Last night was the end of the year dinner for my students, out little in-house graduation before the official event at Bard on Saturday. A generous trustee hosts it at their house every year. The students got dolled up and we presented them with a certificate that I designed. It’s a lovely event and this year seemed especially emotional. I’m very grateful to have been able to spend the last couple of years with these people. I got a little teary during my short speech to them. Maybe it was the excellent red wine.

And now is the chance to get some of the built up pressures of the past couple of months dealt with. Through some talks with good friends I feel like I’ve developed a clearer picture of how I want the next year to go. The warm weather is helping with that as well; somehow walking out the door in just my shirtsleeves always fills me with a sense of possibilities.

Oh and the boot? A friend told me her husband has been following the blog, and so when she showed off the footwear, I told her I’d put it up here for his delectation.


How can it be almost four pm already? It’s the time of the year when everything just comes on the heels of everything else. The people I work with are short tempered and stressed. I’m trying to cultivate my calm.

I’ve also taken on a few days of additional teaching as a favor to a friend these past couple of weeks and it’s been instructive to compare the cultures of various schools.

When teaching, I always wish that I could listen more and speak less. I feel like I do alright in that regard in my regular classes, but sometimes the temptation to clarify and restate is too great when I’m in new situations. I end up feeling abashed for all my mouthiness. The classroom is an interesting situation, given that what I’m trying to teach is critical thinking as much as it is creative practice. For me, those two things have always gone hand in hand. But the trick with teaching them is that you can’t dictate them, you have to create the condition where people find their way to them. Hence the struggle to say the right thing.

Nine times out of ten, if I’m not saying something, it’s because I’m trying to figure out what to say. The situation is worsened in a medium like email, where emotions can run high and escalate at a moment’s notice. Emails seem to carry with them the injunction to be answered point for point and tone for tone, for good or for ill. I see people ratcheting up each others’ stress levels and look for a way to moderate that. But then again some people do not wish to be moderated.

Listening and breathing continue to be excellent sugestions, as much as I am tempted to ignore them.


…are what I need to buy today on the way home. But really this post is about IMsL.

This was the first Leather Contest I’ve attended, and only the second title contest (in the late 90’s I was part of helping the Metro Bears put on a run/contest that had very little impact). On the whole I have stayed away from organized leather, but if there was going to be a first one, I’m happy that it was this one. The stakes, while high for the contestants, seemed low for the rest of the event. People were there for a whole array for reasons, only one of which were the contests.

It was very interesting to be at a women’s event; my Seventies feminist training kicked in and it combined with my shyness to make me quite reticent about approaching people. I was trying to mind my ps and qs, not wanting to be intrusive and to listen twice befreo speaking once. I wasn’t always successful, but on the whole it was more relaxing than it sounds.

My class fell victim to the vagaries of San Francisco’s climate. Since what I was teaching involved smoking, it had to place outdoors, on the patio outside of the hospitality suite. This was fine when the sun was shining directly on it, but once there was no sunshine, the classroom turned chill to such an extent that people were stepping inside to watch from beyond the glass patio doors. I had to cut things a little short, both on the demonstration end and in general, because it was just getting silly. Scheduling also meant that many folks could only attend part of the class, which meant that there was a constant trickle of people in and out of the session. That tends to rattle me, and I feel like I didn’t do as good a job as I might have. I did have a stalwart demo bottom, and good friends in the audience, two factors that made the whole thing much easier.

There were many great people there to connect with, and despite the above mentioned shyness, I did have some wonderful conversations and saw some hot action. My own experience was mixed. I had one encounter go wrong on me and was really rattled by it. Luckily my friends were there to help me process it all.

Maybe its because I was fairly close to the operating staff, but the event seemed exceptionally well run to me; things happened when they were supposed to with a minimum of fuss. When that happens, it means that everyone can relax and enjoy what’s happening. Problems don’t become crises.

On the whole I feel like the women’s community is a lot more vibrant and diverse than the men’s. And it’s really interesting to me the way that a younger generation is upending questions about gender style and play. There’s a kind of giddiness in the exploration and reconfiguration of rules that speaks to my heart (and other parts, since I find that kind of energy very hot).

I don’t think I’ll ever find a place in “Leather Tradition”, and I’m not really interested in doing so in any event. But I am glad to have been a small part of IMsL. And very grateful to folks who brought me there.


Sometimes teachin’ is fun!

A great evening at TES: big turnout and people seemed to genuinely like the class.

And I had a very comfy foot rest for most of it.


Got some free time tomorrow evening? Then come by TES for my class:

“The Artist’s Way to Designing Scenes”

Things start at 8pm. Admission info and address on the TES website, which you probably shouldn’t access from work.

And then next week I’ll be teaching on cigars and pipes at IMsL. And in May I’ll be teaching at GMSA, on photography.

It seems that if it has an acronym, I’ll teach at it.

What does that have to do with the milkshake photo? No idea.

Current Book: Louis Menand – American Studies

Last night I read “The Long Shadow of James B. Conant” an essay from the above mentioned book. I case you don’t know who Conant was (I didn’t), He served as Harvard university’s president from 1933 to ’59 and was intimately involved with the creation of two items that certainly had a great deal to do with shaping my consciousness: the atom bomb and the SAT. As fascinating as that info is what really caught my eye in the essay was Menand’s capsule history of US university ideology in the twentieth century. It’s notable for its weaving together of demographic and political explanations for the rise and fall of notions like meritocracy. All of this may seem pretty opaque but it touches on a private theory of mine regarding the rise of MFA programs and departments of arts practice within liberal arts institutions during the Seventies.

At mid century College education was being touted as a “unifying force” in american society; a way codify and pass on democratic values in a society without a central religion, and with atomizing family and class structures. This was the prevailing view for the postwar generation and colleges based their curriculum around inculcating the values that were felt to be necessary for future captains of industry and government. All of this made sense while the economy was expanding but by the early seventies the US was faced for the first time since the turn of the century with a generation of people who could not expect to have a higher standard of living than their parents had. How to stop them from tearing down the society in their frustration? Train them to be artists. Why? Because in the arts, people luxuriate in a split consciousness not found any where else in society.

By being involved in the arts in American today one is able to assert something for perhaps the the first time in western history: that what one does for a living is distinct from what one is. In other words, I’m working as a waiter, but I’m an Actor. The nature of this assertion made it possible for large numbers of people to make peace with their downward mobility because they had been offered something in exchange: a notion of self as separate and untouched by occupation. And so there rose an “artist lifestyle” that valorized living in discarded commercial spaces, wearing thrift shop clothes, working in food service jobs, etc, etc. Things that twenty years earlier would have been regarded as the mark of a hobo, not of a boho.

Today most colleges have some sort of arts major and can we say that we are better off? Do we have better art, music, theater? a better society? I’m the product of such a system and I can’t say that I don’t feel subtly duped in some way, like I’ve been handed a box of milk duds and pushed to the sidelines.

Take a look at the Menand’s essay, which offers other delights, such as a prose style I can only sigh after. It actually doesn’t assert any of the things that I have just put out here, but it does provide a very different way of thinking about the supposed “culture wars on American campuses”

What, if anything, have you learned from your students, and/or the process of teaching?

Teaching continually confronts me with the dilemmas in my own process. When I talk to my students about their difficulties, their stopping places and moments of fear, I am able to see the similarities in my own situation. So from listening to the ways my students talk about what they do I have become a better reader of work. I’ve also learned not to spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not they like me. When I first started teaching I wanted to be every student’s best pal. That’s as bad as your parents trying to hang around with you all the time. Now I have better boundries around it all and it makes it easier for ervery one to relax.

What don’t you like about the art world? Are there frauds? Name names.

1. I don’t like the generalization “art world” as it lumps together many people who don’t neccisarily belong together : artists, certain writers, dealers, collectors, museum people, some notion of a public. We don’t talk about the “baseball world”. That being said, for purposes of answering the question I’ll talk about the group of people around the New York art market.
2. I don’t like assumed concensus, people who come to opinions without thinking about them. One of the galling things about being in the market is the unspoken assumption that everyone is on the same side.
3. I don’t like openings, which are really about people demonstrating to you that they showed up rather than anyone looking at the work in any real way. I go to very few, and when I have them I try to find some way to subvert them by doing a performance or something similar.
4. I don’t like the proliferation of prizes, art fairs and Biennials, for the same reason I dislike circuit parties.
5. I dislike the cult of youth that pervades the art world these days. It messes up my students, and it’s fair to say that art making is one of the things that you get better at the longer you do it. Do we want every field to have the emotional pitch of women’s gymnastics?

As for frauds; first let me say that I think it’s heartening that folks still worry about this. It means that on a deep level people want something important from art, given the way we have come to accept fraud in so many other fields as a matter of course. But in this case I think it’s hard to define fraud. On the part of artists I would say that there are failures, failures of nerve, imagination, growth, feeling. When someone tries to present these as not being faliures then I suppose you have a situation of fraud. For example, I think that for many years now David Salle has been treading water. His most recent show at Gagosian in New York was accompanied by an article in the New York Times that was full of praise for the development of the work. This I suppose was fradulent, in that it was intellectually dishonest. But when you try to talk about this as legal fraud you run up against a problem: who has been injured? The people who bought the pictures? The people who came to look at them? Also let me say that even if we could talk about fraud here the biggest art fraud in history could have gotten away with less in a life time than a VP at Enron could make off with in a week.
Here’s a clearer case: Thomas Kinkaide – the self proclaimed painter of light. Here is someone who has set up a huge business that traffics in asserted, simplified emotionality. It seems to me to be at its heart cynical and manipulitive of its audience on a level that Jeff Koons could only pretend to.

“me and my work”
“the types of work I enjoy”
“in terms of work”
“making work and seeing others make work”
Why not:
“me and my art”
“the types of art I enjoy”
“in terms of art”
“making art and seeing others make art”
Why this choice of words? Is this simply the vernacular from the “art world” that you’ve absorbed? What would Freud have to say about this? Discuss.

Two reasons: when I use “art” people tend to think only of my visual stuff, whereas I think of everything I do; sculpting, writing, teaching, lecturing, DJing, publishing, etc. as all being part of the same thing :”making work”. Secondly, “my art” just sounds too naff. I make things that make sense to me and then hopefully they will be useful for other folks as well. To the extent that they are then they become art.

Name some things that you personally “find really useful in a cultural sense.”
The plays of Richard Foreman – the books of Kathy Acker, Djuna Barnes, Samuel Delaney and Charles Dickens – the films of John Waters, Jack Smith and Terry Gilliam – the Music of Sun Ra, Patty Smith and the Velvet Underground – notebooks of Hokousai – the tattoos of Don Ed Hardy – the sock money – as a sculptor I wish I had invented it, and I still aspire to come up with something like it: a sculpture that just about anyone can make, that is ubiquitous and anonymous.

Who put the ram in the ramalamadingdong?

You know you did, dude.

Frustration and anxiety have given way to techno-covetousness, meaning that I’ve used the excuse of desktop problems to purchase a new laptop. And so this is written on a new jujitsu lifebook, , ni the air over Michigan on an jet blue flight. I’m heading to san Francisco to speak on a panel. The topic is the tenth anniversary of the Center for the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens. I’m supposed to provide the perspective of how the center fits into the art world as a whole. Usually the way I deal with these things is to wing it, that is I think about the topic an great deal, perhaps jot a couple of notes and then speak off the cuff. I can’t say I’m so sunny at the prospects of the center in any event. It’s difficult to paint much of a rosy picture of the art world in general these days, at least for me, and I’ve been thinking about the advisability of constructing “centers” in a time where every thing seems to be de-centering. Yerba Buena seems to be the result of a collision between two forces: the postwar drive to develop south of market San Francisco, a plan that originally included a sweeping demolition all the way out to the south bay and huge rebuilding, with the rise of the artists’ space movment, the flowering of artist run organizations that got its start in the seventies. So commercial and non commercial interests collided., And the result reveals the striations in SF’s art world, the contesting communities that co-exist uneasily in the bay area. Has the center actually meant a place for these groups to come together? Often it’s been regarded as the poor relation of the SFMOMA, at times by the board of the center itself.

And in the visual art world as a whole? In the 80’s and 90’s it became more and more characterized by travel, the moving around of people and objects from city to city, ultimately with the effect of killing off regionalism. Museums embraced the notion of a “world class” which meant that in effect all museums inb the world should have the same collection. The year now abounds with art fairs, biennials, art festivals and prizes, that constitute the circuit parties for this new jet set. People go around the world to see the same narrow set of compatriots and works, and of course each other. This is an internationalism divorced from any political thought, it is the market that whips everyone and everything along, hither and yon . Travel feels like experience, but it is not, and the work of art is not something lived with, but something primarily glimpsed in a booth on the way to another exhausted meeting. We have not yet seen the final fallout of this, but I glimpse it’s effects in the shell shocked way that my students turn this way and that in search of a reason to make anything.

Hmm, perhaps an essay called “How the idea of a Modern Art market stole New York”

Last night one of my students told me that she had been advised to stop painted the way she did because “abstract expressionist painting had failed” by one of my fellow faculty. I was and remain flummoxed. Failed to do what? She does have problems with her work, but honestly, not because she is working in some ‘Failed” manner. I wish I could summon the certainty to say something so silly. Assertions like that seem to me do be enormous denials of responsibility, the instructor being lazy in their response to the work and turning it around on the student . Plenty of times I walk into a graduate students studio and find myself at a loss or profoundly unsympathetic to what they’re doing. But it isn’t my job to stop them.

Sitting in the office, bushed and…and…inarticulate. Got up yesterday by accident 4:30 am (ws shooting for 5:15) and took an early train to Saratoga Springs, where my show “Some kind of Love” is now open at the Tang museum. Got in to town around noon and then went from gallery talk to lunch to student radio station to teacher talk to giving slide lecture. The only break was a bout of compulsive shopping at Target when I decided that the headphones I had brought for my cd player were wrong, wrong! and I needed to spend money on new ones. Ridiculous behavior, that was tolerated by Ian Berry, the curator who has put the show together. It’s a small retrospective of video work and walking through it was disorienting, moving , distressing , all at once. Some of the pieces have my voice in them so I was hearing myself from 14 years back or so. I also was not at the Tang to work with the installation crew, so I walked in and the show was pretty much a fait accompli. At this point there are things out there in the world that I haven’t laid hands on for almost two decades. Now when I come upon them I think, what did I have to do with this?
Couple that with the slide talk and Q and A session that followed it: Lots of people and me talking always talking about the work. Trotting out some of the jokes that I’ve been using in my slide talks for ages now. It feels very separate from what goes on when work is made. Once I start answering questions, things pick up, for me at least. I welcome these kinds of forums, and the chance to get to hear from people what they see going on with the work. After an hour and a half or so, the event is over and then it’s off to dinner with Ian, his wife and Mason, the faculty member who was interviewing me. He teaches gender studies and African-american lit and talks about how Saratoga had one gay bar, but it closed in ’97. We talk a bit about the ways that online life is killing off bars and as the meal goes on I find myself popping in and out of presentness. At times the conversation seems to be taking place in another room and I can barely understand what folks are talking about or why. I order cheese instead of dessert and a delicate, lush goat cream cheese arrives, with a warm biscuit and a fig and apricot chutney. Its like the best cream cheese and jelly sandwich ever. Dinners done, Ian drives me to the guest house and I collapse and sleep for about six hours. It’s not enough and I wake feeling hung over. Onto the train where my tiredness and grumpiness makes me ignore the stately Hudson scenery all the way down to the city. Standing in Penn Station a woman comes up to me and says “Hi! How was Bard?” I tell her I was at Saratoga and we say good bye. I’m utterly unable to say who she is, so much so that I suspect that she didn’t really know me either but only thought she did.

Autum came crashing in on NYC this weekend. The weather turned so quickly that it felt like God was channel surfing. (I’m bored! Let’s make it Fall!) And with the season has come the actual beginning of the new MFA program here at the ICP. It was unnerving to sit down in front of the incoming class of eleven (eager? guarded? cynical? hungry?) students and realize that for the next two years I was going to be helping them structure a new kind of educational experience. I found myself getting a little teary actually, as I tried to explain what I hoped we would do with this oppurtunity. Very strange all in all as I would never have thought to be the chair of a graduate program. Seven years ago when I moved back from SF, I was passing out towels to muscle queens at the Chelsea gym. Is this a step up? The next two months are an insane minefield of activity and commitments. In the past I’ve dealt with situations like this by shutting down and going into crisis mode. I hope that this time around I can do something different. One thing that is strange is that all of this is laced with making work, so that things are tumbling out in a way that I would not anticipate, and I find myself taking odd moments here and there to develop pieces. I’ve wanted to make this LJ activity a way to start to codify some of my thinking about studio practice, and now I find myself operating with only the meagerest of physical studios (about ten square feet in my apt.) and hardly any practice to speak of.