Category Archives: opinion

art and war: a thought to ponder today

 

Art and War: two extreme ends of the spectrum of human will, to create or destroy…to compose, or impose. As such, both Art and War can rarely escape (in my opinion) one of the primary social embodiments of human will: Religion. I am a man of faith, but I am also gay. This puts me on the fence between social majorities who refer to religion to condemn me, and scientists who are searching for explanations why gayness exists, and within whom I trust to find answers to counteract the condemnation. Last year, the United States officially declared an end to the war in Iraq. We have 50,000 troops stationed there for now as advisors, but as I understand we will not be fighting the war in Iraq anymore. I can’t begin to catalog all of the history or emotion involved in this seven-year war that was instigated by the strong feelings of vulnerability that we in the United States had after 9/11. But it is interesting to ponder how Religion played such a major part in both 9/11, our reaction, the Iraqi war and insurgency, and now our conflicts in Afghanistan as we wind down our Iraqi involvement. I would be very interested to see how artistic expression manifests itself in Iraq now that we have (hopefully) stabilized the country and staunched the violence in that part of the Middle East, and what part Religion will play in that region. Isn’t it time to just ask the question once and for all: IS art as important as war? Is it as transformative? Isn’t it just as innate, the urge to imagine, as the urge to fight? Isn’t it strange that in life sometimes you have to hope for the best (musical instruments) and plan for the worst (guns), and prayers are usually said for both.

-Scott

censoring glbt art and a fetish at the smithsonian

 

In Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian Institution actually had the “nerve” to assemble an exhibit of GLBT artists. Called “Hide/Seek,” this exhibit runs through February 13th of next year. There was a recent controversy around one of the exhibits: a video that shows (in part) a crucifix with ants crawling on it. Religious conservatives demanded that this “sacreligious” exhibit be closed. The museum director removed the one “offending” piece, but the Hide/Seek exhibit was not closed in its entirety.

I happen to believe that one of the most fundamental purposes of art is to create thought, dialogue, and meaning. In other words, good art should present you with new viewpoints, new ways of looking at objects and concepts that you may have never thought of before. Good art helps you decide what’s important to you and what you want to be: the ideals you want to support or aim for. This must by definition include thoughts, viewpoints, and ideas that you do not support or identify with. Good art makes you smarter and more tolerant. It educates and instructs and teaches you how to solve problems and make decisions. I’m referring to the very idea of contrast and comparison, which can take place on several different levels. I am again dismayed at the inability of religious conservatives in America to understand the purpose of art as anything other than propaganda!

I’m going to explain a few things and make it simple for those conservatives short on thought, dialogue, and meaning. The cross was a torture and execution device perfected by the Roman Empire. Crucifixions were public; crosses were erected high above busy thoroughfares and public focal points. It took several hours for those crucified to die; as a matter of fact, Jesus in the Bible died on his cross, but a centurion stabbed him with a spear to insure that the long dying process was completed in time for the Hebrew Sabbath. During these long, agonizing crucifixions, you can be sure that not only insects but several different varieties of animals crawled on the crosses, not only for the blood of the dying but for the exposed, mutilated flesh that might appeal to any carnivorous birds. It was the symbolism of Jesus’ death on the cross that fetishized the shape and symbol of the cross for Christians not long after his death. Many comparisons have been made between the cross and the Nazi swastika emblem of the Third Reich. One of the most ironic uses of the cross began in the twentieth century when the Ku Klux Klan used burning crosses to intimidate African Americans (and other minorities.) I would love to know why there has NEVER been an outcry at such a horrible distortion of the cross by the Ku Klux Klan, especially considering that Jesus Christ himself was a Jewish man from the middle east. The answer is obvious and embarrassing: those burning crosses were always lit by white conservative Christians who had no problem using symbolism as a weapon, who had lost the original Christian meaning of the cross as an incredible spiritual sacrifice by an innocent man who was horribly and brutally executed. So here’s my point: how does this one temporarily exhibited video of ants on a little plastic cross hurt their faith since it’s not really powered by the shape of a cross? One artist’s work in the exhibit shows a plastic crucifix for a few seconds with ants on it. This should provoke thought at what the cross means in the artist’s context. However, religious groups hostile to the rights of the GLBT community are trying to fetishize the idea of a cross once again as a weapon against freedom of expression. It’s no secret how terribly offended ignorant conservative Christians are by the very existence of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. We as a community have been fetishized by those conservative Christians as scapegoats for their own divorces, their own child abuse, their own sexual issues or repressions, and their own prejudices. I submit that all those groups trying to use the cross as a weapon reflect deeply on the idea of what a fetish is, what their faith should really mean to themselves, and how this almost 2,000 year-old symbol is being abused yet again: not by an artist, but by groups which have the gall to claim a powerful symbol as their exclusive weapon of choice.

-Scott

some thoughts on asheville’s bele chere

Asheville North Carolina

Asheville North Carolina

Yours Truly was born in Asheville, North Carolina, in the <ahem> late ‘60’s, and raised nearby from then until the time he left for college in the go-go eighties. This was a time in Western North Carolina when several beautiful things in the area made it a tourist destination (The Biltmore House, Folkmoot, the Highland Games, the Blue Ridge Parkway, etc.)…but downtown Asheville was not really much of a draw for visitors to the area. Because of municipal involvement in the financial collapses of the Great Depression, the city of Asheville would be paying back some crushing debt for the the next forty years, and this included the 70’s. Because of this, commercial development downtown had only produced a few modernist buildings. Painted sheet metal facades over neglected pre-war buildings was the decorative rule of downtown when Mama would take my brother and me to JC Penney for school clothes on Battery Park Avenue. I remember a school field trip through the National Climactic Data Center, just about the most non-dramatic governmental agency you could think of, housed ironically in the travertine and terra cotta gothic chaos of the Grove Arcade. How I ached to study those leering gargoyles and fly up and down those soaring spiral staircases while we walked in line from one supercomputer to another! It was a tour of “Hal 2000” in Sleeping Beauty’s castle, and I thought this was normal. Weren’t all downtowns a little dark and grimy but full of wondrous art deco and neo-gothic detail, demurely sheathed in perforated aluminum? Visualize in the midst of all this architecturally thwarted childhood a street festival, conceived among the frustrated merchants who were hanging on in those dilapidated buildings: a street festival that would be free, full of food, drink, arts and merchandise for sale, a festival that would close some downtown streets each summer and maybe drum up some sorely needed business. That’s what Asheville decided in 1978 when it founded Bele Chere (“beautiful living” in a Scottish dialect.) To be perfectly honest, almost all I ever knew about Bele Chere growing up in Asheville was when to avoid downtown on the last July weekend each year because of it:  street closings really ruin the festive effect for locals already living the culture and uninterested in bric-a-brac. Of course as adolescence arrived and I yearned for exploration, I started to attend sporadically and actually PAY to park several blocks away (madness!!) and walk to the closed off Asheville streets for fried food, art browsing, and bands on the stage. Bele Chere was mostly successful, always big news on the local television newscasts, and eyed curiously if not suspiciously by the surrounding local folk who’d already done all the cultural exploring they cared for. Fast forward thirty-two years, and today Bele Chere REALLY takes over a downtown that it arguably helped to transform. All that corrugated aluminum is gone and downtown Asheville is a thriving mountain media superstar, always ready for its closeup and humming with transplants chatting on cellphones down those same streets that were so sleepy when I was a child. Bele Chere is now the largest free festival in the southeast United States with 300,000+ visitors expected each June. There’s even a recent debate among Asheville merchants that Bele Chere is hurting their now-thriving businesses, and should maybe be moved or reconceptualized. I don’t think that will happen because Bele Chere seems to now be a festival juggernaut that could best be managed but hardly extinguished, and Asheville and Bele Chere are forever linked, basically a happy and productive marriage, minor arguments notwithstanding. If you happen to either live in or be traveling through the Asheville area in late June, I would encourage you to visit Bele Chere and see for yourself how my hometown and her annual debunante ball have thrived and grown. I might stop by myself and marvel at how much some things change and actually pay Atlanta prices for Asheville parking while Bele Chere is going on. For more details about Bele Chere, try www.belecherefestival.com.

-Scott

the arts vs. entertainment

 

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I thought long and hard about the dichotomy between art and entertainment when planning this blog.  Samuel Tinianow said that “every form of entertainment essentially has two genres: commercial and high-art.”  I agree with Mr. Tinianow but let me go a step further:  it is art that transforms the opinion, enlightens, the cause, makes the audience comfortable or uncomfortable, as needed, to shift opinion.  When we entertain ourselves, don’t we mostly know exactly how we’ll spend our time?  We usually have a pretty good idea of the subject matter, the film plot, the singer’s favorite hits, etc.  On the other hand, when you encounter art, you may or may not know the mind of the artist before the transference occurs, but you are (or should be) prepared to receive some of that “mind,” and this experience should transform the way you live in some way, in contrast to an entertaining afternoon that just fills time or fancy or fends away boredom.  Art and entertainment are however intertwined and always will be, for two simple reasons:  we tend to avoid things we know to be unpleasant, and all artists have to eat and pay their bills.

Therefore, some of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen (even repeatedly) have shifted my ideas and given me new insights into something intangible with all the power of high art: and, some of the most classic and timeless artistic expressions have left me cold and completely unmoved.  Subjectivity is the key–subjectivity with an eye towards what resonates with the contemporary audience.  This is where I want to be.  I am drawn towards the visual and performing works of art that strive to improve and enlighten; to strengthen and empower.  As an artist, I feel driven to share my mind, my visions, viewpoints, songs, impressions…and I wholeheartedly support others who feel the same.

It was at a food court, last Saturday morning, at a regional mall here in Atlanta, where I thought of this idea of entertainment vs. art while eating my french fries.  To use a food analogy, we have fast food, and we have haute cuisine.  Both have their die-hard adherents.  Both cost money.  Both get the job done on the most basic level (to fuel the body.)  Both do lend themselves well to experimentation and new things, and one can pick and choose favorites from either side.  But let’s face it, one of those types of food really doesn’t generally make you healthier, nor is it engineered for your long-term well-being.  Thus it is with entertainment and the arts.  It’s all about the choices you make for your mind.  -Scott

“glbt people make the best _______”

 

I found a recent blog post provocative.  Its main question: “In what professions do gay people excel?”

There are really two answers to this question, the politically correct answer and the stereotypically-fed answer. So let’s take them one at a time and I’ll throw in my two cents:

Politically correct: “the glbt community is in every profession, and to suggest otherwise is insinuating that we are limited in some way.”

Stereotypically-fed: “the gays make really good hairdressers and florists, actors (especially broadway and stage) and interior and fashion designers, and the lesbians are very good professional golfers and tennis players, as well as medics, and police officers.”

May I submit that the real answer is a little bit of both, simply because the politically correct answer is true and affected by “the closet,” that infamous place where some in our community feel they must stay because of occupation or stigma (male professional sports, for example.) Those professions with no visible glbt representation cannot be assumed to have no true glbt representation. This unfortunately can be the source of unimaginable irony and consternation among our community. Paging Ken Mehlman??? On the other hand, the stereotypically-fed answer is also true simply because the more expressive and rigorous, “can’t leave this job at home” careers demand transparency and personal inspiration as well as sensitivity. This is what the glbt community can more readily provide because of our learned ability to master our self-expressive skills as a physically and emotionally-persecuted minority from a very early age. For example, gay men and women learn early on to “read” both verbal and non-verbal social cues and mimic those cues to avoid persecution; as a result, we learn how to master those cues and that gives us an advantage in the creative and dramatic arts that straight people do not have. Also, those same social mores that force the glbt community to find our own authenticity do not obstruct us at a later time when we decide we want to choose a profession (ie, women in the military or sports) because we have heard “our own drum” and we follow it regardless of the constant signals designed to modify behavior in a straight world. So, in a nutshell, I believe that some professions publicly highlight our strengths more as expressive and authentic people, and some professions don’t call such attention to individuals anyway (but rather straight or narrow ideals with which we do not identify) so it’s impossible to tell. But statistically speaking, we’re in all the professions just as we’re in all families and cultures and ethnic groups. Societies are doing the convulsing and adjusting around us as a community, while we continue to live and contribute, often in anonymity. One final example was brought to mind when I considered this topic. There was a recent brouhaha about a Newsweek journalist who reviewed Sean Hayes’ performance in the recent Broadway play “Promises Promises.” Sean Hayes, as you remember, played Jack McFarland on “Will and Grace” for many years as a very effeminate gay man, so his public persona was colored as “gay” although in interviews he was very demure about his personal life (ie, sexual orientation.) As part of the pre-play publicity sweeps, Sean DID in fact come out as a gay man before he played a straight husband to Kristin Chenowith’s character in the Broadway play. Well, the Newsweek reviewer Ramin Satoodeh panned Sean’s performance as “insincere” and used the article to caution against gay actors coming out of the closet, with the reasoning being that gay actors can’t play “straight” as well as straight actors can play “gay.” What Mr. Satoodeh fails to realize, however, is that CLOSETED gay actors have played very convincing straight roles for years, and will continue to do so as long as the straight majority considers gay actors as handicapped. If any actor procured success for any length of time in the closet, he basically did a fabulous acting job in the first place to stay in the closet and fooled all the Mr. Satoodehs of the world to begin with. Get it? It’s the general public’s discomfort with sexuality that’s under the microscope here, not the abilities of gay or straight actors. A good actor should make the audience forget EVERYTHING but the performance…that’s what makes suspension of disbelief possible. I feel like I’m beating my head against the wall here. Mr. Hayes’ only handicap may have been the typecasting that usually comes from a long successful run as an unforgettable character (think of “Barney Fife” or “Cliff” from “Cheers.”) Anyhoo, glbt’s certainly make damn good actors, to begin with! And we do kick butt in the arts, if I say so myself.

-Scott

how would your arts community respond?

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Daniel Summers, Jr

A few weeks ago the Georgia State Legislature (specifically, the House) proposed a budget that “zeroed out” or removed all funding for the Georgia Council for the Arts, endangering hundreds of programs and a sizable grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. I interviewed local arts activist Daniel Summers, Jr. (pictured above) for his thoughts on the issue and his participation in a march that took place April 19th. Click below for a fascinating podcast of our audio interview (approximately 20 minutes).