Thursday, January 5, 2012

How To Go See Art: Gallery Visit 101

Art needs viewers. Art, of any sort, is dead until someone experiences it. This is true for music and literature, but it is very certainly true of the visual arts. For someone who has an eye for art, and who wants to see new works regularly, going to galleries is the best way for you to go. The art world is constantly swimming with new exhibitions and gallery shows, all of which hold opening receptions of some sort. It is these events that I want to talk about.
When an artist or a group of artists shows their work somewhere, and holds a reception/opening/event to bring people there, their hope is for an audience to show up, look at their work, and hopefully appreciate it enough to want to purchase it. For many this process is very intimidating. It should not be. I am here to help.

What should you expect from an art opening?

Let's take, for example, a group show held at a local gallery. Most art openings are free-form events, intended to allow the public to come and go as they please. There is no pressure to be there “on time,” unless it is so specified in the announcement/invitation. There is no cover charge. There may be a cash bar or there may be complimentary refreshments served. The artist(s) and/or a gallery employee are usually there, ready to introduce themselves, as well as discuss any questions you may have about their work. This type of interaction is a welcome thing for most artists, as we rarely have the opportunity to interact with the consumers of art. It is completely cool to go up to the artist and introduce yourself, and comment on their art, or ask any questions.

Think of an art show as a communication format. The artists want to communicate with you through their art and through their words. The viewing public is also given the chance to communicate what the work is or is not to them, and if they love it, to purchase said work. Aside from that, there is a communication that happens between the patrons themselves. Art is intended to move the heart and/or mind. You are there to see if this art does this. At the very least, you will be entertained. Not bad for FREE.

What is expected of you at an art opening?

First of all, your very presence. As stated before, art does not live in a vacuum. It is your eyes and minds (and in many cases, all your senses) that are asked to participate. Of course, your preparation can aid in this, but it is not mandatory. You do not need to know the latest art movements, or any art movements at all, to enjoy an artwork or an art show. That does not mean that preparation will not come in handy, but that is up to you. What you really need is an open mind, uncluttered by the bullshit of the day. This is ideal, but we all know life does not often allow for the ideal. The beauty of art is that it will communicate what it can, to whom it can.
This is the beauty of living with art. You can look at it regularly in different light, in different states of mind, in different emotional situations, and get fresh insight. At a gallery show, this must obviously be limited, but that is part of the process. You cannot just hop into an art gallery, look at everything in a quick overview, and then leave right away. Not if you expect to actually create a mental dialogue with the art being shown. It takes a bit of time. First impressions are only enough for superficial matters. Art is deeper than that, otherwise it is just decoration.
Therefore, go to the gallery, walk in, take a casual stroll through and look at each work of art. Note what impression it makes on you and move on to the next. Keep your ears open for anything you may find interesting, such as who the artist is, and if she happens to be discussing her work. Sometimes the artist will give a small speech/statement discussing their latest work, or the direction they are heading in. Listen to them. See how this applies to the art you have looked at.

Go around again. Take a second look at everything. See how your impressions have changed or remained the same. No one will bother you for staying too long. No one will bother you for only staying 15 minutes. However, you must give the art a chance to speak to you, and this cannot be accomplished with a cursory glance at everything and a quick exit. There is usually some form of literature provided, either by the gallery or by the artist themselves. This is a good place to learn more about the artist and their work. There is likely to be some sort of sign-in sheet where you can provide your email and receive updates from either the artist or the gallery.

How do you find time for art shows?

The joy of an art show is that you can access it at your own pace. You can use a visit to an art gallery opening as a precursor to a night out, as a great conversation starter among friends. You can swing by an opening after dinner on a Friday or Saturday night, and enjoy a drink while walking off some of dinner and feeding your mind a bit. Some people frequent art shows regularly, and use them as their socializing routine. Like-minded people enjoying art can be a very fun pastime. You can also hit several openings/shows in sequence and explore the full gamut of what is being offered on any given day. Hell, if you need a small break waiting for the traffic to die down after work, go to the art show! Kill an hour looking at art and then head home with a full mind. Even if the art turns out to be horrible, at the least you have something new to grouse about!

So many people are curious about art, and the art world itself. Yet, the very nature of it makes the art world appear to be an elitist situation, where only the informed and worldly and educated snobs of the world are welcome. This is really not the way it is, just the way it is portrayed in mass media. Most art openings are such casual affairs, and your presence means a lot to those showing work. Remember, if you like something, and can afford it, go ahead and buy something. Sometimes prints are available, or smaller works at a reduced price. The goal is for the art to communicate to someone enough that they wish to own it, and live with it. That someone could very well be you. If you have no money, feel free to enjoy the art anyways. Exposure is the goal of every professional artist, and while one person may not purchase something, their favorable comments about the art or artist can provoke others to buy work, or to come to the next art show. Share what you find. Talk about what you like or do not like. That makes you a part of the art world, and just as important a part as the artists and gallery owners. Go forth, and do so with confidence. The art world is waiting for your input and participation.


(originally published at )

Houston Texans: Success After Years of Futility

When the Houston Oilers left town, the football soul of the city of Houston was nearly destroyed. In Texas, football is king, above all other sports. In Houston, after a great run of seven straight playoff appearances, we were spoiled by our team's success. Their departure was heart-rending to someone like me, for whom American football was their sports passion.

Having moved to Houston from Ponce, Puerto Rico, I was just an 8 year old kid looking for something to latch onto in this strange country. Pro football was a spectacle, and even though it was nearly incomprehensible to me at that early age, I felt a connection to the violence, the speed, and the grace exhibited by these athletes.

Over the next 16 years, I became a Houston Oilers fanatic. When it was announced that they would be leaving for Tennessee, I feared Houston would end up like Los Angeles, a giant city with no pro football team. It was a long seven year wait, but the NFL informed the country that the 32nd franchise in the NFL would be granted to Bob McNair, and the city of Houston. It was a glorious day. It was also the first notice that we would have to endure years of futile effort and poor play.

The two NFL teams added before the Texans, the Caroline Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars, both had varying degrees of success early on, but they crashed and burned soon after. The Houston Texans were a bit different. We began our first season with a rookie quarterback who was more concerned with his hair than with his studies. The Texans lost ugly for years. It was so bad that at the stadium, the crowd would cheer heartily for first downs, not touchdowns, as that was the only thing the team seemed capable of.

It has been a full decade of Houston Texans football, and the team has finally made it into the post-season. It was not pretty this season. The team suffered through the loss of their starting and back-up quarterbacks (Matt Schaub, Matt Leinart), their starting running back (Arian Foster), their world-class wide receiver (Andre Johnson), and their 1st round draft pick linebacker (Mario Williams).

This seemed devastating at the time, but the team has managed to tough it out and win despite these heavy casualties. As a fan, this is a most exciting time.

No one expects the team to do anything special in the playoffs. We are likely to be seen as cannon-fodder for the more powerful and well-established teams. This is something that Houston fans are accustomed to. Even so, it feels great to have been rooting for this team, taking as much joy from the small victories as we can, and seeing the recent results. The greatest compliment an opposing team can say about one's team is that they are a "team no one wants to face in the playoffs." I think the Texans are one of those teams, and the city of Houston is riding a football wave that began with the University of Houston and hopefully will end with the Texans making a deep run into the playoffs. Dreams are coming true people!

It is a bit hard to believe we are bound for the NFL playoffs. I remember an evening after work about eleven years ago which found me in front of a large stage in downtown Houston. The new team owner and the President were unveiling the new teams name, logo, and uniforms. At the time the name seemed bland, vague, and non-threatening. Football is controlled violence and the names should suit the intended goal. The logo was fine but seemed like an obvious ploy to subliminally attract University of Texas alumni, with it being just the head of a long-horned cow. The team colors were even more of a disappointment. The whole red, white, and blue color scheme was already in use by many other teams in the league, and seemed like such a safe, middle-of-the-road decision. Boring.

The team in those first years did resemble my first impression of the colors, logo, and name. We were a boring team to watch. Painfully boring. Boring like the early 80's Seahawks, or the Buccaneers in the 70's. Each game was just a new example in ineptitude. Shitty teams would beat us by 30-40 points. It was all quite painful, but it was Pro Football, and the team could only improve, right? Ten years later, it seems that all our patience is being rewarded. We have a fabulous running game, a league-leading defensive unit, and a team that believes in itself, willing to step up and make plays when the starters get injured. We now have a Defensive Coordinator who is as good as they come, to match our offensive minded Head Coach. It is a great time to be a Houston Texans fanatic.


It is now January 2012, and the Texans' first playoff game is ever-nearer. The elation felt by me as I wrote the above material has degraded to a low murmur of fear. The past three games have shown the world a Texans team incapable of scoring touchdowns against three of the most inept teams in the NFL. Three losses in a row, two at home to deeply inferior teams, and a backwards slide into the first ever playoff game for this franchise. It makes me sick.

The whole city of Houston is still trying to pretend they have hopes for our playoff-bound team, but it is all a barely held-together ruse. We are all football people here in Texas and even the most disinterested Houstonian knows that our Texans team seems a fraud. We can pride ourselves on the league's second best rushing attack, and one of the league's top defenses, but how hollow does that feel after these last three weeks?

I do not know if it is our team, or our coach, but we lack the killer instinct. Our team's attitude implies a group of overachieving mediocre talent happy to luck into a year where everything comes together to essentially hand the Texans their first division title. Peyton Manning's injury single-handedly submarined the once-mighty Colts. The Titans barely finished above .500 with an over-the- hill QB and a brand new coaching staff just learning the ropes. The other division team, the Jaguars, could do nothing but rush the ball, and failed to win even a third of their games. This was the GOLDEN SEASON damn it!

The Texans should have gotten it into their heads that this was their season to shine. Even with all of our injuries, and there have been a ton of critical ones, our team at the 2/3 mark of the season looked lean and mean, saying all the right things, and manhandling opponents like the cream of the AFC South crop we truly seemed to be. Is it because, having achieved the first goal of reaching the playoffs, the team just lost it's fire? Great teams do not lose their fire. Great teams take pleasure and pride in defeating their opponents and showing football mastery while doing so. To come out as they have done for the past three weeks, and play as if they could just turn "it" off and on like some sort of motor was just pathetic. It disgusted me to see how insipid the passing attack was, how unimaginative the running game became, how tepid our defense proved to be.

A team does not have to win all their games by double digits, or even win all their games, to earn respect. However, a team has to come out competitive! Our Texans have not, and what makes them think that they will somehow be able to just "bring it" on Saturday against the Cincinnati Bengals, a team we barely managed to defeat when we were actually playing decent? Many pundits made a stink about how the Texans fans booed the team at the end of the first half against Carolina. They do not understand that the people of Houston are football people first and foremost, and that we respect a team that carries itself with the heart of a champion. A champion does not play it's first home game after clinching the playoffs and a division championship and go into the half losing 21-0. That is an insult to the fans. If the fans seemed ungrateful, it is not for lack of achievement, but for lack of effort, and the team needed to hear that. If the team was somehow upset over being booed, then they need to play better. It is as simple as that.

I can tell you for sure though that Reliant Stadium is going to be insane this Saturday, but if the team comes out limp and unsure, if they allow the opponents to put up 21 unanswered points, the hometown fans will boo heartily. Houstonians can smell a sports fraud a mile away.


Life Sucks

Many might say that it is just a depressive state talking, or that pessimism is to blame, but I sincerely feel sometimes that Life is not worth living. This is not in a suicidal kind of manner, but in that the effort that must be put into what we call Life, seems to be more than what is attained. Is anything worth it? From my point of view it seems that even those we call successes in Life are hiding something that, were it to be openly known, would cause us to lose some of our envy.

Jim Morrison once sang “no one here gets out alive.” No one gets out of Life alive, that is true, but I think Jim had a separate meaning to this. I think he understood that Life will kill you, kill your soul, your inner divinity, much earlier than actual Death. Maybe this is why he sought Death with such fervor. He wanted Death to come while he was still ALIVE.

Life is a crock of shit. Some of us work very, very hard every day of our lives only to see it accomplishes nothing. Some people do no work whatsoever, yet seem to coast through Life, at least to outside eyes. Those same people also have problems and terrors unimaginable to most of us regular people. Can you imagine how fucking horrible something must be to keep Bill Gates awake at night? Maybe the thought that even with his billions of dollars, he cannot stave off Death, whether it were some poor starving person, or his own. There exists no human without fear.

Working sucks. The poor saps that tell the world they love their work are saying so because THEY HAVE TO. Otherwise they would go insane. People use the excuse of “loving” their work to mask the huge amount of themselves they have had to sacrifice for their job. Is the most successful person in the room the one that has worked 14-hour days, 7 days a week, to the exclusion of friends, family, or even their own health, and amassed a fortune he has no time or inclination to truly enjoy? Or is it the person who has managed to maintain a long union and raised a family, glossing over the countless pains, sorrows, and hindrances a family brings? Is it the man who has told the world to FUCK OFF and dropped from society's radar, only to find out that he was truly as worthless and unnecessary as he felt before? Is success in life measured in dollars, or in happiness? He who has the most toys when he dies wins? That is pretty fucking stupid. Is success measured by achievement? Does self-satisfaction count as happiness? Why do those that are happy within themselves have to tolerate a world constantly trying to tell them why they should not be happy, or jealous of them to the extent of sabotaging said happiness?

Looking at the knowledge we have accumulated over the tiny speck of time we have been crawling about this planet, there seems to be very little to indicate that Life is worth living. Much of our human belief structure is based on the very idea that Life is a fucking hell of it's own, and that Death brings respite and peace. Is that not fucking ridiculous? We slave at life, studying, working, learning, obeying, eating and shitting, and our reward is to be at peace upon death? FUCK! Talk about a goddamn waste of time. Especially since these same belief structures also tell us that ending our own life, for whatever reason, no matter how dire or necessary, will actually keep us away from the peace supposedly attained in death. This basically guarantees that we have to all suffer as long as possible before we get our “just rewards.” Nice little Catch 22.

Some believe that heaven or hell are right here on Earth, in our heads let's say, and that it is up to us to choose to live in one or the other. This would be true if indeed we were isolated entities, free from the massive levels of suck that the surrounding human horde is always ready to subject us to. Anyone who has had their day/week/year/life ruined by the bullshit actions of someone else can lay righteous claim to the untruth of this idea. Even the hermits in our past were dependent on others for sustenance. It is nearly impossible to rid oneself of the stink of other humans. If it sucks to you that some days your husband is an ass and ruins your mood, can you imagine what it is like for a fucking hermit, who only has sparse contact with others, to have his life ruined by some asshole? It must be substantially worse.

What is the answer? Is Life worth it? The joys in life, the happy times, the peaceful moments and experiences, are just as transient as the shitty ones. The problem is that they are far, far rarer. The lucky among us can count something every day that feels like a blessing, while counting dozens of times that same day that someone hurt them, or annoyed them, or reminded them of shit that sucks. People get accused of living in a delusional state, of ignoring others problems. It is as if the accusers feel that those doing the ignoring are lacking in hurt and sorrow and pain. Could it be that people ignore the plight of others, not because they do not care and are callous assholes, but because they are already so chock full of pain and hurt and sorrow that to take on someone else's, even for one minute, would break them? That seems like the more likely scenario.

What ways have humans found to battle this horror called Life? I have discussed religion above, but there are other ways. Some are seen as “evil” or “bad” by many. Others are seen as “wholesome” or “noble.” The list is a long one: sex, drugs, marriage, decadence, family, love, sin, piety, etc. People are asked to support something like marriage, for it seemingly guarantees love and companionship, things which should make shitty-ass Life bearable. The horrors of divorce, of love-less marriages, or child abuse, of neglect are all pushed to exist and continue, because marriage makes life WORTH IT somehow. For those that have had this be the case, more power to you. But, like what I said before about people who overly praise their jobs, if you have to overemphasize the benefits you are likely just trying to make yourself believe it. Something such as a drug habit, however, is seen as a horror, whole and complete, with no benefit whatsoever. Yet most of the nation enjoys a bit of drug after work, sometimes in the company of your very same coworkers. They call this “Happy Hour.” Odd that this “happy” hour takes place just after leaving work and just before going home. Happy Hour is book-ended by hours of shitty job time, and hours of shitty home time for most people who enjoy such an event. Who am I to say they cannot? Who are you to say someone cannot go home and do a drug that allows them to cope with their existence? Even if it is just to fucking forget that tomorrow you gotta go and do the exact same thing all over again?

Schools can teach us science, and art, and literature, and useful skills, but school does not teach us how to be happy. This is either because they do not want us to be happy, (a likely scenario seeing as how this country's schools seem to churn out drones for whom happiness exists in what a paycheck can buy) or because they cannot teach us how to be happy. They do not know. The teachers, the educators and masters who write the textbooks do not know how to be happy. We are taught how to be content, how to be satisfied, how to feel successful, but not how to be happy. Our American forefathers knew that life is not happy. They guaranteed us the right to pursue happiness. One can pursue an ideal, but perfection does not exist long in our chaotic universe. Entropy is a horrible bitch-goddess. Happiness is a perfection of sorts, which is why it comes so suddenly and leaves so swiftly, leaving little in it's wake to signify it had been there. When happiness leaves,it does not leave behind happy residue. It completely vanishes. Something else instantly takes it's place. Happiness is as ephemeral as the human soul.

I know that if all that can be attained in life is contentment, or self-satisfaction, then people are being done a great disservice when taught that they should seek happiness in all things. It keeps us childlike, ignorant, stupid, wanting the pleasure of happiness without preparing us for the inevitable horrors that truly make up day to day Life. Maybe they do this because so many of us are too sensitive, and if we were taught the truth from the bat many of us would opt out, like so many misunderstood teenagers do every year. There is always some inane campaign to try and reduce teen suicide, to try and ferret out it's “warning signs,” so that “help” can be given. Virtually nothing is done to actually address the shit in the world that makes a teenager feel that life is not worth living. Is this because no one cares, or because there is nothing that can actually be done? I tend to think no one cares.

When I say no one cares I do not mean to say that people individually or collectively cannot care about something or someone. I mean that most of us, even the best of us, can only focus on so much, and the best of us are usually asked to carry great burdens, so that it is just not possible to truly care about people as much as they deserve to be cared about. The shit fuckers out there, and there are a ton of them, actively do not care about anyone. Lee Ving of FEAR once said a great truth on stage. He said “we want everyone to share in everything there is to go around, except what's coming to us.” This sounds cold, but my opinion is that most people don't even go that far. They are more along the lines of “I want what's coming to me, and fuck it if no one else gets any.” That is how we live as a country. That is how the American business treats the world. We would be better off if they followed Lee Ving's adage.

Are we responsible only for our own happiness? Are we responsible for everyone around us? Many wise sages have thought about this. The guy they call Jesus essentially said that to be truly happy one must focus on helping those who need it. Giving is it's own reward. Everything he taught goes against the me-first mentality that pervades this supposedly Christian nation. The least among us are the ones that need the most. This is an obvious truth, but it is so easily forgotten by those seeking self-happiness. The plight of our fellow man is a worthy cause to help, as long as we personally do not suffer or lack anything in the process. That is what it seems people believe Jesus was about, at least if you judge them based on actions. The teachings of Jesus are just not compatible with capitalism, so the modern American warps them and allows his selfishness and greed to consume him.

The dude they call Buddha got even simpler. He narrowed everything down to suffering. He saw the world is shit. He saw the horrors of Life, after an early existence of pure idyll. The Buddha said that all is suffering, and that all suffering comes from desire. Desire makes us do things we would otherwise not do. It makes us hate. It makes us lust. It makes us neglect the world around us in our obsessive quest to get whatever we desire. Desire does not promise anything. It more often disappoints. People suffer when they do not get what they desire, and they suffer when they get what they desire. This is a cycle that can be broken, according to the Buddha, but it requires the complete removal of desire from one's mind. In today's world, and in the USA in particular, a man who wants nothing, is a loser. A woman who desires nothing except to experience the day that has been set before her by the Universe is wasting her life. The main goal seems to be to get so rich that you can have whatever you desire. Instead of denying desire, instead of eliminating suffering by decreasing desire, we are putting desire up on so high a pedestal that it is the only goal worth striving for! How fucked up is that? The Buddha would shit his fucking robes man.

Other sages, such as the latest fella, Mohammed, advocate a devout life of religious worship and devotion. They do not advocate this as a guide to happiness. They do so as a way to enlightenment, and to a feeling of oneness with the Universe/God/whatever. This is their ultimate goal. It is a noble one, much like the Buddha's and the Christ's. Yet, even this is warped into fanaticism and hate and everything ugly about humanity. (Maybe Life sucks because humans exist? That's another topic. - RXTT) If only people would remember that religions are created in the most turbulent of times, when life is cheap, and death is ever-present. Their teachings are mostly about how to cope with SHIT. How not to go completely insane at all the fucking nonsensical horrors that Life is populated with.

It seems these and other sages all understood that what was needed was a way for lowly humans to cope with their existence. What is crazy is that the Buddha/Jesus/Mohammed/Abraham were not even trying to get people HAPPY. They were just trying to get them to understand they could be content despite Life. It seems many people have forgotten this. Even religious food edicts and dogma were ways to aid people who were so jacked up they needed actual wholesale instruction so as not to die. Halal meat, Kosher preparations, etc. Did all this make Life worth living? Maybe for some. Certainly for others, such as the Philistines who were wholesale slaughtered by the ancient Hebrews, or the many who were brutalized and murdered at the hands of the Roman Catholic Christian Inquisition, or those who suffer and die at the hands of militant Islam regimes today, Jesus, Abraham, and Mohammed made Life even shittier and more horrible than it already was.

How are we to deal with this? Are the small thrills afforded by random bouts of happiness/joy enough to compensate for the hours of tedious torture Life entails? Is it enough to just be content, to just be glad to be alive? If being alive can be described as being it's own reward, why does the reward so often feel like a punishment? I once thought being alive and suffering through everything would be worth it even if all I had were my records and books to keep my mind occupied. That was not enough though. I could not enjoy what I had taken in without someone to share it with. I think life can be worth it if you get to be in Love. Even once. Real, true, deep Love. Love is joy as much as it is pain, but it makes life worth living. At least that is how I feel at this point in space-time. Maybe in my future I will think that creation, the act of creation, whether in art, work, or in actually making a new human, is what makes life bearable. It seems to me that those that create, whether it is for mass consumption or for personal delight, whether in business or in a relationship, are the ones that seem happy.

Happiness seems to exist in those who have created something new for the Universe to get a handle on. I once read humans/sentient beings described as the way the Universe has found to study itself. Maybe happiness is just a human construct, but it seems to flow from creation. An utter failure in nearly every aspect of his life, Vincent Van Gogh found his happiness creating images in oil paint. He had every reason to wallow in misery and failure but he painted to feel that joy, that happiness, that quality of existence that is everyone's goal in Life. Even through insanity and isolation he created images which brought so much pleasure to the world in the century and a half since his death. Had he only known. He died penniless, alone, sick, and miserable. Life sure knows how to suck.