Thursday, April 17, 2014

Making Art Outside the Machines of Power

Given that art has human value (without-- or suspending definition of what that is), it follows that the labor of the artist merits support. This entails meeting basic human needs for the artist, seeing that tools, supplies and space for making art are available. How that support is offered, where and by what means it's obtained is not a matter of indifference for art or artist, but will have the power to affect and control both art and artist. There is an unavoidable entanglement of the production of art and artist with the economic, social, political, and cultural, machines (thank you Levi Paul Bryant ), through which support is procured. The gallery investment collector museum gentrification reward machines will select that which maintains and enhances their operations, and reject what threatens them. The flow of money is the mother's milk that fuels these machines, and those who control the flow of money will not abide anything that challenges their territorial power. If you are an artist, and court what passes for 'success' in this system, you will, no matter how firmly you believe in your aesthetic purity, or how hard you work to compartmentalize your creative work to shield it from the machinery you have made yourself dependent on, you will be making art that serves that system. You will be a useful servant of the Empire of Money and Death. There was no need to define the value of art and the artists labor, because it will be defined by the machines that distribute the reward and how they make use of it. Artistic freedom will be the reward of the parasites, the rebels, thieves and refusers. When you see one of those great, expensive, powerful works of public art, those magnificent museum worth pieces, only made possible by grants and awards, by the flow of money--tell yourself, that is not what artists who value their freedom do. That is not what a free creative soul aspires to do--it's a temptation, a seduction to join the stable of the pimps who run the machines... the machines that build the prisons and make the drones and turn everything human into a means of profit. Why am I not hearing this conversation from artists everywhere? How do we survive without supporting the machinery of slavery and death? What kind of art can we make--how does that change what we are given to do, how does that shape our creative vision? Why am I not hearing this conversation from artists everywhere?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

 I’ve been imagining myself 50 years ago. I was 23. Majoring in art. Had taken courses in figure drawing, printmaking, drawing and design, ceramics, art history… and many years from childhood-- classes from the Chicago Art Institute, Kansas City Art Institute, Nelson-Atkins Gallery in KCMO.

I wanted to … be an artist? Make art? And there was a fire in the Wichita St. Art building…put an end to that…and I came to Philadelphia on a motor scooter

. I go back to that point in time in imagination, asking myself—what if I’d had the assurance, the focus I feel now.. that I think I have now. Maybe?

And had kept it up?

Skip the interruptions. The 8 or 9 years making pottery, which was both an interruption and a deflected way of keeping the faith… so to speak.

The question on my mind is – can I do it? Am I in any better or worse position than I would have been 50 years ago? What are my disadvantages? Advantages (are there any?... cause in a dreamy sort of way, I keep going back, asking myself… why didn’t I stay with it? What if I had? Now that I know … that this is all I have ever really wanted. Yes there were other things I wanted. But that was the deepest, fishhook in my gut.

Age 23. Imagine I’ve transferred to an alternative universe. I don’t have to deal with what I’ve done since… let it all stand. Let it all exist. In a universe I’ve slipped out of. The alternative is stark—uncluttered: would I choose to be 23—with my present sense of commitment ( I can’t assume what I’ve learned since), so just that, and how would that compare with my prospects now? Age 72 going on 73?

Age 23: Main advantage… I could reasonably anticipate 40 or 50 years to live and develop my work. (Yes, one never knows what may strike one down, and even at 23 I was hyper aware of that.) I would have more energy… though I’m not so sure of that, the vigor of youth and all that. Really can’t think of much else, by way of advantage.

I would have had to figure out a way to make a living… however minimal, and to have the means to buy art supplies. I figure that would easily rob me of ten or 15 years. So the advantage is cut to 30 to 40 years.

And sex. I can comfortably content myself with a daily self-inflicted orgasm—for health, though I might wish for more, but no longer would a great part of my waking life be hi-jacked with –not with desire for sex alone (that would have been so much more simple), but confounded with romantic confusions, the wish for a soul mate, such that I spent so much time and mental anguish pursuing love in all the wrong ways for all the wrong reasons in all the wrong places.

There’s another five years, minimum (WAY conservative, given the emotional energy that consumed) . Down now to 25 to 35 years, advantage to the youthful start.
And I know—pretty much really know where I’m heading. I mean, I can’t see it, visualize it, but I know it, feel it. Know with every mark I make on a page, every piece of scrap I pick up on the street what belongs to the way, and what doesn’t. How long would it have taken me to find that? To shed the need for the approval and confirmation of others? Another 5 years? And working through the marketing shit—giving that up?

All that… leaves me about what I foresee for myself now. Another 20, 22 or 3 years.

And I’m so much smarter… I mean, really. And experience… such an amorphous word, I know—but I mean… the art I’ve seen, ideas I’ve encountered—all that to my advantage, now, not then.

So where is this going? That I have a sense … a compulsion… a need… a drive… to do something. To make something of my art. Fifty years ago, I would have spent, probably years, sorting out what I wanted to do from what the market or critics or whatever wanted. I’m pretty much free of that now. Though I have this inextinguishable sense of … what I need to do … um, how else to put it?

… Justify my existence.

I don’t like that way of putting it. The theological background noise. But can’t think of how else to describe what it feels like. Yes—I do what I do cause it’s fun. Cause it gives pleasure. And maybe, someday, that will be sufficient. Feel sufficient. But not now. Not yet. There is something here I’m after, working for. Some of it certainly psychological… this thing about mastering the skills of drawing (how can I call myself an ‘artist’ if I can’t fucking DRAW… like any run of the mill Renaissance master ?”) But it goes deeper. I can’t explain it. All I can say, is… it matters.

So I have my 20 some years before me. If I were 23, I might have a body of work to measure up to my expectations by the time I would be … mid 40’s. Why not for me now? Another 20 or so years. So that I can look back, as death or incapacity approaches… and feel that… this was what I lived for.

So I go to the figure drawing sessions, one part of me, a 73 year old man, one part – 50 years younger, but in another alternative universe. My ambition has nothing to do with market, or recognition in any terms that exist now—but it isn’t small, that ambition. however defined. 

It feels like a new beginning. Something has happened, changed, reset my course. But can I do it? I mean, can I keep at it… and let others decide whether I succeed or no? 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Music of our time(s)

When I was coming of age, radio was segregated and racist. It was also -- music stations -- in the hands and imagination of the DJ's. So the white DJ's starting playing music they'd heard on black radio. And white kids started to dig that sound. And there was the generation of cross musicians, which was the birth of Rock n' Roll. And it changed everything. While it lasted... before the corporations bought the DJ's and choose what to play and what not to play, there was this explosion of incredible music. Where ten years before, it had been, If I'd know you were comin, Ida baked a cake, and How much is that Doggie, in the window?, There was Revolver, and The Mother's of Invention, and the Incredible String Band, and Jimmy Hendrix, and Country Joe and the Fish, and Gracie Slick and Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison and the Doors... oh, and Motown, and Percy Sledge singin, When a Man Loves a Woman... Now, to find good music, not preprogramed corporate shit, you go to Indy bars. Still there. People still making real music. Just go live. Turn off the radio. Buy the CD's at The Fire. And tell your friends what you heard. ...though, the segregation seems to back full force. Fuckin world we live in.... I don't know... We go'in backwards faster than we go'in forwards.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

#236 Derelict ship on an asphalt sea

12.5x13.5  weathered plywood fragment, roofing paper, coil spring, acrylic on composition board

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

don't matter, it's all gonna be lost....

don't matter/Ginsberg/ it's all of it/gonna be lost. this line from a poem for Amiri Baraka by Diane Di Prima—I feel as something that marks our time. The absolute end of Romanticism. What in Shakespeare was perhaps a trope of sublime irony, had become a defiant refusal that mortality should have the last word. At least speaking for myself, there's no place for poetic hyperbole of the sort that would mask the transience of, not only our individual lives, but our time as a species on this planet. It lurks there as a question. A provocation. What do we make of this... or more to the point, what do we make of what had been so close to the heart of poets and artists for so many generations? Another stage of mourning beyond the death of God. All of it. One of the most intense moments of my life came several days into the Cuban missile crisis. If you didn’t live through that, it would be inconceivable the sense of absolute end-of-world. I had friends who flew to South America because they believed the radiation that would encircle the northern hemisphere might spare them in the south. I went to a faculty recital—a performance of Bach’s unaccompanied sonatas for violin. The hall was almost empty. This too, will be lost, I thought. All of it. The Greek tragedies, the Sistine Chapel… Bach. All of it will be lost. The trope of mortality in art, of Hazlitt’s ‘Fame’… all of it. We had passed through another portal of human consciousness. I was majoring in art. What then was the point? This may have been one of the things that turned me from painting to pottery. Functional pottery. Handcrafted dinner ware. To enrich our daily lives in the here and now. All of it gonna be lost. The things of the world no less our selves. The trope of creative immortality is as dead as the gods.

#49 Forgive us Teddy, for We Have Sinned

Friday, February 21, 2014

#223, #231

#223, 8x11 pen and ink. #231 Pencil and ink study: skull, c-3 vertebrea, phanges (hand), mandible, tib-fib and foot.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Saturday, February 8, 2014


5.5x8.5 ink & water color
Pelvis, anterior     bones

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Lost & Found

Does this explain my fascination with Found Things?
Things missing... a rock from Walden's Pond I've carried with me for 42 years through 19 moves, a pair of sandals, a few other minor odds and ends. Prompted me to search through 10 gal storage boxes I haven't looked through in years. There went the afternoon.
Newspapers... the Kent State Shootings, the first MOVE house shootout, the fireman with the body of the toddler, Oklahoma City... lot of others.
Family photos... two that go back to 1860 something.
Love letters from my father to my mother before they were married. Missing in action letter to my aunt... uncle killed over Germany, 1945, tail gunner in a B-17. Photo of me on his lap in 1944. Air medal and Purple Star.
Letter on Luftwaffe stationary to my mother and father from family friend who was one of those who liberated Buchenwald.
High school graduation class picture from the student newspaper... for years, I wasn't sure whether I graduated in 1960, or 1961... it was 1960.
Letter from Scott-Foresman, that they were publishing a letter I'd written to a friend in a reading workbook (describing the 1957 Ruskin Heights F5 tornado that destroyed our neighborhood), and paying me $10 for the rights. Photos of my pottery... has it really been 36 years?
A snapshot I thought I'd lost: my then wife, me and the Vespa 150 we'd ridden, from Wichita, Kansas, to Michigan on our way to Philly, loaded with gear for the trip: September, 1964.
MS of my two novels (they each went through more than 8 drafts--thousands of pages), and poetry going back more than 40 years.
Ribbons from division first prizes, Kansas City Science Fair, 1955, 56 ( was an avid hunter and collector of fossils, spent many hours researching them in the Linda Hall Science Library in KC. So much more, lost along the way.
What if I'd lived a settled life in one place? I'd have to open a museum.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Burn the drafts!

A recurrent problem exposed with each move: what to do with the accumulated drafts and discards and works-in-progress--boxes and file drawers and binders filled with hundreds--nay, thousands... many thousands of pages--writing that goes back more than 40 years (most of it, from the last 27 years). Why do I save this stuff? Do I harbor secret dreams of donating it to some University Library? 63 volumes of journals. Some 2 million words. Do I imagine anyone will ever want to read them? That there are of any value to anyone but me? And then, really only the journals and finished work that are of any contemporary interest.

Oh you young writers and poets, in your 30's and 40's and 50's, what forests will be felled to fill torn cardboard boxes, brittle dessicated file folders in your basements, closets and attics? Or do writers and poets now store it all in distant binary cloud banks and thumb drives... or those smart phones I see you holding at your readings?.

What a jolly funeral pyre all that paper would make! My poor sons, having to wade through this stuff. I think, one more move will be enough to convince me to fill a half dozen blue recycling bins and be done with it.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Insane Idealism of Obama

If your model of the role of the Chief Executive, and that upon which you craft both policy and strategy, is that of the ultimate mediator, such that advocacy is reserved for what remains when possibilities for negotiation have been exhausted, with the assumption that what has survived the grinder of compromise is, at this stage, the last and final responsibility of the President to explain, defend and push through to completion, the origin of policy will always be in the hands of others, whether from the legislative branch, or from agencies within the Executive branch itself (military, justice, surveillance), and of even greater consequence, will depend entirely on those who have been accepted as legitimate partners in this elite, extraordinarily limited dialog.

There is clearly no place for assuming even a rhetorical place for something like The American People, not even for Richard Nixon’s semi-mythical “Silent Majority. This is the reading I keep coming back to for Obama. A powerful, almost delusional idealism that sees the compromises he works to mediate, as representing, maybe the best and only possible representation of the national interests of the people, such that, he’s stopped cold at any critical examination of what this in fact comes down to.

I think this is a kind of insanity.

I don’t know how else to explain his opacity to the larger political reality; even a self-defined political pragmatist like Nixon saw the necessity of invoking the pretense of representing more than the interests of power that surged around him, but also, even if it was mostly rhetorical, like Presidents before him, cast himself as the one figure in government who was also the people’s ombudsmen and advocate. I see nothing of that in Obama… not a sign. There is something strangely out of place in how he operates—a neglect, if not a repudiation of what was once a central pillar of Presidential image and power.

I don’t imagine he thinks of it like this, but it’s as though he’s recognized this for what it largely was, part of the spectacle, a myth that it’s possible to dispense with—if you are a serious realist, which is how Obama seems to see and describe himself—a realism that disguises that essential, pathological idealism: his belief that working out compromises between the elite will ultimately work out for the best of all possible worlds.

Friday, December 13, 2013


20x26.5 Acrylic, red and black string on weathered composition board Emergence

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Spiritual side of Sexuality

The question came up on another blog, would you like to stop being queer if you could. Raised some interesting thoughts. My answer: No. No. And No.

I feel most whole when I feel something closer to a balance of male and female desires. My spiritual center--not as in, bisexual. There's too much of the male side, my body is too much male--and loving men, being able to sexually love men, better keeps that balance.

Sexual desire is pretty complicated. It's more than physical. It's cultural, political (yes! Sex in a patriarchal tyranny is political!), and also, spiritual (not supernatural spiritual...more the the way Freud used the word 'soul' to designate the whole complex of psychic and bodily life). The imbalance of male to female became for me a source of recurrent depression, chronic anxiety, self-loathing. Accepting the female side--giving it more say, more power, made it possible to reclaim something I'd lost in adolescence--the ability to love men.

In that way, my long coming out was part of my spiritual growth, and even, I think it's not too much to say-- a product of that growth. A process that is far from finished. So, no, I wouldn't want to give that up for anything. The journey is far from over.

Of all the thought I've given to writing and rewriting the narrative, trying to understand and explain the long years in between, this brief reflection rings more true to me than anything I've come up with yet.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The (rich) Noah's Arc Syndrome

It's the part in Hedge's piece about the belief of the rich that their wealth will insulate them from coming disasters that I see as more and more, a driving force in the funding of climate denial, the marginalization of the poor and everyone else, the militarization of police. This is sub-rational. A collection of ideas and beliefs and attitudes that coalesce into an unarticulated political agenda. The Noah's Arc syndrome. I've been watching this happen for decades!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Social Life of Genes

There is so much amazing stuff in this ariticle, I have to post a link.

Sunday, October 27, 2013