Searching for the Answers to Life’s Mysteries on YouTube

Old TV shows never die, they just go into reruns on less and less prestigious channels.

And so it seems enough of you lit candles for the patron saint of the internet and nothing that’s affected the lives of people born after 1970 has been left out of YouTube.

Aaaah, the stuff I thought was cool when I was a teenager…  And the bootlegs and B sides are there too!

Lucky for me, a whole lot of innovative and expressive music from the post-punk/underground rock scenes “broke” while I was an adolescent.  It must have saved the minds of millions of kids in all the disconnected towns and cultural backwaters of the Midwest.  It was “Alternative”.  It has, of course, itself been broken in turn.  I don’t know, maybe it is a secret that lots of innovative and great music is still being made – it’s just that it’s gone somewhere else to hide.

I mean, sure, because I was a skate kid who knew the joy of breaking stuff, I had already been primed.  But, when I went out and found Nirvana, I put it in my tape deck and couldn’t help but know it was dangerous.  I knew there was something in it that challenged so much that I had been told, and that it was right.  I knew that so much of what I saw around me was total bullshit.  (Oh, if not for rock n’ roll.)  Not every teen kid gets to figure that out, hell maybe for some it isn’t true… but for me it was and I saw that danger and I ran after it.  And when I saw Thurston Moore actually play complicated and coherent and noisy music with a guitar with a drumstick and a handrail right there before my own eyes, I knew the world had good people in it.

I know I could repeat the exact same passage and instead write about hip hop – saving young people’s hearts and delicate psyches, and getting sucked under the bus of RIAA/broadcast radio mediocrity – just that that wasn’t my experience.

And so I teach art, or, well, until now I had taught art, to 18-22 year old kids.  From time to time one comes through that’s headed somewhere.  I don’t know where.  That’s what makes them exciting.  But, that kid is indeed going.  Mostly though, my foot across their collective asses is the only and insufficient directive they have to seek out some connection with something uncontrived.  And so mine own heart slowly dies as I become the M-G-M-T(period).  I hear the things that drive their “passion” and they are, they are… derivative.

Sure, youth knows not from whence their slop hath been derived. Or so I would’ve written.

But that brings me right around to the art that was the reason I had hoped I got involved with these post-teens in the first place.  There is nothing more insulting in the contemporary art forum than to be “derivative”.  What we love is novelty.  It must not have been done before.  We know in our hearts that novelty is a mostly crappy goal though.  For commodity art, well, OK, but most of us aren’t into that as an audience.  What follows that is a bigger question about:

The difference between novelty and sincerity…

How many people will “question the boundaries between porn and art” (gasp!) before a sufficient body of the art world will figure boobies aren’t really novel any more?  I mean, we’re on the internet after all…

There is something covetous for an artist frustrated by academia in going to YouTube and watching Perry Ferrel cavort atop a giant amp – because it’s sincere and it’s consonant with everything else going on in Jane’s Addiction and if you didn’t get that era of L.A. surf you ought to now…  And it’s not novel – Perry and I and hopefully you are aware of the Stooges, of Iggy Pop and a like-minded insanity that might have saved the world from ourselves, but somehow didn’t.  And then, how many post-punk kidlings have I seen flop around their syncopated stages in sad sad attempts to convince themselves they weren’t acting.  But Perry Ferrel wasn’t Iggy Pop, nor Iggy Perry.  And both are doing other things now that, whether you’re into them or not, are just what each of them believes is the best thing for him to make; and each well crafted in whatever way appropriate to what it is.

How few of these things am I permitted to do as an Assistant Professor?  As a former Assistant Professor?

If you get a chance to watch old interviews with Bob Dylan, it’s so clear that he was an icon of rebellion because he didn’t give a shit about the things he was rebelling against and, he was kind of a dick.  He was not all folk music peace love and bunnies and flowers.  And, when he plugged in his guitars, if he hadn’t hit on something that was exactly right, and meaningful, no stuffy old agenda-coot would have felt it necessary to unplug him.

So, I’m going to argue that when someone is dedicated and sincere, what he/she makes is going to be “new” – i.e. not derivative, and maybe even novel but not in the cheap way.  And, If other people latch onto it…

So, yeah, enough time in academia and a short-lived taste of middle class air, and I’m looking for the answers to life on YouTube.  Just not yet sure what to do with ’em when I find ’em.

What I’ll Miss About Teaching

Only showing up three days a week? (Well, that too.)

Last night I led a group of students heretofore unaware of all contemporary trends in art through a discussion of post-structuralist theory and elements of postmodernism.

This was right after my totally scattered and disorganized leadership of a discussion of Umberto Eco’s “The City of Robots” with both Computer Graphics 1 & Computer Graphics 2 students.

Background:  Insanely, my college regularly has me teaching 2 different classes in the same room at the same time.  Computer Graphics 1 does print media/concepts and CG 2 does animation & interactivity.  It gets enrollment up and my predecessor just solved the work load by essentially having CG 2 students repeat CG 1.  I am more generous/conscious of student needs in the field.

The Computer Graphics 2 students are making non-narrative animations.  And, so I thought I should ad a little historo-theoretical background on how non-narrative stuff got started in the first place.  I asked them to read these: 
http://www.brocku.ca/english/courses/4F70/poststruct.html
http://www.brocku.ca/english/courses/2F55/post-mod-attrib.html
Thanks to John Lye, Assoc. Prof. & Chair, Dept. of English Language & Literature at Brock University – you write, I send students, it works well for me.

To which the universal response was, “huh?”  You see, these are community college students mostly interested in the vocational pluses of making pictures on computers.  But, these are all ideas that are now well ingrained in common, culture-wide understandings.  Only the vocabulary and the fact that the ideas can be dated to things with names aren’t…

So, I’m a teacher and I teach and we talked.  And… they got it! Not only that, but the discussion evolved entirely differently than it did when I went over the same thing during the spring semester.  In the spring we talked about the difficulties of getting at universal (gasp: “totalizing”) things through language – the problematics of understanding.  Last night then, we talked about, or they wanted to talk about the problems of claiming authority in the “the world as a field of contesting explanations” (quote from the 2nd link above).

Not only that, but after I’ve given a historical precedent for dissolving the distinction between high and low culture; and after basically explaining why I can’t claim any sort of high authority, that they in fact can make their own judgments based on substantive information – then I looked like a good guy.  That doesn’t happen so often.

Ah, I’ll miss that when I refuse to do it for less than I could make bagging groceries.  Find me a just barely middle class salary, or even the possibility of health care, and I’d stick with it until I’m too old to get to class.

Plunge

This weekend, I went to usajobs.com and built a resume. Yup, I’m looking for gubbermint work.

I decided, or had decided, to go ahead and try a return to adjunct teaching. I have an offer for as many as 3 classes at one school. There, for a 4 day/week schedule, if my classes fill up for an entire academic year, I could earn $18,000. OK, right? I live in the DC area. $18K barely a year’s rent on a shitty apartment. That, and I wouldn’t have health care.

The thing is that I really like teaching. I want to do it. I went to class last week, where I have a bunch of adult students who really want to learn, and it was great. Even my 18 year olds right now put in a fantastic engagement. I’ve almost forgotten all the spoiled-rotten numskulls I was teaching just a month ago.

I can’t help but think though, that facing the trends in the industry runs counterpoint to all of my goals and desires except teaching.

  1. Close to 1/6 positions that I applied to this year were canceled. (For budget reasons.)
  2. One job I interviewed at couldn’t come up with a consensus and hired no one.
  3. Another job I interviewed at wasn’t even really available.
  4. I will never know how many other colleges knew who they wanted to hire before the position was even announced.
  5. because, every college has a bunch of impoverished faculty who’s feet are “in the door’ clamoring for that spot you just mailed your C.V. to. Many of those adjuncts deserve those jobs, and will enjoy tripling their incomes while also reducing work loads.
  6. The majority of all faculty are adjuncts (see above). As states cut education budgets, I predict the percentage of adjuncts to full-timers will increase.
  7. The traditional college-age population is declining.
  8. An increasing percentage of 18-24 year old college goers are from demographics who have until now not gone to college. Without a family understanding of higher ed, they need more support. Adjuncts, by their nomadic nature, are often unable to provide that support. Also, because many of those people are making it to college because they just now made it to an economic rung that enables it, they could reasonably favor less expensive options like community colleges. But, from a faculty perspective, while I love the mission of CCs, they typically have the most egregiously miserable funding – and thus employ higher percentages of adjuncts.
  9. Higher ed hiring processes produce erratic results. Some of my friends hit the lottery and got tenure-track jobs right out of MFA school, with or without any notable lines on their C.V.s or quality of art work. Others were less fortunate. I’ve interviewed with committees of highly accomplished artists with massive agenda bents, as well as those that had no idea about anything in the art field, whatsoever. Ergo, lots of things other than merit are at play here, and they are apparently things I’m just barely not good enough at.
  10. The reward for making it through all of this is most often a cushy role in a little town no one knows how to get to, far far away from any other culture. A small pond, if you will. If you raise horses, like camping, or other rural activities, you’re in luck. I, on the other hand like city living and lots of cultural activity. I’m not willing to make the trade off – especially not as an artist who needs “culture” in order to work in my (non-teaching) field.

And so, my yen to go adjunct, just to stay in teaching, has waffled. If I was inclined to see the world in terms of fairness, I’d go mad. But, I don’t. In any case, what do you factor into “fairness”?  So, the equation I’m looking at is: (some unknown probability) x (some duration of crappy employment/economic instability) = ?. I already decided to be an artist. How many fields of economic instability can I maintain at the same time? Is dedicating my time to other people worth sucking up to employers who appear disinterested in dedicating anything to me? With that and the above bullet points, what other industry could boast such problems without collapsing?

Now, here I am in the Beltway. What else is there to do? There are non-profits, which are appealing although not lucrative. Then, there’s the government. And the government runs all kinds of cultural programs that would be exciting to contribute to.  Ah, job security, area cost of living conscious pay, health care, and no politics. Er, um, wait…

Look Mom, New Theme

After months of almost no effort to do so, I’ve finally found a theme that makes me think my blog is cool.

That, and there’s a little smiley face hidden in the background to the right. Oh, Theme Designer, you’re so clever…

I’d give him a frowning companion on the other side if I had custom CSS. But, alas, my well entrenched cheapness is saving me from added hours of code tinkering – something I teach kids to do in web design class, but that I really hate to do. Trouble is, once the design’s there, I can’t leave well enough alone if I know I can make it better.

Then again, I made this monstrosity yesterday:
www.philsclass.com

The National Cathedral is Super Neato

So, after a little stint of armchair – er, um, cheap office chair – critiquing other people’s art on the internet, I though I should go out and see something real. So, I finally made it down to see the National Cathedral. I did. I’ve lived in the area for 9 months – made it to the zoo, lots of museums free and otherwise, etc.; but this was the first time I’ve been there.

I’d like to chime in to say to all 1 of my readers that should you find yourself visiting DC, I give my highest recommendation to placing the Cathedral up high on your list of things to wear your Bermuda shorts to. Sure, it doesn’t have the lapel pin waiving pride of the Mall, nor the hot dog vendors that put crappy red sauce in the fried onions. But, but… especially if you’ve never been to the old European cathedrals, or if you have and want to have the same sort of experience minus the long flight, you should go. It might even be more impressive than the St. Louis Cathedral, which is also a really incredible place.

Even just the accumulation of so much top caliber craftsmanship in one place is enough to make a heart as cold as my own postmodern cynical beauty-last-impact-first art school grad of the nineties take a little pause.

And then there’re the stained glass windows. OK, sure, I’m a sucker for bright colors and little backlighting. Who isn’t. The Cathedral though, does have the best collection of contemporary and 20th century art in stained glass that I’ve ever seen. They, and they are the kind of thing that, reminded me of the way I looked at all art when I was 17. I wanted to make them. I gawked as if they contained some kind of secret answer like I think I thought before I learned that they don’t. And, anyway, it’s a better way to relive a youthful approach than to do the rest of the stupid shit I did before I learned that I’m actually mortal.

Here is a picture I stole from someone else’s website:

window at the National Cathedral