August 2009 Archives

Submissive in the Kitchen


Over at Eric Gelber's blog -- catch it before he takes it down again! -- he's been bemoaning how worthless online art writing seems to be. I'm sure he's excluding my brilliant exudations, but knowing Eric, he probably includes himself.

Ordinarily I let lousy art writing slip by without notice because, really, what's the point? But today this caught my eye and I feel it should be ridiculed as much as possible. And since, of course, the blog entry specifically states, "comments that fail to address the post at hand or issue disrespectful feedback will not be approved," that means I have to do it here.

Over at Art Fag City, invited guest artist essayist Martha Rosler -- apparently one of those artists who collages photos in stupid, obvious juxtapositions (George W. Bush and amputee veterans!) -- writes Woman in Kitchen, leading off with the following:

Women are represented in public and especially in private spaces; among the latter are images of domesticity. Of images of the domestic sphere, the most likely sites are, of course, the bedroom, the bathroom, the living room, and the kitchen...especially -- in advertising -- the kitchen.

...The woman in the kitchen represents myriad sensibilities. She is a sign of bounty; of availability; of nurturance; of submissiveness; of drudgery and servitude; of ethnic Otherness; of mastery; of happiness; of pleasure; of loneliness; of outbursts of rage or gaga craziness (and of murder and even of aestheticized suicide); of sexual coyness or sauciness. And, of course, of creativity.

So, to translate: In photos, women are depicted both outside and indoors. Sometimes indoors, women are at home. Inside the home they can be in any room. Sometimes that room is the kitchen. A woman in a kitchen represents pretty much any fucking thing that you want it to.

I beg the disembodied spirit of Germaine Greer to tell me: Could this be any stupider?

Martha goes on: "Every image of a woman in a kitchen bespeaks an intimate personal relationship, mediated by rituals of food." This is so true, especially when you dredge for images on amateur porn sites. Except for, you know, the food rituals, which are usually absent. I guess you can get your images from Getty Images, then, in which case the intimate personal relationship is lacking, since stock photography is pretty much designed from the ground up to mean whatever you want it to mean.

Martha Rosler subtitled this photo 'sexy'

Martha Rosler subtitled this photo "sexy". This reviewer would call it "mildly creepy and weird". Also, I hope that nice young lady is making herself a sandwich because she sure could use one.

Which is great because, while Martha's actual art shows a complete and utter lack of creativity or talent, she's endlessly inventive when projecting her own feelings onto random photos. She lists a number of photos under the heading "Sexy" without so much as a YMMV -- I found them mostly uninteresting, and the one involving nudity to be mildly creepy and weird.

Martha Rosler subtitled this photo 'professional cook is happy, submissive, and bountiful'

Martha Rosler subtitled this photo "professional cook is happy, submissive, and bountiful"

Martha Rosler subtitled this photo 'submissive happy'

Martha Rosler subtitled this photo "submissive happy". Reader unhappy.

Then she lists two more photos with the word "submissive" -- where she gets this idea I cannot imagine, except perhaps from deep in her own bottomless well of personal issues. One shows a chef holding out a plate of food, which is, after all, what chefs do. My best friend, who is a male executive chef, once expressed to me that making people happy with his food is his greatest accomplishment. Is he submissive, or is he just doing his job well? The second photo is simply labeled "submissive happy" when there's nothing to indicate an even vague sense of submission beyond the fact that the model is female and in a kitchen. If Martha really wants to see photos of submission, there are some fine Websites out there designed to leave no doubt whatsoever. For example: Out of rope? Use plastic wrap! (Also, the SCARIEST CLOTHESPINS OF ALL TIME.)

Maybe the trouble is Martha was born just after World War II and therefore hasn't really explored the World Wide Web enough to learn what true submission is. Even if women in America were consistently portrayed as being relegated to the submissive role in the kitchens of the heartland, a brief tour of the Internet should make it clear that that -- the putative portrayal of women as subservient and kitchen-bound -- is really one of the least of the world's problems.

For example, there are know-nothing artists writing that a cup of coffee "represents the senses 'lower' than sight, such as touch, a sensuous haptic quality". Sure, a cup of coffee always brings up pleasant haptic associations. Check Starbucks ads for the fetish they make out of the feel of the paper cup, the gentle scrape of the stirrer, the gritty quality of sugar spilled on a table top...good lord, did anyone -- including Martha -- read this after she wrote it? I mean, mad props for dragging out a word more often seen these days in reviews of new mobile phones and applying it to a Titian, but come on.

Then, like some fantasy football fanatic intent on pitting her favorite players on her favorite teams against each other, regardless of reality, she has completely unrelated photos do battle:

The class issues...vie with the (neo)imperialist/consumerist ones, of First World consumers against (former) Third World producer countries and regions. Images of women in the latter situation serve more than one purpose. They provide contrast, of primitivism with our modern appurtenances, underlining our superiority...

Or they could be, you know, simple photos of life as it's actually lived, without your overlay of smug condescension, or whatever reverse-psychology version you're employing here on the audiences of these photos you've imagined. This logical fallacy is so common it has its own name: It's called the Straw Man Argument. You imagine your own opponent and then knock it down. It's a tactic often employed by the ignorant and intellectually weak, because any non-straw man couldn't possibly be even mildy discomfited by your spurious argument.

These are the kinds of artists who get career retrospectives. Ah, the 1970s. So fertile for pop music, so exciting for film, so absolutely fucking dreadful for art. One day I expect people to look back on the 2000s and say, ah, the Aughts. So fertile for premium cable channels, so exciting for reality TV, so absolutely fucking dreadful for art writing.

(Untitled) Free Plug

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Adam Goldberg in (Untitled)

Adam Goldberg in (Untitled)

The hits on this site here have somewhat inexplicably doubled over the summer. Maybe something to do with Jennifer Orbom's nicely listing it as one of the Five of the Best Art Blogs You've Never Heard of at NY Art Beat. Maybe because my brilliant writing is finally attracting the audience it deserves. Maybe because there's nothing else to read in August.

Whatever the reason, the increase in hits has corresponded to an increase in invitations and press releases showing up in my e-mail inbox. I don't pass all of them along and I don't make it to all of them; in fact during the summer I've missed virtually everything to which I was invited. This is partly because most of it didn't look very good and partly because my life's been an unmitigated disaster. Well, I say unmitigated: My wife and kids still love me, so I guess that's something.

Yesterday I got one I'd like to share with you. The message is mostly public relations bullshit: hope this finds you well, I think your audience would be interested in this, and so on. But the product being shilled looks really damned good, so I am found well and I do think my audience would be interested in this.

Adam Goldberg (not to be confused with the hopelessly untalented Andy Samberg) stars as an avant garde composer in Catherine DiNapoli and Jonathan Parker's (Untitled). Parker's brought us...a bunch of movies I've never seen, but let's give him some repsect for working with crazy man Crispin Glover on an adaptation of Herman Melville. And Catherine DiNapoli, well, she's Napolitan, and so am I, so she's got to be buoni, eh?

More seriously, the trailer is hilarious. People who haven't been around Chelsea might think this is over the top satire, but to me it looks like a friggin' documentary. I'm almost certain I've seen Wall surrounding space (2007).

It opens October 23, 2009. I'll be there.

The plan was simple.

  • Bid good-bye to my lovely wife and happy children.
  • Go to my studio in Brooklyn.
  • Be awesome.
  • Tear myself away from my latest work of sublime genius and take the G train to Williamsburg to arrive fashionably late for the opening at Ch'i Contemporary Fine Art.
  • Return home to my lovely wife and happy children.

Things began going wrong at the very first step. I did not have a lovely wife and happy children that day. That day I had an evil harpy and her monstrous minions. I quickly realized I had to leave immediately lest we make the evening news. What I didn't expect was that I was in danger of making the news all on my own. It became clear after I stormed off for the bus that the trouble wasn't my harpy wife or her evil spawn; the trouble was I was in the foulest mood imaginable.

The nastiness continued at the studio where I found myself unable to set paint to panel without being overwhelmed with disgust. Forget sublime genius. Forget, even, acceptable mediocrity. Instead think, good lord, man, please drop yourself in a deep trench. When I couldn't take it any more, I left for Williamsburg where I arrived two hours early for the opening.

I was in no condition for Williamsburg. I grumped around feeling old, fat and incapable of enjoying myself. All I wanted to do was slap everyone I saw, all those passersby, so smooth and hip and clean, with their groovy glasses and their tattoos and their tiny dogs. Tapas bars. Pabst Blue Ribbon. "Distressed" t-shirts. Sandals. How I hate you all, I thought, as I gnashed my teeth, hunched and sneering like a Stan Lee supervillain.

It occurred to me that a normal human -- given a beautiful day, a few bucks in their pocket, and a couple of hours to kill -- a normal human could've gone into a bar or cafe or restaurant or something, had a drink and maybe a meal, soaked in the sunshine, gazed out on the fine afternoon; given all that, a normal human could've had a lovely time. Thinking this made me even grumpier. So rather than assuage my hunger by stopping in at one of those tapas bars, instead of quenching my thirst with a cold PBR at one of those sidewalk tables, I paced back and forth through two square blocks, getting angrier and hungrier the whole time, only occasionally stopping in a gallery.

I'd like you to keep this nightmare vision in mind while reading my reviews today. If I seem less than enthusiastic about everything, well, it was mostly me.

I began my peregrinations by getting lost on my way from the Metropolitan Avenue train station to Like the Spice where Reuben Negrón's show, Dirty Dirty Love, had been extended until July 12, 2009.

Reuben Negron, Dirty Dirty Love: Becky and Neomi, 2006-2007, watercolor on paper, 52x32 inches

Reuben Negron, Dirty Dirty Love: Becky and Neomi, 2006-2007, watercolor on paper, 52x32 inches

Reuben's show consists of meticulous watercolors of people engaged in sexual activity. Some of the paintings are impressively large; a few are smaller. If you look closely you can see he starts with a detailed pencil sketch, probably from a projected photo. Two of the pieces in the show are just the sketches. He uses his lovely, feathery graphite lines as the framework from which the watercolors hang. Although he's tight with his paints, close inspection shows the absolute tightest areas are, in fact, pencil drawings. So really the media on these should read, at least, "mixed", if not the more detailed "pencil and watercolor". Even so, Reuben's work here is technically very, very impressive: His control of his media is fantastic, his color reproduction excellent, his composition well-balanced. His pencil work all by itself is pretty marvelous.

That said -- and adding that I, of course, am always fond of naked people -- I have to admit I'm really tired of photo-based work. The gallery verbiage -- I guess it's written by Marisa Sage -- says "Photorealism is usually associated with cold, clinical cityscapes.... The watercolors of Reuben Negrón partake of the deep photo-visual honesty and technical mastery of the photorealists but are also imbued with a deep humanist emotional intelligence." I can see how she might want to distance Reuben's work from the "cold, clinical" Photorealists, but she's stretching it: Reuben's as chilly as any of them. His attention to detail is astonishing from a technical standpoint but in terms of content places his subjects at a distance; he may be working from his own photos (I doubt they're all his own, actually) of people he was in the room with, but really these feel more like images taken from some surveillance camera on the Internet. They have that air of menace often found in self-consciously arty portrayals of sexuality: They're permeated by dominance, submission, voyeurism, and just plain creepiness, as if allowing any hint of fun, happiness, or garden-variety prurience would deflate the whole exercise.

It's a shame, too, because some actual dirty, dirty love would really have livened things up.

I left Like the Spice and began my meandering around the few blocks of Williamsburg. My mental map of Brooklyn and its neighborhoods is hazy and indistinct; what I learned was that Williamsburg is actually pretty small. I paced around most of the area fairly quickly, leaving plenty of time to do it again. Although Williamsburg is often placed as a competitor of (or maybe a minor league for) Chelsea, in scale the two aren't even close: the freely available Brooklyn Art Guide lists maybe 20 galleries in Williamburg versus Chelsea's over 300.

Thus I had a lot of time to skulk and steam, because after leaving Like the Spice I arrived at Ch'i to find them still putting the finishing touches on the show. I picked up the latest WAGMAG and began to wander.

Lauriston Avery, GLZ44, 2009, flashe on canvas, 85x70 inches

Lauriston Avery, GLZ44, 2009, flashe on canvas, 85x70 inches

I eventually found Lauriston Avery at the Hogar Collection. I haven't seen anyone working in flashe in a while, and I guess there's a good reason for that, because it's kind of flat and dead. It seemed to me Lauriston really wanted these paintings to pop, but the flashe keeps them down, the result being about as exciting as day-old soda left out on the counter. The tiny, tiny venue that is Hogar doesn't help; these need room to breathe. Executed in a better, peppier medium -- almost anything would do, but I'd recommend oils, of course -- and placed in a bigger space, and Lauriston's work might ascend to the lofty heights of mediocre abstraction. Instead they're just sort of there.

Isaac Lin, The NeverEnding Story IV (installation view), 2009

Isaac Lin, The NeverEnding Story IV (installation view), 2009

Andrew Jeffrey Wright, Swimsuit #3, 2009, silkscreen print, edition of 40, 11x14 inches Andrew Jeffrey Wright, Swimsuit #3 (detail), 2009, silkscreen print, edition of 40, 11x14 inches Andrew Jeffrey Wright, Swimsuit #3 (detail), 2009, silkscreen print, edition of 40, 11x14 inches

Andrew Jeffrey Wright, Swimsuit #3, 2009, silkscreen print, edition of 40, 11x14 inches

At the other end of the spectrum I found The NeverEnding Story IV at Cinders Gallery (until July 26, 2009 -- you missed it). Philadelphia artists Isaac Lin and Andrew Jeffrey Wright went batshit all over the walls of Cinders in that semi-graffiti graphic style, with bold lines, bright colors, lots of words, and poor draftsmanship. Ordinarily this kind of thing only annoys me -- it's so easy and pointless -- but this time, I was charmed. Something about the childlike way every available space is covered; and although I almost always object to words in art (it's visual art, dummy -- if I wanted to read, I'd pick up a book) these were amusing and whimsical. Including something I just had to take a picture of with my mobile phone: Even though I'm in no way a blogtographer, I felt I had to oblige.

Andrew Jeffrey Wright, The NeverEnding Story IV (installation view), 2009

Andrew Jeffrey Wright, The NeverEnding Story IV (installation view), 2009

Further wanderings took me past the first and only graffito I've seen based on the lyrics of a Rush song. This is worth becoming a blogtographer.

Williamsburg graffito, 2009

Williamsburg graffito, 2009

At long last, after a few more passes, I found Ch'i ready for me to enter. It's a lovely space for a lovely afternoon: It wasn't too hot out and the big front windows let in the late-day sunshine to flood the gallery's large space. This brought the near-monochrome works on the walls into sharp contrast. A couple of them caught my eye immediately as I entered, but before I could explore the art I was wrapped up in conversation with Assistant Director Jenny Cuasapaz. I told her I was there to see Melissa Murray's work, since I'd reviewed her a few years back. This brought over Kevin Bourgeois, one of the show's artists and also a curator in his own right. He told me how he'd directed shows with Melissa's work and how the two of them had shown before. He pointed out his work on the walls when I asked.

When Kevin excused himself the gallery director herself, Tracy Causey-Jeffery, introduced herself to me and we chatted a while. She toured me through the works in the show, which she'd titled Uprooted (until August 24, 2009 -- you missed it, too). Three of the artists had shown together and are related artistically: Kevin, Melissa, and Abby Hertz. They trade studio visits, I think I heard, and talk art together.

That seemed pretty clear from looking at the work. Certainly those three had the best, most accomplished drawings in the show. And there are stylistic similarities.

Abby Hertz, Creep, 2009, ink on paper, 32x40 inches

Abby Hertz, Creep, 2009, ink on paper, 32x40 inches

The drawings which I noticed first were Abby's. She describes her work on her MySpace page as "vaginal art" but I didn't see that immediately; what I noticed were strong lines, intricate patterns, and a connection to floral fabric patterns like paisley. Sure, typing it all out like that makes the vaginal connection obvious, but it really didn't occur to me.

I found Abby's large-scale inks striking and interesting. I liked her patterning but also her use of negative space. She could easily have filled the paper but instead allowed the positive and negative to fall into a balance. I did sort of wish her draftsmanship were a bit better: I like this kind of patterning when it's more precise, less wabi sabi. Instead they have a clearly handmade quality, which is fine, but not my preference.

Kevin Bourgeois, Process of Elimination (To C.G.), 2009, graphite and mixed media, 40x60 inches

Kevin Bourgeois, Process of Elimination (To C.G.), 2009, graphite and mixed media, 40x60 inches

Kevin's work, meanwhile, defies categorization as just drawing. It doesn't jump off the wall the way Abby's work did for me, but I found it more engaging once getting close enough. The drawings are a little gimmicky -- they're sort of aggressively mixed media in a way that seems unnecessary to me, like the one that uses arrays of pills lined up, shadowbox style, behind the drawing. And yet I found myself enjoying them anyway, mostly, I think, because Kevin's pencil work is so subtle and lovely. It doesn't come through in the JPEGs, which blithely translate all smooth shadings pretty much the same, but his delicate, smooth way with graphite is simply lovely. I felt the overt sociopolitical elements were as unnecessary as the mixed media, but again the execution of the works overcame my reservations. They're just too well composed, too well drawn, to keep from captivating me.

Melissa Murray, A Letter, 2009, graphite on paper, 40x43 inches

Melissa Murray, A Letter, 2009, graphite on paper, 40x43 inches

Surprisingly, of the three Melissa's work was the least coherent. Her drawing is technically excellent, and the works in this show look like she spent plenty of time and effort on them; but they didn't quite come together for me. She's definitely gone in a different direction from when I last saw her work. I'm glad she's left behind the self-denigrating work -- as well-painted as they were, her self-depiction as someone ugly and depraved was worrisome -- but I wish she'd replaced it with something I could get a handle on. In these drawings, meticulously detailed animals share the stage -- and it does look like a stage -- with schematically rendered detritus of humanity, like old stores and collapsing buildings. Passages of these appear intentionally unfinished, with outlines sketched in; they butt up against finely and completely drawn features like dogs and clouds. In a way they resemble collections of clip art jumbled together, sort of collages with uncertain meanings. I get that Melissa is looking to juxtapose the beauty of the natural world with man's despoilation of same; this is a hackneyed theme unredeemable, in my eyes, through admittedly solid technique.

Sasha Blanton, Disengaged #2, 2008, pencil, wax, 28x36 inches

Sasha Blanton, Disengaged #2, 2008, pencil, wax, 28x36 inches

Eric Johnston, A People's Power Plant, 2006, watercolour on paper, 30x23 inches

Eric Johnston, A People's Power Plant, 2006, watercolour on paper, 30x23 inches

Joseph Smolinski, Sycamore, 2008, ink, watercolor and graphite on paper, 26x40 inches

Joseph Smolinski, Sycamore, 2008, ink, watercolor and graphite on paper, 26x40 inches

Homer Yost, Fourth Year Homeless in the Lower Ninth Ward, 2009, charcoal on paper, 22x40 inches

Homer Yost, Fourth Year Homeless in the Lower Ninth Ward, 2009, charcoal on paper, 22x40 inches

The other artists in the show don't work up to the same level as those first three. Sasha Blanton's ghostly aircraft carriers are interestingly rendered in a technical sense -- I wonder how he did them -- but beyond that blend into the background. Eric Johnston's drawings are jumbled architectural renderings of uninteresting mongrel buildings with no aesthetic effect. They're too cool and distant, lacking heft and any connection to the viewer. Joseph Smolinski's drawings are cute enough evocations of plants growing antennae, but don't rise above twee ephemera. And Homer Yost's sketches of homeless men, women and children, clearly intended as heartbreaking portraits of people in dire circumstances, struck me as simply incompetent and poorly drawn. I've reproduced the least bad of them here; the others were weaker than cocktail napkin scribbles.

I never did see Melissa Murray in person, as I'd hoped to. I guess she didn't get to the opening until later, and with the mood I was in I didn't want to hang around. I was only going to get crabbier and nastier. Best to crawl home and into bed as soon as possible.

What Art Is For


About three years ago Ray found a bump on his leg. About three months ago he died. It was soft tissue sarcoma.

Ray was a formulating chemist by profession, but his passion was music. He played many instruments, most of them uncommon in this country, and wrote his own music. Every year for many years he'd throw a big outdoor party and invite all his friends, many of whom were also musicians -- some professional, some not -- and of course they set up a kind of stage and people got up and played music all day. He called it Summerjam.

Ray was Joe's best friend. Joe was with Ray in those last days when he was so weak the only movement he could manage was to wiggle his eyebrows. Joe is a computer programmer but, like Ray, his passion is also music. Joe is a fantastic singer and plays drums, along with the violin and who knows how many other things.

I know Joe from college. I consider him a very good friend, although honestly we don't see each other much. We mostly keep in touch over e-mail. Back when Ray and Joe were in various bands I used to drive down to see them in whatever dive bar they were playing that month. One time I even designed a poster for their gig. When they got together with a violinist, Helene, and produced a CD -- this was before anyone had heard of MP3s -- I proudly added it to my collection. Later, when I joined the MP3 world, I ripped my favorite track, on which Ray played the African mbira, and put it into regular rotation. So although Ray was never a close friend of mine, he was always nearby.

Joe decided to put together a memorial Summerjam. I hadn't been to one of Ray's parties in over a decade because I'm not a party person and I never much enjoyed standing around in the summer heat being eaten by mosquitos and drinking beer, even if Ray's home brew -- another one of his passions -- was very good. But Joe was working so hard, and I wanted to be part of something for Ray, so I volunteered to man the grill and cook for everyone so at least Joe would have one thing he didn't have to worry about.

So it was I spent last Saturday at Summerjam, our own sort of mini-Woodstock -- amusingly on the 40th anniversary of that legendary jam -- cooking hamburgers and hot dogs and chicken for the seventy-five or so people who gathered at this former farm to celebrate Ray's life and music. A stage was set up on the 18th-century farmhouse porch and various people got up and played as the day went on.

Late in the afternoon I sat on the lawn listening to one of the main bands Joe's belonged to, a folk band called Broadside Electric. I sat there listening to this band, on a 150-year-old stone porch, playing music about as old, folk songs mostly about how hard life is, folk songs created as a way of being the one bright, happy moment in hard lives, and I think I felt, finally, what art is for. Because as easy as life has gotten for us here at the height of Western Civilization, there are still a lot of hard patches, a lot of difficult things to get through. It was hard for Ray, these past few years, and it's hard for those who miss him, and coming together to sing songs and play music is one good thing.

So maybe that's it, maybe that's what art is for: It's the one bright spot, the one happy, fine moment. The one good thing.

@vvgogh: LOL

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Yes, I have a review I haven't written. My life has been...complicated. In the meantime, go read Ruben Bolling's take on art and social networking. It's pretty much flawless.

WunderKammer No. 1

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from WunderKammer No. 1 by Nicholas DiGenova

from WunderKammer No. 1 by Nicholas DiGenova

I got a message from Nicholas DiGenova today, not because I'm special, but because I'm on his mailing list. He announced that he's selling a small book of reproductions of his recent drawings under the title WunderKammer No. 1, through Koyama Press, for the low, low price of $8 ($10.50 with shipping in the United States).

I've written before that I don't think Nicholas is doing anything super fantastic can't miss awesome in terms of art, but nevertheless I do like his drawings, and I like his idea of selling an inexpensive book. I like it a lot. It strikes me as a great way to make his work available widely and very, very cheaply. I mean, I spend eleven greenbacks at Starbucks and I don't get to keep that very long (although I'm thinking of starting a collection of Coffee Lid Sip Hole Plug Stoppers).

I like the idea so much, I just might steal it.

Bathroom Philosophy


What's the purpose of art? Why bother with it? I was cleaning my bathroom today, which is when I'm at my most darkly philosophical, because there's nothing like physical labor to let my mind wander freely and angrily in wondering why no one's invented an easier way to clean my damned bathroom.

I suppose I should be happy the worst of my worries is scrubbing crud out from between 80-year-old tiles when so many people don't even have bathrooms. I could be worried about malaria or diarrheal diseases. Of course that makes me ask even more about the point of art; there's a yearly Holocaust happening out there, ten million or more annually from pestilence, and in the face of that, another painting seems kind of stupid. Shouldn't more of us be working as engineers, scientists, and doctors, or at least as aid workers, really helping people?

Maybe the idea is, art is something for everyone to do once we, as a species, have solved all those problems. Except we already know what humans like to do when all those basic worries are taken care of: We party.

This past weekend I attended not one but two of what we Americans refer to as barbecues, or BBQs, or, heaven forfend, barbeques. This is an event where a group of people sit around in someone's back yard cooking meats and other foodstuffs over open, usually propane-based, flames while consuming beverages with varying percentages of ethyl alcohol. Perhaps there is also a small enclosed body of aseptic water in which the children may frolic.

From my ridiculous description you can tell I don't enjoy myself at these events. I used to think this was because I was meant for higher things like Art, Science, and Philosophy. After observing myself on this planet for 38 years, however, I've concluded it has nothing to do with that. I don't enjoy myself at parties because I'm profoundly broken. Something is wrong with me. My nervous system reacts incorrectly and when other people find things enjoyable, my brain puts out chemicals corresponding to anger and sadness. I am incapable of experiencing joy.

Maybe that's what art is for: Keeping occupied those of us who are fucked up. Personally I'd rather have a bathroom that's easier to clean, and I'd rather have fun at parties.

I abandoned the barbecue on Sunday early on the pretext of going looking for my house keys, leaving my wife and kids to have the massive amounts of fun denied me. At home I put on the Van Gogh installment of Simon Schama's Power of Art. By the end I was crying. Old Vincent and I have a lot in common. I wonder if many painters like to think they have a lot in common with old Vincent. I also wonder if old Vincent would play as much Battle Tetris as I do.

Schama quotes Van Gogh at the beginning and the end of the program. Thanks to the wonder of the Internet I have the full quote here and I've added it to my quote rotation up there. It goes like this: "What am I in the eyes of most people -- a nonentity, an eccentric or an unpleasant person -- somebody who has no position in society and never will have, in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then -- even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love despite everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion."

That's a great quote, quite lovely. But, Vincent, darling, I have to ask: If the lowest of the low has this wonderfulness in his heart, if it's something everyone has inside them, something we all have access to, then why, dear Vincent, do we need you? What's the point of showing us something we already have? Why should we stand in front of Wheatfield with Crows instead of standing around in our yards amidst the smell of chlorine and roasting pig?

Just because some of us are broken? And the bathroom's been cleaned, however drudgingly?


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