Ableism in practicing art – how to create a healthier practice

There’s a cliche that tells us to set off as we intend to carry on. As a woman with a disability and lately, some pretty dire health issues, I thought that in creating art, I would have a pretty good perspective on how to build an instance with a collective where our disabilities and health would be something that isn’t negated. This isn’t just important to me as a person whose disabilities and health requires some consideration, but also important as a person who cares about the people I work with.

Under the pressure of creation, we can fall into ableist patterns – we find ourselves in a place where the consideration is on the deadline, the creation, and not on the creators in the project. The health and abilities of everyone can be a priority, but must be considered in advance.

Here’s some things I learned. I’m sharing for others who wish to consider their own ableism in the function of art building. This is from my own point of view – that of an aspie artistic director of a feminist, diverse, mixed gender, age, race, discipline collective. I do think these can translate to any collaborative practice. This is by no means exhaustive, but for the health and ability of a group of strong creators working together:

  1. PREPAREConsider ability and health at the outset, long before you start working. When you get into the middle of a creation, things move so fast under the tension of deadlines and the aspect of losing yourself in the zone that health can become problematic without even noticing. Do this in your team-building if you can – in those meetings where you are facilitating relationships.
  2. Keep water in the room in which you are creating. If you are working with a collective, keep a jug of fresh water in the space – for yourself, whichever container floats your boat. Keep cups/glasses, wash them daily. Foster a policy of respect around water and the pause to rehydrate. This bleeds out into the routine of water getting, and the deliberate short breaks that the mind needs in intense intervals. Respect that the call for a break for a drink may be a way for someone who needs a moment for their body or mind to ask for a pause while they stay in the energy of the room or activity without outing themselves or asking for sympathy. Also, a water break may just be a water break. Either way…
  3. Country-805222---Water-Pitcher-3-Pint-White-BG-High-ResMaintain a healthy, caffeine free alternative tasty beverage that your collective can agree on – whether this is juice, tisane, lemon or lime water – you get to be creative and inclusive… And maybe also fun : ever try warm pineapple and passion juice? Also keep caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, mate) to keep personal budgets intact. But really, consider that not everyone can or should have these and at the same time, they are a bonding piece between people. If you can, a wee fridge may be your best friend.
  4. Arrange ahead of time potluck and brown bag lunches for your collective – make it fun by planning daily menus and themes. Consider dietary restrictions and allergies – be open and honest about the ingredients in the food. It’s wonderful to carry on the energy of a new creation over lunch, but having that lunch not be cheese covered nachos, fries, or other restaurant foods are better for your body, and better on your wallet.
  5. Build timelines with lots of testing time front loaded if you can. For some, renting of equipment can only happen on a tight schedule. If this is the case, test the equipment as soon as it’s delivered. Remember that the tech people in your show are a part of your creation. Also, this could take some serious pressure off of the last minute. Able bodies and minds find the last minute pressures hard. Disabled bodies and minds are taxed beyond coping when the details wrapped in stress overwhelm the final ability to push.
  6. list.2Make lists and order them according to priority and time. These will help to allow the flexibility in a timeline, and can also breakdown something like “Tech Setup”, “Strike” into granular, and orderly parts. These lists can and should be built with the consultation of the people involved, and then they can be built into being a checklist for the larger, complicated tasks. I know this one seems so elementary and project manager 101 – but when things get tight, being able to hand these off to a stage manager makes their life easier, and it keeps you, the collective, and the creation in a headspace where complicated process is in simple black and white.
  7. If someone discloses a health requirement to you, take it seriously. Ask them what you can do to accommodate them and then work your hardest to do so. Try to have this conversation before you get into heavy creation and deliberately build accommodations into your process. If done right, maybe you stand a chance to make the whole process not focus on what limits people, but allows every strength to shine within a disabled context.
  8. bf1Some people will not want to disclose to a whole group but will tell the director – make sure you understand the privacy concerns around what they live. Some people are happy to share much of what they live. Many want to be able to work in a context where things just work for them enough so that they can contribute in the meaningful way that they were asked to be in your project – maybe this means that you do research, and ask them to help you understand. Remember, the one who lives a disability is an expert in their own lives, treat them as such. Remember to listen, and truly pay attention. Disabilities can sometimes impede the ability to communicate needs but with even small effort, modifications, accommodations can be made to make a process more disability-friendly.
  9. Never, ever assume you know someone’s needs. Someone may require a ramp for a mobility device, but do you know if the bars in the “accessible” washroom are placed in the right location for your fellow artist to be able to help themselves? Are they needing/wanting additional assistance and how can you provide it? There is nothing wrong with asking an entire group of creatives if they would be willing to have a conversation about what they require in a space or creation. Leaving open several options for how people would like to communicate is critical – from email to open forum, it should entirely up to the person disclosing on how they want to go about this.
  10. Scarcity is an unfortunate part of art making. From unheated, dusty, and sometimes unhealthy spaces, to lack of time, we all have to push too hard. Remembering that even the most able and well person is more likely to succumb to illness or injury when they are stressed and tired is a most basic and simple consideration.
  11. SpoonsBecome familiar with Spoon Theory.  Use it if you need it, and advocate for the understanding of spoons.
  12. Take the time to find accessible space that is suitable to the needs of everyone. It’s so much easier if you find a building or space that is good, but have the ability to work with the owner to create even better access.
  13. Keep a roster of who you have worked with, and who is above the board for building accommodation. Share this list widely.  Tell other companies and artists about good places and good people for access. Do you part in creating a culture of better space.

A bonus ten to consider:

  1. Zero imposition on yourself and others when not directly at work in studio. Having firm hours with little-to-no homework beyond work hours allows the mind and body to rest easier. People will still come up with ideas over washing dishes, but having the off times as brain wandering, other life task times will add strength to everything. It also allows for better nighttime sleep which benefits everyone and everything.
  2. Using meditation techniques and visualisation as a group to deliberately leave the work behind may be an amazing way to separate off time from creation time.
  3. Deliberate mental health breaks. There is nothing like pizza on a night of stress – everyone has to stop and eat, even if they don’t eat.
  4. Open continuous communication on the wellbeing of everyone in the creation for the entire creation. Foster acceptance, and trust. Kindness, sincerity go a long way.
  5. Treat health emergencies with sincere concern. The lives of the creators you work with is more important than the creation.
  6. If you are directing a creation, keep a notebook near you at all times while in creation. Unload everything into the notebook. Separate ideas for the creation, from personal, from operational elements. Take an hour before you start in the morning (or an hour in the evening, whatever floats your creative boat) to code these things and determine if the are important enough to consider.
  7. Make sure every aspect of a project has an owner. I mean this. Those lists I was talking about? Make sure that the items that make the cut are assigned to someone.
  8. For goodness sake, if anyone has a health emergency, delay the outcome. We squeeze by so often. I would hate for anyone I know and love, or any creative person who is loved by anyone, including themselves, to have any of the worst things happen because they prioritised a creation over a life. A call to a granting officer, or a co-presenter can often go a long way to building understanding around delays.
  9. More of a clarification to the last point: Your definition of a health emergency may not match someone else’s. Someone with arthritis or fibromyalgia may not be able to function on a day. A person with depression may require a month off.
  10. Take all of these seriously and for heaven’s sake, do continue to work with people with disabilities. Our unique experience adds so much to a creation. We have a different way of working that requires us to push our own limits daily in the ways we can, never mind the limits of a creation. Not only will the projects be stronger and more meaningful, but everyone who works with a person with a disability will find themselves in a place of diversity and strength by adding and respecting our voices.

Please, do comment on this. My considerations are not comprehensive, and I am learning on my feet. I would love to know what you do to consider health in these heavy and stressful times!


Text from my talk Monday 14th of December to City Council

Here’s the text from the talk that I couldn’t give in its fullness due to finding out a change in funding to the CEI. It is still pertinent. The CEI should not use another pinch of money to close its doors.

Presenters from the arts community included Janice Lee, Martin de Groot, Robert Linsley, Duncan Finnegan, and Gordon Hatt.

City of Kitchener Council

Thank you councilors for allowing me and my colleagues to come and speak to you on a matter that is near and dear to us as a functional, organised, and very active sector in this city.

I want to start by expressing my respect for both Roger Farwell, and Debbie Currie as two hard working, well intentioned, and great people in the city. They have tried hard to build something meaningful, and it wasn’t without successes, but at this point, the successes are over, and belabouring the closure of this organisation with the building out of two unwanted initiatives is only directing money away from where it most necessary: back into the arts.

Thanks to the CEI’s own work we realised that the arts sector is short by up to 5 million in funding based on 50 arts organizations – not just the 5 pillars.

Thanks to the municipalities for recognising the need and moving money to the arts.

The dollar per capita amount was critical, but it didn’t help the entire sector. In going strictly to the pillars, the real needs of those who animate the city: the creators and innovators were left to starve. In the past years, dozens of artists have moved away from this community, and we have seen next to no growth in new organisations that create art.

As a sector, the makers of culture, the makers of art are more than ever critically underfunded, and underresourced. And the CEI’s current priorities do not address any of the critical priorities or needs facing our sector. The new priorities are entirely duplications of other services (as they have said themselves), or are not repairable (in the sake of Grand Social) in the budget and timeline indicated.

So, what do we need?

In the formation of the CEI, We were promised access to private sector and increased funding through capacity around this access – Many arts organisations had private sector funding prior to the CEI that was diverted to the CEI through their closer business connections.

Most of the money given to the CEI did not see its way to the small to medium arts organizations. Some organizations saw support, but the ability to build new, and grow became completely absent. The lack of transparency, and the determination of who was funded and why became a point of contention. There was the “hot dog cart” fund, but of $750k, this represented only $53k. Access to private sector is critical. This is a dire need for any organisation to assemble a good financial portfolio to build sustainability.

We desperately need space. My colleague Majdi spoke to this matter so eloquently just last week. I must, however, add that every single practice in the arts from film, to the individual visual artist, to the musician looking for a jam hall is desperate for infrastructure to build, to practice, to create. Artists are not culture industries, artists are not content creators, their work often lies in a different business model that cannot sustain the increasingly high costs of space in Kitchener.

Money could be used to create a space building initiative, like ArtScape in Toronto – a very successful model of public and private funding to create permanent and meaningful infrastructure.

Lastly, we need more funding into sustainability and innovation. The Arts Fund and similar ventures are best suited to making decisions about the arts. We have experimented with good intentions over the past five years without artists active in decision making around things that concern them most. And it shows.

We see successful models of peer-based decision-making in funding in other cities, at the provincial level, and at the national level. We need support around innovation. We need to be able to identify good practices and get money to them to increase the capacity of their practices. We need to give talent an incentive to stay here, and create a vibrant arts scene. We need to build increased sustainability around the organisations that mentor, and create opportunities for other artists – such as Neruda, Inter-Arts Matrix, MT Space, and hopefully, one day, my own.

When it comes to these other two initiatives, do we give money to build another org that duplicates place-making like CAFKA, only to hand it off? Who takes on that initiative when it is half built? Are they required to follow a model that they haven’t built? And the website, as a tech professional who has a 20 year history in web, and online communication, I can attest that 15k and 1 year isn’t going to help Grand Social.

Communitech is an excellent model. The reason why it worked is that it was built by tech for tech. It was built by the people who understood the business of making a productive sector from the inside out. They maintained a status as tech association until they realised that investing in innovation in startups could be a benefit to the entire sector.

They built a culture of practice and have made Kitchener one of the most desirable places to start a tech business. But only they could do this themselves. Traditional business does not face the challenges of tech. The same goes for the arts. The CEI is not an arts organization, nor has it ever been. It is a business organization imposed on the arts.

With the shuttering of the CEI at the end of this year, I urge you to hold this last pocket of funding instead of pouring so much money into unnecessary, unwanted, and dysfunctional final projects. We, as artists, have been organising around building a new council that will be purpose driven to help the arts where they need it most. It has a clear mission, a clear function, and has been built on two years of community consultation across the disciplines in the arts – there is no need to spend another dime in hiring external consultation. I urge you to take a sober second look and put this money where it will make an enormous difference instantly for an entire sector – back into the arts.


Open call for submissions – Waterloo Region show – EXTENDED


OPEN CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – Extended to the 20th of JULY

Collective Identity is a new open collective of professional artists in Waterloo Region established for the purpose of mounting a show of original professional arts with a regional focus. The hope of Collective Identity is to revive a regional annual, or biannual to build solidarity and celebrate our talented and committed community.

From Wednesday September 17th – Sunday October 4th, 2015, artists will take over a premiere downtown space for a show named Fast Forward Waterloo Region. This loosely themed show is focused on the future: the future of us as a creative community. We, the creative community, are the lifeblood of the culture of this region. Some of the themes that are being worked on are:

  • Transit and transportation
  • Urbanity and landscape
  • Food, food security
  • Culture and multiculture

Whether you build something that fits into these ideas, or your work reflects a concept outside of these, we call on you to submit a proposal.

We are looking for submissions from professional artists who live currently within the boundaries of Waterloo Region. In this we are looking for work that lives on the wall, off the wall, performance, pop-up theatre, music, sound and noise installation, makers, inter-arts, digital arts, film… we want to hear what you want to build.

As a professional artist-run collective, we recognize that our peers in the arts need to make a living. We will be running fundraisers and finding sponsorships to build compensation packages for your submissions. There is no fee for submission. Submissions will be accepted until July 20th, 2015 July 11th, 2015. (Call extended due to popular request)

Proposals and either a one-page bio, or CV no longer than two pages can be submitted to: 

Waterloo Region, It Should Always Be This Way

Brandon Vickerd satelliteIn 2009, I stumbled upon a satellite that had tumbled out of the sky, tracing a dirt patch across the grass in the middle of Victoria Park. What conspired to have this man-made celestial body land in the middle Kitchener of all places? And more importantly, how come no news source was warning people about this object? Where were the RCMP or the FBI or whatever government body in charge of marshalling such instances? The situation seemed perfectly and completely out of control through the calmness surrounding what should be a big event. Turns out that the satellite was an installed sculpture by Brandon Vickerd called Satellite. No panic necessary.

CAFKA transforms the city into a landscape where art happens. Or… where one happens upon art. From a perfect replica of a shopping cart calmly floating about in Victoria Park lake (what shopping cart floats?) to ephemeral projected graffiti on the side of Kitchener City Hall, the streets, alleys, parks, public buildings shift away from the mundanity of everyday and turn into a journey through the unusual in our own backyard.

This year, CAFKA’s theme is “It Should Always Be This Way”. This theme absolutely endorses this artist run festival in its position as a beloved cultural event that has profoundly affected the community. The calibre of the art, the surreal presentation in the element of surprise in seeing a usual landscape made unusual, and the innovative offerings that encourage the mind to meander provides great escape, even if only over a lunch break from work.

This year, CAFKA is joining forces with Open Ears and a new festival of architecture called Building Waterloo Region. The three are joining forces to create a culmination of activity through May and June. This collaboration is pushing new boundaries in the unification of exhibit-based events combined with the performative nature of sound and music.

Open Ears has collaborated in the past with CAFKA with installation based sound events. The building of musical and sound experience through the drawing of talent from all over the world marries perfectly with the installations placed by CAFKA. In the period of a few days, Open Ears will open our minds and palates within the possibilities of sound. The sense of hearing – the one that alerts us to danger, coos us into love affairs, and provides soundtrack to our lives is profoundly transformed in a space of exploration and experimentation. Sound is one of the few senses that can never be turned off. Even when we try to remove sound, it can still be felt through the vibrations it creates. Open Ears plays in this space by building moments in which we can indulge in being present, alert, and in tune with this most captive, and taken for granted sense.

Building Waterloo Region is a naturally positioned festival celebrating development and innovation in the ever evolving liveable cities that are part of the Region. This festival will be located at several institutions and in surprising locations throughout the Region. More details will be released soon, and I can’t wait to explore the schedule being presented by this new endeavour in culture.

You can support CAFKA this in its pursuit of bringing excellent art to the Region of Waterloo in an Indiegogo campaign.

10 Reasons to Live in Waterloo Region – The Art Junkie Perspective

I will admit it: I am addicted to creative culture. In light of the recent postings about Waterloo Region being cultural wastelands, I have been compelled to write about my home, and why I refuse to leave. (I have a previous post on why I moved here in the first place – “Why I moved here, why I stayed. Art matters in Waterloo Region“).

Boehmer Box art throwdown

1. Major Contemporary Arts Festivals

If you want to talk about “what’s in the water” in Waterloo, you have to look at the undeniable bent towards novelty. Kitchener supports major artist-run festivals in all major disciplines of the arts that have radically changed the cultural landscape of the Region.

  • CAFKA provides an international platform for art in public spaces. There is a rogue element – the surprise and unexpected sense of a landscape that has been tampered with by the avant-garde.
  • Open Ears broadens the space between our ears by bringing music and sound from the world over. Sit, listen and be changed.
  • IMPACT challenges the notions of performance. Whether its theatre that moves, or abstraction that begs questions, this contemporary theatre festival challenges the status quo.
  • Kultrun is a new festival that brings world music to our doorstep. The remarkable diversity of the region is highlighted through the music of the people who have come from around the world to make this region their home.

2. Kitchener Festival City

There’s a festival every weekend of the summer. Several of these represent diversity. We have a literature and storytelling festival (Latitudes), tri-Pride, Multicultural Festival, a festival that celebrates handmade, earth friendly things (Blooming Earth), a craft beer and rib festival, the new Night\Shift (a late fall art party), The Kitchener Blues Fest… If it’s a weekend in the city, and you are bored, it’s your fault.

3. Two major university and over 100 research centres

The depth of knowledge in this community can make your head spin. Meeting an expert is a common instance in this Region that is home to the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. Through these, we have a Centre for International Governance and one of the top physics think tanks (PI) in the world. The prevalence of the later being so important and widespread that it trickles out to build community knowledge around a philosophical practice in quantum theory among the average citizen. From public lectures, the provision of live music from the prestigious Laurier music department, to the School of Architecture in Cambridge we rub shoulders with the best of the best of the thinking world just by living here and getting out of the house.

4. Major downtown parks

If you need an afternoon, or even a lunch hour of convalescence, why not wander down to Victoria Park, Waterloo Park, or the beautiful Grand River parks in Cambridge. With the several cafes in all of these cities, why not grab an expertly made cappuccino and fall in love with the beauty of these landscapes.

5. Food

Every city has a farmer’s market offering glorious produce, meats and cheese. Every city has well honed food culture and excellent restaurants. There is also a plethora of world food to explore in the form of small grocers (Thinking Mi Tienda Latina across from the Kitchener bus terminal and New City on King as two fine examples) and restaurants. Wander into one let your palate be amazed. From food journalism to food blogs, you can also be educated in what’s happening in Waterloo Region food. Check out Rare Republic or the Food in Waterloo Region Facebook group.

6. Cultural diversity

Waterloo Region, and especially Kitchener is the top secondary immigration location in Canada. That means people move to Canada, but choose here as their home. With programmes that help immigrants and new Canadians to settle, to arts and culture practices that embrace diversity, there is no wonder why this is a fact. You can walk down King St in Kitchener and not hear English spoken. This region provides possibility in work and cultural integration for many. We do have our growing pains, but this is something that makes living here truly great. 

7. Down at the pub, jiving in the cafe

Whether you want to silently be around others, or want to strike up a conversation, walk down to one of the many pubs that serve amazing craft beer. If it’s too early, or you don’t care to tipple, try the cafe culture in the city. This ties into food a bit, but think of the broader social aspect. Head into the Jane Bond (the only screen-free pub) to witness conversations about physics from the theorists who hang out there, drag yourself into Matter of Taste or Pyrus to smell java and art, hop to Imbibe to be on the bleeding edge of what’s happening downtown. We have award-winning baristas, and a great beerish taste served with philosophy and thought.

8. Small enough to be a town, grown large enough to be a city.

It’s the best of both worlds. If you live in one of the more vibrant communities in the city, you must leave an extra 10 minutes in your pedestrian commute to take in the things happening around you. Whether these are the people in your neighbourhood who have something to say, or some new rogue artist creating critical disturbance, or just to pause at something you need to look at sideways for a moment. The ever-changing high turnover presents newness, while the stayed long-term and rooted keeps a grounded feel. I used to joke: It took me 30 minutes to walk 5 minutes from my home to my favourite cafe.

9. Collaboration

If you come here as an artist, entrepreneur, or any other type that needs to learn the ropes, look no further than your competition. The spirit of collaboration is undeniable. Back to the previous point: It takes a village to raise a child. In this sense, if your creative passion is your child, you will have a village from the moment you look past your nose. The effort to build practices in Waterloo Region is great, and you can expect that yours will have all the help it needs right here in this community.

10. Unbreakable spirits and unquenchable desires to make things better

We have a vibrant activist community keeping us on our toes. We have a community of artists who choose, despite all hardships, to stay. We have an enormous amount of people who work hard every day to improve the daily existence in Waterloo Region. Like any other city, we are not without our problems. And in tough economies, large cities feel the weight of the population who call them home. The biggest difference here is that from city councils to the average person on the street, there are so many who work hard to make Waterloo Region more livable. Just go outside. You really don’t need to look to hard. And if you don’t see it, take your blinders off.

How marketing ate our culture – and does it matter?

I just started to read The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture by the CBC’s Terry O’Reilly and ad man, Mike Tennant. I am only just a couple chapters in but have already had to mull some thoughts.

Tomato Soup - Andy Warhol

Like it or not, this is art. And likely also the best ad Campbell’s has ever had

So there was this argument made a while ago that the consumer has supplanted the citizen – that the form of capitalism we are living has built responsibility around self and consumption over the model of responsibility towards other and community. Our participatory democracies are failing because we don’t participate. Some argue that voting is participation, but many will state it goes beyond this. Certainly I, for one, think that voting is the minimum level of participation as a citizen, and even conscientiously objecting to participation in a voting process could be above that baseline (although poorly directed, it at least means you are working on being somewhat informed). Some areas where I see a proper participation in citizenship is participation in thoughtful culture:

  • participating as neighbours in builing neighbourhood communities
  • taking part in city council decisions that concern us
  • support small and local business when possible
  • staying informed on key issues and even deeper aspects of these (local, national, world)
  • voting not according to tradition (ei – I have always voted Liberal, so I will vote Liberal) but according to thoughtful process of examining platform and issues
  • respect and care (land, other cultures, environment)

Much more to it than this, but I am meandering a bit here.

So this argument, accompanied by some liberation theology, builds a theory describing a post-religious world and how consumerism has replaced our temples, churches and communities. In a world where we no longer find meaning in deities, and no longer find communities in churches, we are now fully supplanting it and its ideals with a worshipful community around the almighty mall.

Still in early days of reading this book, I am already wondering:

If advertising is the word of our gods (the voice of the marketing outreach of our modern mall/commerce-retail-world), then why would we expect art to be anything other than the emblem of the voice of who has the money, and who we serve?

For the grand majority of the history of Western art, the Catholic Church (the world of Creepy Baby Jesus paintings) and monarchy have been the voice of art (call it hegemonic art, with the opposite then and still being outsider art which was as interesting then as it is now). When we look at art throughout the ages, we examine the pursuits and interests of the monied. Isn’t this just the same as now where our creative films are ads?

Kinda ironic ad for a company that is based entirely on proprietary reinforced hegemonic hardware, no? (Absolute Conformity is Individuality; just like War is Peace)

So keep in mind that television programming was devised to build an audience for ads. And that the way we pay for most films to be brought to our cinemas is through the extraordinary amount of product placement. The entertainment industry wasn’t built on delivering content to audience, but instead on delivering audience (consumer) to product.

Art is supposed to be a tool to describe humanity to humans, so what about the Torches of Freedom campaign where cigarette smoking became a symbol for female emancipation? The ads surely fulfilled this purpose. The PR Museum described it well:

In 1928 Hill hired Bernays to expand the sales of his Lucky Strike cigarettes. Recognizing that women were still riding high on the suffrage movement, Bernays used this as the basis for his new campaign.

You've come a long wayThe ads built on the shifts in culture according to female emancipation, describing sentiment as the movement shifted and changed.

The Phillip Morris Company developed Virginia Slims cigarettes to appeal to women, and their “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” advertising campaign coincided with the emergence of second wave feminism in the late 1960s. In the mid-1990s, the brand used “It’s a Woman Thing” as a slogan, and more recently adopted the tagline “Find Your Voice.” Cigarette ads often feature women smoking together like “sisters” or proclaiming their individuality and their independence from, or even dominance over, men.

We revere the history of art as something that was a propagandist tool around certain ideologies and their establishments; lost in the blur of romanticism and blameless nostalgia but in current times, this is no longer acceptable.

Do I see ads as art? There is some creative merit indeed. And no doubt there are artists and teams of creatives who build the content used in marketing. At its best, the most innovative advertisement can certainly have a similar billing to art. However, I see ads usually more kin with design – and this is where I am splitting that eternal hair: art, craft and design. They aren’t the same things.

What makes ads no longer art? For me one of the large issues is the lack of authorship. Even the most banal Hollywood blockbuster pays tribute to the artists involved, no matter how lacking in craft or design their art may be. Ads try to target a particular response: the patron of the ad is seeking a desired response of consumption of the product, whereas art does not seek to trigger a particular response but instead seeks only to trigger, sometimes. It’s the difference between bells and whistles and the actual sense wonder. Another can be intent. But then you can’t say that Michelangelo could have deviated to strongly from his Medici Pope’s Catholic advertisement intentions.

So why aren’t ads art? And other than the elitist arguments, does it matter which god or monarch we are serving in the production of meaningful content?

Will our definitions shift? Language and our definitions are shifting fields, and so is art. And despite the fact that I am not entirely agnostic here, does it matter…

Temples to dead things: Galleries, Warhol and Audio Guides

Art galleries… public art galleries.

Mausoleum or art gallery? It's an art gallery.

Mausoleum or art gallery? It’s a mausoleum.

How can I justify saying something like this? Well, beyond the easy comparison between an art gallery, a mausoleum and empty churches, it is the way they treat the viewing of art itself.

Camille Paglia claimed that Andy Warhol and pop art killed the avant-garde. She may be right. Certainly our total lack of spiritual connection to art died before the 60s and the agnosticism that surfaced as time went on managed to detach most art from anything meaningful (Walter Benjamin identified this in 1935 in Art in the age of mechanical reproduction). Its hard to dispute that things that had the power and meaning as politics and religion prior to the 60s has become a pastel wash of qu’est-ce-que-fuck. I am not a fan of Paglia, but here is an interesting article (How capitalism can save art) written by her that touches on some aspects of these thoughts. I disagree with a tonne of stuff she says, but she echoes Arthur C. Danto and the Situationists on the death of the avant-garde and how art has detached from anything meaningful.  Her arguments on how art is generated from craft is Bauhausian and has some real merit in the discussion on how we are disadvantaged with our removal from manufacturing (manufacturing quite literally meaning: made by hand… or hand-making). This is painfully obvious in the radical nature of the DIY (Do It Yourself) movement. DIY didn’t used to be a movement, it just was. However, the angle of her arguments championing technology and industry as the only viable economy for art teeters very close to the fascism expressed in the Futurist movement. Art has a more important place than how it builds capitalism.

But this is the long boring eulogy: God is dead, art is dead. We have been saying it for so long that the mourning of the avant-garde has become as boring as the attempts to revitalise it.

Enough art fagging and onto a story…

(Change to sarcasm font) These things just scream a good time, don’t they? (/sarcasmfont)


The Art Gallery of Ontario had an Andy Warhol exhibit years ago and a dear old friend and I decided to have a whirl through the heart wrenching postmodernism of our cultural artifacts exhibitised. I didn’t grow up with Warhol, but none of his pop-culture-as-art-as-pop-culture bullshitting was lost on anyone my age.

We were confronted immediately, even before seeing a single soup can, Marilyn or Elvis with the clever digital docent… the audio guides. Despite being passed out for free, my companion and I decided that we just really wanted to see pop art artifacts and enjoy our day as if we were accompanied by Candy Darling herself.

Candy Darling - one of the 60s most famous drag queens... and Warhol

Candy Darling –  the 60s most famous transgender art figures… and Warhol

So think of it: Warhol… the Factory… the “No Drugs” but “Yes Drugs” amphetamine days… the 60s… pop culture iconography built up to the importance of Michelangelo… mass production… and the removal of meaning.

Digital docent

The curatorial statements on the wall promise film, prints, original photographs from the Factory, and more 60s debauchery than you could shake a stick at. We even dressed the part: I in a black cat suit and beret, with requisite china flats, and my companion in head to black with a jaunty red scarf, we made our entrance into the gallery.

Move over Factory. Move over mass production line symbolism. Enter a factory of non-celebratory assembly line-move-one-step-to-your-right as various Factory and 60s celebs on prerecorded audio guide mobile phone looking devices carried by ex-revolutionary Roschdale artists aged to the ripe yuppy wine of dullness – as regular as a morning with bran. They were finely tuned into their digital docent, frowning at smiles, growling at laughter as if Warhol and his antics were as austere as the Shakers. This. Is. Art. Dead as the Catholic church after a red light Saturday in Montreal.

Where it got really funny (to the point of my companion and I having to leave the temple to compose ourselves) was when we approached a particular Warhol video called Blow Job. Imagine it:

A large group of not-real-fur dressed in black with thick plastic framed glasses and hair done to look not done but done enough to be stylised in its undonness with digital docent cum mobile phone type devices watching this…

… completely devoid of reaction. Not a smile, not a glance, nor a shift of discomfort. I mean, the video may or may not be an actual blow job. That is a good part of the joke – that you watch this with an assumption based on the title. Without the title, the performance can be constructed as many different things. Call it “junkie” and then you have someone desperately waiting for a hit.

The result was perfectly postmodern with the art not being that which was hung on the wall or being displayed, but the performance of the ultimate assembly line viewing of art reduced to its most base pompousness. It wasn’t a be there to be seen more than see experience either. It was a religious experience for those who remembered that art was once something more – it was the echo of a dead avant-garde.

A really good question may be, how can galleries shift from this? How can they move away from the lot of religion (alienation) in our increasingly secular world? Danto claimed that art in the western world in its genesis was an “era of imitation, followed by an era of ideology, followed by our post-historical era in which, with qualification, anything goes… In our narrative, at first only mimesis [imitation] was art, then several things were art but each tried to extinguish its competitors, and then, finally, it became apparent that there were no stylistic or philosophical constraints. There is no special way works of art have to be… It is the end of the story.” – How can we give meaning to that which is an imitation of an imitation that has become so alienated from anything meaningful that everyone except the artworld and art fags are the only ones who care an ounce for its existence?

So I ask you: what breeds innovation (novelty)? I am not asking in the glittering generalisation sense that has been attached to the tech world, but truly, the essence of Paris in the late 19th century…


“Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul”

– Leonard Cohen

Art Fag

n. term invented in Dead Milkmen song “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything)”  popularised to describe the black clothing and beret wearing, art loving, coffee house sitting, navel gazing, intellectualising, name dropping, middle class, and usually left-leaning person. Meant to indicate a deeper knowledge of the lesser known emerging artists as well as popular artists.  Not to be confused with hipster. Not a pejorative associated with sexual orientation.

Question: Art and Meaning- whadayathink?

monty python fart trumpet

Assuming we are referring to a set that strictly contains good art (however you may define that)…

…can art build meaning, or does art only show what already is? Does it change or add anything, or is it a reflection of a condition? Had it been one or the other at different times? I have been thinking about this since I saw Body 13 last night. I would really love to hear thoughts on this.