We’re talking Dana Schitz and the Whitey Biennial, and my friend, photographer and activist Jay Trinidad, says, “This is why I will not shed a tear when the NEA dies. It has sustained an art world like this.”
Read that again.
Her, her, her, her everybody
One of the administrators at my kid’s school wants ideas on why the students aren’t behaving. A lot of them are not following protocols. A lot. If most of the students are not following the system, then what kind of hubris would lead someone to believe that there is something wrong with the kids? There’s something wrong with the protocols. There’s something wrong with the system.
Where is the excitement for the arts? I’m sorry the “fine arts”? Where are the crowds? Where is the chatter? And before anyone damns the masses for their lack of education, their lack of effort, before anyone mumbles “hoi polloi” like they was born with a monocle on, let’s take a second to remember that we are living in the Age of Networks. The masses are out there enjoying music in languages they cannot understand, swooning over fashions from half a world away, relearning traditional crafts thought lost to the bloodline. There’s a Filipino bus driver out there grooving to Magnum Band. There’s a kid in Connecticut that always picks Nollywood over Hollywood. Shit is available and findable and sharable. Your tribe don’t have to live on the block now, not when most of us are more connected than Lamont Cranston.
But most people don’t seem curious about what the artworld is up to these days, and really the artworld is not curious about most people, except maybe as abstractions and as feed. No questions are asked, desires remain unexplored. Like, I meet way too many people in the art bubble that seem proud that they don’t know a single Future song. No one has a duty to love Trap, but the pride is telling. It’s connected to why so many art spaces move into cheap neighborhoods and never stress that the neighbors never visit, or that all of their marketing money is directed past the hood, or that they don’t know any of the history of their new home. It’s connected to how little effort there is from the big institutions to be inviting and attentive to the parts of town that have to make due without a Whole Foods.
Be that way, art bubble. Be that way, and whither while burning the little oxygen that remains within your walls. Outside there is plenty of misery, but there is also a constant and constantly evolving polyphonic celebration. This could be us, but you dyin’.
Wait till I get my money right
Splendiferous and I went to see some art in Austin. OK Mountain had this delicious show of Japanese artists. Of course we couldn’t afford anything in the show, the trip itself was a luxury. One of the painters had made shirts. They were like twenty bucks. I bought one and wore it for years, nice fit, unusual peach color, and a striking image on the chest. I know it was empirically dope since I never wore it without at least a couple of randos commenting on its dopeness. The shirt was hot, I felt good wearing it, folks were happy to see it. Occasionally someone would ask about the artist, and I would pull up the bottom and read the name out to them. Years ago the shirt died in a laundry accident. I don’t remember the name of the artist. I keep an eye out for dope shirts because I can never afford my friends’ paintings.
Most shows don’t sell shirts. That’s too bad, I would love more options to support artists directly. I wouldn’t be mad at a tip jar. As it is most of the money flowing through the arts come from two sources: rich folk and the State. Being rich is an immoral state that will be eradicated in the better, more egalitarian world that we are fighting for. And the State’s main function is maintaining the kyriarchy that feeds the rich. That’s not me telling you this, that’s countless exhibits in poorly funded art exhibitions and panels at non-profit spaces. Just kidding, I’m saying that too. It’s past time that we accept that our sources of funding come with an agenda. I mean we know this but it’s high time we started living like its real. I ain’t mad at no artists drawing a paycheck from collectors or some city grant. Stack that money till it gets sky high, get the fucking appetizer, take the trip. Spend that money with my blessing. Because I love my brother and sister artists, I want your joy to fly high. But sister, but brother, I want you to consider exit strategies. Alternative sources of cheddar. Making shit your high school buddies can afford. You don’t wanna end up Gee Money to the powers-that-be’s Nino Brown.
Here’s an easy first step: galleries are stores. Say it often and to varied groups, loud enough to be heard across a modest room. When you bump into a gallerist of your acquaintance, say something like, “How’s your store doing?” Wonder out loud why every gallery wants to be a Fendi store when most people only got Ross money. Who’s gonna be the brave gallerist to open up a Ross gallery?
Dave Chappelle walked away from 50 million because somebody laughed the wrong way. Closed up shop, went to see friends in Africa, retreated back to the Mid West to clear his mind. All because someone laughed like George Washington at a slave whipping during one of the tapings. We cannot always afford that type of rebellion (food and shelter, food and shelter) but we should consider it daily and enact it where we can.
Run the numbers and remain humble
Ways of Seeing got a sequel this year. It is a disheartening enterprise in toto, but we must at least acknowledge the mercy and economy of the show for managing to place its nadir in the opening seconds: Jerry Saltz walks up to the camera and opens his mouth. Shit. In forty-five years we’ve regressed from John “motherfucking” Berger to Jerry “poor baby” Saltz. The support of Whiteness will always lead to mediocrity because that support is a mask for suppression. Suppression of beauty, and genius, and innovation, of orgasms and epiphanies that exist outside the hegemony and prove it to be a cancer. Saltz does talk to a couple of Black artists, but that only confirms the problem because mediocre-white-boy is controlling the access and presentation of those artists. Power is power, you know?
Episode three has Internet Becky talking about the “digital as medium.” She speaks to 3 white folks all in video that appears staged by Wes Anderson’s whiter brother. You are real people so right now you’re thinking: Where the fuck are the Vine stars? The crowd sourced fictions of Black Twitter? The YouTube satirists? The Tumblr curators and archivists? Where the fuck is the model challenge? Where are the kids? Where are the outsiders? Where are the PO motherfucking Cs? This Internet they are talking about looks like a version from middling 60s sci-fi. Miss me with it. Please.
The numbers are the numbers. The artworld is still frightfully white, and the higher you climb the whiter it gets. Most of the diversity is found among the artists themselves, in other words the art proletariat is diverse. But the higher you climb, the snowier it gets. Curators, directors, publishers, collectors, it’s Tintin au Tibet. And the entrance requirement for people that don’t look like the cast of Mad Men is forbidding: great luck, great talent, great effort. In comparison to what is asked of mad ones: the luck of your skin, something resembling talent, and the occasional effort.
Most of the efforts to diversify the artworld still depend on the machination of too many mediocre and unreconstructed white folk. They still depend on preserving structures and traditions that have proven to be full of poison. There is no redemption that passes through the established protocols of our current concepts of museums and art history. Too slow, too rife with obstacles. New types of experiences are what is necessary. Things that were brewed and constructed outside of the system need to be imported wholesale. Our next queer directors should not come from a place that the hetero normative recognize. Our next Black curators should come from a place that the white establishment cannot pronounce. Our next Latinx editors should come from radical education not suffocating ivy. We fill our positions with people that live outside the bubble. We sweat the ratios. And we vow to stop repeating these same mistakes. We do this or watch, in thirty years, Ways of Seeing 3 starring Hannah Montana.
I’ve been loving you too long to stop now
I kept asking my art appreciation students about pleasure, and they kept looking at me like I was talking nonsense.
“You’ve had English classes? Literature classes, right?
“And you’ve talked about the pleasures of text, right?”
Crickets and squints.
“You know, the way words are chosen and sequenced to become music? To bore into memory with their specificity and joy?
“Nah, we just talk about what it all means.”
We need any more information? I mean, obviously we do, but do we need it from artists? Do we need any more installations that look like high school dioramas about water conservation? Do we need entire walls that look like visual aid for an econ 1 class? And bruh, even there that would not be worth no A. Somebody gets outraged over a Mother Jones article and instead of channeling the vibrational charge of that outrage into something transformative, something that is built to pierce another human, we end up with another show that prioritizes information over aesthetic. Get it? Get it? Get it? Art schools are churning out more students than artists. And students are desperate for clarity; they don’t want to be misunderstood. That neurotic scramble for acknowledgement, plaudits for big brains, fills our galleries with “research” void of generosity and surprise. Aesthetic traditions built over millennia are viewed with suspicion because they are so difficult to demystify, and also because they’ve been used rather effectively (to be fair) by more than a few assholes. We create fewer and fewer fine objects and more and more reports. The technocrats are winning.
I came back to class with some printouts. I had several of them read the words. They were pedestrian, the sentences repetitive, the whole thing tedious and flat. “Listen” I said, and put on Otis singing the exact same words. A dead man’s voice coming through cheap speakers to grab us. In that aural mist we were cradled, loved, and more than a little turned on. Don’t come at us unless you’re ready to be on your Otis shit.
The Lightning bolt made enough heat
I am on a ship on fire in the middle of the ocean with you. We are on a burning ship. No help is coming. We are warmed by the same heat, our back-lit faces turnt black blurs with red edges, our tall shadows dancing across the sheet of the sea. What will become of us? Shall we sink, grow gills, and learn to swim the cool dark depths? Shall we atomize what’s left of the structure into a fleet of rafts and set off once more across the ocean with no maps or sextant? Shall we swim to the nearest island, adapt to a new diet, and twist our mouths around new tongues? Shall we dance faster and harder, sing louder and louder, turn into fuel for the fire, and become smoke? No help is coming. We need to make a decision.