Friday, April 22, 2005

Family Dollar (pt. uno)

The mid-day sun was bright and clear, punching down on the summered walkways of the small town, giving dramatic shadow to everything with dimension. A scraggly teen-aged boy wanders across the remarkably quiet town square, his slouching frame is covered by an over-sized t-shirt catching wind like a galleon’s sail. His mop of shiny, youthful blond hair covers his face like melted wax. His Vans are showing poor wear, and his big toe can be seen peeking through the top of his left sneaker as he dodges wayward pages from a newspaper as they cartwheel into his path. He crosses the empty square, jay-walks the boulevard, and enters a customer-dead Family Dollar store.

Two twenty-somethings guys are working the registers up front, ignoring everything around them. The brown, shaggy-haired scenester of the two is reading People magazine. He picks at a patch of chin acne, a remnant from his Dungeons and Dragons youth, while his blinkless eyes pour over the brightly colored articles. His apron is far too large for his mild frame and he leans against the counter in stressed blue jeans, with a faintly feminine pose, staring intensely into the glossy pages. The other guy, a couple of years older, with a thin sheen of hair on his pointy head, is bouncing a super ball off the floor with enough power to send it up into the ceiling tiles. “I’m gonna knock one of these fuckers out.” He repeats this, whether anyone is within earshot or not. He has a militia aura about him, and tends to wear fatigue-ish gear even when it is inappropriate to do so. Such as a funeral. Or the beach. He was never ROTC in high school, but tells everyone he was. He was denied entrance into the military, even though he tells everyone he was part of Desert Storm. He is an atrocious shot, but is a rabid carrier of the NRA virus, which he contracted through his imprisoned father. When he slams the ball to the asbestos tiled floor, he throws his entire body into it. Like a tribal dance move. Every slam earns a bespittled grunt.

The teenager strolls past them, nabs a box of strawberry pop-tarts from a shelf, and makes his way to the back of the store, beyond the sight of the two cashiers. Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer’ hits the intercom. The scenester starts to nod his head to the beat, still combing through the articles.

Super Ball speaks up. “Hey, Jaime, do you bet me that I can get this ball stuck in the ceiling?”

Jaime, the scenester, still staring at his magazine, “no, Brad, I will not bet you. The last time we did that you swallowed a golf tee for two bucks. I had to do overtime that week to cover your shift. Plus the two bucks.”

“But this one doesn’t make me do stupid things. I got it this time. I bet you.”

“No Brad. Besides, I’d have to go up there and get it out if you won.”

Brad stops to seethe, just slightly, while staring at Jaime. This is standard practice between them. They grew up blocks from each other, but never really knew each other until they both started working at Family Dollar two years ago. Jaime always speaks of leaving their town for L.A., Seattle, or New York. Brad usually speaks of fast food, marijuana, and getting laid.

“Hey Jaime, I bet you I’ll fuck that girl from the hair salon next door. She was watching me lock up my bike today. She’s pretty hot.”

Jaime, unamused, and refusing to peel his eyes from the pages of celebrity tales, answers back with an almost parental tone. “Sure Brad. That’s Jennifer you’re talking about. The coach’s daughter. She’s fifteen.”

“So. She has no man around, except her dad, and he’s old. I’ll ask her out. To the drive-in.”

“You have no car.”

“I’ll borrow Joey’s.”

Jaime finally looked up to meet Brad’s stare. This was an almost daily exercise between the two of them. Brad would say something obscene, litigious, or outright insane, just to get Jaime to engage in conversation. Eventually Jaime would break down, and indulge the exercise for an hour or so.

“Don’t you think Joey might want to use his own car this weekend?”

“Not if I ask him today. It’s only Tuesday. I’ll ask him now before he makes plans.”

Jaime puts down the magazine and leans back against the counter, with his arms folded.

“She’s fifteen Brad. Fiff-fucking-teen. And you plan to fuck her this weekend. Did you forget to take your meds?”

“Shut the fuck up about my meds. And you don’t know if she’s fifteen anyway. You don’t even know if that old man is a coach. They just said that when they moved here.”

“Oh, sure. Why would they lie about being a coach and a fifteen year old if that isn’t what they are? That would be a lame-ass lie, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t they choose ‘actress and retired firefighter’ or something more interesting?”

Brad, looking pensive, as if he were honestly processing what was just said. “Well, maybe they are here as protected witnesses for something mafia related.”

Jaime’s previous expression of wonderment melts into a mask of irritation. “He coached for my cousin’s football team. And she really is fifteen. She’s in my mom’s bible study class.”

They stared at one another for several seconds, Jaime nodding his head with a grin, and Brad shaking his down-tilted head with pursed lips. Finally, Brad relented.


“Yeah. That’s right. So just drop it and don’t be such a perv.”

The teenage boy opens up a cooler in the back and takes out two cans of Red Bull. He pounds one down, puts the second in his pocket, and drops the empty Pop-Tart box to the floor. Just before he pushes his way through the rear fire exit he mumbles, just audibly, “man, this has to be the worst town yet.”

The launching of the fire alarm causes Brad to lose concentration on his task. The Super Ball hits a disheveled floor tile and pops directly into Jaime’s chin, forcing him to fall backward over the counter in an effort to make a dodge. He sustained the hit anyhow, right to the pimpled chin. But as he toppled over, he managed to yell, "Fucking Brad and your fucking balls!"

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

I Like to Ramble About Art. You?

Oh boy does this post meander. What a mess. It's just that, well, I just got into it (again) over this. Now it was with a work mate. I must be mumbling when I explain myself in these situations, because I always hear the same shit whenever I try to discuss…

What. Is. Art?

Man, I get emotional over this. It's ridiculous.

There is aesthetic shit.
There is technically brilliant shit.
There is naturally occurring/accidental shit.
AND THEN there is artistic shit, which may involve a little of the other three.
Not all shit is artistic shit.

To begin, I would like to say that I am not interested in discussing what makes ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘offensive’, or any other variety of art. That is a total judgment call. Different strokes for different folks. But I firmly believe that there are a limited number of things/ideas/whatever which should even be up for consideration in the matter. So, again, I am not interested in defining what makes a piece of art ‘good’ or ‘bad’. No one really does.

Alrighty then. On with the unpopular topic, which I seem to discuss often.

One always ventures into dangerous territory when trying to define ‘Art’ (I will type it ‘art’ or ‘Art’ or art or Art). There are those who keep it close: “art is in the eye of the beholder”. Which sounds good, but is a complete and utter cop-out. Why, you may ask? Isn’t art really subjective and therefore up to the observer? Right? Huh? Isn’t it?

No. Absolutely not.

Because that makes EVERYTHING that has or ever will exist: art. A pimple becomes potential body art. A bird-dropping falling on the pavement becomes visual art. A punch to the face can be considered a work of performance art. And the laying of fiber-optics over the mid-oceanic ridge suddenly passes for art.

Which is fine by me, I guess. But if everything becomes art, then why the fuck are there classes on it? It's everywhere, all the fucking time, right? If it is all around us, and anything we deem to be pretty, interesting, witty, or technically difficult is suddenly available to be studied as “art”, then why should anyone care? If every footprint made as some douche-balloon staggered from a leaking urinal at Klan rally all of sudden was up for auction as ‘profound’ art, then who fucking cares about the lot of it?

Well. The truth is, the majority of the bull shit people regularly call ‘Art’ is nothing of the sort. Don’t get me wrong. There are many pretty, technically brilliant, difficult-to-do things out there. But not everything that fits into that description falls into the realm of art. Life is tough that way. Don't worry, I cried too.

Of all the things I ever seen referred to as ‘art’, I would safely say that all of it was created by either accident, a true artist, or someone with technical skill.

The accidents are just accidents. Some people try to attribute the 'accidental art' to a higher power of some sort, but then turn right around and expect a 'finder's fee' for it. What? Con artist is more like it. Get a real job and stop screwing things up for the honest, hard working artists. Dick.

An artist, in my mind, is something (maybe something non-human?) that is capable and willing to take in their environment, their existence, an experience, into themselves. Then process it and return it to the world as a unique interpretation, communication, image, whatever. Technical skill can help the artist to achieve their goal, or make their art more aesthetically pleasing.

Someone with technical skill (but no artistic bend to match) is someone who has studied a particular technique or technique set to the point of mastery. But the technique has always been someone else’s, and it has never been used in an artistic way. I always view their works as very aesthetic, or amazingly difficult to do, but not necessarily artistic. There are many, many brilliant painters in the world who fall into this category. They paint wonderful landscapes or life-like portraits using the mastered techniques taught to them in school or by mentors. But for all their technical skill, they are just following directions. No matter how good they are at following directions, they are not doing anything artistic. For every painting artist in the world, I would estimate that there are 1 million painters. Hell, I’ve painted some no-concept shit in my day. I love a perfect photo-esque portrait as much as the next guy, but I like it for the technical skill and aesthetic properties. It is not art to me. No concept.

Ah yes, Concept. A great standard for judgment. Good times.


At an art show. Guy standing next to a brass sculpture of a cube with holes cut out like Swiss cheese. You think it looks cool (aesthetically pleasing), and it seems like crafting metals in such a way would be difficult (technically brilliant).

So you ask, “what is this all about?”

He answers, “well, I don’t really know. I just kind of did it on my driveway. I mean, I just found this big block in my dad’s garage, and started fucking around with a drill. My neighbor was all ‘that’s art’ and I was all ‘word?’ and he was like ‘dude, yes, put it in a show or some shit,’ so here I am. Art.”

Hm. Or, how about:

He answers, “well, what I was trying to say was that, like, when I’m really fucking angry, I see my problem as like this big-ass cube in my brain, and I have to pilot holes through it so I can get it all weak and shit. Then I can see through my problems, the big cubes, floating in my brain. You know what I mean?”


Now, you may not like the concept, but it’s there. Furthermore, the second dude could be completely bullshitting you, telling you the concept existed BEFORE the piece, when in fact he just made that shit up on the spot. But his interpretation is still there, and it is still a concept (post construction concept, so I would find it really weak). If you find that weak, and you don’t trust the artist, then punch him in the mouth. Or don’t. Whatever.

Regardless, we need standards for something as subjective as ‘art’. Concept is the only real standard I use when I deem something to be either Art, NOT Art, or “I don’t really know, it depends.” (for my previous example: first dude = NOT Art as it is more of an accident. Second dude = “I don’t really know” as I would need to see more of his pieces to confirm he is capable of conceptualizing beyond great lies.)

Concept is key. There has to be some kind of idea behind the thing. Accidents are NOT art. Give that up. Stop stressing that shit on me. Some dude is making dinner and drops a dollup of corn chowder onto the recipe sheet and it ends up looking like a skull and crossbones is interesting, but not fucking art. There was no idea, no effort, and no use of innovative technique involved. Nothing. It is as artistic as stepping on a rusty nail, farting while sneezing, or getting t-boned by a Camaro on your way to work. All interesting, all accidental, none of it: art. Go cancel all those ebay bids on that Virgin Mary sammich 'art'.

So. To begin, there needs to be something behind the piece (painting, sculpture, statement, song, whatever). The point can be as definite as “This is what it felt like the first time I got kicked in the balls” down to as vague as “I set up a scenario for myself: dark room, fifty bud lights, two joints, and a strobe. I played my guitar after that to see what I would end up channeling.” Or, “I wanted to have a conversation with your feet using this French horn.” Granted, you may not appreciate the concept, but at least there is a concept present (again, I am not judging quality here). Let me toss out an obvious example.

What is the difference between a pile of dog shit and a pile of dog shit which has been fashioned into the shape of a horse?

Concept. Dog food is said to contain much horse meat. From horse to dog to horse, hello, we have a shitty concept. The dog shit, by itself, has no concept.

What is the difference between a Dali original and a really good (numbered, limited) lithograph of the same? This is where my coworker and I found deep disagreement.

Conceptual technique. The original work contains brilliant and never-seen-before-it-arrived technique. The strokes are the work of a genius in his medium, his texturing through repeated fine-stroked layering of paints was part of the concept, recreating the images in his mind on to canvass. You can’t fuck with his combination of original and well-learned technique.

And the overriding Concept. His concepts were rich and completely unique. He chose to use paints to say something specific, express an emotion, or tell a childhood story. He enlisted his mastery of the technique to fulfill a deeply intelligent concept. He was explaining his goddamn dreams to us.

So what about the lithographer?

The lithograph has neither of those things. Lithographs are old hat (however, the FIRST lithograph ever made might be considered art because the innovative technique itself may have been artistic by design). You don’t need much skill to produce them. Just the equipment, which is lame. And the shoddy Concept of the lithograph is not the original intent of the work. It is to MAKE MORE MONEY by churning out copies of the original (however high quality they may be). Making more money = non-artistic concept = not art.

Now I don’t want to confuse technical skill with artistry. There is a difference. There are Artisans, and there are Artists. Here is where I disagree with the dictionary.

Artisan: A skilled manual worker; a craftsperson.
Artist: One, such as a painter, sculptor, or writer, who is able by virtue of imagination and talent or skill to create works of aesthetic value, especially in the fine arts.

This is a very broad definition, contrary to the naming of “painter, sculptor, or writer”. It must be narrowed to avoid confusion. The half-wit cousin of the guy you contracted to paint your house (the colors you chose), who did a fantastic job, did not create a work of art.

It may be aesthetically pleasing, the colors may be of a very creative or interesting combination, and you may love your house’s new paint job a great deal, but face it. It ain’t art, so let it go. ‘Silly’ is not a concept. Neither is ‘Gothic Temptress of the Night’ paint scheme. The concept was to have an aesthetically pleasing house, just like every other house in existence. To what degree you may find yours, or others homes aesthetically pleasing may vary. But it won’t change the zero-level of artistry involved.

If you lived in Tikrit, and you painted your crib like a big target-bulls-eye, as a political statement, then I would say there was some art happening there. But okra paneling with Ralph Lauren’s newest version of ash-felt grey trim, while very attractive and perhaps even perfect in execution, says nothing. And you meant nothing when you chose it, so just drop it.

This brings me back to my own little categorization/classification system. Sure, it may seem cold and insensitive to try and grade things as ‘art’ or ‘you gots to be kiddin’ me’, but that’s how I choose to roll. And here is where I want to test it.

No doubt I may have said something you deeply disagree with here, and I am tired of having this discussion with people. So I am out to prove or disprove its worth.

All things will fit into one of the following categories:

There is aesthetic shit.
There is technically brilliant shit.
There is naturally occurring/accidental shit.
AND THEN there is artistic shit.

Again, there is a tad of bleed-over between these categories (some things, such as flowers, are both naturally occurring AND aesthetically pleasing, but not art. While the many works done by Picasso during his Blue Period are both aesthetic AND artistic. You get my point.)

Very few things fall into the category of artistic. Feel free to try me. I’m hoping to sharpen and tighten this discussion up.

Word to art.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Some Dissonance is to be Expected

I am not a religious person by any stretch. To even call myself "spiritual" may be an affront to those who actually are. I'm not even on the fence, really. That would require me to ponder it more than I do.

But there are certain situations where I return to the idea of some sort of god. A shared spirituality. Free-floating souls. An afterworld of some sort. Anything, really.

Death is the most common cause for me to re-raise the question. Not my own, because that would be beyond my feelings. But the death of those around me is a much more difficult to reconcile. Outside of the fortified walls of organized religion, there aren't many comforts afforded in the case of death. Whatever it was, simply ends. Naturally, we as curious and emotional creatures take serious issue with this.

I don't know about you, but when I have an issue, I like to write pointless letters to complain about it. I don't know why. It helps me cope, I guess. So here goes.

Open Letter to Christian God (based on assumption of existence).

I am writing you this letter, and you specifically, because I am not well versed in any other varieties of deity-by-human-construct. I don’t know how to refer to any of the Eastern Philosophy gods, Wiccan deities, or anything the American Indians may have worshipped. My stepping in Religious education ended when I discovered that I could simply stop listening to boring, poorly offered, and wholly unsubstantiated bull shit. Hey, it's your design buddy, from what I can gather, so there’s no point in getting huffy about it. Feel free to blame yourself, for me and my ways. Since I’m agreeing to temporarily suspend my disbelief in you, I am certainly excited for the opportunity to genuinely blame someone (something, whatever) else for my transgressions. It’s all very new to me, and it is all rather badass.

I doubt it will last though. I tend to get bored quick. Moving on.

We’ve never met. So let me begin this by saying that I never really believed in you. I’m sure you feel the same.


Let me also say that I, just like the vast majority of mankind, have a strong tendency to ‘admit’ to ‘believing’ in lots of complete horse shit like:

The positive movie reviews for Tomb Raider.
“There’s nothing really wrong with Nutrasweet.”
Size doesn't really matter.
My distaste for mayo is only in my head.
Whisky makes me attractive and fun to be around.
Michael Jackson is of the same species as his victims.

Of course, all of these things have been either proven completely false, or remain deeply suspect. Your existence comes right after the MJ crack. That’s right, asshole. I’m keeping a strict eye out, so mind your p’s and q’s.

And just in case you take issue with me calling you an asshole, well please allow me to explain (because really, that's the whole point of this letter, asshole).

Based on my own personal experiences in life, I do not believe in your existence whatsoever. But for the sake of argument, and for the sake of this open letter, I am assuming you exist. In some form or another.

Having an open mind about this assumption, I have three basic god-type personalities as probable candidates for whatever the hell you actually are. I realize that the potential manifestations of your personality are limitless, but I believe these descriptions capture the vast majority of specifics. Here are the personality types, in short:

1. The average neo-Christian-esque religious interpretation
2. The non-judgmental creator who stands back and watches with curiosity
3. The vacant creator who forgot the human project altogether

Religious variety

Sweet Jesus, where to begin with this train wreck. Basically, if you are, indeed, a god by the general description, then you need some serious help. Makes no difference which Christian-based religion you come from. They all seem to focus on the wonderful play between open-armed benevolence, and the all-consuming fury of negative judgment. Standard carrot/stick deal. Some religions subscribe a little more Yin over Yang, but they all tip it on the same scales. Six, one-half dozen, or the other. Your doubled-over and blatantly hypocritical demands that your vanity be propped up by us little (and apparently worthless, yet ultimately valuable) human soul-baskets, is just plain masturbatory. If you are, indeed, an all-powerful entity which nods and guides every little possibility in the universe, demanding that the entire human race bow down at your feet and constantly thank you for delivering us the possibility to burn in eternal hell… well that’s just stupid. You need to get beyond the need for us knuckleheads to give you praise. You’re already top dog. You win. Why do you give two shits about whether or not I fucking admit it publicly? Get over it already, for fuck’s sake. If those who follow scripture, and believe that god is some kind of all supreme thing, looking down and judging me based on my acceptance of his superiority… if those people prove to be right about you? Well then. A spade’s a spade, and you are an asshole.

Non-Judgmental Creator

You are, by your own actions, an asshole. Why? Because you created this whole mess for your own entertainment. That’s why.

Call it whatever you want. Call it an experiment. A big ol’ ant farm. Call it a collection, a project, a work of art, a race to implosion, whatever. We’re all here wondering what the fucking point is, and making up all these grandiose reasons for our own existence. And there you are, just hanging back, knowing that it all amounts to absolutely nothing, watching us squirm. Either that, or you have no clue what the hell we are, because we are an accident of some sort. In which case, you wouldn’t understand the words in this letter, so I can call you whatever the fuck I want, you illiterate, supreme fuck-nut.

And if we are entertainment or an experiment, then just consider me calling you an asshole to be either: a) part of the show, or b) part of the results in your testing. Asshole.

Negligent Creator

Hey, asshole, over here! You fucking forgot about us you prick! We aren’t equipped with much beyond a penchant for self-destruction. You left us here to fend for ourselves, and I have my doubts about our abilities to do so with any level of success. If we are to overcome this whole ‘extinction’ thing, which no species appears immune to, then we’ll need some help. We aren’t a turn-key kinda group. We’re pretty god-damned high-maintenance over here.

Pun intended.

Or maybe I’m just saying that because I don’t believe in you, and it is easier for me to thumb my nose at figments than it is to honestly reconcile the finality of it all. Much easier than accepting that many of the people I love the most will forever leave me, while the remainder will be completely abandoned by me. ‘Asshole’ is the first word that comes to mind here, because it makes me feel better about the whole thing. It helps to balance out how powerless I feel otherwise. It gives me the gumption to continue building real relationships with loved ones who I know I will eventually lose entirely. It cuts the darkness of it all. It gives me something to hold on to. It almost makes me smile.