Sunday, May 1, 2022

Love Knows No Compromise Part 1; Liberalism & Slavery

 PT. 1 Liberalism and Slavery

Let's start by clearing something up.  Classically, to be liberal means to rule by compromise.  If you google "Liberal definition", the Oxford dictionary will give you this first definition.

1.  Willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different than one's own; open to new ideas.

Which is a nice way of saying you rule by compromise.  

Liberalism can be good or bad depending on what the new idea you are open to is.  If the new idea is LGBTQ+ practices, it is good to be liberal because said practices have no negative effect on others or the planet.   If the new idea is slavery, it is a bad to be liberal.  

In today's political realm, it is in vogue for both the left and the right to put down liberals.  A lot of these put-downs are justifiable.  For example, it was liberalism that enabled slavery for decades in the United States.  Pretty much everyone at the time was guilty of enabling slavery.  This is because the US slavery industry was cotton and pretty much everyone wore cotton.  While southern plantation owners performed the actual genocide, anyone who wore cotton was financing it and enabling it.  While some people may have worn cotton but did not have respect for slave owners, they accepted and FINANCED the practices of slave owners.  Liberalism.  

The Liberalism got even more sinister after the Civil War.  In 1862, President Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act.  The law prohibited slavery in the district, forcing 900-odd slaveholders to free their slaves, with the federal government paying owners an average of about $300 (equivalent to $8000 today).  The slaves themselves got $0.  Lincoln was willing to respect and accept the behavior and opinions of slave owners, but not slaves themselves, a terrible example of Liberalism for the whites, Racism and Fascism for the blacks.  

  As a society, money and convenience is what drives our decisions, not moral compasses.  Our liberal democracy has enabled this.  The retort to my accusation that everyone wearing cotton is guilty of financing slavery is "What else were people supposed to wear?"   If you are an Existentialist like myself, you understand this is ridiculous and an absurd, Capitalist construct of reality.  People could spend more money and wear silk, made from the cocoons of silkworms, an inhumane trade that is not cruelty free, but which does not involve literal backbreaking work performed by human beings and children.  The retort to this is "not everyone could afford silk."  This is true, but people could simply drop out and wear a barrel with suspenders.  The former option is one only available for the super rich, whereas the later means having to stand out as a radical. People could have also worn hemp, whose plant is not thorny and painful to the touch. 

This sounds very similar to reasons why people don't get solar panels (super high installation fee), continue to drive cars (buses take longer and are less comfortable), refuse the transformation from gas to green (change is hard, plus you can't sell sun beams or wind, so there is no financial incentive to go green) buy ethically devious products (companies who don't pay their workers living wages often have cheaper products), buy things from Amazon (the most convenient invention to ever exist), buy foods with ingredients that are illegal in other countries (Mountain Dew has Brominated Vegetable Oil, an emulsifier that can cause reproductive and behavioral problems.  Its original use was a flame retardant for carpets.  This is just one example), the list goes on and on. Most people don't know where their clothes come from, who made them and for what wage.  In some cases, slaves still make our clothes.  Money and convenience rules our marketplaces, not moral compasses.    Some things don't seem to change; you either can't afford to do the right thing or you are labeled as a smug radical.  

To be fair, if one goes through their life never compromising with anyone on anything, it is not a very good life.  Imagine a friendship, marriage or work environment where nobody compromised on anything.  However, love is a loophole out of this sad truth (more on that later).

But on the other hand, if your friend, partner or people in your work environment are slaver owners, it is vital that you stop compromising with that person immediately.  

In summation, liberalism gets a bad wrap, but at the same time, if there are fascists or slave owners in your country, you can't compromise with them.  

Life is a game in which you need to know when to compromise and when to stand your ground.  Sometimes doing either is very hard.  Sometimes the right thing to do gets confusing, other times it is inconvenient, or financial suicide, but blatantly obvious.  

To end this section, I would like to advocate for reparations for the descendants of slaves.  It is only mathematically fair that each household that contains a descendant of a slave would receive AT LEAST $8000 from the US government, the contemporary equivalent in capital to what slave owners received.  Descendants of slaves would need to prove their ancestry to avoid corruption, a task that may be hard to perform, but at the same time would help people learn their family history, another vital piece to the puzzle of healing the wounds of the genocide which was the US slave trade.  The US government should hire expert researchers to help these descendants at no extra charge.      

It may sound corny, but I believe that love knows no compromise. I will argue this position. Once you take a liberal approach to love itself, it is a slippery slope towards slavery and environmental destruction.  

To be continued ...

Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Ghost of Greenberg & Why you shouldn't attend the Rhode Island School of Design (If you're anything like me)

 A long time ago, like a bumblebee to a flower, I was attracted to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).  To be more specific, I was attracted to the artist group known as Fort Thunder, a rag tag group of artists who had rented out an Olneyville (a lower class neighborhood of Providence) warehouse and created an art movement that was bursting with color, energy, engagement and a unique type of draftsmanship/craft which tightrope walked the line between academic knowledge and ADHD childhood enthusiasm.  The artists in this group, Brian Chippendale, Jim Drain, Brian Ralph, and many others, have gone on to have significant careers in the arts in a variety of mediums.  

When I was applying to art schools in high school (My SAT scores were garbage so I figured art school was my only option) RISD was my number one choice because of the artists of Fort Thunder (David Byrne and Talking Heads were an inspiration to a lesser extent).  I visited their websites.  Photos of their studios, their artwork and their concerts looked like they were taken on Mars.  Having grown up on the north shore of Boston, my exposure to counterculture was limited to genre obsessed punk bands, leftist zines, art house movies ... in hindsight, pretty good stuff.  But RISD and Fort Thunder looked like another world.  It was the avant-garde.  I needed to go there to investigate.  

I did not read too far into the fact that a large percentage of these Fort Thunder artists (as well as David Byrne) had dropped out of RISD, a red flag that I did not pick up on.  

Going to RISD was an amazing education, but the aesthetic politics were oppressive to the point I felt like a second class citizen.  It would take me almost two decades to have a full understanding of these aesthetic politics.  In those two decades, I suffered from low self-esteem, trauma, marijuana addiction, fits of anger, depression and constant self-doubt.  When I finally was able to wrap my head around why I was being treated so poorly at the school, I came to the conclusion to never visit the campus again.   

In order to understand why I had such a hard time at RISD, you must first go all the way back to the New York Art Market of the early 20th century.  

In the early 20th century, the New York art market was on the brink of a crisis.  It was a time when Renaissance paintings and the artworks of the old world were, like today, very expensive, but not to the point they could only be possessed by the 1%, or to put it another way, the hyper wealthy.  For example, Isabella Stewart Gardener made her collection around this time.  Gardener was a very wealthy woman.  It was a time in which someone with a lot of capital could make a collection of masterpieces from the old world.  

But the basic economic principle of supply and demand was the crisis itself.  There is a finite number of old world masterpieces.  Once they are all sold, that's that.  The market is over.  Therefore, the entire market had to change or it would die. 

So the New York art market began investing in the avant-garde; new paintings made by contemporary artists.  It had to convince the lords of Capital that the avant-garde was just as significant as old world masterpieces that had stood the test of time.  

The New York Essayist Clement Greenberg was vital to this changing economy.  He brilliantly wrote "Avant-Garde and Kitsch" in 1939 in the Partisan Review.  In the essay, Greenberg claims that the avant-garde was a product of the Enlightenment's revolution of critical thinking.  Kitsch, on the other hand, was a product of industrialization and the urbanization of the working class.  To make a metaphor using food, the avant-garde was locally sourced, organic food and Kitsch was Burger King.  The avant-garde is unique and kitsch is formulaic.  

As the years went on, Greenberg wrote about how Jackson Pollack was the greatest painter of his generation.  While the artists of the old world and renaissance concentrated on creating the optical illusion of perspective, or to put it another way, the illusion of 3D space on a 2D surface, Pollack and abstract expressionists like him were experimenting and pushing the boundaries of flatness on the picture plan.  Furthermore, the avant-garde abstract expressionists abandoned content and focused entirely on form.  

This was all fine and good.  The contributions of the abstract expressionists and Greenberg are vital to our understanding of the visual world. I'd go as far to even say I like a lot of Abstract Expressionists, although in my personal opinion, Pollack is a little too "on the nose" as they say.

My objection is to Greenberg's view that, after World War II, the United States became the guardian of "advanced art".  This opinion creates a hierarchy where form is more significant than content.  If I am being cynical, this opinion was only taken by Greenberg for economic reasons; to convince the lords of capital that the avant-garde was superior to the works of old masters who wrestled with the optical illusion of space instead of flatness and illustrated religious texts instead of abandoning content all together to communicate ambiguously.  

I came to art and design through my love and interest in graphic novels.  Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware and Herge were three inspirations just to name a few. Growing up, I was linguistically challenged and to be honest, I still am.  I don't even understand how I learned English, let alone any other language.  I don't really understand how I am even writing all this.  Language seemed incredibly abstract, whereas illustration and visual communication made perfect sense.  For example, I did not understand the connection between the word "cat" and an actual real life cat.  The word cat has absolutely no connection to a real life cat.  In contrast, an illustration of a cat looks like a cat.  Therefore, visual communication made a lot more sense than linguistic communication.  To this day, nobody has been able to explain to me why the word cat has connection to an actual living cat.  

Illustration was very personal to me because it was my key to connecting to and understanding the world.  Unfortunately for me, the ghost of Clement Greenberg haunted the hallways of RISD's dorms and the philosophical economic hierarchy he helped establish in the New York art world was the world view of the school. 

It was very clear: the painting department was the avant-garde and the illustration department was kitsch.  Form was high brow, intellectual and avant-garde.  Content was for unenlightened, ego driven people who were mesmerized by the optical illusion of perspective and artwork that looked like it took a long time to make.  

I could not believe how simple minded and dualistic this take was.  Adding insult to injury, these pompous painting majors had a point; the illustration department was, for reasons both understandable and not, preoccupied with capital.  I myself chose the illustration department not just for my love of visual communication, but because it was advertised as more financially practical; historically, an illustrator who worked for hire could earn more income than a fine artist painter who was working to simply progress the avant-garde.  

Even more disturbing, the illustration department had a gaggle of roobs who were addicted to video games.  Their sole purpose at the school was to work in this billion dollar industry, an industry whose medium is valid, but whose culture is riddled with sadistic simulated violence and sexism.  The painting major disciples of Greenberg had a point.  

This left me, someone interested in avant-garde graphic novels, in a peculiar position in which I found myself not being able to relate to anyone.  The printmaking department at one point seemed like a potential sanctuary, but I was immediately turned off by its culture when a pothead, party animal printmaker told me his department was awesome because "You don't actually do anything" and you don't get "Any homework".  He advertised joining his department with the lure of "4 day weekends every weekend".  I did not go to art school to smoke pot and party.  I was there to learn and work.  Ironically, I didn't realize in the avant-garde New York art world, smoking pot and partying IS working.  

Against the bad feeling I had, I joined the illustration department.  There wasn't a good option; all the majors didn't fit.   The painting department dismissed content and visual communication as low brow, the illustration department fostered a culture of escapism and childish entertainment and the printmaking department were just Dionysian douchebags.  

After a hellish sophomore year of feeling inferior, I thought I could escape RISD by attending the European Honors program, but the ghost of Greenberg followed me and so did the hierarchical aesthetic politics.  While living in Italy, I got lucky and was able to have first choice of studio space.  A jealous painting major came to my studio, looked me in the eye and said "this is a pretty good studio.  For an illustrator."  I was deeply hurt.  If I ever see this person in real life again, I will have to use every inch of self control to not spit in their face (this person went on to be a highly successful curator and painter himself, organizing an art show at the RISD museum.

My senior year was defined by undiagnosed depression and drug use.  I was "Straight Edge" (a drug free music movement with roots in early 1980s hardcore) until my senior year.  What I interpreted as being "open minded" was actually me just losing my identity and drinking Greenberg's Kool-Aid.  

But what was the most dark aspect of these aesthetic politics at RISD were how they censored actual politics.  When content is considered low brow, making political statements become almost impossible without being seen as a dullard.  It was the George W. Bush administration, which was the height of the war of terror, so this was nothing less than a local cultural catastrophe.  

The emphasis on form, which was once culturally freeing, had become sinister and censoring.  I watched students with warm hearts who were making political art get torn apart by the disciples of Greenberg for being ignorant.  Content itself was somehow simple minded and by simply expressing a political opinion visually of any kind, being it reactionary or progressive, liberal or conservative, left or right, the artist was going backwards.  

As a result, the financial crisis of 2008, which occurred a year after I graduated, was sadistically satisfying.  All these privileged little dinks who were nerds in high school were given power at RISD, which they used to put down anyone who wished to visually communicate with their art, accusing them of being "sell outs" by simply drawing the human figure instead of a shape.  They continuously ignored the political situation of the time and only started paying attention when it affected them financially.  But by then it was too late.  The art market had collapsed and most of the dinks lost their internships and gallerista positions.  

After the financial crisis, my depression deepened from the sudden death of my father, a bad break up and the requirement to leave New York to take care of family issues. The situation got worse when I unknowingly joined a cult (that's a story for another time).  But the sting of being low on the art world caste system stayed with me until the art world became "woke".  A decade after graduating, content became hot again as the art world began embracing artists of color and their political turmoil.  Times changed and the old war of form versus content came to a conclusion when the lords of capital started dismantling the patriarchal, racist system that had dominated the art world for decades.  Obama became president and people began equating quality art with wokeism, which is inherently political.  I am not sure what happened to all of the disciples of Greenberg.  But if Instagram is any indicator, most of them just stopped making art all together.  

I still have PTSD from this experience and I don't like being on the RISD campus.  I don't know what the aesthetic politics of RISD are now, but I recently went to an undergrad student exhibition of theirs.  Content and form seemed to be balanced and given equal attention.  I also saw the curated show of the asshole who put me down in my studio during my residency at RISD's European Honor Program.  The show hosted dozens of paintings that could easily be interpreted as visual communication.  What a hypocritical asshole; clearly a slave to capital and changing sensibilities.  

The lesson I learned is that aesthetic hierarchies usually have economic agendas; something is put down in order to elevate something else.  Sometimes this is justifiable; for example, the creators of violent video games are peddlers of simulated sadistic trash.  The markers of this trash should be put on trial for having a hand in mass shootings.  Anyone who thinks differently is slapping art and culture in the face because believing otherwise means that art and culture has no impact or influence on the consumer of said art and culture.  

But most of the time, hierarchy in art begins to become anti-cosmopolitan at best, fascist at worst.  It was Hitler who called the avant-garde degenerate, but it was Greenberg who almost eradicated visual communication and illustration from the academic world by confusing content itself for kitsch. 

I felt better at the 2019 Whitney Biennial looking at Jeffrey Gibson's beautiful, brilliant "People Like Us" fiber art;  The work communicates both formally and directly by using language; form and content working hand in hand.  

The form vs. content war is over, but my wounds still need healing from the battle.  

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Honeymoon in Belize Write Up

Helen and myself just returned from our honeymoon in Belize.  While I made some sketches, I gave them to the waitstaff and tour guides who helped us on our way.  So this is the first time I have had the opportunity to reflect upon the mind expanding experience I just had.  \ Before I say anything else, first and foremost, I must thank everyone who helped sponsor this honeymoon.  Your contributions, or to put it bluntly, the money you gave me and Helen for our honeymoon, made it possible to visit this extraordinary country, which was so enriching I do not feel like the same person anymore.  I could, and probably will, write a book about my experience.  But for now, it is very late at night, we need to pick up our doggie daughter, Zelda, tomorrow morning, so I am taking a moment to collect some quick take always.  

  • I was unaware of how disconnected I am from the Earth.  I’m going to work on this until I am connected with the Earth. 
  • I need to garden. 
  • We need to reach out to the indigenous peoples of the North Americas, give them reparations in the form of capital and learn from then.  While you are at it, give the descendants of former slave African-Americans reparations in the form of capital.  There will be a retort of “how can you put a number on such a thing?” My reply is “well, why don’t we start with half a million dollars per household and take it from there?” Make the oligarchs pay for it, but we all pitch in what we can. 
  • While colonial racists/fascists are obviously terrible and never to be compromised with, neo-liberal capitalism and the people who enable it are still causing damage by not outright ending poverty and only making symbolic gestures of saving the environment.  Liberalism is rule by compromise, so it doesn’t work when there are fascists in your country, because there is no compromising with fascists/racists. This also applies to reactionaries, as the status quo is racist/fascist. At the same time, It is not enough to simply point at fascists and say they are bad.  We must concede that the hoarding of resources and living for convenience/luxury has fascistic/monarchical overtones. If we continue to live for luxury and convenience, we are going to mess up the planet so bad that our children will resent and shame us. And That is the best case scenario. We need to move quick because the process is already underway. 
  • The Mayan empire literally collapsed because of climate change.  I could go into detail, but I promised myself I’d be brief for the time being.  The process of environmental empire collapse is a cycle.  The soil of the Mayan empire has still not recovered from the deforestation they committed in 1100 AD.  Keep in mind, the contemporary Mayan people (note the word change) are a thriving, warm hearted, beautiful people with incredible intelligence.  It is a popular misconception in the United States that the Mayan people disappeared. They’re still there. 
  • Ghosts are real. 100%.  So are spirits. If you hang out in the rainforest long enough it becomes Abundantly obvious. 
  • If you have enough food/natural resources and a strong, educated, tight knit community who has each other’s back, money is optional.  
  • People in the United States have the misconception that poor people, or better put, people without capital, don’t have the resources to address mental health issues.  While this is true, people who live in strong, educated, tight knit communities who have each other’s backs have fewer mental health issues for obvious reasons. 
  • I discovered Paranda music. 
  • The coral reef must be seen asap.  It is life changing. Aww Inspiring and holy. The bleaching is beyond tragic.  We can save what is left but we have to do it now. 
  • The above statement also applies to the rainforest. 
  • Belize is what I’d call a cheat code for the usa gringo traveler on a budget.  If you don’t have the money to visit both the Caribbean and Central America, go to Belize because it is both! Experience Garifuna, Creole, Mestizo and Mennonite (?!) culture.  Also, if you are linguistically challenged like myself (I don’t even understand how I’m speaking English right now.  I’ve re-read Chomsky’s work on linguistics and I still can’t figure it out), English is the official language.  I hate to say it but for practical reasons, a shared language really enables you to connect with the people.  
  • I’d like to thank the staff of @hamanasi_resort for giving me and my wife an experience We will never forget.  Belize is in my heart forever.  If you go there, please remember to tip in the form of brinks trucks or Scrooge mcDuck money bags (they accept USA currency) because frankly, they should pay the staff there a higher hourly wage.  Let me rephrase that; they should pay them AT LEAST $15 an hour, because that’s kinda standard in the USA, and the service I got was a thousand times better than anything I have experienced state side. I’d recommend looking into this quickly as Chris Smalls just became union head of Amazon staton island and attitudes in The United States are changing.  
  • The idea of coming to Belize all happened because of a shared interest in cooking and sports with my elderly Belizean neighbor while I was living in Boston. Amazing things can happen when you get to know your neighbors. 
  • go to Belize.  You won’t regret it.