Friday, March 24, 2017

The Age of Dissent, the Age of Descend

Last week Donald Trump introduced a 2017 budget that de-funded the National Endowment for the Arts which assists individual artist but also grants monies to non-profits, arts training programs, public arts projects. He isn’t the first president to try and write the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities out of existence—that title would go to Ronald Reagan. I love how funding art becomes a political football, something to be booted back and forth.

Of course Hitler loved art. In fact he fancied himself a painter. During his chancellorship he actively collected art, as did many in the Reich, much of it confiscated.

The period before Hitler came to power in 1933 was known as Weimar. Weimar Germany was famous for an explosion in Modernistic expression—expressionism, Dada, cubism and impressionism. Artists such as Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Otto Dix, and Max Ernst  contributed to the avant-garde movement.

Hitler had stated clearly in ‘Mein Kampf’ where his thoughts lay with regards to modern art: “This art is the sick production of crazy people.” He could have added, SAD.

By 1937 the Nazis had banned what they considered “degenerate” art and instead promoted art which contained racial purity, militarism, and expressed German nationalism. Aryan art. For example jazz was forbidden. A member of a hand-selected panel to determine who was degenerate and who wasn’t, said this: “The most perfect shape…is the steel helmet.” A very literal interpretation.

Of course many of the degenerate artists all happened to be Jewish. In March, 1939, the Berlin Fire Brigade burned about 4000 paintings, drawings and prints which had apparently little value on the international market. Hermann Göring appropriated fourteen of the pieces. A large amount of "degenerate art" by Picasso, Dalí, Ernst, Klee, Léger and Miró was destroyed in a bonfire on the night of July 27, 1942, in the gardens of the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris. What wasn’t burned was auctioned off in Switzerland.

What became of these deemed degenerates? Some went into exile. Klee left for Switzerland, Kandinsky went to Paris, Kokoschka left for England while Grosz emigrated to the United States of America. Some decided to paint unpeople landscapes, some committed suicide. Those who remained in Germany were forbidden to work at universities and were subject to surprise raids by the Gestapo in order to ensure that they were not violating the ban on producing artwork; Nolde secretly carried on painting, but using only watercolors (so as not to be betrayed by the telltale odor of oil paint).

I take solace in this one thought as Trump seeks to destroy America’s artists and artistic expression: I’d rather be unfunded than funded by someone who values reality TV and alt-facts over truth and beauty and diversity in expression. Trump would not recognize art if it exploded in his face.
Cover of the exhibition program: Degenerate music exhibition, Düsseldorf, 1938

Cover of the exhibition program: Degenerate Art exhibition, 1937. The word "Kunst", meaning art, is in scare quotes

1912 woodcut by  Emil Nolde The Prophet
1,052 of Nolde's paintings were removed from German museums, more than any other artist.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Stephen King Trolls Trump Wiretap with Horror Story

Here's the best way to fight: with art

Stephen King Trolls Donald Trump's Wiretap Claim With Hair-Raising Horror Story

Mar 06, 2017
After President Donald Trump took to Twitter Saturday to accuse Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower during the 2016 election, Stephen King trolled POTUS by sharing his latest horror story.
In a series of three tweets, the author penned a short thriller mocking the allegations, seeming to ridicule the fact that Trump provided no evidence backing up his claims. "Not only did Obama tap Trump's phones, he stole the strawberry ice cream out of the mess locker," King wrote. "Obama tapped Trump's phones IN PERSON! Went in wearing a Con Ed coverall. Michelle stood guard while O spliced the lines. SAD!"
But it was the twist ending that really took the cake: "Trump should know OBAMA NEVER LEFT THE WHITE HOUSE! He's in the closet! HE HAS SCISSORS!"

Friday, March 17, 2017

Clouds of Sils Maria

Clouds of Sils Maria
Olivier Assayas, Director
Movie Review

This was a very theatrical weekend for me:
Hamilton, several videos checked out of the library, and the Oscars (what happened???)

In between I tried to recover. I read the playbill and wondered . . . about the role of the understudy. How does one suddenly transformed, step into, substitute one role for the other? The bi-polar ability to code-switch, assume a while new skin. Which brings me my review of the Clouds of Sils Maria, a fascinating, multi-layered meta film, a house of mirrors about roles, acting, and the skin we’re in. How do the old (older) navigate a changing world? How do the young (younger) step into what are assumed roles and play a new part? What is the tangled, transforming, even wispy foggy, territory in between?

Nothing in this film was spelled out for the viewer=refreshing. We weren’t “told” who the villains were. All the characters were vulnerable, pushed to “act” even in the midst of sudden grief.

Other reviewers have pointed out real-life parallels between the script and Internet parables—which brings me to another fascinating facet of the movie: the role of landscape, specifically a certain valley in the Swiss Alps where a cloud formation known locally as Sils Maria, rushes in from Italy over a pass in the form of a serpent, (A phenomena that is a harbinger of changing weather, a front coming through, presumably “bad” weather.) and, particularly, the Internet. Social media, YouTube, and Google all play a role, a subversive, pervasive serpentine, entangling role in the actor’s everyday lives.

Clouds of Sils Maria is a commentary on how we act/react in our prescribed roles, whatever they may be. Because we change and switch them often. We never stay the same, the person we think we are, the people we think we love, this moment we are in is constantly evolving.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

New Work Out

Check out 2 new stories:

Minola Review:


A Note in the Lobby

“It has come to our attention that certain residents are not curbing their dog.”

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Submit: Old Time Radio

Hippocampus Magazine and Press is requesting true stories inspired by the heyday of radio* for its forthcoming anthology, Air.

We’re looking for behind-the-scene stories about small town radio stations. We’re seeking personal stories about die-hard radio fans. We want to hear from (current/former) jocks, from program directors, from engineers, from the sales team, from ancillary characters like record reps and concert promoters—tales from every corner of the radio station and from everyone radio ever reached.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Love vs Power

Love vs Power

In a world of vitriol, compassion is protest
In a world of contempt, respect is protest
In a world of de-humanizing, empathy is protest
In a world of despair, hope is protest
In a world of chaos, grounding is protest
In a world of panic, calm is protest
This is the way that I protest.

If you'd like, come join me.
--Crystal Chan, author of  Bird

You need to completely rethink your life.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Hillbilly Magic

My sister and I used to play hillbilly magic, a kind of facile slight-of-hand. Where nothing magical actually happened except what you chose to believe.

It consisted of holding two fingers together and the other person “slicing” through them. Or making two interconnecting Os with fingers and trying to separate them. Pointless games, no doubt performed when entirely bored. Like sitting in a waiting room with nothing to read or in the back seat of the car on a long car trip.

No matter what I did she always won. An invitation by Nancy to play hillbilly magic automatically stacked the deck against me. And, why did I play? I guess because I wanted to be with her, even if it meant playing stupid games.

Sometimes she would throw in Three Stooges moves. Such as if I did manage to slice through her fingers she’d punch me in the arm. Again, if I knew it was coming why did I stand there? Maybe because I believed that someday it wouldn’t happen, that that was the trick. That I’d happily be fooled by the thing I expected not actually occurring. A kind of reverse logic.

After my father died and Nancy told me I’d been written out of the will I didn’t want to believe her. Believe that she’d orchestrated this last-minute amendment to my father’s will. It wasn’t about the money; it was about the idea—that she’d tricked me one last time. She and my brother ended up inheriting Dad’s estate.

That was five years ago and I’d almost managed to forget about it. Since then I’ve had limited correspondence with her (my own choice), but the other day she sent me a package in the mail. I studied the handwritten return address contemplating not opening it. In the end I did. Inside was a spoon carved out of wood with a note, saying it was a left-handed spoon, since I was left handed. I turned it over and over. It didn’t seem any different than any other spoon. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Parking Lots #5

If I travel far back in time I am able to observe dinosaurs. Sometime around age 5 I went with my parents in the car to a fiberglass dinosaur exhibit in a shopping center parking lot. They were huge—bigger than a kindergartner! —on flatbed trucks. I remember their automaton necks wagging, a flash of plastic teeth, the flip of a tail. I riddled my parents with questions: Are they still around? How long ago did they die out? Were they really this big? What did they eat?

They were the most majestic thing I’d ever seen, and later, whenever passing that shopping center, I’d scan the parking lot for remnants of dinosaurs.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Parking Lots #4

In my twenties there was an unspoken rule: at least once a month you had to either have a breakdown or run out of gas. There were variations, but it all added up to sometime around 2 a.m. being stuck somewhere and trying to figure out who to call—but first we’d have to find a pay phone.

Somewhere in my collective memory I see a parking lot, a sea of tarmac with my little red/orange Volkswagen swimming in it. This was ten times better than that time beside the 4-lane highway, but still I was unfamiliar with this side of town. Plus, I might also have been a little woozy from lack of sleep. I turned the key and nothing, just click. Which meant I had left the lights on and would need a jump.

I went through the Rollo-deck of my mind. That’s what’s now known as contacts on your Smart phone. I thought of Bob, he was always up for a midnight adventure. Even though Nicole was super busy, the smartest girl in the school, she’d throw on shoes and come looking for me. Wells might do it, unless he had a cross-country meet the next morning. Jane lived too far away and I didn’t quite have that kind of friendship yet with Brad. I rested my forehead on the steering wheel that smelled of sweaty hands.

Then I thought: pancakes! and called Brad. I bribed him, saying we could go out for pancakes afterwards. Somehow pancakes was always the answer. I waited forty minutes and soon saw headlights slicing through the darkness. I hoped he remembered the cables.

Later we warmed up over coffee and a stack of silver dollars before going to work. Before the next parking lot rendezvous.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Parking Lots #3

Dad and I sat in the parked car waiting for my ride to come pick me up. Before on-line websites there used to be message boards where folks tacked up information. That’s where I found the phone number of a guy heading up to Chicago. I’d gone home to sort through the rest of my stuff as my parents had sold their house. It would be my last chance in the house where I grew up, and though I wanted to salvage a lot more momentos, I had to leave a lot behind. Since Dad had retired, they were moving to a resort community with a view to spending their golden years golfing.

We waited in a Denny’s parking lot in awkward silence. It had not been a happy transition. For some reason I couldn’t understand: Mom and Dad were worried about me. I’d chosen to live in a commune. I didn’t want to join the rat race and live a suburban lifestyle of middleclass mediocrity. Not that anyone was promising me any of that. Basically I didn’t know how to go about getting a job after graduating college. So we sat there with a box of on my lap filled with glitter candles, seashells and pinecones, and jewelry trees of dangly earrings I would likely no longer wear.

Without saying it, I knew I was a huge disappointment to them. Minutes ticked by. I needed to say something before time ran out. But where to start? Will you come to my wedding? Can I count on you for some help (meaning: money)? Is the abyss so wide we cannot traverse it? If we meet in the middle will we both die? A car pulled into the lot matching the description the guy gave me over the phone.

“Well, this is it.” I looked up from my box.

While home I had tried to needle out of my mom a favorite tea pot and several other things she had once promised me as keepsakes. She was in no mood to be generous. In fact bitter words had passed back and forth, something to the effect that I was little more than a transient hobo, and on my end I asked her why she had to be so selfish; they had more than they needed.

Dad reached behind him in the back seat and from a padded crate brought out a clock in a wooden case that used to sit on a mantel in the living room. It once belonged to his mother. It was easily over 100 years old. He handed it to me.

It all happened so quickly. I’m not even sure I hugged him goodbye. Soon I was on my way, relieved and also at a loss. As we transferred onto the highway, I looked back, but of course Dad was long gone.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Parking Lots #2

We’d had another argument and so I went for a walk after dinner. It was dark, but darkness is only relative in the city. There is light everywhere. The atmosphere around the arc lamps sends diffused halos rippling out to the blurry edges. I walked along the shore of Lake Michigan and then through the bird sanctuary where everything was silent; from across the harbor came the muffled strum of auto traffic on the Drive. Popping out of the Magic Hedge and about to cross the parking lot, I spied a coyote silhouetted, the bristled hairs on his back standing up. He turned to look at me, the only two figures on an asphalt landscape. After a minute he galloped off and I continued circumnavigating the promenade before turning toward home.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Parking Lots #1

I remember standing in a parking lot saying goodbye not knowing if I’d ever see my friends again. After college time and money were like chains squeezing me tighter and tighter. I had to work, and travel was unpredictable. I couldn’t rely on my car to get across town let alone across two states to come visit. If I even had the money for gas.

We were all on the brink of change. No one knew where they’d be in a year. What once seemed forever was an illusion, even illusions seemed transitory. Quicksand was all around us. We held on tight as we hugged each other good bye.

Years later when we reunited we were no longer the same people.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Hot Flash Friday: Working in a series

Working In Series

What is a Series?

Simply put, it is a group of pieces based on a common element or group of elements.   You can base a series on subject matter, a technique, a particular set of materials, a group of visual elements, or a compositional format.  A series can be created in an afternoon – as in a group of quick collage studies – or last a lifetime.  Many artists keep several series going throughout their careers.
·         Working in series allows you to explore ideas more thoroughly, give them some breathing room.
·         Working in series gives you the opportunity to try out different solutions to visual “problems”, and explore multiple possibilities.
·         Working in series gives your art practice focus and momentum.  Rather than face the blank canvas with too many possibilities to choose from, the parameters of your series create clarity of intention.
·         By considering the series the basic unit of art making, you lose the preciousness of the individual piece, the fear of “ruining” it, which can keep you stuck.  Get un-stuck by working in multiples.
·         Committing to a quantity of pieces allows you to push through blocks and discover new solutions.

When I was in Washington DC (see Bike Trip Pittsburgh – DC, GAP, C & O) in October 2015 I visited the National Gallery where there was an itinerate exhibit, The Serial Impulse. Let’s face it, a series of anything is boring. I was about to skip and rush on to other things. But then, I thought, what is the art behind series? Warhol with his screen printing and John Jasper with his flag series. Van Gogh with his sunflowers and bedroom. Jane Freiliche revisited her subjects over and over again=pansies and peonies=she considered it a form of contemplation, meditation. The challenge isn’t in the product but in the exercise, not in simply re-creating as close to the original form, but to explore through process, to re-discover, to see anew after over-seeing. It’s what happens after we are forced to play a piece over and over, after a while we become numb to it, it becomes abstracted, then after perhaps the 100th viewing, screening, listening, we have a breakthrough and begin to see, hear, feel differently about it.

From the National Gallery, The Serial Impulse:
Overview: For centuries artists have made multi-part series, undertaking subjects on a scale not possible in a single work. This engagement was especially prevalent in the 1960s, as artists dedicated to conceptual, minimalist, and pop approaches explored the potential of serial procedures and structures.

For this week’s Hot Flash—try working in a series. Pick something and see how many memories you can squeeze from each “topic.”
*ice cream stand
*drive-in movies

Starting next week I will post my series: Parking Lots

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


Night by Elie Wiesel

Lately I’ve recalled reading the small memoir Night by Elie Wiesel. Something troubling in today’s current political scene brought it to mind. I believe I last read it when in high school, but the story has never let me go. If it happened then, it could happen now. The way evil creeps up and grips you by the throat. No one ever imagined it would happen.

I remember in 2015 standing on the grassy bank of Lake Michigan laughing with a friend about the clumsy, cloddy candidate Trump. What a train wreck! Now here he is president of the United States, and no one’s laughing.

That’s what struck me the most when re-reading Night, no one saw it coming. It began so incrementally. Civil rights nibbled away. Further and further restrictions. Moving back into the ghetto. Forced to quit school, hide. Back then they assured themselves that this won’t be forever, just as we tell ourselves that we can put up with anything for “four years.”

As a fifteen year old reading Night I truly believed, Never Again. Today in the headlines we read about Jewish cemeteries desecrated, bomb threats at Jewish community centers, at the latest press conference a Jewish journalist told by President Trump to sit down and shut up. Now I’m not so sure.

And who will I be—the woman peeking out between closed shutters as people are rounded up, marched down the street to be deported? The one who observes the yellow star and does nothing? The burner of books?

When I was in third grade a classmate’s mother spoke to our class. She talked about the camps—at first I was confused. Camp was something you went to for the summer, where you hiked and rode horseback and made crafts out of Popsicle sticks. Friendship bracelets. The woman’s eyes were sharp and black, piercing. Even her voice had a shriek to it. I looked over at my classmate and wondered if perhaps she might be a little embarrassed, if she wished her mom would shut up and sit down. The woman related a tale of endless walking, of eating a crust of bread, of licking up even dropped crumbs, always death. When the woman did sit down I could see her visibly shaking. What is it? I wondered then, this thing that still breathed fear into her.

Night is more relevant today than it’s ever been.

in camp, next to post

as a young man in Paris