Essays by Carl Nelson

February 11, 2016

Trail of Money

The Money Comes in Big Wads, or Not at All

 

This Mid-Ohio river valley town is a hard place to turn a buck.  As a salesperson you don’t have to make many phone calls to figure this out.  As I work my way down the Chamber of Commerce lists of local businesses I follow a lot of hardscrabble efforts and read a lot of unique business names.  I call and get a busy signal, a number disconnected, or a voicemail from six months previous.  Lots of pre-recorded voicemails predominate as the owner themselves are missing while out presumably massaging some other prospects themselves.  It often seems the selling around here involves a lot of sniffing of each other’s skat.  In short in this area, as in a lot of the rust belt and increasingly more coastal areas of the country, the hunting is getting scarce.  In these business pages you can certainly see people trying  …everything.  Pet salons, beauty salons, pawn shops, barber shops, chemical cigarettes, lawn services, clean-up services, insurance services, financial services, tax assistance…  Even the professionals such as accountants and lawyers are having to jog pretty fast just to get by, and they seem to go out of business nearly as fast as anyone else.  In my mind the local employment solutions remind me of when as children we tried to catch a bird or a squirrel with a box held up by a stick with a string attached to it with some yummy bait inside.  We used to wait a long time and rarely had any luck.  So also with fishing with string and a safety pin.

Most of the small business around here has been run out by the franchises.  The dime stores, the cafes, the hardware and clothing stores have been replaced by the Wal Marts, MacDonalds and Home Depots.  They take the money here, but their purchasing is done elsewhere.  The mines and oil companies pull the resources out, pay some pretty good blue collar wages, but they purchase elsewhere and take the money elsewhere also.  The chemical plants up and down the river are not as thriving as once, but they still pay some pretty good blue collar wages – but here again purchase and use the money elsewhere.  The government brings in some money in terms of schools and federal services.  There is a bit of farming and logging.  The industries with the most profitable looking presence around here are the hospitals, funeral homes, and tort law.  Just driving around you get the impression that the common activity is to die.  The most common posted historical photo is of some devastating flood.

Oddly there are some very good teachers and individual contractors around, as these seem to be relatively good paying jobs which allow some to the best people to remain in the area.  The majority of the service jobs remaining, however, barely afford a life.  And if you are a youngster trying to break into an occupation around here, there is not much job mobility and few openings.  Maybe every twenty years something will come along to rock the economy and a few job holders are lured from the safety of their sure employment into something else to create a vacancy.  Otherwise the suppliers and customers are as attached and committed to one another as an embryo to its placenta.

But, here, more and more it doesn’t appear as if we are alone out here in the woods of Appalachia.  Even in the metropolitan area of Seattle, where I once called home, and all around our nation people are talking about the hollowing out of the middle class.  At the dealership where we once worked in Seattle they demanded an extreme work ethic.  You could work extremely hard and earn quite a bit more money that we needed.  We could have also worked just a normal week taken home $150,000/year, gone to see all of our child’s games and made it home for dinner by 6 every evening.  Except that the latter was not an option.  The company needed $500,000/year from that territory.  Otherwise they’d get someone else.

I see this all around the United States.  The big game like an elephant, a whale or a rhino are still around.  And if you are equipped to hunt them, you will have more food than you can possibly need.  But most the deer, rabbits, squirrels, possum, fish, etc. are gone.  Normal people with normal skills need not apply.  You have been replaced by better software and robots.

Then, just the other day, this caught my eye.  It was an article written for “The Seattle Globalist” by Sahid Maxad, an immigrant who, after twenty years repatriated to Somalia.  Sahid writes:

“But I was also getting away from a mostly stagnant and unfulfilling life in Seattle — White Center to be specific.

I was tired of working dead end jobs just to pay the bills. I felt trapped in a vicious cycle, where I always ended up at the same starting point, with no end in sight. I felt as if I was living a real life version of the movie Groundhog Day.”

What Sahid found in Somalia was a very poor country, and yet one with “many continuous years of improved safety and infrastructure development.”  And the time seemed to be right.  “More and more people are choosing to take their savings and invest in startup businesses and NGOs in Somalia to help rebuild the nation on a grassroots level.”

“Returning diaspora members are positioning themselves for success beyond their wildest imaginations — especially compared to their prospects in the States. I’ve seen people come here with a modest amount of savings and leverage it into entire hotel chains and various other lucrative entrepreneurial enterprises.”

In other words, the game hunting is good there in Somalia for the burgeoning middle class.

I wonder if we might not see more and more of your own middle class heading for the poorer regions of the world in the coming years also, as they search out a better life.

 

 

Essays by Carl Nelson

February 6, 2016

Carl Sleeping1

The Day I’m Not Called a Bigot, Racist, Islamophobe, Homophobe, Misogynist, Reactionary or Racist is the Day I’ve Failed My Country and Two Thousand Years of History

(or How I Developed a Soft Spot for Richard Nixon)

 

 I’ve never bagged all of these epithets on the same day, but I have landed three in one posting.  I was accused of “creating an environment where reactionary thinking was tolerated” and called a bigot and a racist all in the same thread.  And this was by my nephew.

There was a study conducted some time ago which was written about in an issue I had of The New Yorker.  It seems that individuals in crowds allow themselves more and more leeway to act delinquently depending upon the amount of implied consensus within the surrounding group.  That is, if everybody decides to kick someone when they’re down, that’s when we’re going to feel most free to get in a few licks ourselves.  If one person objects, several may hold back.  And if several hold back, this could demoralize several more.  We can see how this could start a de-escalation of what I would call bandwagon bullying.

As I heard a character say on a TV miniseries I was watching just the other night, “The law is like a muscle.  If you exercise it, it grows strong.  But if you don’t exercise it,”… it becomes such a weak thing as to be useless.  I feel the same way about the First Amendment.

Even living way out in the woods, such as I, a person can become as deeply involved in some fulmination through social media as if he lived in Brooklyn.   This is the miracle of our age.

Some days I don’t feel quite up to it.  I want to post a cute kitten.   Nevertheless I feel honor bound to pick up a post and swing it if a lynch mob should pass me by.  My feeling is that just one person can send the message that the real world is not quite ready to allow this violence that is fulminating.  They are going to have to wait a while.  They’ll have to cool their heels or search for better circumstances.  They’re not going to get a pass.  Not from me.  “Over my dead body,” as they say.

How does a person become this ‘mean, bigoted, racist, reactionary, misogynistic and homophobic’ person such as myself?

Well, just disagree.  That would be the first – and really only – step necessary.  Then continue to apply as needed.

Everybody is encouraged to go out and “change the world!”.  It’s the progressive way!  It’s Mao’s Cultural Revolution emulsified and fed to our young ones through their schools and media as mother’s milk.  It’s on the breakfast, lunch and dinner menu.  And our youth have become, apparently, what they ate.

Our media extol it.  Our Presidential candidates swear by it.  As George Bush said,  “Hell, if I were running again for President, I’d be for change myself!”

I can’t think of a better slogan for a culture and a life which is never satisfactory – perfection be damned.

Essays by Carl Nelson

February 3, 2016

Bath1

 The Upstairs Bath

There is talk (in some halves) of having our upstairs bath redone.  Are there wives anywhere who are not thinking of refurbishing, restoring, remodeling, or refurnishing whatever home they inhabit?

My son, meanwhile, was talking over dinner about the shower he would like installed which pours down on you like a tropical rain.  He has been following a website which celebrates the way billionaires live.  Apparently he doesn’t want to be caught flat-footed when the money rolls in.

Myself, I had a fortune cookie which once said that I “would always have enough money”.  I have hung on those words.

 

There are two kinds of people.  (Didn’t you know this?)  One seeks freedom by acquiring as much money as possible.  The other seeks freedom by surviving on as little money as possible.  An example would be my identical twin brothers who are retired.  One travels the country in a bus which pencils out at about forty dollars per mile, (I believe he quoted me).  The other travels the Pacific in a sailboat.

One of my fascinations has always been visualizing the smallest possible accommodation in which I could live as cheaply as possible.  (I’m not alone.  A plethora of websites cover this.)  I’d always fantasized my chosen life would be as a modern Johnny Appleseed or wandering Country Western singer – a Woody Guthrie without the politics.  In a book of columns by Charles Krauthammer, the columnist writes about a mathematician named Paul Erdos who conducted all of his life from out of two suitcases.  One suitcase held the mathematical materials he was currently working on.  The other suitcase held his clothes and incidentals.  He would travel from friend to friend, visiting with other mathematicians, working theoretical problems and died having published 1500 collaborative papers.  Mathematicians would rank themselves in terms of degrees of separation from having published with Paul Erdos.  Ah, to be a living legend.

But with time I’ve realized this sort of life probably wouldn’t have made me happy.  I enjoy staying in one comfortable spot where routine smoothes incident and I’m left my time to dream.  And I need my companions: wife, son, dog and cat.  When the two of them are off shopping or otherwise occupied, I imagine myself without them versus with them.  There is no contest.

But with all of this comes expenditures.  Sigh.  And with expenditures comes debt.  And with debt comes the need for money.  And with the need to earn comes loss of time.  You get the drift.

One of my many daydreams is that I would have been good in business or at making money.  I spent most of my adult life in Seattle, Washington, where in the late 20th century start-up millionaires were hatching like baby chicks.  Tech money was condensing out of the air.  There were so many expensive cars motoring around the suburb of Redmond you no longer bothered to gawk.

I never attracted a dime of it.  Everyone around was pulling in their limit, and I couldn’t get a bite.  In retrospect, I think a major reason was probably because I never invested.  I never put my line in the water.  You don’t make any points if you’re not in the game.

And this is why we’ll probably redo our upstairs bath.

I don’t want to be left on the bench.

Essays by Carl Nelson

February 2, 2016

Read the rest of this entry »

Essays by Carl Nelson

January 30, 2016

Carl1 (1)Web

The State of My Discontent

I’m glad I said something to the effect of “never say never” in my last posting, as I have decided to reverse course and continue my blog.  Only the postings are planned to be personal and/or somewhat impersonal essays.  Also political and whatever comes to mind.  That should cover it.

The social media with its incessant buzzing of current affairs, both political and cultural, has created a concomitant buzzing within my own mind.  Poetry can simply not excrete the level of vituperative informational overload that is being dumped upon me day in and day out.  I simply cannot shit this stuff out fast enough through the medium of poetry to cleanse my thinking.  The essay is a larger and more practical pipe for the carrying off of this effluent – and my blog, with a near non-apparent readership – the perfect place to dump it without the worry of much talk.  Should whatever I say begin to attract more readers and/or the authorities, I’ll have to re-weigh my strategy.

But as it is, right now!  I have virtually no audience, save a few masochistic hangers-on.  All of which grants me great latitude.  I can kick small dogs.  Take the toys from children.  Even enjoy a super-sized fountain cola, without the threat of much blow-back.   I could probably even snack on small birds plucked from out of their nest, (Have you seen this video on social media?)  without causing much of a stir.  And just for starters, I think my first posting will be to say a few positive things about Donald Trump.

Stay tuned.

From the Editor’s Perch

April 30, 2015

BusCarl2

The Road Not Travelled

 I’ve learned with age “never to say never”.  But this road (far) less travelled has reached its end.  The last posting was February 25, 2015.  And it is now April 30, 2015.  Over two months without a post, and what have I been doing?

Well, besides all of the backwash of life, I’ve been writing poems.  They seem to fit in the little crevices life allows.  It takes only a few moments to scratch down a phrase and stuff it a pocket.  Then, when the safe harbor of a few free hours is reached, poetry assembly can take place.  There is a certain enjoyment that a good poem contains that a blog post doesn’t.   I can’t say I’ve sat down and read over my past blog posts at all.   (Excepting those concerning my son.)  However, I do enjoy mulling over a poem I’ve written and liked enough to store.  In fact, I pour over them fondly now and then.  And doing so – especially, if I’m down in the dumps – makes me feel better.  I’m reminded of the New Yorker cartoon where the artist is settled back with his bowl of popcorn as if to watch the TV for the evening – but instead of a TV, it’s his painting that he is enjoying.  That’s how it is with a poem for me.  They are a bit of my life I continue to enjoy.

Checking back, this blog was begun March 9, 2010 with the caption “Hello world!”  That’s a pretty good summation of the joy and trepidation every blogger has felt setting out, I would guess.  Here is this whole world beckoning, without an intermediary to be seen.  No gatekeepers.  No editors.  No business or financial razor wire to cut through.  No deadlines.  No restrictions.  And I’m typing the first phrase of the rest of my life.

Ironically, rather than a blog releasing my views to the world, as I had anticipated – it has rather been like isolating myself on an island and sending a message off in a bottle, hoping that someone will discover it, and then respond.  Both have been shown to be very problematic events.

Like most ‘ground-breaking’ endeavors we try, even if we succeed, we find that there are real reasons for the way tradition operated.   Life is quite complex.  We form opinions without full understanding.  Older people maintain this is why they have become more conservative with age.  Younger people maintain it’s because we’re old, and that we should be polite and move to the side.  (I’m sorry.  You will have to wait until I’m dead.)

Blogging has provided opportunities for a small number of the millions out there to make a name for themselves.  And it has provided the opportunity for a much vaster number to write and post their thoughts and opinions.  I’m all in favor.  But, as for myself, I’ve found the fishing here to be quite poor after trying every bait imaginable.  So, time to pull in the pole and flip a line into the water elsewhere.

The irony is of course, that I’ve decided in retrospect, it’s the traditional modes of publication which look to promise the best results.  A traditional publishing model handles the business, the editing, the promotion and audience accrual and maintenance, that a blogger must handle all by themselves.   You may select the audience you would like to reach by submitting to the journal or press which has that sort of reader.  And you know that there is one there.  You needn’t carry the whole enterprise; you’re no longer a one man band.  Publishers have a stable of like minded writers to share in the heavy creative lifting.  The only problem being to find the right publisher and to present yourself as such a good opportunity, they will bite.

The irony is that in hindsight the personal blogging, which at first looked to be so active, proved to be passive in actual practice.  While what looked to be a quite passive tack, that is, submitting to various journals in hope of attracting their patronage – looks now to be the active pursuit.  Here I am now, as the hunter, setting my traps for the best looking journals, following their habits and reading their scat.   But, I don’t feel too bad about it.  As Santayana said: “Even our world is a contradiction of what it is trying to be.”

So, as to the future, what I intend doing is the writing and publishing of poems through traditional journals and lines of acceptance.  This blog has helped me formulate the belief that the poem and prose are quite differing ways of expressing oneself: the former quite relational, while the latter (prose) is quite hierarchical.  The audience for hierarchy (power) has always been greatest.  It’s clear, practical and focused.  But I think poetry has too long allowed itself to be cowed and kept barefoot and pregnant, when it could have brought its particular brand of argument to the table and formulated a better, or at least complimentary vision to the great debates and questions of the times.  These are the sorts of poems I intend to write – and to publish.  In other words, I am taking the last step from the stepping stones my blog has created, to the other bank where I am now planting my feet.

Look for me on the horizon!  – Carl Nelson / Schn00dles

 

 

Culture

February 25, 2015

Real People: Thinking Caucasian Little Boy Questioning Wonder

This Teacher Doesn’t Make It Easy!

 

If my son knew the material,

he could tell me which material the test covered.

But he doesn’t.  Which, of course, he wouldn’t,

seeing as how he needs to learn… it.

But so far I’m fairly certain that it’s biology.

Perhaps a little about cell morphology.

A question about ‘telomeres’  (put me onto chromozones)

and the word ‘pedigree’, plus the terms ‘incomplete’ and ‘non-complete’ dominance,

I see cramped like coded messages inside of little yarn balls of inked drawings

would seem to anchor us in Genetics.  Hoorah!

So we turn to that chapter,

but only portions of it seem to be the portions of it he remembers,

that is, the portions of it he has to study,

at least, as my son sees it.

This teacher doesn‘t make it easy!

 

The teacher gives some of the material in a handout,

some in varied sections of the textbook,

a portion of the material they have all read together,

…some seemingly as short as a paragraph –

while other information he delivered as a lecture in class.

Then there’s the information from the various tests,

which, unfortunately, had to be turned back…

-“What’s the point of a test, if we can’t study what you got wrong?”

-“Dad.  Why do you have to go off on all sorts of things that don’t matter?”

And there’re quizzes, versus major tests, for which the rules are somewhat different.

On the major exams, if you perform poorly, you can re-take the test.

But meanwhile, the class moves on.

-“So which are we working on?!” I exclaim.  “The past, or the present?”

-“Dad, please!  Just settle down.”

 

All the while, we’re in a rush, of course.  Not mine, but his.

There’s chats, meetings and activities

continually being updated by texts from his friends, he takes as we study.

-“Dad!  Dad.  Why do you have to go off on all sorts of things that don’t matter?”

-“Because I’m explaining this to you while you have your head in a phone!’

-“We don’t have time now to read the whole chapter!

Just help me to answer these 10 questions.  Number one:

Some person’s son has a different blood type from either of his parents.  Is this possible?”

-“Oh yeah.  Certainly.”

‘Maybe even probable?’  I mumble.

 

Photo from Google Images

 

From the Editor’s Perch

February 23, 2015

Global Warning

Global Warning

 

First it was Global Warming, and the Seas Were Going to Rise and Drown Us.

The seas didn’t rise.  The Maldives are still there.

And Global Warming is now Climate Change.

Then a Great Shelf of Ice was supposed to dislodge from a Melting Antarctica,

fall into the water, and…  the Seas Were Going to Rise and Drown Us.

 

A little back story:  After fears in the 1970s of Global Cooling had abated,

Y2K was going to destroy civilization in the year 2000,

and then Second Hand Smoke was going to kill us.

But from there on out, the playbill got a lot more crowded,

as various performers realized  something  a lot of us fully allow

both In and Out of Government, and On Both Sides of the Question.

And that is that “A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste”.

 

So next up, and coming soon!  are melting methane beds, from deep within a dying ocean…

expect a cold vortex pushing south, down from Canada, in between

summertime projections of starving, drought-stricken farmers moving up from the south,

a flood of undocumented aliens carrying ebola,

(insert where appropriate: the dissolution of our shorelines and possibly Manhattan)

ISIS fanatics running rampant across all of the mid-East, and thence to disseminate by air to everywhere where they might find you, and an atomically armed Iran.

 

Exacerbating the crumbling financial picture from within the European Union,

either Greece, Italy, Spain, or all three could default.  Or Germany – that economic engine – could pull out altogether leaving the whole European Consortium to collapse like a circus tent.

The High Pressure Fracking for oil in the Fly-over States, which could possibly destroy all potable water,

is also challenging the dominance of the former oil-rich countries, who came about their oil too easily,

putting their regimes in jeopardy creating more and more instability,

in a soon to be nuclear armed Near East.

While the newly created, well-paying blue collar jobs and cheaper oil in the heartland

is fuelling the rush to more fracking, even cheaper oil, and ever more CO2,

plus a lot more money-enhanced Bubbas , exacerbating the chances, Climate Change Will Occur, as it always has in the past, or that we will Be in Denial all the while we have our air conditioners turned up high.

So maybe yes, at least, to that.

 

“97 out of 100 scientists believe excess C02 causes Global Warming.”

This is what we are told, even by the President.

What was actually determined was that,

“97 out of 100 scientists believe excess C02 contributes to Global Warming.”

 

So, say the Doubters, “Just me being alive contributes to Global Warming, as does my friend’s pug dog’s farts.”

“And the President contributes to Global Warming every time he speaks!”

And probably much moreso than me.  Nevertheless,

by the President’s measure, I’d guess we could say that he personally has caused Global Warming.

And that 97 out of 100 scientists would agree on this.

Fair enough.

 

Picture from Google Images

February 15, 2015

Editor’s Note:  I have decided to try writing my essays as poems.  This can take a bit longer.  The form of this first essay was suggested to me by a friend.  It is a Pantoum.  Hopefully the repeating lines will add to the rhetorical punch.

Bacon and eggs Gov

How Governmental Succor Undermines Home and Family

 

It’s like he’s being recruited by a gang!

This morning I fixed an onion, sausage omelet, buttered whole grains toast, and slices of orange with tea for breakfast.

And my son refused it!  He stared at it.  “I can’t eat this,” he said.

My wife and I beamed, welcoming him.  Oh! the love of home, hearth and family.   “You have to have breakfast, son.”

 

This morning I fixed an onion, sausage omelet, buttered whole grains toast, and slices of orange with tea for breakfast.

At school my son could get a bacon, egg and cheese pizza plus fruit, milk, or three to four different kinds of cereal, breakfast bars or bagels off the rack.

My wife and I beamed, welcoming him.  Oh! the love of home, hearth and family.   “You have to have breakfast, son.”

“I can get it at school.”

 

At school my son could get a bacon, egg and cheese pizza, plus fruit, milk, or three to four different kinds of cereal, breakfast bars or bagels off the rack.

“Or you could eat right here.”

“I can get it at school.”

“They let us go to the school cafeteria if we have first period study hall,” he said.

 

“Or you could eat right here.”

How is it that a bureaucrat, untucked as his dingy sheer shirt, as he reaches for the ring binder to retrieve this morning’s mandated breakfast menu, can charm our intelligent son?

“They let us go to the school cafeteria if we have first period study hall,” he said.

“Is this how the government serves us?”  I asked the ceiling fixture.

 

How is it that a bureaucrat, untucked as his dingy sheer shirt, as he reaches for the ring binder to retrieve this morning’s mandated breakfast menu, can charm our intelligent son?

To return our hard-earned money to us as fast food pork?

“Is this how the government serves us?”  I asked the ceiling fixture.

Subsidizing my son’s rash dash to be as late as he pleases?

 

To return our hard-earned money to us as fast food pork?

Offering all sorts of empty convenience

Subsidizing my son’s rash dash to be as late as he pleases?

with no more, “Good morning.”

But, “Don’t talk to me, please dad.  I’m in a hurry.”

 

Photos from Google Images

The Short Version / Reviews

February 3, 2015

Art Worlds

As I matured, it occurred to me post-discussion that often groups of people had not really been talking about what it seemed we were ostensibly talking about.  In book groups their conclusions puzzled me.  It was as if while I was discussing the text, they were shopping at Nordstorms; holding up some piece of information or impression to see if it were ‘okayed’.

Moreover, later I suspected that they didn’t really know that they weren’t talking about what they were talking about.  (Definitely, I was puzzled what they were talking about.)  Whatever!   I also suspected that they weren’t having the feelings which they reportedly felt or felt that they had felt.  Their feelings just didn’t ring true to me.  And as I aged out, I also realized that many of my teachers hadn’t lived the advice that they offered, and suspected also, that they hadn’t realized that they weren’t living the advice that they offered.  So often,  in fact, their advice was the direct opposite of what they were doing.  Didn’t they notice?  What the hell?

 Have you ever crafted a very reasoned response for a discussion others are a part of, to find they listen and then carry on without a remark as if nothing had been said – as if you were a spirit which had drifted through the room, shrieked – and left, without a mention?  As an artist, have you watched artistic leaders make the most preposterous assertions without a blush to a fully accepting crowd?  If you have ever considered the artistic community – or any community, for that matter – and come away dumbfounded regarding something or other – this might be the book for you.

Self-Portrait1
As I type this, I am still incredulous that after all of the time I have spent in the art world, trying to find my way, and trying to understand the art world, that it never occurred to me to read what a sociologist would have to say about the art world.  That is, of course, they would study these things!

Well.   I’m certainly late to the game, but feel I’ve arrived.

Because, Typing and Sales 101 are two courses I’ve always felt should be in any practical educational curriculum.  Now I would have to add a third, and that is a study of the book, Art Worlds by the sociologist Howard Becker.

Howard Becker’s book is fundamentally about ‘conventions’; about a conventional thought, about a conventional activity.   Art Worlds discusses how humans utilize convention to organize and to ‘regularize’ production, so that in a professional arena, not everything need be discussed.  This is the bread and butter of Becker’s work.

In fact, very little of any accepted convention must be discussed.   Because the sources of conflict have already fought their nasty little internecine wars and spawned conventions which have been codified as standards, long before you ever arrived, or perhaps were even hatched and people do their work amongst them like fish swim in water.  Dissenters have long ago been herded off (and actually continue to be ‘hauled off’) and penned somewhere ‘beyond the pale’.

These conventions determine the flowcharts of nearly all social organizations.  But they are very apparent in the arts where it is quite necessary that something nebulous be defined so that it might be crafted and produced and then be ‘authenticated’ (which is in the art world a way of being ‘realized’) in order to be understood  and sold to its consumers.  “Art Worlds” examines just this.  But as Becker notes, “the world of art mirrors society at large”.  What would look to be a good book for any aspiring art worker to study – actually, is a good book for any aspiring human to study.  That is, if you would like to get on in life.

Harry51

This is all about getting on in life.  Becker makes no aesthetic judgments.

It's important to uphold standards.

It’s important to uphold standards.

When an arts organization tells you that they “must uphold standards”, they really can’t emphasize this enough.  Because the life of the organization, their jobs, their professional status and their livelihoods all depend upon meeting the specifications of the art product they produce.  Not to do so would be like a blind Sampson pulling down the pillars of the temple.

Becker doesn’t theorize; he observes.  “…sociology does not discover what no one ever knew before…  Rather, good social science produces a deeper understanding of things that many people are already pretty much aware of.”  Becker, as sociologist, explains the functioning of an Art World in a way that those who understand only a part of it can’t.

Art is Social

Art is Social

Becker begins his book by noting that “art is social”.  That whereas we commonly think, in our culture, as the artist being the creator of the work – Becker goes to great effort to describe the community of ‘personnel’ who, taken together, produce the ‘art’ product.  Further, he shows how the art cannot attain any stature without this community of ‘personnel’.  Nor, can it even claim to be ‘Art’.  As Becker observed, “Most history deals with winners.  The history of art deals with innovators and innovations that won organizational victories… (my italics)   Only changes that succeed in capturing existing cooperative networks or developing new ones survive…  Art worlds routinely create and use reputations.”  Art worlds regularly criticize and defend themselves, authorize membership and reject aspirants.  And they all define themselves, their places and their actions through an establishment of ‘conventions’.

My first quarter playwriting teacher might have agreed with Becker on at least this first point.  The first question our instructor asked our class was about what is the defining characteristic of theater.  His answer was that it is “social”.   Becker continues though, to extend this  observation much further than what my playwriting teacher might authorize.  In fact, Becker’s exploration uncovers so vast an area of questionable action as to make at least this art worker wonder, ‘What the hell am I, or was I, aspiring to be a part of?”

It’s a personal belief of mine that any true appreciation of reality is an ‘unmooring’ experience.  T.S. Elliot remarked, “Most people cannot stand too much reality.”  In truth, most of us fight the Alice in Wonderland, topsy-turvy quality of reality.  We really cannot stand to be a part of this.  We’d rather manufacture something with more stability.   “That is our story, and we’re sticking to it,”  is rather the nature of how we go about it.

So a book like Becker’s “Art Worlds” – which can leave this artist/reader feeling unmoored – to my mind, is quite a book indeed.

Photos by Carl Nelson

Alien Abductions Are Loud, Bright Affairs

Alien Abductions Are Loud, Bright Affairs

 


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