“The Complex Function of Artistic Expression in a Society of Indifference: The 5th Horseshittists’ Manifesto (A Confession, Apologetic, and Hymnal)” by Richard F. Yates

[Begun 17 April ’14 on an auto parts receipt from the floor of the car.]

Abstract:

abstract (complex function of art)

Key words:

—Big rambling post about art and creativity (and selling your soul to make a buck, where to sell, and how to get the best deal.)
[Ed. note: The author may not always be completely reliable.]

History:

—When I was young, probably 4 or 5 years old, we had a typewriter, and I used to put pieces paper into the machine (it was a manual, with each letter on its own, thin, metal arm, and if you jammed too many keys at once, they would get stuck together, and your fingers would get all smudgy trying to pry them apart), and I would hammer randomly at the keys and spell out these long, rambling, confused strings of letters and numbers and punctuation, and then, once I’d filled the page, I’d hand it to my dad, who would try to read it:

[Dramatization]

a;lkdjf;oai ew;lkajsdoifha;lkjg;lkao;iheoiha98we;foaih;ldjg ;alksh ;dfja’sldjf’aiw4j;oih ta;lsnd;lkfao840thaq;lklkn34;ling;alisdhfoiahdg js jfg sh;ahkds;lfkjasd;aklsd ;falih

a’soih ;aowieh goa98y4u 0hij lkasfd l’kg’aishdfaoiwhe09 U23

j’j ‘alkjs; dlfkhg s’ero jg [so9jdfbknz ‘sdrijg sef’jg s

ds

dgj s

os ihjrh it;sljg

ssg kf

[End Dramatization]

Dad would make his voice go up and down in pitch, and strain really hard to try to get an entire line in one breath, and I’d make him do this over and over again until he was certainly sick of it. I thought it was hilarious. It probably didn’t take long before they took the typewriter away and bought me a record player with those little story book albums that went “BING!” when it was time to turn the page. Though this typing/reading performance probably only happened a few times, I still remember how great it was, and decades later, when I discovered Dada sound poetry, the first thing that came to mind was my dad reading me these naive, juvenile strings of letters.

This seemingly simple exercise meant something to me—

It was ART.

There was a visual element to the work: the characters on the paper, how they were spaced, the way the lines fell across the page…

There was also a performance element to it, both from Dad and from me: Dad with his dramatic rendition of row after row of incomprehensible non-sense syllables, the humorous sounds, the acting like he couldn’t catch his breath if the rows went on for too long… And for me in the creation of the script. I remember, three and a half decades later, the feel of mashing the buttons, the clacking sound of the letters striking the paper, the rhythm of the keys being mashed, and the “ding” and the slamming back of the carriage when it moved too far to the right and had to be reset in order to go on to the next line.

And it was FUN. (Mariah pointed out that it’s also cool that I still have some happy memories of doing things with my parents, now that both of them are gone.) FUN isn’t respected in the Art World, and it’s far too controlled in popular culture, primarily because FUN is treated like a commodity that corporations can sell to people (some more successfully than others.) Some assume that art, “REAL” art (not like my little zines or digital cartoons or black-light paintings) isn’t supposed to be fun, that it’s supposed to reflect the most solemn, holy, and deep aspects of society. (I had a creative writing class once, and the instructor used a text book on poetry that said in the introduction, “There is a difference between true poetry and other lesser forms of writing…” and I thought, “That’s absolutely full of shit.” For the rest of that class I wrote stories and poems about serial killers, Satanic cults, transvestites, and men who are bitten by radioactive lobsters and go on mutated rampages. The teacher hated me, I hated him, and I stopped writing for about three years after taking that course.)

Fuck people who don’t think art should be FUN. (If you’re one of those people, stop reading now.)

Apology (almost):

—As a Horseshittist, I believe in very little: politics, religion (except my own religion—The New Church of Dim), societal expectations, the idea of an afterlife, the superiority of MAN over NATURE, the inferiority of MAN to NATURE, cable television, fashion, beauty, academics, bureaucracy, patriotism, insurance, Divine intervention, and MASS MEDIA are all full of horseshit, if you ask me, and I believe that I have just as much right to proclaim that my beliefs and values are legitimate as anyone else has, perhaps even more of a right since my beliefs come from four decades of listening, learning, reading, comparing, studying, and considering my options—and weren’t just handed to me WHOLE HOG based on some archaic and misguided (if originally sincere) attempt by pre-modern humans to describe how the universe works and how humans fit into it. [Now THAT was a long sentence.]

Given all this horseshit, I’ve decided that ART, CREATION, PERFORMANCE, CREATIVITY, and ENJOYMENT are the fundamental cornerstones of a worthwhile human existence. (Love and sex fit in there, somewhere, too.) And if you don’t agree, if you think I’m evil or delusional or lazy or corrupt or crazy, then fuck you. Go write your own essay.

chaos face 1

The Problem:

—I’m 41, nearly 42. I’m broke. (Actually, I’m much worse than broke: I owe $160,000.00 on a falling down house that we are about to lose, and I owe over $100.000.00 in unpaid student loans from trying to get a Masters Degree in English and become a college professor. Unfortunately, my financial aid maxed out before I could finish, and now I’ve got all the debt and all the knowledge from a graduate school education, but I don’t have the paper that SAYS I know shit—so my education ain’t WORTH SHIT.) However, for the most part, I’m a happy guy. I have a wife and two daughters, and we usually have a pretty good time. We’re all relatively healthy and happy, and I have a philosophical disposition that helps me navigate this world of Horseshit without getting too stressed out or crazy.

In addition, I have several OUTLETS—means and methods of interacting with the world and with my own head—that bring me happiness and, on rare occasions, CASH, and that help spread my weirdo joy around a little bit: my blogs & social media, zines/collages, mail art, paintings, drawings, stories/poems/word games, my personal journals, conversations (the importance of conversation is often overlooked), music/DJing, reading, and even the occasional interaction with the real world (usually when traveling to and from bowling tournaments with my wife and younger daughter—but more on this later.)

The Argument:

—Philip K. Dick, though thought of as primarily a science fiction novelist, was also one of the most brilliant social critics I’ve read (and I’ve read a LOT of social criticism.) Dick’s message (simplified and white washed) was that society was fucking insane—absolutely bat-shit, and although most of his tales are metaphorical WHAT-IFs (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, The Man Who Japed, Ubik, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Martian Time Slip, VALIS, The Man in the High Castle, etc., etc., etc….) the central question of his stories, which seems omnipresent to me, is this: What happens to the human mind when it is forced to reconcile belief systems (morality, ethics, justice, honor, the reliability of memory, human nobility…) with a world or reality in which those beliefs no longer work or are no longer useful? For most people, there will develop a disconnect, a protective thought barrier, a skewed illusion, which keeps their brains from recognizing or believing anything that doesn’t fit in with their reality—but for the unlucky few, this bubble doesn’t work and they are forced to confront reality HEAD-ON. Inevitably, this drives them crazy.

My thoughts on this process or condition or syndrome (or whatever it is) are this: Crazy ain’t that bad. If we know it’s all illusion, why not paint it a color that we want to see? Better yet, why not make that reality-illusion-bubble a multi-screen life-as-cinema event and sell admission to people whose own reality bubbles are dull and gray and old and inherited from their father’s father’s father’s fathers??? And sell candy and popcorn and acid and maybe beer (as long as I don’t have to drink any—I don’t care for beer.) Use our illusion to have a good time and, maybe, to poke holes in a few other illusions along the way…

Methods:

—The ancient mystery cults used to give new initiates a solid dose of hallucinogenics, then take them into dimly lit caves to show them strange artwork on the walls—and there were costumes and chanting and revelations! Thanks in no small part to the drugs, and a naivety to human psychology, any mystical visions they experienced were considered REVEALED TRUTHS.

I think we should get back to these types of rituals. They sound awesome.

—The Steve Miller Band said, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future—” where Philip K. Dick lives.

Special Guest Section:

[19 April ’14]

—I’ve noticed, and find it hilarious, that mothers with young children tend to call out their kids’ names and swoop them under their protective wings whenever I walk by. I’m not sure if it’s the grey hair, the towering 5′ 3″ height, the mostly black wardrobe, the horns, the scowl on my face, or the flaming red eyes, but something about me really frightens most parents. The funny part, of course, is that I have no desire to harm children—it’s the parents themselves that I’d like to destroy.

—Charlie Centipede

[20 April ’14]

—Easter. We have people coming over (to Dave’s house.) Mariah has built much food. However, I can’t get this essay out of my head—until I get it out of my head and onto paper. The visitors will have to wait.

Defining Terms:

—What do I mean by a Society of Indifference? I can’t speak for the whole world, nor do I even have enough information to claim that what I’m complaining about is universal, even within my own culture, but it seems to me that technology has brought us to the point where nearly any dream, fantasy, fetish, or desire can be pandered to or indulged, on demand, and it has now reached the point that people are bored with their own dreams and fantasies. With millions of websites, magazines, t.v. shows and movies, games, diversions, and time wasters already clogging up reality, the possibility of anything new breaking into the media-smog, without involving a multi-million dollar advertising campaign (which I can’t afford right now), is almost ZERO. What this means, in practice, is that whatever YOU or I do is irrelevant, essentially, and will most likely have very little effect on the universe beyond the minuscule bubble of YOU, your friends/loved ones/family, and those few people who, through random chance or physical, real-world proximity, happen to stumble across your efforts.

—Simply put: THIS SOCIETY IS INDIFFERENT TO WHAT YOU DO (unless you do something to make the news, but that type of strategy will usually involve some jail time.)

—Eventually, the sun will explode, consuming this entire planet, and from that moment on, there will exist no evidence that you ever lived at all. Therefore, YOU ARE FREE…

—Hmmmm… If you’d like, at this point you can go grab a soda and stretch your legs while you ponder the profound (and to some, chilling) implications of your own meaninglessness.

now im confused

—Back? Okay, let’s push on.

Art vs Life:

—My older daughter used to love working in theater. She took drama in high school, and a theater scholarship paid for most of her junior college education, but one day it got to the point where she had to decide if she wanted to continue on with theater as a CAREER. (We are often defined by our careers: “I’m a dentists;” I’m a writer…” blah blah blah…) She now works as a veterinary tech.

My younger daughter is 16, a sophomore in high school, and she defines herself by her sport: she is a bowler—and we’re talking about an awesome bowler, especially for someone so young. However, on our way home from a coaching session in Bend, Oregon, my daughter asked if bowlers make very much money. Compared to football, basketball, and baseball players—NO. I tried to explain to her that money wasn’t as important as enjoying what she does and being happy. She said (not in these words) that I was, basically, full of shit and that making a lot of money was way more important. (She looked up pro-bowling salaries on her fancy phone while we were driving, and discovered that pro bowlers can make anywhere from $6,000.00 to over $300,000.00 per year, depending on tournament wins, sponsorship deals, and how often they choose to compete. For some reason, she seemed okay with these figures.)

Discussion:

—That previous section may seem like a very long aside unconnected to the rest of the essay, but not so, my friend! It was actually essential to the core of this essay (which is, if we remember, to define the purpose of art in an indifferent environment.) I wish my older daughter hadn’t believed that she had to give up working in theater just because she didn’t want to do it for a living. (I suggested, once, that she and some friends try starting a small, community theater project, but she didn’t care for the idea.) I guess she “grew up.”

Bowling, when looked at from the right perspective, can be just as much a form of ART as theater: you have costumes (sometimes extremely elaborate and colorful), you have wild settings (often with extravagant lighting and crazy backdrops at the ends of the lanes), you have drama (bowlers can be very emotional) and comedy (bowlers can be VERY emotional), and you have performance. And I don’t want my younger daughter to give up on HER ART just because she thinks she might not make enough money doing it for a living.

ART SHOULDN’T BE (ONLY) ABOUT THE MONEY YOU CAN MAKE FROM IT! (Although as a punk kid I thought art and commerce shouldn’t mix, I am no longer against the idea of making some cash off creative works.)

My definition of ART is probably broader than some peoples’, but they can suck it. ART is the stuff we do for fun, for entertainment, to share ideas with others, to come to terms with our own ideas and feelings, to piss people off, or make others happy. Writing a story or poem, painting a picture, taking a photo (of graffiti in a public toilet), singing in the shower or on the bus, putting on a play, bowling a 216 game in a Scotch Doubles Tournament, wearing a mask for no reason*, keeping a journal, making a quilt, sending a random postcard to a name in a phone book, or mooning someone as you’re driving on the freeway… ALL ART. (Some art is more tasteful and/or more dangerous than other art.)

*(If you wear a ski-mask to rob a liquor store, this is not ART; it’s business. It’s too much about the end result to be ART. However, if you wear a Snoopy mask to rob a liquor store, and make the sales clerks play a round of UNO before you leave, then THAT would be ART. Performance crime, I suppose. [P.S. – We, as Horseshittists, do NOT advocate any form of illegal art or performance crime, no matter how awesome or entertaining it might be.])

ART is US SCREAMING “WE ARE HERE!” at the empty sky, not just despite the fact that no one cares, BUT BECAUSE no one cares. And sometimes, accidentally, someone might hear your cry (find your ART) and be amused by it, and then a connection will be made that wouldn’t otherwise have been formed.

Conclusions:

—How does a blade of grass live a good life? How does a cat know if it’s lived up to its potential? Or a deer or a fish or a bear or a tree or an octopus or a flea? Or a virus?

How does a person know if they’ve lived a good life? Unlike all the other critters in the universe, we’ve got ART. We aren’t all born the same. Some are rich, some are poor. Some are healthy, some are sickly. Some are smart, some aren’t. It’s not fair, but it’s the truth. But we can all do ART. It may not change the universe, or make a dent in the society where we live, or improve your economic situation, but it will make your life, and the lives of the people who you share it with, a little more fun and enjoyable, (those who GET IT, anyway, and if they don’t get it then: FUCK ‘EM!) For a Horseshittist, that’s good enough!

chaos face 2

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)

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About richardfyates

Compulsive creator of the bizarre and absurd. (Artist, writer, poet, provocateur...)
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5 Responses to “The Complex Function of Artistic Expression in a Society of Indifference: The 5th Horseshittists’ Manifesto (A Confession, Apologetic, and Hymnal)” by Richard F. Yates

  1. Fabulous essay and I agree wholeheartedly. I just answered a blogger on my blog explaining that art is often not respected, considered a career, job or something an adult should do because artists are NOT EASY TO CONTROL AND THAT IS DANGEROUS TO THE MORONS WHO OWN THE COUNTRY/WORLD. The 1% want sheep. Artists are NOT sheep. ALL art is POLITICAL. That’s why artists are the first to be arrested when things and countries go wrong. We, as artists, do not herd well. That’s why people are not encouraged to do/make or recognize their own art…it’s TOO DANGEROUS to the STATUS QUO and the idiots who control everything, while trying to give the illusion that we are FREE. Okay, so…people (kids) turn away from art and shut it down in themselves so they can make a living and not live in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere. They KILL art because it’s a threat. Art makes people HAPPY AND HAPPY PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO GO TO WAR AND KILL PEOPLE OR ANIMALS OR WORRY OR FRET OR LISTEN TO REALITY SHOWS OR THINK ABOUT THE DISEASE ADS ON TV OR DO ANY OF THOSE DEPRESSING, HATEFUL, BRAIN NUMBING THINGS. Artists are busy thinking and creating…DANGER/THREAT. So…yeah…I hear ya…and yeah, I agree. I just think THESE are the reasons ART is treated like a plague. I think the critics are paid off so that certain art, art that makes a difference, is panned and criticized and made to seem unimportant. The Greedy, 1% and power mongers might collect art but they don’t want anyone else to have it or make it. Art is fulfilling and none of them want us to be fulfilled. Nice post. I like it.

  2. Really? I mean really? I thought so! Gorgeous….. claudy

  3. Thanks to both of you! This is one of those things that felt like it just had to come out…

  4. Pingback: “The Primitive Manifesto! (A Secret, Collage Operation Disguised as a Bundle of Warm Towels)” | The Primitive Entertainment Workshop

  5. Pingback: “The Society of Indifference Revisited” by Richard F. Yates | The Primitive Entertainment Workshop

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