Latest Posts

When Art Gives You Lemons…

How do you separate the art from the artist? Should you separate the art from the artist? Should we throw away good art because the artist is or was a terrible person? Those are questions that have been going around in my head long before recent events. Heck, they’re questions that have been with me at least since I read a biography of Picasso in my early teens, and they’re questions people might have been wrestling with at least as long as there have been artists. Even though the celebrity has been magnified by technology there’s a long history of artists behaving badly. Caravaggio literally got away with murder, and if you want to go back even farther Sophocles was accused of immoral behavior. So was Socrates, leading to his famous last words, “I drank what?” but that’s another story, and anyway, he’s a philosopher, not an artist.

In spite of years of discussion, reading, thinking, cogitating, ruminating, and occasional fermenting I don’t feel any closer now to answering those questions than I did when I was a teen. I am absolutely certain that being an artist, even an exceptional one, doesn’t excuse anyone from the same ethics and morals that apply to the rest of us. Beyond that, though, things get murky.

Anonymity in art is double-edged. It spares us any judgments about what kind of person the artist was but it also removes a lot of the context that we use to think about and understand art. The little piece above, which I realize isn’t graffiti but rather a work stuck in a bookshelf at JJ’s coffee shop, is interesting to me for a lot of reasons. The explanation “I am an artist because of my natural exile from normal people,” is part of the work itself, and it raises a lot of questions. Who is this artist? How are they exiled? And is it ethical or moral to turn a public figure into a lemon?

Sophie’s Stuff.

Source: Wikipedia

Comedy is often a way of crossing social boundaries which is why it fascinates me when comedians leave their home countries to do comedy in a completely different environment—and sometimes in a completely different language, which can require facing a steep learning curve. Sophie Hagen, whose birthday is today, left Denmark to do comedy in Britain and in English, and has succeeded brilliantly, challenging social conventions about body image. She co-created the funny and thought provoking podcast The Guilty Feminist and was a co-host for a long time. Before that she created the also funny—and sometimes thought-provoking Comedians Telling Stuff podcast. It’s interesting because the comedians she talks to sometimes share funny stories and sometimes they share personal stories which may be funny or may be a little sad, or a little of both. Hagen herself also did funny introductions to each podcast in which she sometimes talked about recording in her room under a blanket, and also shared some of her own funny, sometimes even embarrassing, stories. For instance there was the time she was making out with a fellow comedian and confessed to him that she was dating another comedian at the time. He asked, “Is he bigger than me?” She reached into his pants and said, “No,” then realized that’s not what he meant.

There’s also a steep learning curve for understanding the culture of comedians.

Netiquette Lesson.

Even though it’s become deeply entrenched in our lives the internet is still a relatively new thing and not all the rules of netiquette are completely worked out yet. And, like regular etiquette, they’re not even necessarily universal. For instance my spell-checker used to automatically capitalize Internet, because I guess it was a proper noun and now it’s not anymore, although in German the rule is that all nouns are capitalized because even when they’re not shouting Germans like the emphasize their nouns. Or maybe they consider all nouns proper, which is nice for the nouns, but I think I hear the verbs grumbling. It’s not even necessarily a universal rule that if you’re typing in all caps, or even several fedoras, and using only uppercase letters you’re shouting. There are lots of reasons why someone might be typing in all uppercase letters. Maybe the Caps Lock key on their keyboard is stuck, or maybe e.e. cummings used up all the lowercase letters. Maybe they’re speaking  Kashubian, which is the only remaining Pomeranian language, and if you’ve ever been around Pomeranians you know they can only bark in all caps. Netiquette is also always evolving. For instance, do you know what the netiquette used to be regarding those business networking sites that send you an email at least three times a month telling you someone you met briefly at a conference would like you to join their network? If you said, “Um, were they once considered polite?” you’re absolutely wrong. They’ve always been even more obnoxious than going into a Star Trek discussion and talking about Zachary Quinto as the guy who directed Three Men & A Baby.

There’s really a point around here somewhere that I will get to eventually, and it’s this: rules of grammar and etiquette and even netiquette are naturally flexible and vary depending on the situation and the person. Having said that here’s something I think should be an inviolable rule: if you reply to someone’s email you should include their original email in your reply. This is especially true if you’re replying to them from an account that’s different from the one they used to contact you initially and that they’ve never used before. And it’s even more true if your entire email consists of this:

Yes I can do that.

Although I now realize I’m being unfair in saying that rule should be inviolable. After all we all make mistakes, to err is human and to forgive is something that rhymes with “human”, I guess, so let me clarify: if you make the mistake of sending a terse reply with no context or identifying information from a different email account so the person you’re replying to can’t find any record of ever having contacted you don’t get upset when that person asks if you can provide a little more information. Don’t imply, or outright state, that the person is stupid for asking you to remind them what the conversation was about. Don’t suggest, or just say, that it’s only been a month since they contacted you and they should remember the details.

It’s a pretty simple thing to ask and really stems from what should be the underlying rule of all interactions: think about the other person’s feelings, and remember that there’s a person on the other side of the computer screen. And also you probably shouldn’t share petty grievances, even in a vague way, with total strangers, although there’s gotta be some flexibility on that rule because to air is human.


Break Time.

Before I even got on the bus I knew he was a new driver because he was early. If you ride the bus long enough and regularly enough you start to recognize the signs of someone who’s not just new to the route but new to driving a bus professionally. New drivers are always a couple of minutes early because they’re so focused on sticking to the schedule, and the buses they drive are almost completely empty. I don’t know whether this is because the regular riders aren’t expecting the bus to be quite so early and get to the stop after it’s gone by or whether the driver’s focus on sticking to the schedule means there are a lot of people along the line who got passed by. And when I got on there was only me, the driver, and a woman with a baby in a stroller and her son, who was probably about four.

So we zipped along. I sat back and listened to a podcast and counted the number of shocked people standing at bus stops we passed. Then the bus lurched and he pulled over in front of a bus stop. He got out, looked at something, then came back in and pulled out his phone and called someone.

I know this was a violation. Bus drivers aren’t supposed to use their phones, even when they’re not driving. In fact there’s a little metal box that blocks cell signals at the front of the bus. They’re supposed to kep their phones in that, rather than in their pockets. Still we were early, and I even thought that might be why he’d stopped. Bus drivers, especially new ones who are conscientious about the schedule, will often pull over and stop for a few minutes so they don’t get too far ahead. The minutes ticked away. Then another bus on the same route passed us. He’d finished with his phone call so I went up to the front and asked when we’d be underway.

“We’re not going anywhere,” he said. “Got a busted mirror.”

He even showed it to me. While driving too close to the curb he’d hit it against a pole.


The woman with her young son and the baby in a stroller got out. Lucky for her she only had a little over a block to walk, although that’s still a pretty good jaunt with two kids. And lucky for me another bus came along in a few minutes and stopped.

As for the driver, well, I could have reported him for pulling out his phone instead of calling the dispatcher so we could catch the next bus to go by, but I figured he was new and probably pretty rattled by the experience. I know I would be. Whatever punishment he was going to face for breaking the mirror was going to be bad enough. We’ve all been new in a job and screwed up something. I figured he’d had one bad break that day and deserved a good one.


For What It’s Worth…

If you’re not familiar with the show Adam Ruins Everything here’s the pitch: comedian Adam Conover takes big subjects–weddings, pets, prison, death–and challenges common misconceptions about those subjects in entertaining ways. I’m kind of hooked on it and I rarely feel like anything’s really been ruined for me; I just feel slightly better informed, especially after watching several episodes in a row, which is why I dread the inevitable Adam Ruins Binge Watching, but that’s another story.

In a second season episode Adam Ruins Art he breaks down the idea that experts have an objective understanding of what’s good art and what’s bad art, and he explains that the sometimes ridiculous prices on art, especially modern art, mean that wealthy collectors can buy a piece then donate it and get a tax break. So it’s not just gallery owners and artists who have the chutzpah to smack a six-figure price tag on a pile of beer bottles and cigarette butts; it can benefit the collectors too. Anyway for a palette cleanser I switched over to the first season’s Adam Ruins Restaurants in which he talks about, among other things, how wine experts will praise an expensive wine and bash a cheap one even if it’s the same wine.

And that got me thinking about how we value things and how a high price can trick us into thinking something’s inherently more valuable than something with a low price, and, graffiti is pretty cheap. Most people even think graffiti brings down the value of an area, or they think about the cost of removing it. Graffiti might be the only art that’s seen as having a negative value. So consider this piece.

This funny, odd little fish made me smile when I saw it from the second floor of the Belcourt Theater. It was across the street, on a building that was under construction. And because of the way it was placed it could only be seen from inside the theater’s second floor, or if you were one of the construction crew. I only saw it after I’d bought a movie ticket. I wasn’t looking for graffiti but did that make a difference? And whoever put it there took a risk. They took the risk of being caught, of being injured. All that gets into my head and makes me wonder, what’s it worth?


Prepare The Transit Beam.

I was home from college because it was Fall Break, a holiday that doesn’t get nearly the credit it deserves, barely even heard of, unlike the flashy, high-powered beach-hopping, binge-drinking, rowdy Spring Break. It was after 2:00am on Sunday morning, just hours before I’d be heading back to school and I needed to get home and pack and maybe get some sleep, but for now my friend John and I were on the road between Franklin and Nashville, having just gone to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. We were having our usual post-Rocky debate, which we’d had thirty or so times before, but which we always had even though the singing, dancing, and general rowdiness left us exhausted. The debate was about whether there was any meaning to the movie. John argued that it was a nonsensical assemblage of songs and silliness, that it was almost random and certainly meaningless, which you’d think would be an argument-stopper, but he loved to debate. John was studying to be a lawyer, and had known he was going to be a lawyer while most of us were only thinking about whether the school cafeteria was going to be serving pudding that day. Even before starting high school John had a life plan: what classes to take, where he’d go to college, where he’d eventually go to find a law firm and what kind of cases he wanted to take. His plans didn’t always pan out but I envied him for having plans. Anyway my side of the post-Rocky debate was that there was a theme running through the movie of innocence subsumed by darkness and cynicism, as foreshadowed by the opening in which Brad and Janet sing their way to an engagement while the wedding decorations are replaced by funeral ones. It was a bleak and bitter interpretation even though I didn’t think of myself as a bleak and bitter guy, but still it was the best I could do. And then on this particular night I added something else: that innocence is fleeting and that once it’s lost we have to struggle to find meaning in amidst the uncertainty of the world. It was a bit heavy-handed, but still, at the very end, when the Criminologist says we are “some insects called the human race, lost in time, and lost in space, and in meaning” he leaves the globe lit. There is still a light in the darkness.

John was considering his response when the car shuddered and the engine knocked. He pulled over to the side of the road and the tires crunched over gravel before coming to a stop.

“Oh,” he said, “we’re out of gas.”

Source: IMDB

We were in sight of Exit 69, and John set out for a nearby gas station, leaving me with the car. Alone. A cop car came by and shone a spotlight on me without stopping. I waved, unsure what to do. At that point I felt unsure about everything. My sophomore year of college was not going well. I’d just ended a long relationship, some good friends I’d made as a freshman had transferred or dropped out, my classes were boring and I felt like I wasn’t learning anything new, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, what I wanted or what I could do. I was literally and metaphorically stuck and the road ahead, also literally and metaphorically, was dark. The woods were tempting. I started thinking about a childish fantasy I’d had for years, that I retreated to whenever things got tough. I thought I could slip off into the woods, abandoning everything. I could build a fire, make a shelter, find food and water. What else did I need?

I stepped back out of the woods when a pickup truck pulled up on the other side of the road and stopped. A guy got out of the driver’s side and John got out of the passenger’s side, carrying a gas can. We thanked the guy and he brushed it off, saying he was going our way anyway, and a few minutes later we were back on our way.

And without really knowing why I suddenly felt better about the road ahead. It was still dark, metaphorically but not literally, but all I’d needed was to stop and refuel.


Big Mouth.

A man was walking along a road at night when he found a skull. He lifted his foot to kick it when the skull spoke.

“My big mouth got me here and yours will too.”

The man bent down to examine the skull. He moved to pick it up then jumped back as it spoke again.

“My big mouth got me here and yours will too.”

The man ran to a nearby tavern to tell everyone what he’d found. A big crowd followed him out into the cold and dark. He took them to the spot where the skull lay.

“Speak!” the man cried.

The skull was silent.

“Say something!” the man cried.

The skull was still silent.

The man tapped it with his foot then kicked it.

The skull rolled over but was still silent.

The crowd began to get angry at having been come out of the warm, well-lit tavern into the cold, dark night. They started to shout at the man who insisted he’d been telling the truth. Then, in his frustration, he began lashing out at the crowd with his fists. Some of the larger men in the crowd hit back, then, as the man started to curse at them, they knocked him down and beat him severely. They kicked and punched him until he was quiet, then returned to the tavern.

As the man lay there dying he looked at the skull.

“I told you so,” said the skull.

Monsters In Jeopardy.


[Jeopardy! theme music plays. Alex Trebek stands center stage.]

ALEX TREBEK: And we’re back to this very special episode of Jeopardy! Let’s take a moment to talk to today’s contestants.

[He crosses over to the contestants.]

ALEX TREBEK: Count Dracula, you’re an undead Romanian prince. I understand you can assume the forms of a bat, a wolf, and a white mist, and you travel extensively. Tell us a little about the charity you’re playing for today.


ALEX TREBEK: Can you elaborate on that?

COUNT DRACULA: Of course. Is great need for blood in Romania. I bring people of all kinds to castle in Wallachia. I take blood and dr—uh, give…give to those who need blood.

ALEX TREBEK: That sounds like a great cause. Moving on, Frankenstein’s Monster, you’re an assemblage of body parts from different corpses. Some people call you “Frankenstein” but that was in fact the name of the doctor who first animated you.


ALEX TREBEK: Okay then. Tell us about what charity you’re playing for.


ALEX TREBEK: Yes, the Firefighters’ Association is a noble cause. All right, and our third contestant was going to be The Invisible Man but we couldn’t find him.


COUNT DRACULA: Children of the night, what music they make.

ALEX TREBEK: We were very lucky to get as a replacement the Creature From The Black Lagoon. Creature, I’ve been admiring your suit.

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON: Thank you, Alex, it’s specially designed to pump water through my gills and keep my skin moist. It’s made by Armani. But I’d really like to talk about my charity.

ALEX TREBEK: Go ahead then.

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON: It’s called River Run, an organization that purchases, preserves, and reclaims large parts of the Amazon rainforest. Once we lose biodiversity it’s impossible to get it back.

ALEX TREBEK: Well okay. Maybe later we can talk more about that suit. I get a little dry under these lights myself.

[Trebek crosses back to his podium.]

ALEX TREBEK: All right, we have one two-thousand dollar clue left in the Double Jeopardy round under the category Sci-Fi Food, and the clue is: Revenge is a dish best served cold, but this Klingon dish should be warm and wriggling.


ALEX TREBEK: That’s correct! I have to remind you again that we ask contestants to phrase responses in the form of a question, but since we’re playing for charity we’ll bend the rules again. Frankestein’s Monster, that brings your total up to seven dollars.

And now for final Jeopardy! The subject today is Renaissance Artists. Take a moment to think about that while you make your wagers.

And here’s the clue: this Italian artist was both a painter and a sculptor, known for both the Sistine Chapel ceiling and a statue of David, and he made a mean Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Thirty seconds, contestants.

[Think! music plays.]

ALEX TREBEK: All right, let’s see your answers. Count Dracula, we come to you first. You had $200 and you wrote down…“is blood”.

COUNT DRACULA: Is answer to everything.

ALEX TREBEK: And you wagered two-hundred dollars, so I’m afraid that leaves you with nothing. Next we come to Frankenstein’s Monster. You wrote down “Abby Someone”. Interesting, but incorrect. What did you wager? Nothing.


ALEX TREBEK: So you still have seven dollars. Finally we come to the Creature From The Black Lagoon who looked like he couldn’t be caught with a score of fifty-four thousand, seven-hundred dollars. Uh oh, you’re shaking your head. It looks like you wrote “Michelangelo” then crossed it out and replaced it with “Donatello”. I’m sorry, that’s incorrect. And what was your wager?

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON: I figured go big or go home, Alex.

ALEX TREBEK: You bet it all. Well, that means Frankenstein’s Monster is today’s champion. Congratulations!



%d bloggers like this: