Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lowbrow Meets Highbrow

Issue of Juxtapoz Magazine
Cover art by Shepard Fairy
"A frog is either lowbrow or highbrow.

If you catch it, it's low. If you order it in a French restaurant, it's high."

-Unidentified chef, from Burkhard Bilger's Noodling for Flatheads
In 2007, commenting on the blog PaintersNYC, artist Kelli Williams observed that it's hard to be a Juxtapoz artist "in an ArtForum world." Juxtapoz is a popular magazine dedicated to showcasing contemporary "lowbrow art." It was founded by the artist Robert Williams in 1994. The "ArtForum world" of Kelli William's statement references the magazine of that name, but also the "high art" scene it covers, of which New York City, for the time being, remains an - if not the - epicenter. Until recently, the artwork featured in ArtForum was very different from that seen in the pages of Juxtapoz. Juxtapoz is representative of the Los Angeles art scene, and the U.S. west coast scene more generally, where the aesthetics of pop surrealism, folk art, post-graffiti, or street art are wholly embraced.

But artwork infused by Juxtapoz's colorful spirit is no longer uncommon in New York galleries. Andrew Schoultz, Tim Biskup, and Jeff Soto, talented west coast artists regularly lauded in the pages of Juxtapoz, today exhibit with the Morgan Lehman and Jonathan Levine galleries, and influential post-graffiti artist Barry "Twist" McGee is represented by the renowned Deitch Projects. Jonathan Levine makes plain his dedication to the post-graffiti aesthetic; his gallery's website states that its mission is to exhibit "work influenced by illustration, comic books, graffiti art and pop imagery." Perhaps it's no longer so hard, then, to be a Juxtapoz artist "in an ArtForum world"?

But, more importantly, does lowbrow art require the affirmation of the "high art" world - for easy contrast, let's call it highbrow art - in order to be considered mainstream or legitimate? If so, what exactly is the cultural significance of highbrow art to the world at large?

Jeff Soto
"Purple Heart"
Acrylic on wood
12 x 12 inches

The commercial success of books like Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture and Wall and Piece, the latest offering from the infamous British artist, Banksy, suggest that pop surrealism, post-graffiti, and street art succeed in connecting with the multitudes. On the other hand, it's an uncontroversial fact that highbrow art generally doesn't move the masses (with the exception of its remarkable ability to offend the religious sensibilities of the Christian Right and certain mayors). But highbrow art doesn't simply fail to connect with the general population; the fact is, most folks sneer at, mistrust, or resent ArtForum's world.

Perhaps because they feel beleaguered by popular tastes, many players in the world of highbrow art - artists, gallerists, critics, and curators alike - reject the influx of pop surrealism and post-graffiti flavor. But their objections will inevitably prove inconsequential; as the Borg of "Star Trek" put it, "resistance is futile." Even if some of the more esoteric subcultures of the Juxtapoz arena - Tiki culture, for example - are unlikely to find a toehold in the world of "high art," the graphic influences common to post-graffiti work already inform the paintings of contemporary art world darlings like Dana Schutz, Marcel Dzama, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Ryan McGuinness, Lisa Yuskavage, Yoshitomo Nara, and Jules de Balincourt. (In fact, Dzama and McGuinness have been featured in Juxtapoz; it won't be long before other celebrated highbrow artists are, too. One wonders if the lowbrow label will be applicable for much longer.) And then there are artists like Judith Schaechter, whose stained glass works were lauded in the pages of Juxtapoz years before her work hung in the Whitney Museum or before she received Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships.

Judith Schaechter
"Hyena Snake Comet"
Stained glass
30 x 33 inches

Much of the highbrow resistance to pop surrealism and post-graffiti is rooted in the self-identified elites' distrust of populism. Comic books and strips are intended for mass consumption, but graffiti is unquestionably the most populist of the lowbrow tributaries. No art form has fewer barriers to entry; all you need is a can of spray paint and a little chutzpah. Ask someone knowledgeable about the subject to relate the history of modern graffiti, and you'll likely hear an abridged version, one that begins in the 1970s, in and around New York City's Bronx River Houses, and runs parallel to the development of hip hop. City funding for arts and culture programs was pitifully low at the time, and enterprising teens looked for new ways to entertain and express themselves. As Lady Pink, an influential graffiti artist of the late 1970s and 1980s, explains, graffiti was the most available "forum for free speech."

Of course, the human urge to make marks predates the Bronx River Houses by millennia. Our ancestors depicted their quarry on cave walls and, more recently, citizens of ancient Rome scribbled their political opinions on market stalls (hence the word's etymology, from the Italian graffiare, meaning "to scratch or scribble.") But during the early days of modern graffiti's ascendancy, practitioners prioritized ego over observation or socio-political commentary. The pioneers of the 1970s and 1980s graffiti scenes in New York City and Philadelphia - Taki 183, StayHigh 149, Cat 161, and Cornbread, among others - were primarily known for their "tags," stylized monikers spray painted on walls and subway cars. They vied for renown by tagging as many surfaces as they could, and walls that were difficult to access had a special cache. The competitive behavior of these early graffiti "artists" might be best described as base scent marking, activity essentially indistinguishable from the industry of the bored high school student who scratches "(x) was here" on the wall of the bathroom stall. Fortunately, as more artists entered the nascent graffiti scene, such adolescent "battling" became insufficient impetus; soon, the egotistical tag evolved into something more colorful and complex. Artists added characters, often comic in nature, a result of their limited palettes and time frame, and, before long, these characters evolved into "pieces" (short for masterpieces). The best graffiti artists came to value style and artistry as much as placement.

The conceptual and social strengths of graffiti and street art are rooted in the artists' acceptance of temporality and his or her desire to engage the environment and citizenry directly. As Simon Hattenstone, a features writer for The Manchester Guardian, writes, "Since spotting my first few Banksies I have been desperately seeking out more. They make me smile and feel optimistic about the possibilities of shared dreams and common ownership." Insofar as it is truly democratic, the street artist's approach is fundamentally distinct from that of those who aspire to "high art" success. "Fine artists" are essentially aristocratic in inclination. They are the elites who operate within the context of "high art" institutions; their work is most often viewed in semi-sacred, unlived in spaces, by people who talk about the work in reverent whispers. Street art, by contrast, is viewed by everybody who happens past the artwork. But, today, as the post-graffiti movement sees many of its more celebrated artists entering the "high art" sphere, the populist flavoring of the culture is eroding.

Artwork on West Bank barrier between Israel and the West Bank

Is the aesthetic melting pot a bad thing? The answer depends on your perspective, of course; personally, I'm all for it. Like many contemporary artists, I'm not alone in feeling that my artwork and aesthetic inclinations plant a standard somewhere between the poles of Juxtapoz and ArtForum. Just as I feel torn between my rural roots and the creative community and energy of city life, so too am I drawn to elements of both art orbits, east and west, highbrow and lowbrow. I live and work in New York, so I've cultivated an appreciation for the importance of conceptual heft. But I'm also an erstwhile subscriber to Juxtapoz who, in my youth, eagerly thumbed through the pages of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, read fantasy novels and comic books, and honed my drawing chops by copying from comic strips. Perhaps I'm biased, then, but it seems that aesthetic commingling introduces hybrid vigor into otherwise "inbred" scenes.

Too many circles of the "high art" world are poisoned by intellectual pretension, obscurantism, and exclusivity. The ArtForum world is principally concerned with auction results and art historical significance. In east coast MFA programs, the mills of the contemporary "high art" world, a common question asked of students is, "Where does your work fit in the historical trajectory?" Indeed, at great cost to social legitimacy, the "high art" world has prioritized originality and artistic genealogy.

Much of the "lowbrow" scene, by contrast, is blighted by the artists' focus on disposable pop culture, their willingness to cozy up to the marketing machine, and their populist posturing. In an interview with Juxtapoz, one young artist said,
"When it comes right down to it, I draw the stuff I like, and people can take it all for whatever they want. I would say that 95 percent is liking big boobs and butts, the other five percent is brain farts that end up in a sketchbook that later ends up as a painting or whatever."
Although I wrote down this quotation without recording the artist's name, I do recall appreciating some of his graphic skill. Still, when I'm confronted with such a thoughtless statement, I can appreciate the animus that brooding, theory-oriented types have for lowbrow art. Where is the evidence of this young artist's vocational mindfulness, his rigorous passion, his poetic sensibility? Of course, his defenders would likely praise his candor, but, in truth, he's posturing as much as the bespectacled, black-clad fellow who insists in his jargon-laden artist statement that Jacques Derrida informs all of his output.

Marcel Dzama
Watercolor on paper
14 x 11 inches

Despite haughty sneers from individuals on both sides, it seems to me that the transition that so many post-graffiti artists are making, from the streets to the galleries, could (and should) help create a less sectarian art world. The selfish pretensions of the highbrow art world could be tempered by an influx of no-nonsense, illustrative exuberance, and the lowbrow art world could jettison some of their conceptual superficiality by taking the philosophical and moral obligations of their vocation more seriously. That is, in any case, my hope.

Image credits: Juxtapoz cover image ripped from;; Jeff Soto image ripped from the Jonathan Levine Gallery website; Judith Schaechter image ripped from the artist's website; Banksy image ripped from the Brian Sewell Art Directory; Marcel Dzama image ripped from David Zwirner website


Donald Frazell said...

"High" brow art went low brow decades ago, it no longer has its roots as it severed them to sell to its targeted audience, just as "low" brow art has its. And Low brow includes far more of modernism than the supposedly higher descendant of creative art. Posters are decidedly cubist in structure, formally modern, while selling individual items on a field that is spread out for dramatic and structured for impact.

Yes, Tolouse-lautrec retains some evidence of imfluence, but very little and only on some. The graphics are more soviet in the above poster of Fairleys, who were built off of Suprematism and Constructiism. Again simplified and dogmatic takes on cubism from Cezannes influence.
With each generation we get farther from our roots, thinking we have evolved, and become more, while truly we have become less. By including only that of our day, no longer built on a solid foundation of mankinds thousands of years of civilization.

So lowbrow may actually be more creative than highbrow now. It has a heritage, from other sources as well, and though sometimes its graphic sense is like Mad magazine, closer to blowing noodles out ones nose than watching the sunset through huge trees in mountainouse terrain. God is now absent in both, but at least lowbrow has humanity, if at its LCD.

Art must be HCD, but still common to the vast array of humanity throughout the world, and of social status. Art must be able to be understoood by anyone from any culture of any class, simply an intelligent inquiring, sensitive mind, body adn soul must be present. Instead, highbrow is for a small subsect of humanity, closed off, arrogant, above the rest. When truly infantile and afraid.

Artists need to be much more physical than they are, or otherwise become locked inside their bodies and small worlds. They msut feel the breath and pain of exertion, of work, of accomplishment of the body. As well as the mind, balance is key. Or the soul withers and dies.

I see little difference between high ahd low, except the high has more expensive materials and are often hyper self-sensitive, while low wants to shock in crude ways. Its Three Stooges vs Marx Brothers. But it is all still a joke. On them. As the rest of humanity left long ago, more interested in sport. Porn was always there, now we have a fixation on games, but of strictly teh mind, that of the body uses the mind in equal amounts to win, and takes passion, so a soul is present.

Games, amusements and decoration is arts role now. Marketing its highest form. Whether it will remain that way, we will eventualy see. Or will a Highest Common Denominator return, to define, inspire, and focus us unto Purpose. It was once so.

art collegia delenda est
Mediocrity numbs the soul

Donald Frazell said...

And to tell the truth, I would like a MORE sectarian art world. The crap took over and there is little room for anything that goes against the status quo put out by the academies. The "gallerists""curators" and vanity gallery owners are completely brain washed. Its all the same shallow drivel now, a buncha kids with MFAs before their names who think they are preapared for the real world, and these fools marketing them as such. In no other job in the world are kids out of college considered ready for top jobs. They have but the basics, and less than that these days.

As music has categories with real creative musics like jazz and classical, then others that may have some real artists like folk, blues, and r and b, then pure trash like pop and rock and country, though some country did have worth back in the day, its more Eagles type poprock now. And Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman proving the rule of incompetency in rock. They were truly advanced blues players.

This stuff is Fine as entertainment, even a little passion every once in awhile, but far from being art. With a few indies like Bob Marley, as most reggae ssucks, he was the exception that proved the rule as did Dylan and Joni Mitchell who went towards jazz with Jaco and Shorter and Hancock as she was more complex musically than popsters could possibly handle.

Let there be a seperation, its then up to the people to choose, but at least it can be found and out there. Not so in art, which is controled by a tiny group think, thinking their silly degrees actually mean something. Few if any great artidts evere graduated from art or music schools. They are papers toward career and professionalism, not creative art.

There are many forms and purposes in art. Applied arts, entertainment, decoration, illustration, fine arts for the rich, and true crrative art, which fulfills the purpose of that which lasts. I think you know waht that is by now, and are searching in tehat direction. Mankind, nature adn god. Only man the individual lives in the academies, Humanity, nature, and god especially were abandoned long ago. And we have paid the costs.

art collegia delenda est

Hungry Hyaena said...

Thanks for the feedback, Donald.

I disagree with your assertion that the contemporary art world isn't sectarian enough. While I agree that much of the artwork exhibited is "shallow drivel," you must admit that it's a matter of different strokes for different folks. I've heard (and read) intelligent, thoughtful people defending works that I find totally devoid of value. But what can I say? There's no accounting for taste, and their opinion ain't killing anyone! ;)

Like it or not (and, like you, I don't much like it), the global economy is running (such as it is) on a business model that is more Burger King than Ford. That is to say, variety and individual preference is the name of the game. BK, as the slogan goes, does it your way. Similarly, sometimes it seems there are infinity flavors of ice cream at the market. As you realize, too many choices results in a poverty of abundance. Even more distressing, such abundance reduces creative dialogue, as every various "-ism" and flavor finds its appropriate section in the record store.

I have high hopes, though. I believe that we'll see, in the first thirty or forty years of this century, an evolution of the many, shallow pools into a few, larger ones. Maybe that will play out. Maybe I'm just a naive fool. Time, as wise folks say, will tell.

Donald Frazell said...

I dont see variety. I see ice creams all made from the same base with food coloring added and fancy names to differentiate product. Works can be completely different in execution, but are the same in outlook and purpose, self aggrandizement, and career. not creative art.

I go into a huge room, gotta go look at Barnsdall Art Parks latest open call with 1,000 different artists, and see simple units of one wallpaper. And the more color, the blander it is. Use of color is nonexistent, its made for bang not gourmet savoring and passionate response.

Color is musical and created in chords, harmony lies within and as Cezanne said, where color is at its richest, form is at its fullest. I see no feel for color, line or structure. Its all dogma produced to promote the artist, the work is but a signature to identify the product for marketing.

So all is the same. As Cezanne said, passion is the beginning and the end, the craftsmanship but the middle its purpose to trigger in others the feel the artists feel FROM life. Not his own tender emotions, which are irrelevant. The more powerful one can accomplish this, the stronger the artwork. And why one still feels before Demoiselles and The Morrocans, one of my favorite Matisse' that is often over looked.

I dont see variety, i see different colored legos put into a mass without form or purpose. Why is the question.

art collegia delenda est

ps. Wheres Brian? And chicky over there didnt post my response, not suprised

Hungry Hyaena said...


Although I share your assertion that most contemporary art is less than profound, even bad, I also recognize that there is a great deal of superior artwork produced today. Certainly, the percentage of artwork created that is excellent is small, but, given the democratization of professional arts activity, that's to be expected. (We're not apprenticing for masters any more!)

Moreover, when I consider that different viewers are seeking varied experiences from art, I accept that some of the work that I dismiss or condemn is, in fact, cherished by another informed viewer. This is as true of celebrated masters as it is of contemporary artists. For example, I share your deep appreciation for Cezanne's paintings, but I find very few works by (the adult) Picasso stimulating, moving, or even memorable. "Les Demoiselles de Avignon," in particular, is but a note for me in the art historical time line. The "high art" world views the piece as sacred but, in another fifty or one hundred years, I believe that it will be largely irrelevant. In my opinion, it's a bad painting. I accept that mine is a minority position, and I appreciate that the work was of tremendous importance when it was first revealed, but the picture doesn't sing to me; thus, my personal verdict. "Gourmet savoring and passionate response" ranges widely.

Donald Frazell said...

It is an unusual painting, but one of the best ever. Its impact is still enormous after one hundred years, and several generations that have watered down its lessons. Picasso was working on Iberian sculptural and African influences, he simply placed these within a Cezannian space in a modern way. Cezannes very last paintings are practically abstract, his ones of his gardener are where Matisse took off from, and Demiselles is a direct copy of two earlier Cezannes in composition.

As PP said, we all steal, but its not plagiarism if it comes out in new ways, where one does not rely on the earlier work for its impact. Todays work is all searching for that tiny nook of "newness"' for commercial sucess, ignoring that art must have emotional impact.

Of the top five paintings of the 20th century three would be by PP and two by HM. Demoiselles, Three Musicians, and Dance at the Tate are among the most powerful ever created. As the Russian owned Dance and Red Dessert are by Matisse. Art schools now dont teach the fundamentals, in the endless search for new signatures to market. The "new" comes organically when called for, simplys explore our world, and reveal it as best one can. One has no control over the changes in our world view that leads to explosions of "new" work, which is simply updating what we already know. But one must know and Feel the past first.

I am not crazy about most of the post WWII Picasso, when he became a star, and got lazy with his paintings, He knocked them out too fast, there were often excellent ideas, but doesnt work them out to their conclusion, they are not multilayered and filled with simplified relationships like before. Though his sculptures, ceramics and inks are fantastic still.

I am probably too old now to do something new, I feel more like Wynton Marsalis fitting what was into todays world. But studying life overall is the key, and this is not taught to artists. That must be learned in the real world, living a life of toil, love, loss, and sweat. But things come slowly, Cezanne best did not come great overnight, he did not become the greatest til his last ten years in his fifties. His earlier classical landscapes and still lifes are fantastic, and lead unto the new, but he was not there til the last ten to fifteen years.

His death was too early, and though he wouldnt have approved of the younger artists, like Louis Armstrong calling Charlie Parkers bebop chinese music, his last works are truly perhaps the best of the 20th century, but in a more peaeful way. Not as loud and aggressive, he was of the older agricultural world, not the industrial and electronic century of scientific progress and flight.

Donald Frazell said...

We have not had such huge changes in life since WWII, even the computer is but a means of communication, which produces speed, but not substance. Most of what we know about the universe was fundamentally understood by then, except the big bang and quantum physics. The very biggest and smallest. String theory astrophysics come from our better tools, much improved measuring devices. Most of the fundamentals were alredy in place.

We are going through a period of reevlautiaon, and this Must be in the arts as well. What is important, making choices. We cant have everything, which we believed and lived to the ecological and economic disasters we are now in. We are in a mindset flux, art MUST be there to reflect this. And marketing only will not do. We must move on, but that is by understanding how we got here. I feel no history in current art, only the individuals desires and issues. Boring. And irrelevant.

The above are all illustrations, they have no meaning without words or a thing to connect to. Art that lives creates its own mythology, one of US. It unifies by attempting to go to what is most basic about humanity. Our place in the world, our purpose in life. These are now ignored. Its all illustration, mostly of stupid academic ideas that have no connection to the rest of the world. There have so many small and stupid questions to cover for its lack of understanding. It doesnt ask the big questions anymore. It sells out, as it doesnt believe anything new can truly be made, so it concerns itself with ireelevant detail. And isses the big picture, creative arts true and only concern. Resolving supposed contradictions and allowing one to approach Truth is creative arts function in society.

And this is why academica is bad, it restrains thought and replacing pasion, it trains to preduce for the marketplace, not to fulfill creative arts role in humanity. It is an admission of medicority. And as always, artist never come out of academic environments. Never have, never will. They learn the basics that they can pick up, and get the hell out of Dodge. It turns inward, where artists look outward.

Things must change, and art with them. Artists are no better or worse than anyone else, but do have a role to play in our culture. We must return to this, to basics, to fundamentals to Purpose.

art collegia delenda est

Donald Frazell said...

Don't take this as negative criticism of the above works, its not. Its simply calling them what they are. Fairley is a graphic designer, and fairly good at it. Though best at promoting himself, but does get the job done. He has a purpose, a job, and does it. Thats fine, and necessary, as all applied arts are.

The other ones are derived from cartoons, illustrations of stories that have been made seperate, that instead illustrate some other idea or issue, rather than a linear prosaic story. They attempt to be more poetical, and thats great. But still not the same thing as creative art. And so should be treated as such, but instead, they have all been lumped together, and so creative art is buried under other issues.

And no longer done. The very few that do, successfully, like Anselm Kiefer, who do explore humanity, through Germanic history but applied to all of our species, explores the land, th sky, the sun of nature, and god, who is attended to by far more by him than any other artist of our day. And so, it is not only creative art, but great creative art. When it works. He has now gone past Teutonic history, though it worked as he found common ground with all humanity, onto biblical themes which were always preesent anyway. This is what i mean by creative art and its definition.

And again, I have no problem with the others, but do not mix them up, they are seperate, and deal with different needs of our culture. These other ones are specific and do not unite, they have a background they cannot escape, but are interesting. Simply not fitting of creative arts purpose, they have other ones. And so, we should have seperate categorise. As we have in music. Art is a cover word for many activities, and an excuse to sell as being the highest level, when it is not.

We need to define, for words are tools. And must be used as such, not mystical truths. Creative art gets to theat mystical truth, one of myth, of all, or purpose, of god. Always. Or has either failed, or just is something else completely. No problem, just call it what it is. And label it as such so I can wade through this sea of stuff to get to what I am looking for, chaos is not truth, there is order. And we need to find it, and use it as we use a library to find subjects relevant to our inquiry.

art collegia delenda est

Hungry Hyaena said...


I share your admiration of Anselm Kiefer.

You write:
"We need to define, for words are tools. And must be used as such, not mystical truths."

I adore words and names, and invest them with mystical meaning. Of all activities, reading most often opens me to "true" or profound experience; looking at visual art only rarely does so. Interestingly, art making (my studio activity) is of vital importance; I consider it a beautiful privilege, almost sacred. Writing, by contrast, is rather humdrum, like working on a car engine. But looking at art is secondary to reading for me; reading is my ultimate transformative activity. Perhaps this is why I produce both art and writing?

This isn't to suggest that I don't think visual art is of critical importance to humanity, only that I think both language and visual art are humanity at their best. Sure, words can be tools. They can also be mystical truths.

Given your utilitarian approach to words, I have a suspicion that you'll find my next post objectionable.

Donald Frazell said...

Yeah, I am not a word guy and certainly not a name guy. I love good writing, Hemingway still my favorite with VS Naipaul and Marquez not far behind, and of course Shakespeare like Cezanne over all. I would have gone into botany but can never remember names, I certainly couldnt never be a salesman, hobnobing and remembering every single person I met. Have problems remembering my own at times, just not that important. I am who I am, name or not. We are the sum of our decisions from the events that comes across our path. Who we hang with, our word, and what we do define a nman, not his name. We can always change it, as most neolithic peoples such as native Americans did when they come of age.

Words have no intrinsic significance except what we choose to give them. They are but signs of sound and geometry which mutate and change with time. Jews and the other Abrahamic religions biggest downfall is this belief in the Word. I have always said to Muslims, if you wanna get rid of Israel, make peace with thme. They wil destroy themselves, always have, fighting over the meaning of each and every single word. It downright stupid. The Word means nothing. God does not have lips, or able to amke sound in a the vacuum that existed before the creation.

Latin is used in science because it is both a dead language and cant change, and it is perhaps the most logical one ever created. So its perfect and was extraordinarily developed from all teh great writers and focus on making words actually do something, the romans were practcal and words meant nothing in themselvse, except in how they could motivate and create whatever they wanted to happen in the real world. They did not worship the word Caesar, but the position, Julius the house name, Caesar the personal but came to be used as the name of the Imperator, and all were requird to worship that person as god, but the name stuck for th next fellow. It was the way they made all peoples submit, that and making the local populace pay for local roads and a garrison. The Romans were very pratical ,and why the Empire lasted for so long, even when mutating into the greek Byzantine Empire.

Donald Frazell said...

Jews rebelled at this worhip of not only another god, but a word, a name. Silly. Words must lead to action or are useless. Poetry invokes visual imagse and strong emotions directly, and came from barbaric languages which were not smooth but gutteral and made into music, Psalms are all actually song with the ancient Hebrews, whose words under Moses and his immediate descendants were actually like reading Beowulf in its original form. We fix it up for domestic consumption, it is practically unreadable as it is archaic, language did not fully develop til around 500 BC, and whyso many philiosphies started around then, Buddha, Socrates, Daniel all used langauge in a way we would recognize today. not so before.

Anglish dod not develop until Marlows and Shakespears time, read
chaucer to see why. Shakespearr and his contemporaries codified it, as it had finaly reached a viable form. Plus Anglish is a mutt lanugage, it is very difficutl ahs many stupid tihngs involved and weird pronunciations as it is three and even four languages mutated into one. Germanic, Latin, and Celtic, with northern Germanic Norse thrown in.

Language can be made to sing in a skilled persons hands, it flows, and is a way to seek truth, though we never find or possess it. Words are possessive, one can have it and claim to be the one to control them, and so extremely dangerous. A true artist knows this, and even mutates words into his own meanings that soon become common usage and into the dictionary. So many words have multiple meanings, because it is organic, not static, not godlike, not eternal, But full of strange things, most mutations are bad, some last, but are still strange like an appendix. Why? Interesting to find out why, but if it cant lead to reality, it becomes extinct. As it should.

Words are not to be trusted, they are manmade things, and man most certainly can never be trusted. We are ego driven, we all are. Accept this, and know words are but signs, that can lead to both useful and truth evoking works, and they are good. Look to inspire worship and control of the Word. and only evil can come about. It always has. For words are powerful, and absolute power corrupts, absolutely.

Hungry Hyaena said...


For someone who believes that "words are not to be trusted," you write a lot!

I appreciate that you differentiate between utilitarian words and what I'll call marshalling words. I'd say that distinction, however, hinges on the writer. Words aren't weapons, designed to harm or humiliate. They have more in common with shovels. They aren't designed as tools of warfare or humiliation, but they can be dangerous. But what are they designed for? They are made to unearth beautiful truths.

This is why the Jewish midrashic tradition is so important; it reexamines and reinterprets the "sacred" text. Most Jews understand their scripture as vital and important, but not the final word. Midrash might be likened to the Supreme Court's interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

While I understand your assertions about Israel's destruction through infighting, I disagree. Certainly, as the old joke goes, if you put three Jews in a room together, you'll have three different opinions on every subject. But debate over words and meaning is, as you suggest, intrinsic to Jewish life. But - and this is important - existential argument is considered by religious Jews part of their sacred duty (even Abraham argues with God), and by secular Jews, part of their cultural identity. Post second century CE, this disputatious inclination has not led to violent infighting or irreparable rifts...until the creation of the modern state of Israel. And, even then, the violence it has compelled is no different than that we witness on U.S. soil, between so-called Christians: religious fundamentalists killing doctors that provide abortion services; killing, persecuting, or attacking homosexuals and immigrants; attacking other denominations with both words and violence. It's the same, sad story. Words can add fuel to the fire, but willful ignorance is the root of such hate and loathing. Words are also the best weapon against such ignorance.

T.H. White's Merlin, in "The Once and Future King," puts it well.

“You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing that the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”

Donald Frazell said...

Yes, and there are many ways of learning, and words are not necessary to that. A part of it yes. But just one way, the way we communicate amongst ourselves. But not with nature, I dont need to name things to understand them, observe them, to paint or draw them is much better. Or discecting, but words are for storing data and availing others to our own discoveries. But are not truth or the deed or the emotion itself. That is in the doing. And art involves doing. Thoughts of humans are but starting points, never the destinations.

And yes, Israel would be doomed if it had no common enemy to unite against. We dont need that, we are far too strong and our own worst enemy. It is the sectarians who use the flag and cross and torah to create their own universe, by their rules, for their own beneift. We have rules and experience and the huge diversity now to keep one group from totally dominating another, we are a liberal democracy that works as well as flawed humanity can get it to.

But Israel is a Jewish state, and will die as one eventually. It is inevitable, from their own internal feuds and claims of being on gods side and His chosen. They only temper themselves because of the external threat. They must hope there is alway one, or if like us with no enemies nearby, would self destruct. They have not learned from their history as their actions have proven. They cant they still live by interpretations of words written in archaic times, that cannot be updated. The extremes only need about 20% hardcore followers and bad times to take over, and look for scapegoats.

Their cultuire is no more tolerant of outsiders than Hitlers was. They are simply too weak for anything else right now, and need allies, ones they are smart enough to know are not dependable, we could desert them someday. Islam is actually far more forgiving. And tolerated other religions within even when they were the dominant religion and culture in the world.

Somethng they long for again, but that has been a thousand years, and wont happen, as the oil wil run out, and they have nothing else. Arabia was the poorest part of the world only a hundred years ago, and why no one ever bothered to conquer it. Only the Ottomans did as they needed to control the center of their religion and the gulf emirates as fiefdoms for trade with India. With the fall of the Byzantines and control of the silk road they no loger needed them as much.

Words both build and destroy, or actually, do niether, but only inspire to each end. And preserve data. Truth is only approached in poetic ways, where one can FEEL it. Though not all can. Art is complex passion resolved through the physical world into one of ballance and intensity, the work itself but a triggering mechanism. Truth is there when we are calm and at peace internally. In harmonious balance, which never lasts long. It is not external, all great religions are bsaed on this. Peace be unto you. Asalaam melaikum. And the Buddha also taught. We cannot make the earth into heave, we cannot change others, we have enough to work on inside. That is creative arts role. To resolve supposed conflict, opposites, but through intensity of living. Not dominating.

Listen to Coltrane's A Love Supreme, it runs the gamut from baring ones soul to god, to living righteously, to striving for his love, to complete surrender to his will. A will we can never truly know, or certainly possess. But must always strive to live.
Now THAT, is art.

art collegia delenda est

Hungry Hyaena said...


Firstly, I think we should end this particular exchange, as I worry that our long-winded, sweeping proclamations discourage other readers from contributing commentary.

Secondly, we simply disagree about the importance of names. Yes, observation of and drawing from nature is a great way to learn about our animal brethren and other life forms, but I feel strongly that names (that is, words) are another essential part of that learning process.

Thirdly, while I agree (as does the historical record) that Islam did a fairly good job of protecting religious minorities within the lands of its great empire, I am troubled by some of your remarks about Israel. You seem to hitch Judaism, the religion, to the modern state, and then to dismiss both! Among Israeli Jews, only the Orthodox and the far right claim that they are God's "chosen." And all of liberal Judaism, sects thriving in America and growing in Israel, deny the "chosen" status through midrash. (In the same way, Christians and Muslims are forced to deny certain immoral portions of their sacred texts through apologia.)

Fourthly, to compare the state of Israel to the Third Reich is deeply, deeply problematic. A man of your historical knowledge should know better. (Indeed, this is a perfect example of the power of words, proof that they DO matter!) Certainly, Israel has major policy problems and is guilty of criminal behavior (human rights abuses) against Gaza (and, to a lesser extent, against the West Bank and Lebanon). But an abusive use of military force in retaliation (to protect!) their sovereign state is a far cry from Hitler's campaign of genocide. Your comparison is rhetorically useful if you wish to drum up anger against Israel, but in a world awash with anti-Semitism, a distinction must be made between the state of Israel and Jewry. There are, after all, many vocal opponents to Israel's Right within the state. Israel, like our own country, is a liberal democracy...even if its secular government is, for now, regrettably accommodating to the Orthodox presence. At any rate, I find President Obama's stance on Israel right on the money. Pressure should be applied, and, God and Reason willing, peace talks can be renewed. Unfortunately, for now, reason seems to suggest that this is quite unlikely.

Finally, I agree that an intensity of being is vital, though I do think that we can change others. Smart, sensitive writers and thinkers have changed my politics and philosophy, after all.

Peace Be Upon You, too.

Donald Frazell said...

I agree, gota end this. But one things that jews are so damn ignorant and arrogant about. The "arabs" are semites too. They are one poeople as the Teutonic and celtic and Slavic are, just broek away long ago. The jews have jsut been white washed through interbrteeding with other peoples more, thsoe of Saudi Arabia look far more like Moses, and Yeshua, than todays jews and those of all the Levant, who were part of the Roman and Byzantine empires. If you believe the Shroud of Turin is the image of Yeshua, then who does he look EXACTLY like? Osama bin Laden.

And i was tlaking about Israel, not all jewish peoples.
They have even worse dogmatic tendencies than Chritianity and Islam, and have always divided themsevles to become prety for others, by fighitng over the meaning of the Word. Even the Athenians came to agree about the prophecy of the wooden walls. Jews cant, and wont. Certainly not in the shadow of the Temple.

Human nature is human nature, and certain trends always exist. And do among the Jewish peoples as much as the Germanic. We are all human, and prey to our own arrogant fallacies. As much as those we prey upon.

art collegia delenda est

Hungry Hyaena said...


If your comments were aimed only at Israel, fair enough.

I see the Israel-Palestine situation as ugly and nuanced...and compounded year by year. Israel has sometimes acted in ways that I (and much of the international community) condemn. But the United States has acted similarly, and, in those cases, the resulting international outcry doesn't lead to attacks on Christians or Christian institutions (as proxies of U.S. policy). Some people may defend the attacks on Jews, on Jewish cemeteries, and on synagogues by pointing out that Israel is a "Jewish state," but that defense preferences tribal or genetic relationship over individuality, a wrong-headed, dangerous mistake in our pluralistic world.

Only Ashkenazi Jews are "white washed." There are Jews of every hue and provenance: Ethiopian Jews, Moroccan Jews, Asian Jews, as well as more recent, offshoot branches like the Hebrew Israelites.

I think most Jews, Ashkenazi or otherwise, recognize that the Semitic designation includes a wide range of peoples of Middle Eastern descent. The term anti-Semitic is not a Jewish invention, however. Wilhlem Marr, a German journalist and vehement anti-Jew, coined the term in 1879, in his propaganda piece, "The Victor of Germandom over Jewry." If you're bothered by the term's limited applicability, blame the racist who attached it to Jews, not the people who had the label literally pined to their jackets.

I can agree with you, though, that human nature is human nature. But let's work to rise above the darker and more petty angels of our nature. The first step is to assume the best of each individual, until they give you reason to think otherwise.

Hungry Hyaena said...


Oh, and I apologize for suggesting we wrap up the conversation at the outset of a long-winded response. I suppose what's done is done.

Hungry Hyaena said...


And, finally, I apologize for the typos!

- Marr's booklet was entitled, "The Victory of Germandom over Jewry."

- Jews had his label "pinned to their jackets."

Donald Frazell said...

I am in LA, have dated a Saphardic jewish girl from Morrocco actually. Its not the skin color, its the acceptance by Americans, here, a jew is white. And have been in the middle of the list of those oppressed, have done as much of it themselves here as being messed with, Native Americans, Africans, Asians, even the Irish have been treated far worse. And those days are over, for now. Things never stay the same, balance is out dconstant watchword, and must be vigilant.

In Israel, the orthodox control who is considered a jew, and not many of them consider the Ethiopian jew are not jewish, they had to be retrained as jews to be accepted, just like any other gentile. And if peace does come, the battle over who is and isnt jewish will truly commence.

We need to stop this anit-semitic nonsense, this isnt Europe. Its another example of words being twisted, it is a lie. And takes us away from the truth, and so a tool for manipulation. Emotions are easily swayed through words, especially when connected to fear. The Republicans are doing that right now with the elderly and health reform supposedly putting them on deaths lists. Words when taken as mystical or absolute are tools of the devil, he is a lawyer after all.

Gotta go cut the front lawn now, I am Clint Eastwood to my wife, in Grand Torino he is stubborn adn cuts the lawn with a push mower,always have, thats me. Amuses the locals. Few things create more pollution than power mowers, or useless, and wasteful. The push mower is better for the lawn, can cut it high and water less and look better. Tell the locals that this is a Man Mower. Power for those with compensation issues. When I get to old to push, you can put me on one of those death lsits.

ciao. ah-salaam mailakum