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: the cult of (...form...) - further thoughts

updated thu 29 apr 04


Kathy Forer on wed 28 apr 04

"In this kind of a world," Peterson said, "absurd if you will,
possibilities nevertheless proliferate and escalate all around us and
there are opportunities for beginning again. I am a minor artist and my
dealer won't even display my work if he can help it but minor is as
minor does and lightning may strike even yet. Don't be reconciled. Turn
off your television sets," Peterson said, "cash in your life insurance,
indulge in a mindless optimism. Visit girls at dusk. Play the guitar.
How can you be alienated without ever having been connected? Think
back and remember how it was." -- Donald Barthelme, A Shower of Gold,

On Apr 27, 2004, at 10:15 PM, pdp1@EARTHLINK.NET wrote:

> need to be able to justify or
> rationalize things to the satisfaction of my tormentors


You're absolutely correct that I appear to be playing in a sandbox of
reason and rationalization. One could say "why don't you just spit it
out?" but the words that have been defined and redefined by others seem
to get in the way.

There's a political and economic element that can barely be ignored as
we pursue our useful or useless arts and crafts. The kind of purity I
often seek is not always available and I rage around trying to find out
where it is. Certainly it's somewhere in my heart, but just as likely
it's clouded by demands and desires.

Someone who makes something of use contributes to the world, to
society, to neighbors and friends. Those who make the inanely useless
stuff of this world, while free to lop off an arm, as Nana related,
have a harder time cultivating and pruning the arrogance necessary to
be willfully extraneous, to make things of no needful purpose. And so
we seek to create meaning out of nothing, perhaps even devise a
rationale or world view.

There's an old theory making the rounds lately, focused perhaps most
specifically on a collective belt-loosening and an exhibit at a local
dress shack and perhaps related to a current museum show as well. The
show is about Fashion and the theory, as iterated by the architecture
critic Herbert Muschamp, basically goes:
"Georges Bataille argued that all culture is luxury. It's what
we do with the energy that is left over after our material needs
are met. Luxury, in the modern sense, means the transformation
of the commonplace, in Arthur Danto's phrase."

One might disagree and say, "ah, that's just some theory, and who am I
to say, I know what I like, don't pay it no mind," but that still
leaves us in the position of having a culture that values luxury over
need. There's something wanton about art, something of privation in
need. But that doesn't matter. What matters is the polarization this
kind of theory causes, -- and it's not the media or the theory itself,
they're just writers attempting to take a pulse, enhance a pulse.

The theory implicitly says that what is not luxury is not culture. That
what is commonplace and mundane is mere subsistence, not living.
Okay... Given that, people will try to live to the fullest, to meet
their needs with the least amount of difficulty so as to attend to the
energy left over. Or will they? Our needs are met by culture itself. We
can't separate the makers from the makees.

I see opposites, and reconciliation of opposites, all the time, or at
least I think I do, things seem opposed, then they seem reconciled, or
they become even more opposite. I couldn't explain it to my dad, which
means I can't explain it at all, but there's also a political theory
where the left meets the right, if they both go far enough to extremes.
Inert circles and directed spirals.

An ancient gold diadem, a Kharmann Ghia, Rebecca's "worn, and now
useless, security blanket" and a box of sugar have only the value we
decide, they're just objects. Why do we make a teapot with a lovely
spout, balance our checkbook or paint a story or make a cd? I don't
think there's anything different between these activities except our
own aptitudes and proclivities. It seems wrong to create an alternate
system that values and fetishizes the intangible just because some
disapprove of a system of economic determinism that assigns value based
on scarcity, production and supply and demand. One commodifies an
object, the other mythologizes it.

But again, that's just more words.

Maybe I just need to accept that embracing bits and pieces and making
my own sense is fine. It seems hackneyed and incomplete, commonplace
and impure, not really thorough; but it's a work in progress. A soupcon
of social realism would go well with this dram of formal craft.

I had a show a couple of months ago. It went really well, the people
who came were very enthusiastic. But no one bought anything. The
gallery guy, the gallery owner, said my work was high priced, but
admitted that no one made any offers. It's work that took forever and a
day and was actually comparably priced to other work he had shown, work
that in my purest arrogance I might say was elementary. He chastised or
condemned me for broken/repaired work as well. But I'd never have come
up with what I did if I abided by the rules, though now it's time to be
a more responsible citizen.

The point was nothing sold, not even a small piece, and I'm back in the
studio thinking I'm doing this all for myself, all for me, what for?
I've been through this before and come out on the side of the wanton
wastrels, but it's harder now, I have a studio and life to support. I
have to push pixels, letters, digits and elsenot to make a go of it,
and somehow keep believing in the illusion as well. Maybe it's not an
illusion. Push clay, push paint.

I'm trying, trying hard to realize that what I do with clay, useless
personal detritus that sometimes connects, is really no different than
what a wheel or production potter may do. It's all 9 to 5 and you've
got to stake a claim and mine it. Then it stops being an illusion, it's
just making stuff, could be bottle labels, song jingles or tv parts.
The hard part is the energy. Not that I don't have any, but I'm often
preoccupied, angry and unresponsive; Bataille might say I was seduced
by material needs, but I look outside and see the Clay Pit Creek where
I live, and sometimes can't help but think how it was mined out in the
30s and there's nothing left of it. But then I take a breath and look a
bit farther, maybe to home, across the harbor, and it's just fine, just
fine, just fine. Waste not, 'wont' not.

A far too long email but now it's nearly done.
> These rationalizations or justifications may be
> found to underlie, or to lie, below and amid many other
> vexations

not far above Clay Pit Creek, where the lights are left burning in the
studio and my web site is about as done as it will be until I get some
new work fired, perhaps in my own kiln (which I still need to get) with
the chemicals and materials cache I scored last week. Or maybe use that
yet to be delivered 100 pounds of Pottery #1 plaster with all that
mouldering wax, bamboo and paper. And shoot out the lights.