Recently a funding source said to me, “you must be somebody because your application got approved so quickly”. It got a good laugh. At long last there is economic language for the arts that articulates what art producers have known for a long time. Through a myriad of easy to access digital outlets artists of all stripe have flooded the entertainment fields thus making success for individual artists even harder. Robert H Frank writes about it in the Feb 23, 2014 NY Times “Winners Take All (but We Can Dream). It is next to impossible to stand out when there are thousands of artists with more or less/better or worse talent competing for the same narrow bandwidth of buyers minds, time, energy, and purchasing power. A famed art gallery hub in San Fransisco just vacated for a high tech company to expand. Some of the galleries have been in action for 27 years. One art gallery owner claimed that traditional retail art sales had changed while others were sympathetic to the economic “sands of time” and how the art hub will disperse but this is a new chapter. Apparently there are no tears in real estate and capitalism. The “longtail” advocates of economics say that the digital outlets (YouTube, iTunes, Smashword, WordPress etc…. ) allow for people to find their niche audiences easier and therefore the artists can gain financial momentum. But we live in a world of “blockbusters”. We are still bean counters but now we count every keystroke online. I am afraid that art suffers because audiences are either limited in their scope of understanding or they do not want to experience art as it was intended or a defocus between art and entertainment. I am thinking of art that changes you while you are in the room with it. Paintings speak to us if we give them enough time. Dance, music, theater requires our mental and physical presence for the whole experience. Good art inspires a cellular response. This is not to say that we cannot adore art electronically but it is clear to me that without art as a way to appreciate being alive, this is a really sad world. The tragedy of violent protests going on in Ukraine, Venezuela, Egypt, Thailand, Syria, plus the continuous gun violence everywhere in America etc…. Are people waking up? There is pollution and bad ecological decisions in every state nationwide. Are we doomed by the miscalculations of a higher power and by higher power that I mean the oil, gas and nuclear empires who seem to own the US Congress? I refuse to feel doomed but it takes concerted efforts to counter-act the global entrenched interests on sparse incomes like mine. I still make phone calls to my political representative to complain in a very polite way. It makes a difference. As we are approaching tax time and I get to review my year in living color, here are some highlights: My art piece SPRING FEVER was photographed and published in the NY Times (April 7. 2013) by famed fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, I created 14 new videos currently up on YouTube called PICTURING YOU and we save 23 video art pieces from 1980=1990 via the Internet Video Archives XFER STN project at the New Museum. I also said goodbye to my mother, Mary Malloy, with a tribute in the NY Times series “Lives They Loved”. Come to think of it – almost all my art work is playing the longtail game. Plus I will concede that occasionally it is nice to be somebody.
There are copious reasons to be happy except if we are gauging from the continuous utterances streaming outta the mouths of the über-wealthy. To hear them carry on, they are being chastised for being successful no matter how well their deck was stacked. These captains of industry as they like to think of themselves are conceptual underdogs to the actual 85 individual top wealthy, who of course are kings, queens and garden variety overlords. Putting them aside for a bit, there is still plenty of excitement in my little life. For all the angst of winter storms, NYC’s snow is receding from the sidewalks and becoming yet another fashion sidebar in top to bottom black. It is enough to make someone like me do the jig. My creative tribe of artists are really inventive and that is a continuous connection to joy. We are now exercising together because we are also growing older together. There is comfort in numbers. Years ago when I was getting to know my future father – in – law, who was an American diplomat specializing in the Middle East, he corresponded with his 5 children through typed letters using smudgy sheets of carbon paper. This was the 1970s. He had just meet me and I was feeling a bit insecure. He closed one of those letters with a little note to me. It read “It was certainly a job to meet you.” OUCH! We figured out that he meant joy. Oh job/joy – damn typos. Still my heart sunk. Was it Freudian or just a awkward mistake? Eventually we became family tribe (so all is amusing) however the joy of sharing my life with his son is something I find remarkable. This month marks 37 years for our relationship. Our two children, who are now men are astonishing to me. Their mutual love and affection has been medicinal, even for those on the sidelines. Together they managed to inspire and that feels lovely. Through my child rearing years, money was tight or we toiled to collect on grants that were long overdue. One large grant took 3 years to collect. That was a long time to wait for re-reimbursement monies. Even as I was in the presences of some of the USA’s most financially endowed people then, the über-wealthy did not impact on my thinking as they do today. Back in the days of being their charity concern there was no invitation to join their tribe. That I understood. It even seemed reasonable. My background was way too common and as an artist it might have been a job for them to appreciate my simple joys, like relishing a turning point in popular culture in Texas. As a 20 year old I was adopted into a tribe of Mexicans. My experiences surrounded an extremely large family who ran a restaurant called SPANISH VILLAGE. On Saturday nights to blow off stream and have a few laughs, everyone from the dishwasher to the owners would go out dancing together. Mexican culture at that time loved the “polka” but eventually the “hustle” started to compete for the dance floor. The dividing line was drawn. The oldsters danced polka and the youngsters moved to the hustled. The polka is designed for each couple to travel around the room in large circle. The hustle moves mostly side to side with no advancement. Without missing a beat the oldster simply hustled their way through the jam-up to get on with their polka. The determined youngster danced to the om-pah-pah while still hustling. It still makes me smile when I hear Mexican mariachi bands and remember how people grew in appreciation for one another. The reason I find the dire differences between the money crowd and everyone else shocking is that stinginess is essentially un-American. Now they are becoming a bunch of cry-babies claiming to have their feeling hurt by charges of class warfare, when all people are asking for is a decent living wage, affordable health care and safe environments. Since the ratio of wealthy to working poor is in the triple digits why should anyone working full time at a major American corporation be on food stamps or public assistance? It is unacceptable. Recently Netflix’s release of HOUSE OF CARDS is making political junkies weighing in to this fictional series including Peggy Noonan, a propaganda writer for Ronald Reagan. She wonders aloud (without irony about her contribution to this climate) “They’re making their videos, holding their parties and having a ball. OK. But imagine you’re a Citizen at Home just grinding through—trying to do it all, the job, the parenthood, the mowing the lawn and paying the taxes. No glamor, all responsibility and effort. And you see these little clips on the Net where the wealthy sing about how great taxpayer bailouts are and you feel like . . . they’re laughing at you. What happens to a nation whose elites laugh at its citizens?” I personally do not know what will come from this social/economic impasse but I hope we hustle, polka, jig or jog past our financial barons stubborn mindset. I am idealistic, not much of a surprise there.
“When choosing between two evils I always choose the one I never tried before” was a famous quip by American cinema pioneer and one-of-a-kind actress Mae West. Her delivery was a playful wink-wink to the adults in the room. As we go about our daily lives we like to think that our choices are between two ideals: black/white, good/bad or complex/simple. Rarely are things clearly divided. Human nature is alternately more shady, more multi-colored, more multi-layered than we actively accept. How do we see more dimensions to our universal story? For starters we need to create different stories. The stories in popular cinema are more like re-makes with no variation. Seriously do we need another modern version of Dr. Zhivago? Or Psycho? So it was a delight to come upon Australian movie by Adam Elliot “Max and Mary”. It was an animated story about a unique pen pal friendship between a lonely Melbourne girl and a middle-aged obese New Yorker with Aspergers Syndrome. The characters were naturally flawed because of their limited mental development or age. Yet their curiosity towards new possibilities, however desperate was a tribute to how individuals overcome obstacles. Since seduction by fairy tales is strong and sometimes with competing idiotic Hollywood endings, I wonder if so much repetition is harmful to our imaginations? Typically cultural revolution’s trajectories are much smaller than grand, still miraculous but incremental. For instance look at all the global pollution that does not magically clean itself, plus we are still discussing the voting right of all citizens and artists are still disabled by Super Storm Sandy – now 16 months ago. Even small changes in culture occur only through sheer creative willpower and clever people choosing to overcome their obstacles. Strategically I adopted a ‘slow and steady wins the race’ attitude but hoping my originality has merit because the new narrative for artists in America requires a bigger imagination because the “evils” at play are not lighthearted.
On topic of Valentine’s. Grumpy Cat says: “Don’t worry about Valentine’s because nobody likes you the other days of the year either.” Oscar Hammerstein writes: “Falling in love with love is falling for make-believe” and concludes with: “I fell in love with love one night when the moon was full, I was unwise with eyes unable to see, I fell in love with love, with love everlasting, but love fell out with me”. Truly – John Lennon stretched when he and Paul McCartney wrote “All You Need is Love.” But still, despite my chagrin with the February blues, snow, ice, misery, political turmoil, transportation angst, physical challenges, money pains, extra cleaning etc…. I say find a way to be more loving to people you already love and even those you don’t. It does a heart good.
Zen arts quiet the mind, direct the mind, deflect the mind from negative spirals. Shocked was the collective feeling that rose from NYC and elsewhere with the news of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s drug overdose death. Awareness, breathing and practicing clear thought is spiritually transformational for the zen aware. So is heroin for the addict. An addict’s transformation starts out risky and barrels towards the wild blue yonder. Being transformed is a daily occurrence when you live in a teaming metropolis like I do. Some days are harsher than others but it is wonder we survive at all. There is oppression everywhere. Periodically you see an individual’s heroism and you wonder about their formula because many do not succeed overcoming their obstacles. Or in the case of a talented actor like Hoffman overcoming those demons that drives one to self destruct. RIP. Artists are like migrant workers, personal business inventors, life coaches, managers, promoters and dreamers, all rolled into one. A bright lot, artists carry plenty of mythology about being a successful “business”. Like the one where it is easier to be your own boss. Turns out a whole lot of successful artists simply sustain. Especially considering the new statistical evidence that a majority of US small businesses are making a liveable income for their owners, but far from creating wild financial success. Small businesses sustain. It is the large corporations who (since they are people now in the USA) are starving and draining the value from America’s creative capital. They figured a way to cheat their fellow citizens by implementing laws for their sole financial. Their propaganda even doubles down and lectures us about pulling ourselves up one by one by one with no assistance. That do it alone spirit is modern capitalism’s mythology, to raise up the economic ladder all by yourself through hard work. The über wealthy clearly do not want to prepare for or pay for rudimentary weather-induced situations like Atlanta’s recent winter situation where drivers had to abandon their cars on major highways because of 2 inches of snow. What? They don’t have trucks, sand, salt, gravel in Georgia? So if these high income people do not want to pay their percentage of taxes for communal needs; can they at least invest directly in roads, bridges, tunnels, hospitals, schools, etc….. Can’t you see it now? Snow plows brought to you by Pepsi? Or the Brooklyn Bridge, now known as Microsoft Bridge. The balance is off and probably has been for a long time. Many years ago I interviewed a bunch of parents who were sending their children to be trained in the arts by my programs. Training in the arts is costly, so these parents had titles and big responsibilities. One question was “How did you select your profession.” Many told me that their parents selected it. That surprised me because my profession is the only one I could have done. Their needs to get away from the intensity of home life plus their parents connections were their tickets to success. I never begrudge people’s successes since artists financially revolve around the whims of wealthy people. However I am puzzled by the lack of compassion for the non über wealthy who are heroically sustaining. But just as shocking as a beloved actor’s death was the economic news out of this year’s Davos meeting that 85 people in the world own as much as the rest of us. Wow! No wonder people feel like serfs or challenged inferiors even when there is a great talent. That is not an excuse for Mr. Hoffman to self destruct as experienced by his family/peers but it is something to realize about the emotional chill that is our direct world. Today we should all be deeply mindful of sustaining. Below is an image from my piece “Siren Call”
Most of the time USA artists are on a path so cunning, so clever, so free-form they cannot help but to be on the clear edge of culture and social interaction, so it helps to be technically, uppity. Everyone should thank our lucky stars for that attitude. Micro Museum® has long advocated for the entrepreneurial tendencies of NYC artists. We carry many successful transformative stories in that department, for starters: Boerum Hill’s “trendy” current development and Brooklyn cultural tourism, while still woefully behind by decades in terms of synergy, at least there are now markers in place. Possibly as a hobby (for 25 years) I worked in developing my entrepreneurial skills by building economic structures that created money where there was none and by advocating for “destination tourism” to a bunch of men who either hit on me or looked at me like I had 3 heads. Apparently for credibility one had to radiate money; even though I did my best airline stewardess with good jewelry routine, alas they simply imagined artists as incurably weird, completely lazy and total losers. OUCH! I did not make many business leader or politician friends but I made alot of conversions over time. It was kind of like wearing them down slowly. I tried to accept being perceived as possibly weird, which was hard because I was a mother of 2 with all the accoutrements of that but never lazy or loser. Now back to my uppity artist friends who do not take NO for an answer. There would never have been a need for advocacy if there were not self-empowered artists working as entrepreneurs everyday in our circles. These artists are still working today in NYC by inventing new resources and capital everyday. So if anyone is interested in talking about building capital USA art-style, come talk to me. I don’t want to be like the character of King Lear as the performance at BAM showed me. In a stellar rendition of this powerful tome Frank Langella joined forces with Chichester Festival Theatre delivering a state of madness that traveled from sea level to well below with madness from the start and madness in decline. It was a lovely experience watching Mr. Langella. He is sensitive performer. It was a further treat to learn that he made a film my dear friend father’s house called Franks & Robot. Since there are so many opportunities for entertainment I wonder why people watch and seem to truly care about the Award shows. I cannot bear them. I certainly like looking at the fashion etc… and learning a bit about who thought what about whom but I prefer the highlights only. The same will be true for Super Bowl Sunday. It will be reduced down to the highlights and being grateful that even football in NJ is good for NYC economy.
Mostafa Heddaya on January 2, 2014 writes in “De Blasio and the Mythology of a New Arts Populism”
a conclusion I have not heard in a long time, essentially ‘art policy’ is the gold standard of social change. For over a decade I liked lobbying for effective NY art policies with my elected officials but sadly I came to believe them intellectually limited. Then and now from coast to coast, they only care about receiving significant money (which I do not have) and volunteering for their re-elections (which has alot of drawbacks like political fallout). Changing actual art policy is a multi-faceted heavy lift. Countless independent artists on the one side of the economic art scale have crushing real estate woes. It is virtually impossible for emerging artful inventors, creatives, and synergy builders to do anything more than tread water. Artists should be the future of all growing economies particularly in cities because they are crazy magnets who inspire others to develop new ways of building revenue. Twenty years ago my lobbying often started from pointed discussions about artists being shiftless low lives. Ugh! and I wore a completely moderate pants suit too. Their preconceptions were vast and unyielding. Maybe NY can evolve, it is unclear at this time. The other side of that economic art scale is an unregulated cesspool of criminality and propaganda that is blue chip art works mixed with an array of secretive money laundering techniques that are entirely screenplay worthy although you can imagine why no body would want anyone to actually know. Just to mention one such lawsuit, the outrageous long time situation where a Queens based artist made multiple forgeries. Allegedly Michael Hammer and others sold them as blue chip art via Knoedler & Co. (Now defunct gallery). The long and short of it is that unless artists decide to band together and lobby for policy changes there is no pre-school program in the world will help kids become culturally literate, when we are so blinded by personalities. The new Mayor while beguiling is only a possible instrument of change. It depends on artists direct action. Meanwhile as Heddaya points out, it matter not what De Blasio personal art consumption is, what matters is that we have a continual chance to reset how we define art in America through policy. It just take systemic willpower and stick-to-it-ness. Tolstoy wrote stunning essays called “WHAT IS ART”. It was expressly enlightening because I think of all my art works as communicating devices. I was quite fond of many but (p. 52) “Without art, humans would be ignorant of others’ feelings, and we would be savages” was great. It made my day to read about an artist who created so long ago have the mental clarity to speak to me about my art escapades on today’s terms. Naturally optimistic, I hope things improve for the emerging artists of America and NYC’s freshly minted Mayor makes a difference. Our colleges produced so many Masters of Fine Arts, now they should merge with political scientists because art policy implementation is where it is at! Best in 2014!