Archive for the ‘The Short Version / Reviews’ Category

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.

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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.

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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

 

The Short Version / Reviews

December 8, 2014

Newsboy

“Read All About It!”

(The Growth of Government)

 Crisis and Leviathan

Crisis and Leviathan by Robert Higgs

 The growth of the private sector is rather magical.  You simply enforce property rights and a few other nurturing legal traditions, and commerce grows.  It’s rather like planting seeds in the proper soil and providing them with sun and water.  The miracle of economic growth occurs, and with it, the rise in individual income and comforts.

There is nothing magical about the growth of government.  It happens because certain people enforce it, and many more persons either allow or agree to it.  Most governments began as what nowadays would be seen as criminal enterprises.

The nature of the private sector is rather splendid and wonderful, both because of its natural quality and diversity – and because of its complexity that passes our understanding.

The complex, brutal, many times exasperating nature of government, on the other hand, can be byzantine, but it rarely appears wonderful, except in its self-limitations.  For example, with our own system of “checks and balances”, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, the wonder of humility has been introduced to government.  A twig of humanity has been grafted onto an otherwise powerful, unfeeling enterprise, which, from time to time, casts its entire monolithic pre-eminence in a noble light.  (Picture the glowing Dome of Congress.)  Other citizenry have found other ways to ‘humble’ their governments.  But, for the most part, “shock and awe” and raw power, the barrel of a gun – and not wonder – are the glistening aspects of most government.

Because the private sector grows from a natural action, whose nature passes our complete understanding – when it fails, when the economy fails us, we believers are left with little but our faith to sustain us.  When the seeds of enterprise we have planted grow and wither, there are many factors we can look at, and remedies we can try… but mostly we must have faith that the seeds still contain life and the plants can be saved.  And that the miracle which passes our understanding will blossom again.

Believers in government, however, need no faith.  In fact, they often disparage faith.  Believers in government are natural atheists and pragmatists.  They are “show me the money”, people.  And when a crisis occurs, the government offers to “show people the money”.  It’s rather like looking for your keys outside the tent, rather than inside where you lost them – because the light outside is better.

The theme of Higg’s book is that what happens when a crisis occurs depends upon the prevailing ideology of the times; that is whether we will hew to a faith in our natural occurring systems, and the value creating miracle of the private sector – or whether we have more faith in governmental directives, whose nature would seem more rational and apparent, and who can print money at will.

In Crisis and Leviathan, Robert Higgs traces the evolving nature of our national ideology, and the crisis’s which have formed it.  And what he has shown, is that in times of crisis, action tends to be valued over faith by the populace.   These crises’s stimulate governmental action which manifest as governmental expansion, which, assuming that the crisis is surpassed and the nation survives, creates a change in ideology.  This changed ideology, which is more comfortable with a larger government, insures that the governmental expansion which occurred, never shrinks to pre-crisis size but solidifies as real growth.  And, over time, and successive crisis, our faith in the natural guiding order of the private sector shrinks in comparison with our comfort in governmental solutions.  And just as a plant grows exponentially, the government grows as each succeeding crisis provides it with the ideological support to do so.  Of course, much of this growth depends upon concealed costs and fiat (printed) money.  And from there comes a sobering foreboding.

Higgs also notes that an ideology is a creation of its time.  Just as a plant cannot shrink back into a smaller plant or a seed, neither can an ideology ever become what it once was.  There is no going back to the yesteryears.

Crisis and the Leviathan is an engrossing, step by step, factual, sobering account, of why our government has gotten to the size it is, and why we are where we are as a nation – and he offers a rather dismal outlook, for anyone who values individual freedoms and the joy of personal enterprise.

Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating tour through history as situations are seen through the differing ideological lenses of history, as black becomes white and white, black – and laws are taken to mean just the opposite of what they appear to have said, when written.  You can almost hear the street paper boy shouting, as if hawking some lurid murder, “Read all about it!”

Picture from Google Images

The Short Version / Reviews

October 31, 2014

tony-hoagland1

Tony Hoagland / Poet

 

 

Every time I come across an article or poem by Tony Hoagland, I either turn to it immediately, or savor the thought as I thumb my way through.   He is smart, witty, enjoyable… and in his bio photo looks as I would imagine a leprechaun would as it had just cast a spell and/or achieved a little mischief with words.  The truth, for Mr. Hoagland, is mischievous.  I have no higher praise.

The fun begins, right off the bat, with his titles:  “What Narcissism Means to Me” and “Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty”, among  others.  His criticism has the bite and crunch appeal of granola and milk sprinkled with fresh raspberries.  As he says himself:  “This collection of essays about poetry, (from the book “Real Sofistikashun”), neither academic nor exactly for the reader off the street, is in fact a mostly homemade set of geographies, jerry-rigged descriptions, and taxonomies. They are intended for the reader who loves poems and likes to think about them.”

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Well, so are the poems.  I opened my most recent issue of “The Sun”, to happen upon three of them.  In “Ship”, he complains:

 

At dawn I get up from my bed and draw the blinds;

            the light through the bedroom window is too strong.

            I don’t want the sun entering my house so early,

            when the dreams inside my head are still wet paint.

 

In “Upward” he laments the loss of a friendship:

 

With the help of Zen,

            my old friend Jack

            dissolved his disagreements

            with the world,

            purified his quarrels,

 

            sushed his ego,

            stopped biting back

            when bitten,

            and gradually had

            no opinions

            other than wise ones.

 

            …

 

            Goodbye, my friend, goodbye, I say

            quietly to myself

            like a character

            in some science-fiction novel

            as I watch the

 

            smooth spaceships of Zen

            slip the heavy harness

            of the earth

            and rise into the weightlessness

            of space,

 

            …

 

Reads almost like some monologue in a movie full of warmth and oddities – doesn’t it.   Tony makes me wonder if they haven’t a stable of poets somewhere on the movie backlot, who drift from light comedy to light comedy sprinkling bits of fairy enchantment.

His stuff just feels like it’s been around; never borrowed, but wise.

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Photos from Google Images / quotations by Tony Hoagland

The Short Version / Reviews

October 15, 2014

The Fifty Minute Hour

A Pearl of a Story

All of the good books aren’t necessarily the new books.  Grubbing through the Olde Book Store, an enterprising reader can discover many treasures.   The Fifty Minute Hour by Robert Lindner is such a book.

I must have first purchased it used.  (Okay, partly perhaps because of the lurid cover.)  Then, I uncovered it again while unpacking from a recent move.  It looked interesting all over again, so I began reading.

When you read a book of a past era you find things that are spoken of and wisdoms imparted which you will not find in books of the present era.  Different environments hatch different people.  If it is a good book, you will find yourself missing the entire period as if you’d lived then.

The book is a collection of five case histories from a psychoanalytic perspective.  And as the cover suggests, they are not dry.  The best, however, is the last: the “Jet-Propelled Couch”.  This pearl of a story, I discovered myself after doing a bit of research, was initially published as a two part series in Harpers.  Steven Sondheim spent some time trying to produce it as a musical, before abandoning the project.  It “1957 it was finally dramatized as an episode of TV’s Playhouse 90”.  – wikipedia

The story is of a brilliant scientist who – while otherwise quite normal and engaging – is sent to the psychiatrist because of the mad belief that he visits other planets (where he rules, of course).  The psychoanalyst, after failing and abandoning all other strategies, decides that what is needed is for him to immerse himself likewise in the delusion.  The rationale is that two psychoses cannot inhabit the same space.  One will inevitably ‘call out’ the other.  In psychoanalysis this is called the principle (and strategy) of “participation therapy”.

Perhaps you can imagine what happens?

Our contemporary culture is quite adept at sniffing out what we would like and supplying it.  You participate long enough and you will find that our culture has located an area in you vulnerable to addiction – as you begin to feel the uncontrollable pull.

What our psychoanalyst finds is that if you filter your way through enough psychosis, it is likely you will find one which can harbor itself – finding a personal vulnerability – in you.

None of us is that far from going mad, is what this tale has to say.

Illustration from Amazon


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