Sunday, February 3, 2013

I'd like to teach the world to Zing. (With Nerf Bat Harmony)




“ My back is not a voicemail… say it to my face.” - Anonymous

Hello Blogiteers!

I am one very tired Artbitch lately. Between creating new works for my upcoming show in March, dealing with my Mother’s cancer diagnosis, and being the social gadfly that I am, my candle is almost completely burnt down to the middle.

A vacation while much needed, is also completely out of the question- I simply don’t have the time to slow down. This was so much easier when I was twenty, let me tell you. It’s not that I don’t have the energy, it’s just more that my day needs to be 40 hours vs. 24 to get things done. And that’s just art related stuff- throw in the normal day to day ephemera, and you’ll understand why I’m so beat down lately,

Speaking of a beat down, my last blog posted before the New Year concerning wannabe artsy provocateur Suzanne Falk went over swimmingly well, with a mere eight people complaining (via email or FaceBook posts) that I was wrong or out of line.

Considering that I received over 100 positive responses, I’m really not going to lose any sleep over those exceedingly few, except to say this: for those sadly deluded ones who claimed that I was “going to pay” for my opinion, I’m still waiting for the supreme moment when I’ll have to pull out my metaphorical wallet.

What truly amuses me however, was the number of these detractors who truly believed that I would bear any consequence for publicly lambasting the asinine tantrum of their favorite painter of stuffed rabbits and dragonflies, a threat that I find to be laughable at best.

Oooh…. You’re so gonna glare at me when I walk into a gallery? Yep, that’s just downright terrifying, let me tell you. Can’t possibly stand up against something like that. (rolls eyes.) On the other hand, tying me to a chair and forcing me to listen to Peter Bugg talk about his art- now there’s a credible threat that does make my blood turn to ice- the rest is all just empty posturing.

For instance, part time local furniture maker Mike Miskowski opined that “this would not end well for me”, apparently assuming my fate would be decided by a random flash mob equipped with pitchforks and flaming torches. However, he forgot the one thing that guarantees my perpetual safety: this is Phoenix after all, and it’s damn nigh impossible to organize a collective group- never mind getting them to do anything remotely constructive and in unison.

My gut tells me I’ll be forced to pay Charon the Ferryman long before I’ll have to settle with anyone in the PAS, if the current circumstances hold up. The most direct of my critics was fellow Creative Tara Logsdon who took the position on FB that Suzy’s blow up was a private issue, and therefore- none of my business. I would normally agree, but if one (in this case, Suzy) posts her grievance all over the World Wide Web, while simultaneously granting media interviews, it’s quite the stretch to claim the right to personal privacy after you’ve blabbed to every person within a ten mile radius about how you were wrongly censored.

Which BTW, she wasn’t. It was just a situation where her Ego outpaced her innate talent, no more, no less. As you surely might imagine, the conversation between us at times did get a little heated, yet overall, was still remarkably civil. While I may not have agreed entirely with her position, it didn’t mean that I couldn’t play devil’s advocate and attempt to see her side.

[On a more personal note, anyone who rescues and rehabs discarded teddy bears for the purpose of combating mass production and consumption while concurrently bringing awareness to the desertion of living and inanimate things, deserves some mad dog props insofar as I’m concerned.
For more info on her project, please visit: http://www.eklbearmy.com/]

And you thought I couldn’t be polite.

Seriously… after all this time, it’s like you don’t know me at all. Heck- I LIVE for the merest chance to debate what I’ve said- now and hopefully in the future. I’ve always felt that the best way to create truly forward progress is to meet your detractors head on with integrity and honesty, and attempt a relevant and meaningful dialogue. Sometimes it works, sometimes it crashes spectacularly, but nobody could ever say that I didn’t give it my best shot. However, the mortal flaw in proving my hypothesis, is that more than one person is involved, and therein lies the fly in the ointment- as long as anyone’s walking around with a chip on their shoulder, nothing is ever gonna get accomplished.

And when it comes to the PAS, there’s a lot of chip sealing that needs to be done. Keep in mind, I’m not talking about interpersonal issues among the Tribe, or even the simmering resentment and jealousy that occurs when some of us are doing well and some of us are not- no, I’m talking about the passive aggressive machinations that exist behind the scenes.

What exactly is passive aggressive behavior you ask? Well, here’s the classic definition:

“Of, relating to, or having a personality disorder characterized by habitual passive resistance to demands for adequate performance in occupational or social situations, as by procrastination, stubbornness, sullenness, and inefficiency.”

in other words, it’s a defense mechanism that empowers people who aren't comfortable being frankly antagonistic to attempt getting what they want under the guise of appearing to be open to compromise. Back in the day, we used to refer to this cravenly behavior as “talking behind one’s back”, but here in the PAS, it’s par for the course.

Think of a timorous Ninja attacking from behind, and you’ve pretty much got what constitutes an average confrontation within our ranks- it’s like the Lindsay Lohan movie Mean Girls, except our scene’s bitchiness comes complete with a huge vat of whine and an inherent inability to accept blame for one’s actions with maturity and honesty. [See: Falk, Suzanne.]

And while we’re on the topic of being honest, if there’s one thing I simply cannot abide, it’s people who aren’t. There is simply nothing more vexing in my opinion than someone who metaphorically possesses the face of Janus* atop vertebrae comprised solely of micro-waved Velveeta.
[*Associated with doorways and gates, Janus is the god of beginnings. Since he looks both ways, due to his being characteristically depicted with two faces, the term “Janus-faced” is used to describe someone who is duplicitous.]

Granted, while I do have a reputation as a yarn-spinner, it also follows that I’m fairly straightforward on questions that require clarity and candor. An easy way to spot the difference: if my story involves a narrative where I and the current line up of Motley Crue are picking up hookers and pizza on the road to Las Vegas, the odds are fairly good that it’s probably not entirely truthful. The giveaway being there’s no way in Hell I’d ever let Vince Neil drive me anywhere.

However, if the question centers around looked-for advice or the world of Art, than I’m going to give it to you straight and unvarnished, the same way that I like my questions answered, if and when the need for such a thing ever arises. Despite my love of harsh linguistic clarity, I actually do follow a simple live and let live policy- leave me alone, and I’ll return that good deed in spades. I’ll keep my tongue sheathed, play nice with the other kids, and be the best little Artbitch you’ve ever seen.

On the other hand… if you assault me with intrinsic stupidity in the manner of an exasperatingly annoying git, I’m also not going to be too shy about advertising my opinion to anyone within earshot. In other words- if you don’t want a blunt answer to your questions, then don’t ask. Directly brutal honesty keeps the soft machine humming along smoothly, and that’s the way I like it. You grant favors to no one when you sugar-coat the obvious, and that includes yourself, first and foremost.

Overall, I may not always be the most popular guy in the big white room, but I’m usually the most trustworthy. Despite my reputation for being a bit too intensely focused on certain issues within the PAS, when it comes to interaction with my fellow Creatives, I’m actually rather approachable and easy to talk to, unlike some of my fellow members of the Tribe. But you’d never know it, to hear certain people talk. If I had a dollar for every-time someone accused me of being impenetrable to a civilized conversation, my Lair of Snarkitude would contain the best game room you had ever seen inside a hollow volcano, let me tell you.

We’re talking full death ray stainless steel décor, man-eating shark reflection pools, complete with razor hat-throwing Asian henchmen and a fully jump-suited minion army. You know… the industry standard.

On the whole, I’m always amused when it gets back to me about “what I’m like”- particularly when that info is being widely disseminated by someone who’s never had the raw cojones to strike up a personal tête-à-tête regarding whatever issue they may have with this humble little Artbitch.

Unsurprisingly, very little mud has ever stuck to yours truly, due to the fact that my views regarding a wide variance of subjects are rather well known. When my name comes up in these somewhat impolite conversations, the phrases “I can see that” or “that doesn’t sound like him” generally seem to get used a lot.

As my late Oma used to like to say regarding the Truth: there’s your side, there’s the other side, and somewhere in between is what actually happened. Like I’ve said many times before, there’s a reason why they’re called “facts”, not “ our best guesses at the time”. By way of example, when I point out that by and large, a majority of us can’t turn a buck with our creative abilities, or that most PHX based galleries are run more like social clubs and less like businesses, that is a fact, no matter what spin some would like to lay upon it.

The equivalent could be alleged about the troubling lack of marketing, promotion, and inherent professionalism that plagues our scene as well, but I digress. Just because you dislike my unblinking pessimism doesn’t negate the underlying issue that helped craft it, nor does sticking one’s head in the sand add up to a viable solution, either. Sure, I could choose to be an upbeat artsy cheerleader, but let’s be pragmatic here, shall we?

Happily, there are so many other people beating the 602’s drum, and they do it way better than I ever could. I’m not against being all sunshiny and full of unicorn glitter, but when it gets right down to brass tacks, it’s not an attitude that fits me very well. I’d rather be a cynic than an optimist any day of the week, due to the consistency of having my POV verified or being pleasantly surprised when things go much better than what I’d originally thought.

A “win-win” as the hip kids like to say, and chock full of positive energy, no matter how you look at it. We don’t have to get all medieval to tackle the various issues that exist within the PAS, but the call to start kicking some serious ass to make our scene both artistically and commercially viable, is long overdue in my humble little opinion.

Speaking of opinions… high school is apparently back in session, it seems. It came to my bemused attention recently that a certain person felt that I was dead wrong speaking out in regards to the Falk/Chaos Theory dustup a while back, and decided that the best way to deal with his concern [rather than speak to me directly] was to kvetch to a small group of my friends about what an arrogant jackass he thought I was, as if this was somehow a detail unfamiliar to those acquainted with me.

Trust me on this. They’re aware. Call it a hunch. Taking the Devil’s advocate approach, one might argue that perhaps he’s too nice to get all up in my grill, or possibly it’s the fact that since I’m friends with their more talented partner, they don’t want to create waves within the confines of that personal/professional relationship.

One could say that, but I seriously doubt that’s the answer. See, here’s the meat of the matter- I’ve been a professional artist since my early twenties and like it or not, I’ve got both chops and “street cred”, so when someone who is at best; a rude wannabe, comes and tells me how to handle my business, it just makes me giggle like a Japanese school girl. Let’s see… you’ve had 3 shows featuring your “sculpture”, whereas I’ve had over 150 exhibitions, been featured in 2 documentaries and have a list of media credits longer than your arm.

Wow. It’s like we’re twins… except for that whole “I have an actual career” thing I’ve got going.

With all fairness, I’m not annoyed because your opinion differs from mine, I’m irritated that you don’t have the integrity of character to express it when I’m in the same room as you. If you have a problem with anything I’ve said and/or written, it really doesn’t get any easier to resolve your issue than when I’m three feet away from where you’re currently glaring. But here in the PAS, strong spines are sometimes as difficult to find as a virgin in a brothel. I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist in reality, I’m just saying that there’s a huge lack of it in relation to the handling of our personal differences as a whole. When I get annoyed by someone or something, I say what’s on my mind either publicly or in print, and let the chips fall where they may.

Once again, it does help to keep my life uncomplicated, surprisingly enough. It’s exceedingly rare for me to have an in the flesh encounter with someone whose primary goal is to punch through my head until they see daylight on the other side, but when it comes to the world of the Interweb, now that’s a different story.

I’ve received a various array of “threats” ranging from the comical to the outright ludicrous in relation to my humble little screeds, but very seldom have I ever given any of these validity, for it is truly impossible to fear anyone who threatens you while sitting in his parents’ living room… sans pants. The innate anonymity of the Internet allows every candy-ass with access to a Wi-Fi connection to finally claim the mantle of bad-assery that alludes them in real life, and yes- I do see the paradox in this statement.

The saving grace (in my case anyway) is that I’ve always stood behind my actions in the actual world as well as the virtual- a “practice what you preach” kind of deal, as it were. You want to know what my problem is? Try talking to me directly, instead of sending boorish missives via anonymous Emails and unwilling subordinates, and you’ll do a whole lot better at fostering both a civil debate and keeping your dignity intact. At first glance, this seemingly would be an easy rule of thumb to follow, but the levels of cowardice within this scene never fail to amaze.

Generally, when someone sends me one of these impolite rants, the qualifier being that they’re not asking any actual questions about what I’ve said, I’ll usually ignore it- I have better things to do after all, and why bother to attempt reason with trolls who still live with their parents?

But in regards to the more civil responses, there does exist a small hitch. No one actually wants to start a dialogue, they just want to issue their one way bitch-slap, and get away clean, something which I find to be completely gutless. After all, you took the time to write/threaten/complain, you can’t take another five minutes to defend your POV?

Then why bother contacting me in the first place? Look- there’s a valid rationale as to why the idiom “candy-assed” is my preferred go-to insult. In all the three years I’ve been writing these modest little screeds of mine, I can tally on one hand the number of times that someone has physically gotten in my face regarding something I’ve said, while concurrently losing track of how often I’ve heard blowback via a third or fourth party.

In regards to individual animosity, this seems to be the preferred method of delivery within the PAS, and quite frankly, I’m not sure why. Everybody seems to be really brave when they’re spouting off to their friends and sycophants, but by some means, lose that ability for eloquence when they find themselves standing next to the object of their derision. Whether it’s cowardice or tact depends on the situation, I would speculate, but that doesn’t clarify one iota why this behavior persists with such determined resolve.

Add to the mix a baffling deficit of grave repercussions for unprofessional behavior, and it’s easy to see why the PAS isn’t about to become a serious contender in the art world anytime soon. And please note that I said “soon”, not “never”- there’s way too much raw talent here, disorderly as it may sometimes be, and lets face it- given enough time, a thousand monkeys banging away on a thousand typewriters would eventually produce the entire Twilight series.

Sorry. That might have been a tad bit insensitive.They conceivably might do much better than that, I’d like to think, and in retrospect, so could we. As long as I’ve been part of the PAS (since the early 90’s or so), it’s been a highly entertaining, yet somewhat uneven, mish-mash. For every Artist and/or Gallery who gets it right, it seems there are three who don’t have the first clue on how to manage a career or a business, and those are the first people we should be throwing to the sharks.

I’m not floating the initiative that an artsy version of the Hunger Games is the solution we must put into action, but the status quo needs to get shaken up, and that right soon. We need to grow and thrive, and in order for that to happen, the PAS needs to encompass multiple, yet equally important, levels of attractiveness to probable clientele.

There will always be people who stir the pot for no good reason, but that doesn’t mean they have to limit potential by damaging our public face. Detriment that has come in the form of way too public temper tantrums, drunken rudeness, artists who won’t engage with possible Patrons, groundless feuds, shrill wannabes, and the adverse dual swords of low quality work and dreadful presentation, if one were to list just a few.

So here’s my suggestion: we all join hands, march up the nearest mountain, start singing happy hillside songs, and chug ice cold Cokes while braiding each other’s hair. Hey… it worked like a charm in the seventies, who’s to say it wouldn’t work again? Other than Reality, of course.

Getting along with everyone is just not wired into the human DNA, and I think it’s about time we accepted that obvious fact and made it a strength. By enacting some critical standards of personal integrity, we could build a much more profitable and vibrant arts community on a solid base of professional bedrock.

Consider how much more refreshing it would be if we were all just a little more blunt, speaking our minds, and holding each other personally accountable for the actions that severely limit our future economic and artistic growth. I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad idea- if truth be told, I think we could all have a little fun with the dispensation of our new found honesty.

In fact, it happened to me recently and it was a blast. Dead serious. Couldn’t have been funnier, in my opinion. I had to go meet an acquaintance of mine at his friends house, and when I walked in, I noticed that one of the assembled group was staring at me with a rather focused look of what could be charitably described as pure glacial frostiness. As I get this sort of thing a lot, it wasn’t unfamiliar territory for me, but I wasn’t expecting it either- I was off work, after all.

So, as I introduce myself, she says “Oh… I know who you are”, and I ask how. She replies that several years earlier at the Willow House [a defunct coffee bar] I had casually critiqued her poetry as “terrible” and wrote off her sculptural art with the terse quip: “wow… somebody owns a Bedazzler”.

Sadly, that does sound like something I would say, and I copped to it easily. No sense in denying what’s probably true, and more conspicuously- easily proven. Continuing, she says that she’s never thought much of my work either, [she’s not alone in that opinion, just talk to my parents] and with that, the ice is broken. And you know what happened? Zilch. Nada. El’ Zippo.

No dirty looks, no verbal sparring, and no grudges held. All because of someone being honest for a change. The rest of the evening went swimmingly well, and we all had a fairly entertaining time, so obviously direct honesty can be done in mixed company- a lesson that I think the PAS needs to learn, hopefully towards their eventual betterment. To that end, I’ll make a suggestion: let’s all agree to have one day a month where we say what’s on our minds, no matter what it is. Anything that’s been bugging you, you can finally get it off your chest with no repercussions.

Want to get rid of the drunken frat-boys who come for the booze and not the shows? Tell them we’ve run out of beer and banned underage girls. Annoyed at the multitude of useless Hipsters who’ve infested what used to be a profitable Art Walk? Tell them Arcade Fire is playing a free show and give them a nonexistent address in the middle of the war zone that is South Phoenix.

Don’t worry… they’ll be fine, I’m sure.

Like someone’s work? Tell them. Hate someone’s work? Tell them why, but do it in a way that helps them be better. Getting fed up with a somewhat harsh art blogger who seemingly never has anything nice to say? Buy him a few cases of Ding Dongs and tell him he’s pretty.

The beauty of this idea is that the air gets cleared, and everyone can be involved. We’ll come up with a catchy name, print up some fliers and matching t-shirts, and arm everybody with their very own Nerf bat. Padded, yet honest, carnage… does it get any better than that? I don’t see how, but I am open to new ideas. The question I would pose is this: is the PAS ready to become something worth fighting for?

My answer- only if they allow themselves to be honest.

“The truth may not set you free, but used carefully, it can confuse the hell out of your enemies.”
- Laurell K. Hamilton