Friday, November 23, 2012

Art. What it is and what it is not.

Reading about wealthy artist Damien Hirst angers me and talking/yelling with my roomie, M, has helped me figure out why.

I have a pretty inclusive definition of art. I agree with Scott McCloud, it's pretty much everything we do that isn't directly related to survival (and even then we can't turn it off). Tonight, I realized I have strong thoughts on what I feel is worthy art. Hirst's shit art helped me realize that so... thanks?

I enjoy a world where the mega rich tacitly admit that they have sacrificed any ability to have meaningful insights for a life of cash and luxury. That's the trade off. You manage a hedge fund? You inherited billions? Well now you can play wealthy person games like kite surfing with supermodels and market crash roulette but you can't play games like truth and meaning. Thus, the only choice the rich have to feel a part of something bigger is to sponsor poor artists who are lying in the gutter and puking the eternal.

It always made perfect sense to me why Siddhartha left his posh life to become the Buddha. You can't reach enlightenment on a full stomach.

For me, art is in the streets with the tricksters like Banksy, the madmen like Bosch and Werner Herzog, the grinders like Van Gogh and Edgar Allen Poe, and the prophets like Ginsberg. Wealth corrupts art, turning our thoughts from eternal struggles to temporary woes. Financial success waters down artists like Dali, Nas, and George Lucas.

Damien Hirst considers himself a brand and he makes millions selling his art. His collectors hail him as the Picasso of his time. There's one glaring problem to me. He's a rich man making absurd rich art for rich people. It's void of any worthy meaning but he's being celebrated -inverting my understanding of art and the world. We should stop. He's a millionaire, that's our first clue. His art is going to be out-of-touch garbage. There's no substance there.

Hirst's body of work is the equivalent of an early 20th century rich man on safari, shooting rhinos for something to tell his rich friends. His medium is extravagance: a skull covered in diamonds, a shark in formaldehyde, and other silly jokes a tasteless billionaire would have as a centerpiece.

I didn't know much about Hirst other than his financial dealings in the world of high art. His wikipedia article is an interesting read, especially his "work philosophy" in the part about his shitty spot paintings. It seems like he was an interesting emerging artist and given a blank cheque by Saatchi. Now he himself is wealthy and he does give back to the arts, satisfying my understanding of the world. For me, he has to choose between giving it all away to make art or sponsoring the gutter poets.

It still boils down to a comment my brother made in high school, resentful of having to memorize countless works for art history.
"It's just their trading cards."
"Art. It's like pokemon for rich people."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Lost and Lonely Girl

Dispatches from Toronto. 

She was a woman, not a girl, probably early twenties. But she was a girl because I am an old man and she spoke with a hint of a baby's accent. 

I've never appreciated that way in which some women try to sound sexy, that clunky adult imitation of soft and sweet. 

It was in the AM. I thought I was cycling home faster than Yeager in the X1 but couldn't have been faster than sound because I heard her call out to me as I zipped past. I slammed on the brakes. I turned to see a lone girl on the sidewalk, waving. There had been recent sexual assaults in this neighbourhood. A disgusting blemish on our polite (but not friendly) city. It was time to be an ambassader for the polis. 

She was drunk as a skunk and lost. Sorry, little scavengers  it rhymes. For the record, I have never seen a skunk take one lateral step for every two steps forward. 

The girl told me she was lost and asked if I had a lighter. I did not. She told me her name. I'm guessing that she was a University student. We'll call her Jenga because she would wobble like that precarious block tower. Also, that nickname will keep this story light. It would not be if she were family. Even now, I feel detached and amused.

She was looking for an intersection that she was heading away from. It was only a ten minute stroll but she seemed uncertain. We started walking together. "You're going to walk me home," she smiled. 


"Do you have a lighter?" I still did not. We walked along the street and she, tipsy, began to sing my praises. I wondered, if she fell, would I have to drop the bike or could I catch them both.

She laughed loudly and asked about my day. I asked about her night. She named some bars and made it clear that she had many friends. She asked if I had a lighter. Then she held my hand, smiling like a goof. 

We walked and talked and she asked if I wanted to come over and watch a horror movie. I said it would depend on which one. She described something with a little girl in it. We agreed that little girls are terrifying.  She asked if I had a lighter. I told her that she had asked that four times and I did not. She looked at me like we have all looked at an adult who did the "got your nose" trick. We knew our noses were fine but there was that adult holding their fist in a peculiar way, waiting for a laugh. Why was this funny? We walked on.

"Will you cuddle with me?" she asked. I laughed.

"Jenga, you don't know me."

"I know you stopped your bike to help me. I know we're holding hands. I know you like horror movies." She did know me very well. I wanted her to add, "I know you don't have a lighter... do you?" I played a hunch.

"You broke up?"

"Yes," she said. I figured it out because I remembered how badly I wanted a body next to me in bed after my break up. How nice it was to hold someone who wanted you there. This isn't an allusion to sex. I'm talking about lying next to another explorer to share heat in the cold. I'm talking about break-ups are the cruelest season and you've got to keep moving because if the snow settles on you you're done.

We were at her street and she released my hand, ran-stumbled across the street to two young men sitting on the curb. Maybe two of her many friends. My hand cooled off in the fall night. How fleeting love is, I thought. She came back to me. "They don't have a lighter." She walked up her lawn. I stopped at the sidewalk. She turned and came back.

"Let's watch a horror movie."

"No, thanks."

"We can cuddle. We can find all sorts of things to do," she said in a baby voice.

"You're drunk," I said, "and I am sober." I tried to dilute it by saying it with a hint of boring poem.

I failed. She looked irritated. Disgusted. As if I had taken a perfectly good book and printed another book on top of it so now you couldn't enjoy Bel Canto or 1984. "You're an intense person," she concluded.

That made me laugh. "You know me very well." I said.

I watched her open the front door and go inside. I called after her with a joke about a lighter that neither of us understood. She was gone.

I stood and watched the house. I wondered if I would admire a man who chose to follow her inside. A man who would lay beside her in bed. He would be fully-clothed, shoes still on and spooning her. She would pass out immediately and dream of melted snow. 

It's all in the motive, I thought. If you do it for selfish reasons it's repulsive. But if you do it because you understand what someone needs and you're there to help... maybe that's a man I could admire. But I'm selfish with my body. I only want to share it with the interesting and the beautiful. I had no idea about this woman's voting record or her ability to write. 

I biked home.

Online Flirting and Cyclists Dying

Chatting online is different. Conversation is less linear. In spoken communication it's a faux pas to switch topics without warning. Written communication isn't hindered by aural or physical cues. 

In chatting, two people can talk at the same time, following their own thoughts, and leading to lovely, unique, divergences.

Here is a beautiful surreal example from my recent chat with a friend.

A: There are streetcar tracks where there are no more streetcars

ME: In my online dating world, had an amazing late night online flirt session with a smartie. She has a pretty memorable way with words. 

ME: Sigh.

A: and someone died by getting their wheels stuck and was flung onto oncoming traffic

A: that sounds nice - are you going to meet her?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Western Civilization is Spiritually Bankrupt

Let's define spirituality as the feeling of being part of something bigger.

A person at Church praying to God, being in the crowd at a playoff game, and reading Buddha's teachings are all examples. In each case we get to feel like we're part of something bigger than ourselves.

Religion has the edge of the eternal. A football game cannot compare to the size and scope of religious teachings which often extend before time and after death.

In Western Culture, God is going down and consumer spirituality is on the up. We buy products to connect with each other. We feel like we're part of something bigger, and indeed we are, when we sign up for websites, buy smart phones, or participate in fashion or entertainment trends.

But we have lost the eternal.

I noticed this when I saw women carrying yoga mats and traveling to India. They are symptoms of this culture of lost souls. They started yoga for the trend consumer fitness but felt a growing attachment to its foreign, eternal nature.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Two Profound Questions

Two of the most profound questions of my life were asked, in rapid succession, by my brother from the front seat of the Beetle as he drove me from Brampton to Kipling station. The 401 freeway is four lines east, four lines west and lined with warehouses where trucks stop to drink. At night it is lit by the lights of thousands of cars and the massive lamp posts that we accept as normal. It's an absolute concrete shitshow that birds must see as a deadly river, noisy and void of food. A bit of rain on the Beetle's windshield and it all blurs to beauty, an electric, machine-made poem to human productivity. Of course God is dead -we built the stars and put them on Earth to light our roads.

"Why did so many people sign up for war?"

I don't remember why he asked that. It's quite possible I was jabbering about All Quiet on the Western Front. I didn't have an answer for them so I said propaganda to which he countered:

"They would have known. At some point they would have known it was bad and still signed up."

I had to concede the point.

"You studied history?" he asked.

"History and politics."

"Why didn't the slaves revolt?"

"What do you mean?"

"Weren't there more of them?"

And there it was. Sure, I studied history, and we are all scholars of human nature. Why did young men sign up for war? Why didn't the slaves revolt? It seemed that four years reading books and staying up late that one night to compare the colonial era agricultural of Ghana with Uganada for the longest essay I have ever written a swamp of words with a nice clean introduction that let the Prof know, don't worry, I'm intelligent because I can be straightforward when we all know a server can be straightforward, thrusting you a tray, but if there's no food on it then what was the point and so there I was, and still am, sitting in the Beetle ten years ago still unable to call myself a historian.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dispatches from Toronto Sept 2012

Making it Up
I'm an old exotic comedy dinosaur lumbering down Bloor street. It's a nice feeling to be recognized by a young improviser and be invited to do a show because of my ancient age and mysterious reputation as a solo improviser. Eton, Dan, Vanessa, Anders -tonight I do some longform improv with some former Montrealers. It's good to be back in the game and nice to talk shop. It also reminds me how many stories I can create in a night and emboldens me to take the same attitude to writing a novel. If I don't have something to substantial to show you in October then I'll have to restart 2012.

I'm petsitting for a friend in the southwest end. There's no community in condoville but they make up for it by having cars everywhere. My commute home is a glorious ride down the Queensway, rising like a missile in a bike lane on a highway. It's an absurd, beautiful image and it was even more stunning when I walked it, carrying a bike with a flat back tire. My friend is in Guelph, blowing things up in slow motion for a film shoot, I hang out with her cat and read her books about serial killers. It's put me in the "Ed Gein" daze. The accounts of officers who were first on the scene, discovering the extent of his gruesome mutilations will be with me forever. On the plus side, there's a sweet computer there that I can use to edit my movie. It's going to be tricky getting this cinematography award with all of my goddam shakey camera work. The trick is to call it my style.

The Elephant in the Room
Went on a rant last night and found the sentiment that will launch me into stardom. It's so obvious and true and necessary to be said. A simple concept that has occured to everyone: if we're going to have this amazing world of iPads, air travel, and velcro, if we're going to keep this consumer utopia then we should accept, openly, that the price we pay is: we have to hate ourselves. If we were content. If we felt whole, complete, and good then the whole consumer wheel would grind to a halt. Our entire capitalist civilization requires us to look in the mirror and feel like shit. Know that our hair could be nicer, our clothes could be trendier, and that we could be more productive. An endless commitment to the insatiable devil called better. So if you see a child in the schoolyard who seems happy, content, and satisfied then undermine their self-esteem for the good of us all.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Thoughts on the New Batman

I watched Dark Knight 3 in a theatre in Munich with a group of high school students. It wasn't as well recieved as the 2nd film. I have some strong thoughts on why that is.

In the 2nd film the villain, Joker, steals the show. It's nice to have a strong interesting villain in a superhero movie.

More importantly, the villain in Dark Knight 3, Bane, has a convulated motivation related to Dark Knight 1. He needed an interesting, thematic motivation. I'll expand on that later. MOST IMPORTANTLY, the film falls flat because Bane's evil plan involves trapping the entire police force underground and Batman rescues them. This, I will explain, made the movie unsatifying for the collective psyche of the audience.

I really loved Bane, his voice, and presence. Well done direction (making him look massive), editing, and character crafting -the intonation, the collar grab -all very nice to me. But in the end his motivation was something to do with the "League of Shadows" which is a silly name. Joker was interesting 'cause he dropped a few lines about the chaos that lies beneath everything and how Batman is trying to keep a thin layer of order. I propose Bane needed a similar philosophical motivation and I propose it be an obsession with strength.

Might makes right.

The strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must. This is a theme as ancient as Thucydides History of the Pelopennesian War. It's also Nietzsche's understanding of the cool Romans, the ones who ruled by power and will. That could have been Bane. If you're strong enough to exert your will on others then you should rule. Not some rich ploof who inherited it. The movie could have been pretty much the same. But Bane needs to make it clear that his plan is to start a revolution in Gotham where he invites the strong to rule. So any bully in the city starts looting and beating up the rich. Perfect. Batman, as a symbol, represents using one's strength to protect the weak.

This is where the police come in. They play an important role in the film. First, they are trapped underground. Then, Batman frees them to turn the tide. What a bizarre twist that must have unsettled American audiences. Since when do people need the government's troops to do what is right? Yes, the police are good guys but where are the Americans who arm themselves, form militias, and stand up for themselves when the shit hits the fan? That was what was cool when the Joker tried to show that people are garbage. In the end they chose not to kill one another. Slam, Joker. That's satisfying to our psyche. It's not satisfying to see the cops save us.

What I wanted to happen was Gotham at civil war. The bullies, those ruling through strength, led by General Bane meeting General Batman and his underdog of army of those who use their strength to protect the weak. That would have allowed audiences to put themselves in the film and stand up against evil instead of watch the police save us.

Also, it was kind of awkward for Batman to fake his own death in front of his friends. He lied about the autopilot to them, which was weird, and then let them all know he was fine. It's not like he deceived the public at large. He only told the few people that were there that he was going to kill himself for Gotham and then later revealed to them that he was fine. Sort of a weird thing to do to your friends but also he dresses up with cute pointy ears and hits people he doesn't really know.