Guns and Hypocrisy in the World of Modern Art Blogging – An Old Testament Point of View… with a Little Bit of Humor.
A guest piece by James W. Bailey:
There’s been a rumor floating around the art blog circuit the past couple of weeks concerning a reported incident involving an UCLA art student who supposedly brought a gun to an art class being taught by artist/teacher Chris Burden (the dumb-ass artist who in the 70s had himself shot in the arm with a rifle) and who proceeded to scare the shit out of his classmates by threatening to commit suicide right in front of their very imaginative MFA-high-tuition-paying eyes. The rumor also suggests that this frightening suicide attempt was nothing more than a dramatic performance art piece offered up in tribute to Burden.
When I first read the breaking news reports (properly vetted, of course, through rigorous journalistic art blogging standards and practices) echoing across the Internet among certain highly credentialed art bloggers, I nearly fell out of my vintage cane back rocking chair on the veranda of my ancestral Southern Gothic mansion in Mississippi with a seizure brought on by endless waves of laughter generated by the possibility that such a poignant story could in fact be true. I actually laughed so hard over this comic what-goes-around-comes-around scenario that I probably spilled half of a bottle of my father’s finest Jim Beam bourdon through the ancient cracks of the veranda into the inspiring Mississippi soil resting silently underneath my genteel family’s Ante-Bellum Greek Revival abode – hopefully, that whiskey will inspire some truth to sprout up out of the ground about this rumored gun issue.
But the more I laughed over these gun reports, the more I realized that something really wasn’t very funny about some of what I was reading on some of these art blogs. I retired inside to the library, gathered my composure, poured another stiff drink, lighted one of my illegal Cuban cigars given to me years ago by a former County Sheriff (a righteous Southern dude who’s currently serving time in a Texas federal prison because of his excessively close association with the infamous Dixie Mafia) and began to harmonize on this matter of Guns and Hypocrisy in the World of Modern Art Blogging.
And here it is…
Full Disclosure: I’m from Mississippi; I’m a hard-core anti-political Southern anarchist artist who holds most hierarchical powers that be in total contempt; and I’m also a member of the National Rifle Association, as was another radical Southern-born anarchistic artist/writer by the name Mr. William S. Burroughs (who I am honored to say I counted as a correspondent friend before his death in 1997) on all counts.
Southern liberals with guns – it’s a Deep South religious thing that I will not waste valuable server space on DC Art News site explaining or justifying. Let me just simply comment that I’m indeed an extreme liberal Southern artist who knows a thing or two about how to use firearms.
GUN REPORT: I’m especially transfixed by the ease of use and accuracy of the M9 Beretta 9mm. If guns had existed in the Old West Biblical era Holy Land, our savior Jesus Christ would have carried a M9 Beretta 9mm. The M9 semi-automatic pistol weighs two pounds and has a maximum effective range of 50 meters. It has a staggered 15 round magazine with a reversible magazine release button that can be positioned for either right- or left-handed shooters. The M9 is a semiautomatic, magazine-fed, recoil-operated, double action pistol, chambered for the NATO 9mm cartridge. The service pistol is a close personal defense weapon and is deadly accurate.
I take it that the dumb-ass art student at UCLA, just like his counterpart art teacher back in the day, weren’t deploying real weapons. I believe Burden used a .22 caliber rifle -good for shooting squirrels and pulling off art stunts, I suppose, but not for killing people. I’m anxious to learn what weapon the dumb-ass art student was packing. No doubt whatever his combined student loan and art scholarship could afford – minus all deductions for condoms, beer, nightly internet porn hook-ups, black market electronic goods and male hair care products.
I also know a thing or two about speaking direct to the subject without gagging on the coughed-up phlegm of politically correct speech patterns designed to convey my false sensitivity on issues of such national importance as some dumb-ass art student walking into a classroom and trying to one-up his more famous art teacher who himself pulled a pre-MTV Jackass stunt way back in the day when smoking cheap pot with long-haired anti-Vietnam War radicals and burning American flags made in Mexico while reciting English translations printed in the Philippines of anti-capitalist poetry by Mao was considered chic (Of course, many of these committed raging sincerely angry artists remained true to their dream to change the world, grew up, got married, settled down in Northern Virginia, went to work for the defense industry mind-melding their software programs into a more efficient satellite guided missile killing system and now enjoy nothing more than having missionary position sex once a quarter so they can ease into a post-coital reading of their online 401k statements to see how the market is treating them).
A certain collection of the more dedicated art sensitive radicals, however, settled into similarly comfortable life styles of “teaching” art at the university level… as if art can be taught.
But that’s a fraud subject for another day.
Chris Burden and Guns –
I don’t know Chris Burden, I’ve never met Chris Burden and I don’t give a damn about anybody named Chris Burden. I’ not inspired by bullet holes in Chris Burden’ body anymore than I’m inspired by the entirety of Chris Burden’s body of work. I don’t consider him to be a great artist. I do believe that he must be a smart and clever person to have parlayed his 70s era gun stunt into the career, success, fame and money he now enjoys – that I do find inspiring. I also recognize that he has undertaken significant efforts during recent years to divorce himself from Shoot because he wants to be perceived as an architect/artist.
Chris Burden is a married 57 year old member of the art elite who lives in the lap of luxury in California – I’ve actually seen his home as a friend of mine in California once lived mere blocks from Burden. In short, Burden has a lot invested in his public perception and has demonstrated in the past his fruitful ability to manipulate the press for his own gain. This rumored dumb-ass art student gun stunt will probably prove out to be yet another example.
But, for the sake of argument…
The Dumb-ass Art Student –
What can I say? If everything is true as is reported on the art blogs (and God knows that if it’s reported on a left coast art blog it must be true), then he’s a dumb-ass. But in my libertarian/anarchistic world even dumb-ass art students, just like dumb-ass art teachers, ought to be protected by a little thing called Freedom of Artistic Expression. This kid didn’t shoot anyone and it wasn’t a Columbine situation. For Christ sakes, everybody I knew in Mississippi as a student carried a knife and/or gun to class and we never experienced a major life threatening knifing or shooting. Some serious wounds? Sure. But I don’t recall anyone ever dying.
The angry froth among certain art bloggers over what UCLA should do to this student is laughable. UCLA knew exactly what they were getting when they hired Burden. Indeed, they gleefully promote the Burden-style attitude on their web site.
The Department of Art is committed to a professional art training within the context of a liberal arts university. Visual artists are responsible for some of the most provocative and enduring expressions of culture. At UCLA, emerging artists are provided with the tools they need to express themselves in ways that are meaningful in the social context in which they live and work.
The department attracts gifted and motivated students who thrive in an environment that encourages autonomy. They are drawn not only to the outstanding creative faculty, the University’s resources, and its location in one of the world’s leading art centers, but also to a program that encourages them to develop as artists. The result is a distinguished list of graduates who have made significant contributions in their field.
I assume the school provided the dumb-ass art student “with the tools they need to express themselves” – a gun – “in ways that are meaningful in the social context in which they live and work.”
Supposedly, according to the rumor, Burden has quit teaching at UCLA because the university has refused to expel the offending dumb-ass art student.
Imagine UCLA hiring a paroled Charles Manson to teach a creative writing class, having a student of his class decide one day that he’s going to one-up Charley by ritually killing the Dean and his family in the hopes of being imprisoned so he can become an American Icon (serial killers in America automatically qualify for Pop Icon status), going to trial and being acquitted for lack of evidence, re-enrolling in Charley’s class, and having Manson scream, bitch and moan that UCLA has to either expel this kid or he’s quitting.
Moral of the story: Be very careful about elevating Asshole Pop Icons to Sainthood and be even more careful about whom you hire to work for you.
Chris Burden and the dumb-ass art student and whether he pulled a loaded gun and fired it or didn’t and whether Burden and the art students were scared or not is irrelevant to me. It’s almost like worrying about some multi-millionaire asshole in California who might have had Frank O. Gehry build a titanium-sheathed house on a steep dirt mound and having it slip down the side of the mountain into the ocean after God decides to take a drunken piss on the left coast. In a world where a Tsunamis can kill hundreds of thousands of poor people, the problems of a gargantuan narcissistic ego-jackass not being able to find his precious Ferrari under 50 feet mud don’t amount to jack-shit.
Or put it this way: If you’re an aspiring artist who believes you’ve got to get an art degree to be taken seriously in the art world, don’t be a sucker for an MFA at UCLA because it damn sure doesn’t guarantee a Whitney Biennial invite. Find better things to do with your art time than sitting in a class being manipulated by an AARP member-eligible art dinosaur and subjecting yourself to the risk of being shot by an ADD dumb-ass art student sycophant.
Theo van Gogh and Guns – My Only Serious New Testament Concern
Here’s what happened to Theo van Gogh in the real world that I care about:
It portrayed violence against women in Islamic societies.
The film was made with liberal Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee who fled an arranged marriage.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been under police protection since the film was aired. She has also received death threats and has renounced the Islamic faith.
For making this film, Theo van Gogh was rewarded by being chased down like a dog and repeatedly shot by a radical extremist Islamic right wing piece of shit that was part of an organized conspiracy. The murderer then placed a note on van Gogh’s bloodied corpse and slammed a knife into his chest.
And the reaction from the art world elite on this crime – silence.
The reaction from the art blogger community – near silence.
Theo van Gogh was slaughtered on the streets in Amsterdam by a bunch of radical conspiring religious assholes that hated him and his art and who believe they have the perfect right to kill anybody they target to advance their sick agenda.
I am deeply troubled that the art world has yet to rise up and demonstrate its collective outrage over what happened to Theo van Gogh. But the deafening sound of silence over this matter is not a mystery to me – the art world establishment has boxed itself into a corner with its politically correct doctrines and now finds it almost impossible to defend controversial artists such as Theo van Gogh and what should be his basic right under the concept of Freedom of Artistic Expression to express himself, even if some of his views were indeed intended to be insulting to certain people.
The reasoning among the politically correct art elite goes something like this: “Well, it’s a real shame about van Gogh, but he really brought it all on himself with his outrageous words and art and should have been more sensitive about offending the deeply and sincerely held religious views of some of the minority members of his community. If his art had just been more culturally sensitive, this horrible crime probably never would have taken place.”
I find it appalling that so much energy has been spent writing so many words that have been posted over a host of art blogs that express such outrage over what the dumb-ass art student did or may have done concerning this still rumored event at UCLA. Where were these moral voices, or anonymous internet-handle-delivered words, when Theo van Gogh was violently killed in the real world? I have taken the time to review some of these sites and find it very interesting that there was at the time, and has been since, a dearth of expressed outrage.
I think I know why: The Fear Factor – In this country it is perfectly acceptable to the art world elite to be an artist who pisses on the Bible, smears cow shit all over a statue of the Virgin Mary or rams a photograph of the Pope up the ass as a performance piece. These people get extolled. You can even make an anti-Bush “documentary” and become a goddamn millionaire, win major international film prizes and have people back home hype you for an Academy Award for Best Picture.
Sure, the usual right wing Republican assholes jump up and down and demand your grant money be rescinded, but that’s usually about as far as it goes. The talking heads get to chatter and the offending artist or filmmaker gets invited be on “Larry King.”
But the cultural elite here and abroad know this fact for sure – if you dare insult Islam by pissing on the Koran or smearing cow shit over a statue of Mohammed or ramming a photograph of any radical Islamic leader up your ass as a performance art piece, you will have just guaranteed that your butt will be placed on the world-wide Jihad Art Assassination Squad fatwa hit list and that your name and address will be broadcast nightly on Al Jazeera.
Even the younger generation of art bloggers has heard of Salmon Rushdie, I hope.
I am very grateful to DC Art News for publishing my letter the day after Mr. van Gogh was brutally murdered condemning the extremist conspiracy of religious fanatics responsible for his death.
My letter can be read here.
I am also very grateful that there are other voices out there in the art world wilderness speaking with clarity on this issue.
Here is one of the very few: Peacetalk.com.
I am profoundly grateful to Mr. Pieter Dorsman for his bravery in staying on top of this story.
Artists and art bloggers need to stand up for higher principles than the false immediacy of politically correct doctrines that seem to be so highly valued in the insulated world of those who pose no risk, and dare not to pose a risk, to the established order.
And if certain parties in the art blogging community are unwilling to risk their lives standing up in defense of a consistent definition of Freedom of Artistic Expression that protects every creative person no matter how offensive their words or art, then at least do us all a favor by engaging in a modicum of basic fact checking before hyper-ventilating about meaningless art rumors involving dumb-ass art teachers and art students who like to play with toy guns out in California.
I called and/or emailed the following parties to verify if the above referenced rumored story was true. The truth of this rumored story can not be confirmed by any of the following parties that I have communicated with as of Wednesday, January 19, 2005. Chris Burden has not responded to my email.
1.) Editorial Staff of the Los Angeles Times
2.) Editorial Staff of the LA Weekly
3.) Editorial Staff of the The Daily Bruin
4.) The Office of the District Attorney of Orange County
5.) UCLA Department of Art
6.) UCLA Chancellor’s Office
7.) UCLA Department of Security
8.) Personally emailed Chris Burden