Monthly Archives: May 2014

Literary Greats on Censorship

Meditations on and responses to censorship from a selection of literary heroes from the past century.

In Mrs. Warren’s Profession (public library), George Bernard Shaw puts it in the most deterministic terms possible:

All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.

In September of 1965, Susan Sontag wrote in her diary, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980:

I am against censorship. In all forms. Not just for the right of masterpieces — high art — to be scandalous.

But what about pornography (commercial)?
Find the wider context:
notion of voluptuousness à la Bataille?
But what about children? Not even for them? Horror comics, etc.
Why forbid them comics when they can read worse things in the newspapers any day. Napalm bombing in Vietnam, etc.

A just/ discriminating censorship is impossible.

In 1985, when the Public Library in Nijmegen decided to remove Charles Bukowski’s Tales of Ordinary Madness (public library) after a complaint from a reader, declaring it “very sadistic, occasionally fascist and discriminatory against certain groups (including homosexuals),” a local journalist reached out to the author for a response. Bukowski immediately fired off an altogether brilliant letter, which included a direct shot at the essence of censorship:

“Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can’t vent any anger against them. I only feel this appalling sadness. Somewhere, in their upbringing, they were shielded against the total facts of our existence. They were only taught to look one way when many ways exist.”

Happy New Year

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

Shaking up Street Art

Take a leisurely walk through your nearest metropolis, and you’ll find skyscrapers reaching out to the heavens, innovative housing units sprawling from one space to another, oases of vintage architecture stuffed in unassuming pockets.

Urban beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, but — despite the undeniably stunning forms — most cityscapes are drenched in a pretty limited color palette. Gray, brown, off-white and a slew of metallic shades; downtowns are not designed with a rainbow of hues in mind.

Perhaps that’s one reason we have street artists.

Equipped with spray paint, wheatpastes, stencils, stickers and more, street artists have a knack for infusing the most dull of urban centers with the most vibrant colors of the visual spectrum. Their work is far from a tag here and there — today’s masterminds adorn massive structures from towers to bridges with their signature aesthetics. From cartoonish to hyperreal to abstract to political, the world of street art is a rich and complex genre that pushes the limits of contemporary art with each explosions of red, blue and yellow.

“Street artists have been part of the conversation on the street for decades now, making powerful suggestions to architects and city planners” Jaime Rojo and Steven Harrington, the minds behind Brooklyn Street Art, write. “So maybe it’s worth taking another look at what they’ve been up to lately.”

With that directive in mind, we’ve compiled a list of 25 contemporary street artists who are shaking up the way we see public art. In an effort to continue our exploration of an art form dominated by big names like Banksy and Shepard Fairey, here’s a list of international stars you may or may not worship already.

Behold, a trek around the world in street art:

1. Jaz (Born in Argentina)
2. Os Gemeos (Based in Brazil)
3. ROA (Based in Belgium)
4. C215 (Based in France)
5. Reka (From Australia, Based in Germany)
6. Phlegm (Based in London, UK)
7. Escif (From Valencia, Spain)
8. Aakash Nihalani (Based in New York)
9. Moneyless (Based in Italy)
10. Ganzeer (Based in Egypt)
11. Tellas (From Italy)
12. Blu (Based in Italy)
13. Swoon (Based in Brooklyn, NY)
14. Hyuro (Born in Argentina, Based in Valencia, Spain)
15. Sheryo (From Singapore)
16. Pixel Pancho (Based in Italy)
17. How & Nosm (Born in Spain — of German heritage, Based in Brooklyn, NY)
18. Vhils (Based in Portugal)
19. Know Hope (Based in Tel Aviv, Israel)
20. JR (Based in France)
21. Aryz (Based in Barcelona, Spain)
22. Gaia (Based in Baltimore, MD and Brooklyn, NY)
23. Interesni Kazki (Based in Ukraine)
24. FAILE (Based in Brooklyn, NY)
25. Maya Hayuk (Based in New York)

Self Esteem

Art should take what is complex and render it simply. It takes a lot of skill, human understanding, stamina, courage, energy, and heart to do that. It takes, most of all, what a great scholar of artists and educators, Maxine Greene, calls “wide-awakeness” to do that. I am interested in the artist who is awake, or who wants desperately to wake up.

“Real self-esteem is an integration of an inner value with things in the world around you.”

“Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs,” Joan Didion wrote in her timeless meditation on self-respect. But how can character be cultivated in such a way as to foster that prized form of personal dignity, along with its sibling qualities of confidence and self-esteem?

Confidence is a static state. Determination is active. Determination allows for doubt and for humility — both of which are critical in the world today. There is so much that we don’t know, and so much that we know we don’t know. To be overly confident or without doubt seems silly to me.

Determination, on the other hand, is a commitment to fight the good fight.

Equally important, and arguably even trickier to navigate, is the question of self-esteem — that elusive quality so vital to our spiritual flourishing yet, due to our human fallibility, so fragile amidst the world’s constant and mostly unsolicited feedback and input.

Not unlike the false validation of prestige, to peg our measure of self-worth on external validation is to commit ourselves to a never-ending cycle of disappointment — a seemingly simple observation that feels increasingly hard to internalize in our culture of “likes” and everyone’s-a-critic commentary.

In the arts, value … is like a yo-yo. You can’t base your self-esteem on how well your work is selling or on how well it’s received.

Instead, consider the essence of what self-esteem actually means and why it matters:

Self-esteem is that which gives us a feeling of well-being, a feeling that everything’s going to be all right — that we can determine our own course and that we can travel that course. It’s not that we travel the course alone, but we need the feeling of agency — that if everything were to fall apart, we could find a way to put things back together again.

More than a form of self-soothing, however, self-esteem is also a powerful conduit for effecting change in the world:

Some people seem to be able to organize themselves around big ideas, and others cannot. This has to do with self-esteem. Self-esteem for creative people is important inasmuch as it is a part of what helps you organize yourself and others around an idea, so that it can come to fruition.

Ideas are a dime a dozen; to make them real takes consistent, persistent application of energy toward that idea. Self-esteem is a foundation.

While acknowledging, as modern psychology does, that the foundations of self-esteem itself are laid down during childhood, through our upbringing and our early experiences, Admonish yourself against relinquishing personal responsibility in the architecture of character and self-esteem, and reminds yourself that we are the sole custodians of our own center and worth:

Self-esteem cannot really be built from the outside. You begin to see the real evidence that you can, in fact, affect the things around you. These experiences ultimately integrate themselves inside — if that foundation is there. Self-esteem does not come from surrounding yourself with people and things that seem to increase your value. Real self-esteem is an integration of an inner value with things in the world around you.

It’s about your worth. Your self-worth… You — and only you — can ultimately put the price tag on that.

Your tag reveals not only how you value yourself, but how imaginative and original you are about valuing others. In my experience, happier people are people who have not only a high price tag on themselves, but a high price tag on the people around them — and the tags don’t necessarily have to do with market value. They have to do with all the sense that adds up to human value.