Archive for June, 2014

Honeybees Are Integral To American Agriculture

June 22, 2014

“Here Are the Threats Honeybees Face—and What’s Helping Them Survive” (By Lauren Wade, June 20, 2014) is another one of those say nothing, hand wringing articles that masquerade as concerned, environmentally conscious online (land) fill. When the line “Honeybees are integral to American agriculture, pollinating more than a third of the crops we grow.” appears in an article followed immediately by graphic descriptions of bumps, bruises and lacerations suffered by apis mellifera, you know the writer hasn’t a clue, let alone knows how to be critical about what she is covering. To say that a partner or spouse is integral to a relationship or marriage and then discuss relationships or marriage is one thing. But to say a battered partner or spouse is integral to a relationship or marriage, and then write about what the battered spouse or partner is suffering without involving or critiquing the rest of the marriage or relationship is to show intellectual sloth at best, ignorance at worst. When a politician uses that line, you know they’re painting a Warner Bros. picture of farming, talking about Porky’s little friend Buzzy Bee not feeling very well (“Poor Buzzy. What can we do to help?”). If “Honeybees are integral to American agriculture,” then maybe we ought to look at what the other integral parts of agriculture are doing, to the bees as well as the rest of us. We shouldn’t let the politicians, as well as writers, get away with such drivel when discussing abusive relationships and battered (integral) partners. “Ain’t nobody’s business but my own” doesn’t cut it anymore.

The Capitalist Party

June 10, 2014

“What was contemporary art?” by Octavian Esanu appeared in the first print edition of ArtMargins. ArtMargins sounded so inviting before it came out. It is put out by MIT press, publishers of October. ArtMargins is based on the acknowledgement that art, art theory, and culture are no longer found at/driven by the center (places like NYC, Paris, London, etc.) but are now located on the margins (places like South America, eastern Europe, etc.) The emphasis was to be what is occurring/being written there today. I’ve allowed my subscription to lapse since (in the model of October) the publication (as a de facto center) has manipulated direction and gravitated to special interests. Also, it is mostly art historical, what happened/was written 50 years ago. Sigh. But Esanu’s article was very enlightening and exciting because it was fearless in situating economics with art. He writes of the transition period in Eastern Europe when institutional socialism was being displaced by free market capitalism, and George Soros’s foundations were pouring big bucks in to convert artists to entrepreneurs. Previously, under state socialism, artists woke up in the morning within their domiciles and ate their breakfast and went to their work site knowing that tomorrow they would likewise get up in the morning within their domiciles and eat breakfast before going to the place where they labored as artists. The emphasis in their production as artists was in what they produced, and how it contributed within the framework of the state socialism. Soros lured artists out of this co-op or unionized disposition, outlook, mindset through grant funding. The grants offered emerging artists large sums of money, recognition and exposure. However, Mr. Esanu (who was employed administering these funds) points out that after that, there are no further resources for the “established” (not emerging) artist. The lure is to get artists to strike out on their own and continue after the heady success made possible by the grant award. No longer could an artist concentrate solely on their discipline or craft. Rather, they now had to concentrate on how to fund their domicile and breakfast first, then on honing their art skills. It is a very subtle article but it extends its insight on how the aesthetics, what was considered as “contemporary art”, changed to accommodate the new economics of capitalism (the art produced needed to fit within the criteria and parameters of the grant requirements. The imaginary was dictated by what would promote the aspirations of the grant providers.).

Communist culture was always presented by the west as being driven and dominated by “The Party”. The aesthetic ostensibly revolved around what served, promoted and reproduced The Party’s interest. The west, on the other hand, cloaked itself in a rhetoric of freedom and choice, “free” market and the choice of multi-party government. Never was heard the term “Capitalist Party”. Esanu’s article brings that to mind for unless the art produced serves, promotes and reproduces the tenets and interests of the Capitalist Party, it is not (youthful angst Punk culture aside). This all begs the question “what is art?” though it is only someone on the margins like Esanu who is willing to consider the economic influence on the answer. At the center, it is assumed as a given (that there is art, that there are artists) without any question as to whether it is a means or an end or neither. If art is of The Party, then the artist becomes a mere originator of propaganda. If art is not of The Party, then how is it to be evaluated? Even more pressing is how is it possible if it is not of The Party? Boris Pasternak addressed this while living ensconced in a culture of The Party. His epic Dr. Zhivago is critiqued variously, from the standpoint of Russian literature/poetry, to one of resistance, to one of pure art, to just being a great love story. It does, however, present the picture of folks who live out their lives as who they are within a system that requires justification at every turn. This, I guess is the crux of what art is and what it is to be an artist today, whether Communist or Capitalist, whether to justify oneself through how one is serving the aspirations of the revolution or the market. Those savvy individuals attuned to working within The Party, live comfortably under either economic system. Those who deem poetry and art to have some other abstract value, do not. But they continue to create, without serving The Party. Aside from being masochists, one wonders why? Which again leaves the question of what is art, what is it to be an artist?

Zanesville Ohio’s downtown “Arts District” first Friday gallery hop comes to mind for it seems to cover the entire spectrum of art/artists in one fell swoop. From the university professor “high end” art (why high end? Because it serves The Party?) to primitive and outsider art, it is all there arrayed next to each other at the same time within close proximity. Few, very few, pay for their domiciles and breakfast from their labor as artists; even fewer with any degree of security. So is there a place for art within our society (rather, do we have a culture driven by art) or is it merely a utilitarian expression of a Party function (to serve, promote and reproduce the values of The Capitalist Party)? A good start in answering any of these questions is to admit that, well, there it is in front of us. And that the folks associated with its existence will do so under whatever economic system they find themselves (something Pasternak presents with Zhivago). In that sense, we find ourselves with what the academics describe as “the subject”. Here lies the entire struggle of the artist and art. The subject, independent (not!) of the environment, the economy, or is it the subject transcendent of the environment, the economy (shades of Emerson!)? Or is it possibly the subject bearing witness to whatever it is to be a subject (“I exist. I matter.”)? Witness to whom? And why? What need is there of witness to getting up in the morning in one’s own domicile, eating breakfast and heading off to work?