Friday, 4 August 2006

The Emperor has no clothes...

[Update] For the poor souls who come to this blog wondering what on earth the expression "the Emperor has no clothes" means, it comes from Hans Christian Andersen's story, "The Emperor's New Suit." You can read it here. It has always struck me as being a particularly apt metaphor for how the art establishment puffs artists of highly questionable worth. Well, questionable in my opinion anyway, for which they have little or no respect, I am sure.

But seeing as you're here, why don't you have a look around? Check the Topics list in the sidebar and see if anything piques your interest.


...and is writhing in his own blood on the art gallery floor.

Canada's artsy-fartsy version of a shock jock, Istvan Kantor, is at it again. And is succeeding at getting himself banned from yet another art gallery, this time the Art Gallery of Ontario.

What amazes me in all this, is that curators and critics, who spend their entire professional careers dealing with art in all its forms, seem completely helpless in coming up with a definition of art that excludes any form of expression whatsoever. All they can do is sniff in derision because his performance was "so '60's" and ban him because his actions affected the rights of another artist, the late Andy Warhol, whose exhibition was the staging grounds of Kantor's latest shenanigans.

OK, so they're banning a living "artist" because he's infringing on the rights of a dead one. Hmmm. Wonder how that would fly in court. Politically and artistically correct people do have to twist themselves into the weirdest pretzels to justify the simplest acts, which to their credit, they took promptly.

Is it really so hard to say, "Our definition of art does not include pointless, narcissistic vandalism." Apparently, yes, it is. But I am still left wondering, what is the purpose of a word whose definition is so vast it ceases to have any functional meaning?


NOTE: The only online source for this story from the mainstream media is available only to Ottawa Citizen subscribers. The blog post linked to in the title provides few details.


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Thursday, 3 August 2006

Wannabe psychics

Keep your eyes peeled for wannabe psychics and you'll find no lack of examples in newsrooms, in blog posts and, it goes without saying, open-line radio shows. Comment sections in far too many blogs are positively crawling with them.

What I'm talking about is journalists and pundits and common citizens who are evidently convinced they are psychic, as they reveal to you what Politician X or Celebrity Y or ethnic group Z is REALLY thinking/intending/planning. This is far too often in defiance of the public record, but they are only too eager to display their esoteric knowledge and advanced comprehension of the inner workings of the human heart.

Well, I don't know about you, but this does strike me as being a tad presumptuous. It's happened to me so many times in my life that when I have a really good conversation with someone that I am genuinely surprised by what comes out. I really would have expected something different judging from superficial appearances, but lift the lid and you find something quite different in the pot. Now maybe I'm particularly obtuse and everybody else has figured out how to find that elusive window into the human soul, but somehow I doubt that I'm all that unique in my deficiencies. I can think of any number of times that I myself have been judged by others who mistook my exhaustion for coldness, my inexplicable restrictions for adult stupidity (yes, I AM the mother of teenagers), my questioning of a right-wing doctrine for left-wing lunacy, my questioning of a left-wing doctrine for crass conservatism... You get the idea.

Armed with all this evidence of my inability to read privileged information in other people's eyes and their obvious inability to see into my psyche, I get really antsy when coffee shop pundits, newspaper editorialists, or anybody else tries to tell me what makes someone they've never met tick. Politicians in particular get this treatment constantly and they dish it out just as frequently, especially on the campaign trail.

There was a pretty flagrant example over at Wizbang a few days ago when Jay Tea tried to persuade us that the statement on CAIR's website on the shooting is Seattle was just a smoke screen for what they really meant.
I'd claim a full point for the "blame Israel," but that one you gotta read between the lines. They're blaming the "violence in the Middle East," but it's pretty much understood that that violence is Israel's fault. (emphasis mine

At least Jay had the decency to point out his attempts at mind-reading; most people are not that open about it.

Reading Mel Gibson's heart has become an international sport in the last week or so, while everybody and his dog weighs in on what Mel "really" thinks.

In the play, The Admirable Crichton, a mother warns her son to be wary of the words "to tell the truth" because they almost invariably signalled a lie. I am equally leery of the word "really", because it so often seems to precede unjustified conjecture.

May I humbly make the suggestion that we restrict ourselves - even in the case of politicians we don't want to vote for - to judging people by their real actions and their real words, not by what we presume to read behind them?

The really scary thing is that once you start watching for this, you'll find out how often you're tempted to play the game yourself. Or maybe I'm misjudging you...

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Monday, 31 July 2006

Motherhood and the quest for perfection

The last of my five children is now less than a year from her 18th birthday, the right to vote and official status as an adult. Because of the particular circumstances of our family, it is highly likely that 12 months from now, my husband and I will find ourselves alone under the familial roof. This looming empty nest evokes a number of conflicting emotions for me; regret, nostalgia, relief, and pensiveness.

I always wanted to be the perfect mother. I was wise enough not to expect perfect kids, but not wise enough to refrain from placing the same impossible burden of perfection on myself. If you had asked me, I would have denied doing such a thing, but deep down, that was my goal.

I failed miserably.

This was only to be expected, but I still feel deep regret for the wide chasm between my aspirations and reality.

In our modern anthropocentric world, we feel compelled to take responsibility for everything (or failing that, to divert it to "society" or "government" - but that is a topic for another day) and to think that if we just find the right formula, just the right technique, success is assured. After 25 years of often highly intense parenting, I can assure you that this is pure fantasy.

A formula for perfect parenting does not, CAN not exist. The number of variables is so staggeringly high, there is no way to reduce parenting even to a complex algorithm, let alone a simple formula. Genetics, birth order, individual personalities, the complex and ever-changing web of relationships with parents and siblings, medical conditions, the influence of teachers, friends, relatives and neighbours, financial conditions - the list goes on and on. Any parent with more than one child has observed with some bewilderment how two children in the same family can have two diametrically opposite reactions to an identical situation. And that is only the tiniest tip of a very vast iceberg. Faced with such diversity and complexity, how can we possibly expect our children to perform like vending machines: "Insert coins here, collect product at the bottom."

There is no one size fits all; it just doesn't work that way.

All of my children give me cause for pride: they are all bright, creative, open to others, free of prejudice, disdainful of free rides. It would appear that we have managed to do some things right.

On the other hand, all have given me cause for concern, and sometimes even grief or shame. To what degree have I been a factor in bad choices they've made and bad values they've chosen? Quite honestly, I don't think that's a question I can begin to answer. I wish I could.

Keeping in mind that there are no guarantees of success, because too much of it is out of our hands and too much of it is in our hands, I have learned a thing or two.

Firstly, just about everything is better caught than taught. It's a truism, but no less true for all that. When words and your actions don't line up, the actions will win out pretty well every time.

Kids need to get bored. Entertainment shouldn't be available at all times. If they complain there's nothing to do, offer them housework. They'll quickly find something else to do, developing both their creativity and their autonomy.

Kids need to be treated with respect and consideration. By this I don't mean treating them like mini adults. They don't have the life experience to make informed choices in many cases, which is why they need parents. What I do mean, is treating them the same way you would want to be treated in the same situation. Even when disciplining them, basic courtesy is never out of place.

Anger is highly destructive and the quickest way to lose a child's respect.

Children have free will and intelligences of their own and bear a good part of the responsibility for how they turn out themselves. Parents can be a powerful influence, but they are not the be-all and the end-all.

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