Archive for category: Artistic Tendencies

On the Boardwalk

08 Oct 2006
October 8, 2006
On the Boardwalk

On the Boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ

Every summer my family takes a trip to the New Jersey shore. The beaches are wide and the orientation is decidedly family. But the highlight for me is Wildwood’s boardwalk. We always reserve one evening to stroll in the cool night air just as the sun is setting.

And every year I take my camera to document the frenetic, color-saturated scene. It’s people watching at its best.

After five years I’ve put together a slide show of some of the best from my hundreds of photographs (latest Flash plugin for your browser required).

Related Life Outtacontext Stories: Vacation 2001: West Meets East, a comparison of West Coast and East Coast Beach Experiences and A Vacation About Nothing, Sorta

Art is Power

15 Mar 2006
March 15, 2006

One Challenge to the arts in America is the need to make the arts, especially, the classic masterpieces, accessible and relevant to today’s audience.

William Safire

Despite the cessation of open hostilities in the Culture Wars of the 1990s, we are still at war. The value of art is still hotly contested. Giving way, or rather pushing away traditional lines of demarcation –the leftist ideal of confrontation verses the conservative notion that art should be beautiful and pay for itself– art advocates have turned to a dichotomous battle between art as “intrinsic” verses art as “instrumental.” Intrinsic art is “pleasurable, valuable, or enlightening” while instrumental art is useful.

However, there is something missing in this dialogue: something just as critical if not more so. Art is empowering.

In order to prove art’s worth to society, instrumentalists like William Safire, self-styled “right-wing scandalmonger” of the New York Times and the 19th annual Nancy Hanks Lecturer on Arts and Public Policy, push studies that empirically show art education improves cognitive development. In other words, learning about art improves students’ ability to do other more worthy pursuits. This is the antithesis of doing art for art’s sake. Traditional liberal advocacy groups like Americans for the Arts support Safire’s contention because they believe that art will ultimately win in its supporting role. Art will be deemed of value to society. In this phase of the war, these means justify their ends.

Both groups are forgetting that being creative is one of the most powerful feelings one can have. Whether you write or paint, no one tells you what you can or cannot do. There are no committee meetings or project management plans. You don’t have to be a CEO and you don’t have to have any money. It is pure decision-making in its richest form. You are THE MAN (or THE WOMAN). And your decisions alone determine your art’s success.

That’s a lot of responsibility.

This doesn’t mean you should disregard others. In fact, not only does art teach one to be responsible but it also teaches one to listen. When I was in graduate art school I was required to discuss my work with my Thesis Committee, faculty who questioned every idea I had. Many times their opinions differed widely from each other. Often there was major disagreement between these experts about the nature and direction my work should take. My real job in school was to learn how listen, consider, and decide which ones, if any, were important. Ultimately, I had to learn to listen to myself.

In the 1990s, while salvos were being tossed between the right and left, I formed ArtFBI (Artists for a Better Image), my own arts organization, to advocate for the importance of creative power. Now that I work in the real world, no day goes by without employing what I learned in art school, running this organization, and, of course, through making art.

That’s the real value of art missing from this present discourse. Watching just about any “reality” TV show the disenfranchised either feel they have no power or hurt people in order to gain it. Grade school children in Mad Hot Ballroom (automatic music alert), a documentary on the annual New York City School Ballroom Competition, realized the authority they gained as they mastered complicated dance steps. And for many it changed their lives.

So, let’s not forget this when the bigwigs debate the role of art in this society. Yes, art can inspire. And, yes, it can increase our cognitive abilities. But it can also empower and in doing so make us a responsible people.

William Safire, I agree we should look to the classics to make art relevant to today’s audience. Let’s start with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who said “Art is power.”

Download a Podcast of William Safire’s Lecture (via Americans for the Arts).

A Visit from the Salad People

01 Jan 2006
January 1, 2006

My family and I usually spend New Year’s Eve quietly together. No loud parties and no dodging the inebriated on the roads. We are not on everybody’s party list. In fact, I don’t think we’re on anybody’s party list –it’s been years since we were invited to a New Year’s Eve celebration.

So last night we decided to buck tradition, but buck it in our own special way. We still opted for a quiet night at home. But this year we invited our friends Liz and Doug, along with their daughter to join us for that sip of Zin to ring in the new year (fruit punch for the kids of course).

Early yesterday I made a beeline for Trader Joe’s, our favorite self-serve party caterer. Our Trader Joe parties are legendary. We sit around the coffee table with hors d’oeuvres of Trader Joe’s brie, Trader Joe’s artichoke dip, plastered on Trader Joe’s assorted crackers with a bit of guacamole (you guessed it, also from TJs). It’s the modern family’s recipe for a successful party: easy to put together, inexpensive, and it tastes great. With a little vino, we were all set.

At first we thought we’d make tacos for dinner. Fun for the kids and everyone could fill their tortillas with whatever they wanted (a good dish for our mix of light meat eaters and vegetarians). But then Susie had an even better idea. After filling up with pre-dinner snacks, was a big meal really necessary? Instead let’s make use of our new cookbook: Salad People And More Real Recipes: A New Cookbook for Preschoolers & Up. Let’s make salad people for dinner!

So we lined up all the ingredients (a little lettuce, pears, raisins, melon, cheese, olives, cashews, tomatoes, carrots, and some curly pasta) and let loose. Here are the results of our New Year’s Eve repast:

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Leaving Iraq: Literally

12 Nov 2005
November 12, 2005

Every November I am consumed with the outdoors. It’s not that I want to be but when the leaves fall from our trees there is nowhere for them to go but on our lawn. And one of my prime domestic jobs is to make sure they get to the street where the county can vacuum them (Quicktime, 2.2 MB).

I have never been the woodsy type. However, I am forced to contend with nature on this level once each year. And this year we have a particularly unruly crop of dead and moldy leaves. The dry November and strong winds have stirred up leaf dust that blocks the sun, makes me sneeze, and irritates my eyes. I’m surprised the Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t teamed up with Homeland Security to issue a Mother Nature Red Alert.

If I must (and my wife tells me I must), why not make the best of it. To make my suburban nature experiences more enticing I often devise creative diversions: attempts to mold nature to my own iconoclastic ways (and to give new meaning to the phrase yard work). You might remember my lawn art (next to leaf blowing mowing our lawn is my least favorite home owning activity). Household boredom creates a black hole that is unstable. It must be met with an equal creative force.

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I Christen Thee “Commblogging”

10 May 2005
May 10, 2005

The other day I wrote the best blog comment I’ve ever written. Of course, it was on someone else’s blog.

Poor Greg. Driving home with his wife along LA’s Santa Monica Freeway he suddenly looks up to see a car coming towards him in a very strange fashion:

…I looked up from the dash gauges after hearing a peculiar noise to see a white BMW, fifteen yards in front of me, also traveling at 82 MPH but sideways, perfectly perpendicular to my own car.

To find out what happened next, you will have to read his post. It’s a nail biter. But his story, one laden with issues of right and wrong, reminded me of a similar experience I had many years ago when I lived in the same city. It all started when I heard… Well, you’ll have to read the rest of my story on Greg’s blog. Actually, I left it as a comment (mine’s the fifth one down).

A blog within a blog –a comment blog. Greg likens this to a Klein bottle –a three dimensional object that turns in on itself, like a mobius.

I christen thee “commblog” to ride alongside of moblog (mobile phone blogs) and other blog variants: using others’ stories as starting off points for your own.

I enjoy leaving comments on many of the blogs I visit. I don’t do it often but the form lends itself to a special type of conversation with the author and others in his or her neighborhood.

But this one was a bit different. Rather than reacting to Greg’s story I found a moral equivalent, a story that resonated with similar undertones. I quickly jotted it down in the comment text box provided. I had to consider my words carefully for once I hit the “Post” button, there was no going back. The connection with the original post was clear yet the story stood on its own. The play between my and Greg’s story was a bit different than if I’d left normal commentary.

I may be accused of riding on the coattails of others. But don’t people trackback related stories all the time? Why not simply do it within the comment section of the original piece? With all the trackback spam bloggers are receiving these days it’s hardly worth activating this feature. And with all the comment spam we’re getting, a few more quality comments will surely be appreciated.

Of course, commbloging will yield a slightly different sort of comment. Writing a “comment story” will have its own rules. Short, of course. Related to the blogger’s original post but taking it on a slightly different tangent. Good quality writing. Literary, maybe. Let’s see how this develops.

Commblogging won’t be too disruptive. For as soon as I leave my comment, others will add theirs. The cacophony of voices will only add to the network of shared ideas.

Commblog #2
Commblog #3

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The Other Gates

27 Feb 2005
February 27, 2005

Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates is a spectacle consistent with [the Renaissance art tradition], a piece of elaborate social theater that’s an unintentional portrait of our time. That portrait can be poignant and charming; most of all, it’s funny. I’m surprised more isn’t being made of the ongoing social comedy surrounding The Gates, which is a satirist’s dream. Well, actually, I’m not surprised: People are afraid to smile too much around art.

Mark Stevens
New York Magazine

The Gates. “The Gates” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

Much is being written about Christo’s and Jeanne-Claude’s latest public art piece in Central Park. There are even homages and parodies (and parodies) of the work. Whatever you think and whatever you’ve read, it’s certainly a cause for celebration: art displacing war on the front pages of major media.

But I’m not here to talk about the work. Instead, let’s talk about the title of the work. The Gates. It’s nice to see your name in headlines, plastered all over the Web, and on the nightly news. But it certainly isn’t the first time.

I’m what you might call a Celebrity, once removed. I see my name on airport and train station signage all the time: “To Gates 71-75.” At the Oakland Airport there is even a more personal acknowledgment: “Gates 7-17” (my birthday). And now I’m associated with fine public art.

Yes, my name is famous. But I am merely a country cousin. Not in the real sense. I’m not related to Bill (or to Christo and Jeanne-Claude for that matter). I actually come from a very short line of Gateses. It’s just my two daughters and me now. At Ellis Island some low-level official set me up for this by christening my grandfather Herman Guyetsky as Herman Gates. I’ve given thought to changing it back, but, then, I’ve built up quite a reputation –once removed of course.

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