THE JAPANESE POET "RYOKAN" WAS ONCE ASKED OUT OF THE BLUE: "WHERE DO YOU LIVE?" AND HE SPONTANEOUSLY REPLIED "JUST TO THE LEFT OF THE MILKY-WAY"...THIS WAS FROM A POET WHO RENOUNCED MONEY, WAS AN ITINERANT & HOMELESS MOST OF THE TIME...WHO WOULD RELIGOUSLY GO FROM DOOR TO DOOR BEGGING FOR FOOD AND THIS MAN WAS A NATIONAL CULTURAL TREASURE! HUMILITY HONED HIS WRITING SKILLS & EMPATHY FOR HUMBLE SOULS PLUS HIS SENSE OF HUMOR WAS ENHANCED FROM HIS EXPERIENCES AS A WANDERING TRAMP (YAMA-BUSHI) AND WAS KNOWN AS "THE GREAT FOOL"...THIS WAS 200 YRS AGO.
THEN AS NOW MONEY OFTEN BROUGHT OUT THE VERY WORST OF HUMAN TRAITS...I WOULD NOT SAY INSTINCTS BECAUSE IT IS JUST A SMALL MINORITY WHO WORSHIP MONEY AND I WOULD NOT WISH TO CONDEMN THE WHOLE OF HUMANITY ...I TRULY BELIEVE THAT HUMAN BEINGS ARE INNATELY GOOD! AND THAT THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE... THAT MISCREANTS WILL EVENTUALLY SEE THE LIGHT.
NOW FOR THE JOKES:
A PAINTER FRIEND RECENTLY ASKED ME "HOW MANY PEOPLE DOES IT TAKE TO FINISH A PAINTING?" THE ANSWER WAS: "ONE TO PAINT IT, ONE TO SAY WHEN IT IS FINISHED AND FIFTEEN TO PISS ALL OVER IT"...THAT IS A TOTAL OF SEVENTEEN...SO NOW YOU KNOW IF THE QUESTION EVER APPEARS ON "BRAIN OF BRITAIN".
I WAS ONCE ASKED: "WHERE IS YOUR STUDIO?" AND I REPLIED THAT IS STARTS HERE WHERE I STAND IN FRONT OF ME (I WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE COUNTRY-SIDE AT THE TIME) AND IT GOES AS FAR AS YOU CAN SEE AND GOES ALL ROUND THE WORLD...I TURNED THROUGH 180 DEGREES AND ADDED THAT IT FINISHES HERE AND POINTED TO MY FEET...I ALSO ADDED THAT THE LIGHTING WAS BRILLIANT!
ANOTHER TIME IN HOLLAND PARK, LONDON...SOME-BODY ASKED ME IF I PAINTED DOGS AND I REPLIED THAT I DID...SHE ASKED IF I WOULD PAINT HER'S AND I SAID I WOULD ON CONDITION THAT I COULD PAINT IT ANY COLOR...SHE AGREED (MUST OF THOUGHT THAT I WAS AN "IMPRESSIONIST")...SO I SAID BRING IN YOUR DOG TOMORROW SAME TIME AND I WOULD THROW A BUCKET OF PURPLE PAINT ALL OVER HER IT!
MANY YEARS AGO I WAS AT "THE OPENING" OF AN EXHIBITION OF SCULPTURES BY A FEMALE ARTIST AND I STARTED TALKING TO HER AND SAID THAT I WAS ALSO A SCULPTOR AND THAT I CREATE SOMETHING EVERY DAY...I CRAP EVERY DAY...SHE PROCEEDED TO STAB MY FOOT WITH HER STILETTO HEAL AND DIGGING IN DEEP AND I SAID: " YOU HAVE LEFT A DEEP IMPRESSION ON ME!"
THE PAINTER PIET MONDRIAN WAS A FUNNY MAN...OR SOULD I SAY ECCENTRIC AND MAY BE AT TIMES HE WAS A BIT OF A COMEDIAN...HE WAS ALSO REVOLUTIONARY IN HIS STYLE OF PAINTING...THE FOLLOWING IS A BIT OF A DEBATE ABOUT THAT "FUNNY MAN"...
THE ECCENTRIC PIET MONDRIAN...
What do jazz and painting have to do with politics? More specifically, what did Mondrian’s assimilation of jazz into his neo-plasticism mean about the contemporaneous political reality? Nothing direct. “Art must make its own way and by its own means.” The point is that Mondrian never painted jazz as politics, which would have indeed been a much simpler task. Rather, he was able to adopt jazz forms as a model, as Harry Cooper puts it, for his abstraction. He was able to perceive in the forms of jazz an advance in aesthetic development and to develop an approach to integrating and transforming those in such a way as to make them useful for the questions of painting. There is no use of jazz or painting to direct political ends, for, as Mondrian the radical utopian was keenly aware, this would mean obscuring the questions of these specific practices.
Needless to say, Mondrian’s moment is at a far remove from contemporary practice. When in 1994 the Austrian art collective WochenKlausur staged “floating dialogues” on Lake Zurich to bring together members of the community in order to discuss the issue of drug addicts who turned to prostitution to support their habits, they collapsed art into a sphere in which it has little purpose: social work. The issue isn’t that nothing was done—in fact, the discussions led to the creation of safe houses for the sex workers—but that the goals of art become lost in liberal political endeavor. If radical art poses questions and provokes a discussion regarding the role of art within a cultural and political landscape through an indirect critique (as Adorno makes clear), liberal art is content to provide band-aid solutions that treat symptoms but not causes. It is satisfied to address the local through a regressive naturalism. Bad art (such as that of WochenKlausur, which has no real interest in the questions of art) is simply a mask for bad politics.
But all is never lost. Even in the most dismal of times, there has been a beacon of light: the hope for a conscious reappraisal of history. Only through an active and engaged recognition of the triumphs and failures of past actors can we complete the difficult task of mourning and move on to new plateaus. If art was once energetically and purposefully critical, once innovative, and once progressive, we must learn its lessons in order to overcome its loss. But a gap now separates that time and our current one. The space is that between between art pour l’art and art as soft social practice. To historically locate and actively bridge the divide is the burden we carry. •