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The HairyNaked Russian Poets
The breast poetry will always be popular
Art & Fear
Get back to work
Americain Debacle DuArt
A perennial complication encounters art, academia, and commerce

. . .

TheHairy Naked Russian Poets

Paul C. d'Charmmér

The Institute of Contemporary Arts in London is holdingthe First International Festival of Naked Poetry. The eventwill, however, be staged without the participation of ThePoetry Society.

Poetry Society director Chris Meade said he turned down asponsorship request from "two hairy Russian poets." TheRussian poets in question are Vladimir Yaremenko and TimGadanski, whose readings were greeted with torrents oftomatoes, abuse and eggs from St. Petersburg audiencesbefore they hit on the strategy of calling themselves TheNaked Russian Poets and performing nude. As Gadanski put it,"Clothes, like chains, must be thrown away and poets becomefree and powerful."

The newspaper article I read did not indicate whether TheNaked Russian Poets will be at the First InternationalFestival of Naked Poetry. I think I got the gist of themarketing plan, though, with the photograph accompanying thepiece: it was an image of two not unattractive nude youngwomen holding volumes of prose.

Given the state of contemporary marketing, I don't seemuch of a future for The Naked Russian Poets, at least thehirsute ones.

. . .

Art& Fear



From Pablo Picasso's rather innocent remark that "Peoplewho try to explain pictures are usually barking up the wrongtree" to Man Ray's somewhat less charitable pronouncementthat "All critics should be assassinated," twentieth centuryWestern artists indulge a rich, if somewhat schizophrenic,tradition of dismissing intellectual discussions about art.Seldon Rodman has the best take on this phenomenon: "Onething about artists is that most of them agree in thinkingthat nothing important can be said about art. Another isthat without exception they love to talk about it."

In Art & Fear, Observations On The Perils (andRewards) of Artmaking, David Bayles and Ted Orlandcleverly avoid the dangers of the talking-about-art trap bytalking about artmaking. The distinction is notsemantic sophistry; it is the foundation of a compelling andpassionate book.

Bayles and Orland begin by succinctly explaining how onebecomes a successful artist: "In large measure becoming anartist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makesyour work personal, and following your voice, which makes itdistinctive." They later use a lovely anecdote from HowardIkemoto to illustrate that at one time in their lives almosteveryone was a successful artist: "When my daughter wasabout seven years old, she asked me one day what I did atwork. I told her I worked at the college--that my job was toteach people how to draw. She stared back at me,incredulous, and said, 'You mean they forget?' "

So, why are so few of us successful artists after we've"matured?" Bayles and Orland have a one-word answer: fear.As two artists who have avoided the traps and pitfalls thathave turned so many of their colleagues and students intoformer artists, the authors know what they're talking about.And more to the point, they talk about it very well.

Bayles and Orland believe that "what we really learn fromthe artmaking of others is courage-by-association." Andthat's the charm of reading Art & Fear; thevolume has the ambiance of a long conversation with trustedmentors that goes on into the night over a bottle of wine.(Perhaps it's not coincidental that one of the authors saysthat's how part of the book was written.)

And, how does one defeat what seem to be indefatigableodds and so remain an artist? Art & Fear offers a bonus,an Operation Manual For Not Quitting, reprinted here in itsentirety: "A. Make friends with others who make art, andshare your in-progress work with each other frequently. B.Learn to think of [A], rather than the Museum ofModern Art, as the destination of your work. (Look at itthis way: If all goes well, MOMA will eventually come toyou.)"

It's a fine line between speaking simply as opposed tosimplistically, and the authors stay on the smart side ofthis perilous divide. Bayles and Orland employ alight-handed and frequently light-hearted style that neverbelies the passion of their convictions. By presenting theirbeliefs so persuasively, readers may easily be left with theimpression that most of what they say is a prioriknowledge.

The co-authors haven't been as stylistically successfulat the difficult art of blending their identities. Variouspassages in the book are spoken by "the authors," "theauthor," and "I." It's a minor quibble with an otherwiseseamless presentation, an important presentation that thesecritical comments can only begin to discuss in an unhappilyabbreviated detail.

Art & Fear should appeal to anyone with even aperipheral interest in the arts. Successful artists willappreciate just how clever they really are, and everyoneelse can benefit from the courage-by-associationobservations from a couple of smart survivors. Get Art & Fear and get back to work.

Art & Fear : Observations on the Perils (AndRewards) of Artmaking
by David Bayles, Ted Orland
Published by Capra Press
ISBN: 0884963799

. . .

AmericainDebacle Du Art

Edward Conrad


Because of positive response to previous publicationof work by Edward Conrad, Stare's editors, with hope ofobtaining additional material from his catalog ofunpublished prose, reopened a conversation with Conrad'sliterary executor. Finally, after many unanswered letters,phone calls, and faxes, the following arrived with a shortnote stating, as a condition of publication, that the textbe offered without alteration or deletion. Bravo. Despiteits obvious flaws and shortcomings, the editors of Staredecided to present the text received as received, unchangedand uncensored. Bravo.

"You'll never guess who found me," she said, bubblingover with excitement, chatting with her ex-husband who hadsomehow ended up working in the same city, at the sameuniversity, and somehow connected to the same artsorganization. She intended her conversation to be about artbecause, at this meeting, art commanded attention.Furthermore, because the crowd was dutiful, the woman'sconversation was the temporary subject of absoluteattention, and she chatted performatively with and forothers even as she carefully measured out both her lines andher excitement, perhaps for the sake of aesthetic form.

And she had decided for the crowd to paint a pictureabout the amazing things that happen when one has a widelydistributed e-mail address.

"She found me by thumbing through e-mail addresses--ShariBurns!" she said in a fit of smearing the canvas, and herex-bed-mate, forking and munching through some party ducocktail food, food paid for by the state with slightadditional funding from the federal government, chuckledimmediately at the memory.

He laughed, almost on cue, "NotShari-with-the-leather-and-the-hooks-in-the-ceiling?"

And she said to no one in particular, "We both knew Shariwhen we first met years ago in California." They glanced ateach other knowingly before she continued, with enthusiasm,"Oh, she sure was something, wasn't she? Isn't it WILD thatshe'd write to me?"

Of course, "no one" was supposed to know that they hadbeen divorced for the last few years, but, if he or she didnot know, they would soon be told, and the telling wouldsettle lazily into the hovering, airy fleece of the otherchatter du cocktail.

But I suppose I ought to introduce myself. I was one ofthe "no ones" to whom they were performing, but the scene,and the persons playing it out, were much more importantthan I could ever be, so I won't waste your time with toomuch superfluous detail. For the record, at that moment, Iwas an hungry artist, and I was hoping, at that moment, tosomehow ingratiate myself with the "crowd" that controlledthe galleries, the associations, AND the monied donors.That's why I was at the gathering, which was actually areception. I had temporarily, or so I told myself, placed mymorals and ethics on hold in the hope of receiving--well,let's just say, "receiving." My temporarily suspended ethicsand morals hadn't entirely decided upon exact details.

But we were sipping drinks and observing the persons,conversations, and surroundings, sort of getting the feel ofthe room.

And there was plenty of room for chatter. It was a bigroom and an important gathering, called by a man who notonly had become a very fancy and well-paid Dean at thisrather prestigious American university, but a man who alsohad maneuvered his way socially into becoming a personnedu art. It was an enviable position. For the Dean, themost enviable aspect of the position was that he couldcollect his one-hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar-a-yearsalary for job number one and simultaneously make off with adeliberately undisclosed sum for being on the Board ofTrustees of the Metropolitan Art Museum. And so, naturally,and with the hope of playing as many of his cards ofprestige and power to his advantage, he had assembled thisrather "outside" meeting at the best "inside" room that hisdeanship could obtain on the attractive campus. He couldeven claim to have had a hand in designing the room, and notone of his underlings would dare contradict him, even ifthey knew that he knew as little about art as he did aboutbeing a Dean.

Still, technically speaking, the metropolitan aspect ofthe meeting might be summarized by the idea that anyone withenough money could be elevated to the status of creaturdu art, and here was the metropolitan man who couldsupply the fraudulent valuations and vitally importanttax-breaks that could raise the most untalented poser to therealm of the aesthetic ethereal, provided the applicant hadsufficient funds or something else to trade. So, it was morethan enough occasion for the Dean to call such a meeting,spending his own capital of power and prestige with an eyetoward increasing the weight in his already overstuffedpockets. It all had the smell of something greedilydelicious.

In comparing the academic and metropolitan aspects of themeeting, perhaps I could say that the Dean had more to dowith the design of the guest-list than he did with thedesign of the room, but even that would not stand up asentirely true. He had not invited me, and had nothing to dowith my design, or so I thought. I was just another hungryartist attempting to hang on, sprinkled in with the mix ofother hangers-on, the almost-well-to-do, and those who wereso larded down with cash and ostentatious liquidity thatthere was barely enough state-sponsored liquor, withadditional help from the federal government, to keep us allgabby and awe-inspired.

And someone suddenly raised the volume on thatex-California conversation, not so much for my benefit, butbecause the vignette was heading toward its inevitabledenouement, and no one was supposed to miss what was comingup next.

"...but her dog and the purple pillow were so cute! Herparties were such a scream, although it REALLY got hairythat time she messed herself!"

Despite the teller's offering the climax in the very bestshades of puce and magenta, I found it difficult toconcentrate on Shari's theatrical exploits. Although Ibelieved my morals and ethics safely compressed beneathdreams of finding a feed at the big trough, unpleasantintimations kept squirting out from under the weight of allthat anticipated money.

Perhaps it did not help that the room was supposed toooze money. The carpet was splattered with many brightcolors arranged in as much baroque ornatitude as could beoffered up by late-twentieth-century American carpet mills.Naturally, the carpet's primary aesthetic was to appear asadministratively expensive as possible, in an academic sortof way. One of the administrative assistants, promoted andpromoted again by the Dean, had been a bona fideinterior decorator for several years before being called toacademia, and his participation in designing the fashionableroom surely justified the bona of his fides.He had beamed, and the Dean and his minions had beamed, whena local historical association had been bullied intoaffirming that the room was very expensive and decorativeindeed, and the beaming had increased beyond measure whenthe association presented a plaque, now displayed in a glasscase, thus fixing the fact in amber.

Another conversation bubbled up out of the crowd.

"Frankly, I don't know what's taking so long. Thehundred-and-fifty acres on the other side of the Greenbeltshould have been acquired well before now. The longer theywait, the harder it will be to keep those tract-developersfrom moving in and slapping up some of those horriblemesses. Have you seen what they did to all that beautifulland north of 106th Street?"

Here was a voice entirely dedicated to "art."

Her aesthetic recital continued, "Last year when I metwith Justin, I told him how important it was to thecommunity to keep the Greenbelt land as 'open space.' I toldhim that a candidate had to earn my contribution andsupport, and that I would be watching to see the interestsof this community protected. I think it's time I phoned toremind him of just what that support might mean."

And one of the immediate group echoed in response to herleader, "Oh yes. It's terrible the way these 'paidofficials' forget just who's paying them. A few weeks ago Itried to see Harriet Wartgow down at the Assessor's Officeabout the valuation of my properties, and I had to callthree times before she arranged to see me. Of course, shefixed it after we had our little talk, but it's almost as ifthose people will try to get away with anything unlessyou're standing over them every minute."

The original speaker returned, "Well, Justin's not goingto keep me waiting, not even for a minute."

I must admit I felt sorry for Justin, in an offhand sortof way, because I recognized the leader of this littlesalon du art. Some things you don't forget, even ifyou only encounter them once, in passing.

It had been at least a year before, while researchingsomething in the university's library, something or otherabout Thomas Eakins, when I originally heard that voice,some aisles away, almost shouting in anger, and I was sosurprised that I had to move closer to investigate whatcould cause such a commotion in a prestigious universitylibrary.

"...and I don't see what, if anything, necessitates ourconsidering any kind of raise for that position. EverywhereI look, I find considerable work that hasn't been done.These book stacks need to be dusted, and they could bewashed, come to think of it, and the carpets in thisbuilding could be cleaned more often than three times ayear. Quite frankly, this library is more than generous withthat kind, and I don't think it's our responsibility to askwhether or not those people--whose main aspiration, by theway, would seem to be cleaning toilets--, I don't think wehave an obligation to solve the problems of their personallives. When I worked at the Library of Congress, we neverhad any such difficulty with the custodians. You can informManuel, and anyone like him, that I have no intention oflistening to any talk about raises until this building isspic and span."

As this thin, grey-haired woman sliced out the aisle andmoved toward the nearest exit, I might have observed the wayin which she attempted to assert her authority with everystamp of her black, low-heeled shoes, but I suddenlywondered if it might be true that by knowing the work onemight know the artist. I was thinking about Manuel. I hadseen him many times working in the library--mops, brooms,cloths--and I had even seen him on his knees more than once,scraping this or that off the tile or out of the carpet. Ihave always found it troubling to see people on their knees,even if they were performing necessary work. But we weretalking about Manuel. He was obviously Mexican-American,first generation, and he had without exception beencourteous and considerate to me whenever we ended up in thesame space. As soon as he would see me, and recognize me forthe great scholar that I, no doubt, appeared to be, he wouldmove immediately out of my way, out of the aisle, to let medo whatever wonderful work I had obviously arrived to do.Answering his numerous courtesies, I tried, more than once,to engage him in conversation, particularly to offer himsomething clever or amusing, with the idea of brighteninghis day. Anyway, after speaking to Manuel on three or fouroccasions--early on I asked for his name, one of thosehopeless gestures--, I observed that he particularly scannedmy tone, more than my words, so he could smile or laughpolitely in admiring answer to whenever I thought my remarksbrilliant enough to warrant such response.

Perhaps, after all, you couldn't know the artist by thework. I was having a hard time connecting Manuel'sgenerosity with the black-heeled woman who had sliced offwith such stamping authority, but I had no difficulty inconnecting that woman of the past to that woman of thepresent. Maybe I had it all wrong and she was art and artistin one, but we were suddenly back in the present, back inthat oozing room, and one of her other friends wascomplimenting her on something I hadn't expected.

"...but why didn't you tell us you were going to retirenext year? I was so sad when the Dean told me. Still, itseems only right that they're going to vote you theDistinguished Faculty Award, what with all your work inraising faculty women's salaries."

It might have been all the distractions in the room, butI thought I saw the leader of the salon lookquizzically at her congratulatory friend, almost as if shedidn't know that she would be retiring, and I would havelooked longer, but bodies and conversations throughout thecrowd were shifting toward the dais. The announced occasion,whatever it was really supposed to mean, crept up inevitablyon the gathering. The Dean had entered the room. Indeed, henow stood at the podium, and beside him was an easel, drapedwith a thick, but very decorative silk, and beside the easelstood a being, presumably the artist, sporting a pompadour,a restrained but very expensive suit, presumably containingsilk, and a considerable number of teeth, all visible.

"Friends, and it's so rewarding to see so many of you,this evening we have created a special occasion to honor agift so generously given to our prestigious university.Although many of you know how important Jim Hucko has beento our community, some of you may have been unaware of howrichly and diligently Jim has managed the vineyards of art,particularly in painting. A few in this gathering haveshared the greedy pleasure of savoring Jim's talent throughspecial purchase of his work in private shows and auctions,but, perhaps because of his modesty, most of you willreceive the stunning vibrance of this painter's art for thefirst time, when we remove the drape from this trulymarvelous canvas."

I looked over at the pompadour, suit, and teeth. Allthree were virtually drooling.

"Furthermore, this canvas is only the start of ourenjoyment. Although he was reluctant at first, Jim hasagreed to donate twelve other selections in addition to theitem we are so eager to unveil this evening. Perhaps mynegotiations triumphed when I told him that all would find apermanent home at the university library, where they will beopen for your appreciation, all in their spaces, thebeginning of next week. I know they will be a source ofinspiration and profit for us all."

And with the words, "inspiration and profit," aninvisible workman turned up the switch on a pair of smallspotlights that illumined the decorated easel. I knew it wasall heading for a salon du climax.

"The moment is surely upon us," continued the Dean."Without delay," he said, grabbing the cord, "I present toyou, 'Revelation at Pompeii'," and the drape fell to thefloor.

I was horrified. The 3' x 5' painting, bordered garishlybut inexpensively with a shiny metallic frame, boasted amonochromatic background color of scarlet red, brazen andglossy scarlet red, without variation from any arbitrarypoint to any other arbitrary point within the field of thework. Progressing from the background to the body, one couldconjecture that there was some form to the effort, asmanifested by five white figures, perhaps resemblingfireworks, each essentially the same as the next, and eachwith seven veins per figure, and formal, perhaps, in the waythat their arrangement aped artistic symmetry. These figurescommenced at the bottom left quarter of the canvas, ascendedto the top left quarter, and then crossed from left toright--what might be described, decoratively, as anupside-down "L" shape. I could only assume that the fivewhite garlands were experiments in texture--the medium wasacrylic--and some of the veins brandished one particularblade stroke as opposed to advertising another, but that allcould have been accident rather than deliberation. Still,one could not mistake the intellectual center of the work,greedily occupying a little bit more than the bottom rightquarter of the red canvas, a shape more than a form, aphallus, of no particular distinction or detail, limp andhanging, complete with a prodigious scrotum, limp andhanging, if such a thing is remarkable. For the record, theshape of the phallus announced its centrality, regardless ofits being placed on the bottom right, because it offered anadditionally profound exploration of texture. Specifically,the white of the shape of the phallus was actually, ineffect, a thick outline, with the core of the phallus beingpink, with the pink interrupted periodically andsymmetrically, and this was deliberate, by three horizontalcrimson bars, darker than the scarlet of the background. A"Revelation at Pompeii." As I said, I was horrified. Icouldn't believe my eyes.

I couldn't believe my ears, either. From the mouths ofthe crowd, I heard oohs and ahhs, gurgles and coos,sufficient to generate a blush from the most experiencedvoyeur, but my hectored morals and ethics availed themselvesof the embattled occasion to remind me that I was aparticipant, not an observer, and that I couldn't shed myresponsibilities so easily as a lizard sheds its skin, justto grow another, whatever the anticipated gain.

Admittedly, I borrowed additional drinks, both from thestate and federal government, before I made my way into thenight. If I participated in any of the festivities after the"revelation"--conversations, parlor games, or what haveyou--, I confess that I do not remember. I was all too lostin the slather of the moment.

Two occurrences on the following day rounded out theepisode.

In the morning, when I checked my mail, sort of draggedmyself to the mailbox, I received a postcard from RandallSchroth, an artist I knew, who was vacationing in Louisiana.The picture on the front, from New Orleans, offered a viewof an above-ground cemetery. It was one of those placeswhere everyone is "buried" in tiny, above-ground cryptsbecause the ground is so low and the water-table so highthat it is impossible to keep anyone interred for very longwithout them inconveniently bubbling up. On the reverseside, instead of telling me that the weather was wonderful,he offered only an odd, little poem:


The intricate connection
from myself to enemies,
myself to food:

Basically, it's simple:
dull end toward me,
sharp end toward them.

At first, I thought the poem quite clever, but that wasprobably due to temporary difficulties with my vision, whichresulted in my mistakenly reading, "My Life," as opposed to,"My Knife," for the title of the missive. Still, uponreflection, because I felt as if I had swallowed a knife,the arrival of the card seemed apt, or at least haunting,given my recent experiences.

Even more disturbing, however, later when I went to theSafeway in an effort to assuage the hunger generated by thenight before, I confronted an unhappy fact. It all beganharmlessly enough. While standing at the meat counter,someone bumped me with a cart from behind. Because it feltmore intentional than unintentional, I deliberately assumeda less than smiling expression when I turned to confront myattacker. But one look told me I shouldn't have bothered. AsI met the face of the rather innocent woman who happened tohave a great deal more in her cart than she could reasonablycontrol, I softened my expression, she awkwardly nodded herembarrassment, and the whole affair seemed to be over. Shejust had too much in her buggy. It was amazing how much shehad, but, as I shifted my gaze to take in all of heraccumulation, I noticed the advertisement emblazoned on thevery front of her cart. Safeway had cleverly sold this spaceto an important, franchised real-estate concern completewith a pompadour, suit, and many visible teeth: Jim Hucko. Iencountered, again, and even more fully, those intimationsgauzily communicating the ways in which art and the marketmight meet.

Additional Note: Our thanks to Mr. R. Schroth, whograciously granted permission for us to reprint his writingas part of the work above, and who may be reached throughschroth@stare.com.Any comment or inquiries regarding the work, in general, maybe addressed to Conrad's literary executor at archivcon@stare.com.

. . .
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