Monday, October 27, 2008

"I'm a snob"

This is one of my favorite things that Laurie Anderson said at UC Berkeley on Saturday afternoon. She was answering a question that a member of the audience had asked. He had inquired about the kind of feedback that she received about her work; were people ever confused? Did people misread her work? --- Her answer was great. "Sometimes," she said, "people don't like it at all. They get it and they don't like it." She went on to explain that she didn't really care. That she was coming from the culture of the New York art world where: the less someone understands it the better. She mentioned that when her hit single from 1981, "O Superman," topped the charts, her peers were the opposite of impressed. Being famous was not the goal, being cheered by the masses meant that you were doing something wrong. "I'm a snob," she said. 

I'm not usually a fan of snobbery but whatever her angle was really worked. It was liberating to hear that one didn't have to make art that everyone could understand. It helped that she didn't seem like a snob at all. She just seemed like someone with a lot of confidence and integrity. She was polite and respectful to everyone, even the wacko types who asked her weird personal questions (which she maneuvered artfully).

"O Superman":

A few other favorite Laurie Andersonisms from Saturday:

- a hint for something to do when feeling blocked: set out to make the absolute worst piece of art that you can imagine. She says that this is helpful because it shows your limitations, the places that you are labeling for yourself as "off limits". (it also probably helps just to get you going. It must be easier to attempt making the worst art ever, than the best -- heck, I do it all the time without even trying!).

- she doesn't think that art has to change the world or make it a better place. She explains that it's not bad if art does this, and certainly it does from time to time. However, it shouldn't be the burden of artists to fix everything. She says that we should all be doing that.

- she doesn't like blogging. She refers to it as "mesearch" and says that she doesn't care that much about other people's personal lives.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

For You

The first project that I started working on was a mini-vigil operation. I came into grad-school being very interested in creating positive experiences for people and facilitating reaffirming moments. A central focus in this theme was the power of positive thinking. I felt that by creating a positive intention in our minds, we are creating positivity in our lives. I guess I thought that being an artist would give me an excuse to go around doing good deeds and adding a drop of sunshine to the lives of the people that I encounter. -- When I write it out like that it is no wonder that most of the people I've told these ideas to think that I am naive. Maybe I am/have been. The naivete, however, is not to believe in these things, but to assume that one can present them so bluntly. -- So I'm working on a spit-shine for my naivete.  -- 

The candles were my first attempt at the mini-vigil. I made little clay candle holders for them and then they sat in my studio for weeks because I couldn't decide how to send them out into the world. Finally, I found an entry point. Although I had wanted to approach people directly and invite them to join me for a vigil, I didn't feel ready for that. So, I decided to leave the candles randomly in different spots around the neighborhood (Potrero Hill, SF).  I wrote the words "for you" on the candle-holders so that the "finder" would understand that they were intentionally left to be found. -- I hope that a few people noticed them, and that curiosity was inspired. I wonder if anyone took the candle home, and I wonder if any of them were lit and meditated upon. 


Sunday, October 19, 2008


"The only sensible way to regard the art life is that it is a privilege you are willing to pay for.... You may cite honors and attentions and even money paid, but I would have you note that these were paid a long time after the creator had gone through his struggles.
1865 - 1929

"Finishing a painting demands a heart of steel: everything requires a decision, and I find difficulties where I least expect them.... It is at such moments that one fully realizes one's own weaknesses."
1796 - 1863

"Even at this late date, I go into my studio, and I think 'Is this going to be it? Is it the end?' You see, nearly everything terrorizes me. I think that when an artist loses that terror, he's through."
1925 - 2008

"I believe in listening to cycles. I listen by not forcing. If I am in a dead working period, I wait, though these periods are hard to deal with. For the future, I'll see what happens. I'll be content if I get started again. If I feel that alive again. If I find myself working with the old intensity again."
1908 - 1983

"I assumed that everything would lead to complete failure, but I decided that didn't matter --- that would be my life."
1930 -

"I was discouraged about life, discouraged about people being blind, but I don't think I had a day that I ever questioned creativity. There has never been a day like that."
1900 - 1988

Monday, October 13, 2008


Five Dollars and Twenty Cents

That is approximately what I am paying every hour of every day that I am enrolled in graduate school (not including the extra loan I took out to cover living expenses). Yes, I think about this, probably more often than I should. I'm thrifty person, and it seems very counter intuitive to spend more money than I have - isn't that the first commandment of personal finance that is not to be broken. But school is different right? It's an investment... 

Is an advanced art degree really worth $60,000? You know what I've learned so far? That only 10% of MFA grads continue to make any art at all after they graduate (note: 5 a's in a row!). Now a statistic like that doesn't actually discourage me, but the question is still to be explored: Why are my professors teaching me that statistic? I've also heard that the MFA degree is the most popular advanced degree to be awarded; again, not very encouraging. 

$120 a day for 9 months. That would cover regular yoga classes for the rest of my life.

Doubt. All artists have doubt. Do I doubt whether or not I will continue to make art? No. Do I doubt whether this degree is really going to help me get where I want to be? Yes. Do I know exactly where I want to be? No.

Ahh, sweet unknowing, your scent fills the night air and intoxicates. 

Even though I know it is not fruitful to  dwell on the anxiety, it is easy to indulge in doubts when there are challenges. Doubts offer a way out, and they always buy time. Hesitation, the difference between a tourist and a local. 

The best response to this question, I've decided, is that: since I've already laid down the money for this adventure, it would be silly to waste time I've already paid for by re-weighing a decision I've already made. The best thing to do is to get the most out of it until the point when I am faced with the decision again, at which point I can re-evaluate.

Oh! The exciting life of spending ridiculous amounts of money!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bikes, History, and Keepin' It Real

A bike tour of Dissent in San Francisco.

That's how I spent my afternoon. I've recently come into contact with a great local activist named Chris Carlsson. He's been involved in activism and culture making for a LONG time. He's a historian, and a dreamer. He's written a utopian sci-fi novel, After The Deluge,  of what a post economic San Francisco would be like in the future, and he recently came out with another new book: Nowtopia. His new book examines how we, in American society, occupy our time, specifically, how we "work". The book examines a new push in our culture to spend enormous amounts of time engaged in voluntary community activities and projects which feed our souls in a way that our "day jobs" cannot. Nowtopia is filled with examples of people "doing it for themselves". It's really informative and inspiring.

So Chris led our group of about 10 cyclists around the streets of San Francisco stopping at sites of protest, activism, alternative community initiatives, and the like. It was great to be biking through the streets as a group, and hearing this important community history was really wonderful. 

Among Chris' many other projects is his involvement in CounterPulse which is a local performance space and grassroots organizing hub (where I might be volunteering soon!).

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Already Here

So many people out there saying the same thing. So what?!

This idea that somehow we all have to be different. Somehow uniquely unlike anyone we know, or anyone else knows, is ridiculous. Art school is full of people trying to be different. Our careers depend on it. We have to have "new" ideas and say things in "new" ways. Well, I don't think there are any NEW ideas, only OLD ideas. Everything we "discover" is just a process of remembering, or waking up. "NEW" is narcissistic, "new" is ownership, "new" is "mine". I, me, my name should go next to that. The colonization of mental space. Stick your flag in the next new theory. From now till the end of time, that's a "jackson pollack paint splatter," a "freudian perspective," a "(I wish I could think of lady culture-maker to insert here, alas)". I don't believe in the new. I believe in the "already here".