The Purloined Painting

It just occurred to me that if I didn’t know better, I’d think “The Purloined Letter” was the title of a Sesame Street segment.

Hopefully one with Alice Cooper.

Well… there I go starting off off subject again.

The subject is supposed to be that, yesterday, I learned that two of my art works were in a DHL van that was stolen.

Stolen!

Well… that’s the short of it.  Let me back up…

Monday, I received an invoice from DHL for the return of my artwork from an exhibition at a respectable university regionally known among half-wit teenagers for a funny, gutter-minded slang interpretation of its name, as this shipment was billed to my account.

Thing was that these art works had never been delivered.

Tuesday, I called DHL.  And…it took literally, and not figuratively, and I really mean more than one hour for them to tell me where my shipment is! OK, de-inflame typographic style…  My artwork was at the DHL center about 5 minutes from my apartment.

Good.

I went to get it.  Also good, sans drive.

Alas, however, they only had one of two items.  Bad.

Woman at DHL counter had no knowledge of the second box.  After I explained that it was about 2×3 ft., she searched for it in a letter bin.  Repeatedly.

Only the giant tube (large, unframed works on paper) was listed under my one and only tracking number.  Bad.

I went home with my tube and called DHL again…

Mind you now, I’m unemployed.  I had all day.

I provided the nice lady on the phone with my account number, much as I had provided it two the first two nice ladies I had spoken with earlier, and inquired whether or not a second box had been shipped and billed to my account along with the first.  Then, and only then, this third DHL phone lady, the fourth DHL lady of the day, informed me that the box containing my art works was in a DHL van when that van was stolen.

Stolen!

On the bright side, I the package was insured.

So, assuming that the claim submission process goes smoothly − ha ha, I assume it won’t − then, I will receive a check for the total retail value of two (2) of my art works.

For a washed-up out of work Assistant Professor, that’s a lot like selling my work, isn’t it?

I mean, actually, it’s better.  Because in this case I don’t have to give the gallery a cut (or a lion’s share, as it were).  Although, let’s just stay on earth here, my art is cheap and the real estate where I live is not.  So, the check I’ll get will be just a little more than a month’s rent.

And, honestly, one of those paintings has been shown in Chicago, Toledo, New York, and Kentucky.  If it hasn’t sold yet, uh, it wasn’t going to.  It was, on the other hand, a nice one; named after a Deerhoof song.

Many friends have offered much consolation and support.  It’s certainly true that a string things have gone not so right for me lately.  I guess this should bum me out.

But, well, every time I think about it I can’t help but chuckle at the thought of a bunch of car thieves trying to sell my art. I’ve been trying to do it for years…  Ha ha, I guess  crime really doesn’t pay…

It must have been so disappointing when they opened the box and discovered it wasn’t a DVD player.  Not a Red Rider BB gun or nuthin…

The Presidential Candidates’ Arts Policy Platforms

Have I told you how big a fan of democracy I am?

I’m a really big fan of democracy.

I’m such a big fan of it that I’ll even refer to a constitutional republic as a democracy, just to help it sound cool.

I like the democratic process because it is intended to distribute power over our collective and individual experiences in a manner that elevates human dignity above circumstance.

So, yesterday, when I received a cold-call email from the Obama/Biden campaign with a link to their arts policy platform, I resolved to post both campaigns’ arts policies right here.

I spent about 15 minutes searching the McCain/Palin site for their arts policy platform.  Results:  zilch. Eeek.  Well, I guess Jesse Helms and the Christian Coalition already pushed most artists out of the Republican party with their sensationalist, “moral”ist budget-slashing back in the 90’s.  I imagine they may have introduced a bit of a lightning rod element to “art” among their base, as they have with civil unions, speaking foreign languages, associating with people of non-Christian religions, and maybe even non-evangelical forms of Christianity.

What I found this morning is that a long-worn endeavor to find the McCain/Palin arts policy has already taken place across the internet.  (As on CultureGrrl and Artocracy.)  But, however, alas, finally, it has been published.

So, I present to you the Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin Arts Policy Platforms:

The McCain/Palin Arts Policy Platform

John McCain believes that arts education can play a vital role fostering creativity and expression. He is a strong believer in empowering local school districts to establish priorities based on the needs of local schools and school districts. Schools receiving federal funds for education must be held accountable for providing a quality education in basic subjects critical to ensuring students are prepared to compete and succeed in the global economy. Where these local priorities allow, he believes investing in arts education can play a role in nurturing the creativity of expression so vital to the health of our cultural life and providing a means of creative expression for young people.

Link to PDF of the statement, on artsactionfund.org

The Obama/Biden Arts Policy Platform

Reinvest in Arts Education: To remain competitive in the global economy, America needs to reinvigorate the kind of creativity and innovation that has made this country great. To do so, we must nourish our children’s creative skills. In addition to giving our children the science and math skills they need to compete in the new global context, we should also encourage the ability to think creatively that comes from a meaningful arts education. Unfortunately, many school districts are cutting instructional time for art and music education. Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe that the arts should be a central part of effective teaching and learning. The Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts recently said “The purpose of arts education is not to produce more artists, though that is a byproduct. The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society.” To support greater arts education, Obama will:

  • Expand Public/Private Partnerships Between Schools and Arts Organizations: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will increase resources for the U.S. Department of Education’s Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination Grants, which develop public/private partnerships between schools and arts organizations. They will also engage the foundation and corporate community to increase support for public/private partnerships.
  • Create an Artist Corps: Barack Obama and Joe Biden support the creation of an “Artists Corps” of young artists trained to work in low-income schools and their communities. Studies in Chicago have demonstrated that test scores improved faster for students enrolled in low-income schools that link arts across the curriculum than scores for students in schools lacking such programs.
  • Publicly Champion the Importance of Arts Education: As president, Barack Obama will use the bully pulpit and the example he will set in the White House to promote the importance of arts and arts education in America. Not only is arts education indispensable for success in a rapidly changing, high skill, information economy, but studies show that arts education raises test scores in other subject areas as well.

Support Increased Funding for the NEA: Over the last 15 years, government funding for the National Endowment for the Arts has been slashed from $175 million annually in 1992 to $125 million today. Barack Obama and Joe Biden support increased funding for the NEA, the support of which enriches schools and neighborhoods all across the nation and helps to promote the economic development of countless communities.

Promote Cultural Diplomacy: American artists, performers and thinkers – representing our values and ideals – can inspire people both at home and all over the world. Through efforts like that of the United States Information Agency, America’s cultural leaders were deployed around the world during the Cold War as artistic ambassadors and helped win the war of ideas by demonstrating to the world the promise of America. Artists can be utilized again to help us win the war of ideas against Islamic extremism. Unfortunately, our resources for cultural diplomacy are at their lowest level in a decade. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will work to reverse this trend and improve and expand public-private partnerships to expand cultural and arts exchanges throughout the world.

Attract Foreign Talent: The flipside to promoting American arts and culture abroad is welcoming members of the foreign arts community to America. Opening America’s doors to students and professional artists provides the kind of two-way cultural understanding that can break down the barriers that feed hatred and fear.  As America tightened visa restrictions after 9/11, the world’s most talented students and artists, who used to come here, went elsewhere. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will streamline the visa process to return America to its rightful place as the world’s top destination for artists and art students.

Provide Health Care to Artists: Finding affordable health coverage has often been one of the most vexing obstacles for artists and those in the creative community. Since many artists work independently or have nontraditional employment relationships, employer-based coverage is unavailable and individual policies are financially out of reach. The Obama-Biden plan will provide all Americans with quality, affordable health care. Their plan includes the creation of a new public program that will allow individuals and small businesses to buy affordable health care similar to that available to federal employees. Their plan also creates a National Health Insurance Exchange to reform the private insurance market and allow Americans to enroll in participating private plans, which would have to provide comprehensive benefits, issue every applicant a policy, and charge fair and stable premiums. For those who still cannot afford coverage, the government will provide a subsidy. His health plan will lower costs for the typical American family by up to $2,500 per year.

Ensure Tax Fairness for Artists: Barack Obama supports the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The Act amends the Internal Revenue Code to allow artists to deduct the fair market value of their work, rather than just the costs of the materials, when they make charitable contributions.

Link to PDF of the Platform on barackobama.com

My Thoughts…

Well, I suppose you could count the number of words in each as a relative measure of which campaign has given more thought to the role of government in the arts in American society.

I’d like to point out that the McCain campaign’s statement doesn’t actually mention anything about art.  It mentions art education.  But, for what?  To strengthen the arts?  Surely not…  Art education, as all arts grant writers know, is to promote creativity in people who will someday remove themselves from any association with the arts.  Arts grant writers take that route, really, because it’s an easier battle than convincing people who are uninvolved in art that art itself, not just teaching kids to make it, makes an important contribution to all levels of society.  It’s a short logical drive to just decide against teaching kids something you expect them to not do as adults.

Moreover, McCain’s statement doesn’t even really say much about art education.  It says more about local control over curriculum.  It says that, as far as the federal government is concerned, if you want money, you’ve got to teach basic subjects first (read: the three Rs).  Then, if you’ve got some time left, throw in some art, it’d be good for the kids.  Now, we all know that under No Child Left Behind (oh no, carrying on Bush’s policy?), that has meant a precipitous decline in K-12 arts education.  I suspect we’re also beginning to see a carry-over into a decline in post-secondary students interested in art.  I would have liked to see something in the statement to affirm that “creativity” and the kinds of critical analysis implicit in art are in themselves important to a globally competitive, or even a happy society.  In the end, the statement looks like a quickly produced platitude by a campaign that doesn’t plan to spend another moment thinking about art.

On Obama’s Arts Platform: Oh, look, the first sentence is exactly what I just said that I wished I’d seen in McCain’s statement! (I didn’t plan that, I swear.)  I am impressed, above all, by how clear it is that the Obama campaign consulted a number of arts professionals in order to draft a comprehensive policy.  As Colin Powell described in his endorsement, it demonstrates an intellectual vigor and an effective approach to leadership.

Not only has his team come up with an in depth policy about the arts, the campaign has established an online community for creative professionals (http://my.barackobama.com/page/community/post/creativeamerica/CGG5p).  They’re putting in a lot of effort to win this artist’s vote through clear explanations and through bringing people together.  It’s no surprise, that’s what the campaign said it would do.

So, the introductory paragraph also states that arts education isn’t really meant to produce more artists.  But, it quotes the Chairman of the NEA to say it.  That’s smart.  Nonetheless, although it’s true that arts education benefits many students who do not become artists, I do wish the introduction would have included a statement about the importance of artists in a society.  Because, our effective importance is only as great as our society wants it to be.

The first two bullet points address trends that are already in place.  I used to have an important sounding title at an arts-education non-profit in Chicago.  I was once an artist working in a low-income school and community.  Those trends were right at the core of our mission and what kept us afloat.  In any case, well beside knowing how well these approaches are working, I accept them as where we are.  Especially regarding the second point, I see them as an acknowledgment that our society has a lot of problems, inequality in education high among them.  And, if artists would like more opportunities, they’re going to have to help.  I’m all for it.

Champion the Importance of Arts Education, Support Increased Funding for the NEA, Promote Cultural Diplomacy, Attract Foreign Talent:  In these statements I see a deliberate counterpoint to trends that have sharply abraded many of us in the arts over the past 15 years.  I’ve already mentioned Jesse Helms and the Christian Coalition.  They attacked the NEA with sensationalism and calculated ignorance, in the name of trimming the federal budget, at a time when many among their usual opposition were also questioning the involvement of government in (supposedly controlling) the arts.  Whoa, did we regret that one…  Many people have also lamented the chilling effect of growing xenophobia and security paranoia on cultural growth and exchange.  I’m glad to see them challenged with an explicit statement.

Health Care: Oh, health care…  I don’t have access to it.  I had it during grad school.  I didn’t have it after I finished grad school, during the time that I taught/administered programs like I mentioned above and when I was most active as an artist and freelance designer/art-related-thing-ist, and also taught as adjunct faculty.  I had it during the 2006-7 academic year, lost it for a month in between 1-year contracts, had it during the ’07-8 year, and cite it as among the largest, though far from the only, reason why I didn’t opt to become “full-time” adjunct faculty.

Tax deductions?  Actually, it seems that charities and fund-raisers are the only places that can sell my work.  Sometimes I’m afraid to find out how far below the normal rate that they actually sell for.  In any case, I never have enough itemized deductions to choose them over the standard.  Perhaps if I could ever buy a home here in the DC Metro, that would change.  That possibility though, makes finding health care look easy.

Not Even the Bats Feel Like Staying in This Belfry

Oh wow, unemployment is turning out to be much more difficult than it seems like it should be.

I mean, how many times during the last few years have I wished for more free time?

s’pose that’s why they say to be careful what you wish for… huh?

If it keeps up like this much longer I’m going to have to be institutionalized.  And, that’s fine − as long as they give me something to do while I’m in there.  …maybe something with a salary, a 401(k)…

So, yesterday I stumbled into this on reddit or digg or something (from http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/mental_health/article4988978.ece):

Steps to happiness:

Connect
Developing relationships with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours will enrich your life and bring you support.
Be active
Sports, hobbies such as gardening or dancing, or just a daily stroll will make you feel good and maintain mobility and fitness.
Be curious
Noting the beauty of everyday moments as well as the unusual and reflecting on them helps you to appreciate what matters to you.
Learn
Fixing a bike, learning an instrument, cooking – the challenge and satisfaction brings fun and confidence.
Give
Helping friends and strangers links your happiness to a wider community and is very rewarding.

Oh, geez.  I haven’t done any of those things all week.

Funny enough, each of those things sounds a lot like what one might experience at, say, a job.

Yup, pretty soon even the bats will start complaining about how the landlord let this belfry go downhill.  They’ll move up to a better neighborhood, one with a Starbucks and a Whole Foods…

A Plumber Named Joe has Come to Teach Us How the Internet has Changed Power in Society

I tell you, this election is the best thing that could ever happen to a culture watcher in America.

I see signs of all kinds of changes that have already quietly happened.  And, I’m not talking about change “we can believe in” or that “is coming” or whatever.

This post is not about politics so much as it’s about the role of the internet in buffering the public from manipulation.

As I’m sure you’re already tired of hearing, during the final presidential candidates’ debate, John McCain introduced us to a caricature named “Joe the Plumber”, embodied in a real man named Joe.

I used to live in Joe’s neck of the woods.  I recognized his thoughts.  I think his question legitimately represents the view of countless people.  His question seems to highlight a long, slow shift over the last 150 years regarding the role of wealth in society.  But, I don’t know enough to talk about that.

I’m interested in Joe the Plumber because of what “he” says about the way that the internet has changed attempts to manipulate the public.  And I think that despite all the campaign-paid trolls and viral marketing, it’s a sum gain for the good.

What caught my attention is that while this guy seems great, and would have been spectacular in a pre-internet race, the McCain campaign never should have picked him in 2008.  It took reporters about 2 hours after the debate to prove that not only would Joe currently benefit more from Obama’s plan, but so would the company he currently works for and hopes to buy someday.  Not only that, but his father served prison time for involvement in McCain’s biggest scandal.  OMFG indeed.

The thing is, there are probably millions of people who’s situation is like Joe pretended his was, who will pay less tax under McCain’s plan.  Why didn’t they call one of those people?  Seriously?  I know they’re out there.

I think it’s because they failed to understand how information flows today.

And, if Joe wasn’t a plant, the McCain campaign should have vetted him before they opted to make him a centerpiece of their campaign – if only because the opposition will (and did).

Honestly, if Joe was not sent by the McCain campaign, I feel a little sorry for him now.  All of America now knows things about him that are really none of our business.  It may be nothing new in politics, but it’s worth letting Joe remind us that political campaigns will trash anyone.  No prisoners.

If he was in fact a willing participant in viral marketing, however, then let the arrows fly…

Funny enough, I thought, or speculated at least, that when President Bush gave his speech about impending doom and the need to assemble a bailout package, he was acknowledging how the information age has changed during his own tenure.  I think that he sees building public confidence as one of the President’s top priorities.  In keeping, over eight years he’s given a lot of speeches about bright and shiny futures.  However, it’s so easy to do research now, so easy to put data side by side, that he was often cast as overconfident or oblivious.  I think a big part of it was that the nature of inspiring the public changed under his nose.  (And, he made a lot of terrible decisions…)

Now, we can look back and see uncountable videos of John McCain contradicting himself all over the internet.  Self-contradiction, let it be said, is a tried and true staple of politics.  I’m sure John McCain has watched it work for all kinds of his colleagues.  Video and audio recording has been around for a while too.  But, what was the public going to do, order 1,000 hours of VHS tapes from C-Span, edit out their own short take, then mail copies to their whole town?

Stir in some meta data, online hosting, and a free video editor, however, and I hope that the entire public will fare much better in the balances of power we see in the future.

Slow Dancing: The Art Work

This is just cool:

www.slowdancingfilms.com

It doesn’t really need to be articulated verbally; nor to have me overlay it with attempts to impress you with my smartness.  In fact, to permit myself one statement, the videos on the site are so compelling and rare because of the simplicity with which they affirm the beauty and importance of things non-cerebral.

It’s worth as much or as little time as you have to look at it.

From the site:

Slow Dancing is a series of 43 larger-than-life, hyper-slow-motion video portraits of dancers and choreographers from around the world, displayed on multiple screens. Each subject’s movement (approximately 5 seconds long) was shot on a specially constructed set using a high-speed, high-definition camera recording at 1,000 frames per second (standard film captures 30 frames per second). The result is approximately 10 minutes of extreme slow motion.

It’s like impossible Tai Chi and way better than Dancing With the Stars, which is pretty good.

First discovered on mwcapacity.wordpress.com.

Here’s to hoping an installation of it comes to DC.

Aesthetics and Wanting to be (Vice) President Now that Everyone Can Photoshop

I suppose that relative to the political news junkie set, I’m a little late catching onto this one.  With my pre-election October stupidity filters running on high, when I first heard of an “outrage” over a Newsweek cover image of Sarah Palin, I promptly ignored it.  There’s a lot of “outrage” at this time during leap years.

All of that withstanding, now I’m interested.  You see (you probably already know), the “outrage” is that her photo was not doctored! This is about aesthetics and it’s about digital imaging.

Those are things that interest me.

Moreover, I think that this moment, while “Conservatives” demand more photo manipulation of a major-office candidate, marks a turning point in our society’s relationship with digital media.  It also marks a sad day in the way in which we depict women.  In both cases it elevates a preference for the fake in imagery to a preference for the fake in real people, in (potential) political leaders.  The hollowness of the outcry is irrelevant.  The fact that it’s happening is enough of a sign in itself.

The cover in question:

First, if there had been no outcry over the image, I would have thought it was a positive depiction.  Perhaps because I’m actually attracted to human women, as opposed to their highly improbable and sometimes physiologically impossible beer poster counterparts, I’m not put off in the least by a woman in her 40s who has very light wrinkles.

Up until now, I would have thought, to the extent that we associate wrinkles and gray hair, etc. with age, and age with wisdom and experience, that showing the former beauty pageant contestant as a real 40-something year old who may have even experienced stress once or twice, would have been an affirmation of qualifications that actually matter for a VP candidate.  In light of the massive efforts by presidential campaigns to influence public perceptions of candidates through imagery, I might have thought the campaign itself would have “oldened” Sarah Palin up a bit to counter very serious questions about her knowledge and experience.

That was until we had a female candidate in the digital age, I guess…

Unfortunately, we seem to have reached a moment in which not only does vpilf.com exist, but there were rumors (that I’m not substantiating) that it actually belongs to the McCain campaign.  (If you don’t know, look up “MILF” and then think, “Vice President”.) It’s as if some people actually want their first non-penis bearing Vice President to look like something from Photoshop Disasters.  Try this one and ask yourself if your really want public figures to look like plastic.

I suspect that pundits who were instructed to discredit the media jumped the gun on this one.

Now, let’s compare the “outrage” to the controversy surrounding another Newsweek cover:

Do you remember that?

When Martha Stewart was released from prison in 2005 after an insider trading conviction, Newsweek presented a cover image in which Martha Stewart’s head had been composited with the body of another, thinner, person.  The text reads that “After Prison, She’s Thinner…”  Indeed, she seems so…

There was some back and forth about legitimate issues surrounding photography and “illustrations” in the digital age.  Inside and out of the academic discourse, however, Newsweek’s photo doctoring in this instance was considered highly unethical.

Fast forward to 2008, and pundits are actually demanding that Newsweek digitally manipulate an image of a woman on the magazine’s cover.  Now, Sarah Palin’s cover image was most certainly processed in Photoshop (or possibly, although it’s unlikely, in a competing application).  The colors were balanced, values were adjusted, and the background was removed, all in the very least.  It’s not that she wasn’t “Photoshopped”, it’s that she wasn’t “Photoshopped” enough.

Times have changed.

Until now, my typical Intro to Digital Imaging student has been largely unaware of how pervasive and significant photo manipulation really is within the advertising and publishing industries.  When I show them “before and after” portfolios of photo retouching, they’re usually somewhat aghast at the degree to which they’ve been duped.

I think that if the trend exemplified (or overblown) by the Palin/Newsweek “outcry” sticks, the future of our relationship with images will be very different.  And, I, for one, think I already miss living in a society in wich people like humans.

The Transferance of Skills from One Field to Another

One piece of background information that you should probably know before trying to understand that which follows:  over the weekend Mrs. Meteechart and I went apple picking at an orchard just past the uber-rich part of DC Metro Maryland.

So, here’s a thing about me and making art:  I’ve long admired the manner in which woodworking sculptors and cabinet makers et al. go about their work.  I hesitate to say “craft” on a blog with “art” in the title for fear of being burned by steam flowing from the ears of all the “Art as Idea as Idea” oriented among you.  But…  I am impressed to no end with working processes in which an artist will spend an hour contriving and setting a rig to control a table saw cut that itself only takes five seconds to complete.  It’s so precise, replicable, circumvents mistakes, prevents the unanticipated removal of fingers, and reliably produces the desired result.

It is the diametric, diabolic, antithesis of “painting”.

I studied painting.

In painting, as you know, the use of a ruler to produce a straight line is a sign of unforgivable weakness.

It’s the reason wood shop managers everywhere tremble with anxiety when painting grads come down to cut stretcher bars.  (Just ask one.)

Alas, let me confess:  I use paint like a wood worker.  I incorporate printmaking techniques.  I use stencils, and a computer too.  Because of the way I’ve taken to combining digital prints with paint media and because of the impossibility of fixing mistakes through the process and in the images I make, I exercise a high degree of control.

It is the reason, I know, why “Painters” don’t consider me a painter.

So, I also know what the culinarily inclined among you are thinking. “Baker”.

And I feel like maybe I should be.

But, I swear if the next pie crust I make entails anything like what I went through today, someone is going to die.  It could just be me.  But, I think you’d be well advised to stay out of my kitchen in case it’s not.

“Roll it out between two sheets of wax paper?” Huh…?  You just make the @*&%$*&ing thing yourself then.

I suppose I also have a good idea why the cats are hiding.

And I love to cook. C-O-O-K cook.  I’ll drink wine or beer while I do it and suspend myself in an hour-long delusion that I’m affluent − because I can cook well enough to turn my meager budget into food I could rarely afford in a restaurant.  It’s one of a handful of skills that has made my life as an artist appear less difficult than it actually is.  A pinch there.  A pan toss there.  Flambé if you want to frighten your wife with something that would have impressed her before you were married.

But, oh, my has one measly attempt at an apple pie made me want to break things.

So, what I’m left to ask here is, if I paint like a baker why can’t I bake like one?

It all portends ill for a guy who’s trying to make a career shift.  It does.

At least, as I write, I’m consoled by the wafting aroma of baked Americana goodness − if only I had set the timer…