Thursday, November 22, 2007

Utopias big and small

As far as the big literary Utopias go there's nobody better to describe a brief history than Margaret Atwood in her article published this weekend in the London Guardian. In our longing to have everything, and to have it all be perfect, human beings have a strong tendency to build imaginary worlds. It could be argued that most creative activity, albeit some with much more skill than others, is based on our individual visions of a better world. In the article she discusses the diverse possible futures foreseen by two of the 20th centuries better known authors: George Orwell's '1984' and Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World'. Both of them wrote about future Dystopian societies growing out of the industrial and war profiteering cultures that were burgeoning between two world wars. As the Utopian dreams of the 19th century were being made irrelevant there were many who saw limitless expansion as a Utopia yet to come. Orwell and Huxley both provided excellent forewarning of the price to be paid for allowing optimism to overcome understanding.

It's always a little too easy to imagine the past as having been better than the present simply because we can't go there. It's over but since we can look back while wearing any style of rose colored glasses we choose we can make any time period into one that would have suited us, as we know ourselves now, quite admirably. We like to daydream and there's nothing wrong with that but we should keep in mind that life is always imperfect and our real choices are few no matter when or where we live.

So far as small Utopias are concerned this is one we've been enjoying for nearly two years. The story was written by a young Korean and is from one of the game pages my husband frequents. It reminds us that the best presents don't have to be real in the physical sense and that the only true Utopia is the one that feeds your heart.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays to come.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

He read all the papers

and forgot everything immediately - clever boy. There are times when I really worry about all the things I have to remember - pin numbers, log-ons, passwords, names, addresses, phone numbers, friend's dietary restrictions etc. etc. You get the idea. Then we worry about getting senile the minute we can't remember where we put our glasses, or car keys, or did we turn off the iron, lock the door and where the hell did I park the car?

It seems to me that not too many generations ago we didn't have to remember so much stupid stuff to be able to get along in the world. You always knew where you lived and, so long as it wasn't your town's turn to be burned, raped and pillaged, you could be pretty sure of not losing your way home or getting killed on the way. Even senility probably had its advantages since everybody knows old people remember every little thing that used to be including where everything goes, when it's the right time to plant the crops and the names and habits of all the locals who were young when he/she was also young. These reminiscences provided a lot of entertainment on long summer afternoons and cold winter nights. People weren't looking at their watches and wondering if it was too late to get Grandpa signed up at the nursing home and still be able to catch David Letterman.

Although people didn't have to remember new log-ons every other time they signed on their computer at work what's really amazing is the things some of them did remember. The Bhagavad Gita, one of the oldest and longest stories in human history, wasn't written down until a couple of thousand years ago when it was finally transcribed in Sanskrit after about four thousand years of being memorized by one generation of priests after another. Until Gutenberg, if you wanted to know bible history or how to build a ship, you had to memorize it and even then you couldn't very well walk around with a fifty pound book.. or three. People, lots of people, remembered things. I sometimes wonder, if we lost all these high and low tech memory aids, if we'd revert to just remembering the important stuff.. like how to bake a cake for somebody's birthday rather than sending an e-card?

The picture here lives on our wall - a print by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo - who really got it right with the following:

Thursday, November 8, 2007

art for art's sake 2


















Last year I was asked if I'd be willing to make a scarf for a long-time 'angel friend'. Now I really don't get the whole concept of that kind of friend since as I recall it was some weird market ploy developed by a company to sell base metal pins - but what do I know? My concept of angels isn't one that allows them to be anything other than enormous, magnificent beings totally beyond imagination.. frightening, in fact. Who in their right mind would want to meet the archangel Gabriel? But the lady who asked is a sweet woman who explained her friend was going through a very bad year and that she would dearly love to give her something special.

I must explain that I've never felt good about commissioned work - passed up an offer by Hallmark cards once because I knew I'd never be able to draw to order. I've never offered my services as an illustrator for the same reason but the lady talked me into it and so, in a fit of enthusiasm, I agreed. Right from the start I knew it had been a bad decision but I was stuck with having made the promise. The first scarf was so awful I threw it away after two weeks of salvage work. These are the two 'angels' that eventually looked okay enough and I handed the piece over with the promise to self never to make anything to order again. I've wondered if I'll see a stranger on the street and recognize her simply by the eight foot long silk scarf she's decided to show the world that day. It would be interesting.

Meanwhile it's much easier to work at a full-time job and save the creative side for when the time and inclination arrive.

Monday, November 5, 2007

an old favorite

Robert Crumb has always been one of my favorite artists and certainly one of the least appreciated American cultural chroniclers, at least in this country. He gave up on the place years ago and very sensibly moved to the south of France - nice climate, good cheese, great wine and a population who know how to treat a genius.

Of all his characters Mr. Natural is the most profound example of a practitioner of crazy wisdom. His perpetual idiot student is Flakey Foont who knows Mr. Natural has something special going on but is himself far too literal minded to actually get any of it. No matter how many times Mr. Natural whacks Flakey with a stick or shows him how to get along in the world Flakey always misses the point entirely.

When R. Crumb developed Mr. Natural a lot of people I knew were reading the Carlos Castaneda books about the Mexican mystic Don Juan and his attempts to teach Carlos to be a warrior. Carlos was much more successful than Flakey and in actuality probably invented Don Juan after stealing research done by other anthropologists but that's another story. I think Crumb understood that aspect as well as the basic misapprehension by naive 60's youth of just how tricky the tricksters actually are.

I think if more people had paid attention to R. Crumb's assessment of the state of American culture back then instead of writing him off as an eccentric cartoonist we'd be in a lot less trouble now.