Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The beginning

I am an artist and art educator in Detroit, I want to be a Detroit artist and make sure that art is at the forefront of revitalizing Detroit.

The mission statement: A sustainable, evolving, influential, uniquely Detroit, artist community.

The idea: to connect it all together for this generation, themed: "recycled city"

Beyond: Beautiful decay, shrinking cities, graffiti, art fairs and gated communities for retired artists. (stole that line from somewhere)

See: Heidelberg Projects, Michigan Theater, Readymade Magazine, and my paintings on used acrylic plastic. (reduce, reuse, recycle) As well as my friends that paint on found objects.

To do list:
create a manifesto/mission statement
collect artists
find communities that already exist that can help
research the history of detroit
research the history of art communities and their beginnings
make friends
find people who want to help who are marketers, business people, grant writers, organizers, art gallery owners, everyone who is proud of being from Detroit and wants to make it even better.
find space

Everyday I hear about someone leaving to another place, not Detroit, not Michigan, a place of opportunity to make art, meet people, make it big. Why not Detroit? Why have so many left and so many plan to leave?

When I grew up my parents took me to art galleries and museums around Detroit, I grew up with Detroit art, that is why I have to stay here, my love of art has grown here, I have to give back to the community, I want to be part of a community, I want to make this community as big as much of a haven for artists as New York in the 70s once was, without gentrification. We can use what we have here, and the characteristics that make it uniquely our home, our base.

In between, Chicago, New York, Toronto and... Sandusky, Ohio, Michigan is a good place to be in the middle of everything, but how do we attract people unless it involves cars, sports or gambling? Model D's unofficial art series was brilliant we need more of that, I would love to see zines that talk about the best places to get vegan food within 20 miles. My friend's collective, undercover eskimo had a poloroid trading club and played music and made clothes. I can almost see the artists bringing people in and getting them interested in what we have, in our festivals, in our music, in our collaboration, in our potlucks, in our homes.

Things most people don't know about Detroit:
Detroit's crime rate is lower than the national average and it has a wonderful farmers market and it may be the most photogenic city in the United States.

This is my informal call to everyone who is interested, I have the energy, I have the talent, I have the connections, I have the business sense, I have the space, I have the time, I have the resources, I have the friends, I have the support, I have nothing to lose and neither does Detroit. Let's make an art community.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Virginia Tech Shootings

We battle fear when we watch the news.

This is how I talk about the situation, some Asian guy was really depressed and shot a bunch of people and he did it easily, no one is afraid of Asians because this happened, there hasn't been a rash of hate crimes, Asian people are not being put into secret prisons the day after this shooting occurred.

It is a time for reflection when we are surprised by our own nonchalant acceptance that the shooter was Asian. I consider this, the eye of the storm of school shootings.

The media tried but didn't know how to sell the story to us. Was he a psycho? Should we be afraid of people who might "snap"? Was it because of "rich kids"? Was he externalizing his hatred through video games and other violence? In the end we were left with a very depressed person who was completely and utterly intense and we were confused, then sad and then we tried to be scared, but something didn't click over, we didn't become immediately defensive, we saw something about him that meant that either it may never happen again or we think that it can be prevented.

I like to believe the latter, that we have a positive outlook on a tragic situation, because we have a lack of a negative response. Most times in life we are vocal about things that are negative, if something positive can come out of this, it's not going to parade itself around and blast it like trumpets, we will find ourselves in a positive situation that we setup for ourselves and wouldn't know we even changed anything.

So that's been a long rant with not much explanation...
Ok, here's my point. In a mass-killing with more disbelief than fear we have the opportunity to unravel the mystery behind how to prevent extreme situations much like this one. This is possible because fear muddles up rational thought towards emotional ones and variables multiply causing a polarization of precautionary efforts.

The teachers had all the resources to find out if he needed help and the university had all the resources to help him, or could show him where he could find more help. So what went wrong? Our system is built to handle even the most unpredictable solutions. I believe that that there is too much of a stigma built around expressing yourself, counseling and even reporting students that may be at risk. In other words we almost fear help as if it shows weakness and/or gives false promises of change.

I believe that talking to someone should be a part of education, if everyone in middle school had to talk to a counselor about what they should be doing for a career, then everyone should be given an hour out of every week of school to do one of two things, either create small groups of students to talk about anything and say anything without repercussion in order to vent, or talk personally with someone (someone who is paid just like we pay someone professionally) to just listen and help people ask questions with the highest privacy. I was elated when I first heard that none of heard that none of his writings would be released to the media, we were hungry to know how different he was and how violent his past, this would comfort us at least, but his teachers wouldn't give the news this kind of ammo. I think privacy can help establish trust, and when we trust that we can tell someone something and we think they will listen, talking/writing becomes our outlet.

The whole part of bringing in professional help is especially difficult, how would we pay a professional psychiatrist for every school in the nation? How would they get to every student? I don't want to go on a big rant about how if we didn't use money to pay for a war, we would have more money for education, not only is that obvious, but who knows if we would have actually put all that money to good use had we had a surplus. Prevention is the most cost effective way to approach this very expensive theory, think about all the people who may not have needed to go to a shrink later on in life because they knew what questions to ask themselves, knowing to ask the biggest questions, where am I coming from, where am I going, why? Imagine frustrated students who had an outlet, what if in this mandatory group someone who picked on students actually had to face the victim, and the victim felt empowered to be able to have a conversation with the bully about what it felt like and what it means. As opposed to what we have today, a reactive approach based on negative reinforcement to stop bullying.

(note: just in case it's not obvious to some, not everyone has someone to talk to, I think that fact needs to end, just like if we approved universal health care for children, there should be universal MENTAL health care.)

This personality of the shooter in the Virginia Tech Shootings is so unusual because people were all around him, there were so many opportunities to talk with him, to get to know him, to tell him that someone was there for him. I can't wait for a day in our society where we get past passive aggressive behaviors towards what frustrates us and not being in fear to tell someone exactly how we feel, especially to someone who we may feel has exerted power onto our being, but having conversation be such an essential part of life that we get past the awkwardness and the discomfort of talking to other people this way and DEAL with issues.

I don't feel like posting a huge rant about what could happen if we didn't do something along these lines, because that post is about 5x's as big and it's mainly negative and could give someone a sense that there is no hope. But there is hope, there has always been hope, we need to recognize the importance of education, the importance of talking, the importance of connection, the importance of love, the importance of expression, the importance of art, the importance of you, the importance of me, we need to be terribly optimistic that people can get help and that we can end school shootings, victims killing victims.

So here's where the hope lies, there was a shooting where the shooter wasn't pegged right away about why we should be afraid. And we shouldn't be afraid, to be afraid to have conversations about this issue, about depression, about what we can do to make it better, to make others not afraid to speak out about their own depression and their own thoughts. It's rare that we have an opportunity that is not defeated by fear from the get go and we need to take it to re ***** our education system.

(I put ***** there because I don't know what word to use to describe how everyone feels our education system should be handled, if it is blank, then it is up to you, the reader to find out your way to help schools and our youth.) revitalize-redo-revamp-reconstruct etc.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I feel just like Joe Natoli, movies making me think.

Ratatouille and the Netherlands philosophy on Education.

I was watching that new movie and thinking to myself, this was the best movie about food since Kenan and Kel brought us Good Burger, which if you were not aware, was one of the best kids movies to talk about an extremely important topic at an extremely important time. It's all about genetically engineered food, and if you don't believe it, do yourself the most fun favor you'll ever have and watch Good Burger again.

But this connection is related to the only 3 questions that we ask ourselves before we die, where do we come from, where are we going and why? One question that is sometimes asked is how. In the movie there is a book called anybody can cook. Besides having the coolest background scenery in a digital movie (the kitchen) and the promotion of the culinary arts and the importance creativity to innovation, it leaves the viewer with some deep philosophical ideas to think about. Which is directly related to a conversation which I had with this dude:

He is a professor and director of American Studies at the University of Utrecht. We talked about the problems with the educational system in the US and I mentioned that I read a research paper in one of my education classes that when a school fails in the Netherlands they give the school as much money as it needs and when a school does poorly in the U.S. it's closed down. So I casually asked him if there was one thing he wished all teachers taught in the states, what would it be.

This was roughly his answer:
That people who are poor, hungry or struggling do not have as much choice in life as we think, circumstances dictate our position in life, no one chooses to be in the circumstances they find themselves in and should not be expected to perform under the same circumstances. The first example he uses is if we had a choice before we were born to be born into a family that is well off financially, good health and security and one without, we would without a doubt choose to be born into the privileged family. However because this choice doesn't exist and not everyone lives in such luxury, we cannot assume someone should just pull-up their bootstraps and get to work and they will all be able to be successful.

I asked him that can't we teach empathy in schools? And replied that it is not enough. It's not enough because why should someone understand someone else's circumstances, we are telling people how they should feel instead of fostering an environment that these ideas would naturally grow out of. He used the example of being an artist.

And that's when it became a heated argument. We had previously been on exactly the same page, if we teach children that in life most people don't have the privilege of having a choice about their future, they will be more inclined to help others and understand problems on a more personal level, the idea of selfless acts. He claimed that he was never born with the talent to become a great artist, and he will never be an artist and it is something he has accepted.

I vehemently disagreed. I read somewhere on Deviantart once "Talent is like a garden, the more you tend for it, care for it, and pay close attention to it, it will grow." So I believe that in fact he could be a great artist and there was no such thing as being born not being able to be a good artist. He said he may be able to make art, but he would never be able to be great. I questioned the idea of who is able to say what is "great". This is where our conversation hit a stalemate, and where Ratatouille picked up.

In the end of the movie, there is a great "moral" lesson, which I would say is more of a "philisophical" lesson. That what the book meant, not everyone can cook, doesn't necessarily mean everyone who begins cooking can become a great culinary artist, but rather regardless of where someone comes from, what they look like and the diverse backgrounds involved a world-renown chef can emerge. This makes me think about all the really amazing memoirs that have been coming out, usually hilarious.

So what does this mean for teaching art, even about happiness? In the movie the little rat love challenges and finds the most happiness in his working, not even about becoming a great chef, but simply the act of cooking great food. I think back to Hans and our conversation and I think about what conclusion we could derive from our conflict about what it means to be great. We cannot teach everyone that they will all be great but some people just have different "purposes in life", this can lead to false promises and pretentiousness, your background doesn't define you. Greatness is not entirely on being "Something", but in the successes in each small obstacle that lead to greatness. We can't promise you will be great, but there is no doubt in my mind that you will become something great if you can recognize it in yourself. It could be true that everyone has a paved road to success but you, but that cannot keep your from achieving success.

What a great film for art educators: "In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere." We naturally will have to be critical, but on the other hand know that greatness is possible, which is where we are allowed to be blindly optimistic.

random tangent, slightly related... slightly.
It also makes me think about words: good, better, and best. When I think about it, the word "better" is always "better" than "best", because it's in a state of becoming, something can be better than the best, and then the best is just good. You can even be better than the best of the best of the best. Challenges are meant to keep us going, not to stop us, it can be the most fun you get out of life. Just like why sex has orgasms, there's a reason why there is a happy aspect to everything, happiness is a great motivator, it's why we are alive today.

p.p.s. another tangent. I just read that the tag line is "anyone can cook, but only the fearless can become great" and that totally works so well with my theory that we must defeat the culture of fear that keeps us from thinking about alternatives and dominates our minds to keep us quiet and obedient.