Friday, March 30, 2007

Mr. Smith Would Hate Washington

At this time last week I was discussing intimate details with two congressional staffers about their occupations and freshman boss (from a state that shall remain unnamed).

It's a little creepy. The truth.

They were exhausted from a day on The Hill when roughly 70 amendments were made to a spending bill. To paraphrase their paraphrase, it went something like this: Republicans would get up and say, "let's cut (insert name) taxes." Then it would be voted down. Democrats would get up and say, "let's find a way to fund (insert cause)." Then it would be voted down.

The other impressive thing they've noticed is in two parts. The first is the alarming absence of any senator on the senate floor during "the speeches." Seriously, watch CSPAN some time, you'll see what I mean. They are never there. Where are they? Meeting with constituents and lobbyists and attending committee and sub-committee hearings. Two, and no big shock, they don't write their own speeches. They are written by twenty-somethings who paw through old speeches and pull quotes. At least, hat is what this twenty-something told me, who spent the better part of the day pawing through old speeches and pulling quotes. What I found more interesting is that the senator (maybe it was a congressman) didn't even see the speech until 15 minutes before curtain. Strange.

Those speeches are aimed not at influencing the other senators or congressmen (because they aren't in the chamber), but instead to look good for the small-town paper "back home."

This explains why so many speeches are dispassionate before the latest catch phrase that toes the party line: because the twenty-something does not want to be fired. The greatest show on earth, folks. Democrazy in action.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Definition of Failure: Democrazy

Not to get on a rant here, but prior to the House passing a bill that would bring the troops home by Sept '08, Tony Snow mouthed to the press how that was a recipe for failure... Has this administration defined failure?

Defining THEY as the administration who propagated this war:

1 - They failed on the intelligence which got us into the bloody thing.

2 - They failed to maintain the Iraqi army after "gaining control" of the country.

3 - They failed to maintain public utilities.

4 - They failed to secure the borders.

5 - They have failed to prevent the looting of precious and priceless cultural artifacts from Iraqi institutions that reflect the culture of Iraq, the cultures of Islam, and the culture of human civilization.

6 - They failed to hire adequate staff members to get the ball rolling and instead chose party-loyal cronies.

7 - They failed to hire local labor, contracting it out to American Big Businesses (also party-loyal), which lead to:

8 - Failure to maintain or improve the Iraqi economy, which has been spiraling south.

9 - They have failed to maintain order within daily civil discourse.

10 - They have failed to maintain a police department in several major cities.

11 - They fail to prevent the violent deaths of about 30 Iraqis a day.

12 - They fail to prevent the deaths of about 8 American soldiers a week.

13 - They fail to prevent the kidnappings of about one journalist or foreign aid worker a week.

14 - They have failed to work with the neighbors of the Iraq.

15 - They have failed to work with the International Community to gather support for the war.

16 - They have failed to establish and maintain a stable government within the country.

17 - They have failed to understand the differences
a - between Shiite and Sunni,
b - between Al Queda and Saddam,
c - between Radical Islamic Jihadi Fundamentalism and Soviet-Era Cold War aggression.

18 - They have failed to really determine the source(s) of the insurgency and how to communicate with them.

19 - They have failed to maintain quality intelligence.


In the film The Fog of War, Robert McNamara underlines the fact that the war in Vietnam, prior to heavy US involvement, was a Civil War between the North and South Vietnamese and not a war of Chinese Communist Aggression. We did not know this because no one was directly communicating with the North Vietnamese.


Maybe I am missing something. How else can we possibly fail? How can we pull victory from the jaws of defeat? George Will stated in a June Newsweek op ed how Iraq is the result of lines drawn in the sand at the end of the First World War, and that the clumsy shaping of that country then has beeen partly the cause of a century of strife in that neck of the woods.

I'll define what failure means to this administration: It is the realization that it is impossible to bring a country Democracy by force. Democracy is an act of the people, by the people, and for the people. To impose it, like some Crusading Christian Conquistador, is democrazy.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Words Written on Leaves...

...and leaves of paper.

As this semester has progressed I am firmly beginning to believe that my best writing has been contained to one and two sentences reactions written when evaluating student assignments. [Come May, I will have read approximately 1500 pages of student writing between two sections of the Aesthetics course I teach at George Mason University and evaluated 90 web pages crafted in the Visual Literacy course I teach at American. This says nothing for the other two courses I teach]. If I were disciplined and conscientious, I would copy some of these various scribbles down in a journal… a blog seems as good a place as any.

Food for Thought

Yesterday in a class I teach at George Mason I referenced the work of Mary Coble's performance at Connor Contemporary in late 2005. That performance was titled "Note to Self." Last March I produced a piece with 3000 PostIt Notes stuck to a bus stop titled "Note 2 Self." I should double check the titles I assign to my pieces. Apologies, Mary.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Terms of Art Criticism in DC

This was penned in response to a News and Features response on City Paper's City Desk. Some of it is a response to the whole thing. Some of it is in response to a post on ARTifice


This discourse enumerates a couple of great facts about the terms of arts criticism in DC.

1) The blog is now an established forum in which to write, and to paraphrase Andy Warhol, “I don’t care what you say about me, just spell my name right.” Any review, be it on a blog or in a newspaper, possesses value. It is up to the artist who is clipping those criticisms to determine that value, but even the most ignorant and poorly written blog can shed a bit of light for the artist about the public response to his work. This has nothing to say for blog-savvy-ness or the death of print.

2) Though many are shabby, there are a fair majority of blogs that serve to inform those surfing the blogosphere of an assortment of events and happenings that never or rarely appear in “print.” If The Post (or any other paper in the region) can take the time to articulately and briefly respond to something as interesting and fleeting as Tapeman’s recent Cirque de Thomas Circle – the traffic-go-round of tapecast jungle-gym horses he installed in Thomas Circle - that would be of greater benefit and inspiration to many more in the Nation’s Capital (and beyond) than the trite scribbles of TomKat’s rumored move to Maryland or the latest Fashion Trends in Milan. Alas, such reporting, or at least informing, is left to the blogs; this function is similar to the birth of newspapers, wherein the source of news might spring from a rumor floating about. Ethical standards for quality blogs will soon follow.

3) There are many blogs out there that go through some professional rigor. Consider the blog at SAAM, which goes through a whole system of checks and balances before being published. True, this is a professional blog, and not half-cocked like ARTifice or even my own blog. Spell check only gets so much; it wouldn’t get the Sculpture typo that Glenn Dixon writes about, but a solid proof-read may. As such, the web log only holds so much water. If I were to write on economics and public policy that would be one thing. But I would still much rather read Robert Reich’s blog because the 22nd Secretary of Labor is going to be more informed and have a more acute perspective than my ramblings. However, if I were to aspire to be a Secretary of Labor, or, more specifically a critic for (insert print publication here), maybe the practice of keeping that log would better inform my style and development, warts and all. Dixon’s points on proofreading and follow up are absolutely necessary, even at the pedestrian and novice level for those with serious aspirations of turning the hobby into something more astute. This will become the ethics of blogging, and it is already happening. So, though “A blog entry is subject to little of the effort and none of the rigor afforded even the most lighthearted graf of printed copy,” (Dixon) there is no reason to suspect that for some it won’t – it’ll just be without all the yelling of the higher-ups.

Print is not going to die. Ever. The proof of which rests on every bookshelf and coffee table across the nation. And while blogs will persist, there are statistics available illustrating that the number of blogs being created and maintained is starting to drop - the honeymoon is over. What the blog may be capable of doing is scuttling some of the lesser content-driven magazines and killing the lesser content-crafting art sections. But, the truest litmus test for the arts critic will rest within the content, and as per Darwin, many blogs and columns will shrink and fade away into extinction. Content needs to be driven to a goal beyond advertising, beyond the squalid information of “this show is happening here and this is what it looks like.” The content needs to have an agenda. We all cannot stand Gopnik, but there is no arguing that he has an agenda, and therefore 3,000 words with which to dispel that agenda (“for bad video” - Bailey). And if not an agenda, it needs to set a tone for a broader discourse that is of greater interest to a general populous.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Capturing the Capital


Tuesday, March 13th, Niels Van Tomme and I set out to Capture the Capital! with roughly 60 minutes of footage to be compressed into a 1 minute commercial promoting the event, Multimediale. Versions coming to a YouTube near you.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Of all the days to forget my pencil!


Teaching five classes between three schools (six if you count the independent study I instruct at AU) leaves very little time for me to do what a research one facility might classify as "my own work."

The objective for my portfolio preparation students at the Corcoran today was simple: set up the mirror so that you can draw yourself and objects behind you. This way they could accomplish self-portraiture, still life and perspective within one composition. I demonstrated what I expected, and mentioned that if two of them paired up they could also get an additional figure into their composition with no added cost and no money down. I then left the room and let them figure out how to compose their space.

When I returned I found they had situated mirrors in such a manner so they could draw themselves front and back, sitting between the two mirrors. (Only a few of my students showed up with the rest playing hooky to take SAT exams.) I joined in on the fun armed only with a ballpoint pen and my sketchbook. Not an easy composition for students that are sixteen, but no one gave up despite the sighs and groans of fighting to get things right. Interestingly, they have a lot more heart than many of the college students I have taught in studio courses. I suppose they're not yet jaded.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Ho-Hum.

I penciled this shortly after leaving the National Gallery last week.

Oh! Jasper Johns, how woeful it is that I should disdain your genius as exhibited in the National Gallery. Excited by the prospect I was left drained of color like your one achromatic target, bored by the content, the repetition. By the end I could care less of your stoic mysticism, your quiet repose, your canvas touched by the ten-meter pole held at arm's length. I care no longer to invest in your riddles today, or the gallery's $40 catalogue. But we shall meet again, old friend.


I don't know if this is more a reaction to the work on display in the National Gallery or the National Gallery's display of the work, but either way it has something to do with presentation. Earlier last year, though impressed with the Anselm Kiefer show in the Hirshhorn, I enjoyed it immensely more in the SF-MoMA this January. The major difference was how the work and the space was lit. Kiefer was oppressive in the Hirshhorn and bouyant in San Francisco.