Sunday, November 27, 2016

After Shock: The Triumph of Trump

The Wealthy Populist, Donald Trump

From the moment Donald Trump was on the podium with the confederation of dunces that comprised the nominees for President by the  Republican Party, I knew he was not to be underestimated.   Once the race started, I knew it was going to be close.  Not unlike everyone, I thought Hillary Clinton would have a victory.  So many of us did.

                If you look at the actual popular vote, Hillary Clinton won.  She had the majority of the votes.  Had it not been for our outdated electoral college, all the pundits would have been accurate.  In the after math of this disaster, everyone is scratching their collective heads wondering where they went wrong. 

How could someone so unlikely, so raw, so brazenly offensive rise to the point of dividing an entire nation and ultimately becoming its President?  It is a scenario that defies the imagination.

                In another time and place, anyone spewing the rhetoric of Trump would have found their bid for public office extinguished.  While the politics of the past was nasty, it was never a brutal vulgar disgusting blood sport on the same level as a roman gladiatorial fight.  At the very least, those had some entrainment value.  Watching our drawn out election cycle was like viewing a boring, dreary overwrought play that repeats itself until It can no more.

,… there is truth that Middle Class White America is vanishing.  They are in legitimate pain and no one really gives a damn.

  Interruptions, name calling, fuzzy logic, truth bending and outright open lies are the lingua franca of political discourse.  Civility has become a quaint idea from a bygone era. The semblance, even the veneer, of being in an enlightened society has been shredded.  Our Republic has demonstrated that it can dummy itself down to the lowest common denominator. 

Amid all the deception and boorish behavior, one salient feature that most missed was the United States, for all of its political correctness, has a dark blood soaked heart that takes joy in the suffering of others.  In spite of having a real African-American President, prejudice, hatred and bigotry are not dead.  They are alive and well.   Slavery has ended.  The brutality has not.

Much ink has been spilled about “The Donald” tapping into the frustrations of a White America that feels it has been served a raw deal.  While the Left hates hearing this, and the Republicans just give it lip service to secure votes, there is truth that Middle Class White America is vanishing.  They are in legitimate pain and no one really gives a damn.

Low wages, higher prices, home foreclosures and sky high tuition have drained Middle America of its strength.   It is true.   White Middle Class America is in anguish.  So is Black working class America, Native American Middle Class America, Hispanic Middle Class America and on it goes.

Certainly, White America has a gripe.  Now that they have found a voice in Donald Trump, who points blame at immigrants, a supposed welfare state and opportunity given to others.  He has acquired a populist sentiment that hit a cord with the states between New York and L.A.

The reality is that the woes of the White Middle Class have been the result of the greatest White on White crime in history.  Somehow everyone  missed  the mark in focusing the blame where it really belongs, abuses in the capitalist economic system, money corrupting politics and good old  avarice .  The hubris of America is that it is often blind to both reflection and self-criticism.   

                One dividing line in America that this race to the bottom made perfectly clear was that class divisions do exist.  Minus titled nobility, we do have an educated class, an educated upper class and the uber wealthy, who do not see their privileged status as difficult to obtain.  Our working class is stuck in the belief that one day they will be boorish billionaires.  

Bernie Sanders, the man who should have been nominated.

Bernie Sanders, the most authentic of the crew, was able to round up enthusiasm and support.  Unfortunately, he was undermined by a Democratic Party too insular to read the hand writing on the wall.

                The American working class saw Hillary Clinton as an incomprehensible intellectual looking down on them from an Ivy League tower or Elitism.   Oddly enough, the richer you become the better you are.  The more educated, the more you are perceived as a snob. 

                This abhorrence to erudition is the undoing of a Democratic Republic.  The less educated the populace, the more likely they are to make poor decisions.  Even our founding Fathers and Mothers held this fear.  

                “The Donald” is revered because he has the “common touch.” What he has is a rudimentary command of communication that fits well with an audience dulled by poorly funded public schools and a society that is skeptical of those who think. The ugly face of America is that stupidity is considered a virtue.   Erudition is not.

                As the blame games begin, it is clear Hillary Clinton was far from being even remotely an ideal candidate.  She carried the baggage of Bill Clinton’s failures.  That was a history that was just too heavy to toss away. 

                But most of all, Clinton lacked both a concise message and a charismatic personality to promote her case.   “The Donald,” from all his experience in front of the camera has an instinctive sense of how to sell himself and his ideas, no matter how silly they are.  A gullible America was willing to buy into his fictions. They were also too eager to overlook his vulgarity and common deportment.  Trump was perceived as an outsider coming to clean house in D.C. 

                Bernie Sanders, the most authentic of the crew, was able to round up enthusiasm and support.  Unfortunately, he was undermined by a Democratic Party too insular to read the hand writing on the wall.  Sanders could have beaten “The Donald.”  The D.N.C. failed. They failed in a big way and they carry the blame of even allowing Clinton close to the campaign trail.  It was an act of arrogance to think Clinton, for all her abilities, could do well in a country that was looking for a fresh face.

                The true tragedy is that the disgruntled “Bernie or Bust” crowd were too depressed from disillusionment to care.  Some may have gone to Trump as a screw you vote, or drowned themselves in a dose of indifference to reality and the consequences of non-participation.

                Americans, as a rule, are not political people.  This is a huge problem in a developed industrial power where no part of life is exempt from the influence of politics.  Pericles said, in so many words, “You can ignore politics, but it will not ignore you.”  It is a truth refuted on these shores out of fear, loathing and profound ignorance.  We have been told to despise Government, the very cure for social immobility.

                Apathy, the favorite sport of the lazy, has reared its head again.  The participation was up, but the there were far too many Americans who just remained at home. Our voter turnout rate is a national disgrace.

Hillary Clinton,  popular choice.

As the blame games begin, it is clear Hillary Clinton was far from being even remotely an ideal candidate.  She carried the baggage of Bill Clinton’s failures.  That was a history that was just too heavy to toss away. 

                Then again, our wonderful system does not make voting easy. When the Supreme Court refused to support Voting Rights Acts, it basically sent a signal to the States that they had permission to do whatever they can to stop poor people, working people and any other type of people from voting.  It is as if we are back to the days when only landed White men could vote and women remained home.

                Our media has some blood on its hands.  From abnegating coverage of important events to not so subtly pitting White American against Black America and everyone else on the planet, they have created a climate that is not only artificial, but dangerous.   Any type of civil discussion of race, gender and class is turned into one big street fight. 

The fact the world is complex, nuanced and requires intelligent solutions to problems does not sell.   We demand quick solutions.  Thinking is a demanding task that makes weary a populace with short attention spans. 

                The reason for the “Triumph of Trump” is surprising still.  How could someone so awful, so trashy, so unfit for any public office be the Savior of lower income White America?   It seems like an impossibility.

As you start to really look at America, from the most elite parts to the most downtrodden to everyone in between, the reality of America is that this was just waiting to happen.

The reasons why this travesty took place becomes clear when you do an inventory of what is wrong with America.   Slavish devotion to material possessions, worship of the rich and famous, vapid values, poor judgement, lack of decent public education, low wages, gun happy police departments, politicians using race for advancement, lack of ethics, lethargy, racism, sexism, xenophobia and perhaps the worst of the lot, laziness.  The important things we discard and ignore.  The trivial we glorify and adore.

In spite of all of this, the ascendance of Donald Trump is a jarring thing to behold.  It is a surrealist idea that gives credence to the idea that you are living in an alternative reality.  One wakes hoping that this is all a nightmare.   The glaring reality that this is real makes it even more unreal.

The reason why people are in a state is because so many of us believed that we operated on a higher level as a collective group that we really do.  The one thing you could count on was that the system, for all of its glaring flaws, would never super nova.  There was no preparation for an event like this that rocks core believes in integrity. 

The fact the world is complex, nuanced and requires intelligent solutions to problems does not sell.

Idealism has been given a brutal beating.  Hope is extinguished. Never has cynicism been so blatant.  There is such a hollow feeling in the words, “Lets Make America Great Again.”  Everything about that collection of words is trite.  It is ignorant of the progress we have made, and could make.  It feels like a sales pitch, not a call to patriotism.  It is a marketing idea masquerading as a political one.  It also overlooks one important point, “WE ARE THE RICHEST NATION ON EARTH.” 

Behind the curtain, do we have a clown who will turn into a statesman, or do we have just a buffoon ready to seek vengeance?  Are we are getting what we did not want or need because everyone checked out of civic responsibility? 

In a Kingdom of the Blind, the one eyes is King, so the old expression goes.

Our future is a big question mark.  We will see. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Artist Statement for the Solo Exhibition Between Two Poles

The Reason for “Between Two Poles”

By:  Kurt von Behrmann
South Mountain Village, Phoenix, Arizona
Friday, January 15, 2016  

Pferd, An acrylic on Canvas Painting by Kurt von Behrmann 

Between Two Poles Opens:  February 4th, 2016 at the Shemer Art Center
Location: 5005 East Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ 85018

“How deeply can you delve?”  This was both a question and a challenge.  Constructing pieces for “Between Two Poles: A Bipolar Themed Exhibition,” demanded discipline and a considerable amount of introspection.   When bipolar disorder is the theme, an inward gaze into the depths of the psyche is a given. 

                Chronicling manic highs and depressing lows, characteristics of this enigmatic condition, reliving my personal experiences became necessary.  A considerable amount of anguish had to be recalled in order to find the most effective way to express what it feels like to be in constant flux.  It is said we forget pain. This is not true when mood disorders are involved. 

In order to express what this affliction feels like, a willingness to take risks became necessary.  Addressing topics like alienation can be done with a certain economy.  The theme is concise.  Moving into the complex territory of oscillating mental states frequently meant eschewing austere expressive tactics.   Recognizable imagery and narratives were more effective communicators, in some instances. 

More than just a few artists have lived with bipolar disorder.  The connection between creativity and this illness are still being studied. The idea for this exhibition came to me midway while reading  Dr. Kay Jamison’s Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.  Incidentally, Jamison has bipolar disorder.

In the process of dealing with my bipolar disorder, I experienced a period where I began to cut myself.  My depressions brought me to a place where this was a release from pain.  Of all the things a mentally ill person can do, cutting is the most private.  Either as a prelude to a suicide, or a way to communicate incorporeal pain physically, it is ultimately a visual reminder of just how bad this affliction can be.  Scars become travelogues of a trip to a kind of sorrow that perhaps only images can convey. 

In one cutting episode, I had a vision.  It was very clear.  I saw an eagle, wings spread, with an arm on either side.  The eagle was divided into a dark side and a lighter side.  The arm on the right showed the cuts.  The arm on the left showed none. Each arm represented the dual nature of bipolar disorder.  Sometimes you have very rough ideas of what you want in a work.  This was not the case.  The completed work matched up tightly with the mental image I had painted in my mind.

Something very similar happened with “Pferd.”  In that painting I saw a horse perpetually running between two poles, representations of mania and depression.   Again, the finished work matched up very closely with the image I had in mind.  

Representational imagery was emerging in my work after a long disappearance.  For the most part, my previous efforts had been abstract paintings, constructions or hard to define hybrids between sculpture and painting.   Representationalism was confined to my drawings.

As the new pieces were completed, I had emerged as something of a symbolist.  Objects were not just objects but symbolic presentations of abstract ideas.  Horses became symbols for the mind in anguish. Birds became crippled souls in flight.  

One of the things I made an effort to avoid was using this as therapy.   For me, art has never been therapeutic.  The discipline, the ideas, the effort, even the very drive to create it requires that you be highly functional, or at least slightly manic but in some control.  To just express minus the fine tuning that is a key element of art never held interest for me.  Sharpening ideas is what transforms materials into artistry.

When I was engulfed in deep depression, everything shut down.  Nothing was worth doing.  The desire to just be was absent.  The technical term for that state is anhedonia, when nothing brings you pleasure.  All you have around you is emptiness. It is a void so empty there are no colorful images. One wakes up and feels the relentless void of nothing.  Capturing that in a body of work is not easy.

The artistic drive can be fueled by sadness.  It can express it, but if caught in bipolar depression that is too deep, it can shut down the drive to create.   There were periods where I could not work.  Only when I was far along in my therapy was I able to start the creative process again.

Mania is a powerful creative force.  It allows you to pull ideas together.  It can help you see what cannot be seen.  Depression is the gravitas.   It is what makes what you do serious, meaningful and important.   The two are the twin souls of art.  You cannot have one without the other.  The obvious disadvantage is that it drains the creator.  

If you want to make art, a piece of your soul is involved.  You have to be willing to go to places most people seldom do.   You need a heart and soul as delicate as butterfly wings, and the hide of a Rhinoceros to make art, even for a moment. 

"If I got rid of my demons, I’d lose my angels," said the late Playwright Tennessee Williams.  With bipolar disorder, you don’t really have to worry about that.  The demons never go away.  You simply learn handle them a bit better and make art from the shrapnel that is left.

Abbreviated Version

                "If I got rid of my demons, I’d lose my angels," said the late Playwright Tennessee Williams.   The idea of the artist single mindedly following a vision oblivious to the world and suffering for it is a cliché.  But is it?  The connection between intellectual achievement and madness could be far less tenuous than previously believed.  Dr Kay Jamison made a compelling case for the tie between bipolar disorder and artistic expression in “Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.”  

                The list of artists who have had mental illnesses reads like a who is who in fine art.  Before I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, it was not something I had given much thought.  It was not until I was diagnosed did I realize that for me this affliction was both a blessing and curse.  

                Once called Manic Depressive, what makes this brain disease valuable for creativity is that it allows you to think quickly, connect unlikely ideas and have the energy to stubbornly persist where others relent.   The enthusiasm, the willingness to take risks, the flaunting of convention and the grand operatic gestures are the part of what makes this so invigorating.   Even the depressions allow you to experience pain to such a degree that you can express the most profound sorrow without reservation.  

                What creates also destroys.  The list of artists, scientists and writers who committed suicide, destroyed themselves or had great difficulty coping with the world is long, not short.  The kind of effort being original demands is great.  It can take a huge toll.   

                As I was dealing with my own demons, and angels, I thought why not make the process of dealing with bipolar the subject of an exhibition.  This was not art as therapy.  Nearly anyone can do that.  That may not even be interesting to see.  But, a serious investigation into bipolar as a source of inspiration for imagery and ideas, that to me had merit.

                Describing epic lows, depicting exuberant highs, that is the stuff of which all art is made.  It is the mixture of the beautiful with the tragic.  It is a balancing act between the heavens above and the dark canyons below.    

                When I began this journey, I was not sure what I would find. I was traveling with just nerves, feelings and a battered mind.  I was focused, excited and up one day, then down and depressed the next.   Through all of this, I created.

                Eventually, the driving force of creativity returned. Between Two Poles is a travelogue of my adventure within bipolar and the universal themes that art has always been drawn, the glorious and the tragic.