President Obama Has Been Re-Elected

Barack Obama illustration by Laszlo Kovacs

I woke up this morning to this illustration from Laszlo Kovacs, which cemented the idea that Obama really did get re-elected. It felt like it was going to be a stressful night for those of us who wanted four more years, but the election was decided surprisingly fast. No recounts, no lawsuits, just a tidy win that gets America back on track.

November 7, 2012 / By


#GOVOTE by Mark Kate McDevitt

Today is Election Day here in the United States, one of the most important days our country faces. 300+ million Americans will cast their ballot to decide the future of not only their own country, but also the fates of the relationships we have with countries around the world. Our election is far from perfect, there are many flaws and it could be better in many ways. But our democracy has set us apart from so many other countries for so long and it’s something that we must take pride in. We have a lot riding on this election, so please go out and do your duty.

If you’re unsure of where to vote you can always go to Find Your Fucking Polling Place and enter your address, simple as that.
I’d also like to mention that I got the image above from the #GOVOTE Tumblr, an initiative to gather creatives to promote voting. The one you see above is from Mary Kate McDevitt who I’ve worked with before, so I thought I’d show her some love again. They’ve had a ton of artists to contribute, so be sure to click through and check them all out.

November 6, 2012 / By

Pop Art by GREATeclectic

Jay Z by GREATeclectic

Art should always ask more questions than it answers. At least that is what I was taught in my Introduction to Painting course, and I tend to agree. This holds true for the art of GREATeclectic. Working on the same wavelength, stylistically and idealistically, as Jean-Michel Basquiat, his work is a critique of our obsessions with celebrity, fame and political scandal.

Romney by GREATeclectic

Amy Winehouse by GREATeclectic

GREATeclectic employs the familiar icons of today’s tabloid culture including Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, Mitt Romney, Kanye West, President Obama and Amy Winehouse. He throws pop-culture and politics into a blender with representations of morality, greed, lust, love and envy and presents it in such a raw format that the viewer must confront and, on some level, come to terms with his/her own standing on these subjects. Bright, bold and sometimes shocking, the work has an aggressive undertone which almost dares the viewer to look away. He seemingly defaces his subjects, but at the same time you can see he idolizes them.

Pharrell by GREATeclectic

Nicki Minaj by GREATeclectic

While his style definitely harkens from urban street art roots, he handles his work with the deftness of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, some of Pop Art’s greatest figures, and two of my personal favorite artists. Even though the subjects in his pastiches are immediately recognizable, his works are abstract enough to push the viewers to question their own thoughts, insecurities, hopes and shames.

November 1, 2012 / By

Losing My Religion: The Chokehold on Creativity

The Music Lesson, by Jan Vermeer

Last week David Brooks wrote a fairly contrarian article in the New York Times describing, what he called, “The Opportunity Gap.” In short, since the gap between the 1% and the 99% has grown to the highest point in the history of this great country, the opportunity for people to make the leap from one class group to another has reduced as well. Since the “middle class,” the pride of America since World War II, has been reduced to a mere concept, it is impossible to leap to and from it.

Richer kids are roughly twice as likely to play after-school sports. They are more than twice as likely to be the captains of their sports teams. They are much more likely to do nonsporting activities, like theater, yearbook and scouting. They are much more likely to attend religious services.

It’s not only that richer kids have become more active. Poorer kids have become more pessimistic and detached. Social trust has fallen among all income groups, but, between 1975 and 1995, it plummeted among the poorest third of young Americans and has remained low ever since.

It’s the ultimate no-duh statement. Rich kids have more opportunities than poor ones. Brooks forgets to write that minorities all across the country live this out every day, too afraid to paint or write. This listlessness prevents them from becoming doctors, lawyers and bankers. But also from growing as artists.

Author Michelle Alexander touched upon this idea six months ago in a much different context. In writing possibly the most real book of 2012, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Alexander discusses how many minor and nonviolent offenses lead to incarcerations of African Americans simply due to a lack of financial backing, legal knowledge and availability, as well as a myriad of other issues. This applies to the child scenario as well. Daddy will pay off the DUI for his perfect angel but the poor kid doesn’t have a lawyer. Thus, it cannot be an opportunity gap. Instead, a gap of rights exist, masked by the words “rich” and “poor.”

These “self-segregated, cultural ghettoes” of financial stability and race, that Brooks mentions, propagate this new Jim Crow. These colorless pockets of the country refuse to discuss race and pretending it doesn’t exist. In doing so there is no need to fix any problem with the U.S.A.. They simply go through the motions to create more status quo – bland, flavorless bankers, doctors, and lawyers, equipped to make money.

But education was supposed to be the great equalizer. It’s great you see! Send the kids to college and they will move from one class to another! The jobs will be there! Now that is as believable as Santa Claus (sorry kids).

To equal the financial backing of a 1% child, student loans, both private and federal, are the ONLY way to jump forward and pay for an education many deem necessary. To pay for those loans, which reached a total of 1 trillion dollars of debt on June 6, there have to be jobs. But there are only so many jobs for the 1% (provided they don’t piss it all away on booze and drugs and even THEN will still get the job) while the rest of the country is chasing for the job to bring them, if they are lucky, into the top half.

Pieter Bruegel - The Blind Leading the Blind

Right now, to me, there is an educational choke hold on the artistic youth. Colleges are vastly overpriced and so too the loans that come with them. They breed a status quo that says education is essential to living. But they – the universities and their offspring, our favorite bankers, doctors and lawyers – will never hire the kid who lacks a perfect resume. 1 person gets the job, 99 walk away feeling they have to work at Jimmie Johns to avoid another 10k private loan for a semester of expenses. No wonder these kids are “pessimistic and detached.”

The arts are the marines of education, the first to go and the last to know. Theatre, art, and music programs get cut, marginalized, and deemed “not necessary” for math and science. Guess what: those fields are not only saturated but are already killing this country by creating financial messes and addicting the population to drugs all in the name of profits. Greed is good. Gordon Gecko isn’t the villain anymore. He is the role model. So the government will bail out the banks, insurance companies and pharmaceuticals, but don’t dare to give a fraction of that to the arts.

In that way, Brooks article illuminates (by not mentioning it) the real problem in America: a lack of a balanced education.  There isn’t support for it. The country flourished by making our youth creative lightning rods. But instead the arts are now reduced to mere entertainment. If your talent is in graphic design, sculpting, painting, guitar playing or even writing (the most self-venerated spot in the university, where all farts go to be smelled and critiqued over a first-flush darjeeling), you shouldn’t have to decide between debt, your love, and selling out.

There is no New Deal in place to encourage new art in a time of financial misery. FDR had it right after the Depression: Bail out EVERYBODY. Give opportunity to all fields, not just those that created the mess in the first place. As long as our government has no “artists” or “creatives” in seats of power, the only chance for our kids is ourselves.

And god willing, I won’t be the only one saying “Don’t get a degree in economics.”

July 16, 2012 / By

Freedom of Speech and Art: 3 Things to Know

I think it’s a good time to reexamine the concept of Freedom of Speech. You know, that ballyhooed concept that the United States was founded on. And for all you illustrators / graphic designers / writers / photographers out there with a single political thought in your head, this would be a nice explanation. And if you have been at any of the Occupy rallies, you should know some of your simple rights. I’ll try to keep this as neutral and objective as I can.

1: You are entitled to a great right, one few countries give
The First Amendment affords you not only Freedom of Speech but Free Exercise of Religion, Freedom of Association, Freedom to Congregate, and Freedom to Lobby. Basically, outside the most vile and ugly words / images, you can do whatever you want. Famously, a young man wearing a “F**K the Draft” jacket in front of Los Angeles City Hall was protected by this right.

When it comes to protest, traditionally the government has held time / place / manner restrictions. Public parks (such as Zucchoni Park and City Hall Park) are common, accepted places for the assembly of citizens. While the government can’t express viewpoints in these public spaces, YOU can. It can be almost anything. I think this is why so much art in the streets takes place on publicly owned grounds – they are the perfect display for free expression.

2: Except when you aren’t
Ten years ago, the Patriot Act enabled all law enforcement agencies to search any document / conversation in your life in the name of defense. This includes voicemails, texts, doctors prescriptions and blog posts all the same. The FBI has already admitted to more than 1000 instancse of abuse involving the Act. If that’s not scary enough, last week the National Defense Authorization Act was overwhelmingly passed by the U.S. Senate. This Act allows the military to arrest U.S. citizens on U.S. soil and hold them in military prisons without the right to legal counsel or a trial.

That’s right. Your elected representative has chosen to pass an Act that could strip you of your Constitutional rights to freedom of speech, adequate representation, and a fair trial. Glenn Greenwald hit the nail on the head, pointing to the exact provision in the Constitution that gets overturned. Even in the height of the Cold War (read: the possible nuclear extinction of the human race), the government never found it mandatory to place such an invasive ordinance. Senator Joseph McCarthy never had the guts to do such a thing because, back then, it would be un-American. Apparently it takes some nutcases with dookie and lighter fluid to make the Congress want to arrest the very people who gave them a job: the American Citizen.

3: It isn’t getting any better – so use your voice responsibly
In the face of these two acts, both of which severely infringe on your Constitutional rights, it is a prudent time to be responsible with your protest. Any police action taken against the Occupy movement specifically opposing the content of the speech is an abuse of power. A trademark of the occupy movement has been not stating goals even though most of the protesters (the ones I know range from photographers to tax attorneys) have clear objectives. The First Amendment doesn’t say you need a defined reason anyways.

There are other ways to watch what you are doing. If you want to read up on all varities of art law, you couldn’t do much better than Starving Artists Law. Or, if you are interested in learning more about the right to assemble and protest, this link is a great resource. If your voice is strongest online, it couldn’t hurt to check the Legal Guide for Bloggers.

And above all, don’t stop doing what you do best.


December 13, 2011 / By

‘Misrata’ – The Music of Change

Caravaggio painting

When Dylan sang that The Times They Are a-Changin’ in ’64, his song echoed the sentiment of the unvoiced mass public. Today, technology and the media have created plenty of new outlets for the public to voice their ideas and opinions. Now that the times are a-changed, it feels overly simplistic to picture that a song could be the best way to give a voice to an era of change.

Philip Kennedy’s post last week reminded me of a dialog that seems to permeate the conversation place, namely, the role of music in modern culture and under what lens it is to be examined. It’s no secret that there is a link between the arts and socio-political events, and with such fast access to socio-political events (remember, we live in a world where data can be transferred thousands of miles in a fraction of a second) the reactionary status of the arts is in question. The victory in Libya last week has been spun into the defeat of today and slights the drama of right now. It feels impossible to write a soundtrack fast enough.

The video above, of Sam Cooke covering Bob Dylan in the early 1960’s, displays an idealistic and confrontational tone at the same time. Dylan’s poetic touch allowed his music to transcend musical genres, race, and age groups and to solidify an idea of the populace. Then again, this populace was much smaller. Back then you HAD to buy the record to join the club, there was no YouTube/Pandora/Spotify. For Sam Cooke to perform this Woody-Guthrie-by-way-of-NYC inspired song, live for a mixed audience, with funky, soaring vocals, was a huge statement. The music could be shared by every television viewer. It was a blending of culture, a statement for the future of not just America but progressive social change.

This moment – alongside several others – was a first impression. The genesis of folk/funk/rock activist music emerged as a new group of people who weren’t sold on the status quo. The media had no way of coping. Technology restricted social awareness. There had to be protest concerts because there were no online petitions. You couldn’t donate to the cause online but you could march to your town hall. Advertising – both political and economic – had to learn to sell to this mental shift.

To some extent, the idea of being able to place musical ideas next to political or cultural ones is a product of mass marketing. Selling music as a reactionary, incendiary force is no different than any other advertising lexicon. The idea of raising passion in the heart of people has always been one of the number one ways to make money. And nowadays music as a political cause is like an old hat you don’t want to wear. We’ve seen Bob Dylan perform, Bono talking about Africa and Live8 already. Hell, we’re even giving it away. Now, the finest pieces of music that incite change have to do so in subliminal, hidden ways. There is an interpretation that Radiohead’s Kid A and Amnesiac – including the release and marketing – are desperate protests against political, advertising, and musical convention. The unrelenting ambition of the music made the music industry buckle, but did create a mental shift in us?

I think it has. As rebellion has been sold to the under-30’s crowd since before they got out of the womb (Kumbayah, Blowing in the Wind) it seems the only logical reaction has been the current wave of indifference. The safest view towards contemporary events is not accepting or even looking at it, it’s ignoring the problem completely and going down your own path, wherever that may lead you. My favorite example: The desolate, empty, vapid world of Drake’s Marvin’s Room. Accepting the solidarity of life, he realizes it is safer to accept spite, being used, using people, and inequality. It is a jaded, helpless attitude, removed from reality. It’s a first world retort to global problems. I think that’s why, several years ago, Rick Rolling was so popular. We needed something to be happy about. And joyful, cheesey, pop from 1987 was a quick fix.

Personally, I believe the most dangerous emotion in today’s society is hope. Optimism is something we are all afraid of, and I mean the optimism for the world you live in. In a world of dog-eat-dog corporations and endlessly addictive media, it takes work to cultivate actual optimism. Much in the way Soren Kierkegaard challenged our minds 150 years ago in Fear and Trembling, we must be bold in our decisions to do something good for this world. Carvaggio’s The Sacrifice of Isaac, displayed above, reveals the challenge of Abraham to do the right thing regardless of the momentary horror of killing his son. Hope takes sacrifice, effort, and challenging yourself. It isn’t just something you are born with. You must go through with it in your actions as well.

I would like to do my part to encourage hope. Hope doesn’t just have to be happy emotion – it can create a driving light into the future. This song exists in the epicenter of a civil war. Ibn Thabit, a Libyan rapper who prefers to remain anonymous, has been releasing anti-Gaddafi music for the past year. While I don’t speak Arabic, I don’t need to in order to get this music. The beat draws itself from the g-funk, west coast era of Dr. Dre and Snoop. Released 2 months after the start of the Libyan Civil War, this is a dialog about the Battle of Misrata. Thousands of civilians were injured in the battle as Gaddafi forces leveled the city. Five days after this track appeared on Youtube, Misrata was liberated by rebel forces. This really is music of a revolution.

I warn you that the video has fairly intense images of war and violent stuff so if you just wanna listen to it, that’s cool. But if you’re interested…

In the anonymity of Ibn Thabit, this music takes on a bellowing voice to the outside world. To answer Philip’s question, I think collected voices united behind a positive idea are our only hope. We can’t rely on iconic artists other than Dylan. That revolution has been marketed. If this music can be created in the middle of war, I would only ask that we be so bold to release our art with such similar ambition. It’s a challenge. I think it’s worth it.


October 25, 2011 / By

‘What Do You Expect’ – The Music Of Change

Bob Dylan

2011 definitely feels like a time of change. From the demonstrations and protests that spread through Morocco, Egypt and Libya at the start of the year; to the riots in London and the the hundreds of global demonstrations taking place from Occupy Wall Street to the Spanish Indignants movement. Last Saturday Ann Powers of NPR’s The Record wrote an interesting piece asking “Will There Be Another Dylan?“; will there be a voice to emerge that will define this air of change and revolution?

Personally I would argue that music holds a different meaning for this generation compared with that of the ’60s. Even the way we listen to music has changed; he have easier access to it now and for many it’s become an endless way to create a backdrop to our their day. Indeed, I’m not the only one to notice this shift; Pulp’s frontman Jarvis Cocker noted the same, saying in yesterdays Guardian that “Music has changed. It’s not as central, it’s more like a scented candle”.

When Dylan sang that The Times They Are a-Changin’ in ’64, his song echoed the sentiment of the unvoiced mass public. Today, technology and the media have created plenty of new outlets for the public to voice their ideas and opinions. Now that the times are a-changed, it feels overly simplistic to picture that a song could be the best way to give a voice to an era of change.

One of the strongest voices to emerge from the pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt at the start of the year was the Internet activist and computer engineer Wael Ghonim. It was Ghonim who used the term Revolution 2.0. For him, change came from the contribution of everyones voice. In his appearance on CBS’s 60 Minutes, he said that Egypt’s ‘revolution is like Wikipedia’. Ghonim saw change come about from everyone contributing small bits and pieces to the cause, and thus creating a single picture of the revolution. To this generation, another Dylan is not what we need.

That’s not to say that I feel music can’t play a role in change. Music is a wonderful way to bring people together and it can connect them. One only has to look at the drumming circles taking place during many of the ongoing demonstrations to see evidence of this. For me, music today seems to work best as a backdrop to change. The voices, ideas and words of a combined people should play a far more important role then that of a single voice.

In September, Swedish indie-pop singer/songwriter Sarah Assbring (aka El Perro Del Mar) released ‘What Do You Expect’, a track borne out of the flaring riots in the UK at the time. “I felt I needed to say something about the incidents” she said, “…I feel they speak volumes not only of one society in specific but about the society and time we live in at large.” For those familiar with Assbring’s music you’ll notice that ‘What Do You Expect’ is a marked change from her usual sound. Her sweet and melancholic vocals are all but removed from this track, leaving a dark and synth-heavy backdrop for a series of sound-bites taken straight from the streets. For Assbring it would seem that the voice of the people speak more then a single voice.

How about you? Do you think we need a Bob Dylan for this generation or have we reached a place where our united voices can stand as one?


October 17, 2011 / By