August 4, 2013
“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
While there were a few people who disagreed with my POV, if the emails and messages I received are any indicator, countless more agreed with me, a fact which really doesn’t shock me in the slightest. Sure, the four anonymous emails that implied I’m an arrogant jerk were well on their way to hurting my fragile little feelings until I realized:
Thankfully for the art of common sense, most people possess a fair degree of rational thought, and if there was ever a situation where truly cooler heads needed to prevail, this would be the one.
But what do I know? Maybe it’s perfectly lucid to keep doing the same thing time after time and expect different results. Granted, that’s usually defined as insanity- but I guess when you’re so inoculated against common sense as some of these chowder-heads seem to be, it’s just par for the course.
I really, really like my odds.
As you may have guessed by the quotes above, today’s little screed is all about Censorship. Can you say censorship, boys and girls? I knew that you could, but why would you want to in the first place? Like most artists, whenever I’m forced to take notice of that vile word, I break out in a cold sweat, even if it doesn’t directly affect me. It’s just that scary a concept.
According to the dictionary, it is defined as: “The suppression or proscription of speech or writing that is deemed obscene, indecent, or unduly controversial.”
The term originally derives from the official duties of the Roman censor who, beginning in 443 b.c., conducted the census by counting, assessing, and evaluating the populace. Originally neutral in tone, the term has come to mean the suppression of ideas or images by the government or others with authority. In other words… Orwellian to the max.
However, as a means of foreshadowing, here’s a story from Phoenix Performance Artist and subject of the award winning documentary “Hi, My Name is Ryan.”, the one and only Ryan Avery:
“I was asked to contribute to a compilation called the song poem project, the concept was a bunch of songwriters would write poems then those poems would be randomly given to the other song writers and then those said song writers would make songs out of those poems.
I wrote a poem, submitted it, got a poem back, and turned it into an a’capella song. I was then told my a’capella song was not acceptable because songs need musical accompaniment. Singing a’capella is what I do as a song writer, so I am not sure what they were expecting. The whole thing was stupid, I didn’t respond to the e-mails sent to me demanding I add music to the song.
I didn’t feel like they deserved a response. When the compilation came out they included my song but added their own music to it. At this point it doesn’t really bother me because the whole compilation turned out to be pretty mediocre.
The organizer of this compilation also asked my alter-ego Douglas Patton to submit a poem. Douglas Patton sings in the punk band Fathers Day which writes songs about dad stuff (mostly hating your wife and kids) Patton’s poem was about beating your wife because she won’t have sex with you and wants you to sleep on the couch because you snore.
Admittedly this is subject matter is pretty fucked, but the poem was declined for being too “offensive” which would make sense to me if this was going to be a compilation directed towards children (maybe).
But the fact is this compilation was for songwriters, this person knew what kind of things Douglas Patton writes about and what style of music I play, but they didn’t give any guidelines or rules on the project at all.”
This is just one example out of the scores that I’ve heard over the years in regards to PHX’s creative community, and in my opinion, the producers of this project obviously didn’t do their homework in regards to whom they were asking for submissions- a decision that led to the unfortunate clusterf**k Ryan found himself in.
Depending on your POV, censorship can be looked at in three different ways- sometimes it’s a business decision, sometimes it’s a miscommunication error, and sometimes it’s just blatantly politically or personally motivated.
For instance, if I was responsible for curating a group show, it’s a pretty sure bet that I wouldn’t invite Peter Bugg or Suzanne Falk (PHX’s very own artsy cat lady) to be part of it, and that would be for entirely different, yet completely personal, reasons.
In Bugg’s case, it would be due to his predilection for creating (and I use that term loosely) low-end work, engaging in outright intellectual theft, and for consistently phoning in his dreadful shows from Mars.
Seriously, I actually get nauseous just thinking about having to see another one of his painful train wrecks that masquerades as an art opening.
As a gallery owner, one has to consider the level of professionalism in regards to the people you would be doing business with, so I wouldn’t consider my theoretical action to serve as an example of true censorship, not by a long shot. They would still be able to peddle their wares elsewhere, and I would never get in the way of them attempting to earn a living using their artistic wiles.
If truth be told, I’d actually encourage them to do so. Just keep it away from my place.
Are you still being allowed to show your work with no restrictions as a whole, or are you being forced to set up personal and professional boundaries that are at odds with your long-held beliefs?
If the answer to the first question is “yes”, then chalk it up to irreconcilable personal differences and move on to the next artistic cantina that’ll have you, my amigo. Water under the bridge, best of luck to you and yours- all that happy mumbo-jumbo.
Go forth and create, you sexy, sexy, bitches.
However, If the answer is “no”, then you are being dynamically censored, my artistic exit buddies, and that simply cannot be allowed to prosper, no matter what. I’m not a big proponent of shutting someone down just because their work is or may be, considered “offensive” by the great majority.
It’s when someone takes their opinion and uses it as a rationalization for restricting someone’s rights, that I tend to get all super bitchy.
In the end, what censorship really stands for is the chilling of independent ideas, and that is just downright terrifying. Granted, I generally don’t make the sort of work that tends to raise other peoples ire, but it has happened, and it’s never been a good experience.
What’s even more sickening in my humble opinion, is that a large amount of censorship is justified using the thread-bare excuse of “protecting” the citizenry, who apparently will just go completely off the rails if they’re exposed to something they don’t like or comprehend.
My response to that position?
No matter what the Art is, I’m pretty sure that nothing cataclysmic will happen due to our being exposed to it’s influence or inherent message. Civilization will not fall, the Apocalypse will not occur, the Four Horseman will not arrive on fiery steeds, and it’s a pretty safe bet that there will not be a fifth Twilight movie, thank all that’s holy and pure.
However to balance out the scales, they will have to make one more “Die Hard” movie.
Sigh… as they say, ya gotta take the bitter with the sweet.
In other words… if it is truly offensive, we’ll just put on our big boy Underoos and deal with it, because we don’t need to be protected from what we (or others) consider to be unpleasant or uncomfortable.
“As a Christian, I find this particular work of yours offensive.”
I don’t know about you, but I have an old fashioned concept of what true professionalism is, and I’ve never required the Good Book to tell me how to act accordingly. Not too surprisingly, I would expect a self-declared man of God to have the same clarity of thought.
Someday, I really need to listen to my gut in matters regarding the intellectual capacity of others.
I then proceed to remind him that I was not going to be displaying any of my adult work, and that like it or not, we had a contract. His rationalization was to weakly state that he couldn’t possibly show my architectural work, as he was afraid that if his patrons discovered that I shot nudes, then he might have to deal with their being “offended”, and he wasn’t going to take that risk.
Seriously. He was censoring me on the theoretical idea that an adult who went to my website might be affronted by one of the several bodies of work that I have created over the years, and take it out on him, a successful businessman, whose gallery was filled with nude statues and paintings.
Hypocrisy, meet my business colleague- the professional Art dealer and full time candy-ass. But it only gets better. Reading the contract to him over the phone, I draw attention to the section where it points out that if my show gets canceled for any other reason than my own incompetence, he’s liable for all associated costs- such as promotion, framing, printing, etc.
His witty and eloquent retort to my observation?
Apparently, when you believe in Jesus, that makes being a sordid douchebag a perfectly acceptable position to take.
Well, I’ve always liked to think that I’m highly creative when it comes to getting even, but this time I was outdone by my lawyer, who’s no mean slouch himself in regards to the art of revenge. After the drafting of two demand letters which were both met with indescribable vulgarities, he decides to finally takes the gloves off and play dirty.
Using just a touch of humor and some well played theatrics.
After being contacted by his office during a routine business lunch that he was attending with his fellow legal eagles, he became rather peeved by the earthy rebuff, and decided then and there to be righteously proactive about it.
Realizing that the gallery was a mere four blocks away from where he was currently dining, he then cajoles his lunch companions into joining him on his quest to visit said gallery and have a friendly little “chat” with the owner.
And here’s where the fun really begins.
[Keeping in mind that I wasn’t there, this re-telling comes straight from my lawyer’s mouth.]
Gallery owner: “Um, excuse me, but who are those people?”
Lawyer: “The gentlemen behind me? Oh, those are Mr. Reich’s legal representatives. I speak for them.”
Gallery owner: (slowly and with a sense of dawning horror)“He has eight lawyers?”
Lawyer: “Oh, heck no, don’t be silly. That’s just the first team… the rest are flying in tonight.(pause) Now, let’s discuss why you feel you can break a legally binding contract in the most insulting and I might add, crude- manner possible, and how much it’s going to cost to make this issue go away.
At this point, the gallery owner apparently went a shade of pale that was later referred to as “clear”, and started stammering out a prolonged apology in regards to his highly unprofessional behavior and subsequent vulgarity in dealing with the situation. He also whipped out his checkbook, but my lawyer wasn’t that easily mollified.
Fortunately for him, my lawyer just happened to have a simple solution.
And that’s why a mere twenty minutes later, my “legal team” walked out with a certified check for a cool 3k- not bad, especially when you consider the gallery only owed me about five-hundred bucks.
Seriously- my lawyer should be given a hollow volcano out of appreciation for what he did that day, complete with jump-suited minion army, stainless steel monorail, a giant death ray, and pools full of freaking sharks with freaking laser beams attached to their freaking heads.
Oh.. and a manservant who can kill people with his razor-edged bow tie, while still possessing the ability to make one mean Mojito in the traditional style. You know… the industry standard.
In other words, as long as you keep a wary eye, you can hopefully keep the situation contained so as to do the least possible damage in the long term. However, there are other factors which sometimes can make that possible containment damn near nigh impossible, no matter what you do.
As I stated earlier, It’s even worse when the censor in question just happens to be another artist, especially when it turns out to be someone you used to have respect for, and here is where I initiate yet another well-earned Artbitch thrashing directed at the personage of one Richard Bledsoe, local artist and past co-operator of Deus ex Machina Gallery, formerly located on Grand Avenue.
Now I know what some of you out there think of me- that I’m short on fuse and long on complaints, and while there IS a certain amount of veracity to that, it’s even rarer that I’ve ever been consistently proven wrong.
I do have a track record for calling it accurately, as a rule. Sure, my approach at times can be as subtle as a 767 hitting a Jello factory, but more often than not, if I’m wrong or just off my game, it’s usually a matter of millimeters, not feet. Despite the fact that I wish every now and then that I could be all warm and fuzzy, the Truth is supposed to hurt, and let’s face it- that’s kinda my niche.
So what did Richard do to get on my dark side?
Richard happens to champion an artistic theory commonly ascribed to as either “Remodernism”or “Stuckism”, (depending on which camp you fall into) and while I’m all about having faith in a ideology that speaks to you, I also abhor labels, as I tend to find them (to some extent) rather restrictive to your career in the long run.
For instance, if you ask me what I “do”, I would tell you that I’m an Artist. Period. No fuss, no muss.
I generally don’t go around describing myself as: “a formerly New York based German-Sicilian Visual Artist with a penchant for bright primary color paintings that are artistically balanced with a wide array of photographic explorations of both structure and form.”
Honestly, the above just sounds absolutely absurd when you first hear it, and personally- I ain’t got time for all that foolishness. Plus… it’s also really hard to fit all that hokum on a business card.
But getting back to the point: what exactly is “Remodernism / Stuckism”, you ask? Other than being a word that my spell-check doesn’t recognize at all, one of the numerous descriptions available regarding this movement states that:
“Remodernism revives aspects of modernism, particularly in its early form, and follows post-modernism, to which it contrasts. Adherents of remodernism advocate it as a forward and radical, not reactionary, impetus.”
The movement, founded by Billy Childish and Charles Thomson, issued a manifesto in 1999 that established the guiding tenets of the movement as the following:
3. Remodernism discards and replaces Post-Modernism because of its failure to answer or address any important issues of being a human being.
4. Remodernism embodies spiritual depth and meaning and brings to an end an age of scientific materialism, nihilism and spiritual bankruptcy.
5. We don’t need more dull, boring, brainless destruction of convention, what we need is not new, but perennial. We need an art that integrates body and soul and recognizes enduring and underlying principles which have sustained wisdom and insight throughout humanity’s history. This is the proper function of tradition.
10. The making of true art is man’s desire to communicate with himself, his fellows and his God. Art that fails to address these issues is not art.
11. It should be noted that technique is dictated by, and only necessary to the extent to which it is commensurate with, the vision of the artist.
12. The Remodernist’s job is to bring God back into art but not as God was before. Remodernism is not a religion, but we uphold that it is essential to regain enthusiasm (from the Greek, en theos to be possessed by God).
13. A true art is the visible manifestation, evidence and facilitator of the soul’s journey. Spiritual art does not mean the painting of Madonnas or Buddhas. Spiritual art is the painting of things that touch the soul of the artist. Spiritual art does not often look very spiritual, it looks like everything else because spirituality includes everything.
14. Why do we need a new spirituality in art? Because connecting in a meaningful way is what makes people happy. Being understood and understanding each other makes life enjoyable and worth living.
Did you read all that? If so, then I am sorry. Really, really sorry. You have no idea how truly sorry I am. With all sincerity, I feel like I should buy you a truly nice lunch or something really shiny.
No matter how you try to slice and dice it, that is some seriously inane psychobabble, and that opinion comes from someone who’s fluent in twelve dialects of the language.
I’ve been afraid to look in a mirror, due to the trepidation that I might witness my brain trying to escape via my earsin response to absorbing that much artistic bulls**t.
Don’t get me wrong- it’s great to have a guiding philosophy. It really is. But if I were to play devil’s advocate for a mere second, I would have to ask this simple question:
“Why weigh down the purity of our craft with the detestable ichors of a conceited and narcissistic philosophy that in essence, serves no long-term useful purpose?”
Once again, the best description of what I do- I am an Artist. Period.
Labels are for canned food, not people. If you lack the courage to forge true individual definition, all the philosophies of the world aren’t going to help you in the long run.
While I may not be the biggest cheerleader in regards to all the artistic disciplines, I also don’t feel the need to have everything put into a neat little box so that I may understand it better.
“I wanted to leave within the first 6 months but Charly asked me to stay on as long as I could stand it. Firstly, I didn’t mind being in a group where I didn’t like a lot of the work because I feel that an artist can be mature enough not to need a comfort zone of agreement.
But in the end, I didn’t like what was being promoted as representing my beliefs. Charly under-used my stuff, but I was sited all the time. Also, Charly was gunning for Traci a bit, and I felt it was the wrong thing to do, but still I pick up the tab for it.
The truth is, Charly is as media hungry as Traci.
I grew to like Charles as a person – but not in charge of the group. Likewise, I like Traci, but not her public persona (which, incidentally, is nothing to do with confessional art, but is in fact revisionist in nearly all its aspects). Also, I think that a lot of the artists in the Stuckists are not sincere and don’t believe in the manifesto, or understand what I’m on about.”
Yep. Nothing says “true cultural warrior” like walking away from the movement you started less than six years ago over a few minor points of contention. That’s obviously just my humble opinion, but I’ll let you make your own judgment call in regards to that, I think.
More to the point- while I obviously find this whole movement and others of it’s ilk absolutely ludicrous, I still wouldn’t get in the way of someone promoting it as a viable method of personal artistic expression.
See, Richard is so entranced with this so-called movement that he decided to champion it on the ol’ FaceBook by starting a page*called “The Phoenix Remodernists”- so far, so good.
But here’s where I start having some issues with the ol’ social media thing. FaceBook allows you to “add” people to groups without their permission, something I didn’t know. As I said a moment ago, if I had known what this group represented, I wouldn’t have joined it in the first place, so being added without my knowledge was a tad bit irritating.
Remember all that previous artsy-fartsy twaddle-faddle I laid on you earlier?
From the mission statement on the Remodernist page:
“Phoenix AZ is a hotbed of independent art. What is happening here is happening other places worldwide as part of the Remodernism movement. Remodernism began in London in 1999, founded by punk rock Renaissance man Billy Childish and painter Charles Thomson as a protest against elitist art world politics.
Share your art, announce exhibits and events. Take advantage of this thoughtful and engaged audience to share deeper insights into your goals and processes-we want to know!
Our passionate commitment to ideas may lead to disagreements. Feel free to debate without being disrespectful. Articulate your viewpoint. Disagree without being disruptive. Don’t hijack threads with meaningless contradiction and complaints.
Cyber Bullying will not be tolerated.
We are entering an era where big questions are being addressed-who is art for? What does art mean in our culture? New understandings will be reached due to the inspired work and creativity of countless individuals from around the globe.
Here is a place to engage with others who are actively searching for the way forward. These are exhilarating times. The future will be what we make of it.”
Now, on the surface, this seems like it would be a great place to hang out- open discussion, critical feedback, and a sense of artistic purpose with a clearly defined end game.
Once again, note to self…things aren’t always what they seem, especially when they’re pre-packaged in art-speak.
In the beginning, I went along with the program, despite not being a disciple nor a convert to the movement- I was strictly interested in the exchange of ideas in what was supposed to be an open arts forum (IE: uncensored) and the possibility of networking with my fellow creatives.
As the saying goes, the honeymoon ended quickly when I got a really good luck under the bride’s veil. The majority of Artists who were on the page also did not seemingly believe or identify with Richard’s narrow ideology, and in the beginning at least, you weren’t allowed to post any personal show dates/events etc. on the page, which seems kind of counter productive to the convenience of networking.
Along with posting threads where Richard would prattle on and on about the Stuckist philosophy, (which were just as exciting as they sound) he would also censor or outright delete whole threads on the supposedly open forum that he had issues with- a practice with which I and several others disagreed vehemently.
Here’s a surprising fact in regards to my attitude- just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean I want you to shut up.
You’ll either eventually help prove my point or you’ll change my mind, perhaps towards the betterment of both. And if you’re being an idiot, I’d rather that you’re exposed for all the world to see, versus being hidden or censored by an arrogant fairy godmother.
See, when it gets right down to brass tacks, I don’t need to be protected from ideas I find adverse, nor do I need to have the discourse in which I’m engaged to be sugar-coated. I’m an adult, not a toddler. And any ideology that cant stand divergent concepts is definitely not one I want to be involved with.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: why didn’t I just leave? Good question. Well, to be honest, I was meeting so many other artists, absorbing their different points of view, and in general- having such a good time networking with my fellow artists that I was willing to put up with all of the self-righteous smugness that Richard was projecting online.
I also enjoyed when the debate of ideas got heated as well- passion generally leads to some serious discussions, and from that, progress is made. Once again, we’re all adults here, and we can take it.
Then came the night chivalry got me in trouble. Don’t worry, it’s not like it took me out to a bar or something, it meant well, and that’s all that counts. One night, a fellow artist (who happened to be female) was being attacked on the site for her POV- the so-called man who was leading the charge was being vulgar, sexist, and downright idiotic.
I know, I know… I have a serious problem.
But the first step is to just admit it, and make peace with yourself.
So… I jump in, make mincemeat out of the sexist small-brained twerp, and if one were to count the instant messages I received as an indicator, it seems many on the page were both amused and highly appreciative of my verbal repartee in defense of my colleague.
But not Richard. Apparently, my sense of gallantry upset his Unicorn somehow, and he wasn’t going to let that stand. The next morning, the entire thread had been deleted, and I took heart from the number of comments expressing disappointment at Richard’s unnecessary censorship.
But Richard had one more card to deal out. Later that day, I received the following FB message:
Every time I’ve deleted a late night flame war you’ve been involved. I’ll passionately debate ideas all day long, but we need to stay professional-avoid these personally abusive spats with strangers.
It adds nothing to the quality of the ideas here. I will not have it on this public forum.
Advocate strongly for your ideas without lapsing in name calling, I know you can do that!
Let me know your thoughts, thanks, Richard”
Ok… let me get this straight… I come to the defense of a fellow Artist, and I’m the bad guy here? As to the “flame war” he references, I have no idea what the f**k he’s talking about. It strikes odd that someone who’s known me for a few years seems shocked by the fact that I tend to speak my mind, and it’s even stranger when you remember that I didn’t ask to join, I was added in.
I don’t sugar-coat, I don’t lie, and I sure as hell don’t suffer fools, mainly because I’m an adult and there’s no law that says I have to. Did he seriously assume that somehow
I would have a complete personality flip in regards to what I think just because he alone thinks we should all play nice?
News flash, Richard: sometimes debate needs to get hot, because that’s how ideas get cooked. While it would be very nice if we all could join hands and start to sing “Kumbaya”*, it’s never going to happen.
Personally, I find his actions to be both highly offensive, and utterly hypocritical, especially when he’s advocating a system that claims to be based on pure artistic integrity.
As you might imagine, I didn’t respond to his pedantic e-mail, choosing to take the silent approach rather than express what I was feeling at the time, which was a mixture of anger and scorn.
It seems that perhaps that was the wrong approach on my part. A few hours later, I discovered that not only had Richard banned me from the page, he had also “un-friended” me on FB as well.
Can you say “petty” boys and girls? Richard cant, but he sure can act it out.
Turns out, he had also been busy banning several other people off the page as well. Intentionally or not, the majority turned out to be just like me, people who tend to speak their minds when given the chance.
Not a true Stuckist in that bunch by the way… I’m sure that was just a coincidence.
I took my banishment in stride, firing off the following message:
Now for me, that’s actually quite diplomatic, especially when you factor in that the guy I was writing to looks like one of those troll things you stick on the end of a pencil. But I took the high road in the end, and that’s what counts.
He started his own arts forum* on FB, under the name of “Arizona Artists” and created a censorship free online round-table where anyone can discuss whatever’s on their mind, along with the posting of tons of helpful tips, articles and writings dedicated solely to the Arts.*[Link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/arizonaartists/ ]
His original concept has rapidly expanded into an upcoming online magazine, a separate website, and at this point- two successful meetings of local artists, centered on solidifying and accelerating various promotional and business aspects of the downtown Phoenix Art Scene.
Hmm. I guess even a broken clock gets it right twice a day, but in regards to Richard’s actions, I’m still disgusted that a fellow Artist would go out of his way to stifle free expression in such a highly public and arrogant manner.
In the end however, I don’t think that we should really concern ourselves with Mr. Bledsoe’s flawed decision to censor his colleagues- hopefully given enough time, he’ll see the light and the error of his ways, and get on board with the program.
So, I say we let Richard have his little Utopia. It’s not like he’s doing anything with it.
“The sooner we all learn to make a decision between disapproval and censorship, the better off society will be….Censorship cannot get at the real evil, and it is an evil in itself.”- Granville Hicks