Monday, June 26, 2006


There was an NYTimes article today (Renewed Push for Artistic ABCs in N.Y.) about the Dept. of Education's attempt to introduce an ambitious k-12 arts curriculum into it's public school system. I read the article and then the Blueprint for Teaching and Learning Arts website in the hopes of getting more detailed info about the proposed program, but finished, still feeling vaguely dissatisfied. There are so many threads up for discussion, I'm not even sure where to start. Excuse the ramblefest.

To get a 1st hand account of teaching under the foundation of Blueprint, check out artpowerlines' post There is No Stick on the same topic.

Re: Educators
One sentence really struck me while reading the article, "The principal, Michelle Betancourt, said that though she viewed art as an an outlet for students, 'It's pretty separate because of the emphasis on the academic program. We used to have it before the emphasis on testing.'" I find it surprising that an educator (an educator?!) believes Art is separate from learning? The ed. system and the paranoid educators hoping to keep funding are so myopically consumed by the answers to the area of a rhombus and rote memorized definitions of pulchritude...that they miss the broader scope of what education is. Math teaches analytical thought, and Reading/Writing teaches critical thought. And yes, these are important, but Art which so easily falls into the category of lateral thinking, if not applied academics at the very least, involving not only the 3 sacred Rs (readin',writin','rithematic), but a personal context to boot, isn't considered a ying to vertical thought's yang? (That's a pretty big bang for your educational buck if you ask me) No wonder there is a dearth of great thinkers. Our education system certainly isn't honing superbrains to think out of the box. They apparently don't even think it's all that necessary.

The writer ends the article with a comment from the Dept. of Ed. Sr. Instructional Mgr., Sharon Dunn, "In every region I'm making the case: Do this because it's good for the kids." Maybe the writer lopped off some, more crucial, prequel to that statement? Gotta love those NYT writers. If not, that's tantamount to telling your kids "cuz I said so". That logic doesn't work on kids. How's that suppose to convince adults?

Re: Testing and Accountability
"The laziness of people wanting fast-food answers to gourmet questions." Part of the issue I have with the Ed. system is its impatience and empirical stance on learning. Why must they have proof positive NOW? How can they really gauge if a teaching structure is working over the course of one year in a K-12 scenario? Why can't they make a methodic and strategic long term plan and ride it out? Why all the quick fixes? Sometimes results don't surface for a while, each kid is different, and it certainly doesn't come about faster because of a fiscal funding calendar issued by the Wallace Foundation. Though it sure as hell makes teachers statistically lie and cheat about their grading more. The Dept. of Ed. should hold themselves accountable for how they set up (or screw up) the system, and not the teachers who are often the lowest cogs in the machine.

Re: The Blueprint
What's with this "it's only a recommendation" attitude? Either commit to a program or not. Otherwise, why waste taxpayer money for 5 years, planning what is essentially an elaborate wish list? I find the program a bit troubling too. They have all these activities. The superficial "look" of art: cut, paste, make paintings, play instruments. I'm wondering if consideration was given to the psychological development of children thru strategically placed, specific skill set activities k-12. I want to see delineated how using certain techniques of artmaking develop certain psychological skills, not just mechanical ones, and why it is appropriate to that certain stage of learning and age group. Not a blank WordDoc Template left up to individual teachers with no cohesive agenda. If they have, why isn't it mentioned in its Wishlist Manifesto? In that sense I feel there must be a required day to day, exercise by exercise schedule to be followed by teachers in order to truly be "uniform", as they mention, and gauge learning, if that is what they insist on testing for. How is the Dept. of Ed. supposed to truly monitor a unified progress if every teacher is doing their own thing? It's not just a matter of WHAT is taught, but HOW it is taught? There has to be a central referent, a register, where Quality is what is being judged and tested, not Quantity.

Re: The 5 Strands
The Blueprint is divided into 5 "Strands": I. Art-making (skills + knowledge), II. Literacy in the Arts (learning cross-disciplinary skills, observation reading writing), III.Making Connections (see the social cultural historical contexts) IV. Community and Cultureal Resources (NYC shares its culture wealth), then there's V. Career and Life-long Learning ("While some students will pursue careers in arts-related fields, most will regard the arts as a means of expression and a source of life-long enjoyment. The career-building skills learned in arts activities are those required in all other fields of endeavor: goals setting, planning and working independently and in teams".) This last bit reads like a sad resume.

It also strikes me as deflating. So all this intergrated Arts learning, this ambitious 13yr cumulative's just going to get that kid.... a job or enjoyment from art? That's it? It funnels down to money and status? All of a sudden, it's starting to sound like someone's being sold a 13yr supply of snake oil. What I mean by that is I feel Arts Educators themselves are debasing the value of art and an arts education. When can we start thinking about Art not just as an occupation or commodity, but as a way of digesting information, an interstice in our social, political, even economic landscape that allows for contemplation, reinterpretation and new ways of seeing. Expansive thinking and an appreciation of that, regardless of your vocation in life. Now that's ambitious!

Way before there was Beuys and his "everyone is an artist", there was Coomaraswamy (circa 1937):

The artist is not a special kind of man, but every man who is not an artist in some field, every man without a vocation, is an idler. The kind of artist that a man should be, carpenter, painter, lawyer, farmer or priest, is determined by his own nature, in other words by his nativity...No man has a right to any social status who is not an artist.

We are thus introduced at the outset to the problem of the use of and the worth of the artist to a serious society. This use is in general the good of man, the good of society, and in particular the occcasional good of an individual requirement. All of these goods correspond to the desires of men: so that what is actually made in a given society is a key to the governing conception of the purpose of life in that society, which can be judged by its works in that sense, and better than in any other way. There can be no doubt about the purpose of art in a traditional society: when it has been decided that such and such a thing should be made, it is by art that is can be properly made. There can be no good use without art: that is, no good use if things are not properly made. The artist is producing a utility, somthing to be used. Mere pleasure is not a use from this point of view. An illustration can be given in our taste for Shaker or other simple furniture, or for Chinese bronzes or other abstract arts of exotic origin, which are not foods but sauces to our palate. Our "aesthetic" appreciation, essentially sentimental because it is just what the word "aesthetic" means, a kind of feeling rather than an understanding, has little or nothing to do with their raison d'etre. If they please our taste and are fashionable, this only means that we a have over -eaten of other food, not that we are such as those who made these things and made "good use" of them. To "enjoy" what does not correspond to any vital needs of our own and what we have not verified in our own life can only be described as an indulgence. It is luxurious to make mantelpiece ornaments of the artefacts of what we term uncivilized or supertitious peoples, whose cutlure we think of as much inferior to our own, and which our touch has destroyed. The attitude however ignorant, of those who used to call these things"abominations" and "beastly devices of the heathen," was a much healthier one. It is the same if we read the scriptures of any tradition, or authors such as Dante or Ashvghosha who tell us frankly that they wrote with other than "aesthetic" ends in view; or if we listen to sacrificial music for the ears' sake only. We have a right to be pleased by these things only through our understanding use of them. We have good enough of our own "perceptible to the senses": if the nature of our civilisation be such that we lack a sufficiency of "intelligible goods," we had better remake ourselves than divert the intelligible goods of others to the multiplication of our own aesthetic satisfactions.

In philosophy that we are considering, only the contemplative and active lives are reckoned human. The life of pleasure only, one of which the end is pleasure is subhuman; every animal "knows what it likes," and seeks for it. This is not an exclusion of pleasure from life as if pleasure were wrong in itself, it is an exclusion of the pursuit of pleasure thought of as a "diversion", and apart from "life."

"Improving arts education remains largely a process of nudging schools down the right path." (NYT) Let's hope its path looks something like these: an 8-Fold Path and 10 Bulls

*note: ..and before you think I've jumped on some esoteric eastern philos bandwagon, understand what I'm talking about isn't buddhism or tao...but plain, non-culturecentric discpline.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Safety in Numbers

Safety in Numbers, Steel Wool, Approx. 10' Hx 8.5' Wx 4"D

Latest piece in a show titled New Lines: Drawn, Stitched, and Sculpted that just opened this Tuesday. The Opening is next Thursday at Spur Projects near San Francisco, CA.

Detail shot (click to enlarge)

Safety in Numbers is the latest installment in my Steel Wool Drawing series, Herd Mentality. Exploring the concept of Illusion, both as a visual and a mental construct, the series has grown into one of the main focuses of my artistic exploration. Everyone delights in magic, but no one likes to be fooled…Or do we? Do we spend as much time guarding against the truth slipping in, setting up barriers to protect ourselves from what are, as often as not, unpleasant truths? Playful yet ominous, I hope to reflect on the precarious balance that can be found between truth and fiction, conviction and delusion, strength and fragility.

In my process, I de-construct scouring pads, common household objects, and re-construct them as sheep, highly symbolic, even totemic animals, that were once more common in everyday life in many parts of the world than are the cleaning supplies under your kitchen sink. Illusionistic space is visual metaphor. It is the space where our mental gymnastics, pratfalls, and re-imaginings take place. Steel wool that might otherwise be taken for granted is animated here, imbued with life that is always metaphorically present in the inanimate world. In so doing, I hope to investigate the mental gap between easy assumptions or following blindly (socially, politically, economically) and stealthily, crossing a tightrope without doubt that, though gravity is real, determination can build a bridge to a truer understanding. And that understanding insists that metaphor is a tool rather than a deception.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

You say you want a revolution

I'm responding with some considered thoughts about Artpowerlines' post and comments from several days ago. (I am a slow digester.)

If a new revolution is indeed to take place, and who's to say it hasn't already begun, it will be (in mixing chaos theory metaphors with Muhammad Ali...) one that floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee. It will come about softly (without all the revolutionary exclamation points and trumpet fussing), but be carried out with a disciplined and exacting force. Relating this thread of thought with Fillou's comments on "covert fascism", per my last post) I think it's a matter of personal responsibility and taking art (if it is truly a way of thinking and not merely a material commodity) out of the context of the "institution" and bringing it onto a humanistic platform. (Joseph Beuys: "Everyone is an artist.") That's why I think the "artistic" transition Artpowerlines made from performance art to interactive participation with a broader community, not soley for and about the art establishment, is so philosophically deft and important in a lasting change. What we need to revolt against isn't the art system, but a stagnant and belligerent way of thinking. Paradigm shifts: It's not about reinventing the wheel, just learning to use it better.

By community I don't mean to single out artsy interaction, organized or nonprofit events per se. It could just be things you do yourself in your everyday. It could take many simple and seemingly meaningless and non Art forms: simply getting to know your next door neighbor in lieu of an arsenal of hi-tech home security surveillance systems as a way to fight crime; taking your ipod off once in a while and listening to what's actually around you, picking up trash on the ground even if it's not yours, reusing a paper bag even if you could easily "recycle" by throwing it in a bin, smiling on the street even if only to yourself. Call me a luddite, and maybe this is a somewhat obtuse connection to make....but whatever "force" keeps a Rembrandt painting relevant and beautiful today after so many centuries...has a little something to do with giving humanity a bit of quality face time in an era of on-the-go technology, perhaps? (and bringing that humanity, as a spirit and not necessarily as an action, back into the fold of Art with a capital "A", if this is your chosen voice. Here's to a kinder and gentler tour de force.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

What is Art?

One Excuse: Been trying to catch up with the momentum of life recently. work deadlines, art deadlines = dead air blogspace.

One Rant: We need it like a Hole-in-One's head -NYT's Ginia Bellafante and her article on Lisa Hartough. (Um...Has Bellafante ever looked at a Rembrandt? Hartough doesn't paint anything like Rembrandt, and I'm not talking about sepia tones. Mr. Van Rijn doesn't do stiff anal retentive brushstroke realism in flat plastic colors with no sense of dramatic (directional and/or inner) light.) Look at this detail of the hands from The Jewish Bride. Puhlease.

One Quote: [Was lucky enough to find a copy of Fluxist, Robert Filliou's 1970 book "Teaching and Learning as a Performative Art" and have been devouring it. more thoughts on this later.] "Sometime in the late 1960s, Filliou was talking with his friend Billy Kluver, a research scientist at Bell Laboratories. The reason scientists make greater strides in their field than artists do in theirs, Kluver told him, is that scientists ‘don't know what science is.’ (Filliou, 1970: 87). . .The book is in many ways Filliou's answer to Kluver's provocation. ‘It is true’, Filliou says, ‘that artists spend a powerful lot of time and energy trying to convince each other about what is art and what is not. They do not know that they don't know.’ (ibid) For Filliou this idea was more than something to muse about over drinks with his friends. Indeed for him there was something very serious at stake in his playful non-knowledge. ‘Every generation of young people’, he argued, ‘has to fight fascism. For mine, it was the overt fascism of the Nazis and their allies. For theirs, in relative peace time, it is the covert fascism of the square world. Usually this fight is lost, because young people fail to root out the seeds of fascism within themselves.’ (ibid) What he calls ‘relative peace time’ is peaceful only in that the covert fascism he describes now unfolds relatively discretely, and in a relatively bloodless manner."(Virilio and Lotringer, 1997) Who are the fascists today? As easy as it is to point fingers at Bush, art critics, gallerists etc., I/we (as artists or otherwise) should check the mirror once in a while. Does calling yourself art intelligentsia actually entitle you to free/creative thinking?? I'm not so sure. (see how winkelman thinks in "conflict of interest" or fischer6000's response to artpowerlines' "Socialist Art Public") They are trapped in a cycle of artspeak and old thought structures, trying to think outside the box while still living it in. S(h)amefully, so do I, most days.

and I leave you with. . . .
One Anecdote: With all this talk about, around, below and above the topic of 'what is art' on the blogosphere...this comes none too soon:

I ran into a friend recently. I owed him some money but forgot to bring an envelope for it, so I riffled through my bag and found a piece of scrap paper and quickly folded a little paper purse (like I used to make as a kid, at a time in life when I was easily entertained and mystified by the simple action of folding paper), put the money in the pouch and handed it to him later when I saw him.

Aeion: looks at me and says, "What's this?"
Me: "The money I owe you."
He turns it upside down, but the money doesn't fall out. He marvels for a quick second at the perfectly compact, utilitarian package. It even manages to have a happy happenstance abstract pattern on two of its corners (via whatever was on the xerox).
Aeion: turns to me again and says, "No, that's art."
Me: "No, that's not Art." (capital 'A' inflection in voice). It's just a coin purse."
He corrects me,"No, it is art. Art is a way of thinking.

Apparently your normal person at the bus stop knows more about art that the art peoples.

paper purse replica courtesy of NYT Hartough article scrap paper