Monday, August 25, 2014

God Damn Art Writing

Does it seem like everyone right now is on some god damn boat or on some god damn beach or in the god damn woods having a god damn good time?  Well, you know where I am? In my god damn kitchen with no god damn money, worrying about my god damn visa, and having all this god damn crap I have accumulated over the past ten years all packed up around me.  Needless to say I am in no god damn mood to be chipper and all posi about the god damn state of things especially when I start thinking about the god damn art world which is a god damn flaming piece of shit at the moment.

So let’s take a moment.  Breath in, breath out.  Breath in, breath out.  Focus, relax, and let’s use this energy in another way.

Let’s talk about god damn art writing and my issues with it.  This may not fix this piss mood I’m in but it will alleviate some of this tension that is pushing into my brain at the moment.

Art writing, art criticism is at a very strange point.  The academic form of it is something that is made up but it does have a history and a formula.  Mostly that formula takes much esteem and cue from mid century philosophers, almost exclusively white, male, and European, mixed with the side lining poets and beatniks mostly, white, male, gay, and American.

There were two forms of how this past writing was done.  Of the first camp, it was dry, technical, psychoanalytical, and declarative in its authority.  The second camp was more about opinion, observance, and peer driven.  These are the camps that we have inherited and these are not band camps per se but they are stagnant in the relevancy of today.

Today, we have a new sort of form but it is determined by the avenues of publication more so then in the past.  Now, art writing is done by a swath of writers that come from a variety of focuses and writing about art is like a category of writing in which they may participate in versus one of mastery.  Mastery or course is not necessarily the goal or purpose.  This new type of writing is mostly online, quick, linked and so specific in its focus (an artist, a news item) that it is disposable almost as soon as it is published. 

There are other forms of new art writing that have various shades of gray between these two camps but most are in the old guard formulation or huddling close to the new guard as they are means to make a mark quickly and constantly if not definitively. 

I write about this because I have been reflecting on why the hell I do this blog thing every week for going on almost four years now.

In the beginning I did it solely for the sake of empting my brain of art thoughts.  A weekly excising so that I could fill my brain up some more and at times reflect on my previous notions.  Also, the act of writing is a form that allows for a new type of thinking process, new thought strains and the surprising challenges and excitable feelings that comes with using language, sentence structure and words.

Now, after all these years and weeks I am sitting back and thinking well what of it now? 

I have been thinking this over and I think I keep plugging along on this project because it has taught me that this is actually a project.

Maybe it is not ‘art’ in a certain way but to me, yes it actually is. 

It is an ongoing demonstration of unabridged thinking and the actual way I write is something that frankly I am proud to consider a new form of art writing.

No, not a diaristic kind and certainly it needs considered improvements, but the overall idea that art criticism/art writing, can be/is a form of art and that the practice/form of it can be at the discretion and objective of the writer.

Writing, thinking, language is a form that is now more then ever necessary in contemporary art because there is a void of inpendent everything and ideas are still (possibly, hopefully), a bastion of this (independence).

So, what’s the point of all this?  Nothing really, a way to make me feel slightly better about my day, about my talking to the void that is the internet, but it’s also a way to remind myself that god damn it, this is why I keep doing this thing.

Whoever you are, whatever it is that you do, always remember that you are the shit and no one, no one, can mess with that.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ernest Hemingway, Soldier’s Home, 1925


I am busy and focusing on certain things that are usually not focused on so my capacity for art thought wandering is filtered down.  Plus it’s August, and a near perfect one at that.

In between doing this or that today I have been thinking about what it is that I could share with you all today that might have some meaning to me and possibly to you.  In this manner of thinking I thought about Ernest Hemingway's short story entitled Soldier’s Home from 1925.  Nineteen twenty five seems like a galaxy ago in many ways but the form of writing, the thing of art and the eternalness of what it means to be human is just a speck of time from then to now.   

This is the story that always comes to mind when I am asked about things like ‘favorite writings’ and things like that.  This is probably the closest thing I have to a favorite short story.  It is just shy of 3,000 words and it is swift to read and heavy with the subtleties of emotion and the diffidence in the struggle to just be.  It’s a touch sad but more then anything it feels familiar and trips up feelings that are personal and resonant.


Krebs went to the war from a Methodist college in Kansas. There is a picture which shows him among his fraternity brothers, all of them wearing exactly the same height and style collar. He enlisted in the Marines in 1917 and did not return to the United States until the second division returned from the Rhine in the summer of 1919.

There is a picture which shows him on the Rhone with two German girls and another corporal. Krebs and the corporal look too big for their uniforms. The German girls are not beautiful. The Rhine does not show in the picture.

By the time Krebs returned to his hometown in Oklahoma the greeting of heroes was over. He came back much too late. The men from the town who had been drafted had all been welcomed elaborately on their return. There had been a great deal of hysteria. Now the reaction had set in. People seemed to think it was rather ridiculous for Krebs to be getting back so late, years after the war was over.

At first Krebs, who had been at Belleau Wood, Soissons, the Champagne, St. Mihiel and in the Argonne did not want to talk about the war at all. Later he felt the need to talk but no one wanted to hear about it. His town had heard too many atrocity stories to be thrilled by actualities. Krebs found that to be listened to at all he had to lie and after he had done this twice he, too, had a reaction against the war and against talking about it. A distaste for everything that had happened to him in the war set in because of the lies he had told. All of the times that had been able to make him feel cool and clear inside himself when he thought of them; the times so long back when he had done the one thing, the only thing for a man to do, easily and naturally, when he might have done something else, now lost their cool, valuable quality and then were lost themselves.

His lies were quite unimportant lies and consisted in attributing to himself things other men had seen, done or heard of, and stating as facts certain apocryphal incidents familiar to all soldiers. Even his lies were not sensational at the pool room. His acquaintances, who had heard detailed accounts of German women found chained to machine guns in the Argonne and who could not comprehend, or were barred by their patriotism from interest in, any German machine gunners who were not chained, were not thrilled by his stories.

Krebs acquired the nausea in regard to experience that is the result of untruth or exaggeration, and when he occasionally met another man who had really been a soldier and the talked a few minutes in the dressing room at a dance he fell into the easy pose of the old soldier among other soldiers: that he had been badly, sickeningly frightened all the time. In this way he lost everything.

During this time, it was late summer, he was sleeping late in bed, getting up to walk down town to the library to get a book, eating lunch at home, reading on the front porch until he became bored and then walking down through the town to spend the hottest hours of the day in the cool dark of the pool room. He loved to play pool.

In the evening he practiced on his clarinet, strolled down town, read and went to bed. He was still a hero to his two young sisters. His mother would have given him breakfast in bed if he had wanted it. She often came in when he was in bed and asked him to tell her about the war, but her attention always wandered. His father was non-committal.

Before Krebs went away to the war he had never been allowed to drive the family motor car. His father was in the real estate business and always wanted the car to be at his command when he required it to take clients out into the country to show them a piece of farm property. The car always stood outside the First National Bank building where his father had an office on the second floor. Now, after the war, it was still the same car.

Nothing was changed in the town except that the young girls had grown up. But they lived in such a complicated world of already defined alliances and shifting feuds that Krebs did not feel the energy or the courage to break into it. He liked to look at them, though. There were so many good-looking young girls. Most of them had their hair cut short. When he went away only little girls wore their hair like that or girls that were fast. They all wore sweaters and shirt waists with round Dutch collars. It was a pattern. He liked to look at them from the front porch as they walked on the other side of the street. He liked to watch them walking under the shade of the trees. He liked the round Dutch collars above their sweaters. He liked their silk stockings and flat shoes. He liked their bobbed hair and the way they walked.

When he was in town their appeal to him was not very strong. He did not like them when he saw them in the Greek's ice cream parlor. He did not want them themselves really. They were too complicated. There was something else. Vaguely he wanted a girl but he did not want to have to work to get her. He would have liked to have a girl but he did not want to have to spend a long time getting her. He did not want to get into the intrigue and the politics. He did not want to have to do any courting. He did not want to tell any more lies. It wasn't worth it.

He did not want any consequences. He did not want any consequences ever again. He wanted to live along without consequences. Besides he did not really need a girl. The army had taught him that. It was all right to pose as though you had to have a girl. Nearly everybody did that. But it wasn't true. You did not need a girl. That was the funny thing. First a fellow boasted how girls mean nothing to him, that he never thought of them, that they could not touch him. Then a fellow boasted that he could not get along without girls, that he had to have them all the time, that he could not go to sleep without them.

That was all a lie. It was all a lie both ways. You did not need a girl unless you thought about them. He learned that in the army. Then sooner or later you always got one. When you were really ripe for a girl you always got one. You did not have to think about it. Sooner or later it could come. He had learned that in the army.

Now he would have liked a girl if she had come to him and not wanted to talk. But here at home it was all too complicated. He knew he could never get through it all again. It was not worth the trouble. That was the thing about French girls and German girls. There was not all this talking. You couldn't talk much and you did not need to talk. It was simple and you were friends. He thought about France and then he began to think about Germany. On the whole he had liked Germany better. He did not want to leave Germany. He did not want to come home. Still, he had come home. He sat on the front porch.

He liked the girls that were walking along the other side of the street. He liked the look of them much better than the French girls or the German girls. But the world they were in was not the world he was in. He would like to have one of them. But it was not worth it. They were such a nice pattern. He liked the pattern. It was exciting. But he would not go through all the talking. He did not want one badly enough. He liked to look at them all, though. It was not worth it. Not now when things were getting good again.

He sat there on the porch reading a book on the war. It was a history and he was reading about all the engagements he had been in. It was the most interesting reading he had ever done. He wished there were more maps. He looked forward with a good feeling to reading all the really good histories when they would come out with good detail maps. Now he was really learning about the war. He had been a good soldier. That made a difference.

One morning after he had been home about a month his mother came into his bedroom and sat on the bed. She smoothed her apron.

"I had a talk with your father last night, Harold," she said, "and he is willing for you to take the car out in the evenings."

"Yeah?" said Krebs, who was not fully awake. "Take the car out? Yeah?"

"Yes. Your father has felt for some time that you should be able to take the car out in the evenings whenever you wished but we only talked it over last night."

"I'll bet you made him," Krebs said.

"No. It was your father's suggestion that we talk the matter over."

"Yeah. I'll bet you made him," Krebs sat up in bed.

"Will you come down to breakfast, Harold?" his mother said."

"As soon as I get my clothes on," Krebs said.

His mother went out of the room and he could hear her frying something downstairs while he washed, shaved and dressed to go down into the dining-room for breakfast. While he was eating breakfast, his sister brought in the mail.

"Well, Hare," she said. "You old sleepy-head. What do you ever get up for?"
Krebs looked at her. He liked her. She was his best sister.

"Have you got the paper?" he asked.

She handed him The Kansas City Star and he shucked off its brown wrapper and opened it to the sporting page. He folded The Star open and propped it against the water pitcher with his cereal dish to steady it, so he could read while he ate.

"Harold," his mother stood in the kitchen doorway, "Harold, please don't muss up the paper. Your father can't read his Star if its been mussed."

"I won't muss it," Krebs said.

His sister sat down at the table and watched him while he read.

"We're playing indoor over at school this afternoon," she said. "I'm going to pitch."

"Good," said Krebs. "How's the old wing?"

"I can pitch better than lots of the boys. I tell them all you taught me. The other girls aren't much good."

"Yeah?" said Krebs.

"I tell them all you're my beau. Aren't you my beau, Hare?"

"You bet."

"Couldn't your brother really be your beau just because he's your brother?"

"I don't know."

"Sure you know. Couldn't you be my beau, Hare, if I was old enough and if you wanted to?"

"Sure. You're my girl now."

"Am I really your girl?"


"Do you love me?"

"Uh, huh."

"Do you love me always?"


"Will you come over and watch me play indoor?"


"Aw, Hare, you don't love me. If you loved me, you'd want to come over and watch me play indoor."

Krebs's mother came into the dining-room from the kitchen. She carried a plate with two fried eggs and some crisp bacon on it and a plate of buckwheat cakes.

"You run along, Helen," she said. "I want to talk to Harold."

She put the eggs and bacon down in front of him and brought in a jug of maple syrup for the buckwheat cakes. Then she sat down across the table from Krebs.

"I wish you'd put down the paper a minute, Harold," she said.
Krebs took down the paper and folded it.

"Have you decided what you are going to do yet, Harold?" his mother said, taking off her glasses.

"No," said Krebs.

"Don't you think it's about time?" His mother did not say this in a mean way. She seemed worried.

"I hadn't thought about it," Krebs said.
"God has some work for every one to do," his mother said. "There can be no idle hands in His Kingdom."

"I'm not in His Kingdom," Krebs said.

"We are all of us in His Kingdom."
Krebs felt embarrassed and resentful as always.

"I've worried about you too much, Harold," his mother went on. "I know the temptations you must have been exposed to. I know how weak men are. I know what your own dear grandfather, my own father, told us about the Civil War and I have prayed for you. I pray for you all day long, Harold."
Krebs looked at the bacon fat hardening on his plate.

"Your father is worried, too," his mother went on. "He thinks you have lost your ambition, that you haven't got a definite aim in life. Charley Simmons, who is just your age, has a good job and is going to be married. The boys are all settling down; they're all determined to get somewhere; you can see that boys like Charley Simmons are on their way to being really a credit to the community."
Krebs said nothing.

"Don't look that way, Harold," his mother said. "You know we love you and I want to tell you for your own good how matters stand. Your father does not want to hamper your freedom. He thinks you should be allowed to drive the car. If you want to take some of the nice girls out riding with you, we are only too pleased. We want you to enjoy yourself. But you are going to have to settle down to work, Harold. Your father doesn't care what you start in at. All work is honorable as he says. But you've got to make a start at something. He asked me to speak to you this morning and then you can stop in and see him at his office."

"Is that all?" Krebs said.

"Yes. Don't you love your mother dear boy?"

"No," Krebs said.
His mother looked at him across the table. Her eyes were shiny. She started crying.

"I don't love anybody," Krebs said.
It wasn't any good. He couldn't tell her, he couldn't make her see it. It was silly to have said it. He had only hurt her. He went over and took hold of her arm. She was crying with her head in her hands.

"I didn't mean it," he said. "I was just angry at something. I didn't mean I didn't love you."
His mother went on crying. Krebs put his arm on her shoulder.

"Can't you believe me, mother?"
His mother shook her head.

"Please, please, mother. Please believe me."

"All right," his mother said chokily. She looked up at him. "I believe you, Harold."
Krebs kissed her hair. She put her face up to him.

"I'm your mother," she said. "I held you next to my heart when you were a tiny baby."
Krebs felt sick and vaguely nauseated.

"I know, Mummy," he said. "I'll try and be a good boy for you."

"Would you kneel and pray with me, Harold?" his mother asked.
They knelt down beside the dining-room table and Krebs's mother prayed.

"Now, you pray, Harold," she said.

"I can't," Krebs said.

"Try, Harold."

"I can't."

"Do you want me to pray for you?"

So his mother prayed for him and then they stood up and Krebs kissed his mother and went out of the house. He had tried so to keep his life from being complicated. Still, none of it had touched him. He had felt sorry for his mother and she had made him lie. He would go to Kansas City and get a job and she would feel all right about it. There would be one more scene maybe before he got away. He would not go down to his father's office. He would miss that one. He wanted his life to go smoothly. It had just gotten going that way. Well, that was all over now, anyway. He would go over to the schoolyard and watch Helen play indoor baseball.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I’d Rather Be Watching Cartoons


Is it just me or does so much of the art being produced today seem to be using, recalling, incorporating animation and cartoons?  For example the works of Jordan Wolfson, Mathias Poledna, Jamian Juliao-Villani, Francisco Cordero-Ocuguera, Julien Ceccaldi, David Rappenau, Ian Chang, and Parker Ito, just to name a few.  It is obviously not just me because ‘animation’ was even given large swathes of input in Art Forum’s summer issue but that included and aside, let’s take another gander at this.

I’ve been poking with this idea for a while but it was after I saw the Chuck Jones exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image that it felt pressing.  For those who are unfamiliar with Chuck Jones, he was an animator for Warner Brothers in the peak of its cartoon reign.  He reinforced the iconic lines and personalities of Bugs and Daffy as well as created the characters Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner.  His work was thoroughly stamped into my childhood brain because I religiously watched Looney Toons c. 1988 on Nickelodeon and still find myself smiling through any of Jones’ pieces.  Anyways, so after seeing this exhibition I felt a deep warmth. Some of this was certainly based on memory/childhood things, but some was also based on seeing such dynamic interplays of color, music and the drawn line.  This made me wonder why Jones’ work immediately evokes while most of what I see in contemporary galleries barely flickers my attention.

Thinking about this made me think about the state of art, which frankly is as dull and mute as the surfaces artists are continuing to make.  But then I thought, wait… the art world isn’t JUST the “Zombie Formalism” that Walter Robinson coined and Jerry Saltz inflects upon and it’s not JUST the sterile “Post Internet” new aesthetics that has garnered actual careers and theorizing.  There is something else going on and that going on is in the noodles and doodles of artists in the forms of cartoons, comics, image plopping and animation. 

The tools and processes of artists using cartoons/animation in their work depends of course on the artists’ objectives as well as the artists’ production budgets.  What is very beautiful within this though is that a minor or simple use of characters, or the creation of them, has equal impact if it is successfully incorporated as intended.  What does that mean?  That means that using Snow White in a re-animated high budget animatronic etc., possesses the same conceptual wealth of an applied sticker or drawing on this or that cheap thing.  Snow White is a loaded symbol, one that has evolved and will continue to.  Staking a certain claim by re-representing her or her image borrows and elicits the same source triggers.

Why is this happening so often and why now?  One reason may be that many of these original sources are from dead or dying mediums.  Comic books, Saturday morning cartoons, hand drawn anything.  This produces nostalgia, which possesses deep and reactive things like memories, emotions, and the distance of time.  You see this happening in the movie industry with their re-creation of possibly every popular comic and childhood book possible.  That industry has been ridiculous in its degree of saturation but the same impulse is there.  That impulse happens to be directed and reactive to males and specifically to males that are in their transitional 20-something soon to be 30-something and that matters greatly in why, how, and to what degree it pervades in the movies and art. 

Another reason that animation/cartoons are possibly being more used is that it adds some levity to this whole art thing. In a small degree it is a punk gesture even if it is masterfully produced.  These characters are slight nods to graffiti and are like piercings, stickers, tattoos etc. that youths apply to themselves and to other surfaces to express identity with a sub-culture while excluding the normative.  The normative in this case is fine art’s dogmas of sign, symbol, and codes that since the advent of Modernism have been very self-serious in content, expression and even in its subversion of the aforementioned.  It’s like a middle finger to art dialogue but it is doing much more because they use graphics that are collectively shared via childhood and or childish forms. 

Lastly, they may be doing it as a form of branding.  Not dissimilar to the above nature of badging oneself but this is acting as a signature.  The repeated use of a character(s) is a very good way to sign a work.  It can then become symbolic of the artist as a brand.  It is a powerful thing to create a mascot for oneself because it brings the production of the art practice into a whole new light very quickly and very comprehensively.  Koons, Warhol, and even Beuys have some trimmings of symbology that is distinctly linked to them but there is yet to be a truly branded artist to a complete degree.  I am not saying this is the goal of artists using this new tool set but it seems a likely place to find the first or leading examples of this amongst those who use this heavily. 

I find all of this, the use of animation, cartoons and their surrounding aesthetic cousins to be very interesting and very easy to look at.  It is not a trend per se, many for a while have used this in some way or another, but this most recent cropping feels different.  I can’t put my finger on it directly but I think that maybe what makes it so successful is its humor.  For a bit, a year or so ago, there was all this hoopla (myself included) about the rise of stand-up comedy in art and specifically in performance art.  Stand-up comedy was a beacon to loosen up and react to the heaviness that pervades performance art.  I think that the whole stand-up comedy thing is a bit over though and that animation/cartoon use is the new subversive in chilling the art world out.  Nothing lasts but hopefully there is more work being produced in this vain.  More contributions by lady artists and a general increase of the goofy, zany, and irreverent in storytelling will only make art and looking at more compelling and god forbid, fun.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Poor Person Culture Guide

As I mentioned before, I have no job and I’m leaving mid September so getting a new one is not feasible.  So for the past 2 weeks and another 6 to go I will be doomed to the boredom of me, myself and I.  Luckily, it is summer and even more luckily I am still living in the NYC.  Living here makes having innumerable hours a day full of potential and vivre if you are savvy and a bit prepared even if you have little play money. 

Besides the possibly life fulfilling aspects, we have jobs to make money so that we can have lives, do things, and experience life.  When that is stalled, put on hold or not cycling back into itself as it usually does, you have to be creative so that you can maintain that delight of living which is necessary for existence. I have experienced this in some ways before but this most recent period has me pondering on money and culture and how to go about that.  This has lead me to share with you some tips and guides of places to see, things to do and general small things that may help entertain me/you when we have to save our money.

Galleries - Of course most know that galleries in NYC are free.  This is still true and even though August is the dead month for this, it is still nice to peruse the spaces even if they tend to be conglomerations of group shows.  Though openings are basically over until September, they are still a good place to get that social buzz and a free drink or two if you need.  I hate doing this but hey, it’s there if you want it. 

Museum - The Met is thankfully still suggested donation as is their uptown Cloisters.  This is always a relief albeit tourist filled in the summer.  Most other museums patronizingly grace the masses with free slots of time at least one day a week.  If you want to wait in line and try to squeeze in to see a show, then this is an option but summer is a drag for the big spaces like MoMA and the likes.  Instead use this time to visit less visited places like The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria Queens.  I did just this thing last Friday, when they have free admission and then after had a lovely Greek meal.  There are many many off the path places like this, I recommend visiting these versus the mega museums.

Free Bar Food - There are a few places that give you free food with drink.  The one I love the most is Spain, a relic of a restaurant off 6th Ave that has shabbily tuxedoed waiters, Estrella and a seemingly unlimited supply of potatoes with hot sauce and tiny meatballs.  It’s not the best bar, it’s definitely not the best food but it is a hovel of a time warp that you can feel the decades have rolled over.

Beach - I luckily have a car and I drive to Jacob Riis as many days as I can.  I purchased a season pass for $65 and I just lounge about, read if I can and swim in that ever changing ocean.  It is the cheapest, most relaxing, fun way to spend an afternoon with friends, loves or just by yourself.

Books - I love the public library, as I have mentioned before, and I use it in spurts as I desire but there are times that it just doesn’t have what you want or need, especially if you are trying to read art theory and that lot.  So the first place I go to is my friends, after that there is the crazy internet which if you search well and search correctly will enable you to find downloadable versions of almost anything.  A true wonder that is as revolutionizing as the printing press. (I am a boob with ‘getting’ technology so was told that putting “.epud” after a title is the easiest way to find it, duh to most but wow to me)

Panels/Screenings etc. - There are a lot of sites and such for cultural events calendaring.  I myself have not found any that I really “like” or use but they are there.  Some like, Art Haps and Platform for Pedagogy are helpful in one’s quest to find that brainy thing to do this week.  Also, I subscribe to New School’s events calendar, as I tend to like some things they do and they have diverse subjects covered.  Other universities have these listings as well and most are free and open to the public.

Food/Drink - Eat at home, make your own food, it is fun and I have to admit I like my cooking way more then most restaurants.  Cooking for and with friends is also super fun and way better then that awkward, let’s go to a restaurant with a bunch of people and you get the bill and somehow everyone owes $75 even though you only got a salad, situation.  Drinking is a money pit for sure so balance this by investigating local happy hours and also there are great places that have wonderful wine and spirits at discounted cost.  It is worth the extra trek to stock up on things you like that you can share with company. 

Walk - It’s free babies! Walking in the city is the best if you have the time to do it.  It shows you and reminds you why you live here in the first place and it bumps you into new people, places and wonders.