by Jerome du Bois
Early last week we were visited all one day long by referrals from something called thescuzz.org. I know that's not the real name, but the hell with them cowardly twits twittering away in their corner anyway. If they have something to say about us, why not say it to us? Ah, who gives a damn what they say? Never mind them.
More interesting to me, the sitemeter showed some visits from three government agencies --Arizona State Government, City of Phoenix, and Maricopa County-- and two universities --ASU and U of A-- during business hours; people who should have been about the public's business, no? What are they doing going to the spazz in the first place, and then bouncing over here? This is our tax dollars at work? Doing what, pray tell?
So I did some googling around, pairing our blog's name with the snuzz, and I found out that late last summer (2006) the Creative Capital Research Foundation conducted research for The Research Finding Report of the Creative Capital State Research Initiative in Arizona. Yes, they really did. It was research. (HTML version here, published earlier this year.) Most intrepid of readers --I once spent several years pursuing a graduate degree in public administration-- I plowed through the bureaucratic jargon in search of our name. The Report was supposed to be about Arizona artist infrastructure, innovation, the need for criticism, and the need for support. It was catalyzed by something called the Arizona Partnership For Innovation, a thirty-six member "Steering Committee." I read it once. Unbelieveable. I read it twice. These people are shameless. I studied on this thing. I came across many enraging and revelatory things --including the one reference to us, which I'll get to before the jump.
But most offensive was the hard kernel, the invisible key, the hidden engine behind the whole meghillah --its unstated and unjustified assumption:
Art-school artists, by their very existence, deserve public support.
Bullshit. And let me tell you in advance I'm going to give these hypocritical money-grubbing backstabbing blackballing sonsofbitches a serious piece of my mind.
This is what they said about us:
One local blog, “The Tears of Things” written by two local artists provides regular commentary on the Arizona arts scene but was characterized as “unsupportive” and “highly negative”.
Characterized by whom? Unsupportive of what? Highly negative? compared to what? Paintings of shotgunned faces, and other snuff art? They've been exhibited downtown. The misogyny of burlesque and body painting? Happens all the time downtown. We'll answer these questions as we explore this arrogant, self-satisfied Report, which is primarily designed to be presented to government eyes: that is, the person(s) who finally sign off on however-many-thousand dollars for whatever-grants, will be able to at least partially justify such expenditure by pointing to, by handing over, this Report. That's what the Report --physically, on paper-- is for. Wearing a false veneer of impartiality as easy to see through as a carny-whore's makeup, it's a multi-purpose bureaucrat's instrument for covering one's ass, petitioning for funds, creating salaried postions, solidifying existing positions, and generally justifying the existence of the whole federal, state, city, and district arts infrastructure which both depends on and legitimizes the Report!
The Report was created to keep taxpayer money flowing toward the socialistic bureaucrats and fat-wallet players who created, supported, and assembled the Report; and to expand the pool of public money for artists, arts administrators, and "artists' advocates," whoever the hell they could be. In other words, a boondoggle. (Some of it brings a rueful grin through the anger: a State Poet Laureate, okay? Don't laugh. They could call it The Bernard.) I love this country, it is the greatest on earth by orders of magnitude, but I must say that locally I agree with George Orwell: "The existing social order is a swindle." In the local arts scene, it's a swindle in spades.
Here is how the Report describes the "Methodological Framework" for the study:
This study was conducted using qualitative, ethnographic research methods (primarily in-person, one-on-one interviews but also phone interviews and focus groups); findings are therefore geared towards describing attitudes, opinions and subjective data. In addition to the interviews, there was a limited review of current literature on artist systems, a quantitative assessment of formalized funding programs for artists (Attachment 3) and a review of Arizona specific websites, articles and ephemera (flyers, magazines, catalogues, etc.). The narrative findings describe existing artist support systems and conditions, dividing the state into three regions: Central (including Phoenix), Southern (including Tucson), and Northern (including Flagstaff). Each section contains aggregate, qualitative data from our visits and interviews with respondents in these areas.
Interviewee selection was made with a goal of selecting diverse respondents across a range of artistic disciplines, geographic locations across the state, ethnicity, and career stages (recognizing a general, but by no means static, correlation with age). We were also directed specifically toward artist respondents who were “originating” artists (as opposed to “interpretive”) considered to be “pursuing innovative approaches to form and content.”
Then they went and contacted ninety-one people for their study. Ninety-one. Most of them teachers, too: people trained in and comfortable with jargon and questionnaires and bureaucracy. To represent the whole state's population of artists. While researching this posting, I came across a website promoting Arizona artists, and I went through twelve pages of twenty-eight artists per page; that's 336 people right there. That's just one; there are plenty. I don't expect a stratified random sample that jumps through all the social science hoops, but . . . ninety-one?
Now consider this hypothetical scenario:
You are one or more or all of the out-of-town consultants or research people for this project. That is, you are Roberto Bedoya, Eric Wallner, Caron Atlas, Barbara Bacon, Helen Brunner, or Kathie deNobriga; or you are the local Dwight Walth of the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, who wouldn't even return our emails a couple of years ago about the Phoenix Artist Storefront Pilot Program (now under revision. What's that about?). As you do all that ethnographic digging described above, or conduct online surveys, you hear about this blog --yes, this one. Over and over, especially when you discuss art criticism. But when you ask about the blog, or about the two people who run it, all you get is sour looks and rolling eyes and accusations of sour grapes and paranoia. Oh, don't go there. They have nothing good to say about "the community." That du Bois guy has a saying on the blog's sidebar: "When I hear the word 'community,' I reach for my car keys." They're not team players. They just complain and complain.
Now wouldn't that pique your curiosity? Wouldn't you want to know more about the people who are making so many other people uncomfortable? After all, this is dispassionate social science, idnit? Like an anthropological mission; you're not supposed to have an agenda that simply supports the checklist of hopes and claims of the local yokels. Wouldn't a couple of people who were irritating the settled, established scene be just a little bit worth checking out? Could they be completely bereft of credibility? Especially since they had been blogging for nearly four years, a sure sign of commitment to cultural discourse?
But you didn't, did you? None of you seven people just named above got in touch with us; nobody emailed us with the survey, or to set up a face-to-face meeting, to find out why people considered us "unsupportive" and "highly negative." We didn't get a voice in this conversation, and all you seven people just signed off on what others said without even giving us a hearing. You didn't think for yourselves, you took the words of at least seven local people that we have made mad over the last four years. You just dismissed us out of hand. That was methodologically sloppy data collection for damn sure. All the huhu about ethnographic methods, focus groups, diversity, and subjective data was just so much wind from a duck's behind.
And this is a respected foundation? Reader, check out the paragraphs they handwave through trying to define and defend "innovation." Even in qualitative research, don't you at least try to operationalize your definitions? But the overseers in New York must be satisfied with the research, because Creative Capital is going to invest in more Arizona research for the next three years. They already had a "skills-building retreat" in December for seventy artists to help them with their "career management." Translation: grant-writing, schmoozing, and working the system. Pitiful collective hand-holding and disingenuous networking. Trying to make our state into a nanny state, for artists anyway. Believe it or not, one of the most pressing concerns of the interviewees and respondents was health care coverage. What, are they all diseased? Not surprisingly, as I noted above, the vast majority of respondents teach at high schools or universities, keeping their priveleged places at the public well.
But I want to get back to those questions from before the jump. First one: Just who exactly characterized us as "unsupportive" and "highly negative"? Well, I happen to have a list from this Report. Of the thirty-six members of The Partnership, as I'll call it, twenty-five reside in the Valley and have probably heard of us. We have written critically about seven of them. (I have no idea who the ninety-one artists in the survey were, but I know we have written critically about at least a couple of dozen local ones.) It seems reasonable to conclude that
would call us "unsupportive," because we won't sign off on their lame-ass low-class promotion of substandard art and artists, which includes Sale, McIver, and Newport. Not to mention that we're pro-American --liberty, freedom, democracy for everyone!-- and pro-humanity-- which makes most of the art world's hackles rise. With Lineberry, who is no longer associated with Bentley Projects, boo-hoo, it wasn't just about aesthetic judgments, but his lack of business ethics.
Creative Capital (CC) has a similar problem, with conflict of interest. For two examples among many --more below-- there's a section in the Report where respondents answer questions about CC, all fawningly favorable for some mysterious reason; and three of The Partnership's members --McIver, Cohen, and Newport-- have received grants from CC.
I'll move on to the notions of "highly negative" and "innovation." You'll see how they relate. People call us highly negative because we call them on their incompetence, sloppiness, antihumanism, cruelty, peurility, stuntedness, schadenfreude, and misogyny, among other things. True, we are definitely "unsupportive" of these widespread practices and attitudes, which we consider highly negative. We're miles from there.
We stand for and promote human dignity, reserve, handwork and craft, grandeur, glamour, excellence, themes worthy of our contemplation like science, religion, nature, and death; deep emotion, pathos, mystery, our suffering human history, and transcendence. These clowns? They got nothing! and we tell them, we've been telling them, and we'll keep on telling them --and so they whine because we won't join them on their cheap and sleazy gravy train. They got that right, those murder pimps.
Innovation for these people means painting yourself as a whiteface, or blackface, or greenface clown; or knitting superhero costumes; or restoring an East German Trabant, the worst example of an automobile ever made.
Or, like Gregory Sale, literally stealing another artist's work, in his Yoko Ono piece. I say we give him a government job! Oh; they did. Although now I see the ACA advertising his position, so he's probably figuring out a new way to put the squeeze on the public purse.
There's also a new setup as ASU:
Respondent spoke favorably of the Arts, Media and Engineering [AME] program at ASU and their state-of-the-art equipment as having the potential to be an important local incubator for innovation, particularly if access for local artists is somehow made available. [Like that's going to happen. Pay the tuition, chump.] The universities in general were seen as a starting point for fostering innovation. As one interviewee noted, “Experimental work tends to happen first at the universities.” One interesting and challenging project that was developed at ASU involved an artist who placed microscopic cameras on animals and, after recording their interactions over time, constructed short narrative films.
Besides Mr. Cutesy editing animal antics --your tax dollars et cetera-- there's also Mary Bates Neubauer, straight out of the AME, having a computer make weather-pattern-summary abstracts, but with no symbol key, so what we are left gazing at are geometric New Age greeting cards, with no way of knowing the meaning behind the curves and the colors. This is advanced thinking? Read some Tufte. Get back to the Lab.
Or here's Dan Collins with his big flooded Valley of The Sun digital print. From the same Lab. Let's pause at this project for a moment, since it's been making the rounds around town. Well, it's easy to describe; I just did it: no buildings, no streets, no people, no boats, no towers, no drama, no waves, not a lot of sweat, just the familiar mountains rising above a level grey expanse of uninflected water.
First, technically, it's not much, for all the hoo-hah about the AME and such. Really, watch a few TV commercials, Dan, and try to catch up with our 21st-Century eyes.
Second, and more seriously, this guy just wiped out several million people and the hard work of countless lifetimes. For what? To make a comment on human hubris? global warming? or some other over-warmed-over liberal disposition? That's nothing compared to the sociopathic sadism in this frozen-hearted gesture.
Here's another example of the kind of innovation I suppose CC is looking for, since the Arizona Commission on the Arts is singing off the same page. This is Erin Sotak, who us taxpayers just gave some money through an ACA grant so she could do this thing, and I couldn't help commenting on it in brackets:
What I do is I tell stories. I make images. My work first exists as an installation and performance that is concerned with ideas of labor, endurance, futility, absurdity and aesthetics. ["concerned with ideas of"?] The ephemeral work, the tableau, continues to live in the form of a photographic image.
My project, "Squeeze," is concerned with the notions of absurdity, futility, consumption, labor and aesthetics. [didn't we just hear this? except now they're notions.] I created an oversized hope chest in which to store myself and perform a series of actions in an attempt to obtain a small but potentially well-worth-the-effort reward. The hope chest has a small square opening at either end. I enclosed myself in the hope chest. Lying on my stomach, I reach out of the right end of the chest and select a pomegranate based on color, size, shape and hardness. [not on musical ability?]
After the selection process, [yeah, that was labor all right] I pulled the pomegranate into the chest. I split the pomegranate open and seed it, and squeeze the seeds. I then rotate and flip over. Reaching out of the left side opening, I poured [get your tenses consistent, willya?] the thick purple juice into the waiting pewter bowl. I was interested in the act of squeezing [thinking big, I see]: the extraction of something in spite of resistance and the removed consideration of that said something as a concentrated substance or essence. [Spoken like a true bureaucratic blowhard artist.] Most notably, I was intrigued by the mythology of the fruit coupled with the concerted dedication and absurd labor involved in extracting the juice from the pomegranate.
Simple things fascinate simple minds. Absurd is right, but the ACA just loves this kind of mindless crap. As for innovative, though, let's slow down a moment. The Visual Arts Director of the ACA, Gregory Sale, signed off on "Squeeze." The same Gregory Sale who did a performance piece around ten years ago in which, on stage, he juiced up a bunch of ornamental oranges while yakking on about being a gay man. Ah, the wheel of innovation just goes round and round. But it's really the wheel of stagnation, isn't it? People repeating the same motifs for years and being supported for it. For examples, see Annie Lopez and Jeff Falk, both then and now. Same same same same same.
Check out Sue Chenoweth, another ACA grantee. There's an interview with her in the Winter 07 ACA Bulletin, in a pdf file. Boo-hoo Sue has made a career out of appearing disabled, so that people will celebrate her boringly childish surrealism and limp abstraction. (And write her proposals for her. Gregory Sale is a good friend of hers.) Celebrate what? the very fact that they exist, I guess, since they have nothing else going for them. And don't let Scribblin' Sue near a wall unless you want to see a meandering stain of anemic doodling or a hastily-assembled paper collage.
See? So easy Sue Chenoweth can do it.
Then there's Angela Ellsworth, teaching now at ASU, who has tried to make aesthetic gold out of the effluvia and ephemera of exercising. And people like Glen Lineberry, spellbound by stupidity, line up for her lousy offscourings.
And none of this stuff is art; it's infantile narcissism, and an insult to true art.
What kind of innovative thinking did the respondents and researchers show in their recommendations after the survey? Let's look.
To maximize the current opportunity, our research suggests the need for creating a latitudinal, systematic plan with specific goals, strategies and outcomes. Questions to consider include: What would a robust support system for Arizona artists look like? What specific strategies work best at fostering innovation?
You see how they assume that Arizona artists deserve and should have a robust support system --no matter the quality of their work. They're Artists. Nuff said.
The following recommendations (listed in no particular order) are presented as considerations for “next steps” and possible programmatic initiatives --some ideas came directly from respondents while others were based on researcher observation and analysis. Suggestions range from the small, specific and practical to larger, systemic issues.
The Arizona Partnership for Innovation will continue to develop these and other plans and ultimately prioritize them for action. Creating an inventory of practices, programs and policy changes which result from this project will be crucial to documenting its success.
There are eighteen recommendations. Fourteen of them require money from taxpayers. Those "($$)" below are my additions.
* Lobby and educate city and county officials to create artist-friendly ordinances (live/work restrictions in Tucson, zoning issues in Phoenix). ($$: tax breaks)
* Create language and compelling evidence around the need for innovation as a priority within the state.
* Consider an “artists summit” convening to strength and galvanize artists networks statewide. ($$)
* Host local “educational forums” or workshops for local magazines and media outlets on how to find and cover innovative artists and art projects.
* Capitalize on Arizona’s large public sector (governmental agencies) as possible sites for artists residencies or collaborative partners in developing new audiences for innovation work (such as writers in residence at local libraries). ($$)
* Investigate model residency programs that foster local-national dialogue and new work creation such as PACE in San Antonio. ($$)
* Create support and training for emerging and mid-level arts administrators and artists advocates. ($$)
* Provide financial support to fortify establishing artist-focused galleries, performances space, and other groups with the potential for supporting the creation of new work. ($$)
* Develop more formalized partnerships with other local initiatives such as MPAC, ASU’s proposed downtown campus, Phoenix Downtown Artists Coalition, Tucson’s Rio Nuevo, as well as national ones such LINC, American Artists, Artadia, Center for Cultural Innovation, among others.
* Create an artists task force within existing arts advocacy structures to galvanize artist involvement in policy-making. ($$)
* Given the current governor’s strong support for the artists, investigate creating a state Poet Laureate position. ($$)
* Create and/or strengthen support networks for performing artists. ($$)
* Create a directory of available theater and performance spaces (including university venues with open access) which can be utilized by originating performing artists. ($$)
For public and private funders:
* Consider the creation of unrestricted, artist fellowship programs. ($$)
* Reconsider the lifetime cap on Arizona Commission on the Arts’ Artists Project Grants, maybe allow artists to re-apply after a certain period of time (5-7 years) to provide support across different career levels. ($$)
* Consider additional language to materials and applications to convey programmatic goals to artist applicants and make procedures and selection criteria as transparent as possible.
* Given the particular dearth of performing arts opportunities, consider expanding public arts programs to include public performances by local performing artists. ($$)
* Strengthen regional touring opportunities. ($$)
The whole mindset of this Report is communal, governmental, official. All arrows point to some desk-bound form. The word "independent" appears in this Report about a half-dozen times, but never attached to the word "artist." It's almost always a collective entity, including "entity," "booksellers," "presses," and "theater." But not an individual person. There is always the image of the supplicant artist approaching the powerful and indispensable funding agency, knit cap in hand; and never the image of the innovative, maverick bureaucrat out in the world trying to find the best art he/she can find, and to hell with the rules. It's outrageous that these blinkered jerks would write:
Host local “educational forums” or workshops for local magazines and media outlets on how to find and cover innovative artists and art projects
when they don't do that themselves.
It is sourly ironic to me that some of our own innovative ideas were and are designed as generous, splenderous public projects:
--The Collective I, for example, which anticipated YouTube and is still powerfully viable.
--our Glorious Golden Grand Avenue Vision, pedestrian-only from 7th to 15th Avenues except for its funicular streetcars; and with street mosaics, local businesses, and giant flower gardens.
--our piece called "The Antidote," which would be a mobile multi-media truck with big double-sided screens and giant speakers, driving around downtown on a First Friday playing an art-historical slideshow interspersed with printed aphorisms, accompanied by classical music selections; the idea developed from Camille Paglia's notion that "The only antidote to the magic of images is the magic of words."
--Catherine's tableau and diorama called "American Woman," which she literally dreamed up when she fell under the reasonable notion that the curators at ASU wanted balance when they conjured up their election-year exhibition "Democracy in America." Read about it here.
--our resurrection of Liberty Poles;
--and especially our "American Gothic," a multi-media installation and performance about the history of the uncanny and supernatural in America. The piece would have holograms and videos, live dancing in period costumes, narration with projections on waterwall scrims, a giant twisted wooden trumpet pouring out the voices of the dead, a life-sized Green Man made of plants and flowers, a tableaux called "Beyond the Cabin Door," complete with floating orbs and streaks of hants, and all of it accompanied by live performances on bow saw, violin, and theremin.
Instead, this year as in too many recent years, the city will probably be treated with Jeff Falk's Stupid Santa again; and Scott Sanders and his Paper Heart will continue to "showcase" anyone who wants to get in front of a microphone and rant, as well as much skankier activities at his venue. Sanders, by the way, was going to close his joint last November, but he held a fund-raiser and held on. Also, significantly, the city came to him with the offer of a low-interest loan, which he finally accepted. I don't know who from the city floated the offer, but it could have been motivated from the highest levels. There's a picture somewhere of Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon with his arm around Scott Sanders. Elsewhere, Gordon has endorsed the whole downtown scene. Word of caution, Phil: in an election year, some of what these people do might stick to you in ways you don't want it to.
On to criticism. Earlier this year Creative Capital / ACA finally published the Findings, and in early May SMoCA had a panel discussion to discuss the findings. Matthew Bowman wrote about it on May 7th for phoenixartspace. Excerpt:
. . . But as panelists noted, on the flip side of comradery [sic] is overly polite assessment, and following a do-it-yourself mentality can foster isolation.
Their conversation hit heavily on the need for strong and informed criticism as a necessary driving force of innovation and operator in any vigorous, refined arts environment. The Creative Capital report outlined this need for criticism, describing the “overwhelming deficit of media coverage, particularly reviews and critical, scholarly discourse about artists.”
Anne-Marie Russell, director and curator at MoCA in Tucson, noted the lack of a single trained and specialized art critic in the state and appealed for openness to formal criticism. She pointed at what she called “the degenerate legacy of postmodernism” as contributing to criticism’s lack of acceptance. . . But all the same, if Phoenix is going to move past clubhouse galleries and into a thriving scene, Russell reminded that Arizona artists need to pursue, rather than shy away from, serious criticism.
President of Roosevelt Row CDC, Greg Esser, presented challenges concerning the audience for Phoenix arts. “I recognize everyone here,” he told, “like I do at everyone else’s events.” While affectionately highlighting the unity of the local arts scene, Esser also brought into focus the risk for its self-containment. Artist and educator Angela Ellsworth, in support, described the need to explore, to get out, for people to emerge from their usual bubble and explore the overlap with other artists and diverse audiences.
Esser and Ellsworth are liars. LIARS and hypocrites. What they want are positive reviews for artists to pin to their resumés. They do NOT want serious discussion, review, or even "scholarly" criticism, by which they probably mean decon obfuscation like Erin Sotak above.
For over four years we have been criticizing the local scene, including specific works, artists and arts administrators, raising questions and pointing out discrepancies. We went away for awhile, but we've got a second wind now. And all we've ever got during that time is assaulted, both physically and in every vicious verbal way imaginable, until we had to shut down comments on the blog due to the gleefully sociopathic behavior of some of the same kind of people Creative Capital wants to throw money at for the next three years.
So, yes, Greg and Angela and all you kewpie dolls lined up in your Partnership, we see what you mean by innovation, criticism, and support. While we continue to support ourselves --"in isolation," did someone say?-- we'll show you what we mean by true criticism, true innovation, and true art.Posted by Jerome at August 17, 2007 10:40 AM | TrackBack