Rosencrantz And Guildenstern

            They were a husband and wife tag team of studio art faculty. She did cats. If any of your work per chance showed feline, her name would immediately surface. That was her expertise.

            There was a recent art opening of very current work by a local artist. Without being overtly formatted as such, the work chronicled, “journaled” (ours is the culture of predication) the symbiotic creativity of the parent-child relationship, the Pop Culture bedrock of family. Be it baby Louie, Lourdes, or Chaz, that relationship is totally comprehendible within the public imaginary, almost iconic by definition (mother and child). It is currently red hot and circulation is practically guaranteed. You can stake your career on it. And the artist did.

            This week found me reading something I would never have stalked at my favorite book supplier, the library. It was a gifted book, a rather long one (comparable to War and Peace by the looks of it). “The New York Times bestseller COLLAPSE: how societies choose to fail or succeed JARED DIAMOND author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel With A New Afterword” floats in a cloudy sky over a Mayan ruin landscape on the book’s cover- all in black, white, and tones of grey with a few spare horizontal lines of orange. How much of that IS the book cover by design and how much is marketing is totally academic (it is all one and the same, including the academic!). I haven’t completed the book. But this is not about the book. The author includes his anecdotal and personal experience as part of his professional expertise. Sounds only natural for a naturalist who studies nature to rely on his observation. Nothing exceptional about that, is there? But when one starts to do the math, a different image emerges; one of exception that accounts for the book’s cover. Jared Diamond is no Upton Sinclair. It “appears” that the two have a certain affinity. Both seem to be stating that something is rotten in Denmark. Like current news media, Diamond tries to present “both sides”. This is no simple matter he has researched and writes of. His research has taken him all over the globe, as well as to his second home in Montana which is the subject of the first chapter. Folks there have issues (problems) of historic precedence as well as contemporary urgency. Things are unpleasant. According to Jared the citizens of Montana could choose to address these issues through the passage of laws and vigilant enforcement. Diamond himself lives and works in, and is a citizen of Los Angeles, not Montana. Returning to the math, almost a half century has found him at his profession of research, teaching and writing, with accolades aplenty. His second residence in the Bitterroot Valley was the result of an initial professional invitation on the part of a foundation to spend time there. To put it in distinguishing language, how many students lives has he touched? How many have followed in his footsteps to become research and teaching professionals? Now multiply this by how many have done likewise, within the same or affiliated professions without having encountered him. Add to this the professionals who stake their careers on their expertise with regard cats or “family”, and the ranks swell incredibly; a very large contingency of people, “business person[s] without a business” (Our Literal Speed, unless you consider branding a business), who can afford a second home in a desirable location, yet not predicate themselves as part of the problem (or the solution). The tone of Jared Diamond’s discourse does not implicate him as part of the problem or the solution. After all, researching, analyzing, and disclosure of research analysis IS his profession. Laws and their enforcement are what other people, residents (the people he has studied), do to address these matters. His research and writing requires distancing and detachment to maintain professional standards and credibility. And there’s the rub. To paraphrase Eldridge Cleaver, within a democracy there are no spectators.

            Judging a book by its cover, I sense that the primary difference between Sinclair and Diamond is that Diamond’s work is produced and consumed as part of a society of spectacle. It has vast appeal (and is marketed) to intelligent, knowledgeable professionals (like himself) who will “Tsk Tsk” while engaging in quality entertainment worthy of their education and station. Where Sinclair utilized the text to activate change, Diamond simply wants to do his job, report on his correlations, sell books, and retire to his home in Montana.

            Zmijewski is on to something when he urges that “professional” artists implement their professional abilities, utilize their art expertise for social change (Applied Social Arts). Yes, there is the risk of shame, of historically falling on one’s face because of the decision to get involved with a specific social action. But this ostensibly “required” deference and detachment, primarily on the basis of what is expedient for one’s career and profession, reinforces and contributes to the status quo. Clinging to an assumption that being “about” something sets one apart from being the actual something does not contribute to the solution of the problem that “something” may actually be.

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