Can I tell Yale, "Sometimes shit's just cool?"
Can I tell Yale, "Sometimes shit’s just cool?"
I was riffing with Chris - a visual and cultural anthropologist - on explaining to the Yale School of Art why my work is culturally relevant. I’ve done so many things, how to I boil it down to one message? I’m not a lobbyist for a certain group, though I do stoke fantasies of changing police culture, undoing everyone’s violent tendencies, championing women to power and scrubbing people from their racism. I mean, my recent portraits of men applying lipstick are oddly feminist AND uplifting for men allowing each other and themselves to be who they are. But I also do things cause I like to “make special” or it’s autobiographical and I’m trying to work through something, or I’m just feeling all poetic about whatever. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself to one track, but it wouldn’t hurt to write down all the bodies of work I’ve ever done and then discover the threads and similarities that way. The discussion was fun so I took a second to hit record on my phone.
Eva: It’d be funny to put on my essay about being culturally relevant that, yes, I’m down with being cultural and I’m down with being relevant. But what’s the opposite of culture?
Chris: You first have to define culture, and culture itself is kind of muddy and undefined. It’s this malleable concept and, in order to say the antithesis of something, you first have to say what that something is, and since there’s really no agreed upon definition for what constitutes culture, starting with this ephemeral concept from which you’re now trying to base the antithesis on.. .you have to have a definitive parameter on which to base the opposition on. So if I were to say, the opposite of light is dark. Yeah, but light and dark have very definitive moments. Dusk and dawn. But culture is this kind of undefined -
Eva: And no one wants to hear that it’s relevant ’cause it’s decorative. No one wants to hear I use pretty colors to bring joy.
Chris: No, nobody cares about sparking joy.
Eva: They want to know I’m attacking problems.
Eva: They want to know that I’m inspiring fresh perspectives.
Chris: You’re furthering the conversation. Adding to the dialogue. You are setting forth new ideas, you’re adding to a body of knowledge. You are transitioning the gaze. You’re illuminating -
Eva: - communities.
Chris: But to say you’re the antithesis of culture, well, what’s culture?
Eva: Well, that was a joke.
Chris: Yeah, I’m just saying. You know, that’s one of the problems with academia is that sometimes shit’s just cool.
Eva: Thank you, exactly! But you have to quantify it. They’ll be like,” What is this ‘shit?’ And how is it ‘cool?’”
Chris: Right, and that’s the thing, right? We need to have more than just “wow this is really pretty.” We need to have, for some reason, this decision that is has to be relevant, deep, thoughtful, evocative, knowable, blah blah blah, and sometimes we lose the sense of wonder because we’re so busy chasing the resonance.
Eva: So I’ll be like allow me to disassemble the wonder and resonance of my work and lay it flat in its bare bones before your feet.
Chris: That’s actually a reason why I’ve never studied music seriously. It’s because I just like listening to classical music. I enjoy it. If I know too much about it, I feel like it’s going to take away from the sheer enjoyment of listening to a beautiful piece as opposed to the theory and the ideology and all of this other stuff behind it.
Eva: Have you and I ever watched the Ted talk called Classical Music With Shining Eyes with Benjamin Zander?
Chris: No... Oh boy...
Eva: That makes me think of that talk. I think you’d enjoy that.
Chris: I’ve romanticized learning an instrument, but I never get too deep into it, cause A) time and energy. I could educate myself on music theory if I wanted, and I enjoy the stories behind the compositions, and I enjoy the stories behind the composers and their biographies. That adds to me. But I don’t need to know music theory ’cause I think then I won’t just enjoy it.
Eva: You’ll be sitting there analyzing it instead of allowing yourself to be swept away?
Chris: Just enjoying what it is for what it is.
Eva: Sometimes shit’s just cool.
Did you attend Yale’s painting program for grad school? Would love to chat about your experience! Reach out through Instagram or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.