“Obviously, the problem of the shadow plays a great role in all political conflicts. If the man who had this dream had not been sensible about his shadow problem, he could easily have identified the desperate Frenchman with the 'dangerous Communists' of outer life, or the official plus the prosperous man with the 'grasping capitalists.' In this way he would have avoided seeing that he had within him such warring elements. If people observe their own unconscious tendencies in other people, this is called a 'projection.' Political agitation in all countries is full of such projections, just as much as the backyard gossip of little groups and individuals. Projections of all kinds obscure our view of our fellow men, spoiling its objectivity, and thus spoiling all possibility of genuine human relationships.” ― C.G. Jung, Man and His Symbols
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
I'd like to
start by telling you how much I admired your mother and how sad I
am about her death. I was a really awkward teenager and she was
always willing to listen to what I had to say and was very encouraging
and inclusive. When I was in junior high school, my family was
pretty poor and did not buy clothes for me or my sibs. I was
painfully shy and dressed in an odd assortment of old clothes, so during one
visit Susan went through her closet and gave me several pairs of
her pants which I wore until they fell apart. Those pants gave me
tremendous self esteem. It was such a kind act and I am so, so sorry
that she died so young.
To understand a painter is to feel,
at times, that they are more paint than person. The redolence clings, as does
the slipperiness, and everything touched is left with painted
fingertips—evidence of an indivisible character. The smell, sight and feel of
paint commingle to become the one thought of oil and pigment. Honey, that
sacred humectant form, exists always, even entombed, as its sugary self. Never
drying completely, only crystallizing into more of what is. Though these
substances address different senses, their ineffability results in
synesthesia—honey is flowing everywhere, over eyelids, the scent of flowers and
metamorphoses. Let them eat paint, the only cheap thing rich enough to mutate
dumb surfaces into areas of pure thought. Alone it is just stuff, forever
waiting to be given life.
Drenched in paint, dripping in
honey—these are the messes we make, the substances of sensuous lives that, in
the theatre of reality, can only play themselves.