Monthly Archives: September 2005

Agog? Not I.

I’ve been considering writing about the arts building called GoggleWorks. It has recently opened in downtown Reading. Perhaps you’ve heard about it. Or perhaps you’ve been living under a rock in the hills of Berks County (I know, I know, “Greater Reading”) In any event, it has been a real dilemma for me. It’s the sort of thing I’m expected to appreciate. But I’m pretty much drawing a blank.Apparently, nearly all of the folks in our area who proclaim an interest in art and culture think GoggleWorks is just one of the best things to ever happen in Reading. There’s been a raft of effusive GoggleWorks media coverage. The movers and shakers as well as local opinion shapers can’t say enough to sing the praises of GoggleWorks. It has already been christened a grand symbol of a sort of Reading renaissance. That’d be great if it could somehow occur. But I’d be thoroughly surprised if it did – especially as a result of the existence of GoggleWorks. Searching for the rationale for the positive spin on this story, I asked my friends and other folks who think this is a great thing to explain to me what they are expecting will happen now that there’s a GoggleWorks in our midst.It seems to boil down to something like this: It may bring in tourists – people from out of town. And they’ll spend money there and in the city of Reading and “Greater Reading” – where they will stay in local hotels and eat in local restaurants. I say it seems to boil down to this because when I pursue many of the other statements that sound good, folks admit they aren’t really the point and they don’t expect them to happen either. Statements like: “This will be something the citizens of Reading will support because they are interested in arts and crafts and culture in general” sound great but ring hollow. Reading is my city too. I was born here and I’d be more than surprised if the average local citizen has much of an interest in what’s up at GoggleWorks.Anyway, it’s a long shot – a very long shot. And if it was a business plan – it wouldn’t get off the ground. If it was a gamble – I wonder what kind of odds it would get. I’m generally suspicious of cultural phenomena that are imposed from the top. I’m sure there is a contingent of potentially supportive folks, such as those who gathered for the grand opening of GoggleWorks. I’m just not sure why the political, economic, and cultural elite need another marketing rep to promote what is clearly a giant marketing campaign already. In fact, I’d consider it somewhat unethical for myself as a cultural observer to jump on this particular bandwagon.I won’t be having much to say about the “cultural phenomenon” aspect of GoggleWorks. Cultural phenomena take time and are nearly impossible to anticipate. I’ll be visiting some of the individual exhibits and events at GoggleWorks and writing about them as things in themselves – just as I do about other events and other venues.* There is one aspect of the building that does make good sense to me – its educational possibilities. I hold Wyomissing’s Institute of the Arts and Reading Area Community College in high regard, for example. I think they’ve done more to uplift our citizenry than they typically get credit for. If GoggleWorks helps their outreach and benefits our citizens with extended educational opportunities – through these and other already existing cultural and educational institutions – that will be a laudable outcome.

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Equestrian Art

Friday evening, in downtown Reading, we attended the first show of the weekend of The “World Famous” Lipizzaner Stallions. The excellent presentation was well appreciated by an enthusiastic audience that lamentably did not make much of an impact on the Sovereign Center seating chart. Hopefully the rest of the run will be better attended.The hundreds of people who did show up on Friday got what they came for – a world-class performance of flawless execution and great beauty. Our seats placed us right on the floor just a few feet from the mere foot-high barrier separating us from tons of pulsing, pounding horse flesh. We could see every detail of the thrilling exhibition of the brilliant stallions and their impressive riders.Classical Pas de Deux, Trois, and Quatre highlighted the parade skills of the highly-trained Lipizzaners. The varied musical accompaniment for each event on the program gave the fluid cadences of the Stallions’ movements a sense of classical dance and ballet. The contemporary soundtracks that accompanied some of the events lent the movements of the horses the look and feel of contemporary dance. The dance metaphor is one I didn’t expect to use in this review. But after witnessing the rhythmic and graceful movements of horses and riders, the feeling of viewing a dance performance was overwhelming.Perhaps the most impressive athleticism and feeling of weightlessness was evidenced by the “Airs Above the Ground” performance. These denials of the law of gravity held the audience spellbound as each horse demonstrated a variety of aerial movements, leaps, and bounds. As always, the horses seemed to be choreographing their movements in time with the musical accompaniment.The most splendid horse by far here was the Andalusian Stallion, a Spanish breed, with a broad strong build and a tail and mane worthy of Pegasus. All in all, The “World Famous” Lipizzaner Stallions is well worth attending. There’s still time and available seats for this weekend’s shows at the Sovereign Center.

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Let Them Eat Art

As an artist, teacher, and writer on art I see it as incumbent upon myself to warn others not to take too seriously what I, others in creative fields, and supporters of the arts say and do. That’s more important, in my opinion, than promoting whatever I may think will change your life for the better. In other words, I’m not in favor of the politicalization of art—in any way, shape, or form.I would also caution my readers against expecting too much from aesthetic and/or cultural experience. It can be a fine thing when the rest of our lives are in good order. But it can be quite superfluous, for example, when one’s belly is not full, when security is not assured, or when the state of public education or the values of a whole society are in crisis. Art has some social value but it is not as important as it is often made out to be. There are already far too many bread-and-circus spectaculars in our otherwise too-often-poor world.I’m well aware of the uplifting, inspiring, sensitivity-training, and character-building aspects of creative praxis. And I endeavor to emphasize these in my teaching. However, I’m also always cognizant of the way the human ego has gilded the gritty business of truly independent expression and subverted the integrity of art history and contemporary art and culture.As someone who pursued these paths in the past, I’ve experienced the hypocrisy, rampant egotism, and need-to-feel-good-about-oneself motivations in myself and from many creative types and their supporters—the intellectual, academic, political, and financial elite. Significant and powerful members of these groups form our own unique contemporary cultural aristocracy.After exhibiting, teaching, and writing about art for a couple of decades, I removed myself and my birth name from the art world. I worked anonymously and collaboratively for the past ten years because I sought some balance in terms of my creative work. I wanted to work in a relatively egoless state. Functioning in this way provides a sense of freedom and potentiality that working as a part of closed cultural systems never did. Recently, I’ve decided to modify my approach. I’m interested in the value I might create for others by returning to teaching and publishing my thoughts, taking a radically critical approach toward the very broad subject matter at hand and commenting on what I observe at the nexus of art, society, and human nature—including the effect on art and artists by the manipulations of the ruling classes and the potential damage that art and artists, so subverted, do to our culture and values.*I’ve said enough about this subject for the moment. In this entry, I wanted to simply introduce the topic and begin a personal deconstruction of my critical position here as regards the many and varied socio-cultural bandwagons from which I prefer to maintain some critical distance—for purposes of aesthetic and journalistic objectivity. To work toward a sense of balance, I endeavor to state things that are, for various reasons, unstated.In any event, this seems a suitable time to lay down a layer of sticky skepticism before a new torrent of slippery save-the-world-ism does engulf our critical faculties.

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Wild Weekends

*Last weekend we enjoyed some beautiful daylight hours at Blue Marsh Lake. We’ve done this regularly throughout the summer. It is way up there on the list of things to do around here – for us, at least, and also for the relatively small number of folks who regularly frequent the area.And that leads right into what I want to say about it. Blue Marsh Lake seems to have attained a bit of a bad rep among some county citizens – this is especially true for the beach area and swimming opportunities . The reasons for this are, in my opinion, just not worth mentioning, as it is all quite undeserved. The positive aspects of a trip to Blue Marsh Lake – for swimming, boating, fishing, a picnic on the grounds, or a hike on a nature trail – are apparent to anyone who has actually been out there. Passing on uninformed hearsay is an injustice when it keeps multitudes of folks away from wonderful and inspiring experiences in the great outdoors. My experience with the lake this summer, as always, has been fantastic. We take our kayaks out to Blue Marsh just about weekly in nice weather and spend some awesome hours paddling, swimming, and engaged in very pleasant and relaxing exploring and landscape viewing.I’ve met folks who drive to the lake from New Jersey, just for a day trip. They trailer their watercraft out to the excellent boat launch facilities and have a fine time. Sadly, we don’t seem to appreciate the natural treasure we have right here in our own back yard.On Sunday, we participated in the annual Wildlands Weekend event held at this time at Blue Marsh Lake. It was great fun and the kind of outdoors recreation and entertainment that I wish more folks would take advantage of. Demonstrations and hands-on learning in archery, fishing, and shooting and great things to watch and do, such as canine competitions, good food, ecology and wildlife education were available both Saturday and Sunday under the bright and warm September sun. I particularly enjoyed the exotic animal show put on by “Bwana Jim” Moulton of the ‘Old Red Schoolhouse’ Wildlife and Nature Center on state Road 44, south of Shinglehouse, PA. While I was being amazed and amused by the show I was wishing more young folks could learn to appreciate the wonders of nature as much as they are exposed to the fabricated wonders of culture. I’d encourage schools and organizations to contact Jim Moulton and set up a date for Bwana Jim’s WIldlife Show to visit your venue.As a writer on art and culture, I never want to stray too far from the true source of aesthetic inspiration – the natural world. And I want to remind my readers that all art and culture is rooted in nature. My regular and frequent visits to Blue Marsh Lake are opportunities to feel myself a part of the natural world in a public setting. I recommend you ignore the uninformed reviews this awesome place gets from some locals and experience for yourself one of the best kept secrets in Berks County. Blue Marsh Lake is a perfect weekend destination!

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Shut Up and Play

The recent news of the Rolling Stones’ current tour and the coverage of the rant song, Sweet Neocon reminds me that giving people some credit for intelligence and sensible discrimination is sometimes uncalled for. Then there’s the big significance attributed to the rant band “Green Day” and their showing at the MTV VMA extravaganza. The coverage linked here includes the amazingly inane sentence, “GREEN DAY, the anti-war punk rockers, swept the MTV Video Music Awards in a sign that American popular culture is turning against US presence in Iraq.” After all, “American popular culture” has been anti-establishment for forty years now. “Anti-establishment” is what sells best to conformist, materialistic, wealthy, guilt-ridden, and neurotic societies.Now we have Kanye West, who earns high placement on the dumb public statement list with his, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people!” uttered on Network TV. See coverage here.The stupidity of West’s most recent public statements is self-evident to all except partisans who can’t seem to bring themselves to say something temperate that would indicate failures at all levels of response to Hurricane Katrina, period. But blaming and sloganeering get emotional responses going in an audience much more than do clear-headed or fair-minded statements.Rock and Roll, including all its derivatives, from Punk to Rap, is the music that children move toward after nursery rhymes, playground songs, kids’ TV, and cheerleading chants. It serves as acoustic environment, anthem generator, and emotional entertainment for our pre-teen and adolescent populations and for our post-adolescent selves. It’s not a vehicle for elevated conceptions or elucidations of complex positions. Even the very few lyricists who’ve been declared “poets” by reviewers who have self-interests in glorifying their own positions as cultural arbiters do not deserve ranking in the canon of Modern Poetry.Because the uninformed rebelliousness of youth has become the dominant quality of our anti-heroic pantheon of cultural icons, we find ourselves in the absurd situation of being led by iconoclasts and rabble rousers. The fact that we are bombarded with endless streams of cultural programming into accepting the rubber-stamp rebels and mind-addled minstrels who entertain us as heroic and worthy of emulating in some way is sad enough. But when these know-nothings are raised to the status of political and socio-cultural spokespersons, the results are at once lamentably stupid and dangerously irresponsible. It happens, of course, because those who sell us popular culture and entertainment hail these celebrities as significant.Unprepared for the psychological compromises fame and fortune work upon their dysfunctional mindsets, popular stars come to think of themselves as leaders. They broadcast their opinions as if they mattered. This would be funny if it wasn’t so alarming.Popular mass-entertainment culture is about as important as candy bars and sugar-coated cereal. Hearing what Mick Jagger, or Green Day, or Kanye West think about the political and social realities of the world strikes me as absurd as Captain Crunch coming out against the war or a political slogan appearing on a Hershey Bar.

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Katrina's Coming

Bottom dwellingLooking up – I sometimes doThe old air ocean Everywhere disturbedThe fringe of your turbulent skirtOver my head I’m so small I can’t see your kneesOr that deep black holeOf yoursI saw on TVThey called it your eyeBut I knowWhat it was*Words by TFD

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