Alms for the Arts, Alms for the Arts…

Michael Kaiser makes an eloquent case in Monday’s Washington Post encouraging us to help arts organizations make it through our surprisingly vertiginous economic death spiral.  Here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/28/AR2008122801274.html

Allow me to quote his quote:

As John F. Kennedy said, “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for our victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”

I know, I know, politicians — Republicans foremost among them — absolutely HATE funding the arts.  “We’ve got a market here.  Pony up and swim, wussies”.

And, there is a baby in that there bathwater.  Well, as political rhetoric goes, a baby in a soiled Olympic-sized pool.  But, a baby nonetheless…

It’s just that as it turns out THE MARKET isn’t good for everything.  I don’t think it’s turned out to be particularly good for education.  And, in the arts it has culminated, for the time being, in Thomas Kinkaide.

Moreover, at the intersection of art and education, a focus on market-suitable ends has given us, apparently, droves of people who would (did) exchange their money for “paintings of light”, or whatever.

Let me tell you how many people I regularly associate with who are not involved in the arts or married to someone involved in the arts who also have the tiniest inkling about how to engage the visual arts:  One.

So, I’m sure you’re aware, every once in a while someone reports on some survey of the happiest countries in the world.  I don’t have any idea how they come up with those ratings.  Pulled from their asses, I suppose.  But, the United States of America never fares well.

Would you care to venture a guess as to how I might lay out a cause & effect relationship here?

Well, how ’bout this for a suggestion:  I propose we all get together, take back a billion or so from AIG or GM (or…), then use it to set up free arts appreciation classes.  This will:

  • Bolster the adjunct sector (cough cough).
  • Pump some money into higher ed that is unrelated to athletics.
  • Give throngs of unemployed people something to do with their free time.
  • Build a more-than-critical mass of people who are capable of accessing and understanding the arts – who will then shift their spending habits toward the arts.

Then, ah then, once we have an entire nation of people whose minds and spirits have been informed and sustained by what they find through their engagement with the arts, we’ll be collectively smart enough to make sure that the next time around we don’t let a load of culturally pervasive, soulless bullshit  get us into a mess like this.

Anyway, what good is all your economic recovery if there’s no humanity left after all the foreclosures have been bought up?

Existential Video Day

Today is existential video day.

It’s a follow up to my previous post pining for catharsis.

…kinda…

The best I could do for the first one is a 13 second clip on Google video.  Just keep replaying it and pretend it’s long.  Maybe that action can represent modern frustration or something.  It’ll be like in White Noise, or something.

Guido van der Werve. “Nummer Act (Everything is Going to be Alright)”

Then, for something alittle less Woman in the Dunes, a little more Sartre-y:

Körner Union. “Souvenir de Chine”

Finally, to round out the animal tensions:

Mircea Cantor.  “Deeparture”

This one was playing at the Hirshhorn for a while.  It’s a bit longer than the youtube clip.  But, again, you can go all Delillo on it, turn on a TV and a radio and keep reclicking “play”.

Catharsis

That’s what I want.

Pure, simple — the other side.

I’m just not going to get it.

It was like this when it all started, this not-working thing.  I taught a summer class, 2 days a week for six weeks.  Even when that finished, during the early days of listlessness my summer pay was stretched over the course of the entire academic summer.

Slow and flat.

That’s not what I wanted.  I wanted a climactic, if not cataclysmic, break.  Overworked one day.  Daytime home singing in your underwear the next.

Whatever, I’ve never been an underwear-only guy, not even when I was single.

In the very same way, I had hoped my return to the world of the employed would be grand and triumphant — not so much in the details, but in the style.

I guess that’s for private sector people, or something.  People who get cabinet posts and press conferences.

Today, I signed an acceptance letter for a new job.  A non-academic, non-teaching, very-much-arts job.

It came following an offer that arrived in its first form, twelve days ago.  This for a job I applied to months ago, that I first interviewed for a month and a half ago.   I’ll start on January 12, my birthday.

It’s good.

It’s positive.

It’s not cathartic.

The first time I was in Tokyo, in 1999, I rode a roller coaster that ran alongside a public transit rail line.  While we twisted, turned, dropped, and climbed, we could watch them plod along, flat and even, on their way to work, I guess.

Now I know how they must have felt.

It’s OK.  It is in fact, on my way to work that I needed to be getting.

And that’s that.

Mrs. Meteechart and I are going to Boston for Xmas.  We don’t know anyone there — we’re going because she’s never been and I like the place.  This time of year, it seems, we enjoy most being a family of just two.  It’ll be nice to be somewhere cold.  I still have trouble acknowledging that people refer to December in DC as “winter”.  And, yes, we’re taking the train.

Hey Look → → a Profile!

There’s something I never liked about psuedonymity.  A certain je ne sais qui, if you will…

So, my name is…  ah …

Uh…

can he do that here?

It feels so dirty, like a name tag sticker at a conference instead of a dangly laminated thing that has your affiliation printed just just small enough that you can tell when people are copping a sly glance at your credentials.

You can click on “Profile” up to the right and read all about me if you like.

I started this blog almost one year ago, after I required students in a couple of my digital media art classes to maintain blogs.  I didn’t want to be hypocritical.

And then, you know, I’ve always been a little uncomfortable about the conservative end of propriety in faculty/student relationships.  One of the things about me is that I succeeded by/while doing a whole slew of things that adults should not tell young people to do.  Now I’m all grown up and I remember when I still couldn’t see that coming.  Now I’m here and it doesn’t seem right for a teacher to obscure the continuity between his/her own childhood and maturity.  Moreover, it doesn’t mesh well with an honest approach toward art.

I did my undergrad at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  And, well, let’s just say it was an environment in which faculty could be very forthright.  Now I see how much of an asset that was.  I, however, always felt pressure to maintain a rigid professional protocol in the role I played toward students.  Because most of them were 18-22 year old kids, that was easy enough.  And, with the reality that every semester has a conniving negotiator or two, plus more than a few who are incapable of approaching an adult as an integrated human being, I thought it was best to keep my name off my blog.

Sometimes it’s just easier to be Charlie Brown’s teacher than it is to be open about the complexities of individuality.  But, it’s not good teaching.

Then, well…  I was unemployed.  And, one thing about taking a new job is that it demands flexibility.  Jobs define you, change you, require you to define yourself, change yourself.  Sure, that latitude narrows as our careers progress, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy not knowing which way you’re going to go.  (You try parlaying an MFA in visual art into a salary and health plan…) There’s a soul searching and a very special sort of wrenching by way of attrition.  There’s no way to be sure whether or not you’re being infantile by holding out for work you really want — when you should suck it up and do something you really don’t like, just for a paycheck.   Being as it was, I thought it was better to minimize the possibility that employers could associate my real name with Meteechart’s bitching about the job search.

Now, that’s over with too.

I’ll share the scoop after the last leg of the process is done dragging out.

I know that a couple of you out there knew me before you knew this blog. I’ve removed my mask & cape via email for any commenters that have asked me to.  I’ve also emailed others from my real email address, which contains my name.  And, in one case, when a person’s comment brought with it an IP address (it shows up when WordPress emails me the comments) that because of my own history would reveal more about that person than they’d want to reveal, I did so to make that person aware of connections we may or may not have.  (Yes, I do recognize a few IP addresses.  It’s a curse that comes with the tech side of being in digital media.  Like phone numbers, they just stick until I forget them.)

And now, things just feel more open, clean.

Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen

Not even Jesus.

As by Leadbelly

(Click it, you know you want to)

The thing about working in private sector art galleries, et al., as I’ve done once or twice, is that in them, a person,  perhaps the owner, can just decide whether or not he/she wanted to hire you.  On the other hand, they know that because you are an artist you almost certainly have no other options for work in your field.  You will therefore earn less than you would in a functionally similar position in an industry that does not require your specialized knowledge.

The thing about working in non-profits, like the one I played such a complex and consuming role in establishing a few years ago, is that we could choose to act whenever we thought action was needed.  The downside was that we often delayed paying ourselves so that we could make sure the rent was paid.  That is, that’s when we paid ourselves.

The thing about working in academia is that it will take you months, 6 maybe, to get through a hiring process — if in fact there is no inside candidate, canceled search, etc. — within a generation “tenure-track” will be erased from the dictionary, and logical analysis in said field is often misdirected energy.  On the other hand, if you’re lucky enough to be pummeled up out of (rather than down out of) the adjunct gauntlet, you will receive health insurance, retirement benefits, and a reliable pay check.

So then, apparently, the thing about securing a position with a non-academic government funded entity is that things move VERY slowly.  I don’t think that when all things are said and done, this will out-slow academic hiring processes, but waiting from Wednesday to Monday to hear back about a salary counter offer is not a thing that perks up a December weekend.

I do, however, look forward to that rarest combination known as work in the arts having dependable pay checks.  When I line that up with my experience in the non-profit world — more similar to this position than is my experience in academia — I believe the trade off with bureaucracy will be a favorable one.  But.  I mean. Um…  Resolution?

It would enable me to budget, and thus begin to craft my Xmas holiday plans.

Adding to my woes — related via both anxiety and employment — Friday brought an emergency doctor’s office visit for my wife.  Without health insurance, if that’s the end of it, we’re only out $240.  If that is not the end of it, there is this giant, gaping abyss of potential financial destitution just lurking out there at the end of a road paved with phrases like “let’s try this test.”

Hire Who? What, Me?

I am, right now, in the midst of negotiating an offer for real, live, gameful employment.

I am, therefore, unable to focus on anything, at all, and can not write an intelligible post about any other subject, if even this one.

I have known for over a week that THE CALL would be coming, thanks to an attentive and kind person who is aware of the arcane slowness of the hiring process.

I have, therefore, been relatively uninterested in all other things for some time now.

I made a counter offer 24 hours ago.  And, therefore, while I understand that there are forms to be signed in triplicate, each requiring a Reduction in Paperwork Act policy to be printed out  in quadruplicate before I hear a response, the fact of this matter plus the cheapness of the coffee I’m drinking has taken years off my heart’s life expectancy.

In other news, I’m working with transferring  ink jet prints onto traditional gesso panels along with with egg tempera.   Who else combines digital media with 13th century technology?   People who need durable, absorbent grounds, I guess…

Wait, what was I thinking about, again?

Please Add the National Museum of Women in the Arts to Your List of Things to do in DC

It might seem like a tough call for a tourist to make.  (I mean, if you live near DC, just go.) There’s the Hirshhorn and all the myriad Smithsonian art museums, and the National Gallery does have nice example of everything.  And they’re all free…

For those reasons, it took me a year and a half of living in the area — the first 12 months of it very busy — to finally make it to the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

I’m aware that there may be some apprehension among you out there that you’ll buy a (relatively cheap) ticket only to find the museum is a case of gender politics going too far.  Maybe you don’t have art in a museum and you’re bitterly delusional about reverse discrimination.  I don’t know.  In the least you’ve probably seen art exhibitions that fall short because they assemble a bunch of very different art works on the single unifying principle that they were all made by artists who have similar, non-phallic, genitalia.

Well:  For one, what makes a museum work and what makes an exhibition work are different things.  For two, there really still are people out there who have taken “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” entirely the wrong way.  (Maybe they only read the title.)  For three, inequity in the canon is well addressed by positive affirmations of things which run counter to it.

And, for four, the National Museum of Women in the Arts has a really good collection.

On top of that, especially for those of you who have seen a lot of art, the thing that I enjoyed so much about the National Museum of Women in the Arts is that they have a lot of museum-quality art that you don’t often find in the huge, department-for-everything museums (the Met, National Gallery, Art Institute, etc.)  The fact is that a lot of the artists whose work is in the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ collection also have work in those other museums’ collections.  Whether by virtue of focusing on a smaller field or because of compulsions the bigger museums feel to display the biggest names of the canon, however, you just don’t often get to see in other places the things you can see at the National Museum of Women in the Arts right now.

It’s great.   It’s a breath of fresh air.  For me, seeing work by artists I’m less familiar with reopens historical periods after I’ve become a bit desensitized from seeing the same artists’ takes on them over and over again.

They had a couple works by Elizabeth Catlett on display — an artist whose work, I think, should be a lot easier to stumble across.  They’ve got a couple of works I really liked by Jane Hammond.  That, I think was the first time I’ve seen Hammond’s work in a museum, rather than a commercial gallery, as is also the case for the museum’s big May Stevens painting.

Of course they’ve got some of the canon names too: Rosa Bonheur, Frida Kahlo, Louise Nevelson; a show of work by Mary Cassatt is up now.

Moreover, if you act now (before Feb. 3), you can see the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ show of ceramic work by Tammy Garcia that, in my opinion, is worth the price of admission all by itself.