The Ever-Changing Role of the Artist: An ongoing conversation.

Recently, I was invited to give two lectures at Syracuse University; one to Freshman and one as part of a visiting artist lecture series. Delighted with the invitation (SU was my first teaching gig!), I revisited a number or previous lectures I had given in the past, presuming that one of those would suffice.

But times have changed, rapidly and radically since November 11, 2016.

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Over the years I’ve asked myself the question “what is the role of the artist” or perhaps a better way to say it for me is “what kind of artist do I want to be?”. Then I try to step outside of my preconceived notions of what I think an art career is, and let the answers shape, direct, and sometimes redirect my artistic practice. I’ve also wondered about what the perfect balance might be between art, activism, politics, and aesthetic pursuits.

These questions have continually dogged me, but recently, they have been plaguing me more than at any other time in my life, and I know many others as well. The inauguration of the Trump regime has been making it increasing difficult to do “business as usual”. As a socially engaged artist committed to using my work as a point of engagement, I realized I have a platform, everyday, every week in my classroom, and as a visiting artist speaking with aspiring artists around the country, providing me with the perfect opportunity to ask questions and offer encouragement to step up to the plate and challenge ourselves to not be silent, and to make art that matters.

Even though SU wasn’t a prestigious venue perhaps, like speaking at Yale or Harvard or metaphorically “loud” like the Golden Globes (love you Meryl), my talk wouldn’t be posted on the TED Talk website or YouTube, and it wasn’t going to televised. The first lecture was to a group of freshman in the class “Context Studies” taught by DJ Hellerman, the innovative and energetic new curator at the Everson Art Museum, and the second lecture was to a collective of undergrads and grads required to attend as part of their curriculum. Also in attendance was a smattering of dedicated faculty due to either loyalty or wanting to support artists in general, or their own art curiosity, despite the crush of responsibilities that makes their own personal and studio time very precious and no doubt, dwindling.

So, for Syracuse University, I created a new group of lectures that emphasized our responsibility to speak up, to invite my “young” audience to join me in questioning the role of the artist today, and to use whatever means necessary, (for me that includes the power of the image and the emotional arrows of art) to go straight to the heart of the questions of what is happening today. The enormous ripples of consequence these actions cause will be felt for years to come, and we must utilize every opportunity to invite others to join us in conversation that challenges and questions.

D.J. Hellerman states “one of the most significant [ways that art is important] is the way art brings people together to talk about critical issues that are impacting our lives. For me, it’s about making connections that deepen our understanding of the world and sense of community. Art instigates our imagination and that is where possibility can lead to real change.” Pretty good place to start for a conversation with formative artists.

To be continued….

 

 

Earth2Trump info

Chicago_1_flyer_front_cover_Earth2Trump.pdf

Resistance Roadshow
A cross-country tour to resist Trump
Chicago

Jan. 15, 2017earth2trumpmap1140earth2trumpmap1140earth2trumpmap1140earth2trumpmap1140
Live Music • Send a message to trump • Join the national movement
#Earth2Trump
Earth2Trump.org
6 – 8:30 P.M.
Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center
4046 W Armitage Ave, 60639

Earth2Trump.org
The Earth2Trump roadshow is rallying and empowering defenders of civil rights and the
environment to resist Trump’s dangerous agenda. Stopping in 16 cities on its
way to Washington, D.C., it will bring thousands of people to protest
at the presidential inauguration.
!e shows feature national and local speakers, great musicians,
and an opportunity to join a growing movement of resistance
to all forms of oppression and all attacks on our environment.
We must stand and oppose every Trump policy that
hurts wildlife; poisons our air and water; destroys our
climate; promotes racism, misogyny or homophobia; and
marginalizes entire segments of our society.
Join us in your community to send a powerful, unwavering
Earth2Trump message that oppression and environmental
destruction will not be tolerated.
A Project of the Center for Biological Diversity
http://www.BiologicalDiversity.org

Earth2Trump

My dear friend Christine Skolnik at the Center for Biological Diversity, has asked me to spread the word:  Earth2Trump Roadshow of Resistance Rally in Chicago, under the auspices of Chicago350.org, …hope to see you all there!

January 15th, 2017

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More information here:

Earth2TrumpMap1140.jpg

The Weather Diaries: Stormy weather, robots and the will to create

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With my ritual of coffee and Sunday New York Times in full swing, I texted a photograph of a playful mention of robots to my dear friend Scott McCarney, brilliant visual book artist in Rochester New York who shares my quirky sense of humor that balances precariously with the reality of life and love of all things robot.  His response resonated with a quip “I think robot and space alien themes will be big this year”, in an oblique reference to the Presidential election outcome and our collective dismay.

Teju Cole sums up my feelings beautifully in his “On Photography” column of Taryn Simon’s recent photographs about how power works. He states:

“The shock of that morning’s election result was not mine alone. I lay in bed in grief and confusion. I was not merely ‘sad’. I was derailed. All of my work suddenly seemed pointless. It was so difficult for me to organize thoughts into language that I felt as if I’d had a stroke…The return of the ability to write felt like resistance,the reclamation of an insight: Even at the worst of times, there is nothing pointless about the work we do as critics or artists.”

04mag-04onphoto-t_CA0-master1050.jpgFrom the series Paperwork and the Will of Capital by photographer Taryn Simon 2016

Simon’s photographs seemed perfectly and poignantly funerary. Her powerful use of color paired with the utmost minimalism and simplicity of the backgrounds allow us to contemplate the flowers as metaphors of both beauty and mortality in the same fraction of a second.

Cole states “Powerful men (it is usually men) meet to sign some papers. Afterward, the world is not the same. And yet few of those whole lives are altered by whatever was signed could conceivably trace their circumstances to that event. All they know – all most of us know – is that there are powerful forces in the world that shape our day to day realities. Simon’s project brings the scattered light of those forces to clear point of attention.”

I am grateful for Cole’s insistence and clarity. Getting on with it, making art that matters, that touches lives, that reveals fundamental truths; Cole reminds me to just get on with it after weeks of paralysis.  Back to work despite predictions of stormy weather.

 

Clouds of Uncertainty

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Much like weather systems that move around the globe, the ripple effects of the events of the past couple weeks will be felt around the world.

Most of the people in my everyday world – students, friends, colleagues, family, and professions working in the arts – I’ve been stunned and saddened by the events in the last few weeks. I don’t and can’t presume to know what and how the ripple effects of the election will play out, but I can  try to understand the ever widening impact will be touched by America’s choice to undo the check and balances that have historically defined our democracy.

James R. DeLisle writes “Hurricane Katrina forever changed the lives of individuals and the way we think about natural disasters. As the recovery efforts continue – 10 years post-Katrina – so do the debates over what went wrong, what went right, and what to do about it. These debates have several dimensions. First, there is the national security issue and what we need to do to improve our hazard-response systems. Second, there is the issue of how to deal with the people and businesses whose lives have been shattered or disrupted. Third is the question of what, where, when, and how we rebuild public and private infrastructure and facilities in the devastated regions. Finally, there is the debate over the question of how much this will cost, how it will be financed, and who will bear the costs.”

What is particularly numbing is when I contemplate the ripple effects that the choices that will be made in the next 4 years will wrought.

Trying to fathom the unfathomable

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Today is a very unusual post since I originally created this blog to write about my work, its environmental themes while attempting to unravel and share my creative process. But I, like most artists, consider ourselves cultural authors along with a lot of other things, and we are deeply and profoundly enmeshed in world.  I am compelled to offer this as some sort of explanation for my foray into politics.

This past weekend, my friends – Icelander Sigrun and her German husband Mathias – visited me while vacationing in the States.  They spend half their year in Iceland, 20 km from Solheimer Glacier, running Sigrun’s ancestral farm as a B&B (what is know as a farm-stay in Iceland), and the other half of the year they live in Berlin, where Mathias is an assistant principal of a special needs school. It was wonderful to see them and spend time together.

However, it seemed that no matter who we were meeting up with, or sharing a meal with, the conversation always turned to the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. Sigrun and Mathias repeatedly tried to discover an explanation for what most of the rest of Europe, if not the world, wondered: What the hell is going on in America with this election? No matter who joined the conversation over the weekend, we all admitted we were baffled and could not actually grasp how someone like Trump could emerge as a serious presidential contender and actually be taken seriously.

A horrifying echo of history emerged this morning while I was reading the New York Times Book Review’s analysis of the new book Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 by Volker Ullrich. The reviewer, Adam Kirsch, begins by explaining that Hitler was a unremarkable loser who never made a mark on the world by his 30th birthday in 1919. Kirsch explains further: “Ever since Hitler came to power in 1933, writers have been trying to fathom him, and he is already the subject of [thousands of] major biographies. He goes on: “The goal of these books is to ‘explain’ Hitler…because even when we know all the facts, his story remains incredible, unacceptable. How could so insignificant a man have become so potent a force for evil? How could the world have allowed it to happen? And always, the unspoken fear: Could it happen again?” (my italics).

Kirsch describes Ullrich’s book as he maps “Hitler’s ruthless maneuvers to unravel the unpopular Weimar Republic, aided by the widespread despair over hyperinflation and the Great Depression, until his triumphant elevation to the chancellorship. Notably the Nazis  never won a majority of the vote in any free election. Hitler came to power because other, more respectable politicians thought they would be able to control him.” Sound familiar?

Kirsch goes on: “Once in office, Hitler quickly proved them wrong. With dizzying speed, he banned and imprisoned political opponents [think of his threat to do this to Hillary during the last debate], had his party rivals murdered, overrode the constitution and made himself the center of a cult of personality…”. Sound familiar?

More: “These moves did not dent Hitler’s popularity. On the contrary, after years of internecine ideological warfare, the German people went wild with enthusiasm for a man who claimed to be above politics.” Sound familiar?

Anyone, or any party, that thinks they can control Trump is dead wrong. If they haven’t been able to control him during the presidential campaign, what makes them think they can control him after, should he win the election?

If they think Trump will follow the script they are wrong. The six million Jews, and the tens of millions of soldiers killed in World War II, had never seen or heard a script like the one Hitler wrote, and they seemed to never quite fathom what was happening to them while the rest of the world slept. We are currently living echos of history: what is now gingerly called the Great Recession, joblessness, huge masses of people forced from homes running for their and their children’s lives displaced, societal and political upheaval; all lay the groundwork for unrest, instability, and despair in our society, creating a perfect storm that is ripe for a sociopath like Trump. We know this based upon the millions of words written to fathom a sociopath like Hitler. Trump is walking in his footsteps ready to take advantage of anyone and anything. How do we know this isn’t just “locker room banter”? His is a life long pattern of egomaniacal behavior that consistently displays a total and complete lack of conscience. Lie, cheat, and steal is his modus-operandi, and pathetically, its usually those less fortunate that he preys upon.

We still have not been able to fathom the unfathomable. Could it happen again? Never forget. Never Trump.

 

 

 

Another Storm is Coming…con’t

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Another Storm is Coming_New York Times Oct 9, 2016

Roy Scranton, author of “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene” and “War Porn” a novel, writes in today’s New York Times Sunday Review section “Future hurricanes will actually be worse… “The City of Houston and FEMA did a climate change future… Hurricanes are going to get bigger. No question. They are fueled by the heat of the ocean, and the ocean’s warming…We see local politicians in general content with doing nothing. The do-nothing option is pretty gruesome. It gets you a storm, sooner or later, that’s going to kill thousands of people and cause at least $100 billion in damage.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/09/opinion/sunday/when-the-hurricane-hits-texas.html

Head’s up America! This one is straight over home plate not in left field and its a zinger!…

I hardly, if ever, use sports analogies. But this review needs to be as popular and well attended as the upcoming playoffs with the Chicago Cubs, warding off a 108 year old curse. Go Cubs!

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