Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I Don't Have to Show No Stinkin' Badge

H(2), A, B, P, T1, T (oak-leaf cluster)

I'll get to what these mean in just a moment. For now, what do these have in common:

Members of the military


Male politicians

Female politicians

A: They all wear some overt status-identifying device, a kind of walking curriculum vitae.

Members of the military have on their uniforms a designation of their rank and as well a chest full of ribbons identifying campaigns in which they served as well as awards of merit.

Republicans conspicuously wear American flags on some visible portion of their outer dress (and probably have tattoos, but we won't go into that).

Male politicians wear red or light blue neckties, usually with polka dots or some other small figure.

Female politicians wear tailored suits with open-collar blouses (except for Hillary, whose suits may well be tailored but do not appear to be).

These are the outward signals of their profession, unmistakable signs of what they do and what they think of themselves, much of a piece with a female hooker wearing four-inch heels and a male hooker wearing a North Face jacket over a beefy t-shirt.

How are we in the arts to compete? Shall we wear jewelry or ribbons to commemorate .awards, grants, exhibitions, the placement of our work in prestigious publications or galleries? I think not. 

 One of the things that distinguishes US from THEM is our sense that such grants, awards, exhibitions, publications and the like was THEN and we are living in what I like to think of as the artistic now, a kind of creative search/affirmation of Carlyle's The Everlasting Yea.

We may in part be THEM during a portion of our daily life, which is to say we may be military, Republican, male, female, even hooker, but our life inside the artistic now requires no status symbols, no defining labels, only our curiosity and endless drive to render what we see as we see it.

If we were to show any campaign ribbons or other display of having endured within the human condition, I propose a system based on that seemingly odd group of symbols with which I began this rumination. We have gained much during the pursuit of our creative life, and we have lost as well. The H(2) I listed has nothing to do with water; it relates to the fact that I now go about the warp and weft of my life no longer hobbled with the hips I was issued at birth. Pure titanium now. The A represents an appendix which I no longer need. You will surely get the picture about some of the others: adenoids, for instance, or teeth. 

Thanks to a run-in with cancer, I now get to wear a B as in bladder. (My gawd, a nurse exclaimed during one of my check-up exams, how do you pee? Very nicely, I explained, thinking of Alex Koper, MD, who installed a neo-bladder which works, I am here to attest, every bit as well as the bladder of my birth. The list goes on and, indeed, will go on. I could stretch things and include an H for hair, but you would be able to see that on your own without my need of a campaign ribbon.

In my reading of photography blogs I come across with some regularity the question of how best to approach human subjects with one's instrument, be it a 35 mm or a view camera. How do you disarm the subject from that artificial pose we all seem to want to take? How do we render our subjects as transparent and honest as, say Zoe Strauss on any given day of any given blog or, for that matter, any given image she has taken?

In his definitive essay, "The Simple Art of Murder," Raymond Chandler might well have been speaking of the artist, the creative person rather than the private detective when he wrote, * Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness."

Well of course, we now have women as private investigators and women as artists to whom we look for vision.

On the other hand, we still have mean streets. (Have you ever seen the Santa Monica Freeway, eastbound, at three in the afternoon?) And it is, I argue, to our interest to walk them as unobtrusively as possible, the better to see what we see and render to our art and sullen craft(See the poem by Dylan Thomas:"In My Craft or Sullen Art.") the things that are theirs.

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