toward a theory

Another weird testing week at high school… Today, a few kids and I were chatting. They have perfect comic timing; one described his ideal car down to the rims, and, without missing a beat, another boy said, ‘You’d only have that car for one day; and then, you’d be looking at some blocks’. A third chimed in with a riff about a neighborhood pit crew coming along to relieve the first boy of his vehicle. I thought that was so funny! I told the kids I would love it if we could just write and film that exchange, that my dream school would be one where we’d have ideas and the liberty to try them out.

We have resources. We don’t have liberty.

For the past few days, too, I’ve been thinking about writing a 10-item manifesto for making community art where a main point would be:

  • Use only materials that are already in circulation – avoid shopping;

I haven’t quite formulated the wording for the other items. Heck, it might only be a 5-item manifesto, I don’t know, but a few other ideas I’ve been mulling are:

  • Stay true to form as envisioned regardless of available materials – bend to the ideal and the reality;
  • Install work in places frequented as community members rather than as artists;
  • Work in familiar places/spaces;
  • Consider the real intended audience…

Things along these lines are important to me because I think community-based art should blend seamlessly into the fabric of life, and, like songs, should be readily and abundantly available. When a specific ‘thing’ is needed, it’s there precisely, appropriately.

Lucas and I were just talking about the human condition. Well, I said I was anxious and overwhelmed but good and he called that the human condition. I agreed that this is all Sisyphean. He said that he keeps a picture of Sisyphus on his desk at work and I said that I quote back the end of Camus’ essay to myself: One must imagine Sisyphus happy1.

And I just wonder… I mean, we humans, we answer the questions and we fill voids with whatever’s available, and the ideas in art are truly meant to respond to (if not answer) those questions and resonate in (if not fill) voids. Art is necessary, not a luxury.2

And, so, for these and other reasons, I believe that, in both education and art, a workshop model is best.

  1. The original is, “Il faut imaginer Sysiphe heureux.” This is one of those tricky little French-to-English translations that lay linguists like myself will use to argue that language shapes perspective. “One” and “Il” don’t mean the same thing. “One” is “an individual” or “the individual”. “Il” is literally “he”. But my inner me, the one that learned French as a child understands this “Il” as a kind of community-free “we”, truly neutral, even as the adult critical thinking me says, ‘well, that’s how they get you, isn’t it? With their perfectly ‘neutral’ ‘he’…’ I’d like to say I like the French sentence better, but I don’t. It is too neutral, too cold (the child’s ear for French isn’t easily overridden by adult reckoning). I like the English version. That ‘One’ is so crisp, such a stiff-upper-lip nudge up the hill…) ↩︎
  2. I’m reading texts on labor and debt and I wonder why I even contemplate (read: question my motives for) engaging in these endeavors free of remuneration after a long day at my (marginally compensated) job. ↩︎