Artists in the Age of Brainwashing
Artists in the Age of Brainwashing
Artists in the age of brainwashing
Creative vibrancy starts with advocating for artists.
Americans like to live dangerously. Why else would we be in this position where so many aspects of living put us in collective jeopardy? Every place one looks there is turmoil and under-development. It can be seen acutely everywhere but not in the world of art where I live. What I see in this unique world is the ability for individuals to achieve greatness against serious odds. No matter how long it takes and even when we think nobody is noticing, artists innovate. Sadness? Artists have ways to lift ourselves up. It usually starts with sharing something simple. A delicious fruit, a beautiful sunset, a good night sleep, a cold beer on a hot afternoon etc... Under-capitalized? Artists can re-imagine so at least it is not too painful, plus there is the occasional magic that happens when one person's trash is an artist treasure. However artists are lucky because as a community it is typically generous with one another. Coming together in times of sorrow and joy are natural for most communities but when it happen in artist world, everyone should be prepared to walk away inspired because it happens all the time.
When I first came to Brooklyn in the mid 1980s I became friends with so many people who have long since passed away. Two of them in particular stand by me today with nearly everything I do. Sculptor Alan Glovsky was one of the most open minded, tenacious, capable people I knew. He was a wonderful influence on my children and I can still ask myself the question he asked me all the time.... "are you happy?". If I answer "yes" then... I feel lucky but if I answer "no" it is on me to change that direction. I appreciate this simple clarity. The other great influence in my life was Tessie William, the District Manager for Community Board 2. She advocated for me when nobody dared and she stood by me when I turned my dream into a reality. She was so proud of everyone's creativity. As she started to decline she "made the rounds" with her friends to say a fond farewell carrying a few choice strawberries to share. She told me a story that I want to tell now. Her story explained the difference between heaven and hell. In hell there was bountiful foods and drinks but people lacked elbows to help themselves. It was sad angry place, but in heaven it was the exact same situation except people learned how to feed one another and it was peaceful loving place. So... the moral of her story was that if a community works together then shared problems are solved easily. RIP Tessie and Alan, my love never stopped.
Despite all the unhappiness, greed, fear and hatred there is all around us, we do not need to dance with the devil to accomplish something good. We just have to pick our friends more carefully.
Pictured here: Teresa Adams
I am a very slow reader. So it is with some pride I can say that I finished reading Jonathan Letham’s “Fortress of Solitude” recently. The story tells of several boys and their families as they grew up in the Gowanus area of Boerum Hill. My backyard. One of the character was named the same name as my son, so what mother doesn’t love reading that? It turned out to be a pure pleasure read. The story involved aspects of gentrification, public schooling, race relations for children at an early age, drug use or abuse, vandalism and comics book fantasies. All of this instantly shot me back to my youth. Mine was not a neighborhood decaying like the demanding urban “fixer-upper” Gowanus. Mine was a newly tilled sub-development that encouraged America’s metropolitan sprawl. I was keenly aware of race/class structure. I encountered systemic sexism that scarred me more than I understood at the time. All I know is that I had to get outta there if I wanted to survive. Seven days after high school graduation, I left and never looked back. Letham’s characters, much like myself used their imaginations to evolve out of a dead end situation. There was no future in the past.
Letham’s “coming of age story” is universal. NYC is a city where one could sustain a whole career with a fraction of recognition, spotty financial support, or the satisfaction that your work will be exhibited in a meaningful way. Instead NYC artists find happiness with dedicated viewers and uneven moments of pure accolade. I remember being a Texan artist where all we had to do was take out one little ad in the local newspaper and the place was packed with curious minded people willing to pay money to see what we were doing. There was literally nothing else interesting to do. I sold artwork, without even trying. There were large commissions and pre-sale opportunities but I yearned to break away. NYC is my adopted hometown. The youngster in me identified with Letham’s wayward boys as they reacted to their world in irrational ways, ways that prevented positive results. The characters spoke to me because I know how a dangerous childhood can encroach on decisions years later. The one major difference was that none of these boys could become pregnant, unwillingly. This was the fear that so many girls lived with because there was so much violence around them. Imagining girl life –vs- boy life with fictional characters is my idea of an intellectual month well spent. However living people struggle long past the end of the page. So while I manage to make artworks to share, while I sustain a proud partnership for nearly 4 decades, while I enjoy my children as they became men, while I support my friends through their ups and downs, I hope all living youngsters will find a way of expressing themselves through another medium like dance, paint, words, object, music, and media as an alternative to self-destruction. It is possible to embrace a future through friendships that sustain us over a lifetime but you have to get through adolescents first.
When there were regular weekly gallery hours at Micro Museum® I greeted visitors. Two women from Canada who ironically I meet on the F Train platform the day before, came for a visit. During their visit one announced that they have been friends for 45 years. I asked them what allowed them to remain friends all that time, through marriages, children, different cities, different careers, and obviously different fashion since one was decked out in 100 colors and the other wore jeans and t-shirt and they both answered “ART”. Apparently they love it and because of that answer I loved them too. It was that simple. Slow friendships that evolved over many years are worthy investments plus I should add so is art.