Category Archives: Politics

Westering

Gun ownership is inevitably in the news again. For most who defend its increase in the wake of the carnage it creates, it is a power fantasy. In a country where the long term trend is downward in crime, and where terrorism hasn’t gotten the foothold it has in Europe and other places, the actual need for firearms is quite low, and the fetish of gun ownership is mostly about a male cowboy/crime fiction fantasy scenario where problems (including psychotic rage) are easily solved with the correct ordnance.

The proven fact that the opposite is the actual result of unlimited ownership of weaponry- the society becomes less secure, more regimented, less just- hasn’t intruded in any meaningful way into the NRA-sponsored fantasy. Where did it come from?

“Westering”, 2009, Monotype, 32×44″

Westering: When I got the invitation to show with other ASL instructors at the state capitol, I thought immediately of this piece, which is older, but has been seen only in a couple of small shows. It is ostensibly a landscape, one of many, I’m sure, that have hung under Colorado’s golden dome, but its theme is much more complex, as it alludes to the American push westward. Though the print hasn’t been a centerpiece in my exhibition history, I’d like to explicate the thinking behind it which holds a very central place in my landscape years, roughly 1999-2009.

The association in the American spirit/mind of heading west with individual freedom and opportunity dates back to the Puritans. It is now expressed in xenophobic ultra right wing politics of survivalists and gun fetishists, but other subcultures, such as environmentalists have also  drawn inspiration from the American move westward. Artists such as Moran, Twain and Bierstadt have made both poetry and cash from selling this vision back to the populace. And the Arcadian/Rousseau myth of humans at peace in nature’s solitude relates in a complex way with the gun totin’ loner.These Right and Left fantasies are inextricably linked. I myself left my decaying Great Lakes region rust belt childhood home to escape the decay and drug fueled lassitude there as a teen, and spent time in transcendently beautiful and stubbornly racist Wyoming,

I’m quite vocal about my politics elsewhere, but in my artwork, this is about as political as it often gets. One of the last elements added to the print was the small enclosure next to the windowless structure, symbolizing isolation, aggressive aquisitiveness and the closed mind of the typical “home on the range”, now a fortified compound in many minds. This bunker mentality has had a big effect on American politics of late, and certainly is intrinsic to the gun fantasy.

This isn’t a criticism of rural living per se, or even gun ownership. We could all use a little dialogue with our neighbors, and our poisonous politics proves how the urge to ‘head west’, rather than learn to live with each other, is one of the country’s greatest threats. It derives from the Puritan notion of the individual’s right to ‘treat with God’ in his own way. It reaches horrifying apotheosis in the ‘lone wolf’- style shooting spree, one against the hordes.

In an age where ‘compromise’ is a dirty word (sometimes on both sides of the aisle), an understanding of this complex psychological, and very American impulse can get lost. I was always very satisfied with what I was able to say in this picture, and now through December, I’ll have my ‘say’ in the halls of government. If only the majority wishing for an end to carnage had theirs.

This image relates to memory and the way we move through it.
“Man With Torch”, Monotype, 30×42″, 2004.

Carrying a Torch: While I’m glorying in the exhibition, I’ll mention that I’ve had work hanging in both the state and nation’s capitol complexes. This print, entitled “Man with Torch” hung in Senator Bennet’s office in DC for a year as part of a juried program to showcase Colorado’s artists. Many also consider this one pretty political, and while I don’t argue with the obvious ecological interpretation, it was actually concieved of as a commentary upon memory and our human urge to destroy and remake the past constantly, in the process endangering our future relations. I quickly realized how apropos it was to the environment, but that’s not how my mind was working as I made it, as a reaction to an earlier smaller piece, “Woman With Torch”, which really isn’t political or even existential commentary at all, but as often happens with early, smaller pieces of mine, made simply as a compelling image. But a picture’s allusive qualities often creates great appeal for the viewer, I’ve learned, through many conversations in my booth at the Summer Art Market.

There’s always more than the surface intention to the story of a work’s creation of course, but I try to honestly convey what I was thinking at the time, for what it’s worth. The viewer often gives me a -valuable- different story. John Lennon always maintained that “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was inspired by the innocent words of his five year old son, but most of us who lived through its  popularity always considered it a song about hallucinogens. It’s disingenuous to believe Lennon was unaware of this, and art creates a meaning of its own. The artist is often not in control of this process.

Please comment with your own take if you have seen “Westering”.

America Goes Low: Art, Culture, and Political Healing

I’ve got some news about workshops and shows to post, but first, a little commentary on the current political regression:

I don’t make a lot of political commentary on this page, as it’s a bit counter- productive to what I’m trying to do here. My art isn’t demonstratively political, I can at least provide a haven from my political opinions for the people who come here to enjoy it. But art, culture and politics cannot be completely separated, as my early post on the importance of access to health care to the arts makes clear.

So in trying to come to terms with what most mainstream commentators recognize as a president-elect with fascist tendencies, I’ve had to ask myself how the art can help us reverse this disturbing trend.

Waves of anger and nausea, stress and distraction are to be expected, but I do not intend to add my anger to the bonfire of rage, ignorance and intolerance that the dumbfucks have lit. Resistance is a good thing: well organized and thought out, especially in the areas of health care and Medicare, environmental issues and immigration, which will be under siege in these reactionary times. There are many ways to protest and resist, and I will continue to use them. But in the meantime, art, books and friends will be my refuge. I’ll try to stay off social media for a while, do some more writing and sketching, and let the darkness do what it does, which is to prepare for the light.

First of all it’s polarizing to post too much about it. While anger is a natural human reaction to the travesty of intolerance we witnessed on Election Day, and a time-tested motivator to the type of activism that will be needed to rescue the country from incipient fascism, I don’t wish to add mine to the raging bonfire of entitled grievance that has been started out in the ideological hinterlands. My hot air, however righteous, can only fuel that inferno of ignorance. The proto-fascist backlash has a momentum of its own in this country, and must be met with real contemplation, not reflexive confrontation, lest it feed on itself.

Second, though I haven’t articulated this very well over the years; as I’m sometimes guilty of indulging my own anger- I feel real empathy for those who’ve chosen this path of fear, anger and scape-goating of minorities, though of course without endorsing their rather self- destructive solution. Some of the grievances are real, though whom they have chosen to blame are ghosts and strawmen, planted in the path of their blind rage by the authoritarians and oligarchs who have successfully manipulated them.

Third, anger is destructive to my own personal growth and creative energy. It creates actual physical stress, for one thing, to which many we saw on social media on the night of the election can attest. If we could have done a word search on Facebook and Twitter, I’m sure the word “nausea” would rank very high. It’s distracting and self reflexive, not good companions to personal  reflection and contemplation, which aid in thoughtful creativity.

And of course it doesn’t work. We’ve seen an entire reactionary political backlash fueled by anger, and what they got for all their self-consuming rage was… that. It’s unlikely to make them feel better about their lives, or about their country. After abuse and bullying comes self loathing. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a massive, red-state-wide temper tantrum, and it can’t be solved with more anger. However, we can’t put Michigan and Wisconsin in “time-out”.  We are, much as we hate to admit, not parents, we’re peers. As abhorrent as these people’s views are, they must be addressed as equals.

So it’s time to breathe, count to ten and listen to the grievance, without endorsing the ignorance. Somewhere between the lines of  the ugliness, the anti-gay screeds, the religious intolerance, and the deep seated hatred of women, there are real  issues that could be addressed without buying into the hate, to defuse the bitter anger these people have given into:

Educational opportunities must be increased. The rather pathetic cry to “bring our jobs back” (newsflash, demagogue voters: they’re not coming back, no matter which orange tin-pot you install in the oval office) would be greatly reduced by simply getting more people in rural areas and depressed suburbs into higher ed, even community colleges or computer schools.  Equally at risk with the redneck crowd are the immigrants whose votes are depended on for the Democrats’ coalition, so it’s a win-win.

Infrastructure needs to be repaired. This degradation is the GOP’s own fault of course, but it will provide jobs for the aggrieved and strengthen the country for the future. Again, emphasis must be placed on rural areas, who often  have overcome their distrust of schools, art centers and public transit when real, decent jobs are provided.

Arts, culture, religion are potential allies, not necessarily enemies. Bush’s plan to fund faith-based charities could be revived and converted  to enlist more moderate religious orgs to counteract the poisonous mega-churches where right wing intolerance incubates.  Yes, we’ll wind up funding kitsch like ten commandments sculptures and youth centers with abstinence programs,  but the trade-off could be meth education and occupational training, with opportunities in senior care and home health care in areas where they are desperately needed.

Many rural areas truly are depressed and deserve our attention. This is also true of immigrant suburbs too. The almighty free market has fattened the cities at the expense of outlying areas, and to that extent, the rage is justified. The orange buffoon who rode this wave of ignorance will have little interest in these things, of course, except as a sop to his massive ego. Yes, we could wind up with a brand new hospital or two named after a certifiable member of the rape caucus. But the Republican Congress might be amenable to sliding some relief for their incredibly Gerrymandered districts into the coming care package for billionaires their corrupt colleagues are sure to demand. The demagogues used to sneer at this as “throwing money at the problem”, but the poor whites who actually do the voting are in fact the biggest consumers of welfare, and won’t complain about money flowing to their small towns, as long you don’t call it that. Similarly, The deficit issue was co-opted by Dems from Clinton on, and is a dead issue with the GOP.  Rural economic relief was how FDR sold the New Deal to Congress, thus marginalizing the radical ultra conservatives for two decades. What matter if we drive up the debt to defuse the vindictive rage of the white power crowd. It must be insisted to include black and immigrant areas, too, and when possible to include the more traditional arts as a tourism attractor to depressed areas.

It could lead to a lessening of fear and rage in the boonies. This is the real driver of the dysfunctional  GOP, the demagogues who intentionally fan the flames of hatred only look to profit from it. Jobs and tourism might pave the way for a stronger economy and a more temperate political dialogue.  This could eventually lessen the impact of social change on psychologically threatened white males and loosen the grip of rape culture, bigotry and gun fetishes on the fragile ego of the uneducated white male.  A few more social moderates in the GOP caucus might result, balancing out the political opportunists who prey on these red state insecurities.

Yes, it’s incremental, a real dirty word with the far left dreamers. Yes, the representatives who might sign on to solidify their districts will hypocritically continue to provide lip service during campaigns on “wasteful government programs” for the benefit of the gullible, but they will not vote against it as they are in the White House now and will need to bring something home and is it not better to see them profit politically in this way, than to accept Koch brothers’ money to foment  anti-immigrant hatred?

And it can’t hurt to try. Our own propensity for outrage at every cultural failing, every pipeline, and every moralizing dickhead, hasn’t really solved much, as we found out November 8. We should save our energies for the truly important battles: women’s choice, environmental treaties,  immigration reform  and reducing militarism, which are feeding this incipient domestic terrorism and hardened hatred. We must cop to our own sometimes extremism and admit that we are equal partners in the race to vilify honest political compromise, incremental social change, and the large amount of hard working politicians who still want to do things together but are stranded between the loudmouthed blowhards on both sides. It doesn’t mean compromising our values, it means rewarding honest intentions, whether we agree with them or not.

As a culture, we’ve grown fat slow and angry, swinging for the fences of political absolutism, rather than playing the small ball and manufacturing compromises. It opens the field for manipulators to play a cheater’s game with the lesser angels of our social media and leads to real corruption, as we are about to see, not the kind the conspiracy theorists on both sides screech about.

Neither side is reacting well to seismic social changes, whether the side that desires their undeniable benefits, or the side that fears the insecurities it inevitably brings.  It leads to a failed state. While honorable resistance to the very real threat to democracy that demagoguery brings is needed, so is a recognition  of, and concern for the very real needs of these victims of a rapacious political culture. We can work together without sacrificing our principles.

Healthy Future

I’m mailing a small check to Kaiser today. It’s a two-block walk to the mailbox; weather, H75/L43, P/C, no chance of showers. A slight bit of exercise, but essentially, it’s a very bland-seeming denouement to a tale that started, for me, about 5 years ago.

I’m updating it now, in the interest of writing a resolution to the tale and preparing for the next steps.

The health care reform drama kicked into high gear in my life when I left my prototypically “soul-crushing” day job in one of those conservative mega corporations for a gig as an artist. For seed money, I had a small pension, which held no hope of covering both my basic expenses and the rather exorbitant COBRA premiums I was being offered. Medical insurance instantly became a major obstacle to success and security.

I write about this issue and how it applies to small-time artists and America as a whole, in a very early post on this Squishtoid Blog, here. No, I never did write that manifesto. But when one has health, and common sense in government, who needs monkeys?

As I mail my first premium check, I’m “signed up” for Obamacare, though not yet, as its bitter, still spitting enemies like to somewhat desperately point out, “enrolled”. However, as The New Yorker cover artist Barry Blitt points out in gleeful, puckish pen strokes, the Affordable Care Act battle is now over, though the Tea Bag haven’t realized it yet.

As for me, the victory comes a bit late. I am now actively looking for another day job. There’ve been ups and downs in my struggle to make free-lancing work, but the financial part, born in Bush’s recession and maturing in a down-sized America, has sloped steadily down.

Let’s compare the aspirations with the reality:

I did start this blog and later a website (though I’ve not had time to grow them), established a social media presence, attracted a steady following for workshops, was in a lot of shows, grew my artwork in both vision and inventory, and most important, had fun and felt healthier.

On the downside, I did not sell enough major work (Denver does buy art, but prefers it small, mostly) to grow the business or create financial stability, and racked up a fair-sized amount of debt.

My upside remains positive, but my downside is beginning to send me warning notices. Hmmm, need cash flow.

This is where ACA comes in and why it is, by all accounts, useful, necessary, and working.

Obamacare was easy to get and far cheaper than I expected. There were glitches, yes (The biggest: a strangely designed search engine that did not, at first give me all the choices at my disposal). But computer glitches are very fixable, and were never going to determine the success or failure of America’s first-ever attempt at a comprehensive health care program. In fact the major obstacle now preventing coverage is not software, but Tea Bagger political spite: millions are going without health care in GOP-controlled Red States, locked out of medicare expansion simply because the Tea Bag wants them to blame Obama ( who SHOULD they blame? The Supreme Court).

But, as I predicted in my previous post, health care reform has made my situation, and that of millions of other independent, enterprising Americans a whole lot better.

It’s flipped the part-time job situation on its head.

I don’t really need a “career”,  as the Walmart shills like to call their shit jobs. I just need some steady cash flow to get out of debt and finance  my real business which is creating art. I can now look for a job that offers more flexibility (read: studio time). Even if I do wind up back inside the corporate machine (believe me, I’m trying to avoid that!) I don’t need to grovel through ignominious “huddles”; or worry that if I can’t make my drudge schedule fit my show schedule, I risk my health coverage. I simply make some credit card payments, then walk out and leave the work to those whom the jobs were originally designed for: 16 year old kids. No, I won’t feel a bit guilty. If big corporate want a more loyal work force, they can start offering better jobs.

Thanks, Obama!

The effect is starting to be noticed in articles, commentary and statistically. The GOP propaganda machine calls this “destroying jobs” but as usual, their definition of “job” is looser than the lips in the Rape Caucus’ Caucus room.  And for most of us, anything that shifts the balance of power in the economy even slightly away from the entrenched, paneled boardrooms and toward the ever-creative, ever-industrious Main Street is a huge victory for American independence and possibility.

Everybody Knows This is Nowhere

Here’s a quick follow-up on the last post. The Tea-Bagger beat the plagiarist. Apparently Colorado GOP voters are more worried about the U.N. /bicycle conspiracy theory than whether their children receive quality education, or their seniors, health care. But politically, bicycle batallions are the least of their worries. In addition to the third-party Immigration Nazi, who polls show will siphon votes from the paranoid Bicycle Nazi, his own party wants to replace him with a self-funded (read: rich) candidate of their choosing. 

In the Senate Primary, appointed incumbent Bennett beat Romanoff to set up the fall contest with another Tea-Bagger, who has money problems too, with Bennett’s campaign fund about eight times the size of his own. Neither GOP nominee has ever held office, while the two Dems, both moderate liberals, have accomplished quite a bit in a short time using bi-partisanship and common sense. 

So, as Mike Litwin writes in the Post, the Dems, once assumed to be subject to voter backlash, will actually be favored in the top two races heading into the fall campaign. Colorado is too small to be a bellwether state, but if Hickenlooper and Bennett pull this off, the nation will certainly take notice. “Crazy”? Litwin is one of the Post’s few token liberal pundits, and I often agree with him, but if paranoid, anti-government libertarian claptrap gets bested in November by experienced, common sense, moderate progressives, will that really be so crazy?

Purple Haze

I haven’t commented on politics too much lately, but the GOP Gubernatorial slate aren’t really practicing it, anyway. More like slapstick. Yes, I know the conventional wisdom is that the Dems will suffer losses in the mid-term elections because of Tea-Bagger activism, but you couldn’t prove it here in Colorado. As those who are paying attention know, Colorado is a former Red State that has been trending Blue. It also, according to CPR, has the largest percentage of Tea-Baggers in any state. I guess that puts us in a Purple Haze, but it sure has been a trip here, and the rest of the country is beginning to stare.

There’s all sorts of fun ‘n’ games going on here, as we’re having a primary right now. I could go on forever, but let’s peek in on the GOP Gubernatorial Primary.

After it was revealed that the old school, conservative,”jobs” candidate’s most recent employment was plagiarizing college profs at 300k a crack, the anti-immigrant guy jumped in with the unsurprising assertion that AZ’s new law was forcing illegals not back to Mexico, but onto Colorado’s welfare rolls. Presumably, his solution will be to shove them along to Nebraska. Problem solved. Soon they’ll be in Canada, where the party out of power ISN’T trying to eliminate their health care system. Thanks, Immigration Nazis!

Now the Tea-Bagger candidate has jumped in with the opinion that Hickenlooper, the current Denver mayor, and  presumptive Dem candidate, is by installing bike-share stations and encouraging greener transportation alternatives, hastening a “U.N. takeover”. He went on to explain that the plot is “well disguised”.

True dat, true dat. As are Curly, Larry and Moe’s Statehouse credentials. In politics these days, though, paranoia is the new black. So no one can really guarantee that images of bicycle-mounted U.N. shock troops, or 30 foot walls from Pueblo to Four Corners (neatly slicing off – ouch! pun intended- Trinidad, sex-change capital of the nation) WON’T resonate with voters. 

Nor are the Democrats averse to the hijinks. Hickenlooper, who has been perking along just fine, rightly reminding voters that he had created more jobs and balanced more budgets than all the GOP candidates combined, couldn’t resist announcing to a large crowd that included several car dealers that he wanted to “wean Americans from the automobile”. Innocent enough for us two-wheeling fifth-column types, but in the Rocky Mountain West, where visiting your neighbors often requires a 3-hour drive… well, like the gun fetish thing, Dems usually just don’t go there. 

Over in the Senate Primary, Andrew Romanoff, who led the charge when the state legislature went Democratic in ’06, has been trying to paint his incumbent opponent, Michael Bennett, who was appointed when Ken Salazar joined the Obama administration, and who has done pretty well with his brief time inside the Beltway, as a big-money Washington insider. I’m expecting an ad about Bennett’s Swift-Boat adventures on the Arkansas River any day now. There is a Republican Senate Primary, and it does feature another of those zany Tea-Baggers, so stay tuned, as hilarity will undoubtedly ensue. 

Actually, speaking of the Arkansas, a new Jean-Claude and Christo project to cover it in the trademark orange fabric is advancing nicely. I don’t doubt the Tea Baggers will have something to say about THAT before this whole thing is over, too. There’s nothing to stop the U.N. Navy from sending kayaks, too.