Sunday, October 10, 2010

Winner Take All?

My father recently sent me a clipping from the Hampton Roads Daily Press that highlighted some curious research presented at my alma mater, the College of William & Mary.

Biologists have determined that "the maximum length of a duck's penis depends not on genetics but rather [on] the males he keeps company with." Dr. Maydianne Andrade, of the University of Toronto Scarborough, explained that ducks "are essentially engineering their own phallus in response to social challenges." This is fascinating evolutionary biology, to be sure, but I find it remarkable that ducks have penises at all, given that most birds do not. (Apparently, a cloaca just won't cut it in duck world!) Dr. Patricia Brennan, of Yale University, believes that the heightened intensity of male-male competition among waterfowl has resulted in the development and size fluctuation of their sex organs.

The evolving duck penis battle came to mind when I read Ashley Mears' article about Coco Rocha, the popular fashion model. Early in his piece, Mears summed up the competitive dynamics of creative industries revealingly.
"Rocha is what economists would call a winner in a 'winner-take-all market,' prevalent in culture industries like art and music, where a handful of people reap very lucrative and visible rewards while the bulk of contestants scrape together meager livings before they fade into more stable and far less glamorous careers."
As with the bulk of would-be daddy (or uncle) ducks, most artists, designers, musicians, writers, and other creatives will not be prolific and celebrated. There are many intangibles in play, of course, but, like the drake duck whose penis twists to extraordinary lengths to impregnate a hen, "winning" in a creative industry often depends on who you're keeping company with.

Once vetted, however, the successful creative becomes, like Coco Rocha, a known label; his or her career is likely to be a fruitful one. That label is what the blog "Is It Art or Fart?" trades on. As the blog's co-founders explain,
"The blog began as a conversation between two friends living on opposite coasts who shared an undying passion for contemporary art. Both friends have the habit of seeing as much contemporary art as they possibly can, and this habit has uncontrollably spilled over into the recognition of 'fart'--coincidental moments in everyday life that, when isolated and [attached to the name of an] artist, bear uncanny resemblance to art seen in museums and galleries around the globe. Back and forth the two friends would point to the 'fart' that seemed to be just about everywhere. Now the humor of their findings is for all to enjoy. Remember, the world is your readymade!"
Part of the humor of their project is that the "fart" is often as good as or better than the "art" it might be confused with. Unfortunately, for the "fart," as for many drake ducks and coulda-been-a-contender creatives, it's a winner-take-all world.

Image credit: Scrooge McDuck, copyright Walt Disney Company

Friday, October 01, 2010


I have work included in "Uprooted," a group exhibition at Heart that features a selection of Root Division resident artists. Root Division is a Mission District-based arts and arts education non-profit.

Exhibition details follow.
"Root Division and Heart are pleased to present a select group of Root Division resident artists whose work shares a common reflection on their current setting - San Francisco. Whether in motif, subject, light or sensibility, each of these artists addresses the influence of their surroundings.

All but two of the artists have come from outside California and embraced the Bay Area as their home, as well as the backdrop of their artistic creations. How is the landscape that we call home shaping these emerging and newly arrived Bay Area artists?

'Uprooted' is curated by Marisa McCarthy."
1270 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

Opening: Wednesday, October 6th, 6-10 pm
Exhibition Dates: September 23 - November 15, 2010