Sometimes I get comments here that remind me of a friend who recently threw a big party. The morning after, reaching for the Lysol kept on the bathroom shelf with a few other such products, he discovered that someone had carefully scratched the “GL” off of the label of an aerosol can of “Glass Cleaner.”
The culprit has yet to be found. But thinking of the poor unfortunate soul who takes that one literally still makes me do a spit-take.
And then I get comments that concern me. Make me feel like the people who always get my point didn’t. You know, the ones I don’t usually confuse. It’s then I reconsider…
In Laura Lark Loves You #6 I loosely paraphrased the first part of a quote (now faithfully excerpted) by Joel Coen in “Film Comment”: “If someone goes out to make a movie that isn’t primarily to entertain people, then I don’t know what the fuck they’re doing…”
My definition of “entertainment” is much like my definition of “art”: sweeping, general. When I’m confronted with either these days, I think that as long as I’m not being forced to interact with it, it doesn’t matter what I think.
I recently read a profile on Trent Reznor in the New Yorker, though, and I realized that perhaps I’m the one who needs to reexamine what I’m doing here on Glasstire—before somebody confuses me by removing a letter or two.
Until that profile, I knew little about Reznor. I sort of remember his stuff, but it all blends together in my brain: a skinny puppy/throbbing gristle/NIN stew. My true initiation to the band, then, was in viewing “Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist,” a documentary on the life of the L.A.-based writer/artist/S&M celeb who lived with and ultimately died from cystic fibrosis—but not before willingly subjecting himself to torture in the NIN video “Happiness in Slavery.” I watched, wondering what could have possessed me to buy a box of popcorn. Until I threw up into it.
Aww, lose the ‘tude, dude! That was one pretty lucrative hate machine!
But the New Yorker served Trent Reznor up in a format I could digest—even embrace—without the faintest impulse to hurl. Every single thing Reznor talked about, from social anxiety to distribution and copyright to his lackluster academic career stirred deep feelings of identification in my soul. Who knew?
The article made me aware of one thing: For me, judgment always boils down to the vomit in the popcorn box. It’s all subjective. My skepticism about artist-on-artist writing is always there on an intellectual level, but the real reasons I’m uncomfortable with writing about art are personal.
I have a musician friend who says that rap music is shit, that it’s not really music. That bugs me. I’m too clueless to appreciate much of what he’s up to, so when I heard him talking about really great “noise” music one day, I imagined that the stuff would sound a whole lot like regular old noise to me. But he’s got so many interesting views on so many subjects, I am sure he’s way ahead of the curve. He’s a purist, which is understandable, considering his formidable intellect and expertise. He therefore has little tolerance for work that does not fit in with his definition of music, and even less for musicians whom he considers bad at the music they do.
Whatever. I don’t care if rap is good music, or music at all. Crushed oppressor, a little weed AND a beat I can dance to? I’m in! I can barely sit for five minutes listening to “real” music without thinking about how much my butt hurts. But my friend doesn’t call me a dumbfuck for identifying with the lyrics of the angry and disenfranchised, and I don’t call him an elitist prick. Just plain heartwarming, isn’t it?
I truly relate to his frustration. I’ve certainly eyed quite a few artists lately, particularly those who think that cramming text into visual work somehow makes it smarter. I fantasize them and Rosalind Krauss being run down by a semi loaded with back issues of October. One can dream. But whether or not something is really art is as irrelevant as whether someone’s art is good or bad these days. The Ivory Tower, stormed by everything from gender to pop culture studies, lost its ability to shelter the “best” and the “brightest” so long ago I can’t remember when Zombie Studies wasn’t an actual field. It’s all out there, and it’s all okay! Thus, the same crap goes on inside as outside. What’s good? What’s bad? Who cares? At this very moment, some PhD from Harvard is doing a cultural-phenomenological analysis of “Honey Boo-Boo.”
That’s democracy for you. The shitty, the sublime, the sublimely shitty—all fighting for an audience, and he/she/it with the most Facebook friends wins. Some of the most educated and/or cultured folks I know are shameless rubberneckers of the train wreck that is reality TV. Who has time to judge, let alone attend live performances, art openings, or literary readings when you know you’re missing an episode of “Catfish?”
I’m okay with it, mainly because I ignore most of it. In return, everything I do is largely ignored. But if we all document everything we do and upload it to YouTube, we’ll eventually catch up on each other’s doings, so no biggie.
That’s why The Shrimp Boat Project appeals to me even though I don’t really get it. That’s a generous statement, considering that a simple mention of the word “shrimp” hurtles me back to 1982, when one of my 70+ part-time jobs was working on the docks in Kemah for a really gross dude who left copies of Shaved magazine lying around and had me arranging sheep’s head fish on crushed ice every morning at 4 a.m. to sell to Vietnamese restaurant owners. It’s the teeth on those things. Tiny. Square. Uniform. I still have nightmares.
Like I said, I’m not quite clear on what they’re up to. Experimenting in subsistence living? Building a community that catches catfish rather than falls prey to them online? No matter. Rather than comparing themselves to other artists whose projects look nothing like their own—and let’s face it, even if you suck, you should be original at sucking—and rather than slapping some “political” drawing on the wall at the Whitney Biennial to pompously preach to the choir, maybe they’re out there educating themselves and others on environmental matters or perhaps creating a self-sustaining practice that will make them less dependent on the seafood section at Whole Foods. Or maybe they’re out there drinking beer and getting good tans.
Or…hey! They could be retooling the ol’ “give a man a fish” adage: Give a man a shrimp and he’ll bitch cuz he was promised a dozen with his Happy Captain Platter; Teach an artist to shrimp and, at the very least, he’ll produce one heckuva Happy Captain Platter with a lo-fat, lo-carb slaw.
Or boutique hushpuppies. I envision options.
I’m just not confident enough to judge without a true grasp of the subject, because I know that some day I’ll stumble upon an issue of 21st Century Art Shrimping Quarterly at the local newsstand while searching for my trusted Bitchy Old Washed-Up Artist Daily.
My point is that while I’m sitting around categorizing, worried how some kid packs the house with his punk friends while two people remember to email me an apology for missing my opening because, well, ya know, stuff was blocking the front door, I’m forgetting that there’s a real culprit out there. It’s that asshole who dressed up the MFA program to look like, say, business school or the engineering department. You know, the one pushing courses in Professional Practice and seminars to help me polish up the ol’ artist statement and elevator pitch.
None of us are cranking out the same product, but we’re trained to think as if properly lit slides and a smart spin will really help us in the job market. Add a smart tie, a firm handshake and an ability to Move With The Cheese, and you’ll have a future so bright it’ll blind ya.
Granted, the hustler who talks smart and remembers to zip his fly does get his foot in the door, but if you can stay awake while looking at stuff in the art world these days, you might realize that going through that door only leads you into Casa de Pretense-io Y Mucho Yawn-io.
Ack. I’d like the money I spent on art school back now, please. What my time in the MFA program should have been was a safe haven, the closest thing to an Ivory Tower a person like me would ever see. To be fair, much of it was. But all was sullied by this underlying anxiety of how I’d make it with my fab product and smart portfolio. What kind of idiot goes to art school thinking of his or her art as a viable product with which to compete on the open market? Well, all of us. But no matter how much Kommodification Kool-Aid I swallow, it doesn’t change the fact that jobs (both institutional and academic) and sales depend on current zeitgeist and the open market. Last time I checked, neither of these had much to do with whether my art—or anyone else’s—was relevant.
The catalogue, available at finer retailers of quality art books everywhere (especially the Menil bookstore).
I could go on. And on. And on. But I won’t. I’m late for work, and one of the best things about having three degrees and working the drive-thru at Jack in the Box is that I can gently remind my followers that No, Sir! Batman and The Pew Charitable Trust are doing good; you, in contrast, are doing very well! Would you like a large drink? And make it a combo meal.
So context is everything. Exhibition and performance space. Jobs. Funding. Man, the reality show I’d love to watch is the one taking place in every art department nowadays. “It’s the Crusty Ol’ Paintin’ & Object-Makin’ Coots against the Multimedia/Cultural Progressive Thought Punks, and they’re fighting as if their livelihood depends on it!”
Tonight: CLUI vs. Chinati
TO THE DEATH!!!!
Because it does. And that has little to do with quality. But I’ll admit a few things that makes me a pain in the ass whom no one should pay attention to:
A) Looking at a painting that speaks to me is a transcendent experience and I believe that learning to draw by hand is a way to better see, and I prefer reading an actual book to scanning a computer screen. It’s art and entertainment rolled into one!
B) I’ve been around Houston long enough to remember when the first Core Fellows rolled in, thus thankfully nudging aside a few of the Old Guard. While most bitched, I practically knelt in front of the Glassell School and genuflected. It meant one less lotería, corazón, or milagro-choked canvas to further ghettoize Houston artists as quaint regionalists. It was a pivotal moment in Houston art: We maintained that Lone Star feel, were given an opportunity to be part of a larger dialogue and were able to show, in return, what kick ass things can happen in a busted boom town with no zoning, if you’re willing to get your hands (or shirt) dirty.
How many years later I can not say, but I walked into a Core Fellow exhibition a while back and was repulsed by the fact that even the artists I had previously admired clearly had such a boner for being writers, they literally mucked up works that could have spoken a thousand words if they’d just kept the crappy text off of them. I haven’t darkened the doorway since. I’ve probably missed some good stuff, but, well, eh? Everything that went around came around, and la nausee provoked by the spin on that particular tilt-a-whirl soiled one of the only works in the exhibition with text that actually belonged there: the catalogue.
C) If you like to write, write on! If you’re good at it, even better. If you’re writing to promote your friends or your agenda, fine, but don’t sit around thinking you’re better than everyone else because you can get some idiot like myself to crank out a paragraph for you.
If I find myself impressed by any context nowadays—school, gallery, institution, categorizing of any kind—I know it’s time for me to watch “The Big Lebowski” again, because nothing characterizes the clusterfucked Tower of Babel, end-of-the-road state we’re in better or more hilariously. And then I’ll need to haul out a copy of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Because hey, it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.
With that in mind, I have to say that as far as this column goes, disregard of context has fucked me once again. Some people actually come to Glasstire for guidance on what to do with their shit. Just because I can’t get hired by Jon Stewart, Amy Sedaris, or Stephen Colbert doesn’t make the reader who misses the irony here an idiot. Nothing these days comes with a warning label. Maybe it should. Perhaps I should head every post with: Literal interpretation might not be advisable in This “advice” column! Please refer to your Professional Practice catalogue!
Or: Careful! This might not be “ASS CLEANER!”
I just wanted to have a good time. Have a few yuks without passing judgment on stuff I might not understand. Not feel like I’m crawling up some artist’s or institution’s ass with promotional press. Ya know, be the fun girl at the party. And I don’t like saying, “well, fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke!” when this isn’t ComedyCentral.com.
But then I went and spoiled it all by saying somethin’ stupid…like “I love you.”
P.S. ALL of Laura Lark’s love (and she really means it) and most sincere gratitude goes out to Kelly Klaasmeyer, whose support and endless patience got Laura Lark’s ass out of many a rut. Good luck and a million thanks for being the best editor I’ve ever had, Kelly. Working with you has made this, one of the 70+ part-time jobs I’ve ever had, one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. You will be missed here. Quite frankly, I don’t know how I’ll go on without you…