Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Brooklyn Rail print essay: Embracing the Unseen (commission from David Levi Strauss, who asked 15 alumni from his MFA program to write on criticism)


Embracing the Unseen

I came to the art world because many people here are invested, as I am, in innovative political discourse. As I ventured further in, I found artists, writers, and thinkers who cared deeply about issues of social justice, and who were able to broaden and reframe the ideologies affiliated with these subjects by passing them through the lenses of art and aesthetics. The art world is, equally, a realm where believing goes beyond seeing: pure, untamed thought is rendered on blank pages and empty gallery walls. That is what makes it brave and exciting. Unfortunately, I have also found that the most potentially world-changing ideas born here tend to grow up and die here, without ever venturing outside the art world’s provincial little thought bubble.

I am someone who used her education to transcend the world she was born into. My parents were working class, and before and after I left my town as a teenager, I experienced many of the attendant difficulties of that life. Possessing this identity, I often feel like I inhabit two disparate worlds at one time. I am seen, predominantly, as the well-educated woman I have constructed myself to be, who has been afforded many opportunities to write, teach, and travel. And I am unseen, as a Massachusetts mill town girl who feels like her core identity is overlooked in favor of a more straightforward visual representation.

Our recent U.S. election describes a country unknown even to itself, blindly searching for a way out of a system that has infected its members with an unnamed suffering. I know exactly what this suffering tastes like. While I condemn their hatred-embracing choice, I can feel in my blood and bones why so many people voted as they did. They feel invisible, and are filled with a poisonous, misdirected rage. I also know, firsthand, that the more politically-oriented side of the art world has not, as of late, deigned to fully adjust its own clannish tendencies and obscurant homily in favor of constructing a broader public discourse. This dooms the conceptual thinking that transpires within it to be useless, if not altogether hostile, to a wider public.

This needs to change—before our new leadership threatens to change us—and will not do so if the art world continues to value thinking purely for the thought of it. Art writers need to move away from producing “insider baseball” prose, and begin to formulate and distill the political ideas brewed in our galleries, museums, classrooms, and art spaces to service a politicized readership beyond the (by now notional) creative class. And more artists, in a model brought forth by Theaster Gates, Suzanne Lacy, and others, need to use their political acumen to create an actionable community realpolitik (and perhaps—now that the floodgates are opened—even real politicians). If we want this world to mirror our most thoughtful, meaningful, and humanistic social objectives, it is time for us to stop looking only to, and at, ourselves.

CONTRIBUTOR
AIMEE WALLESTON is a writer and editor who has worked for magazines including W, Interview, Jane and The Last Magazine. She has contributed essays and reviews to Art in America, T Magazine, Flash Art and The Brooklyn Rail, among many other publications. She currently writes cultural criticism for CR Fashion Book and teaches at the International Center of Photography. She received her MFA in Art Criticism and Writing from SVA in 2009.




Wednesday, November 30, 2016

ON INTERNET JOURNALISM

BARACK OBAMA IN ROLLING STONE 

So how do you think we go about stitching the country back together?Well, the most important thing that I'm focused on is how we create a common set of facts. That sounds kind of abstract. Another way of saying it is, how do we create a common story about where we are. The biggest challenge that I think we have right now in terms of this divide is that the country receives information from completely different sources. And it's getting worse. The whole movement away from curated journalism to Facebook pages, in which an article on climate change by a Nobel Prize-winning scientist looks pretty much as credible as an article written by a guy in his underwear in a basement, or worse. Or something written by the Koch brothers. People are no longer talking to each other; they're just occupying their different spheres. And in an Internet era where we still value a free press and we don’t want censorship of the Internet, that's a hard problem to solve. I think it's one that requires those who are controlling these media to think carefully about their responsibilities, and [whether there] are ways to create a better conversation. It requires better civics education among our kids so that we can sort through what's true and what's not. It's gonna require those of us who are interested in progressive causes figuring out how do we attract more eyeballs and make it more interesting and more entertaining and more persuasive.
Maybe the news business and the newspaper industry, which is being destroyed by Facebook, needs a subsidy so we can maintain a free press?The challenge is, the technology is moving so fast that it's less an issue of traditional media losing money. The New York Times is still making money. NPR is doing well. Yeah, it's a nonprofit, but it has a growing audience. The problem is segmentation. We were talking about the issue of a divided country. Good journalism continues to this day. There's great work done in Rolling Stone. The challenge is people are getting a hundred different visions of the world from a hundred different outlets or a thousand different outlets, and that is ramping up divisions. It's making people exaggerate or say what's most controversial or peddling in the most vicious of insults or lies, because that attracts eyeballs. And if we are gonna solve that, it's not going to be simply an issue of subsidizing or propping up traditional media; it's going to be figuring out how do we organize in a virtual world the same way we organize in the physical world. We have to come up with new models.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

INTERNET HOAX


by Aimee Walleston 

I am usually not driven to write things on my own. I like commissions, and I like being paid for my writing. But I have thought about how much the internet as a global consciousness has changed the face of social interaction (not to mention political interaction), and I feel like it’s time to start a new conversation.

I used to take a lot of pictures of myself when I was young, a few beats before the epoch of the selfie. I was possessed of extremely low self-esteem, and I thought, by constantly monitoring my appearance, I would somehow keep myself one step ahead of hating myself. It didn’t work, but I gave it my all.

Eventually, I began to care about what was going on beneath the surface, and I spent a lot of time reaching into myself through gestalt therapy and spirituality. My personality refined itself, and I stopped looking for outward approval—from myself and from others. I let myself be how I was, and I began to see myself as an internal process rather than an external performance. That made me very happy. I was no longer just another image to endlessly critique. I was a human. And I didn’t even have to be an “identity”—I could just be myself. An evolution.

Now, however, I have another identity to worry about, if I so choose. Not one I have selected or even encountered—nothing “real”—but one that has been projected upon me by “the internet.” In this identity, I am, among many other things, a writer, a loser, a teacher, an orphan, and a bridesmaid—one trumping the other, depending on the day.

I have had no choice ad no agency in this identity. Being a writer, in 2009 I decided to archive my work digitally on this blogspot account. That was and continues to be my foray into “social media.” If it could even be called that. After creating this archive, technologies changed—and changed and changed and changed. I soon saw people professionalizing their smallest accomplishments online. But I never felt like I wanted to promote or express myself in this manner. I’m a deep person. I take my intellect—and my personal and professional relationships—seriously. So I stuck with this arcane blog modality, because I thought if I just chose not to participate, I would be promoting what I choose to value: genuine human connection. But I am an outlier, more so by the day.

What we have constructed with our little baby internet is a place darker and more psychologically complex than the Jungian shadow or the Freudian id. It is a place driven and riven by black hearted impulses umbrella’d under the safety of inhuman connection. As a consciousness, the internet reads the energetic temperature of our world—which in this moment is frightening—and responds accordingly, with endless crusades against whomever one is hating on that particular day. It has no ethics, no morals, and no accountability. No reflection, no remorse, and no capacity for emotional evolution. And it is controlled and deftly wielded by people who mirror this spiritual stagnancy. They are criminals, yet they don’t have the guts to commit actual in-the-flesh crime. Instead, they empty their bullets onto their screens.

This is not the consciousness I choose to live in, and these are not the voices I choose to listen to. I don’t believe in hating someone I don’t know. I don’t believe in hating someone I do know. I don’t believe I know best how someone should live or behave. I don’t believe that “everyone should have a voice” if that voice spews derision, venom and hate. I don’t believe in online revenge. I don’t believe in unhealed souls unloading their unconscious projections onto others online, safe in the knowledge that they won’t have to deal with them “IRL”—cowardice by any other name. I don’t believe in remunerating or in any way rewarding those who promote hate.

I don’t believe that the world is unequivocally better with the internet. I don’t believe that this statement will ever be true until the world understands how to make the internet better. And then acts on this understanding.

I have one solution, and I would beg for others to follow suit. Stop engaging in hate dialogues, in all forms. Even if it’s hate against someone who outwardly appears to deserve it. Even if it’s low-key hate, wrapped in “criticism.” Stop reading hate, stop responding to hate, stop endlessly discussing hate. When hate starts talking to you in real life, walk away from it. Look inward and find your own truths—don’t respond to hate out of envy or fear or weakness or the need to belong. There are better, smarter and more productive ways to ignite change. One big one would be to consume and produce intelligent, thoughtful and factually accurate content that leans toward a humanistic agenda, rather than away from it.

And, FYI, any cursory reading of almost all Buddhist and most psychoanalytic texts will tell you exactly where the hate you’re rolling around in is really stemming from. (Hint: it’s self-hatred.)

I will continue to post my writing work on my little blogspot account, and I will continue to avoid almost all other aspects of the social internet (which now, unfortunately, means many news outlets) until they become a safe space for all. This is not wimp or wallflower mentality. This is a fight to uphold the civic ideals of truth, compassion and justice—the things that make a real life worth living.