Saturday, February 27, 2010

I Know Nothing of Art

I confess:  All the knowledge I possess about art could easily be chiseled onto a granite slab small enough to fit in a gnat’s navel.  And it would rattle around in there, so small as to not discomfort the gnat.

I have no ill feelings towards art, but I do want to express some small pet peeves on the subject.  Not art itself, but a few topics on the periphery of art.

Let me start with Terry Gross of WHYY in Chicago. Her show, Fresh Air, can be heard daily on NPR.   This is a radio program I I dislike so thoroughly that I rarely miss an episode.   According to most of my email, most of the readers of my blog share this trait.

For those of you who don’t know, Ms. Gross is a talented and intelligent woman who can be heard 5 times a week interviewing among other people, artists, musicians, and actors.  And here is the rub; many of these people are the most whiny, self absorbed, unhappy people on earth.  The average interview seems to be with an angry woman furious that the government has cut off her funding, making it impossible for her to continue to pursue developing her medium:  political protest paintings made with elephant shit.

Why are all the artists so miserable?  So unhappy?  They all seem to come from such miserable homes that any given time one of their parents were being tried at the Hague for war crimes.  Are all artists addicted to snorting Sherwin Williams Permalast Oil Paint and have spent the majority of their lives in St. Dumbbell’s Rehab for the Clinically Idiotic?

Would it really be so bad if just once, Ms. Gross could interview someone happy?  Can you not find a single truck driver in Chicago who has been happily married for 25 years to the same woman, has three normal kids, and looks forward to his Wednesday night bowling league?  In short, a simple normal guy who thinks life is just grand? 

Secondly, I guess I don’t like Art Education.  I’m not talking about art education at my university; I have no idea what they do across the campus.  They are probably doing a great job.  Or not.  I would have no way of knowing.  I guess what I am peeved at is the industry of art education.  Anyone can be an Artist!  Send $39.95 and we guarantee to tell you so!

Even in a small sleepy New Mexico town, there are a plethora of stores selling art supplies, art galleries, and an entire army of people willing to take your money in exchange for lessons.

This reminds me of an afternoon many years ago when several of us were sitting around testing a case of beer to see if any of the bottles had spoiled.   Someone used a book of matches to relight his cigar, and there on the inside cover was that classic of advertising, the free art talent test.  Could you draw the pirate?  A small contest ensued; who could draw the worst picture.  The eventual winner was a result of several unorthodox techniques up to that date unknown in most art circles.  This included a contribution from the south end of a slumbering dog.  The masterpiece was mailed in, and in due course we were shocked to learn that dog’s ass had valuable latent talent.

Years ago, there was an annual art show in Texas called the Starving Artist Show.  Every painting had to sell for under $25.  The WalMart of art, enabling every single Texan to own his own original oil painting of a field full of bluebonnets dominated by a windmill.   There is a law requiring every home in Texas to own one of these. 

My mother and I had a small argument over the quality of the art sold in these shows.  My mother believed that true bargains could be obtained in these shows.  My opinion was that the mob that showed up would purchase road kill if you told them it was sculpture.  It turned out I was right because at the next show I spotted a table where a man was selling purses fashioned from armadillos. 

Since anyone could enter a painting, I decided to enter one of my own.  Despite the fact that I have absolutely no artistic ability, I had a plan.  I took a piece of plywood about two by three feet, sanded it smooth and painted it white.  This was my canvas.  Didn’t Leonardo da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa on wood?

My paints?  I had a cigar box full of assorted ballpoint pens of various colors.  I took these apart and cut the tips off the little tubes of ink.   I held each up to my mouth and blew the ink out onto the board.  I won’t say the result was pretty, but it was interesting.  A mass of wavy inky lines that looked like… exactly like something that looks like a mass of wavy inky lines.  After rotating my masterpiece for a solid ten minutes, I finally decided which way was up, signed the bottom with a ballpoint pen, naturally, and took it to the show.

It sold.  Somewhere, someone presumably has an original Milliorn.  But I’m not sure it will be the only one.  I’ve applied for a grant to paint more.  Terry, if they turn me down, I will be both terribly angry and available for your show.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

If I Had Known Then...

A friend of mine was asked to write an essay for a radio station.  His topic was to be, If I had known then…  Obviously, this was to be an essay about regrets.  This got me to thinking about my own regrets.  How would I write such an essay?

Looking back across the last six decades, I do not regret too many things in my life. For years, I have gambled, occasionally drunk to excess, and systematically slaughtered many, if not most, of the Ten Commandments.  I am afraid I wasted the rest of the years.   Sure, I have made mistakes, but I’m not too sure I regret many of them.  Besides, I have come to realize that bad judgment makes for good stories.  As I am forced to realize that I have more of my years behind me than in front of me, I prize the stories more and more.

Okay, sticking around to see exactly how bad a category 4 hurricane could really be was probably a mistake.  Telling your wife that you could always remember her birthday because she was born on the anniversary of the Battle of Jutland was definitely a mistake.  If a highway patrolman asks you why you are driving a Porsche over 100 mph down the Gulf Freeway, the correct answer is probably not, “Well, I had to slow down on account of the rain.”  If you are interested in learning firsthand what that last experience was like, the next time you are pulled over for a minor traffic infringement, roll down the window, wait for the cop to walk up, and before he can say anything to you, scream, “Don’t look in the trunk!”  It was sort of like that.

On more than one occasion livestock have stepped on me, kicked me, bit me, and mistaken me for a public restroom.  I have been snake bit and knocked unconscious by an elephant.  (Never approach an immature elephant with a shirt pocket full of peanuts.) And the night three of us stole an alligator was definitely not a good night.  Yeah, all of these were mistakes, and I have the scars and the stitches to prove it.  Even if I could, I wouldn’t sell one of those scars for big money as each of them represents a story, and all of them are mine.

Mark Twain once said, “…a person that started in to carry a cat home by the tail was getting knowledge that was always going to be useful to him, and warn't ever going to grow dim or doubtful.”  I have carried my share of cats home by their tails, and I would not willingly part with my hard earned education.  And by this formula, that alligator must have earned me a doctorate.

I do have regrets, but most of my regrets have to do with the things I turned down.  I deeply regret the times I said no instead of leaping out and taking a great risk with a loud yes.  I regret not having said yes to a certain redhead with a 150 watt smile about 40 years ago.  I regret saying no to that Israeli Air Force recruiter.  And years ago, while driving from Vancouver to California, I saw a sign, “Alaska Ferry 10 Miles.”  Why in the world didn’t I turn the truck and get on that ferry?  I probably should regret using a Cessna to stampede cattle, but how was I to know there was a farmer standing in that field?  Even now, I would probably regret it, if only I could stop laughing.

I remember sitting on the side of a hill watching the bushes where I was damn near certain a buck was hiding, but before I could find out, a javelina started walking up the trail  towards me.  He looked right at me and there seemed to be a glint of intelligence in those cold beady black eyes.  I remember thinking, “He’s trying to tell me something.”  Now, a javelina is about as mean as my mother-in-law, and they can and will rip you to shreds, but I remember having a strong gut feeling that I could learn something from this one.  Perhaps I was on the brink of unlocking one of nature’s great mysteries.  In some small way, I regret having shot him.  I don’t regret having eaten him.   Slow cooked with onions, garlic, and red wine.  Maybe he was trying to tell me a better recipe.

I have a whole list of books that I haven’t read, and I deeply regret this.   I regret that too often in my life I did the things I was supposed to do and didn’t take more time off to read those books.  There is an infinite amount of work, but there is definitely a finite list of good books.  There’s a big list of bad books I regret not having read.

No, I look back and I regret having been too careful with my life.  I regret that I didn’t live a little wilder, jump a little higher, and run a lot faster.  I seemed to have been under the impression that somehow I was going to leave this life alive.  If I had known then what I know now, I would do everything the same, only more so, harder, and faster.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Frisbee Dates

The sad news today is the passing of a great inventor; Walter Frederick Morrison. This is the man who took a lid from a tin can full of popcorn, tossed it to his girlfriend and thus eventually earned a million dollars. Not bad.

Morrison sold his toy to Wham-O!, who sold his idea to Mattel, and all of them managed to sell us some 200 million flying discs, probably a third of which are on a roof somewhere right now. The patent has expired on the idea and no one knows how many companies around the world are making some sort of spinning toy, but only Mattel makes the Official Frisbee.

The history of the disc is truly remarkable; it has been estimated that 90% of all homes own one. If true, this would mean that the invention has saturated the market about as well as any device invented in the last 50 years. The US Navy spent $400,000 on an experiment to see if the toy could support naval flares. The Navy even designed and built a special machine to toss the discs off a mountain in Utah. I doubt if you will be surprised to learn the project was a failure. What happened to that machine? I hope the government has it preserved in the same warehouse they use to hide the Arc of the Covenant. This is the kind of technology that we should keep classified.

I can remember my first Frisbee: my father gave it to me right about the time that every American in the country was obsessed with the Hula-Hoop. The Hula-Hoop is one of those toys that will probably no longer work when most Americans no longer seem to have a waist or visible hips. When the average person looks like three grapefruit in a sock, at the very least we would need a hoop that is probably too large to bring home from the toy store. Back in 1959, my brother and I immediately invented a game that involved a hula-hoop, a Frisbee, and a barking cocker spaniel. I think the dog was the referee.

My favorite memories of playing with a Frisbee are from college at the University of Houston when I was dating my future wife. We were poor students, a concept that seems to have disappeared. I have students today who claim to be poor, but it is a little hard to accept that someone is poor when they are carrying a cell phone, a laptop, and an Ipod; the combined cost of which is more than I paid for my first two cars, my freshman tuition, and what I used to pay a month for rent on my apartment; combined.

No, my wife and I were the kind of poor where we had no phone, no TV, she had no car, and occasionally my truck stayed in the driveway for a week at a time since I could not afford to buy gas. And this at a time when gas cost about 35 cents a gallon. This kind of poor put quite a strain on dating. It is relatively hard to take a woman on a date when you have about a dollar and half. Hard, but not impossible.

Once a week, there was an inspection cruise up and down the ship channel and it was open to the public. The crew of the inspection ship thought it funny when my date and I brought a picnic lunch and ate it on the bow of the ship. Or you could, if you really studied the map and planned the transfers, ride the bus system all over the town for about half a dollar. A bus tour of the city.

There were lots of cheap dates; I gave blood for dinner theater tickets, there was an audience at the local TV station for a cooking show, there were art shows, museums, and I am afraid we crashed more than a few weddings. My favorite date was the picnic at the park with a Frisbee. Total cost: Zero. Those picnic lunches…well, I worked nights at a hotel that had several restaurants. No one has more friends than a restaurant chef.  I probably still owe that man a few favors.

With about three dollars, I could buy enough gas to get my aging Chrysler Barracuda to the beach in Galveston. After swimming in the gulf, we could play with the Frisbee until the sun went down, then watch the submarine races at night.

I remember a blanket in the park, cold chicken, and tossing a Frisbee until we were so tired we had to go back and lay on the blanket. I think I remember the blanket the best.

You don’t have to cure cancer or paint a ceiling in the Sistine Chapel to leave the world a better place than you found it, sometimes even the smallest actions can improve the world. Thank you Mr. Morrison. Well done.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Football Blogging Opportunity

While the entire country goes crazy over the Super Bowl, I have to admit that I am a little tired of football. This is probably after watching the local college team for the last few seasons. We call our team the New Mexico Possums since they play dead at home and get killed on the road.
I’ve taught many of the players, and they are good guys who try their best, but somehow the school joined a conference that apparently was created to train human forklifts for the Teamsters Union. After a long losing streak, the local paper has started reporting the games as “Shucks And Aw…”

Still, for a long time it was fun to watch them play and of course everyone enjoys watching the cheerleaders; the Goal Diggers. And the team certainly has the school’s best interest at heart, in these days of an ever-tightening budget, they promise to come down out of their Crystal Sports Palace and hold the school a bake sale. We hope to buy a book.

While I am no longer interested in the football this weekend, I am fascinated by the spectacle of the game. Millions of people will stop everything for this game. Golf courses will be deserted, movie theaters abandoned, and churches will have their lowest attendance of the year. Evidently, even God is a fan.

Stores are sold out of large screen, high definition TV sets, beer, and junk food. Enough Buffalo wings will be consumed on Sunday to ensure there is not an ambulatory chicken left in the country. The calories consumed this weekend are staggering. What’s the difference between a Super Bowl fan and an elephant? About 5 pounds. How do you make up the difference? Force feed the elephant.

More Americans will watch this game than the President’s State of the Union Address. Not that I blame them, as both the Colts and Saints have had a better year. And while the nearest computer can give you any music ever recorded, some 95 million Americans will be hoping to see some big-chested girlfriend of a quarterback performing an a capella version of “Pants On the Ground.” No one can say this country ain’t got culture.

The television commercials are the most amazing part of Super Bowl. Millions of people watch the game with absolutely no interest in football, they just want to watch the commercials. People who complain about commercials all during the year will willingly watch them this Sunday. These are supposedly good commercials. Somehow, on this one day a year, erectile dysfunction will be funny.

Advertisers are paying a staggering $90,000 a second, that’s $90,000 a second, to tell you about crap you would probably buy even if you didn’t watch the game. This means that for every 30 second spot, an advertiser has to pay about three cents per viewer.

This is a rip off. Madison Avenue, I have a much better deal for you. Advertise right here. Advertise on this excellent blog. According to Google, (the people who host this blog), the average reader spends about two minutes and twenty seconds on this site. And advertising here is about a tenth of the price per viewer compared to the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl will only run once, this blog will be up for a year or more. And while the Super Bowl will be watched primarily only in the United States, according to my hate mail, this blog is read all over the world.

Hell, I’m getting email in languages I can’t even read. I’m ready and willing to negotiate. I’ll even write a second verse to “Pants on the Ground.”