Just Because: A Response to a Review of Loser Comix #2

“As learned commentators view
In Homer more than Homer knew.”
Jonathan Swift
from “On Poetry,” 1733

Before responding to the review in question (hence, the title of this little waste of time), I’d like to say an honest thanks to Rob Clough for actually taking some time to look at the book.  No one else bothered to do so, not in any critical sense, and what he said, inasmuch as it is accurate — and, to be sure, there is plenty of truth in what he wrote — is useful for me.

Alien eyes on your work and an honest report back what was experienced and judged is worth more than gold to an artist.  There is no anger or recrimination in what I’m about to say (however slightly sarcastic it may sound).  In fact, I highly recommend his blog, HIGH-LOW and many others do as well.  It received an award for being a top 75 comics blog and I have absolutely no argument with that: he earned it.

The link to the review of LOSER COMIX #2 and other books, 20 March 2017, is here: http://highlowcomics.blogspot.com/2017/03/short-mini-reviews-dzender-tyamamoto.html

By all means, read it and his other reviews.  I do so.

As you can see, gentle reader, I quoted Swift at the start, so one could get some notion that I don’t completely agree with the review.  In fact, it is mysterious to me how it came to be reviewed by Mr. Clough at all.  he reviews mini-comics; this is NOT a mini-comic.  And I didn’t send it to him.

LC #2 was published in 2014 — it is now 2017 and I’ve moved far beyond the  approaches in that set of works… most of which were made prior to 2014.  So, who knows why anyone would send him old, (in some senses) obsolete work that doesn’t fit the category of books he reviews?

Perhaps as a favor; perhaps as a sort of insult.  Who knows?

And who cares?  I don’t.  It’s simply odd.

But it does call for some sort of response as that is now hanging around on the internet and people read it and may have walked away with an impression that, while partially true, is partially problematic.  As I am interested more than bothered, I thought I’d say a few words… with pictures to illustrate my points.

I will quote liberally from the review as this, too, is a review and I make absolutely nothing from these essays… in spite of the donate button.  Internet = “free,” it seems, so, there you go.

Mr. Clough writes:
Loser Comix #2, by Richard Van Ingram. These are underground comics in the tradition of Robert Crumb and Skip Williamson, full of heavily-rendered drawings that parody pop culture and politics. This issue was the end result of a Kickstarter campaign and it shows, with high production values and full color throughout. ”

Yes, these ARE underground comix in that tradition, especially that of Skip Williamson.  Less Crumb whom I find extremely talented yet overrated.  He believes his own press and feigns a sort of self-deprecating humility in his works.  As for sexual weirdness, S. Clay Wilson was so bizarre as to be hilarious – Crumb is a pale imitation and, often, not hilarious but disturbing.  Either way, none of my books thus far contains much sexual weirdness, not that I am opposed to such — it’s just not my shtick.

Feh.  Actually, I am for more influenced by Spain Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton, Jaxxon, Dave Sheridan, and any number of others.  The list is very long.

Yes, I often crosshatch.  No, I didn’t learn it from Crumb – he didn’t invent the technique.  I’m influenced by Hogarth and Goya’s print work; I have a degree in printmaking as an intaglio and relief printer (and an advanced degree in philosophy, but who cares?).  At this point, I’m pushing 52 years of age.  I learned to draw with pens as a very, very small child, not pencils.  50 odd years with pens in hand.  So, there we go.

The book was printed after a Kickstarter campaign that was more successful than I could dream — so I did have good printing.  As an object, the thing looks good.

LOSER COMIX #2, Richard Van Ingram 2015
LOSER COMIX #2, Richard Van Ingram 2014

[First tip – this drawing was made in 2012.  One can clearly read the date – as one can on all the work in the book.  Many of the things in this book were years old by the time they saw print in ’14.  Welcome to poverty and indie-publishing.  But keep that fact in mind as we go: It’s somewhat important.]

Mr. Clough writes:
“There’s a plague story that’s a thinly-veiled political allegory that has some genuinely funny lines and a densely inked, horrific quality to the art. Van Ingram’s visual sense is perhaps a couple of steps ahead of his ideas,….”

Well, yes, there is such a story — chapter one of “RETURN OF THE PLAGUE.”  I’ve never published the rest of it, so it remains to be seen whether and what I have here is an allegory, thinly-veiled or not, and whether or not, taken all together, what one has is a deeper set of symbols with much more than a simple or simplistic political meaning.  I think that’s a reductionist reading that comes from skimming, not really paying attention to the references in the piece, and not mentioning that it is one chapter, not the whole story.  In fact, I’m afraid one of the drawbacks, if not the main drawback in Clough’s review is that he skimmed the comic and didn’t really read it.

Yes, this may be my fault — perhaps my writing is horrible or trite.  But as comix are primarily a visual medium and the meaning comes from synthesizing any words with the images, I’d hope my visual sense is primary.  Whether it’s ahead of my ideas – as the visuals are the concretization of the ideas — I find difficult to accept.  We’ll see.

[First, a splash page. Yes, there’s a nude. We’ll get back to that.]

OK. There’s “RETURN OF THE PLAGUE” Part One.

Some notes:
On the down side –
a) I experimented with fonts. Some are too small; others not easy to read once printed. There are a couple of mistakes when I typed, and I didn’t catch them, either.
b) The whole thing – this story and the entire book – was an experiment.  A variety show; different styles, different approaches; different techniques.  I keep the styles and techniques consistent, as you will see, within each story or vignette, but there is no overall unification in approach.
c) This was on purpose, but I’m not sure it was good judgment.  I wanted to see, by feedback, what viewers wished to see more of and what they wished to less of in future work. I have no idea, myself, without asking and showing. But it does make the book a sort of 1960s-’70s variety show of comix.. by one person.  This is an inherent weakness.

On the up side –
a) This story is far more subtle than the obvious surface reading.  A closer reading would reveal:
b) There are three major themes at work. 1) The nature of reality as mediated through beliefs (and technology, which is a sort of reified belief system) – e.g. why is this woman viewed as an enemy because she had a cough? 2) The power of false and true stories we tell ourselves, the nature of lie and truth, the difficulty of interpretation, the necessity of doubt, dogmatic certainty as the origin of atrocity and dehumanization. 3) Death is our universal fate.  How best to live in the face of it?
c) The title is a tip off.  What is this “Plague” that is returning?  It’s a reference to Albert Camus’ novel, THE PLAGUE.  Also, the old man is the captured Heavy Metal Kid — a reference to William S. Burroughs… and his theme of “The Word Virus.”  This is referenced in the newscaster’s narration at the beginning of the story.

These would be played out as the story unfolds in future chapters, but the basis is all there as hooks… if you think about what I’m doing.  Which would require reading and thinking, not skimming the story.  Whether I pulled that off is one thing; whether the reviewer gave it a fair shake is another.  Decide for yourself.

I’m not a “conceptual artist” which, itself, is a disease in contemporary art — the substitution of a mysterious backstory to justify an impoverished presentation.  In fact, such artists just need to write down the backstory as an essay and leave off the visuals as that’s really all there is.

I’m not doing that, so one sees what is there symbolically and metaphorically or one doesn’t.  In this case, the failure is either in the viewer or in the artist, or both.  I remain unsure after the review.

Mr. Clough writes:
“Van Ingram’s visual sense is perhaps a couple of steps ahead of his ideas, like the Loser Tarot. It’s a funny concept that’s beautifully-illustrated, but the actual ideas “The Ex-Wife”, “The Republican” are on the bland side.”

If those were the only two images in the satirical tarot, I might completely agree.  Yet, they aren’t and, taken together, they are a sort of story in flashes of encounters; nor are they the entire set: it’s an ongoing project I began in 2004 (though I didn’t mention all of that nor need to do so):

A Tarot deck is many things at once; a satire of a tarot deck could be many things.  In this case, it is, as is traditional, a journey; the journey of The Loser into the world and all the things The Loser passes through and is changed by, must face, in the journey of experience.  That’s just basic tarot interpretation.  “The Loser” is, in part, me as a symbol for my generation, Gen X, (I am on the prow of that generation).  It uses some autobiography as a jumping-off point for universal and topical situations and experience… and private, absurd jokes.  I was raised in the US American South so images like “The Republican,” while stereotypical, are also ubiquitous and true.  Bland? Show that thing to a white trash Republican and tell me how bland the reaction is.  Good luck.

Mr. Clough writes:
“The Peanuts parody Chunky Brown is tedious at best, turning Charlie Brown and Linus into loser hipster types, Lucy in [sic] a capitalist femme fatale (in one panel, her nipples poke through her shirt for no discernible reason) who sends them to work at a used bookstore. ”

First, the title of the Peanuts parody is Chunky Brownuts.  Again, a sign someone skimmed and did not really read the “tedious” thing.  The title has been Chunky Brownuts has been since about 1980 and is written plainly everywhere in the book.  Secondly, there are four Chunky Brownuts stories in here in four styles, the latter two stories featuring the talking dog and his overgrown, anxiety-ridden rooster side-kick.

The Lucy-ish character does have nipples in one scene — she’s an adult, a femme-fatale,  and this is a damn underground comic!  “No discernible reason…” for nipples?! I’d love to see Clough talk about Crumb, Williamson, or nearly any other undergrounder.  Plus, Lucrezia (Lucy) is an archetype of laissez-faire capitalism (and a reference to Lucrezia Borgia, the poisoner) — it’s all a swindle that draws one in by looking appealing and then spits one’s corpse out after extracting all value.  As obvious as can be.  Nipples, indeed.  Plus, by this point in the book I’ve featured two nude women.  Suddenly, this bothers the reviewer?

We’ll look first, talk later.

That was Story One.

That’s Story Two. If that title isn’t large enough for a blind person to see, I don’t know what to do.

[Actual major flaws here: I should have lettered it with a nib.  The art could be much better – I was looking for a style and dropped back to how I drew in the 1980s… in high school.  Out of self-serving nostalgia. Bad move.]

Story Three. Notice, I switched focus to Skip Dog and Weirdstock.  Are these the “hipster losers”?  Most hipsters I observe have money to waste on all manner of stylish things: Hence, “hipsters.”  At best, these guys are slackers.  Losers to be certain, but read the title of the comic book.  I advertised nothing but.

[These are the offending nipples.  I apologize on behalf of Deity for creating us as mammals with interesting body parts and shapes I see little reason in pretending don’t exist.]

[Oops. More cartoon nipples. Beware.]

Here we go: Is this just an autobiographical bit (and autobiographical comix are too, too often tedious as hell.  If you aren’t a Justin Green maybe you should avoid them)?

As Clough writes, “…[They go] to work at a used bookstore. That latter development was clear [sic] Van Ingram’s way of getting back at his awful used bookstore job, which was probably cathartic for him but not especially relevant for the reader.”

It’s partially autobiographical, but it’s much more about intelligent adults working retail – or any other job – while being treated as serfs by authoritarian little Napoleons who’ve Peter Principled their way into managerial positions.

Is that relevant to any reader in the USA?  Beats me.  Clough doesn’t think so and is rather dismissive about it; perhaps it’s been awhile since he had to go take a shit job.  Or has just forgotten the experience, or had a better one.  They do exist.  But pleasant experiences don’t make for drama or humor.

“Tedious”?  Maybe… maybe not.  Again, the reviewer didn’t get the title correct and conflated four stories.  This suggests it just wasn’t his cup of tea, he skimmed along, and gave a superficial response more than a critique here.

I’m unsure.  But I am sure there’s more here than he strongly suggests.  It may not be any good — “good” in this medium has much to do with effectiveness.  You judge.

Mr. Clough writes of this story:
“There’s an accurate but tedious bit of social commentary about a yokel voting against his own interests by supporting Republicans.”

That’s it?

First, I’m from the South, born and raised in Southern Appalachia.  That “yokel” is a cartoon representative of the people I grew up with – and my sympathies in this comic are with him, oddly enough.  He believes in his country, sacrifices his kid to war, works like a dog – because he’s taught hard work eventually “pays off”; his sick wife is exploited by a super-wealthy church, they can’t afford to live like humans… yet he has been propagandized by a party of fucking liars who’ve sold him an empty bag of promises and cliched slogans all his life.  And he believes because he is a good person.  He’s trusting.  He doesn’t believe the flag and bible waving bastards would screw him over and use him for slave labor and could care less if he lives or dies.

Secondly, if The Stinkin’ Rich Dough Boy isn’t a prediction of the coming of Donald J. Trump & Company, I’ll give you a quarter.  He’s also a commentary on the materialist direction of The USA since Reagan and the rape of average working people.  His story is also a humorous primer on the 2008 economic collapse and the aftermath.

I did this in 2010 or ’11.  It was previously published in another magazine and received good reviews.

But it, too, is “tedious.”

At the mention of that word in Clough’s writing for, like, the tenth time, I was ready to send him a thesaurus.

Finally, Mr. Clough writes:
” Van Ingram works best when he works briefly, like a hilarious strip about Richard Nixon seeing the future and the Partridge Family sending a message from 3013 to 1973, thanking them for their help in ousting Nixon and establishing a utopia. A serious strip about the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson wouldn’t have been out of place in World War III Illustrated, and here Van Ingram’s dense but colorful style and page design perfectly encapsulates the desperate quality of his text. Van Ingram has a great deal of talent, and it’s clear that he’s trying to find the best way to use it.”

Here, I have nothing to disagree with at all.  In fact, it’s flattering.

These were, chronologically, the last pieces I did before printing the book.  Factually, the Ferguson incident fired me up, to say the least.  It pointed the way for most of my work since 2014.

Epilogue
Why Did I Care Enough To Write This?

There is a unifying theme to this book, which is, at best, a potpourri; at worst, it is a hodgepodge.  That theme is antipathy to injustice, intolerance for intolerance.

It’s not a book to be read at one sitting — it’s dense.  It has diverse approaches.  It flips from one perspective to a radically different one.  It has intense sections and lighter sections, darker and more humorous ones… it is all horrific, in some sense.

And maybe that’s why Mr. Clough, with limited time, wound up skimming most of it (which is my guess): Perhaps he attempted to read it all at one sitting as one does a mini-comic.  It’s not a normal comic in that sense and, obviously, NOT a mini.  It demands some time and attention and consideration.  Whether it deserves such is another judgment; maybe it doesn’t and, if not, that is its failure.

Since then, I’ve changed my approach.  This was my first serious foray into comix since 1995 — the entire approach and market and audience has changed radically since ’95.   So radically, I’m bewildered.  I’m also older and isolated.  So, this was an attempt to sound out an audience as much as anything.  Comix is not a matter of “build it and they will come.”  In some sense, one has to attract an audience, but to do that, one has to understand the audience.

Attention spans and background knowledge are not what they were, once upon a time.  I thought my audience would be in its 20s; turns out, it’s largely 45 and over.  Surprise.  And folks in their late teens and into their 20s-30s are not the most politically/socially/philosophically interested bunch, as a group, it seems.  They talk, they protest: they do not read.

The line,  “Here we are now, entertain us,” was prophetic; and a pure Gen X  epitaph for a new generation yet to come of age.  But it has arrived.  It is Gen Y, The Millennials, a generation with interests that differ from my own, a different historical mission and outlook, a generation as multitudinous as mine is minute.

My work is vaguely entertaining, but only for a niche audience.  I don’t attempt to please everyone, can’t.  While my work is pop culture, it won’t be popular pop culture.  Making this book taught me that.  It’s aptly titled.  Proudly.

19-20 July 2017

Richard Van Ingram

Many of my books can be read, free, at:
https://comixunderground.tumblr.com/

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So, I got interviewed…

Well, there it is, kids. The one and only interview with me that got published from the RNC Convention in Cleveland. Go see what dozens of major news outlets that interviewed me missed out on and an excellent high school paper in Michigan, The Blaze, chose to notice. Not too shabby if I do have to say it myself. To be absolutely truthful, I’m happier I reached young people than adults — USA adults these days strike me, largely, as a lost cause.
“If I am not for myself, who will be? And if I am only for myself, what am I?”
#art #politicalcartoons #protest art #Cleveland #FlushingHighSchool
#Trump #Election2016 #ComixCast #RichardVanIngram #TheBlaze
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Achtung, bambino!

Spain Rodriguez

Spain Rodriguez — Agent of Something Better That Never Happened

Once upon a time, 40 years ago now, in a world long gone, I was 10 years old.

Being unsupervised by adults, something I now thank G-d for, this ten year-old kid wandered the streets of a very small and small-minded Appalachian town.  His mind, relatively uncontaminated by the surrounding ideo-sphere, wondered as much as he wandered: where did this come from, why are things as they are and not some other way, how did I get here, how can I get out, who should I be?

It was that wondering and questioning that made the ten year-old kid a weirdo, a stranger in a strange land, even in his hometown.  And, like Steve Earle taught us, nothing will bring you down like your hometown.  And that boy’s hometown was in overdrive to bring him down and keep him there — well, not so much him specifically (he was not that special and the world is not arranged around him, positively or negatively), but people akin to him.  People who question, people who look for answers to uncomfortable questions… and all genuine questions are right uncomfortable for them that well fit in.

People who make other people uncomfortable, especially when very young and alone, tend to get the shit kicked out of them literally and metaphorically.  So they go looking for refuge and allies and that child-on-the-verge-of-having-to-grow-up-really-quickly used to hang out at the saving grace of that town: the college.

Lo, and the college had a library well-stocked with classics, which he’d get into later, art books, which he began to explore, and some pretty hip titles — one of which turned out to be Les Daniels’ Comix: A History of Comic Books in America.  Long story short, it was in those pages that our disaffected anti-hero discovered Underground Comix and their historical context… and the concept of “historical context.”

Where it would have been easy to fall for Robert Crumb’s art and humor — it isn’t as if the kid didn’t — the artist that really held his imagination and got his attention was Spain Rodriguez and his character Tashman, Agent of the Sixth International.  Well, there was Trash — the kid wished he looked half as cool as that and understood what all this talk of revolution was about — and Trashman was there putting a knife through the neck of some futuristic Neo-Nazi SS son of a bitch.

“Wait!  Didn’t we kill the Nazis?” the kid wondered.

250px-TrashmanCover

At age 50, I now know we did not kill fascism or Nazism.  We just barely managed to stomp the shit out of the vermin who espoused those beliefs the first go ’round and the beliefs still floated around even in that world the child was sent to live within — that was part of the problem with the closed-minded town he was in; he just didn’t understand at the time.

Yes, obviously I get it now.  Thanks, in part, to Spain and his comix as I managed to discover more of them as I grew older and had opportunity to lay hands on them.  I sit here now watching cops shoot black people, round up latinos, the for-profit slave prisons bulging with the incarcerated poor while Donald Trump does his best Mussolini impersonation and Ted Cruz whines his paranoid right-wing theocratic Nazi tunes for enthusiastic audiences who just don’t know any fucking better.  And the RNC is starting to demand loyalty oaths from the voters who wish to participate in “their” primaries.

Seig heil, motherfuckers.

Where’s Trashman now that the future arrived?

Well, Marxism isn’t going to cut it — but Spain’s not here to disagree because he died.  Marx had many damn fine ideas and his critique of the labor theory of value strikes me as having a great deal of truth.  But Marx-ISM, like every other form of ISM is as dead as Spain — worse, ISMs ruin nearly everyone that gets sucked into them.  But that’s a bete noir for a different day, gentle readers.

But the symbolic idea of resistance to evil that Trashman represents… there’s the crux of the biscuit.  Spain’s generation, not Spain himself, but that generation, sold out back in the ’80s.  And so, here we are. The only “revolution” that happened was the Reagan Revolution and that flushed the rest of us down the toilet, down, down into the sewers to scrape a living doing the muck work for low pay that the Boomers suck up in the form of stock investments and rent and lending.  “I got mine.  Fuck you!”

Spain remains one of my heroes artistically and intellectually because he genuinely hoped and worked for something far better and stood the test of time and the temptations of sheer ambition.  Go look him up; this isn’t Wikipedia.  Or better, just read his work and look at that powerful, expressionistic art.  He died like he lived: with his motorcycle boots on.  You can’t ask for much better than that.

And he influenced and fascinated a nobody kid in a nowhere town who grew up to be a philosopher, an artist, an essayist, and a damn troublemaker.  Thank G-d and thank Spain Rodriguez for being there when I needed to find him.

Richard Van Ingram

30 December 2015

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Why I Make Art and Sell It

Frank Zappa by Richard Van Ingram, pen, ink, watercolor
Frank Zappa by Richard Van Ingram, pen, ink, watercolor

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Why I Make Art

No one’s art is for everyone, mine included. That’s understood.

I make art for the politically conscious; I make art to oppose an unjust world. I make art that resonates with my thoughts and feelings about a world gone insane that, yet could be better than it is, art that shows the world back to itself in an exaggerated mirror. It is expressionistic, satirical, sad at times. Yet, even in all that I find what William Butler Yeats called, “a terrible beauty.”

Some of the things I make could be seen as outrageous, but my response is, We live in outrageous times and have, increasingly, for decades. So I praise, symbolically, by juxtaposition, the praiseworthy and attack what calls for condemnation… yet, I do not preach. I simply show. The interpretation is up to the audience.

Who is my audience? I am not sure — who is? I pander to no one, not even myself. When I make something, it emerges as it needs to, demands to — the vocation leads me, not me it. Perhaps some of it will appeal to a few and the rest will not. I’ve no illusions that what I do will be popular and I do not seek that sort of fame.

Alethia by Richard Van Ingram, pen, ink, inkwash
Alethia by Richard Van Ingram, pen, ink, inkwash

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I’ve been making art for nearly 50 years, my skills and eye (inner and outer) increasing in capacity little by little — its been a long exploration and exercise in meditation on the world, inner and outer, I find myself situated in with all the humor and horror that entails. The work reflects that.

Like any other artist, I throw my children out into the world and they suffer their fate. I can advertise their presence and relative importance — but that guarantees nothing. I charge money for it so I can keep making more art and live as a philosopher, writer, and visual artist. That is a necessity in our society and I no longer apologize for it: “The workman is worth his hire.” You may look at it for free, but if you wish to see any artist continue, you should support them, even financially.


So, I’ve chosen to try to sell prints of my art and images reproduced on a variety of surfaces you can display and wear with some pride, if you’ve the guts. And that’s all I can do at the moment, a stranger in a strange land.

Richard Van Ingram
San Antonio
11 December 2015

Doxa Uber Alles by Richard Van Ingram
Doxa Uber Alles by Richard Van Ingram, pen, ink, watercolor

 

El Toro Bravo by Richard Van Ingram, collage, mixed media
El Toro Bravo by Richard Van Ingram, collage, mixed media

 

William Faulkner by Richard Van Ingram, relief print
William Faulkner by Richard Van Ingram, relief print

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Another semester, another letter….

[The monthly letter I write to my class — this semester/month I taught Art History to the Modern Age.]

Students and scholars,

I have no stupid students.  Rarely have I encountered one at a college or university in my classes  — naive, often; lazy, occasionally; manipulative, no more than in daily life; filled with curiosity awaiting someone to call it forth and feed it, sometimes.  And I hope for the latter in every class and patiently feed that part of you, challenge it, and if I am fortunate and you are cooperative, that part comes out of hiding or develops (to your surprise).

That is the whole point of this: to feed your wonder, your ability to be open to seeing the world and the works of other humans and yourselves as, in great part, mysterious and not necessarily exactly what you habitually take them to be.

Because those “habits of thought and feeling” came from somewhere other than yourself, probably, usually, and that place is what the main tradition in philosophy I follow — that of Jose Ortega y Gasset and Vital Reason — calls “other people,” simply:

Your culture, the surroundings you were raised within.  It was designed, almost offhandedly and unconsciously by “the others” to encourage you to fit in and, to be honest, just shut up and go along with the program, whatever the program was.

People around you were taught, like you, to never be disagreeable and to “know your place,” and others, rest assured, are always willing to anonymously assign you your place.  They can also be counted on to become uncomfortable if you start asking questions and become dissatisfied with the inadequate responses I can promise you will get in return if you become serious about genuine, intensive questioning and demanding the answers that you truly need to make sense of the world and your humanity once they appear to you in all their mystery and confusion and paradox.

Once you stand before yourself in intense and conscious examination and put the world around you on trial… you will find how little you truly know about both and how much you need to learn to create a future for yourself worth living; you will discover there is no “ready-made” life for you worth living, no “ready-made” answers that you don’t, at the very least, have to re-learn the need, the neediness and poverty of soul and self, that led others to create or discover answers for themselves and their community.

This uniquely human activity of attempting to see things from the point of view of another person in their world, to re-live their lives in abbreviated form and grasp why they made the choices they did and created what they did — agreeably or disagreeably to or for you — is what we call “history.”

Learning the motives of the choices of actual people who once lived and created and revolted and even destroyed — learning their impoverishment and discomfort with previous answers to the problem that is living within their given circumstance, why and how they tried to fill in that poverty with rich — or not so rich and adequate — ideas and beliefs and mythic interpretations so they could keep building a truly meaningful life:  That is the activity of being an historian.
You’ve begun to think historically this month, each of you to some degree, some more than others.  Hopefully, once the need to see why things are as they are now is fully awakened in you, if it is one fortunate day, you, too, can then turn to your own self caught within your own circumstances and search out ideas and beliefs that are true and not simply designed to shut you up and shut you down, to keep you “in your place”… on that fine day, you will feel the real need to think historically.

And I’ve introduced you to how to go about it — there’s much, much more to learn about that, but you have, now, the basic tools to learn how to learn.

If.  

If you took this class even a bit seriously.

If not, perhaps you will, on the day you really feel the need to because you awaken to what you lack and how shabbily our culture treats you and you decide to get up, be dissatisfied with that, and seek to live a truly meaningful life — a life in search of and in the service of genuinely meaningful values and ideas for yourself and others — on that day, you will at least remember this foolish letter and use it as a treasure map to retrace your steps and go learn how to learn history.

Now, we also studied art — a very rapid, superficial survey that dipped into the river of the past here and there.  That was sufficient as an introduction, a handshake with where we came from, or one of the threads of where we came from.

A more complete handshake would have involved introductions to art from Africa and the Middle East and Asia and the Americas and the Pacific Islands and Australia.

Other threads, other ideas, other cultures, other people who play a mysterious, though equally real, role in the vision of who you are and how we got here.  People and ideas you may be tempted to believe have nothing to do with you — you’ve been taught that, perhaps, either actively or by your education leaving “those people” out.

But you don’t know, do you?  And I’m not going to to tell you — I’ll leave you with an experience of ignorance, which is just another word for discovering how mysterious the world is.

Nothing is wrong with discovering one’s own ignorance.  We all begin with ignorance and remain ignorant until we seek to alleviate ourselves of it.  That is the true beginning of learning.

The truly terrible thing is to be ignorant of one’s ignorance or, worse, to find it and not really care.  To just shrug and say, as “the others” have taught you, “it’s unimportant.”  It’s not for someone in “your place” to inquire into such matters.

I’ll only tell you: You’ve been lied to.  It’s your birthright and responsibility as a human being to know and to divest yourself of as much ignorance as possible and to assist others to go and tell you about what you cannot learn on your own.

Be satisfied with nothing less.

Your true place, your true destiny, your true path that will be your future, your very own future — not where some anonymous “others” and their institutionalized nonsense decided to send you well before your birth because you were born in a certain place, or to people who had little money, had a color of skin slightly darker than mine at all, or some combination of the above.  All of that is what you were handed by coming into the world.

I’m here to tell you, as if you didn’t know, there’s not one damn thing wrong with any of you regardless of your skin color, of how much or little money you were born into, who you love, or whatever patch of dirt Fate decided to place you on at the start.

There’s not one thing wrong with you at all regardless of what the society and the law around you and the “others” who told you and keep telling you who you “should” be, keep using derogatory terms and stereotypes denigrate you, say.

Not at all.

You are invaluable.  You each have a great beauty, a destiny beyond what you’ve imagined, and a genuine task to create a much better world than you were handed.  You get to choose what the future will be for you and for others.  You get to change things for the better — what an amazingly valuable thing!

I expect it of you.  I’m nobody, really, from one point of view, but I’ll keep telling you and all my students that anyway and showing that in my art, philosophy, and in the propaganda I churn out.  That’s my destiny, the one of many I chose from what life offered, and I’m most happy and myself within it.

You have your own where you will do the same in your own way for yourself and others.  You will discover it in your own good time… if you want it.

Finally, I’ll say one last thing.

Some have kept asking, “What has art and art history got to do with my career and my job?  What am I going to use that for?” and I’ve kept suggesting answers.

“Other people,” if you told them what class you had, asked you the same thing, I’m certain, and especially asked that last question that isn’t a question, but an assumption: “What am I going to use that for?”  The assumption in that rhetorical question is: “If it’s not immediately useful, it’s not valuable.”

You know what?  This is the point I answer your question with another one: “Who told you that art and history were things someone like you shouldn’t value?  Why shouldn’t things like that — things valuable to human beings from prehistory through the present day — be in your life as well?

“Why do you feel no need for them and why don’t they speak to you as they speak to humans in general — even back to prehistoric times when no one had to go to college, of all places, to feel a vital, deep, important connection to images and music and such?

“Where did you get the message that something like the value of van Gogh’s “Irises” can be measured in “dollars” when van Gogh, who made it, did not do it for dollars or francs or anything of the sort?

“Who told you that work, labor, career, jobs, are the main thing you exist for and your value is completely determined by whether everything you value or do serves a job and your usefulness to an employer?

“Is that not odd?

“While work — meaningful work — is essential and money is required to exist in our society, is that all life is?  Monetary value and something being ‘useful’?”

I’ll stop there.  Because until you can get past those questions, not just bypass those questions, I’ve revealed for you one of the walls society and “the others” have constructed to keep you “in your place.”

You should be very dissatisfied, even angry you were so shortchanged and sold a lie like that.  You should notice how I walk through what is a wall for you as if it were just air to me.  Not because I am better than you — I’ve already told you that is nonsense; but because I know better than what you’ve been taught to believe.

Our beliefs limit us.  Examine your beliefs to see whether they are true and where they came from.  Their history.  See if you want to limit yourself in such a way — and then you’ll be able to answer every question I set before you above as if they were the easiest things in the world.

That’s your mystery and task I leave you with in my own words.

And here’s the lyrics of a song I listen to often… it’s been the theme of this month for me:

On our way to crush the revolution
Camp by a lake in the blackened lands
Dealing out love and retribution
Dealing out the dead man’s hand

We’ve all known the pain
And we’re all gonna hurt again and again
Empire’s got you by the balls
And sleep keeps awake for the tear
And it’s calling you
Pulling you back here

On our way to crush a revolution
Lost in the caves of a used-up place
Night comes down with all its implication
Something brushing against your face

And we’ve all known fear
And we’re all gonna find more of it here

Empire’s got you by the balls
And you wish that you never appeared
And it’s pulling you
Pulling you back here
(Where are we)
(Where are you)

On the way to crush the revolution
Wilderness and its burning bush
The enemy seeks our dissolution
All he needs is a little push

And we’ve all known hurt
And we’re all gonna find it here in this dirt

Empire’s got you by the balls
And war keeps drawing near
And it’s pulling you
Pulling you back here

The Church, “Dead Man’s Hand”

Mr.  Ingram

[Richard Van Ingram – 28 August 2015]

 

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A MEDITATION ON DREAMS

The world is hard on dreamers.

In my country, we speak much of the value of dreams — “The American Dream;” “pursue your dreams,” we tell our children.  “Dare to dream.”

It’s often a lie.

We find out the older we get: one of the deepest secrets of the USA is we have little love for dreams or visions or inspiration or genuine creativity.  Inventiveness and cleverness, perhaps, as long as we get our iPhone out of it or some free web entertainment.  Ah, and the cash — always the cash.

But an original idea?  A life lived by its own best lights, it’s destiny worked out beneath secret constellations meant for it alone?

Insanity.

A memory from decades ago that’s stuck with me:  I was a kid in high school and thrown in detention hall for some foolishness or another.  The pinch-faced teacher put in charge told us to take paper out and subtract one from the number 1000 until we arrived at zero… thinking this would take nigh forever.   She was used to a poorer class of convict, I presume.

I began with 1000, skipped a line, and began making columns, each skipping a line.  In each column I wrote downward “9” through “0”…

1000

999

998

997…

A few sheets and the addition of the requisite “-1″s later, I had zero.  Maybe it took half an hour.  Allegedly, I could leave after that, but the woman was angry it hadn’t taken quite the “forever” she had in mind.  She made me stay until everyone else was finished, which was all evening  (two hours, really).

I sat in a desk facing the wall allowed to do nothing — no paper, no pens or pencils, no books.  Nothing except look at an inspirational poster across from me, tears of frustration stinging my eyes as she’d lied, was upset herself, and the reason I was in detention was I’d done something now completely unimportant, probably unimportant then.  My usual crime was drawing naked women in class or reading a novel instead of doing the make-work.  The place was oppressive, boring, except for history and biology classes, where I happily worked.

The poster.  It was one of those inspirational posters from the 1970s, faded a bit from the sun hitting it through the windows — obviously something to decorate the room, a cheap scrap of wallpaper.  It was a hazy, light blue photo of a forest in fog with a quote from Henry David Thoreau: “March to the beat of a different drummer.”

Well, wasn’t that what I did?!

I hardly “fit in’ — who does when they’re 14, 15?, except my peculiar brand of being a teenager was way off-base and was treated as a pathological condition by many all-too conventional instructors and administrators of that small, lonely mountain school.

“March to the beat of a different drummer?”  Hadn’t I always, Mr. Thoreau?  My eyes were teary, but I held it in and stuffed the feelings down, a life-long habit that eventually resulted in seven ulcers.  No one was paying attention anyway, hunched over their pitiful sheets of paper, scribbling away.

Right there was the quite literal writing on the wall: “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.”   But who was profaning the sacred vessels: me or this institution of learning; who abused their calling and was weighed in the balance and found wanting, me or this hell of a town?

The library at school and the one at the local college had long been my places of refuge — especially the college.  From there, I haphazardly learned many things by reading actual books: an ancient habit, long neglected, abandoned, and forgotten by the present age I find myself passing through.  For me though, books were the passage to salvation.  From them, I taught myself how to write and what good writing sounds like, especially that difficult art called by Montaigne the “essay”: asking oneself what one knows and answering in a solid, worked out form in ink on paper for others to share.

The philosophe, as well, Voltaire became my smirking, bright-eyed Virgil, Candide my doppleganger.

I learned about drawing and studying the human figure — there were no real art classes at my school as the funding for that was long gone.  Left to explore without guidance, I uncritically passed like a pinball in a hot Bally table through the whole of Western Art History, its implicit ideas, styles, approaches… all of it beautiful, strange, exciting to my innocent eyes; my own drawing seemed a pitifully poor thing by comparison, something I was going to have to work hard at to get where I wanted to go.

Hence I drew nude women — a difficulty, a challenge, and obsession once a young artist sees Velazquez’s “Rokeby Venus” or the sculptures of the ancient Greeks or Diego Rivera’s lush murals or Botticelli’s “Primavera” or Titian’s “Sacred and Profane Love”.

Or the wonderful, mysterious young ladies that surround any young man… or teenaged boy on the way to being a young man.

And just where did I want to go?  Far away from that violent, ignorant, prejudiced place into which I was born and very far from my own violence, anger, hurt, deep flaws, and lack of self-discipline.

I had my own dreams, my own drummer.  I could not be myself without these things, without moving toward the distant bright, white star that called me to go further, to separate myself from how I was raised to become… more.

Finding some place where there was room for someone like me and my drive to create and understand and then actually performing those activities as best I could — those were the vague, grandiose outlines of my vision.

Yes, I weighed both myself as I was and that place as it was in the balance and found both wanting.  But I could only work to repair and prepare one of us — myself — so that’s what I set about doing.

And still do.

That poster on the wall was a challenge aimed to me; I took it as such.  I’ve no idea anyone ever took those words quite that seriously who’d ever been stuck in that merciless little room.  But I did because I had the eyes to see and decipher at least that much, sight born of a deep neediness and desire to fill up what I lacked. The need to grow, to be more, to do the best I could… the need to hear those words that day, that moment.

Your destiny, your dream, is yours as mine is mine.  You have your own particular calling as I do.  You will pass through many “jobs” on the way to it, perhaps, and some of them may actually be useful for keeping body and soul together, support a family, and allowing one freedom to pursue who you truly need to become.  If you are terribly fortunate, you will find jobs that align with your destiny, jobs that are not merely jobs but part of who you truly are and performing them makes you truly yourself.

The world will often oppose your dream; it will tempt you to settle for less, for being entertained into a stupor, even for a great sum of money doing something that you really do not wish to do at all that consumes your time — and your life is nothing except how you spend your time, the quality of your choices over time.

There is always a substitute dream that is no dream at all, but a prison — even if the prison is a comfortable one.

You will choose as you believe best.  No one can make you do otherwise.

But — when you make your choices, remember the words of a person far wiser than I, a humble philosopher called Epictetus:

“Do not sell yourselves cheaply.”

14 July 2015

Richard Van Ingram

 

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Look. More Art.

Let’s share some art.  I’m not in a talky mood today.  You’re welcome.  ~RVI

Drama Queen, Richard Van Ingram, pen and ink, 2013
Drama Queen, Richard Van Ingram, pen and ink, 2013
Baby Killer , richard Van Ingram, English scraperboard, 2013
Baby Killer , richard Van Ingram, English scraperboard, 2013
It Only Grows at Night, Richard Van Ingram, British Scraper Board, 2013
It Only Grows at Night, Richard Van Ingram, British Scraper Board, 2013
The Summer of Love, ink, brush watercolor, Photoshop, Richard Van Ingram, 2013
The Summer of Love, ink, brush watercolor, Photoshop, Richard Van Ingram, 2013
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