.

Arthur Schopenhauer – I came across Schopenhauer’s Aphorisms sometime in the beginning of college and for a gal who already leaned towards melancholic angst, he was like the Angel Gabriel, giving herald of all that was pessimistic yet succinctly prescient and written in absolute terms. He was very much my partner in crime in accepting and reveling in my tendencies of being mildly nihilistic, supremely arrogant in my beliefs and totally thinking the whole life thing was a fixed job. Yes, yes, he was a total ass in regards to the way he thought women are, were, should be and many of his other dictates are far from agreeable but there are still gems of grumpy, unflowery emphatics that makes him one of the few people, had we ever met, who may “get me.” He’s a quoters delight and his views on perception and art are quite interesting as well.

Ernest Hemingway – Sometimes I really enjoy reading him, other times not so much but I have been thinking about him recently because he seemed like a guy who was manly but was also a sleep, eat, shit type of artist. He lived hard, drank hard, thought hard, loved hard, all of it was so thoroughly done. Heck, he even died hard, in the most certain of terms, something that seems obvious and refreshing somehow. Although Hemingway has this highly developed and evoked manliness, he is one of the few men that I am inspired to be like. His short story “Soldier’s Home,” is an example of possibly perfect short story writing.

Andy Warhol – Gotta Love Andy. That’s the t-shirt that I will make and sell on the corner of St. Marks to all those college kids and all my money worries would be solved. But seriously, one does have to Love Andy. He was just the weirdest thing made in this country in this century. He is also the most American invention one could conjure. There was a shift in possibilities when he bloomed in full in the art world and he took all that was supposed to be and all that was going to be in a totally different direction. He is like a giant confetti bomb in an empty room. Very sad, very brilliant, very odd. His book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A and B and Back Again, 1977 very much settled some issues I had about art, myself, and a bunch of other stuff in a deliriously liberating and affirming way. I think that if Warhol was still alive and didn’t look like the walking dead, I would be just too nervous to even be in the same room with him but that’s the joy of having influencers, you don’t have to want to meet all of them.

Peter Schjeldahl - I would punch someone in the face if they talked smack on my beloved P.S.