We Are All Just Pretending Not to Be Frightened
And other answers to unsolicited questions.
“Art really makes me feel stupid. I know I should like it, but I always feel like it is making fun of me. What can I do? Am I an unsophisticated moron?” — Artless Artie
No. You seem like a normal, thoughtful person. Art probably is making fun of you. It’s not your fault. That’s all that’s left for art to do: make fun of good, seemingly thoughtful people. Art can sometimes be fun, I think, or maybe that’s mostly nostalgia. Is fun mostly nostalgia? Remembering when something else was fun and confusing that for current fun now? Probably.
But, listen, it can be fun to walk around in Chelsea on the nights of many openings and all those different galleries between 10th and 11th or whatever, going up the stairs, back and forth, see what cheese they’re smoking across the street. Art is supposed to be fun, I think. Art can also be kind of pretentious and annoying. And it’s possible that maybe your tastes are banal. Or maybe everyone’s tastes are predictable. If you painted a Care Bear with a piece of bacon tattooed to its stomach you could probably hang that in MOMA right now. I’m as nostalgic as the next guy, but the golden toilet is probably not as good a piece of art as the crucifix in the urine. They’re both not great, but “Piss Christ” probably wins out as the classier gesture.
The American Artist broke bad with the American Art-going Crowd a long time ago. It’s an indelicate balance, the disdain artists must feel for the viewing public while also simultaneously needing something unwinnable from them: support, money, fame, cocaine, models, love, whatever. The art museum used to be the only place in town you could go and see naked people and have it not be like a weird orgy. Nope, that’s just art. Naked people everywhere. Eating pears. Reclined in fields. Walking down stairs. Bouncing as they go. Now art projects are like dumping crickets on you while you’re on the subway. Like every art project ever is like this. Go ahead and check. It’s your dime, pal.
So, no. You are not a moron. At least not for this reason. American Art has failed you. Feel free to mutter this loudly to yourself as you wander through galleries. It will make you immune to the shade American Art is throwing your way, with its sarcastic big blue blotches or whatever they’re doing these days. Just blow your Instagram photos up until they’re 6 feet tall and that’s every photography show in the world right now. Until we can once again lick the paintings in boundless solitude I say screw Art. Television is the only art these days. Feel free to mutter that wildly to yourself, too, as you march through all the different layers of nostalgia. It’s not true, but shout it at dinner parties anyway. Art’s not dead, it’s undead. The zombie apocalypse has happened! And it’s devoured you! Feel free to shout that, too. Like you’re in an art project.
“How scared is it OK for me to be?” — Afraid Dave
It really depends on how you deal with that fear. Fear can be great. I am afraid of losing my job, therefore I show up to work at the bookstore when I am on the schedule. I am afraid of making babies during sex so I come in my pants in like 10 seconds after we start making out. Yes, that was part of my plan. I was trying to do that. And you’re welcome.
If your fear makes you like a hateful annoying person, I am not for it. If it makes you think there is an us that can be v. them, that’s just not a mechanical bull I feel like riding. Or even having momentary clothes-on sex with.
It’s OK to be scared enough for you to call your mom a little more often just because you’re afraid that you’ll be killed on the subway by a crazy person with crickets who is really just doing an art project. Or frightened enough that you’re nicer to people.
I fall asleep every night and am surprised when I wake up the very next day. Still as me, in this same body. Does this happen to you? You’re like you for your whole damned life! It’s a very strange sensation and I don’t recommend it. I prefer to think that everyone else in the world is actually just playing a role, hopefully a different one every day. One day you get to be Bono, the next my bus driver. And that somehow it all centers around me in some important way. I don’t know why everything centers around me. My experiences are pretty boring. They mostly revolve around hot dogs.
So, fine. Be frightened. Everyone is frightened. We are all just pretending not to be frightened. Just don’t start a cult. That’s just a whole lot of responsibility you don’t want. Take it from me, The Great Zulgoth from the Planet Erwok. Let my tentacles of wisdom be your guide.
Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City, NJ and works in a bookstore and is no longer the leader of a cult.