Climate Change Problem/Solving Aesthetics or How I’m Tired of Having This Machine Determine How I Think

Part 1
The January 4, 2013 Moyers & Company found Bill’s guest to be Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. This appearance was remarkable in that he wasn’t on because of some book he was promoting, or some enterprise or past accomplishment/experience. His reason for being there was totally performative, in the language of today’s aesthetic. The only clue as to how and why he ended up on the show was his résumé position. It was practically a monologue on Climate Change, with Bill asking a few incidental questions as devil’s advocate, etc. From the transcript:
“BILL MOYERS: What you’re saying is that a big powerful industry controls or affects the outcomes of perception in this country disproportionately to what most people think?
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: That’s right. And in part they’re able to do that because this issue is a low level issue, because we don’t talk about it and because there is no what we call issue public on the other side.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: Okay, so an issue public is basically an organized social movement that demands change, okay. And we’re very familiar with this term. It’s the pro or anti-immigration movement or the pro-gun control or the anti-gun control movement–
BILL MOYERS: The Civil Rights movement–
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: The Civil Rights movement.
BILL MOYERS: –the Suffragette movement, women’s rights, you’ve got to be organized.
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: Absolutely. You’ve got to be organized. And what we see, remember that 16 percent I identified as the alarmed? Again people who are very concerned and think this is an urgent problem, but they feel relatively isolated and alone. They say, “I feel this way, some of my friends and family feel this strongly.” But they have no sense that they’re part of over 40 million Americans that feel just as strongly as they do.
They’ve never been properly organized, mobilized and directed to demand change. And I mean, that’s what the political system ultimately responds to. If you basically have a vacuum of people who are demanding change, and I don’t mean that truly. I mean, there are of course many great organizations that have been advocating for change for a long time. But it hasn’t been a broad based citizens movement demanding change. In that situation a relatively small but well-funded and vocal community that says no can absolutely win the day.”

From the entirety of Anthony’s Leiserowitz’s performative address, particularly the line “They’ve never been properly organized, mobilized and directed to demand change.” It’s clear that Leiserowitz imagines organization pretty much in a top down, vertical manner (who is the “they”? and why are they “they”, and not “we” or us?). What just took place this past week end in Steubenville Ohio does not enter into his imaginary (yet the “issue public” actually appeared, almost spontaneously). On the one hand, he articulates, quite eloquently, a very reasoned and nuanced approach to communicating solutions to what appears inevitable (Climate Change). On the other, he relies on the mechanism and methodology that propels and fuels this inevitable nastiness to solve it. Obviously, when it comes to the social/cultural aspect, Leiserowitz lacks imagination much as some of his groupings of people do with regard the consequences of Global Warming. Once again we find an appeal for leadership resulting in an eventual appeal for followers. All this has not been working. How can I say this? The census bureau reported in 2012 that approximately 25% of Americans over the age of 18 (the voting age) have a Bachelor’s degree. The colleges awarding this degree all pride themselves on forming and producing “leaders”. So we have a bunch of leaders out there organizing on the basis of finding followers, but not considering themselves to be one of them? That doesn’t work. “Some Occupy members suggest that the movement is not so much leaderless as leaderful— that everyone in the Occupy movement is a leader. That’s a charming move, but the essential point of course is that there is a horizontal, nonhierarchical, and rhizomic quality to the leadership rather than a vertical hierarchy, a party vanguard, or elected or self-proclaimed leaders.” (Political Disobedience by Bernard. E. Harcourt, Critical Inquiry Vol. 39, No. 1, pg. 38) Steubenville was not an anomaly.

Part 2
“If in “painting like a camera” Richter attempts to render the author-function passive – “letting a thing come,” as he put it, “rather than creating it” – the effect, present in Atlas snapshots and the large, mechanically generated abstractions, is intensified in the overpaintings, articulating an ethos of production fundamental to the critical value of Richter’s greater body of work. Here photography, as avatar of the unforeseen outcome, is a radical palimpsest for the artist as a producer outside both ratiocination and imagination, a model for critical art production in its mechanicity, its contingency, and its other-determination. By Richter’s own estimation, “I’m often astonished to find out how much better chance is than I am.” (As Photography: Mechanicity, Contingency, and Other-Determination in Gerhard Richter’s Overpainted Snapshots by Susan Laxton, Critical Inquiry Vol. 38, No. 4, pg. 795). Maybe it’s time to question the actual value (critical or otherwise) of “the artist as a producer outside both ratiocination and imagination”, as a “model for critical art production”. Picasso used to boast of how he and Braque had created camouflage, eventually used by most armies (and now by a lot of fashion). Art, within culture, was not only a determinant and creator of culture but also of political economy. The Suffragette Movement (Feminist), Civil Rights, Chavez’ Farm Workers movement, Black Power and much of the other social organized change referenced by Moyers and Leiserowitz had artists as a major contributor of the movement’s created imaginary (without which the morning after would not have been possible). The artist functioned as a producer within both the ratiocination and imagination of the actual culture and political economy of which she/he was a part, a member. Post Modernism claims that Art has reached its end, no longer functioning within such a role, now independent of its ties to shared ”reality”. Recognizing that machines are creations that in turn also create, artists as diverse as James Brown, Andy Warhol and Gerhard Richter (with his machine process of “painting like a camera”) have decided to emulate this mode of creativity. It sells. Considering what Anthony Leiserowitz has to say, one wonders about the value and benefit of being “astonished to find out how much better chance is than I am”. I don’t believe this is the time for “letting a thing come”, “rather than creating it”.

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