Seeing Differently: A Theory of Art for Our Times

T.S. Eliot had his “social function of poetry” and we have social media – YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. etc.

Could it be that what we celebrate as the art of our times is not Art at all? If so, What is Art? 

At best, our culture has relegated Art to the dubious field of “entertainment” – hijacked from its true purpose, left to serve as a decoration on the public walls of high society museums and the private walls of wealthy collectors. At best, art is fashion.

Wait, wait, wait.

John Seely Brown’s latest newsletter takes us to task by raising an important point: 

Artists are not included in our debate on how we build
the economy for the future. They’re excluded in our nation’s emphasis on innovation which has been left to the STEM crowd. We’re not thinking about designing for emergence. Innovation is about seeing the world differently. Who is better at helping us see the world differently than the artists?”

Why is this? I can think of three reasons:

1) The “art” made by “artists” is irrelevant

2) The “artists” are not Artists

3) Art is generally devalued in a society polarized by Science, Fashion, and Politics

Alright, I’m being a bit silly, but here is someone who’s not:  Ben Davis and his 9.5 Theses on Art and Class (h/t Doug Smith) serve as both an indictment and a wake-up call for artists everywhere. Have a look at this excerpt:

2.0 Today, the ruling class, which is capitalist, dominates
the sphere of the visual arts

2.1 It is part of the definition of a ruling class that it
controls the material resources of society 

2.2 The ruling ideologies, which serve to reproduce this material situation, also represent the interests of the ruling class

2.3 The dominant values given to art, therefore, will be
ones that serve the interests of the current ruling class

2.4 Concretely, within the sphere of the contemporary visual
arts, the agents whose interests determine the dominant values of art are: large corporations, including auction houses and corporate collectors; art investors, private collectors and patrons; trustees and administrators of large cultural institutions and universities

2.5 One role for art, therefore, is as a luxury good, whose
superior craftsmanship or intellectual prestige indicates superior social status

2.6 Another role for art is to serve as financial instrument
or tradable repository of value

2.7 Another role for art is as sign of “giving back” to the
community, to whitewash ill-gotten gains

2.8 Another role for art is symbolic escape valve for
radical impulses, to serve as a place to isolate and contain social energy that runs counter to the dominant ideology

2.9 A final role for art is the self-replication of
ruling-class ideology about art itself–the dominant values given to art serve not only to enact ruling-class values directly, but also to subjugate, within the sphere of the arts, other possible values of art

OK. But why are artists banished from the Republic? 

One can argue (via Ben Franklin) that the last artist was Jesus and before him Socrates. I’d add folks like Gandhi, Malcolm X, Mandela, Marley… The artist sees differently. Not just paintings on a wall, but society itself. Who paints our vision for society today? Lady Gaga or our lobbyists?

Walker Percy saw the artist (or writer) as a canary in the coal mine. The artist as prophet. But we are deaf to the canary. We’ve banned our artists from society – not by muzzling them with threats and jail time, but by turning them into designers of consumer and fashion goods.  

For the first time in history, we’ve made art useful as a financial commodity- and killed it in the process.

Meanwhile, somewhere, hidden from the lights of Sotheby’s and Christie’s, art is still being made.

The $300 House-for-the-Poor

Ever since the Haiti earthquake, I’ve been thinking about why we don’t have a quick-build house made of sustainable materials at a price point that the poor can afford (with micro-credit if needed).

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The $300 House-for-the-Poor is an extension of the concept of “reverse innovation(inspired by my client and friend VG) in which innovations developed in poor countries are then brought back for use in developed countries and other parts of the world. Housing impacts health, energy, education, and security.

What if we could build sustainably designed houses for the world’s poor at an affordable cost? What if these same designs could provide relief to refugees and victims of natural disasters? The we I’m referring to is a collaborative of companies, governments, and NGOs.

This type of a structure will be engineered in the same way the TATA Nano was engineered – without the traditional assumptions.

Once built, the $300 house should be used across the globe – from Haiti, to Africa, India, and yes, even in this country, to help the homeless.

So what are we waiting for?  It’s time to get busy designing the $300 House!

Now that’s a Da Vinci!

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Poor Leonardo. After losing out to Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni during his lifetime, he still doesn’t get the credit or recognition his work deserves. Finally, someone trusted their intuition, and bought a sketch which looked to him like a Leonardo, and, lo – it was! His $19000 investment is now worth $150 million:

Now that’s what I call reverse innovation!

If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the basement to see if I have any Da Vinci’s lying around in my art collection…

Umberto Eco on Handwriting

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Maybe he just likes the taste of ink on his fingers, or maybe he’s concerned that we won’t be seeing too many works like Jung’s Red Book any more, but Umberto Eco tells us that handwriting is good for the soul:

Why should we regret the passing of good handwriting? The capacity to write well and quickly on a keyboard encourages rapid thought, and often (not always) the spell-checker will underline a misspelling.

Eco’s own handwriting seems a little less than soulful, if we are to judge by this specimen:

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His concern, however, is real: most kids – what with computers (when they use them) and text messages – can no longer write by hand, except in laboured capital letters.

And of course, we do know that computers don’t help you think.  That’s best done w/ a sheet of blank paper and a fountain pen. My own love for ink pens stems from a different sort of “creativity” – I enjoy creating doodles out of the ink I spill.

But unlike Eco, I think ballpoint pens do have a purpose, especially during those endless business meetings:

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Tao 2.0: Stephen Mitchell’s “The Second Book of the Tao”

The Tao that can be blogged is not the eternal Tao. Or is it?
The great thing about working for myself is that I get to work with people (and companies) I like. In this case, I’ve been asked by Penguin Press to promote Stephen Mitchell‘s latest work: The Second Book of the Tao.
Stephen Mitchell is a quiet soul. The last gentleman. He’s definitely not the self-promoting type. So it was with some difficulty that we got him to talk about his first Tao (Tao Te Ching) and his newest masterpiece – The Second Book of the Tao.
The results are on YouTube!
Here Stephen talks about how The Second Book of The Tao came into being:

And here’s an excerpt; Chapter 14 from The Second Book of The Tao:

Here’s a little more about the book, adapted from the Penguin press release:
The Second Book of The Tao is a twenty-first-century form of ancient wisdom, bringing a sequel of the Tao Te Ching into the modern world. Alongside each translated passage, Stephen adds his own insights for contemporary readers.
“His meditations and provocative re-imagining of the original texts comprise a book that is both a companion volume and an anti-manual to the Tao Te Ching. Mitchell renders these ancient teachings at once modern, relevant, and timeless.”
Agreed.
Learn to govern your mind, and the universe will govern itself.
Or, as Funkadelic might say, “Free Your Mind…And Your -ss Will Follow.” (That wasn’t in the Penguin press release)
To appreciate Mitchell’s mind, see StephenMitchellBooks.com >>
And here are some stories about Stephen as told by his wife Byron Katie: here, here and here >>

Blues Dance Raid: Steel Pulse versus Morgan Heritage

The original, Steel Pulse in 1985:

The remake, Morgan Heritage in 2008:

The lyrics:
Blues Dance Raid
by Steel Pulse
Muzik a bubble not looking for trouble
Some shekels fe I shenks
Just a burn up de lambs bread
Session rocking ysh!
So dem come so dem drop
From time to time dem been watching
Dem a spy with dem bad eye
(Come a raid I blues dance)
Tipped off by informers
Dem a watch who come out and come in yeh
(Come a raid I blues dance)
Yes they knew when the time would be right
Run come gate crash I party
(Come a raid I blues dance)
Raid blues dance raid I blues
(Come a raid I blues dance)
Kick off door woe I name dem call
I back against de wall a rub a daughter
(Come a raid I blues dance)
Dem a run come kill I vibe interfere with I
The pigs come to destroy Rasta cry blood
Dreadlocks cry blood
Raid blues dance
Out of darkness out of night
People screaming batons wheeling
A lot of bleeding bruised feelings
Search warrant for their outvitation
Walkie talkies reinforcements
From dem pocket dem draw handcuff
Dis yah session it rough
Every step of the way got to retaliate yeh
Fight dem back mash dem down
Vex to death dem a threat
Mek arrest kiss me neck
Raid blues dance raid I blues
A run come a run come who
Run come kill I vibe interfere with I
Pigs come to destroy Rasta cry blood
Dreadlocks cry blood
Come a come a come a come a raid
Come a kick I speaker
Come a mash up I tweeter
Come a grab up I shenks
Come a lick out I window
Come a move out I soft drink
Come a rough up the people
Come a turn off me System
Have fe give you some bitch lick
Come a smash I turntables
Come a scratch up I music
Come a drive up you meat van
Come a come a come a raid.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
For me, there’s no contest.
Steel Pulse, all the way. But Morgan Heritage is fun as well 🙂

Christmas Music: O Holy Night – Pick Your Favorite Version

Here are a few versions of one of my favorite Christmas songs. I’ve been compiling this list for a while:
Mahalia Jackson
Tracy Chapman
Nat King Cole
Aretha Franklin & Billy Preston
Jon Anderson
Andy Williams
Bing Cosby
Johnny Mathis
Mario Lanza
Harry Connick, Jr.
Charlotte Church & Placido Domingo
Placido Domingo, José Carreras and Diana Ross
Perry Como
Mountain Dulcimer Jack
Brain McKnight and Jessica Simpson
Alicia Keys
My favorite? Andy Williams, until we get a version from Steel Pulse!

Why Music?

What appetite drives the proliferation of music to the point where the average American teenager spends 1½-2½ hours a day—an eighth of his waking life—listening to it?
Why music?
My answer – Steel Pulse’s Chant a Psalm:

Farewell Mama Afrika: Miriam Makeba Passes On

The Soweto Blues = The Worldwide Blues…

R.I.P. Mama Afrika. She died in Castel Volturno, near Caserta, Italy, of a heart attack, shortly after taking part in a concert organized to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation
See also this stirring rendition of N’Kosi Sikeleli Africa:

Chindogu anyone?


Being stalked? Just go ahead and camouflage yourself as a Coke machine.
Martin Fackler’s NYTimes article Fearing Crime, Japanese Wear the Hiding Place gives us a look at the peculiar world of Japanese innovation.
Writes Fackler:
[Japan is] home to a prolific subculture of individual inventors, whose ideas range from practical to bizarre. Inventors say a tradition of tinkering and building has made Japan welcoming to experimental ideas, no matter how eccentric.
“Japanese society won’t just laugh, so inventors are not afraid to try new things,” said Takumi Hirai, chairman of Japan’s largest association of individual inventors, the 10,000-member Hatsumeigakkai.
In fact, Japan produces so many unusual inventions that it even has a word for them: chindogu, or “queer tools.”

A chindogu manifesto is available online for all you budding inventors. The ten tenets are:
1. A Chindogu cannot be for real use.
2. A Chindogu must exist.
3. Inherent in every Chindogu is the spirit of anarchy.
4. Chindogu are tools for everyday life.
5. Chindogu are not for sale.
6. Humor must not be the sole reason for creating Chindogu.
7. Chindogu are not propaganda.
8. Chindogu are never taboo.
9. Chindogu cannot be patented.
10. Chindogu are without prejudice.
And here are a few examples of chindogu from the King of Chindogu – Kenji Kawakami.
Finally, here’s more from the International Chindogu Society. Check out the “portable zebra crossing” >>

The Best Spice Blog on the Web

And the award goes to Spicelines.com – the best spice blog on the web!
Move over Victoria Beckham! The authentic spice girl is Courtenay Beinhorn Dunk.
She describes herself as an “obsessive cook, style fanatic, avid traveler, reluctant writer, food photographer when the light is right…” Judge for yourself by visiting the Spiceline archives >>
Wait, there’s more. Spices, you see, are part of our global heritage.
Says Dunk:
“The more I traveled, the more I noticed that spices and their flavors are global. It’s the local tastes that are different.
“When I ate fish head curry in Singapore I could taste the earthiness of the cumin that flavors carrot salad in Morocco and tomatillo salsa in Mexico. In Paris at Ze Kitchen Galerie, William Ledeuil used flowery Tahitian vanilla to bring out the sea-sweet taste of perfectly fresh sea bass. In the West we think of cinnamon as a dessert spice, yet at La Maison Bleue in Fez, it was the dominant spice in a savory 14th century lamb and couscous dish.”
Wow.
Check out:
Aurora’s Chicken Enchiladas in Tomatillo Sauce with Garlic and Cumin
Salt, Salt Everywhere: The Five Salts You Really Need
Great Reads: Climbing the Mango Trees, a Spicy Memoir of India

There’s even fiction like this bit – SpiceTales: Claire’s Dream
Whew!
I’ve been so buried lately, that I hadn’t notice that Courtenay has actually answered my request for “butter chicken“… the recipe I’ve been experimenting with for over seven years now. I’ll try it this weekend! Thanks, Courtenay!! 🙂

The Legislators of Mankind?

2005 Harold Pinter
2004 Elfriede Jelinek
2003 J.M. Coetzee
2002 Imre Kertész
2001 V.S. Naipaul
2000 Gao Xingjian
1999 GĂĽnter Grass
1998 José Saramago
1997 Dario Fo
1996 Wislawa Szymborska
1995 Seamus Heaney
1994 Kenzaburo Oe
1993 Toni Morrison
1992 Derek Walcott
1991 Nadine Gordimer
1990 Octavio Paz
1989 Camilo José Cela
1988 Naguib Mahfouz
1987 Joseph Brodsky
1986 Wole Soyinka
1985 Claude Simon
1984 Jaroslav Seifert
1983 William Golding
1982 Gabriel García Márquez
1981 Elias Canetti
1980 Czeslaw Milosz
1979 Odysseus Elytis
1978 Isaac Bashevis Singer
1977 Vicente Aleixandre
1976 Saul Bellow
1975 Eugenio Montale
1974 Eyvind Johnson, Harry Martinson
1973 Patrick White
1972 Heinrich Böll
1971 Pablo Neruda
1970 Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
1969 Samuel Beckett
1968 Yasunari Kawabata
1967 Miguel Angel Asturias
1966 Samuel Agnon, Nelly Sachs
1965 Mikhail Sholokhov
1964 Jean-Paul Sartre
1963 Giorgos Seferis
1962 John Steinbeck
1961 Ivo Andric
1960 Saint-John Perse
1959 Salvatore Quasimodo
1958 Boris Pasternak
1957 Albert Camus
1956 Juan Ramón Jiménez
1955 HalldĂłr Laxness
1954 Ernest Hemingway
1953 Winston Churchill
1952 François Mauriac
1951 Pär Lagerkvist
1950 Bertrand Russell
1949 William Faulkner
1948 T.S. Eliot
1947 André Gide
1946 Hermann Hesse
1945 Gabriela Mistral
1944 Johannes V. Jensen
1943 The prize money was with 1/3 allocated to the Main Fund and with 2/3 to the Special Fund of this prize section
1942 The prize money was with 1/3 allocated to the Main Fund and with 2/3 to the Special Fund of this prize section
1941 The prize money was with 1/3 allocated to the Main Fund and with 2/3 to the Special Fund of this prize section
1940 The prize money was with 1/3 allocated to the Main Fund and with 2/3 to the Special Fund of this prize section
1939 Frans Eemil Sillanpää
1938 Pearl Buck
1937 Roger Martin du Gard
1936 Eugene O’Neill
1935 The prize money was with 1/3 allocated to the Main Fund and with 2/3 to the Special Fund of this prize section
1934 Luigi Pirandello
1933 Ivan Bunin
1932 John Galsworthy
1931 Erik Axel Karlfeldt
1930 Sinclair Lewis
1929 Thomas Mann
1928 Sigrid Undset
1927 Henri Bergson
1926 Grazia Deledda
1925 George Bernard Shaw
1924 Wladyslaw Reymont
1923 William Butler Yeats
1922 Jacinto Benavente
1921 Anatole France
1920 Knut Hamsun
1919 Carl Spitteler
1918 The prize money was allocated to the Special Fund of this prize section
1917 Karl Gjellerup, Henrik Pontoppidan
1916 Verner von Heidenstam
1915 Romain Rolland
1914 The prize money was allocated to the Special Fund of this prize section
1913 Rabindranath Tagore
1912 Gerhart Hauptmann
1911 Maurice Maeterlinck
1910 Paul Heyse
1909 Selma Lagerlöf
1908 Rudolf Eucken
1907 Rudyard Kipling
1906 Giosuè Carducci
1905 Henryk Sienkiewicz
1904 Frédéric Mistral, José Echegaray
1903 Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson
1902 Theodor Mommsen
1901 Sully Prudhomme