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Camille @ Gallery 37 Center for the Arts

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Assume the existence of burning, eternal love. We all know it is the UFO of human feelings: a hardly believable phenomenon where you not only have hot pants for one another but every worldly care is forgotten. And all of this, the everyday devotion as well as the heaving, has to be a part of forever.

The Hypocrites’ production of Camille/La Traviata never questions this kind of love’s existence. It jumps headstrong into the consequences of its arrival. The starting point for this story is found only after tracing back in time through the litany of its permutations. Director, Sean Grainey, has attempted an adaptation based on three sources: the libretto for the opera La Traviata written by Francesco Maria Piave as well as the play and novel La Dame aux Camélias, by Alexandre Dumas. The results are muddled.

Our lovers are Camille and Armand. She is the most sought after Paris courtesan, and he is the respectable gentleman who can redeem her with his undying love.

Contending with the observation of their unfolding relationship is a range of distracting conceptual elements. Grainey abuts modern dance beats with operatic narration to farcical effect. His red saturated set—-the inside of a heart—is more neon cool than flaming passion. In his director’s notes, Grainey says that he wants to rid the play of its melodrama for something more honest. But he replaces melodrama with sustained hysterics, masquerading at times as realism. Camille (Amanda Putman) and Armand (John Byrnes) work (and shout) too hard. We never get a tender look.

Grainey, to his credit, lays out an ambitious goal for this play, asking a whirlwind of theatrical artifice that belie itself to the raw depths of love. Melodrama might not be the answer, but neither is sensory overload. A foil to the cacophony was nearly provided in the second act. At Camille’s country estate the torrid passions begin to mature; the lovers’ sanguine raiment of Parisian nightlife are replaced with everyday wear––but too briefly. Soon we are back in Paris for a trying third act. Here the script takes a down turn. Clever quips and retorts are replaced with playground polemics between Armand and his rival, the Baron. Unfortunately, there are not enough interesting ways to rearrange the cliché “Unlucky in love, but lucky at cards.”

Later during the act, Camille and Armand are beset in turn by a vamping chorus routine, doing what looks to be an attempt to achieve some high color kinetics—perhaps akin to Baz Luhrmann’s film, Moulin Rouge. The uneven production values here exacerbate this unwise decision. The shuffling steps, part Cats and part round-dance, were as cornball as the thudding heartbeat heard overhead.

Some individual performances were pleasant reprieves. Steve Wilson’s Baron stood out as understated and comically charm-less. Stacy Stoltz’s Flora had a very believable physical sass. But even together their roles were too limited to be a saving grace. Grainey’s conceptual elements and script emphatically tell us repeatedly that Armand and Camille are in a dreadfully deep love. We heard it said, but we never felt it.

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The Government That Cares: Interviews with the New Student Government Officers

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As the Spring 2004 semester goes on, SAIC welcomes four new officers of the Student Government. The four previous officers resigned due to personal reasons. Student Government officers are responsible for representing all of the students enrolled at SAIC. They must assist student groups with funding and address concerns and suggestions of other students. They are also responsible for holding weekly office hours and open meetings.

Shaun J. Herndon
Fourth Year Undergraduate

• As a student government officer, what is your goal for this new semester?

I’m interested in having student government become more intrinsically involved with the concerns of the working artist at SAIC. I’m interested in creating more ways for our school to promote its serious working artists, through potential programs that can be funded by student government. There are of course other goals that I feel are important, that directly align with the student government reform. The reform entails creating a working relationship with the students by funding programs or events that are suggested by groups of students that attend the student government meetings. Creating special events that are fun and worthwhile for the students such as Cafe Relax, is another goal that relates to the student government reform policy.

• How would you improve the SAIC community?

I believe that the SAIC community needs to be aware that there is a group of people in student government that really do want to work for the community of students. I would like student government to have a bigger role in the school art sales to benefit the working artist. Creating more spaces for art to be shown would be good too. I believe that this office is more than just “window-dressing” and there is a potential everywhere that can be tapped into. More in-depth communication between the students and student government can bring about a momentum of change through programs that are created by the ideas and suggestions of the voice of the student body. The SAIC community will improve through the genuine feedback and ideas that create a working relationship with student government. These are ideas that I myself am going to hold the student government office responsible for, when I am no longer in office.

• What is your concern for the school?

With gallery spaces being sold, I find myself concerned that the students here will feel that they are not being supported by their institution. My concern is that there needs to be more spaces and exhibits available for the students.

The working artist needs more support at an art institute.

Ryan Corey Hall
Undergraduate Senior

• As a student government officer, what is your goal for this new semester?

I would like to have the student groups get involved with student government. I also hope to make it easier for students to get involved in the many opportunities that SAIC offers

• How would you improve the SAIC community?

The best way to improve the community is to form student groups and have them represent and advertise themselves ever chance they get.

• What is your concern for the school?

I know that SAIC would be a much better place if more students participated in the life of the school.

Luciana Terronez
Graduated Fall, 2003.

• As a student government officer, what is your goal for this new semester?

My goal is to improve the relations between the Student Government and the SAIC community and faculty.

• How would you improve the SAIC community?

The improvement of the community would consist of better communications within SAIC — more events, student groups, Senators and a possible web site in the future. We haven’t seen this many students involved with Student Government before, it’s great! I would like to help the Student Government become more pro-active in their relationship with the SAIC community. We strive to be leaders of this school and helpers for the SAIC community.

• What is your concern for the school?

I am concerned about the students understanding of how to access their financial resources here at the school. Helping students make their dreams come true through this institution is a top priority. The very basis to make that happen is through financial Aid, Career Development, Students Accounts, and Student Government. But the communication with the offices and their resources should be at the students’ fingertips so they can focus more on their studies. We at the Student Government are working with our financial institutions to provide better communication to the students.

Kathy Havens
Fourth Year Undergraduate

• As a student government officer, what is your goal for this new semester?

My goal is to work with the Academic Integrity and the sub-committee of Student Life. I would also like to put together a plagiarism packet because the info on plagiarism is non-existent.

• How would you improve the SAIC community?

It’s hard to improve the community, but I suggest that students help, and get involved. Communication is great for funding. Also, I think the kickball tournament for the faculty, staff, and students is a great idea.

• What is your concern for the school?

My concern is the buildings and the property. But the part-time faculty situation at SAIC is another problem. The effectiveness of the new FYP is also a concern.

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Artwatch: March 2004

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Guerrilla Girls receive an award

The infamous art gang Guerrilla Girls, “the conscience of the art world,” has been awarded the 2004 Frank Jewett Mather Award by the College Art Association. The Guerrilla Girls received the award for their “unique and evolving adaptation of art criticism as a vital, socially relevant, and transformative art form.” The completely anonymous collective, who use the names of famous women artists such as Frida Kahlo and Käthe Kollwitz as a decoy, have been in existence since 1985. The group has been creating posters that attack the museum’s role in society and its attitude towards women in particular. One such Guerrilla Girl campaign was a poster of Ingres’ Odalisque who’s face was superimposed with the Girls’ signature monkey mask. The caption reads: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.” The group has since attacked various galleries, Jesse Helms, the Oscars, and the Internet, which the Girls consider “too pale, too male.” The collective has published their third book, Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers, which dissects the female stereotype. Ms. Kahlo, a member, has remarked to the New York Times, “It’s a little disquieting that a lot of people who hated us early on tend to be fans of ours now.” Ms. Kollwitz emphasized, “or say they are.”

More info: Guerrilla Girls

Tibetan groups protest the Bowers Museum of Orange County

Tibetan demonstrators came out to protest against the exhibit Tibet: Treasures from the Roof of the World at the Bowers Museum in Orange County, California. The exhibit includes 200 sculptures, paintings, and other artworks never before seen in the U.S. Tibetan groups are calling for a boycott of the national traveling exhibit because it lacks any reference to Tibet’s occupation by the Chinese government and the exile of the Dalai Lama. They claim this is in part due to pressure from China. The absence of political undertones was intentional on the part of curators and museum administrators. Rick Weinberg, a spokesman for the Bowers Museum, remarked that “we’re in [the] business of art; we’re not in the business of politics. We have to remain neutral. It’s inappropriate for the Bowers to take a political stance.”
Cuban art crackdown

Since the Bush administration has canceled most licenses for culture-related travel into Cuba, art collectors are realizing that collecting Cuban art could no longer be a possibility. According to Art & Antiques, Americans who are caught taking unlicensed trips to Cuba from Canada or the Caribbean must pay up to $10,000, making official licensed cultural trips to the country an impossibility. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which sponsored trips for collectors, has stopped such activity, and, as a result, many Cuban artists are feeling the sting. After a cultural renaissance in the ’90s, Cuban artists began showcasing their talents across the globe, especially in the U.S. However, State Department officials still insist that legitimate, non-commercial artistic exchanges will remain possible. How such exchanges would be implented were not explained.
French intellectuals fight back

In a climate of increasing economic cutbacks backed by the government, French intellectuals have signed a letter of protest claiming the conservative French government of starting a “war on [the] intelligentsia.” More than 20,000 French artists, thinkers, filmmakers, scientists, lawyers, doctors and academics signed the letter, which was published in Les Inrockuptibles. Signatories include philosopher Jacques Derrida, filmmakers François Ozon and Catherine Breillat, and several prominent politicians, including Danny Cohn-Bendit, a hero of the May 1968 student uprising. The letter denounced the state’s economic cutbacks affecting universities, research labs, actors, medical staffers, judges and lawyers, as “massive attacks that are revelatory of a new anti-intellectualism of state.” It further states that these economic policies which are “carried out in the name of good economic sense and budgetary rigor, have an exorbitant human, social and cultural cost and irreversible consequences.” The economic setbacks have affected many spheres of French society. Emergency room doctors blamed the government cuts for nearly 15,000 deaths as a result of a devastating heat wave in August 2003. Last year, actors invaded a live evening news broadcast and a popular TV program to protest the cuts in unemployment benefits.

What can U.S. intellectuals and artists learn from this? If, as sociologist Alain Touraine suggests, American economists have taught the world that the “knowledge industry is what moves a country,” what can we say about the U.S.? Have our intellectuals confronted the challenge of the government-backed increase in Medicare costs, dwindling funding in education, and the rise of censorship in art?

Censorship on the fly

The public project Eye Speak, selected by the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department (LACD) to be showcased in the city’s nternational airport LAX, elicited fervent reactions by city officials, airport employees, and passengers. The project, curated by Los Angeles artists June Castillo and Joseph Beckles, is a 150-foot long tapestry created by a collective of 115 Latino, Chicano and African American artists in two community colleges. The project began in 2001 when the curators asked artists to interpret the first year of the new millennium. A few months later, September 11 shook the world and, naturally, the artists enlisted by Castillo and Beckles responded to the crisis within their own work. Victoria Delgadillo, a participant in the project, commented that being “bewildered by the events of those few days, many of us created artwork that related to those feelings of loss, confusion, [and] impending war.” The tapestries, which, according to the Los Angeles Times, include images of a “bare-breasted women holding a bleeding heart with the World Trade Center’s twin towers on fire behind her,” a “winged image jumping from a skyscraper to the ground, where chalk figures lay on a city sidewalk,” and a “skull that lurks behind black cross bars,” made city officials respond to the tapestries as “bizarre” and “scary.” After receiving complaints, the airport agency ordered LACD to remove the artwork. Kim Day, the airport agency’s interim executive director, complained that the “artwork is inappropriate for the airport. We are not a museum, and we need art that does not offend anyone, and does not in any way add stress to an already stressful experience.” After a petition circulated by the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and the subsequent media coverage, airport officials reversed their decision and decided the tapestries would stay during their originally scheduled exhibition. The controversy has re-kindled anxieties of censorship, free speech, and the role of the public. Castillo responded to initial warnings of censorship as “insulting.” “They’re trying to silence an entire community of artists in Los Angeles in 2004. On Rodeo Drive they just put in a nude torso of a woman in the center of the street and no one bats an eyelash, and people come from all over the world to Beverly Hills.”

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Ink: March 2004

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What did the winner get?

I don’t know. I didn’t look. But I know what the loser got. I know what the loser got because I was the loser and I know what I got. I got beat. I got punched in the face. I got humiliated in front of my wife. I got laughed at. I got emasculated. I got a taste of the ground with my own blood as a condiment.

I got a chip knocked out of a tooth. I got a concussion.

I got a parting gift basket of insults. I got driven to the hospital in a brand-new car. I got sent behind door number three where I got what will probably be a lifetime supply of Neosporin. I got an emergency room bill for over one thousand dollars.

What did the winner get? I don’t know. But I know what I got.

Fear and Covert Giggling

Responsibility is the by-product of power. The mortal enemy of responsibility is sticking your fingers in your ears and singing loudly. The mortal enemy of power is silliness. This is true because nobody with power is silly. Or perhaps, more specifically, anybody who accuses somebody in power of being silly immediately gets shot. The people doing the shooting refer to this as “respect.”

This is a problem for those of us whom the world at large regard as silly (i.e., the art world). While artists are busy trying to take responsibility for the condition of the world, the world is busy giggling like middle schoolers at the latest dead animals we’ve pickled. Taking responsibility for a party requires that the party in question would be loathe to describe you with the same terms used to describe guys wearing black dress socks with flip-flops. If the party in question is headed towards almost certain destruction (say, the open mouth of a large alligator) and they regard you as a silly individual (say, Popeye the Sailor Man), they will not listen to your warnings no matter how many sheep you pickle. Vlad the Impaler, of course, never being one to pickle sheep, never had any problems getting people to respect him. This is not because the individual who was later the inspiration for Count Chocula was not silly. This is because Vlad the Impaler was scarier than he was silly. This is also because anyone who wouldn’t listen to him ended up as a decorative birdbath for his front lawn. The ability to turn annoying people into birdbaths and similar decorative objects is the primeval basis of modern political power. Therefore, responsibility, being inversely related to silliness, is directly correlated with scariness.

This presents an obvious problem for any party officially labeled as Not Scary (i.e., the art world). Luckily, in modern times, the key to scariness is not the actual impalement of individuals who call you silly. It is merely the implication that your decorative birdbaths were not purchased at Pier 1, which earns respect. However, inspiring fear rather than covert giggling requires some forethought. Running around selecting scary accessories willy-nilly could be disastrous, given the multitude of scary genres. For example, historically, there have been the Monosyllabic, Hairy, Big-Stick-Wielding, Loincloth Wearing variety (i.e., Attila the Hun), and the Inevitably Foreign, Inexplicably Wanting to Destroy the World variety (i.e., Nero). More recently, of course, the Undead and Sexually Ambiguous variety (i.e., Marilyn Manson), enjoyed popularity for some time, but lately have been replaced with the Irritable and Loud variety (i.e., Howard Stern and Eminem). The latter, in particular, seems to be very frightening to perhaps the scariest variety of the scary: the Wealthy Conservative. Given that the art world is not renowned for its fondness for conservatives, the ideal approach for the art world to achieve scariness (and thereby respect) would be a combination of the other most recent trends. That is, Irritable and Undead.

As Marilyn Manson and the religious right know, the first step in becoming scary is to look scary. In order to achieve a successfully scary Undead demeanor, artists might be well advised to begin with some tips on appearance from popular horror movies. Movies such as Evil Dead and Army of Darkness contain a lot of data on this particular topic. In particular, it would seem that one of the keys to being respectably scary lies in being very pale and having bad posture. To some extent, this also applies to the appearance of the Wealthy Conservatives. One of the other keys lies in dressing like a flood victim that has fallen into a cement mixer.

The necessity for a scary appearance in the context of the art world most particularly applies to Converse All Stars and black plastic-rimmed glasses, which neither Vlad the Impaler nor the evil Undead considered viable fashion accessories while terrorizing the populace. For the fashion-conscious artist, however, a popular scary alternative to Undeadness (looking like a flood victim) lies in Irritableness.

As can be observed from both Howard Stern and Eminem, the best method of being effectively Irritable is to publicly say mean things specifically engineered to offend large portions of the population (i.e., “Old people, puppies, mixed ethnic minorities, and quadriplegics suck”). Evidently, given the amount of effort which certain portions of the population have put into having them banned or made very rich (respectively), this is an extremely effective method of inspiring political fear and earning social respect (respectively). However, a somewhat subtler although equally scary alternative is available for the fashion-conscious artist. That is, having mean things printed on your clothing. This would work especially well for textiles artists, who could embroider or screen-print their own mean sayings (i.e., “I killed your kitten, you loser”).

When coupled with Undeadness, this could truly make the art world a scary and respectable force to be reckoned with. Instead of making paintings and covering them with elephant dung (which, although seemingly initially scary, only ended up inspiring more giggling) a scary artist could go to city council meetings, spray the audience with fake blood, and shout, “Aaargh! Eat complex carbs and polysaturated fats, you overzealous stoats! I stomp on small starving foreign children in your name!” While this is not guaranteed to inspire respect or fear from the general public, it is probably not any less likely to do so than pickling sheep. Furthermore, such messages might actually lead some Wealthy Conservatives to mistakenly support our cause. However, as long as the world at large continues to regard artists with an attitude not unlike that with which they might regard a gerbil attempting to devour a plastic lemon, the question of our responsibility for said world is somewhat irrelevant.

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Mouth Off: Full Frontal Nudity

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Janet shows one shiny breast, and there is an uproar that reverberates in moral self-righteousness out into the heavens even as you read this. On Super Bowl Sunday, parents gasped, the network swooned, advertisers cursed, and little Timmy got all funny inside for the first time since the last OC. But imagine if it weren’t Janet who did the flashing. Imagine, if it were Justin Timberlake and his Mickey Mouse club?

Clearly the world as we know it would end.

Fact is, the American entertainment community can put up with as much T and A as it pleases (anyone remember the Miller ad last year? How about the blatantly sexist lyrics of American flag poncho sporter, Kid Rock?) while men get a little squeamish when their MVP is exposed.

Even more dastardly—the Motion Picture Association of America thinks extreme amounts of violence is less harmful than explicit sexual content. Movies like the needless remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre get by with an R while films like The Dreamers get slapped with difficult rating, NC-17.

Bernardo Bertolucci has commented: “How is it in 2004 we are more puritanical than 30 years ago?…After all, an orgasm is better than a bomb.”

Why do you think it is ok, socially/culturally, for a woman to be exposed rather than a man? Why has this art convention been maintained for hundreds of years? Is the penis more dangerous than the sword? Where does the shameless promotion end and the moral ambiguity begin? Is there even ambiguity? Plastic America has castrated our cinematic cock.

At least in the seventies there was good porn. What are our lonely farmboys to do? Squinting my eyes to see a denim-covered bulge on a 24-inch television screen has ruined my vision. We need to recognize the facts: it is not attractive for a man to convert into an effiminate doll with a limp dick. Sure, he is sensitive and harmless—but noone wants to fuck him. I want a man not afraid of his celluloid dick, his sex, his power. I want erections on cable television.

I want the lilac droop. I want the flash of candy.

— Michael Koby, Fiber and Materials Studies, Graduate

I think that the reason that males are never featured nude is because that puts them in a position of vulnerability. To be naked is to have no protection from outside forces including, but not limited to, criticism—we all know that boys have a certain insecurity with their bodies. However, it also makes them a pleasure object, a thing to be looked at and admired instead of a mighty force to be reckoned with. This brings them down a notch on the hierarchy scale where males are in charge and have the nude women to serve them pleasure instead. In a male-dominated society, a woman in the same position would not be regarded in the same negative manner.

— Erin A. Milosevich, currently without department

Ms. Jackson only did it because she wanted the public to gasp, “oh my!” and the media to site her name numerous times. She wouldn’t have done it if she knew that people would just laugh and forget it the by the next day.

You know that desire to do something more so if it is not allowed, or considered scandalous? Like the time you did something at high school that you were not supposed to? If people stopped making a big fuss, it’s not gonna be suprising or scandalous anymore, and people are not going to expose themselves in that attention-craving manner.

Female bodies are more frequently exposed than male bodies, simply because there are more dynamics in it–it has more of easily noticeable curves and shapes than the male body, whether that body is beautiful or not, whether the female body is more beautiful than the male body or not. I mean, when you’re in a figure drawing class, why are there more female models than males?


— Jae-Won Shim

The same people who shudder at a bare breast are the ones who sexualized the breast in the first place. The vast majority of human beings begin their lives suckling breasts. There should be no reason to get all funny or weird about them. So when you see cultural conservatives raise a stink about bare breasts, you are simply watching superstitious people do that “fake outrage” thing they always do—-what they’ve been trained to do since the first day of Sunday School.

Penises and vaginas, on the other hand, are totally different animals than breasts. They tap directly into our reproductive instincts in a way which is deeply compelling. That’s not to say we can’t get used to the sight of reproductive organs, but even the full-time nudist can still muster up enough genital appreciation to have sexual intercourse. The penis and vagina transcend the normal desensitizing effects of repetition. Exposed, especially outside a nudist context, they are highly distracting. If you’re trying to focus on complex tasks, they are downright disturbing. That’s why nuclear physics is not conducted in the strip club (primarily).

As far as art history, it is important to note that the convention with regard to nude females has always been to avoid showing the vagina.

So until Janet Jackson does a “Streets of Bangkok” version of the Vagina Monologues at the Super Bowl, I think penis exposure, however rare, is right on par with it’s female counterpart. But bring on the boobies, cause all the little babies love’em, and you know what? So do I.

— Bill Voltz, Admissions Staff

I think you are comparing apples and oranges, so to speak (no euphemisms intended), in your Super Bowl example…

A woman’s breast does not equate with the male penis…well you know where I’m going….

“Showing pink” is almost as huge a taboo as the male member…probably equally so in our prudish American popular culture.

And (for the cynical take on things) it doesn’t take a genius to know that all power structures in American society are dominated (predominantly) by heterosexual white males. Heterosexual white males want to see T and A not other men’s members. (Plus there are way too many self esteem issues associated with that thing that all men, consciously or unconsciously, are dealing with. They don’t want to think about it, other than to think about where they would like to put it.)

—Travis Hartman, Writing Dept.

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Worst Case Scenario: How to Create the Illusion of Opinion

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As an artist, it is your responsibility to mirror society at large, raise thought-provoking questions, and mess with the self-satisfied minds of those thinking they’ve got it figured out. This great honor and responsibility comes as quite a shock to many new artists who have entered the philosophical and political arena unarmed. In dire situations, young art students may even be asked to think critically about weighty subjects. Are religious fundamentalists short-sighted hypocrites looking for easy answers? Are moral relativists fool-hardy lushes who use the non-existence of God as an excuse to be irresponsible? How fascist is America?

Many students enter a great debate finding that they never assessed a situation before because it required too much tact or consideration. At this point, one may choose to reserve judgment. This is fatal. For any artist to be taken seriously, they must project an image of total self-assurance, even to the point of narcissistic obstinacy. In the written form, this is easy to fake. Any frail-voiced artist can sound as emphatic as Michael Moore to an SAIC instructor by simple linguistic evasions. Simply extract lyrics from a pop song conveying the type of confidence that you wish to feign and sprinkle it throughout your essay. The generational gap between pupil and student will protect you from being a plagiarizer of poetry if the song lyrics are recent enough.

You can avoid ever taking a real position on anything, provided you have enough generalized exuberance. A safe way to sound poignant without actually making a point is to convince your instructor that you will rock politics like a hurricane, or that if a problem comes along, you will assuredly whip it and whip it good.

If you are unfamiliar with appropriate rock lyrics, it is critical that you divert the attention away from your neutrality with nostalgia. Begin writing your essays in an archaic language. Dead vocabulary from 15th and 16th century Europe naturally gives any debate a sense of 75 percent more chivalry and 33 percent more piety. In addition, many full-time professors will become nostalgic upon hearing dialogue from the dark ages. Make note that you too long for the glory days of medi cine, when mercury was still quicksilver, the cure to all ailments, and when bloodletting was the best remedy for a cold.

What to do when your passion lies in trivial or forgettable topics

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your peers are empathetic to your mundane loneliness or trite anxiety. Plus, they will undoubtedly be uninterested in how corporate America and media conglomerates are stifling your creative efforts. Most art students are only stimulated by new and enticing concepts. To snag the attention of fellow students or art critics, it is recommended that you take existing emotions and present them out of context. To do this you will need to become an astronaut.

It is important to not only dress up as an astronaut, but to become an astronaut. Since dressing up as an astronaut is inherently foolish, it is imperative that you never take off your suit for as long as you attend art school. You will live perpetually as a being that just returned from the constellations. As an astronaut, your whiny complaining will become an expression of pure odyssey. An astronaut is the ultimate “fish out of water,” commanding an immeasurable amount of attention and respect. An astronaut’s experiences are celestial-they feel cosmic isolation amidst a nebula—of the galactically insensitive. An astronaut’s brain is a nova of burning genius. They have constellations of independent, interconnected thoughts suspended in the harsh vacuum of their minds. You will notice that the conceptual frame you inhabited as a mere art student has become fortified.

Other, yet trickier roles to become are that of the time traveler (whose brief but uncanny experience of becoming unstuck in the linearity of time has forever altered your worldly perceptions), the Castoridae-child (whose upbringing by a pack of kindly beavers gave you that unique insight that comes from growing up as one of the largest North American rodents), or the scam artist (who lives among art students and attends classes like an art student, but is only pretending to be an art student).

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Resistance and Dissent in Milwaukee: Visions of Tragedy

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The high drama and brute emotionality of German Expressionist prints exhibited in the Defiance Despair Desire: German Expressionist Prints from the Marcia and Granvil Specks Collection provided the perfect context for a discussion panel “Visual Artists Responding to War,” held on Thursday, February 12th at the Milwaukee Art Museum. The exhibition features bold and dramatic prints from Max Beckmann, Emil Nolde, Otto Dix, Kathe Kollwitz along with the works of other leading artists of the movement. It is a collection of artists convinced of the power of their art in bringing about social change, whose experimentation in stylistic representation of humanity within the rigorous technical concerns of printmaking still speaks to us of the human resilience and vulnerability in the face of unspeakable horror. The artists used the revolutionary style and subject matter of their images, as a way to bypass official institutions and communicate directly with the public. An atmosphere of social turmoil, violence, and national insecurity leaps off the walls, profoundly moving the viewer.

A diverse group gathered in the Lubar Auditorium to hear presentations from printmaker, professor, and World War II veteran Warrington Colescott; political artist, writer, and teacher Nicholas Lampert; and photojournalist Rick Wood. Despite the regional character of the panel—Colescott is a professor-emeritus from University of Wisconsin, Madison; Lampert teaches at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and Rick Wood works for Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel, the discussion centered on art that seeks to engage the world outside the self, be consciously political and bring about change.

There was no attempt to conceal a liberal agenda. Nicholas Lampert, immediately announced that his presentation would be an “unabashed antiwar protest,” emphasizing that the current state of “perpetual war, is the greatest tragedy of our time.” Similarily, Colescott displayed prints of some of his best political cartoons, attacking the Bush administration as well as the mass slaughter of deer by the Wisconsin hunters that is presented to the public as necessary population control. It was perhaps Wood, due to the nature of his work as a photojournalist, who tried to provide a more unbiased view of suffering and tragedy that ensued from the attacks of 9-11 and the recent war in Iraq. The discussion was anchored by Colescott’s age and experience as a veteran of several wars, and his reputation as an established and accepted artist. His work is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Smithsonian among many others. He located the others’ comments within the timeline of history, calming the volatile and highly political subject matter of the event.

Colescott took the podium first, proceeding to talk “personally about war, having lived through too many of them.” He presented graphic highlights from his career as a printmaker of over forty years: starting with his education at UC Berkeley, including time spent in the trenches of Europe, garrisons of Korea. Since the late ’40s he has been a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

His prints, particularly etchings with aquatint, combine a strong narrative component with montage-like compositions executed with a bravado of line and color, as well as a fine sense for the vulgar and the apocalyptic, characteristic of master printmakers like Hogarth, Callot, Goya and Daumier.

The subjects of his caricatures are often political: generals, officials, presidents presented in situations often involving cross-dressing and sado-masochism. Actively engaged in a profession in which success is measured by the amount of censorship and persecution leveled against the artist, Colescott states: “I hate triviality, and the demands I put on myself specify complexity: if you seduce, do it with wit and creativity; if you attack, do it with skill; if you educate, do your research.”

A presentation by photojournalist Rick Wood followed. A widely traveled reporter, he shot photographs in Somalia and Cambodia and also visited Iraq in 2000 as part of a team invited by the Iraqi government to assess the state of the country severely crippled by UN sanctions.

Images of children suffering in hospitals, lacking the basic supplies, in homes where starvation and malnutrition were commonplace, were poignant in light of reports in which Iraq was being presented to us as a country that is somehow dangerous. These scenes were replaced by photographs of 9/11, which Wood witnessed and recorded in person—jet fuel burning away at the infrastructure of the World Trade Center buildings just seconds before the collapse, shapes too closely resembling human proportions in open air, which in a different context could be easily mistaken for hovering birds, expressions of shock and disbelief on the ash covered faces of witnesses. Little analysis was needed, and Wood supplied some factual data, maintaining that his goal as a photographer is “to record the human condition.” The look on his subjects’ faces indeed spoke eloquently for the frailty of our species.

Nicholas Lampert closed the night with an impassioned presentation, describing the current state of the anti-war movement in the US and displaying some of its graphics. He emphasized the increasingly important role of the internet in disseminating images of dissent, crediting it with the greater amount of publicity that the anti-war movement gained in 2002 as opposed to 1991. He particularly stressed the role of websites like Full of copyright-free, bold, and powerful protest graphics, the website received enormous amounts of traffic following the start of the invasion. And while the speech had a slight accusatory subtext — many of the images Lambert presented referenced the logos of major corporations pointing the finger at the consumers and the taxpayers, the focus rarely strayed from the ability of the internet to help organize and spread the message of the anti-war movement.

No image or photograph can match the reality of war, and every artist that has in any way referenced it has to address that certainty. The tension inherent in the work that grapples with this issue greatly contributes to its power. The prints of German Expressionism on display in the museum can attest to that. The recent bloodshed in the streets of New York, Baghdad and Kabul brings these works of art much closer to us. Whether considering them as art of response or a call to arms, their power seems particularly great in our time. Most of them were created for a mass audience of artists and non-artists alike. One of the most difficult problems that any artist with a populist attitude must struggle with is the legibility of one’s art in relation to its quality—the message must be clear every time, while the envelope has to be pushed in order for it to maintain its vitality as art. Some assert that German Expressionism failed precisely because of that—artists drifted too far away from the initial goal of affecting social change, and lost themselves in the examination of the inner self. At this point in time, the art of resistance in the United States tends in the other direction, but then again, none of us are yet to be confronted with disaster as great as a world war.

More information:
Warrington Colescott
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Rick Wood
Anti-War Posters

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Snow White and the Trouble of Interpretation

By Uncategorized

A Swedish/Israeli incident occurred at the anti-genocide conference “Making Differences,” when the Israeli ambassador to Sweden began to dismantle Dror and Gunilla Sköld Feiler’s installation “Snow White and the Madness of Truth.” After the ambassador Zvi Mazel was removed from the Museum of National Antiquities, he was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, “[I] couldn’t have reacted in any other way.” Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, according to BBC News, commented, “It would have been forbidden not to have acted on the spot.” But was the meaning of the installation so easily read?

In “Snow White”, Johann Sebastian Bach’s “My Heart is Swimming in Blood” plays over a pool of red water, on which a toy boat, with a picture of former law student and suicide bomber Hanadi Jaradat, floats. The installation can be interpreted as follows:

* Reading 1) Jaradat sails valiantly on a sea of Jewish blood. Her attack was a victory, the way to paradise.
* Reading 2) Jaradat, like Elizabeth Bathory, is beautiful, but deadly, bathing in the blood of her victims.
* Reading 3) Jaradat, and many other desperate people, do horrible things in support of their political beliefs.

None of these readings of the Feilers’ “Snow White and the Madness of Truth” can be absolutely true. Whether or not the application of a single meaning can ever be integrated into the whole of anything is, perhaps, the main question at the heart of modernity.

The “Snow White” controversy is not about a simple statement; it is about the interpretation of a work of art. The Israeli government suggests that discussion, whether or not in Israel, about Palestinian suicide bombing, or anything which can be negatively interpreted about Israel, should be forbidden. This sentiment recalls the Iranian response to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, but limits the demand to silence, not death. The Israeli state’s response implies dialogue is unacceptable outside of their terms.

The application of meaning, though essential in the attempt to understand the universe, is always subjective. When Zvi Mazel toppled the spotlight and caused the commotion at the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm, he attempted to force his own reading of the piece, as “a call to genocide,” on everyone. This rigid position, supported by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, serves to limit discourse not only on a work of art, but on the continuing Israeli/Palestinian conflict as well. However, dialogue and peace cannot be pursued in honesty by eliminating the avenues of discourse. The current state of misunderstanding and violence will continue to cycle.

“[Mazel] said he was ashamed that I was a Jew,” the BBC News reported Feiler as saying, after the ambassador assaulted his installation. Interestingly, Dror Feiler has been villainized because he is not only an Israeli Jew, but also acts as the president of Jews for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. He attempts to engage in artistic as well as political conversation in his work. Furthermore, Feiler offered the following interpretation of the installation to BBC News: “The work had a message of openness and conciliation,” and Hanadi Jaradat, the suicide bomber, was “weak, lonely…capable of horrible things.” These readings are quite different from “the call to genocide” that Zvi Mazel saw.

No one, not even the artist, has an authoritative reading of a piece of work — Israel has no right to ask Sweden to censor speech or anything that hints at an anti-Israeli interpretation. The logic is similar to that of President George W. Bush’s abstinence-only sex education programs. The analogy is that if a teenager knows how to use a condom, he will have sex; if someone presents suicide bombing as anything short of genocide, he will cease to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

For more information see:

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Empowerment or Punishment?

By Uncategorized

Some basic elements of the No Child Left Behind Act
(Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001)

taken from the publication Education Week:

• all public k-12 schoolchildren must achieve “proficient” level on state standardized tests by 2013-2014
• toward this, all schools must demonstrate Adequate Yearly Progress(AYP) for their state or face sanctions from the federal Department of Education up to & including losing Title 1 funding(federal aid for schools in impoverished areas) and/or having the school taken over by private management.
• Schools must implement state standardized tests for grades 3-8 in math and reading by 2005-2006 school year, with science testing added by 2007-2008.
• Districts must provide states with “report cards” evaluating school performance, and states must provide the DOE with “report cards” on district-wide performance.
• Teachers must meet new federal qualification requirements beginning in 2005-2006.

To an audience of schoolchildren, President Bush said in January that the new law will “empower your teachers and your principals to achieve the objective we all want,” but many educators see NCLB as punishment rather than empowerment. The school-reform advocacy group Rethinking Schools has come out against NCLB, arguing that it is under-funded and therefore is like “telling children to run a marathon on a gravel path, but some will run barefoot while others will wear $100 running shoes. It’s not hard to guess who will come in first.” Some states, such as Hawaii and Utah, have already introduced (but not passed) statewide legislation that would forfeit federal education funding rather than submit to NCLB’s requirements.

To celebrate Congressional passage of NCLB, the Department of Education constructed outside its main doors a replica façade of a classic frontier schoolhouse. The fake schoolhouse is clearly meant to inspire nostalgia for the good old days of education, when teachers cared about each individual student, knew their parents, and stuck to the basics: reading, writing and arithmetic.

Public school education in America today looks much more varied and segmented than the old one-room schoolhouse did. The diversity of approaches to teaching, large class sizes, and variety of subject areas can be both good and bad for learning, and many educators welcome the stated NCLB vision of a level playing field for all children. As the law’s new testing requirements begin to take effect, however, some teachers and school administrators are questioning the appropriateness of a return to “the basic three” subject areas.

What does all this mean for teachers of art in the public schools? Will states and school districts be willing and/or able to maintain a commitment to art education for all children in the face of escalating testing requirements in the other subject areas? Will art teachers coming out of SAIC be up to the inevitable challenges of teaching art in the current political climate?

Therese Quinn, Assistant Professor of Art Education at SAIC and director of the (Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art Education) BFAAE program, anticipates that art teachers will feel NCLB’s impact in two major ways. First, she says that additional credentialing requirements for teachers, which will be put in place in schools over the next three years, may make it extremely difficult for professional artists to teach in the public schools. While these art teachers often hold MFA degrees and have years of teaching experience, Quinn says, they may not be considered qualified to teach under the new rules. “The yardstick that No Child Left Behind uses to determine who is highly qualified,” she says, “is a faulty yardstick.”

Quinn believes NCLB is also harmful for teachers and students because its emphasis on tests means that teachers will be forced to use the same material in each school, whereas the best teaching practices are usually tailored for each community’s different needs. “It undermines the concept of teachers as professionals,” she said, meaning that, like other professionals (such as health professionals, for example), teachers and their supervisors ought to have the ability to determine how best to do their jobs. By imposing standardized tests as the only measure of success, says Quinn, NCLB takes away teachers’ authority to select the content of lesson material.

In Chicago, Quinn highlighted that NCLB is the last thing the public school system needs. “It’s a system that already has a lot of problems, and NCLB is going to exacerbate those problems,” she says. “One thing I’ve seen is that a shockingly large number of art teachers who are certified are working with no budget,” and have to pay for materials out of their own pockets.

Although The No Child Left Behind Act names art as a core academic subject, the law makes no additional money available to help art teachers do their jobs. “It’s not offering any solution to the problem of funding for the arts,” Quinn said. “A lot of people are saying, ‘Great, finally the Bush Administration is saying the arts are a core academic subject,’ but it’s false because if you don’t have any resources to support the arts, then it doesn’t support the arts no matter what the law says.”

When asked how regular people ought to respond to the No Child Left Behind measures, Quinn had a few specific suggestions. “Teachers and families need to resist these measures as they are coming down the pike.” She cited an example of a group of Chicago schoolteachers who refused to administer a new standardized test to high schoolers which would have prevented some kids from graduating. Although some teachers were punished for their public resistance, the following year the city quietly pulled the test from the schools. According to Quinn, this demonstrates that resistance to unreasonable new requirements can be effective.

Quinn also suggested that activists who are involved in protesting government action in areas such as globalization, the war on terrorism and the environment “need to look at education and think about how it is connected to some of these other issues.” She recommends that everyone “go and visit a couple of Chicago Public Schools. Pick one on the West Side, such as Lawndale, and one magnet school,” and see how under-resourced the non-magnet schools are. “Kids are just as wonderful in both kinds of schools,” she said, but the differences in funding between the two are resulting in a poorer education for the mainstream students.

The jury is still out on whether NCLB will have long-term benefits for public education. But for art teachers, the new requirements and punitive measures in the act may prove more costly than helpful.

For the U.S. Department of Education’s take on NCLB, visit the Department of Education website .

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Speaking Out From The Inside

By Arts & Culture

A prison sentence is high on the list of things no woman wants. What are you going to do if you have to serve time? If you lose your kids, give birth in restraints, get bribed by guards or other prisoners, face employment discrimination afterwards, who’s going to do anything about it? Who’s responsible? Who’s going to help you heal?

Community arts organizations have a special kind of access to the core of traumatic life experiences. By teaching people to make art, and helping to make that art visible to a broad audience, these organizations can bypass the bureaucratic paper trail and allow ordinary people to tell what happened to them. The point of this art isn’t necessarily to see eye to eye, but to speak heart to heart.

This month, Beyondmedia Education, partnering with Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM), will host Voices in Time: Lives in Limbo at Las Manos Gallery in Andersonville. Voices in Time is a remarkable project that will include prisoners’ original art from across the country, an interactive multimedia installation re-creating a woman’s prison cell, a preview of a website on women’s incarceration, performances by former women prisoners and discussion panels covering such topics as race, parenting and re-entry.

Much of the art for Voices in Time has been generated through workshops in prisons, juvenile detention centers and halfway houses. Some work was produced after the former prisoners’ re-entry into the outside world. The art is evidence of the coping and healing process of life behind and after bars. And thus the responsibility of representing experience is laid on art.

Beyondmedia is a women-run media nonprofit organization unique in Chicago. Based in Rogers Park, its three staff members, and a rotating series of interns, work with communities in need of media education because of economic and/or social exclusion. The staff partners with community organizations and schools to teach women and youth to tell their stories through videos, websites, handbooks, graphic arts, performances and public education campaigns.

In October 2002, Beyondmedia presented 30 Days of Art and Education on Women’s Incarceration, the first version of the current Voices in Time project. 30 Days went on tour to five sites throughout Chicago and included a similar multimedia re-creation of the woman’s prison cell, along with performances and discussion panels. The popularity of 30 Days provided the incentive to re-present an updated and enlarged version to educate even more people and include more work from the people involved in advocating for women in prison.

Salome Chasnoff, the Executive Director of Beyondmedia, points out that “in many ways, doing time is a life sentence regardless of crime,” because prison affects prisoners not only by denying physical freedom, but also access to proper health care, employment after prison, and the ability to keep one’s family intact. An instructor on video and art education at SAIC in 1998-1999, Chasnoff has spent years considering how to use the media arts to connect people across race, gender and personal experience. She took some time to answer a few F interview questions by e-mail.

F: In what ways do you feel that American law and society is responsible or irresponsible in its treatment and attitudes towards women prisoners and former women prisoners?

C: Sentencing has become harsher even though women’s crime has not become more violent. Actually, more than 82 percent of women are incarcerated for non-violent offenses and arrests of women for murder and manslaughter have decreased 35.5 percent over the past ten years. Still, the percentage of women has more than doubled as a proportion of the population under correctional supervision. Taken together, these statistics don’t make sense, either from a humanitarian perspective or a legal perspective. Many families are destroyed by the incarceration of the mother. Another statistic: 72 percent of women in pre-trial detention in Cook County were African-American. Nationally, black women were more than eight times as likely as white women to be in prison in 1997.

F: Some might argue that those who are or have been imprisoned must bear responsibility for breaking the law. Through the same viewpoint, mothers who break the law are especially irresponsible in regards to their children. How might you counter this claim?

C: Most women in prison are there for crimes of poverty and drug-related offenses. Both childhood and adult histories of abuse are strongly correlated with drug use among women. The solution to addiction is treatment, not incarceration. More than 60 percent of women entering prison don’t have high school diplomas. Many are homeless sometime during the year preceding incarceration. Imprisonment is not the solution to effects of poverty. That’s something we’re all responsible for, not just those that suffer most from it.

F: In creating the Voices in Time project, what kinds of responsibilities did you feel, as an artist and activist?

C: I feel responsible for representing as accurately as possible the prison system from the perspective of women prisoners. That’s what the installation aims to do: recreate a prison cell through their eyes. I want viewers to enter their world and, to the extent that it is possible, identify with their pain, their hopes for the future: to see them as fully human and understand the urgent need for systemic and social change.

F: What, if anything, are you doing differently this time around with Voices in Time and why?

C: This year I’m including the voices of children because I think that’s an essential part of the story: how the imprisonment of all these women is affecting those they left behind. I’m also interviewing grandmothers, the women who are trying to take their place.

F: What are some examples of prisoners’ art that will be on display at the gallery?

C: You will see many different approaches to drawing, as most of the artists are working with very limited resources. You’ll also see painting, ceramic art, collage and appliqué, executed with widely ranging skill. And you’ll see the palpable presence of lived experience in the work. It’s very emotional.

F: A Beyondmedia website on Voices in Time will be available for preview at Las Manos prior to its April 1 launch. What are some of your hopes for the site? Who do you hope it will reach?

C: I envision it as a really fluid resource, where people will continually bring new work, creative and scholarly, and update links to online data. I want it to reach students and activists and anyone interested in the learning more about the issues surrounding the incarceration of women and girls, because education is the key to change, and we urgently need radical change because we are destroying countless families and ensuring another generation of prisoners.

F: The quilt on the bed in the installation incorporates writing from incarcerated teenage girls. What strikes you as unique about their experiences in and after the juvenile justice system?

C: Unique is a hard word. I don’t know about unique. I can say that what always strikes me when I’m there [at the Juvenile Detention Center] is that they are still children in many ways, needing what all children need—love, recognition, support, and advocacy. Most of them just want to go home to their moms. But the juvenile justice system is harsh and punitive, its discipline unpredictable—except in its discriminatory treatment of poor youth and youth of color.

F: What do you feel that art, in general, is responsible for? What is art’s job in this world?

C: The collective role of art in this world is to present the broadest range of images such that each individual has the opportunity to see her or his reflection somewhere in that mirror. Art is not simply a product of culture but, more accurately, an agency of culture, an important means through which culture re-negotiates itself. Art is a paradigm for meaningful action. Storytelling transforms life experience, like straw, into gold. As art, it offers a way to reconstitute subjectivity and promote communal healing. That’s what I do. I work to represent and create a more humane world, a place where I would like to live.

F: Looking back on the project, do you recall any moments you found particularly inspiring?

C: The father that flew in on the red eye from California to hand deliver his daughter’s ceramic pieces, only to turn around and go back home on the next flight, really moved me. It made me realize how important this event is for so many women inside who are getting the opportunity to speak publicly and connect with others on the outside through their art and writing. A woman who facilitates a workshop in Cook County Jail told me how proud and excited the women are. They’re hoping at least one of them gets out before the show is over to witness the event and report back. We take communication and connection for granted, as we should in a free society. But we can’t forget about those who aren’t free.

All events for Voices in Time: Lives in Limbo are free and open to the public. Opening night will be Friday, March 5, at 7:00 p.m. (reception at 6:00 p.m.) and the location for all the events will be Las Manos Gallery at 5220 N. Clark Street in Chicago. For gallery hours, call (773) 973-2280 or (773) 216-5556. To learn more about Beyondmedia Education, visit Beyondmedia Education . Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance will launch to the public on April 1, at Women and Prison.

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First Things First… Again

By Uncategorized

It seems that many people believe that all it really takes to be a graphic designer is a computer, some basic software, and a client. Graphic design is still a relatively new profession: the first textbook of graphic design, written by Phillip B. Meggs, was not published until 1983. Graphic design is considered by the U.S. Department of Labor to be a trade that does not require a degree or licensing of any kind for the practitioner to be considered a practicing professional. Despite the field’s lack of historic grandeur, graphic designers are in the business of creating a large and very influential part of the visual world that we all live in. Perhaps it is because of its newness and openness that it has so many demons to work out. It is a field that is constantly trying to define what it is and what it isn’t while still being painfully subject to fashion.

There are a tremendous number of people working in the industries of design and advertising, and they employ a remarkable amount of talent and intelligence—as well as an incredible number of bodies. Adding to this every year are the “tens of thousands” of students being trained to join this work force. This massive force of trained professionals, students and academics are engaged in creating the images that we all consume on a daily basis, and some have started to ask questions about their ethical responsibilities in performing that task, most notably with the reissue in 2000 of the First Things First Manifesto.

First Things First (FTF) was written by the British designer Ken Garland in 1963. The conditions that inspired Garland to write his manifesto were similar to those that inspired its reissue. A long period of economic stability had produced a thriving economic market that supported a large number of graphic designers. In essence, graphic design really became the graphic design profession during the late ’50s and early ’60s. However, alongside this economic stability was political upheaval, such as that instigated by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. What Ken Garland was giving voice to was the idea that designers need to dedicate their time and talents to issues beyond the promotion of commercial products, and that designers have the ability and even the responsibility to do much more.Garland initially announced his manifesto at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) during a meeting of the Society of Industrial Artists (SIA). It was received excitedly, and several people added their signatures to the document. After Garland’s delivery of FTF at the ICA, he was invited to make a television appearance by the BBC to discuss the manifesto. This lead to the printing of the document in several prestigious design magazines such as Design, Ark and The Royal College of Art Magazine. The impact of Garland’s FTF can be seen not only by its enthusiastic reception at the SIA meeting by students, teachers and working professionals immediately willing to add their signatures to the document, but also through the escalation in exposure the manifesto was given from the time of its release. Interestingly, Garland lost only one client after appearing on television “wearing a leather jacket and an incendiary expression.” Apparently, even his clients thought the ideas in FTF were valid.

Is it time to change your media diet?

Four years later, Ken Garland gave another extremely important speech at the Vision 67 Design for Survival Conference in New York. Simply titled “Here Are Some Things We Must Do.” It was an inspiring and spirited fleshing out of the ideas of the manifesto. Garland listed four “survival tasks” that he saw as essential to the survival of design and the health of society, the most important being “that we make some attempt to identify, and to identify with, our real clients: the public. They may not be the ones who pay us, nor the ones who give us diplomas and degrees, but if they are to be the final recipients of the results of our work, they’re the ones who matter.”

So what happened? Why did the excitement and idealism stated so boldly in FTF fade out of common design discourse for thirty years only to be carried on by a select few? To name a few, designers like Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Art Chantry, Marlene McCarty, Ed Fella and Martin Venezky have all maintained extremely high levels of craft and experimentation and expressed potent political ideologies—however, I believe that they are the exception and not the norm.

The late ’70s, ’80s and ’90s were relatively stable compared to the ’60s, but they saw their share of political and economic events that could have stimulated the design profession as a whole into discussions about design ethics. Perhaps what was keeping designers’ minds so occupied during that time period (particularly in the ’80s) was the advancement of computer technology. For all of us who were raised on computers, Photoshop is something that might be taken for granted, but it revolutionized the design business, process and thought. Many people have made the transition to computers successfully, and when one thinks of trailblazing designers of the digital realm, designers such as April Greiman most certainly come to mind.

Greiman’s book Something from Nothing expresses the passion that exists behind the early days of experimentation with computer technology. As technical restraints were removed and designers could have more freedom (within client constraints, of course), designers even started to ask, “What is the difference between art and design?” As designers started to liken themselves more and more to fine artists, it is my opinion that they started to lose sight of some of the most essential components of what design is and must be—it must communicate, it must be functional, and it must be worth making. “Initially, this work seemed genuinely innovative, but within a short space of time most of it was proved to be no more than stylistic imitation; typically, readers were asked to wade through long paragraphs of barely legible type that they quickly tired of. Even by the mid ’90s, this approach was already looking dated … Designers grew obsessed with innovation to the extent that their computers seemed to become more important than themselves.”

I want you to curb your consumptionEspecially with the development of the internet, websites and new media, the computer and its hold on the designer started to become unbearable. What was originally liberating became another constraint, as designers started to produce work exclusively on the computer. Many designers felt frustrated when they found themselves sitting behind a computer for ten hours a day as “pixel pushers,” when they felt that they were capable of so much more.

Thirty-six years after Ken Garland wrote First Things First, a new version was drafted by Chris Dixon and Kalle Lasn of Adbusters, with assistance from design critic and writer Rick Poynor. Dixon and Lasn were inspired to redraft the manifesto after they had paid a visit to designer Tibor Kalman, who upon seeing the original manifesto printed in Adbusters made a comment to them that they should do it again. They certainly followed through. Dixon and Lasn sought the help of Rudy Vanderlans of Emigre, and Max Bruinsma of Eye, as well as Rick Poynor to promote the manifesto and gain signatures from prominent designers and members of the design community. The manifesto was printed in seven key American design magazines and several other European magazines in the hopes of reaching as many members of the design community as possible.

Adbusters magazine took up the issue of FTF as one of their campaigns that fit in squarely with their other “culture jamming” topics such as “TV Turn-Off Day” or “Unbrand America.” After showing the autumn 1998 “Blueprint For A Revolution” issue of Adbusters to Tibor Kalman, which contained the re-issued 1963 FTF manifesto, and seeing how well he responded to it, Lasn and Dixon were inspired to take it further and created FTF 2000. The text of FTF 2000 (printed in Graphic Agitation as well as the aforementioned periodicals) differs from the original FTF in several ways, yet still has some fundamental similarities and common language.

To begin with, the people who signed the 1963 and the 2000 documents are fundamentally different. Many of the people who signed the original 1963 document were students, photographers and your average working-professional graphic designer. The signatories of FTF 2000 are some of the most famous designers, design critics, design educators, advertising executives and art directors working today. The effect of their signatures upon the document is critical, and gives the manifesto more gravity. Conversely, it is exactly who most of the people are that has left FTF 2000 open to so much criticism. However, I believe that the signatories used their status to its best advantage.

I sent out a questionnaire to several of the designers who signed FTF 2000, and when asked what one reason motivated them to sign the document more than anything else, most responded, as did Steven Heller, that it was a desire “to see some kind of activism rekindled.” Katherine McCoy made the comment that “it couldn’t hurt, and it was at least a sign that some designers had refocused on concerns that we had shared in the late ’60s and early ’70s.” From the comments I received and from the research I have done on this subject, I believe most of the signatories of FTF 2000 wanted design professionals to think more critically about what they are doing, and about the far-reaching effects of design and advertising. Both Katherine McCoy and Kalle Lasn felt that the 2003 AIGA conference in Vancouver, which focused on issues of sustainability, could be traced back to the influence of First Things First. To paraphrase comments made by Kalle Lasn during an interview: “AIGA conferences used to be about getting together and having a good time … in Vancouver, we discussed making meaning, not just form; specifically the interface between design and the environment.”

It is not just the profile of the individuals who signed the document that has gone up, but the sense of urgency and the severity of the message has dramatically increased in FTF 2000. Both Garland’s manifesto and the 2000 version share the concern that designers’ talents are wasted on “trivial purposes” which are constantly being “presented to them as the most lucrative, effective and desirable use of our talents.” However, in Garland’s manifesto, the reaction does not go beyond stating much other than that this is a waste of talent and the end products “contribute little” to society.

FTF 2000 makes the more alarming statement that it seems most designers and most of society have become extremely comfortable with this equation, and even let it define them. “Commercial work has always paid the bills, but many graphic designers have now let it become, in large measure, what graphic designers do. This, in turn, is how the world perceives design.” Not only does FTF 2000 make a statement of how current practices are disastrously affecting the profession of design, it goes on to express that the actions of the design profession are “supporting (and) endorsing a mental environment so saturated with commercial messages that it is changing the very way citizen-consumers speak, think, feel, respond, and interact.”

The welcome reception that First Things First received in 1963 was equally matched by the controversy that was stirred up by FTF 2000. Every magazine that printed it received both letters of anger and of praise, and the range of responses was dramatic. One letter that was printed in the editorial section of Adbusters said in regard to FTF: “Adbusters is nothing more than a decoration in the abodes of the design class, serving to announce their ‘awareness’ of what’s wrong with the world.”

In his article “First Things Next,” Rick Poynor notes that the manifesto was called “Pompous. Outdated. Cynically exploitative. Flawed. Rigid. Unimaginative. Pathetic. Like witnessing a group of eunuchs take a vow of chastity.” Still, others saw the manifesto as a call to action, and found it incredibly inspiring. “Your first things first manifesto gives me a great push. It’s good to know that there are more creatives out there who don’t accept the status quo.” Obviously many others share the same viewpoint as this young designer whose letter appeared in the Adbusters editorial section, since more than a thousand people have added their signature to the manifesto on the Adbusters web-site. But the people who are opposed to the manifesto are opposed to it vehemently.

In her article about the responses to FTF 2000, Carolyn McCarron cites “a small group of designers in England who even went so far as to write a manifesto against all future manifesto in the field, titled A Call to Arms Against Future Retro-Manifestos From the Disillu-sioned. They write, ‘Design is encased in capitalism, and even though there are many brownie points to be won for the individual through the creation of coffee-table books, high-brow exhibitions and niche magazines, this link will persist.’”

The Adbusters site with a thousand signatures of support and the “anti-manifesto manifesto” are examples of the two extremes in reactions to FTF 2000. But there is a lot of middle ground. Many designers don’t seem to feel that things are as dire as some of the signatories of FTF. Michael Beirut, the president of the AIGA, wrote an essay titled “A Manifesto With Ten Footnotes,” which is a statement that expresses all of the same concerns as the manifesto but does not stir up as much fire against the advertising profession. Beirut believes that simple, well-designed things are something that people deserve, and it is our duty as designers to do our best, while maintaining “common decency.”

He admits that we all have a right to be alarmed by the “idiotic claims of marketing mavens,” and that design is indeed a “potent tool” with which to fight those things. However, Beirut also believes that we all have a desire and even a right to have beautiful things in our lives. I don’t believe that there will ever be an end to advertising, or that we will ever be able to eliminate desire from a capitalistic society, but I do believe that we can incorporate a stronger sense of ethical responsibility into the profession of design.

Quite delightfully, in response to the question, “What are the roles and responsibilities of a designer in this day and age?” each of the signatories I wrote to responded that “being a good citizen” or “doing the best we can … and being active, engaged citizens” are essential. To quote Jessica Helfand, “It’s still a service business; we still need to honor craft and pay attention to details. And that can mean everything from good kerning to sustainable eco-systems. And should. But at the end of the day, if design is going to mean anything, it’s going to be because we think about and engage in the ideas affecting the world beyond our profession. Participating as thoughtful designers in the real world is our greatest challenge—but also, some might argue (I might argue!) our greatest opportunity.”

Discovering the range of reactions to First Things First 2000 and really researching the motivations that people gave for their statements made me evaluate my own values about design. When I first read FTF 2000, I jumped on the Adbusters bandwagon one hundred percent. I was ready to swear to never design anything but educational books for disadvantaged children, and in my spare time create anti-war posters. While I certainly haven’t changed my mind that these things are worthwhile pursuits, I have come around to the opinion that just about anything is worthwhile if you do it well, make it useful, beautiful, and produce it in a way that is both environmentally and ethically sound.

So how do we do this? It is probably best that we take the advice of Ken Garland and remember whom we are really working for. If we are going to produce designs of quality that having lasting value and significance to society, then we need to be more aware of what society needs. While graphic design will probably always remain subject to the whims of fashion in certain domains, it surely can create its own distinct codes of ethics by which all designers adhere and operate, which would only serve to better the craft and meet the needs of society.

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Students and Responsibility

By Arts & Culture

At a time when the art world seems to be shying away from so-called “political art,” (perhaps in favor of art with a capital “A”), some students at SAIC have answered by saying that life itself is art. And also that living life is in and of itself intrinsically political. Therefore, by going out into the community to affect social change and challenge the dominant cultural mind-set, these artists are creating a type of art.

So, who are these students and what are they doing? Daniel Tucker is a senior at SAIC. His self-described emphasis is a BFA in exhibition studies, space reclamation, and squashing haters and loving lovers. He has so many projects going on I wonder that he has time for classes amidst everything else. Tucker describes his project Version>04 invisibleNetworks as “designed to facilitate connections between activists and digital media makers from all over the city, country, and world. Events like this allow for groups that are involved in creative resistance projects to meet, bounce ideas off each other, show work, discuss and party.” According to the website the 2004 theme of invisibleNetworks “addresses the concepts, aesthetics, politics, technologies and systems of secrecy and visibility in contemporary cultures.”

Tucker’s other projects include The Journal of Aesthetics & Protest; discount cinema an organization that curates film and video programs throughout Chicago, hosts traveling programs and filmmakers, and like the name suggests, offers a sliding scale of $5 – $10; and the God Bless Graffiti Coalition, “a graffiti advocacy organization which wants to promote graffiti and fight graffiti abatement, like Mayor Daley’s graffiti blasters.” Retooling Dissent: Creative Resistance Projects at the World Economic Forum Protests is a video that Tucker has worked on and is now distributing. According to the website, this video documents “creative resistance projects from protests against the World Economic Forum.” On the website there are pictures of various projects and events like the spontaneous protests in Chicago against MTV’s The Real World and something called Daley Village, a cardboard housing project. All of these are efforts that take place out in the community. All of these projects are creative and, depending on your personal definition, could be called art.

Simon Spartalian, first year BA in Visual and Critical Studies is one of those people who would define what Daniel Tucker is doing as art. “I am really open with what I consider art,” Spartalian explains. “There are electron microscope images that I consider art. I walk outside and there are visual daily experiences that I consider art that are produced by the community in general without even knowing it.” Spartalian concedes, though, that “this is a very personal thing. I don’t think that many people would agree with me, although I think people would agree with me if I said that the movie Amélie presents life as art.” Tucker himself prefers the term “visual culture” as he is tired of the never ending “what is art?” question and debate. “‘Visual culture,’” he explains, “can prove to be a useful term for people interested in social change, as well as the aesthetics of everyday living and the built world.”

Simon Spartalian’s major on-going project, which is his art-in-the-world/visual culture, is summed up in an organization called the Vermont Separatist Alliance (VSA). Spartalian, who hails from Burlington, Vermont, has created the VSA and also the anti-VSA, which is run by the fictional Gunnery Sergeant Retired Bill Bradley and his three-legged dog, Tripod. Both organizations have followers and have created commotion in Burlington. The whole thing, though, is an experiment, or art. It’s a creation, and at some point in the future Spartalian will reveal it as such. For now, though, it’s still his work-in-progress.

Spartalian’s more recent project is a mobile art gallery. He’s currently working to develop a six-foot-by-six-foot wall on wheels which would show two exhibitions simultaneously; one on each side of the wall. He has hopes of this becoming a student group in the future. “Our community is really insular,” he says, “it’s our responsibility as artists to engage the community. I think there’s a reluctance to do that because it seems there’s a question: is that really our agenda? Should we make that our agenda? But you don’t see stage performers asking if it’s their agenda to put on a play. It’s what you do. It’s your job. And I feel that engaging the community in a visual sense is our job.” Spartalian hopes that with this mobile gallery he can break down some of the actual and metaphorical walls of the traditional art gallery by taking this out into the public space. He wants to rig a generator to a bicycle and by human pedal power light his gallery, furthering its performance aspect. “I really do believe it’s my responsibility to engage the community,” Spartalian states, and his mobile gallery is “intrinsically public. It’s a gallery that is made to be put in the public’s face.”

And so the boundaries continue to blur…art, visual culture, theater, political activism, social change. Travis Culley is a first year MFA in Writing student who previously completed a BFA in theater. Although Culley told me that he disagrees with Spartalian’s statement that life is art (“I guess, to me, art is a statement of value, and everything cannot have value. When I look out the window and experience beauty, I credit that experience to the genius of simply being human.”), he does refer to the street as theater. When he talks of Critical Mass, a bike activist event in cities across the world that happens the last Friday of every month (in Chicago meet at Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington at 5:30 p.m., ride at 6 p.m.) he admits that “it involves rather elaborate theatrics. Accomplishing these sorts of theatrics is a way of amplifying the voice of that political will. The theatrics of the street are decided by all, and so the beauty of the event is not contrived by sole authors and singular visions. The street is a co-op, you can add anything you’d like to it.”

While Culley may not call his activism art, he does seem comfortable calling it theater. And his stage definitely seems to be the street and perhaps his bicycle is his main prop. In his book The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power, Culley describes riding his bike to work at an art gallery initially as a way to conserve funds, yet by riding he becomes intimately involved with and enamored of the street: “When I arrived at an art gallery filled with these images [of the streets], I would always wonder, Which was the more honest arena? The street? Or the exhibition? And which was the more profound? The street, of course, the street, in almost every case.” All of this leads to the idea that, once again, despite the apparent shying away from the political nature of the art world “out there,” for some people art and life are inherently political. As Michael Kiser, a MFA in Writing student, explains, politics cannot be escaped by artists, writers, or anyone else. This is because he defines politics as simply being a citizen. As a citizen, he says, “It seems to me it would be impossible to not be at least somewhat aware.” You’re aware of the facts of your daily life and simply by being aware of these facets of how you live and making choices you are engaging in politics. He explains, “We all have to play the game somehow, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the meaningless way that we associate it with.” In the simplest sense, he says that “in writing, as well as the visual arts, there is a sense of politics in that you’re always communicating with other writing, with other artwork.”

And if politics are inescapable and life and art are intertwined, what does this mean to the student artist at SAIC? Is there a responsibility involved in being an artist? Well, yes, and no. “Artists are citizens, too,” sums up Mary Patten, professor in the Film, Video, and New Media Department, “and thus have no more or less ‘social responsibility’ than anyone else. However, artists, writers, or anyone claiming to be an intellectual or critical thinker have a responsibility to foster complexity of thinking and feeling.” And, then, what responsibilities might that put on the instructors at an art school such as SAIC? Mary answers, “While, of course, I believe that I and other faculty who are committed to social change have a responsibility to creatively translate those politics into useful pedagogies, it is every generation’s responsibility to autonomously sort out what needs to be done, thought, challenged. We’re counting on you all to not just ‘keep on,’ but to enrich and complicate the mix.”

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