Last night, watching the primary results roll in (and a strange Gregory Peck movie on Turner Movie Classics), I was struck yet again by the John Dewey in Barack Obama’s victory speech. I know, I know: I’ve managed to locate Dewey in just about everything. I didn’t post about it, but I even detected him in Dark Horse Comics chief Mike Richardson in his speech at the Stumptown Comic Fest. Richardson was terrific, by the way. So maybe I’m monomaniacal on this subject, as obsessive readers of Art Scatter already know.
Dewey and Obama. It has to do with process. Embedded within this speech and all of the others that I’ve heard Obama give (not a VERY large number), he tells you how he thinks he is going to bring about the change he talks about (to health care, foreign policy, education, etc.). He believes that Americans want their problems solved and are “looking for honest answers about the problems we face.” He believes they have the capacity to understand when they hear something that makes sense. He thinks they are ready to sit down and listen. And he is committed to “telling the truth — forcefully, repeatedly, confidently — and by trusting that the American people will embrace the need for change.” Not just the American people, either, because his foreign policy is built on the same process: talk. And he describes what he thinks freezes our process now — “I trust the American people’s desire to no longer be defined by our differences” — and why he thinks we can change, the hopes we have in common. And all of this is straight out of the American Pragmatism playbook.
Continue reading Aesthetic politics: Obama, Dewey, Potter, IFCC
Yesterday, we suggested that the obliteration of archaeological treasures in Iraq was on our mind because of a story in the Guardian about an upcoming exhibition at the British Museum. The show will document the predations on Iraq’s rich archaeological sites, primarily the ruins of Babylon, by U.S. and UK forces since the beginning of the invasion of Iraq. The extent of the losses will probably never be known — how could it when you are filling sandbags from ground from the strata that holds the fragmentary artifacts at a base you’ve established right next to the site of ancient Babylon?
“It’s a tragedy of the highest cultural consequence unfolding before us and nobody is caring,” said (Dan)Cruickshank (architecture historian). “The British Museum is absolutely right to raise this issue. We need to debate what is happening to this place and the 10,000 other archaeological sites across Iraq that have not been fully documented and recorded.”
If the occupiers of Iraq were to respond to these charges, I’m sure they’d simply say that, well, they’ve done their best, and, really, aren’t bigger issues at stake? This rhetorical question inevitably trumps any list of destroyed objects, trashed sites, pulverized architecture. Aren’t there bigger issues at stake? Presumably, they mean “democracy” but perhaps we suspect “geo-political advantage in a region also rich in oil.”
But what happens if we conduct a little thought experiment: What if our foreign policy was built on the preservation and support of art-making? What sort of approaches and decisions would we have made? Would this new principle guide us more effectively than the old one(s)?
Continue reading Wednesday scatter: Viva Babylon!
It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows.
A week ago, I sat in on a lecture by Roger Martin, dean at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. The talk, sponsored by the Portland branding/design firm Ziba Design, was in the open atrium/auditorium at the Wieden+Kennedy headquarters in the Pearl District. There were W+K and Ziba people in the audience, but lots of other people, too. I noticed the head of a Portland arts organization, for example, and a couple of members of a prominent local law firm.
The epigraph above comes from the beginning of Chapter Six of Martin’s book, The Opposable Mind, which was on sale in the atrium and doing a brisk business with the crowd, it seemed, though perhaps less brisk than the table of pastries. It’s a nice quote, and above all a practical quote. Which describes Martin’s book, too, because it describes a practical approach to problem-solving.
And that’s what I found so interesting. We have reached a point of such bureaucratic stasis in our national life (both business and government and everything in between), of such stalemate in our way of thinking about problems, that what be commonplaces to followers of good old-fashioned John Dewey pragmatism, are taken now as new developments, creative breakthroughs. Martin’s idea is that our most successful leaders are able to look at competing ideas, take the best elements from them and come up with a newer, better idea.
Continue reading Looking for something that works