May Day


.MAY DAY has in the popular lexicon become an emergency broadcast, a cry for help.




But perhaps more accurately, it’s a cry for solidarity. And it is born on the shared experiences and collective self-sufficiency of the olde artists and artisans. It was they who brought us together in vernal celebration beneath the May Pole. It was there that the tribe wove itself into an entity.

May Day ever remains so. Our tribe has grown and the arts we practice belong to a new millennium. Our natures keep their constancy, though, and it is in our nature to honor and celebrate ourselves, each other, and our never-tiring efforts to build and beautify our world. Happy May Day to you, to yours, and to us all.

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Earth Day 2017 – now we march

Never before has reason and rationality been so key to the survival of our species and our planet. Denial of overwhelming evidence and disdain for the proven efficacy of the scientific method has created an unprecedented, unparalleled danger, of the existential sort.

That’s grim, startlingly so. But all is not lost.

Turns out that disdain and denial aren’t as widespread as the Cassandra media would have it. Turns out that although there are those who foolishly or cynically dismiss the self-evident (and, regrettably, too many of these hold positions of power), we can now see clearly that their numbers are small, and diminishing.

There are more of us than there are of them.

It is prophetically fitting that today is both Earth Day, and also the day that the resistance comes out to March for Science. Make no mistake: this is, and must be, a revolution. The stakes couldn’t be higher; to cede science is to cede our home planet. And as our revolutionary slogan proclaims, there is no planet B.

May Earth Day 2017 stiffen our resolve, and may it be remembered as the turning point in the struggle wherein we saved ourselves. We all are equally responsible for whatever outcome is on our horizon. Whether we veer away from self-destruction, or we continue on the path we’re already on, the choice—and our future–is entirely in our own hands.

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Who can lay claim to a holiday, or a holy day?

Today is the first Sunday after the first full moon, after the vernal equinox. If ever there was a pagan-y way of fixing a feast on the calendar, that’d be it. But no matter. The quickening of spring-time is among the most natural and most welcome causes for celebration. It’s no wonder we share it so widely among our disparate selves and our many varied tribes.

So whether today is your Passover or your Paschal, dedicated to Eostre or Ostara, or perhaps it’s just a particularly notable day for you to chill and enjoy the turning of our seasonal wheel…so be it, and peace and happiness be upon you and yours and upon us all.

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Who’s your Dada?

Knowing who’s who in your major 20th century art movements may have netted you, well, very little up until now (save self-satisfaction or smugness, in alignment with your virtues). But if you’ve got a grasp of the cast of characters—including a particular infamous alias–of the dramatic absurdist movement that flowered almost exactly a century ago, then you might find that knowledge taking you places…

…for at least one day only; tomorrow, Sunday April 9th.

Should the morrow find you in Philadelphia, Beijing, Berlin, Amsterdam, or Paris, you can earn yourself free admission to fine art museums in any of those cities (including Philly’s Museum of Art, home to the largest collection of work by seminal Dadaist Marcel Duchamp), simply by speaking the password.

Dada as an art revolution was triggered by the same catalyst as a host of other early 20th century revolutions: World War I. It was a reaction in real time to the war, growing into life with the artists amidst the refugees and the wounded, the first ones back from the front. Before the carnage of the Somme, before the Eastern Front collapsed or the Yanks came over, a few dazed creators escaped to relative European safety, or across the seas to New York. And there they proclaimed the absurdity of it all.

Duchamp left for New York before the title Dada itself was generally agreed upon (it means “yes yes” in a couple languages, and refers to something similar to ‘hobby horse” in others–as an art descriptor it’s essentially and intentionally meaningless). But the spirit of Dadaism was already contrived and intact, and it was with Marcel Duchamp.

One hundred years ago Duchamp assumed an alias, and scribbled it upon the porcelain of an upturned urinal. He called it sculpture and named it Fountain. On April 9th, 1917 Fountain was rejected for entry in the First Annual Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists. That was the day that the art establishment met Dada, and was not smitten.

A century on and we may or may not yet be smitten by a urinal-as-sculpture. But I think we at least better understand the message. We honor it by realizing that for a hundred years, Dada has been saying something urgent and eternally relevant, and saying it in a bizarre enough fashion to plow through every psychic filter we try to throw in front of it.

So it’s entirely fitting that you join in the absurd, in Beijing and Paris and the other places, by whispering a shibboleth at a docent in lieu of admission, in the form of a name of a man who never was—he who signed the urinal and was rejected into legend: “Richard Mutt.”

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RIP Don Rickles (May 8, 1926 – April 6, 2017)

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Whither the fool?

Tomfoolery is just the latest chapter in the story. The date of April 1st has been linked with the concept of the trickster and the fool since our misty earliest past. Remembering that the medieval fool was the one member of the court who could speak truth to the king gives us some idea how tightly this archetype entwines our culture. This is only the rim of the rabbit hole, though—the rest of the saga will blow your damned mind.

Click the pic to learn it all

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Who owns an atrocity?

The brutal murder of 14 year-old Emmett Till in 1955 was both a singular atrocity and a bellwether for change. It didn’t spark the civil rights movement—countless other indignities not to mention the sweep of history did that. But it did presage sharply what that movement was up against: an entrenched evil, protected to the point of impunity, protected to the point of beating  an innocent child to death and never answering for it.

That’s American history, unsatisfying and unresolved as it is. It’s a fact of our history that two men were tried for Emmett Till’s murder and were acquitted of all charges by an all-white jury. It’s a fact that prior to that, but probably in anticipation of it, Emmett Till’s mother insisted on an open-casket service for her dead child. She asked the world to look at and remember a face that had been bludgeoned beyond recognition.

We have to share in and of this history, all of us, because we all have an equal stake in learning from it. And we owe this much at least to Emmett Till, and so many others like him, because in taking their place in our history, in our narrative, they took the only measure of justice on offer.

That meager return, writ depressingly more bold in light of present-day racial tensions, makes it arguable whether the best intentions of remembrance are worthless, are an insult, even. I hope that’s not true but it’s a discussion worth having.

And that discussion might have started, in its way, around the exhibition of a single painting, seen above, called Open Casket by Dana Schutz. The painting represents Emmett Till in death, and is currently on display at New York’s Whitney Museum, as part of that institution’s seventy-eighth biennial survey of American art. Whitney’s 2017 Biennial “arrives at a time rife with racial tensions, economic inequities, and polarizing politics,” according to the exhibition catalog, so the museum is hosting artists who “challenge us to consider how these realities affect our senses of self and community.”

A perhaps unexpected reaction to this, and to Open Casket in particular, is the petition now being circulated online, calling for the Whitney to remove Open Casket from display, and destroy it. The reason? Artist Dana Schutz is white.

So far the museum hasn’t responded or acquiesced, and Schutz has promised that the painting has never been sold and never will be sold. Her critics say that she lacks standing to interpret artistically any aspect of the African-American experience. It’s an accusation of cultural appropriation, where the cultural element in question was a watershed atrocity.

So if this is a discussion worth having, and I think it is, the first hurdle in having it lies in the demand for censorship, in artistic erasure, that’s already on the table. The second is that definition of standing, which, ironically, manifests as racial exclusion.

I have to reject that, on the grounds already mentioned: this is our history. Our story. Dana Schutz and myself and a third of a billion other living Americans have not just the right but the obligation to remember what was done to Emmett Till, and to take from that whatever illumination is possible to better ourselves and to connect with each other.

In more hopeful times we thought the days of atrocity were behind us, that there would be no more Emmett Tills. 2017 finds us more somber, more jaded. We see more clearly now the tenacity of hate. And we understand much better that our racial wounds have hardly begun to heal.

So what’s left to us, but dialogue? To build and share a better world, we first must learn to communicate with each other, without barriers. We must come to the table as equals.

That means we all have standing, we all own our past. We all own what comes next.

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RIP Chuck Berry (Oct. 18, 1926 – March 18, 2017)

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The word, spoken

And then there are those days when you just need to turn on the camera and spew verse…

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After Standing Rock

In the aftermath of a route, when we see how our own stratagems were steamrolled and how firmly the opposition holds the field, it’s hard to call the things we’ve undergone anything other than abject defeats. It feels like self-delusion to try to call them otherwise.

It’s been a season of defeats. We’ve witnessed the overturning of not just our hard-won progress, and not just the resistance against regression. We’ve witnessed the overturning of ideals, which translates to the overturning of society.

The stand at Standing Rock, the #NoDAPL movement, was last year’s high-water mark, an unintentional and unwilling exemplar of quixotic mettle. In a better world Standing Rock would have been emblematic of nothing but itself, and its story would have just been about the dualities of clean water and pollution, of subsistence and greed, and of power and resistance.

But once that resistance was routed, and the DAPL drills switched back on, the stark snowy fields of Standing Rock could no longer be considered in isolation. Whether we call what happened there a final defeat or some more intermediate setback, there’s no doubt it’s part of a larger, more widespread, and most unhappy pattern.

Such a landscape is dispiriting in the extreme. A pattern of defeat leaves little taste for continuing the struggle.

Defeatism itself is to be resisted of course; we can probably agree it is and always shall be the primary foe. It’s not an easy enemy to take down, though—which probably explains why so many of us have spent this small wintry slice of ’17 in a stupor, in shock.

Well, enough of that.

The thing about these defeats, if that’s what they’ve been, is that they haven’t been borne by one side alone. This has been an evolution of the zero-sum game, where my loss doesn’t yield your win. The losses are shared, they’re deep and dark enough to swallow us both. Scorched earth tends to stay scorched, and it’s as poisonous to you as it is to me.

If you don’t believe me when I say that we’re all losing here, then ask yourself this: the ostensible winners, the emergent ruling class and the triumphant Trumpites and yes, even the senders and receivers of the DAPL crude—do you think they’re happy? Do you think they’re enjoying their win?

Happiness and contentment, I think, have fled the field. They’re no longer factors in how this plays out. And that’s a strange and telling development.

Because if no one is happy with the new world currently in development, how will we know when it’s complete? More importantly, why would anyone accept it, or want to maintain it?

Our divisions are real but we are apparently united in dissatisfaction, in restlessness, and in the urge to deconstruct something, and reconstruct something else. There’s a glimmer of light in that thought, a hint of a possibility of common ground.

What went from us in 2016, and what has come to us in 2017 may in aggregate look like a pattern of defeat, and the shock and stupor and loss of spirit are perhaps the most natural reaction to this we could have expected. The place in which we find ourselves is quite real, but I argue, we don’t have to reside here. Not if we don’t want to.

The all-driving urge to make this better is written in our genes. We can only ignore it for so long. It’s shared by allies we never would have suspected, and who would be just as shocked to find themselves working by our side. Cooperation and progress are possible—it might sound like the most unlikely of futures, but it also might just be the one to save us.

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“My Valentine” is a play for laughs

Theater is an all too rare treat for me (and for this I have no one to blame but myself, knowing as I do that both professional and amateur performances abound in my region). Last night I had the pleasure of attending the debut of “My Valentine” at Cleveland State University’s Main Classroom Auditorium (a truly lovely little space). The play was a lighthearted romp about relationship complications, set during a whirlwind year  between consecutive Valentine’s days. Its scheduled run is for two days only alas (Saturday and Sunday, February 11th and 12th). But one can certainly hope “My Valentine” will become an annual phenomenon, winding its way back to us each year just about the time Cupid is tightening up his bow strings.

The performance wasn’t without its technical glitches (it was opening night after all), but that mattered hardly a bit. You can forgive a lot when a talented, motivated cast consistently delivers the funny with impeccable timing and enviable stage presence. Add to that clever plotting, crisp dialogue, and downright ingenious set design, and you’ve staged yourself a winner. “My Valentine” is a theatrical rom-com, to be sure, but nothing about it is formulaic or even predictable. It marches blithely toward a denouement that of course provides happy resolution for every struggling couple and misguided playboy…but the road there is twisty. And hilarious.

My full disclosure: a good friend of mine played the supporting role of Edward, a character with a selection of choice sight gags and laugh lines. His role may have gotten me into the seat (front row center, which was as awesome as it sounds), but it was the cast-wide comedic synergy that kept me there. Main accolades, though, have to go to Raymelle Adams–director, playwright, and creative force behind R&A Productions. Theirs is a family affair, a bootstrapped production company staging art for the love of art. If that’s not a formula for success then success must be as capricious as Cupid. Either way, keep your eye on this team; you’ll be hearing (and seeing) much more from them.

Final analysis: “My Valentine” was funny, endearing, thoroughly enjoyable. Its cast, crew, and creators are to be congratulated, thanked, and encouraged to keep that stuff coming. We need theater, and we need this style of scrappy, home-brewed theater perhaps most of all. These are players who are in it for the love of the game—and in these jaded times that is a jewel beyond price.

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Game day respite

It’s a good day to decompress, disengage, and be entertained. Ugliness and struggle will still be there tomorrow, never fear. So leave it until tomorrow—today we play ball.

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The sonneteer



No clear idea why, but it seems I’m sonnetering these days. Works for me if it works for you:




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A little something for your morale, majority

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January 20th: Art strikes back

#J20 isn’t just a trending hashtag, it’s a watershed. It refers to the date, January 20th, and if ever there was a calendar page with the potential to be a watershed, this is it. This is the day that the 45th president of the United States takes the oath of office.

#J20 also refers to an action, a recourse, a symbolic cultural counterstrike. #J20 is the rallying cry for a day-long art strike—a protest movement wherein the wildcatters of the art world set down their brushes, silence their poesy, and shun the hallowed gallery halls. In doing so the strikers demonstrate not languid defiance of the new regime but rather soul-deep mourning for what has passed, and fear of what’s to come.

And symbolic though #J20 may be, it’s no mere gesture. It’s a clamor, emanating from a quarter uniquely adept at making noise.

The message to the incoming administration is this: By your own words and deeds you’ve squandered any trust and goodwill we might have owed you. All you’ve left us is wariness and watchfulness. We are wary, and we are watching.

And it all starts on #J20

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