Friday, August 28, 2009

Extended Convergence

On Being Sampled

“Sampling” isn’t really the right word. My work was used with permission and I was paid a fee for use, so it doesn’t fit the controversy about music sampling. But I’ve come to think of sampling as the use of one person’s art in another person’s art. This is why I embrace the word. Sampling draws from the media environment in which we’re embedded, more pervasive than ever before in history, so ubiquitous as to often blot out the natural world. Images are an increasingly important part of that environment. Today the primary sources of inspiration and influence often arise from manufactured surroundings, real and virtual. Having the creations of others weave through new work feels like an honest reflection of modern experience.
When I worked on my interactive computer piece “CAVE”, I used snippets of radio broadcasts layered on top of each other because it felt like the most realistic soundscape to accompany the animations. We live in a background drone of radios, ipods, TV and movie sound, the sounds of machines, and hum of computers and fluorescent lights. Visually, besides multiple moving screens from palm size to giant plasma, we pass billboards, signs, iconic or flashing, displays of all kinds. Creative commercials make deep impressions, making their point in seconds then repeating it again and again, strengthening the neural circuits. The real landscape of our lives is not the ground beneath us; it’s the creative work of other minds manifest in the constructed environment. How can artists respond honestly without using what is most alive in their world. What I think is most alive is the outpouring of creative minds. The crowd at the Jason Mraz concert loved him, loved the feelings his music embodied, and it was thrilling to contribute something to the collective experience. It was like a group enchantment as everyone was lifted up by the focus on love and connection, an overall advancement of the collective mind. I feel honored to be in the mix, to be a building block for more art. Jon Marro, whose creativity flows through many channels, used our work for his materials, matched the sensibilities of a song to a feeling in an image and vice versa developing an expressive synthesis that was his creation and contribution to the whole. Not only did I get to be a part of Jon and Jason’s work, I got to see my images fulfill my own purposes in a bigger way.
The aspect of my work that matters most to me, showing how much more there is than can be known by our minds, so many levels to the mystery of being, was amplified by being a two to three story backdrop. Filling the visual space of the stage it carved the space open, folded it back and showed the dark behind the daylight-blue-sky of my image. Set design was one of my youthful pursuits, designing one for high school production, and another for a community theatre in my twenties, so to find myself having that effect on the show, to create a space that could stir individual contemplation feels like such a gift, an unexpected expansion of what my images can do. What made this different from set design and more like sampling was that it was an existing drawing, I published it here in May under the title “Converging Views”, a title that has now grown in meaning.
Picasso said that when a picture was finished it was dead for the artist but lived on in the minds of the viewers. I feel grateful to have my work, my memes, combined with the art of others and be part of the perceptions of a new generation. To resist being sampled resists the growth of the seeds we sow. Seeing my drawing so big, supporting this captivating performer felt similar to seeing my niece get married this weekend, an excitement at watching something deeply connected to me with an independent existence at a new threshold.
To see video

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Cultural Patterns

Watching French parents with their children was always a pleasure. (There was one uptight woman who frequently barked at her children, but there are exceptions to any generality) Families in France seemed to have a relaxed friendliness, children being children and parents fondly watchful while not interfering. Everyone seems to feel confident of their standing in the relationship, secure in their bond. French parents seemed to truly enjoy their children whereas American parents seem more focused on problems. Since the puritans sired our national culture, the attitude that comes with the image of a Maker, sets to molding the children into a specific ideal model with criticism as the primary tool. Some kids are born with the qualities that grow comfortably into the standard. Many don’t. Parents in the US have been so browbeaten by all the numbers and standards their children are supposed to match, that they are anxious at every deviation, so attention is too often focused on flaws. They’re vigilant at finding and eliminating any imperfection. It’s like clipping the petals of a rose so they match the picture in the book. Whose to say the child’s difference doesn’t indicate an improvement on the species?
The difference in attitude toward child rearing is like the difference between a shepherd and a trainer. The problem is cultural, not personal. Listening to a lecture by Alan Watts, there was laughter in the auditorium when he said that in America being a child is like being here on probation, you have to measure up. We laugh at what we recognize, a cultural pattern we understand from the inside. Many of us have grown up thinking we’re not good enough to begin with, that things are wrong with us that must be corrected, whether it’s medical, or the phases of moods and emotions, or how we learn. I heard the young man who recently sailed around the whole world saying on the radio, that education didn’t allow for how much a teenager is really capable of, that high school years are often like waiting around, with no serious extension of knowledge involved. The ones that do best are gifted at remembering and following directions, of matching the ideal of one narrow group of measurements. There’s very little room for the acquisition of knowledge and skills and most of all the flourishing of personal interest. What’s new and creative may wither if not be actively discouraged. The emphasis on correction emphasizes authority so if the child resists, the relationship becomes a power struggle.
After France I was at an American beach, and twice in an hour I saw mothers dismiss their child’s perception- “I was stung by a jelly fish”-“No you weren’t” / “I hurt my foot”- “It looks fine to me”. When the child tried to reassert the problem it became a conflict that ended with the child in tears. This is the classic double-bind situation that Gregory Bateson and others have written about as part of a family pattern that leads to mental disorders. You have a perception. You are told you can’t trust that perception and that you must agree that something you know is not true is true. American parents have been conditioned by the culture around them and the model of how they were raised. Those that become aware of these imprints can make a choice and see that it might have been far easier to look at the hurt, then give the child a hug and words of sympathy. Every problem doesn’t need professional intervention.
To be the responsible person in charge is not the same as being the boss. Setting an example and meeting needs arising from the individual child’s development assists growth by creating direction and self-reliance. Do we really want to condition young minds that obedience and conformity are the highest good? In a culture of criticism we grow up criticizing others and tend to be hardest on ourselves. Self-acceptance can be hard to achieve.
We need to have more faith in the intelligence and astuteness of children, give them more help and less direction. Consider the narrowness of the ideals we’re being sold and loosen up about the relevance of the Standard, giving full attention to the particular rose in our care. The admiration and appreciation of parents and other adults for the child has a far more lasting effect on self-esteem than trying to teach them they’re okay in middle school once they’ve already learned to distrust their own perceptions. Believing you are appreciated creates an attitude that wants to participate, to contribute to others that which is appreciated, and have a role and connection to the world.