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12 February 2010

The world-wide visual culture industry

from Calvin Tomkins Lives of the Artists:

And what are my thoughts exactly? Read more »

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10 February 2010

Nanoculture aka “Douglas Coupland has no Facebook or MySpace page.” (But he does have a Twitter.)

Excerpt from one of Deborah Solomon’s infamously condensed interviews in The New York Times Magazine. (I like them.) With Douglas Coupland, famous Canadian, infamous coiner of the term Gen X. The quote in the subject line of this post is drawn directly from his website. Funny, that.

    New York Times: Americans think of the Canadian center as socialism.
    Douglas Coupland: Pretty much. To have a healthy culture you have to have stable health care financing and stable arts financing and stable sports financing, and if you don’t have that, your culture becomes a parking lot.
    NYT: How would you define the current cultural moment?
    DC: I’m starting to wonder if pop culture is in its dying days, because everyone is able to customize their own lives with the images they want to see and the words they want to read and the music they listen to. You don’t have the broader trends like you used to.
    NYT: Sure you do. What about Harry Potter and Taylor Swift and “Avatar,” to name a few random phenomena?
    DC: They’re not great cultural megatrends like disco, which involved absolutely everyone in the culture. Now, everyone basically is their own microculture, their own nanoculture, their own generation.

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11 January 2010

Vincent van Gogh and the Community Function


Today’s take on the Community Function is via late 19th century France & The New Yorker. The title was “Van Gogh’s Ear: The Christmas Eve that changed modern art.” In fact, though, the piece is about the isolation & collaboration & community artists have saught, lost & found in our modern era.

It begins on a pessimistic note, and I was reluctant to share it for that reason, but by the end, the message has turned around.

    Most of all, van Gogh was in pursuit of an old romantic dream: the dream of a collaborative community. Art could be saved from mere commodity if artists lived and worked together as they once had done. The Nazarenes, a secretive sect of painters in Rome in the early nineteenth century, seem to have been the first to revive the ideal, while John Ruskin’s Guild of St. George, a pseudo-Gothic band of pseudo-Goethic Masons, became, in the eighteen-sixties, the most unintentionally comic. The Impressionists, urban painters par excellence, saw themselves at moments as a band of brothers, but theirs was an infantile form of community. Renoir and Monet played and painted side by side like two-year-olds, rather than fully engaging in a club like twelve-year-olds. The idea that van Gogh, and others of his generation, pursued was deeper: a sort of religious revival that might be found in a renewed monastic arrangement.

    The vision of an ideal community runs through the letters. If we could all work together, we’d be like . . . Icelandic fishermen! Buddhist monks! Peasant craftsmen! Members of the French Foreign Legion! Not long after he arrived in Arles, he wrote to Gauguin, “I must tell you that even while working I never cease to think about this enertprise of setting up studio with yourself and me as permanent residents, but which we’d both wish to make into a shelter and a refuge for our pals at moments when they find themselves at an impasse in their struggle.” . . .

    For van Gogh, the story ends conclusively: the Yellow House empty, the dream of community gone, the asylum’s doors the only ones open to him. He left the hospital in January and returned to the town, but his behavior was so strange that the peopel of Arles put together a petition to have him committed to an asylum or sent back to his family–breaking for good the vestiges of his dream of an organic rural community. Arles was as tight and closed and suspicious as any other small town. In his letters, the old fantasy, the fishermen and the monks, disappears . . .

    The only authentic community he found was among the insane. At least they supported one another. “Although there are a few people here who are seriously ill, the fear, the horror that I had of madness before has already been grately softened,” he wrote to Theo’s new wife, Jo. “and although one continually hears shouts and terrible howls as though of the animals in a menagerie, despite this the people here know each other very well, and help each other when they suffer crises.” Artist scould not be fishermen, or monks, or Legionnaires. They were artists. Collaborative creativity? We live and see and work alone. Collective responsibility? It ends in a crazy house. . .

    The letters of van Gogh’s last year mark his acceptance of his isolation, coupled with the belief that the isolation need not be absolute — that, one day, there will be a community of readers and viewers who will understand him, and that his mistake had been to try and materialize that community in the moment instead of accepting it as the possible gift of another world and time. “One must sieze the reality of one’s fate and that’s that.” The real community is not that of charmed aritsts living like monks but the distant dependencies of isolated artists and equally isolated viewers, who together make the one kind of community that modernity allows.

I am somewhat loathe to quote the author of this piece, Adam Gopnik, at length. I have no great disdain for him, but I feel some harmonic resonance with Vanity Fair columnist James Wolcott‘s infamous takedown of Gopnik in The New Republic. (i.e. “It isn’t that Gopnik is ungifted or imperceptive, or a slickster trickster like his colleague Malcolm Gladwell, who markets marketing. He is avidly talented and spongily absorbent, an earnest little eager beaver whose twitchy aura of neediness makes him hard to dislike until the preciosity simply becomes too much.”) Read the whole thing here.

That said, this piece of writing was as sharp as Wolcott’s critique was barbed.

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6 January 2010

Aaron Cometbus and the Community Function

Aaron Cometbus is not my Hero (singular) because I don’t have those anymore. But he is one of my heroes (plural). Here’s a photo of him, via Text.Werkstatt.


Aaron Cometbus doesn’t seem care much for publicity, celebrity, notoriety, society, the many bitty little itties that seem to our age what quasi-philosophical -isms were to the 20th century (communism, capitalism, existentialism, anarcho-syndicalism, et ceterism).

Here is what I know about him: Real name Aaron Elliott…founder of the long running zine Cometbus (53 issues! 28 years! sells for $3 or less! no fucking web presence!)…epitome of East Bay punk culture…former Green Day roadie…former drummer for bands like Crimpshrine & Pinhead Gunpowder whom no one much cares about but are legendary in their subcultures and have great names…a modern day Jack Kerouac…

I’m cribbing most of this from Wikipedia but, still, it gets his essence across — albeit not quite as well as this recent Amoeba Records blog post. Point being, he lives an authentic, coherent, no bullshit, beautiful kind of existence. His means are equal to his ends. His modes of execution match his intentions. His work is rooted in real communities, and is addressed to real communities, not imagined psychographic profiles.

I’d never seen a picture of the dude before doing a Google image search while writing this post. It’s unlikely you have either. Cometbus is about as internet-unfriendly as any person can get these days. More likely is the possibility that you’ve seen a copy of his equally internet-unfriendly zine tucked away in the magazine stand of your favorite independent bookshop, record store, or anarcho-vegan-co-op-type situation. Here’s what it looks like when it’s not tucked away.


I recently purchased issue #53 and came across a quote from that speaks to the role of the Community Function in creativity which I would like to share with you all.

    I call it the ninety-nine percent success story. The noble failure. Hundreds of novels lie around completed but not published, albums recorded but not pressed, tours booked then hastily cancelled, articles written but never sent. Vast and impressive castles are built, but they’re not inhabitable. Just one small nail in the right place and we could move in, but I show up with a hammer and the block my way. “No,” they say. “Not yet.”Why is everyone so scared to put in that last one percent? Having gone through the pains of labor, can they not bear to see their child leave the nest? Having own the seed and plowed the field, how can they stand by and let the fruit rot on the tree?

    As a community, it’s our duty to try to bring everyone’s creativity and ambitious plans to the fore, and to fruition, instead of passively watching and encouraging that potential to be wasted. To keep laughing, but keep the hard work and the hope that comes with it from becoming a joke. As a friend, it’s my duty to try to be that one percent.

More excerpts of the zine’s insides after the jump…
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4 January 2010

Todd Oldham and the Community Function


A nice brief quote about the working methods of lifestyle designer & style guru Todd Oldham‘s studio. (No relation to Will Oldham that I know of.)

    In a way, Oldham is creating an artistic commune, surrounding himself with like-minded enthusiasts, whether they be staffers or the artists whose work he promotes. “Anything or anyone or any effort that’s joyous is beautiful,” he says. “Everyone here is a really good artist totally on their own, and together we come up with stuff that’s better than any of us working alone. People coming together doing it better, that’s the way we work here.”

The piece is called The Pied Piper of Craft: Todd Oldham is creating art nerds, one kid at a time. What I liked about the piece is how Oldham — best known for his appearances in the 1990s as a segment host on MTV’s House of Style — has developed career in increasingly eclectic, less high profile ways, to the benefit of his vision albeit the detriment of his celebrity profile. This is the trend that that other Oldham was talking about in that quote I excerpted before the holiday break.

These days Todd Oldham is more likely to author & edit a monograph about Modernist children’s book illustrator Charley Harper than he is to hang out with Cindy Crawford. He even has a long, culty beard. Awesome.

(Photo at top of this post via New York Mag.)

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