Friday, September 22, 2017

Finishing Touches - The Seinfeld Effect

There is so much to write about these days - so many thoughts going through the old noggin about recent events. It seems that inside and outside the art world there is a tsunami of intolerance. I previously have mentioned Dana Shutz's painting of Emmett Till's casket, titled Open Casket, that created such a controversy at the Whitney Biennial.

emitt till

The image she painted was created from a photograph of a young African-American boy who was beaten to death. This image had its own life and symbolism in the African-American community and Ms. Shutz, a white artist, was told that she could not use the image, even if she, as a mother, could identified with the pain in the image. 
Fast forward a couple of months, and the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston announced that they will have a show of Ms. Shutz's work. People protested that the show should be cancelled because of Ms. Shutz's insensitivity to African-Americans even though Open Casket would not be in the show in Boston. None of her other work is considered derogatory towards African-Americans. Also, the show was set up prior to the controversy at the Whitney and announced after consulting with local arts leaders.

A few weeks ago, there was a Neo-Nazi march in Virginia that resulted in a woman protester being killed. There is little need to say much more about Nazi's than that the very definition is intolerance. They have been responsible for the murder of millions of people simply because they were not white or considered white. They are often oppressive and violent toward women simply because they are not men. Everyone other than the white male is considered inferior.


This is all scary and heavy. Everyone has their hair on end and have a trigger ready to be pulled if something is not acceptable. My observing and inquisitive nature makes me wonder how we got here. People can say Trump is the reason, but this started long before him. Others will go back to Reagan and the ending of the Fairness Act, which allowed hate radio to rise, leading to a misinformed and manipulated citizenry. But I can't help but think this goes back even further. I see the manipulation of the wealth of this country in the late 1800's that ultimately led to the Great Depression. I read about the history of immigration and how each new wave of immigrants became the rung on which the last wave rose. Each immigrant class is given some status as long as there is a newer class to be pushed down and prejudiced against. And then there is slavery. 

This country has always been about pitting people against each other. We have a myth that the ruling elite, the current supposed oligarchy, is unified in dividing and oppressing the rest of us. Yet, when you see one of the wealthiest persons become the President of the United States, he starts to turn on those around him, even those he has chosen to lead with him. Those around him start fighting for their own territory and throw anyone else under the bus, gladly.
I think of Seinfeld, the show that best captured the innocent version of this inability to be happy, to accept that life is good, to accept that we are good. There was always something wrong with every girlfriend, with every restaurant, every dish served, etc. In America, there is always something wrong with the other. In America, one mistake leads to a lifetime of opportunity for condemnation. Why are we so vicious and mean to each other? We return hate with anger, we return misunderstanding with shame, we return hurt with fists.
When do we help each other heal? Have computers so taken over our lives that we no longer know how to look into each other and see ourselves, to have empathy? Has the need to be unhappy, to see ourselves as a victim, made it impossible to truly see and understand others?
I am toying with the idea of a class about art and meditation and relation. Art can be a way to open up one's self to others, to share what is inside and to see what is inside others. There are many art forms that are meant to be meditative/contemplative. Could engaging in these art forms help bring about a change in ourselves? Could communal forms of this art bring about a change in our community? It is a question worth exploring.

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