Today’s Quote

April 13, 2017

“Historical mythmaking is made possible only by forgetting. We have to begin, then, with the first refusal to face reality: most colonizing schemes that took root in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British America were built on privilege and subordination, not any kind of proto-democracy. The generation of 1776 certainly underplayed that fact. And all subsequent generations took their cue from the nation’s founders.”

Quote from page 5 of the Introduction to White Trash.

Today’s Quote

January 11, 2017

ta-nehisi“The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me

Spiegel & Grau, New York


Bertolt Brecht on Playwriting III

October 23, 2013

Adapted from Playwrights on Playwriting

Edited by Toby Cole

Brecht1Our own period,  which is transforming nature in so many and different ways, takes pleasure in understanding things so that we can intervene. There is a great deal to man, we say; so a great deal can be made out of him. He does not have to stay the way he is now, nor does he have to be seen only as he is now, but also as he might become. We must not start with him; we must start on him. This means, however, that I must not simply set myself in his place, but must set myself facing him, to represent us all. That is why the theatre must make what it shows seem strange.

It is an oversimplication if we make the actions fit the character and the character fit the actions; the inconsistencies which are to be found in the actions and characters of real people cannot be shown like that. The laws of motion of a society are not to be demonstrated by “perfect examples,” for “imperfection” (inconsistency) is an essential part both of motion and of the thing moved. it is only necessary—but absolutely necessary—that there should be something approaching experimental conditions; i.e., that a counter-experiment should now and then be conceivable. In short, this is a way of treating society as thought all its actions were performed as experiments.

The coherence of the character is in fact shown by the way in which its individual qualities conflict with one another.

Observation is a major part of acting. The actor observes his fellow-men with all his nerves and muscles, in an act of imitation which is at the same time a process of the mind. For pure imitation would only bring out what had been observed; and this is not enough, because the original says what it has to say with too subdued a voice. To achieve a character rather than a caricature, the actor looks at people as though they were playing him their actions, in other words as though they were advising him to give their actions careful consideration.

Without opinions and objectives one can represent nothing at all. Without knowledge one can show nothing; how could one know what would be worth knowing? Unless the actor is satisfied to be a parrot or a monkey he must master out period’s knowledge of human social life by himself joining in the war of the classes. Some people may feel this to be degrading, because they rank art, once the financial side has been settled, among the Highest Things; but mankind’s highest decisions are in fact fought out on earth, not in the heavens; in the “external” world, not inside people’s heads. Nobody can stand above the human race. Society cannot share a common communication system so long as it is split into warring classes. For art to be “unpolitical” means only that it should ally itself with the ruling group.

If you’d like to read what playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates and others have to say about the art and craft of writing for the stage, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the Search button.



Bertolt Brecht on Playwriting II

October 11, 2013

Adapted from Playwrights on Playwriting

Edited by Toby Cole

Brecht6I who am writing this write it on a machine which at the time of my birth was unknown. I travel in the new vehicles with a rapidity that my grandfather could not imagine . . . and I rise in the air, a thing that my father was unable to do. With my father I already spoke across the width of a continent, but it was together with my son that I first saw the motion pictures of the explosion at Hiroshima . . . . The new sciences may have made possible this vast alteration . . . of our surroundings, yet it cannot be said that their spirit determines everything that we do. The reason why the new way of thinking and feeling has not yet penetrated the great mass of men is that the sciences, for all their success in exploiting and dominating nature, have been sopped by the class which they brought to power . . . from operating in another field where darkness still reigns, namely that of the relations which people have to one another during the exploiting and dominating process.

(A) technique of creating detachment, known as the Alienation Effect . . . allows us to recognize its subject, but at the same time makes it seem unfamiliar. The classical and medieval theatre defamiliarized its characters by making them wear human or animal masks; the Asiatic theatre even today uses musical and pantomimic A Effects. Such devices were certainly a barrier to empathy (Einfühlung), and yet this technique owed more, not less, to hypnotic suggestion than do those by which empathy is achieved. The social aims of these old devices were entirely different from our own.

The old A Effects quite remove the object represented from the spectator’s grasp, turning it into something that cannot be altered. The new are not odd in themselves, though the unscientific eye stamps anything strange as odd. The new detachment is only designed to free socially conditioned phenomena from the stamp of familiarity which protects them against our grasp today.

To transform (ourselves) from general passive acceptance to a corresponding  state of suspicious inquiry (we) need to develop that detached eye with which the great Galileo observed a swinging chandelier. He was amazed by this pendulum motion, as if he had not espected it and could not understand its occurring, and this enabled him to come on the rules by which it was governed. Here is the outlook, disconcerting but fruitful, which the theater must provoke with its representations of human social life. It must amaze its public, and it achieves this by a technique of making the familiar seem strange.

This technique allows the theatre to make use in its representations of the new social scientific method know as dialectical materialism. In order to unearth society’s laws of motion this method treats social situations as processes, and traces out all their inconsistencies. It regards nothing as existing except in so far as it changes; in other words, is in disharmony with itself. This also goes for those human feelings, opinions, and attitudes throught which at any time the form of human social life finds its expression.

If you’d like to read what playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates and others have to say about the art and craft of writing for the stage, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the Search button.



Pity the Poor Rich

April 3, 2013

The other evening I attended the opening of an art exhibit at a tiny gallery in an old loft building on the east side of town. As I wandered among the incredibly high-priced images, I felt sorry for the people who would one day own them. My concern was justified because the people who make art are usually from the poorer classes, and the only people who can afford to buy it have to be affluent. Since the poorer group has a corner on the creative process and the rich have only money, there is a built-in opportunity for unfair trade practices. I’m convinced that the rich folk among us are being systematically exploited by a segment of the poorer population — those greedy men and women otherwise known as “artists.”

Allow me to explain. This tragically unfair situation began a long time ago, when a clever poor person noticed that rich people have more money than they know what to do with. This budding Michelangelo, or Picasso, or Judy Chicago, figured out that the rich were so busy making money that they had no time to learn how to do anything else. So the Artist (having awarded him- or herself a capital “A”) began making cute little objects — sketches and paintings and statues — and selling them to the wealthy folks to use as decorations in their offices, homes, yachts, private jets, and beach condos. Because these objects were attractive, and because the wealthy clients had no clue how they were produced, the various items took on a mystical aspect. For the rich, owning art objects quickly became spiritually chic, and before long they were paying outrageous prices for worthless artifacts and feeling enriched by the process. They were very happy — as were the sniggering Artists.

Today rich people continue on the same foolish path, but the process has been scaled-up. And the higher art prices rise and the sillier the subject matter, the more secure the wealthy folks become in their belief that the things they horde have real value. They rationalize their religious-like belief this way: The importance of an art object, they argue, is inherently aesthetic and therefore unmeasurable in objective terms. (This, by the way, is a theory originally spread by the capital “A” Artists’ themselves, and by their agents.) The rich victims are convinced that they are really buying “beauty” — as if that were possible — and they are willing to pay thousands of dollars for, say, a small painting of a tree. The Artist, of course, would rather look at the real tree for free, and on the side grind out a gross of pictures to foist on the gullible rich. Of course poor people know that any object that cannot be eaten or worn is of no real worldly value. This fact is lost on the rich because, never having been hungry, they have no rational point of reference. Dealing with graduates of the art school of “hard-knocks,” they are at a huge disadvantage. That’s why I pity them. When it comes to so-called art, the rich are little children attracted to bright objects, and they need to be protected from their own ignorance.

Since I believe that most “Art” is an illusion created by self-anointed Artists for one purpose only, to separate the rich from their disposable income (here defined as any money over the amount needed to live comfortably, which is most of what the rich possess), a way must be found to protect the wealthy class from art class grifters. For starters, I propose a law banning the sale of art objects to persons with annual incomes over $500,000. I know that poor people will claim that any money taken from the rich, by whatever method, is simply fair wealth redistribution, but I disagree. The poor may think of it as normal “capitalistic art commerce,” but I say it’s the blatant exploitation of one economic class by another, and in a just society this situation cannot be allowed to continue. After all, what if the tables were turned?

Originally titledPeople Who Buy Art Shouldn’t Read This,” the essay was published in the May 25, 1979 Baltimore Evening Sun. The angry reaction to it by several of my artist friends — who seemed to have taken it personally —  totally surprised me. Oh well, I guess that’s what I get for playing with satire. My “gag” cartoon, above, was not used to illustrate the first version of the essay — it didn’t exist then — but it strikes me as apt. 

This is an edited re-post from August 21, 2008
Copyright © 2013 Jim Sizemore.

Today’s Gag

October 2, 2008

THE CONSULTANT

To purchase reprint and/or other rights for this cartoon, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit the CartoonStock website by clicking the sidebar link.

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


Pity the Poor Rich

August 21, 2008

The other evening I attended the opening of an art exhibit at a tiny gallery in an old loft building on the east side of town. You know the one, it’s in that gentrified area near what used to be our run-down but still working harbor. As I wandered among the incredibly high-priced images and sculptures, I felt sorry for the people who would one day own them. At first that seemed a bit strange, but I felt my concern was justified because the people who make art are usually from the poorer classes, and of course the only people who can afford to buy it have to be affluent. Since the poorer group has a corner on the creative process and the rich have only money, there is a built-in opportunity for unfair trade practices. The rich folk among us are being systematically exploited by a greedy segment of the poorer population—men and women otherwise known as “artists.”

Allow me to speculate on how this tragically unfair situation came about. One day, a long time ago, a clever poor person noticed that rich people have more money than they know what to do with. This budding Michelangelo or Picasso or Judy Chicago figured out that the rich were so busy making money that they had no time to learn how to do anything else. So the Artist (having awarded him- or herself a capital “A”) began making cute little objects—sketches and paintings and statues—and selling them to the wealthy folks to use as decorations in their offices, homes, yachts, private jets, and beach condos. Because these objects were attractive, and because the wealthy clients had no clue how they were produced, the various items took on a mystical aspect. For the rich, owning art objects quickly became spiritually chic, and before long they were paying outrageous prices for worthless artifacts and feeling enriched by the process. They were very happy—as were the sniggering Artists.

Today rich people continue on the same foolish path, but the process has been scaled-up. And the higher art prices rise and the sillier the subject matter, the more secure the wealthy folks become in their belief that the things they horde have real value. They rationalize their religious-like belief this way: The importance of an art object, they argue, is inherently aesthetic and therefore unmeasurable in objective terms. (This, by the way, is a theory originally spread by the capital “A” Artists’ themselves, and by their agents.) The rich victims are convinced that they are really buying “beauty,” as if that were possible, and they are willing to pay thousands of dollars for, say, a small painting of a tree. The Artist, of course, would rather look at the real tree for free, and on the side grind out a gross of pictures to foist on the gullible rich. Of course smart poor people know that any object that cannot be eaten or worn is of no real worldly value. This fact is lost on the rich because, never having been hungry, they have no rational point of reference. Dealing with graduates of the art school of “hard-knocks,” they are at a huge disadvantage. That’s why I pity them. When it comes to so-called art, the rich are little children attracted to bright objects, and they need to be protected from their own ignorance.

Since I believe that most “Art” is an illusion created by self-anointed Artists for one purpose only, to separate the rich from their disposable income (here defined as any money over the amount needed to live comfortably, which is most of what the rich possess), a way must be found to protect the wealthy class from art class grifters. For starters, I propose a law banning the sale of art objects to persons with annual incomes over $300,000. I know that poor people will claim that any money taken from the rich, by whatever method, is simply wealth redistribution, but I disagree. The poor may think of it as just normal “capitalistic art commerce,” but I say it’s the blatant exploitation of one economic class by another, and in a just society this situation cannot be allowed to continue. After all, what if the tables were turned?

This post is a slight revision of my essay titled “People Who Buy Art Shouldn’t Read This,” originally published in the May 25, 1979 Baltimore Evening Sun. The angry reaction to it by several of my “Artist” friends, who seemed to have taken it personally, and not in a spirit of fun as intended, totally surprised me. Oh well, I guess that’s what I get for playing with fire . . . uh, I mean playing with satire. (The gag cartoon above wasn’t used to illustrate the first version of the essay—it didn’t exist then—but it strikes me as apt. Click on the image for a larger view.) Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.