Saturday, November 14, 2015

Power and Terror: Conflict, Hegemony and the Rule of Force, Noam Chomsky

Dick Cheney, in an interview with ABC news, correspondent Martha Raddatz pointed out that a majority of citizens opposed the war in Iraq. Cheney replied, “So?” Martha asked, “You don't care what the American people think?” He said, “NO.” He then goes on to say that we can't be subject to fluctuations in opinion polls. A White House speaker was asked later if this meant the government didn't think the public should have input. The speaker remarked that the public has input every four years. Since they fund, so pretty much own the candidates in those 4 year elections (but not Bernie), that sums up the oligarchic attitude towards democracy. By the way, other damage that administration did to democracy was stack the federal courts with corporate conservatives and the news out of Paris this weekend is called blowback... violence begets violence.

Chomsky points out in this book a number of issues on which the citizenry holds an opinion, according to polls, in contrast to government ie, a large majority support a single payer health care system, a significant majority would prefer less military-focused budget priorities, strong human rights policies and real democracy... the government and mainstream media declare these positions not politically feasible. Since the majority supports them there must be some other criterion for politically feasible and of course that brings us to the disproportionate influence of the 1%... what the 1% wants the 1% usually gets.

Another related, revealing and disturbing factoid Chomsky cites is a worldwide study by Edward Herman looking at the relationship between U.S. aid and torture. The study showed a high correlation. A second study concluded that the key factor was “investment climate”. U.S. aid increased as investment climate improved, ie, a favorable investment situation for U.S. corporations = higher U.S. aid levels. How is a favorable investment climate created and maintained? Well, “One of the best ways is to murder union organizers and peasant leaders, to torture priests, to massacre peasants, to undermine social programs etc;” Not that the U.S. prefers human rights violations, that is just what accompanies the favorable business climate created by client governments.

In government and media discussion of the
terrible threat to the U.S. from Iran, the regime is described as dictatorial (though elected) and dangerous, no argument with the former, no evidence needed for the latter. No mention of course of the inconvenient fact that the U.S. and Britain in 1954 overthrew a parliamentary democracy in the country, installing the Shah's ruthless regime characterized by the usual offensive attributes. The U.S. has boots on the ground, as the saying goes, in Afghanistan and Iraq but Iran is “destabilizing” the area. Stabilization is when everyone is following orders and a favorable investment climate is created. This in fact is what is usually at the root of U.S. aggression - from Clinton's bombing of Kosovo/Serbia to the U.S. invasion of Vietnam, the embargo of Cuba and support for right wing dictators across the planet. Risking the sensibility of the blind patriot, Chomsky compares U.S. operations to the Mafia... the Don cannot allow one storekeeper to refuse “protection” payments. Total obediance is required or the system of domination is threatened.

Chomsky ventures where few will follow, or even comprehend, given the indoctrination system, conflicting as it does, too mightily with received wisdom – U.S. allegiance to Israel unfettered by human rights considerations. Israel is described as playing the role of a U.S. aircraft carrier, a military base in the midst of an oil-drenched prize sure to lure the attention of the consumption addict. Israel is allowed wide lattitude in its barbaric behavior around land grabs and oppression of Palestinians so long as they play out their proper military role. Anyone dependent on mainstream media for their notion of what's going on in the mideast would be flabbergasted to hear that it is the U.S. and Israel who have blocked a two-state peace settlement for 35 years. And it is these same players who block proposals for a nuclear-free middle east, something one would think highly desirable but since the
aircraft carrier has them, and U.S. ships in the area probably have them, then the ol' what's good for the goose is good for the gander cannot apply. The Don's dominance cannot be questioned.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Aesthetic Journal Excerpts, 1975 - 1985

Aesthetic Journal Excerpts 1975 - 1985, Tom Ferguson, published in Art Papers,
Vol 9. No. 5.
September/October 1985

(one can readily see from these writings why Eckhart Tolle so appealed to me, once I discovered his teachings. Kinda fun to review these entries groping for insight, stumbling on it now and then, veering off in the wrong direction, not quite getting it consistently)

    Interior 1969     Winter Has Its Influence, 1973      SF+CT+TF, 1967         Perhaps an Archetype, 1977
    all oil on canvas

The visuals roughly track the evolution of my paintings, here & below. For a more detailed view –

The Greeks, for all their brilliance, were not ready to build a just society. Instead they constructed architectural, artistic and philosophical edifices which have dominated the West for centuries. So today, for all our technological achievement, those who beg us to consider a just world as worthy of our energy are swamped by a stupid insistence on nuclear weapons, more weapons and now “star wars”. The Greek Gods groan. At least the temples were majestic. Their beauty was perhaps lost on the poor slaves expended in construction, just as we are offered as sacrifice to myopic megalomania.

Of the ideological strains in Abstract Expressionism, I identify with the existential – painting as series of decisions, record of action, arena where authenticity is sought and Zen contact – painting as means to self-in-the-world. The painting as object, as color organization, as itself – these more minimal factors also attract, as do conceptual isssues. Subject is one means to incorporate issues that interest me. Color/impasto is one means to assert the surface, not indiscriminately but in passages of authentic or interesting or beautiful acts.

I make pictures. Lately they allude to a real or fictive reality beyond the painting but they do not masquerade as holographs. They balance allusion against surface, they embed reference in paint. Not that I wouldn't push illusion. Nothing is forbidden save the unauthentic. Authenticity is not a product of subject or style or medium but an un-selfconscious coming together of interest, skill and insight.

Painting speaks via a shared vocabulary of form, a vocabulary both learned and inherited. Learning may distort one's aesthetic when it dogmatically insists upon certain values and arbitrarily excludes others. Learning is on the mark when it guides to innate response to form and expands the possibilities of form and subject.

There is a double-entente peculiar to the portrait genre. The painting is and if of entity. Portraiture emphasizes and balances that surface/allusion dichotomy, each of which vies for dominance yet yields, with great pleasure, to the other.

Painting is about ideas and emotion and individual physiognomy. The face, as subject, is a convenient means to dealing with all three:

Face as Subject has individual physiognomy (character, personality), implies ideas (identity, being, situation) and emotion (feelings about identity, being, situation).

Surface has individual physiognomy (rough, smooth etc;), implies ideas (decision, skin, chaos/order, sensuality, actuality, primal consciousness) and emotion (feelings about being, time, order/chaos, sensuality, fear, awe, primal consciousness).

Color has individual physiognomy (hue, saturation, brightness) and implies ideas (polarity, contrast, harmony, dissonance) and emotion (feelings about particular color experiences i.e., attraction/ repulsion, exhilaration, nausea).

With surface, and sometimes color, I try to assert a definite presence, to underline and underlie the various preoccupations of subject. Flatness is the premise which drawing defies. Impasto short-circuits the denial and reference transpires.

An arrangement of color is analogous to an arrangement of sound. Each medium addresses its peculiar sensory organ – speaking of delight, of death, of the range of emotion and value common to homosapien.

Subject provides structure, place for color. The end remains unknown. Piano, with its 88 possibilities, is another medium for unknown ends.

Jack Burnham suggests that art-making is myth, that the artist stands at the abyss. Leap (into synchronic time) or play end-game variations of the “elborate and beautiful game.” If synchronic time is what I think it is, painting is one of the means to pursuing it. Said another way, end-game is a means to leaping.

Content Analysis

Autobio: journal entries as subject/past drng books/letters/events i.e., Partial List of the Dead/excuse to paint but also to claim significance for all things and simply as one of the objects my interest fastens on, which is guide and criterion for subject and approach, stuff from my life I appropriate for painting and so comment on this on-going process

Impasto: surface assertion/primal/muck/skin/physicality/sensuality/fecal matter/surface beauty/ surface is asserted, is actuality which is being which is what surface assertion means – art object reality: person being, perceiving...

Signficant Image: sub-conscious resonance/primal/icon/... stirs primal consciousness and this is less a reflection on the past than an experiencing of the present as it genetically embodies that past.

Narrative: words/figuration/portraits/jounals/ also – narration of self as record of act the tension or cancellation which occurs between narration and the formal.

Collaborative: duets/trios/three lines each/gatekeeper/jazz influence the grid and/or canvas as net for catching events.

Appropriational: cold code/drng. Books/journals/songs/ asserts significance of all things in tradition of ready-made, still-life, assemblage, documentary photography, some conceptual art. Somethings stand for all things when they “strike” me, reminding me that everything resonates with being. This can be on a less cosmic level. The cosmic is one of the deeper layers of “neatness”.

Formal: the basis, the way in which the others manifest themselves – color. The painting as object, as itself.

Many of the sub-sets overlap. I think of significant images as color arrangements that resonate such that they stir being. Other characteristics may support the main concern but it is dominant.

There is an aspect of self which reaches roots deep, into pre-history, our inherited genetic reality, as it survives in us; that aspect of being which connects us with the evolutionary process through our concrete relatedness to it.

Surrealism evoked the novelty of being by citing the strange. Genre painting was political asserting the dignity of the common people. By transposing subject from the mythical to the common-place, neither importance nor myth were discarded. Instead it was declared that what myth attempts to address is present everywhere, that “creation” is astounding in every of its manifestations. Eventually the painting itself came to embody the myth, to be manifestation. This may always have been the case but abstraction took to emphasizing it.

Painting parallels arguments in philosophy. Materialism insisted that the artist decides and that is subject. Transcendentalism saw the artist as go-between, medium, shaman. Abstract Expressionism was existential. Minimalism was confrontation – phenomenological reduction. Pop, another manifestation of the genre, lightened things up. Process and performance art reacted against commodification, so the object refers not to itself but to the recent history of its production. Since performance is process, and nothing remains after, it seems most appropriate to de-commodification. Deconstruction calls for a vigorous analysis of intent.

There is a strain in 20th Century art that coincides with “bad art”. Cezanne's Bathers, Matisse's sculpture, Leger's images, Shapiro's block figures, Stephan's conical paintings... early Cubism... Marc, Schwitters... there is an awkwardness, a non-classical kind of proportioning and coloring. Something in this approach draws artists. Somehow articulation of the inarticulate is articulate, of some one of the multi-layers of meaning.

I pursue in painting, what seems significant to me. What makes for “success” is the confluence of interest 'twixt artist and the art world powers. A trend catches on because it excites some significant portion of this population. Some artists and critics disparage the trend. Some “bandwagon” as popularity and profits increase. So the movement becomes diluted, reaction sets in, other issues come to the fore. But an artist can at any time make significant art in any of the approaches. The rewards will however be limited - unless the timing is such as to begin a movement or revival.

Picture-making strategies involve subject selection, what I fasten on as alluring, given the present way of painting. It is a reciprocal evolving. Certain subjects mesh favorably with my present approach, others interest me enough to change my approach to mesh with them.

David Smith says that the art object is spark to fire the viewer's imagination. For me color is the itself of painting, not only spark but instance of imagination. The art-act is an intuitive act of conviction, according to Smith. Specifically it is unpredictable yet, since he claims it as an evolved language, it is recognizable as convincing or no. When it is genuine it expresses the uniqueness of its maker.

Croce: expression is the first form of consciousness.

There is the art object and its meaning. On one level these are not different. The object induces self-consciousness, as Kuspit says (Artforum, Jan. 81) “through its lack of meaning – but it does convey its physiognomy which consists in qualities which do or do not align with our own affinities.”

John Cage seeks significant form in random processes. Given a series of random tonal events one's attention shifts alternately from hearing them to self-consciousness. Traditionally the personality (the source of affinity) was evident in the composition. Cage's is in the system and parameters – apparently removed – that produce the experience. What is the value of this experience? Perhaps replenishment of “spirit” that in everyday consciousness a component is lacking, of intensity. There may be a need here akin to sleep. What were (are) the mystics, poets, painters, composers seeking? Then as now, being – the most curious and essential fact of existence.

God is thought to be elsewhere, or within, or both, or none. I exist. My being gives me access to the other, the infinite, to which I am connected. My awareness is of self. Where self ends and other begins is indeterminate. The God word functions to “sacredize” being, to emphasize the connection to and wonder of the unbroken expansive continuity. As anthropomorphism it is simply superstition.

Interesting Art in America article – Dec. 81 by Robt. Morris, cites Duchamp, Pollock, Hopper and Cornell as four seminal figures whose concerns represent four strains in art history: the difficult; formalist; alienated and the decorative. Morris dismisses the latter contemptuously. I share his nuclear and environmental concerns but I cultivate the decorative not as escape from but release into the world. We must work for nuclear disarmament but as our lives pass we must not forget to experience in essence.

The Surrealists cite the strange for it is strange, being, when suppressed daily for the sake of other delights. It is magic when contrasted with everyday consciousness. I cite the ordinary to claim for it, via the context of art, its place in the continuum of wonder.

Religious experience transposes the experience of being into something like – I saw God! It is all words, all valid – as myth. Being for me, refers directly to the experience without implying any dogma.

Kuspit uses words like transcendental, iconic, magical, transnatural sense of immediacy. His succinctness relies on dictionary members, pointers at the ineffable. “The sensuous and concentrated dynamism create an intensity which is read as a sign of interiority.”

Part of what both subject and object address is emotion. They stir emotion. Minimalism reduced the art experience in complexity, reducing not eliminating allusion. For there remains some emotive response to the sparsest work. And it is this sparse emotion that Shapiro and Stephan built upon.

Ritual – immediate enhancement of the experience of living. Science, religion, art... answer to the aesthetic need for satisfaction (exercise?) of the imagination. The close of an experience is the institution of a felt harmony (gestalt).

In a museum we bounce off art. We bring our intelligence and emotion to the work and, depending on the intensity of our attention, we experience. Our values determine for us what is cliché and what is profound. The variety of values make for similarity and overlap, dis-similarity and polarity.

Dewey: metaphor... an act of emotional identification, not intellectual comparison.

Alan Sondheim: autograph of reality, signature.

Awareness: pre-verbal pre-cognitive is of physiology and since we inherit genes from ancestors, recent to ancient, to deep history and pre-history, we experience that connection – call it primal or archetypal. The further back the more primal. Our inheritance does reach back into the muck and so portraying the muck (impasto – fecal?) is a way of referring to it. Just any muck won't do. It must work. There is a difference between a sleeping can and a dead cat.

In writing my object is to fill the page with words. In painting my object is to fill the canvas with paint. In either case I may have an object or preconception but it is the passages in the end which bring me to that object and which ultimately are the work.

I am what, 90% water? Do “I” reside somewhere between the water molecules? Am “I” the friction of water molecules rubbing against each other? Art is the rubbing together of molecules in the “I” and in the object.

Surface refers to itself, is otherwise meaningless. But that it is itself, experiencing it consists in a meeting.

With the portraits I had to consciously intervene to include minorities. It is not difficult to discern their place, - a gauge of the progress in the fight against racism and sexism. To comment on this I titled many paintings non-stereotypically i.e., Physicist in the Breezeway and First Violin. And the black man titled Jesus Christ goes against the current even, I think, of black christians.

Carter Ratcliff, Art in America, March '85 calligraph, hieroglyph... poetic cry... epic list – all the devices the self employs in imaging itself forth to itself... one reenacts one's birth endlessly in ritual that in turn gives birth to images so plenteous they evoke the universe, which is one's infinite, imaginary self.

The way to subvert intellectual and ethical dishonesty is not to mimic but to shun. I don't accept that the values of formalism, of making authentic passages in paint, is of a kind with tricking people into smoking cigarettes.

Perhaps the role of subversive art is not to convert the rich but to divert money which would otherwise go to the right.

Duchamp asserts that there is no essential difference between the choices made in art and selection from the racks of a new shirt.

A drawing of a wrench a la Dine is interesting in its novelty, in the initial surprise of encountering the commonplace in art's exalted context. The wrench serves as a continuing reminder of the profundity of any intersection of events, of electron-photon serendipity. I venture that there is no inherent superiority of painting to shirt design, that these are simply means to action, recipients of interest. Art by tradition has this philosophical aspect which Kuspit suggests is what remains when the art is stripped of reference and meaning – an encounter with meaninglessness and a subsequent scramble to make sense of it, which is to say one encounters consciousness without an object and one attributes that self-consciousness to the art.

And it is the art, which isn't to say that the infinite is only encounterable in art. The context of shirts is such that they do not stir consciousness. Their meaning is so insistent that heraclean efforts are required to get beyond. This gives context and tradition great responsibility for meaning in art. Context and tradition prep. Those who take an interest in painting have a philosophical bent perhaps, or a sensitivity to color or story-telling. They are encouraged and rewarded, more or less, by the greater and lesser instances of genius in painting's history.

Subject “occurs” to me, another way of saying that a particular subject interests me at one time and not at another. I could select subject randomly but I rather pay attention to the image emerging out of my consciousness.

One of the ways a work is powerful is when artist transcends teacher. We do not say, oh, a disciple of... we directly encounter the work.

Kuspit (again) suggests that self consciousness is arrived at by default, that minimal art has no meaning and thus leaves the patron on their own. But it seems to me that the art is about its own physiognomy and the artists's sensibility. The greater meaning consists in simply asserting that we are our own meaning, that there is no and need be no prior intent or intender, purpose or prime cause, beyond that of being ourselves, creating our selves. What characterizes all is individual physiognomy.

A painting is about what happens everywhere on the support.

Kuspit seems right, that any reflection is already memory. An art object can set up a “dialectic” where reflection occurs, on being. But I think there is immediacy, to experiencing sensation. Intensity is the primary factor. It isn't that consciousness is invalidated by the fact that reflection on it is memory. Great intensity of consciousness causes us to notice the fact of novelty. We are more or less continuously evaluating what we are experiencing. It is the increase in consciousness-intensity that reveals the world as infinite mystery. The confrontation with reality-instance provided by art is one way to raise this issue, to face one with being.

Coffee House Napkin Drawing, Sea Legs, Allegory of the Shower, Heads, installation Atlanta
1979 1982 1984 High Museum of Art, 1985

Tom Ferguson is an Atlanta painter who has recently exhibited at the High Museum, Nexus Contemporary Art Center and Fay Gold Gallery.

Reviewing this writing 30 years later, and having encountered the clarifying work of Eckhart Tolle, I can see that in that last paragraph I am groppingly using intensity to explain what I now see as cessation of mind-chatter or presence.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Bye Bye American Pie: Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe, Noam Chomsky & Laray Polk

In this collection of interviews and speeches the prolific Chomsky offers his insights on two critical items. Asked, what are the primary issues that should concern us?, he replies, “Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe.” There seems to be an idea in the air lately (see Naomi Klein's book on climate change, This Changes Everything) that capitalism is incompatible with democracy and survival of our civilization. Chomsky elucidates how the most ruthless in the capitalist game come to power and overinfluence the governmental and institutional agenda in the U.S., indeed the planet. Like other forms of addiction the quest for endless wealth is characterized by denial of information that might bring to light the addiction. And opposition to any policy that might infringe on accumulation behavior, especially sharing.

The possession of nuclear warheads, and their hair-trigger alert status are an extreme threat to our survival. An accidental launch is all too likely when only minutes are available to evaluate reports of a launch by some adversary. Numerous incidents have brought us perilously close to annihilation yet the decision makers refuse to move toward even discussing the issue. As Einstein remarked, “The splitting of the atom changed everything except the way we think... and so we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” We've been incredibly lucky so far. Even if we took these civilization-ending warheads off hair-trigger, we'd still have the dangerous situation of their existence. And since the nations who possess nuclear weapons fail to live up to their obligations under the NPT (Non-proliferation Treaty) to phase out the weapons, non-possessing states will sooner or later feel obligated, for their own security, to avoid intimidation from the armed states, to build their own. And since the U.S. seems to see nuclear weapons as essential to “security”, or should I say to the capacity to dominate, then obviously this stance contributes to proliferation.

A nuclear war, even a limited exchange, say between India and Pakistan, a real possibility, would probably end life, at least human life, in the northern hemisphere. A full exchange would likely create a
nuclear winter for the whole planet since the debris put into the atmosphere would block the sun for months. This has been common knowledge for years yet the powers that be continue business as usual, unwilling to risk the advantageous power, profits and privilege the present order bestows on them. The accumulation addiction trumps common sense. The desire to dominate rather than share leaves no room for non-violent conflict resolution for in that endeavor the sought-after end is win-win, not win-lose. Win-win would make war far less likely, maybe obsolete, but that would limit the addiction. Carl Sagan has said that if we were to encounter an advanced alien culture they would be peaceful, for those who survive the evolution of intelligence, with its inevitable splitting of the atom, will have ended war by mastering conflict resolution.

The other item, environmental catastrophe, consists of climate change and all its implications for the 6+ billion people subject to its effects. Also, the hysterical pursuit of profits means the expense of containing pollutants is avoided as much as possible, thus POPS (persistent organic pollutants) proliferate our air, water and soil. Our soil blows away due to unsustainable agricultural practices associated with this same profit motive. Related is the deforestation of vital rainforests, acid rain, desertification. And coming again to nukes, nuclear weaponry and commercial reactors release radiation into the air/soil/water, routinely and by way of accidents (you've heard perhaps of Fukushima, Chernobyl?)... something quite predictable when you locate dangerous technology on earth quake faults and on waterways, source of drinking water essential to life. Currently Fukushima leaks immense quantities of radiation into the Pacific on a daily basis and has been doing so since 2011. Just as it has been shown that no amount of radiation is safe for the individual, no amount is safe for the life system. As in the irrational relationship with nuclear weapons, dirty but profitable energy technologies are preferred over sustainable alternatives due to entrenched interests. The recent outing of Exxon's suppressing for years, studies that show climate change to be real, demonstrates that even without denial - they KNEW climate change was real - profits must come before science. Despite their knowledge they continued to fund climate-denying groups to muddy the waters, putting short-term profits above their own grandchildren and the rest of us. This is serious dsyfunction and the kind of economics that we allow to rule at our peril.