Friday, January 12, 2018

Our Fixation on Saviors and Superheroes

Happy 2018!
Dear God, in the words of John Winston Lennon,

"Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear"

From his lips to God's ear. If anything, before we get too far into what this new year may bring, it might be a good idea to look seriously at what 2017 and the years before it have brought us.

Now before anyone says "Donald Trump as POTUS", it should be noted that in 2009, many people thought our unresolved national and cultural issues were finally addressed with the election and swearing in of Barack Obama as President of the United States. We were riding a multi-cultural, "post racial" wave of optimism. Finally, FINALLY, someone had come to unite us all and save us.

The same thing has been said of Donald Trump by his apparently narrowing base of supporters, and a fair number of them are feeling the same sense of disappointment as many people did with Obama when they began to realize that neither man had "saved" us. Hence the rumblings of our discontent continue as we search for the next "savior", and wait for his (or her) glorious appearing. But there's a problem with saviors, and there's a problem with always needing to be saved. It kind of speaks to a predilection for finding trouble or trouble finding us. It says we haven't solved some basic problems in a truly meaningful way. We haven't resolved the issues that keep getting us into the kind of trouble that requires a dramatic rescue. Saviors and superheroes can be very good at dramatic rescues, and God knows it makes for great TV, movies and art. Witness the current box office titles or spend a night watching the CW network.

But what happens when our purported saviors are merely human (Barack Obama), or as in the case of Mr. Trump, not a savior at all but a blunt-spoken, charismatic (albeit mean-spirited) con artist who knows how to manipulate racial and gender animus to a contingent of our fellow citizens who are already inclined to believe that women, minorities, immigrants, LGBT people, and other "liberals" are what is holding this country back? More importantly, what happens when these saviors or savior wannabes fail us, as they invariably do?


If recent history is any guide, there will be the search for another savior, a crisis of faith such as what John the Baptist had when he sent people to ask Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we be looking for another?" Unfortunately, then as now, this tendency misses the point. During the Golden Globes event on January 7th, Oprah Winfrey addressed a crowd of celebrities about the gravity of the current "Me Too" moment. In a mere nine minutes, she once again proved why she is the icon and inspiration that she is. Following that came speculation of Oprah running for president in 2020. I groaned at the suggestion.

Let's just take this off the table. Oprah Winfrey will not save us. Barack Obama did not solve our racism problem. Donald Trump is not solving his base's perceived problem with the afore-mentioned "out" groups. In fact, he's given strength to a resistance whose real power is only beginning to be felt. These people, many of them women (not surprisingly) and the very diverse people who Mr. Trump and his cohorts wish would just go away, are not superheroes or saviors. We know that neither Superman nor Supergirl nor the Flash are likely to come rescue us. We know that what needs to happen is the kind of creative thinking and problem solving that keeps us out of dire peril in the first place and we know we're the only ones who can do it.

We are, as Mr. Obama, a now rising icon said, the ones we've been waiting for. Cynics scoffed at the time. Note that these same cynics embraced their icon/savior with almost equal fervor in November 2016. Even so, Obama was right. With that in mind, our heroes and icons serve a purpose for good or ill. They inspire us to be more than we are or imagined we could be. Or they remind us of our failings and our sometimes dark and grotesque tendencies. We might do well to steer clear of saviors offering easy fixes to complex problems. They often fail us, and when they do, we tend to crucify them.


Behold, our next saviour?
Surely not!

More Later

KCD
kcd@theworkofart.net
www.theworkofart.net


Monday, June 19, 2017

New Work In Progress

I've been at this picture for a while. It's a kind of update or snapshot of my progress as an artist in the last 20 years. It's called "Chiaroscuro 2.0". Now the word "chiaroscuro" comes from the Renaissance painters who used light and dark to create a dramatic effect when rendering three-dimensional forms. Leonardo daVinci and Rembrandt van Rijn are known for developing the technique. When it's done right, the results are stunning.

My attempt began 20 years ago with a pen and ink rendering based on some really great photography in a Victoria's Secret catalog. Now, some may scoff, but I should note here that beyond the obviously gorgeous women and the clothes, the photography in these catalogs is quite exquisite. One could argue that Russell James (no relation to LeBron) has a pretty sweet gig.

Anyway, my attempt in 1997 won Honorable Mention in a town art show up here in New England. Not too shabby considering that I was just figuring out how light and dark contrasts worked and how to render them correctly. Twenty years later, I'm still intrigued by it and I wanted to do another version of the piece, but this time in colored pencil. Herewith, I present to you, the original, and the newer piece which, at this moment is a work in progress.

Enjoy.

 The original, done in 1997 and, below, the update for 2017 work in progress.




As you can see in this last image, it really begins to take on a kind of life, a substance if you will, which is exciting for me. Sometimes, prior to that moment, I have no idea whether the damned thing is even going to work. Here, it begins to. Obviously, it needs more to get the full effect, but we're well on the way at last. Check back for more updates as this gets closer to completion.


More Later
KCD

www.theworkofart.net

Friday, June 2, 2017

P.S. Re: Chris Cornell

Just a note to add to the story of Chris Cornell's still bewildering suicide: according to his wife Vicky Karayiannis, Cornell spoke to her after his show in Detroit and she noticed that his speech was slurred, so she asked that one of his crew check on him. He said that he may have taken a bit more Ativan, which is an anti-anxiety medication, than he should have. One of the side effects of the drug is suicidal thoughts. Ativan reportedly is taken by some recovering addicts.

Chris Cornell had been an addict but was in recovery.

Everyone around him said he was fine, upbeat, and looking forward to more of life, more of touring, more of his family, so the suddenness of his passing is confusing to say the least. That he committed suicide is even more confusing, and only adds to the grief his wife and family, as well as all who knew him are feeling. Bad enough that he's gone. Worse that the circumstances surrounding his death are unresolved. Adding to this is the fact that the City of Detroit Police Dept.  is considering this an "open investigation" and hasn't released any records yet.

Cornell's remains were cremated on May 23rd.
He is gone. Now we can only remember.




More Later
KCD


Thursday, June 1, 2017

And Now Chris Cornell Is Dead!

Chris Cornell, former (hellified!) lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave died May 17th in Michigan after playing a sold out show as part of the reunited Soundgarden's tour. Early confirmed reports say that he committed suicide by hanging himself in the bathroom of his hotel. His wife was shocked and grieved by his sudden departure, as were his many fans who were looking forward to seeing him perform. He had a full slate of appearances scheduled. Cornell was only 52.

He was in Worcester, MA last summer to do a show at the Hanover Theater. I never got to see him. Another flame of creative passion has been snuffed out for reasons that I cannot, and we cannot begin to imagine. I will be sad if the cause was related to addiction. Or depression. Sad because we still don't understand these things. Sad because it continues to afflict all of us.

Nothing else to say here. So I leave you with his music and with sadness that he cannot bring us more joy through his distinctive gift.

Chris Cornell
Born July 20th, 1964
Died May 17th, 2017

Rest In Peace
We were not ready for you to leave us.


Also, in other news, Gregg Allman died last week on May 27th. He was considered one of the pioneers of what has been called "Southern Rock". He was also the co-founder of the Allman Brothers Band. He was 69.

Rest in Peace.

More Later
KCD




Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Year Ago This Time

Last year this time, we were still reeling in shock and sadness over the sudden death of Prince on April 21st. I attempted to write about it at the time, but no words seemed adequate to describe what he had been, the sheer enormity of his talent and prodigious productivity or how the loss of him would reverberate. He was an incandescent flame of creative energy. We all feel the darkness now that he's no longer here.

Last year this time, we were beginning to suffocate as the news media was giving us unprecedented coverage (and an unprecedented amount of air time) to a simpleton, rage-fueled, attention whore, racist, erstwhile billionaire TV personality who was aspiring to the White House. He figured his scheme of being outrageously xenophobic enough, unbelievably "politically incorrect" enough might actually work. Meanwhile, many of us underestimated him, including me.

One might argue that all the focus on him helped propel him to the Oval Office. Hence, our current national nightmare. The US House of Representatives just voted today to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with something substantially worse.

Last year this time, with the Paris Climate Accords having been signed in NY in April (the day after Prince died), we had hope that we were finally as a planet going to get a handle on climate change. Innovation and technology are leading the charge ahead of actual government policy, which I think is encouraging. Our collective creativity may yet win the day.

The conclusion I'm drawing here is that despite the turbulent and even savage times we live in, we are finding inventive ways to create lives that work, or at least work better. Take this story about an art studio in Manitoba, Canada that helps people who are mentally ill (which is to say suffering from things like depression, schizophrenia, etc.). They lost a federal grant which was worth $100,000, but the community stepped up and gave $153,000 to more than make up for the loss. This was reported just yesterday on the Good News Network. This is just one example of the ways in which we all find ways to "keep on keepin' on", as the old song goes.

The results can be pretty damned awesome.


More Later
KCD







P.S. The song, by Gladys Knight and the Pips from the 1970s is called "I've Got To Use My Imagination". Appropriate for these times, no?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

New Administration: New Attack On The Arts

The moment that many of us have dreaded since November 8th has finally arrived. Donald Trump was formally sworn in as President of the United States on Jan. 20th, 2017. It's probably the most scandal plagued administration that ever took office in the history of the Republic, as recent events are bearing out. Out of respect for my peace of mind, I am now ignoring the 24-hour news cycle and selectively reading stories that catch my interest. 

Noting that, as this is a blog about art, the new president, consistent with Republican ideology will attempt to make dramatic cuts to things that we know to be public goods, such as Social Security, Medicare, funding for public education, healthcare, and the arts. Things such as the CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting which helps fund NPR, Sesame Street and Masterpiece Theatre), the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) and others are once again in the crosshairs. Now, to be fair, funding for the arts has never been particularly robust at the federal level. In fact, according to a new analysis by Salon.com writer Scott Timberg, the previous administration's commitment to arts and culture funding was less than his predecessor, George W. Bush, who I note with continued shock, in his post-presidency, has taken up painting!

The new administration's budget blueprint calls for eliminating these agencies altogether. It's basically a symbolic move to show voters that they're serious about eliminating "wasteful spending". The truth is the combined money spent at the federal level on arts and culture is a scintilla of the overall federal budget. We still spend more on defense that the next 7 nations combined. What would happen if that were inverted? What would happen if things like inspiration, beauty, and reflection were actually priorities of local, state, and federal governments? What would our country, and indeed the world look like?

Whether these cuts happen or not is really dependent on people standing up and saying "NO" just the way we should be saying "NO" to the renewed and really quite tired attempt to slash Social Security and Medicare and all the rest. We must once again prove that engagement with art (having it and making it) is beneficial to the public and worth public investment.
There is a lot of research that shows that it is. Without these things we become more savage, less able to think and reason deeply, less contemplative and reflective, and more prone to the simplistic and reductionist ideologies of racism, misogyny, homophobia, and authoritarian-style strongman rule.

In other words, since our public investment in arts funding has been historically abysmal, I would argue it is part of the reason we have Donald Trump in the White House and not someone who truly represents the best of the US. The best of us. Now I understand that this is more political than this blog has tended to be, and I have heard the argument that the arts and artists shouldn't be political. Art shouldn't be provocative, or so the thinking goes. But it's precisely because art is provocative that repressive governments attempt to eliminate art from the public space. There's historical precedent for what's being contemplated here, and it's why we all need to make our current government STOP THIS.  Ultimately, we the people have the power to stop yet another idiotic and cynical attempt to cut something that does a tremendous amount of good for a relative pittance.

Do the math: $448 million to the CPB vs. $54 BILLION for our military apparatus.

More Later

KCD

Please visit www.theworkofart.net

Monday, November 21, 2016

Mourning


My return from blogging purgatory is greeted by a new, grim, surreality. It's called Donald Trump as incoming President of the United States.

What the hell happened?

Well, simply, 61 million people voted in the states that mattered in the Electoral College and on November 9th, the rest of us woke up in this alternate universe. And you thought "Flashpoint" was just a story arc on "The Flash".

People are imagining the worst possible scenarios right now in a Trump Administration. It's not unreasonable to assume that at least some of that could happen. I've spent nearly two weeks in a near fetal position waiting to be awakened when it's over. But I've also spent the last few months doing what I do: making art, and that takes on renewed and critical significance given the new landscape. So while journalists and sages (we call them "pundits") report the details and provide analysis, I will continue to do what I have been doing, what I would have been doing if Hillary Clinton were the incoming President of the United States. From that perspective, nothing has changed. If things were the other way around, there would still be a need for the kind of breath of fresh air that living with well-made art of all kinds brings. There would still be the need for beauty and deepening of soul. There would still be the need for the kind of emotional and mental reset that art brings.

We would still have divisions to heal in this country, hurting and angry people that haven't been listened to or tended to for a long time, people who haven't benefited from this "recovery" that the current administration is so proud of. Unfortunately, that anger has given oxygen to the very worst elements of our political expression.

So I would say grieve if you must. Go through the stages, ride the waves of emotion that will surely surge. God knows I am. But when those waves recede, and they will, remember that this wave will recede as well. It's already happening in the UK as people rethink Brexit.  

Meanwhile, here's some fresh artwork in progress.

Enjoy.





More Later
KCD
www.theworkofart.net