A Revolutionary Practice: Part One: CSU Summer Arts

After being away for five years, I am returning to CSU Summer Arts with a crew of insanely passionate and talented artists: Stephanie Sauer, Tia Blassingame, Janice Lee, Joshua Edwards, Ricardo Cortez Cruz, and Gordon Warnock. I have been reflecting on why I am taking time away from my own writing to return to the painful heat of Fresno, California. So, what follows are a few of the rambles into why now, why this moment, I feel it is so important to return.

I assure those of you attending the “Hybrid Poetics and Narratives” workshop that these artists will revolutionize your art and your lives. We will startle you with wonder and beauty on the journey to unearth verbs unknown and unthinkable.

Life is a state of permanent amnesia, a world in search of new forms of escapism and quick, sensual gratification.
— –Chris Hedges
“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we're reading doesn't wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.” --Franz Kafka

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we're reading doesn't wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.” --Franz Kafka

Let us wake up from such amnesia.  

The culture of everyday life maintains the politically and aesthetically apathetic status quo. We need, therefore, to do all we can to unnerve our habits of being.

We are our habits. And too often we remain unconscious of our habits; we are most unconscious of our habits of seeing into the world through our daily acts of living. We do not so much need to abandon such habitual ways of being, but we do need to complicate them, to be constantly transforming them, to be always alert for ways to unnerve beliefs and desires that we passively accept and conform to.

One of the most powerful places on the planet to do this is in Fresno, California, during the CSU Summer Arts program. You are not coming to Summer Arts to be a “student;” rather, you are coming to live the practice of making art, of taking risks, of surrounding yourselves with other young artists who share your passion. 

“Every morning when I wake up, I experience an exquisite joy —the joy of being Salvador Dalí— and I ask myself in rapture: What wonderful things is this Salvador Dalí going to accomplish today?” ― Salvador Dalí

“Every morning when I wake up, I experience an exquisite joy —the joy of being Salvador Dalí— and I ask myself in rapture: What wonderful things is this Salvador Dalí going to accomplish today?” ― Salvador Dalí

The cult of distraction that threatens us every single day of our lives valorizes the superficial, the gaudy, the simple and the mundane. Distraction is the true agent that disintegrates culture. We must rail against such simplicity. Fuck distraction. We must learn to endure boredom and frustration. We cannot give boredom over to distraction. Boredom is an absolute necessary part of being human. Frustration is an integral part of making art.

As the British philosopher, Mick Jagger, suggests: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try real hard, you get what you need.” Are you willing, like Mick and Keith and those other stones rolling down the hill, to actually try real hard? Or, are you weak and simply want instant approval and gratification?

Do you make art so that people look at you? Or do you work on your art as a practice for discovering ways to look into the world?

Everyone reading this sentence will one day die. Our only responsibility is to create the life we want to live, not conform to living a life that others want us to live. Creating our own lives will make us vulnerable. It takes courage to create, to risk not being accepted, to risk being misunderstood, to risk disappointing people we love. What does it mean to you to be successful? Do you value what you have been told to value or have you taken time to be present and to create your own sense of success?

The culture of illusion, one of happy thoughts, manipulated emotions, and trust in the beneficence of power, means we sing along with the chorus or are instantly disappeared from view like losers on a reality show.

Fuck the chorus.

At the end of our lives, our creator will have only one question for us: “In the beginning of life, I gave you one gift—the gift of time. What did you do with this gift?”

A gift is not a gift until the person who has received the gift begins to do something with the gift. The power of the gift resides in the person who has received the gift creating something with the gift. The power of the gift is never with the giver. The true giver of a gift gives a gift—whether the gift be the gift of love, or of insight, or of a new way of experiencing our bodies or of seeing—unconditionally. The true giver is simply curious about what the recipient of the gift will create from the gift. The true giver wants, nor expects, nothing in return. The true giver, like the true Springsteenesque poet, merely wants to stand back and watch. The giver hopes to be astonished by the beauty and light created by the person who experiences the gift. 

“The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.” ― Muhammad Ali

“The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.” ― Muhammad Ali

Summer Arts is the sort of gift that all young artists should give to themselves. To respect yourself, your art, so deeply that you give yourself this gift of time to explore your art, to be fully with your art, your practice of creating, and to surround yourself with other young artists and more accomplished artists. Every artist needs such an experience.

The culture of everyday life is against art. In fact, it is antagonistic toward art. It devalues art by valuing speed. Fuck speed. Life is too short to waste on speed. Slow down. There are miracles everywhere. You only need to move slowly enough to experience them. The faster you move, the less you see, the less you experience.

Do not merely do things with an intention of an outcome. Do something to be with the experience of creating something. Do something to be inside the working through of wonder and complexity. You don’t make love to be done with making love, do you? Hell no. You make love to be with the person you are with. To experience the movements, the muscles and breathing of your partner. Write sentences with the same sort of intention and hope.

Creating art is a form of prayer. We pray to be with our maker. We make art to be with the act of creation. We do not do it to get the approval. That is simple-minded codependence.

So come to CSU Summer Arts. Your life will change. You will change the lives of those around you. Revolutionize your soul.

“When I wake up in the morning, I feel like any other insecure 24-year-old girl. Then I say,'Bitch, you're Lady Gaga, you get up and walk the walk today.” ― Lady Gaga

“When I wake up in the morning, I feel like any other insecure 24-year-old girl. Then I say,'Bitch, you're Lady Gaga, you get up and walk the walk today.” ― Lady Gaga

How often have you wasted time? How often have you killed time? Killing or wasting time is simply evil. Nothing destroys life more than killing or wasting time.

The Canadian philosopher Neil Young once said that it is better to burn out than it is to rust. This is true. To live with an intensity that makes possible new ways of seeing and experiencing the world.

My advice:

Risk getting lost.

Make art out of curiosity and bewilderment.

Always be alert and ready for unexpected revelations of beauty.

Care about the life you are living and the world you live in.

This is the time to start living the life you have always imagined, the life you have feared living because you feared those around you would not approve of you creating your own life, your own desires, your own art.

"The artist who expends all his (sic) efforts in convincing himself that he is not a non-artist or the anti-artist who struggles not to become "an artist" cannot justify his vexations by appealing to an ideal of freedom. What he needs is not an ideal of freedom, but at least a minimum of practical and subjective autonomy--freedom from the internalized emotional pressures by which society holds him down. I mean freedom of conscience. This is a spiritual value and its roots are ultimately religious. Hence my first principle is that since in our society everybody is already more or less concerned with a theoretical and doctrinaire approach to the question of art and freedom, maybe the artist himself has something better to do--namely his own job. There have been many myths about the business of "being an artist" and living the special kind of life that artists are reputed to live, that if the artist is too concerned with "being an artist" he will never get around to doing any work. Hence it is to his advantage, first of all, to be free from the myths about "Art" and even from myths about the threat which society offers to his "freedom." This applies, at least, to artists living in "the West," where in fact nobody is seriously interfering with his freedom." --Thomas Merton

"The artist who expends all his (sic) efforts in convincing himself that he is not a non-artist or the anti-artist who struggles not to become "an artist" cannot justify his vexations by appealing to an ideal of freedom. What he needs is not an ideal of freedom, but at least a minimum of practical and subjective autonomy--freedom from the internalized emotional pressures by which society holds him down. I mean freedom of conscience. This is a spiritual value and its roots are ultimately religious. Hence my first principle is that since in our society everybody is already more or less concerned with a theoretical and doctrinaire approach to the question of art and freedom, maybe the artist himself has something better to do--namely his own job. There have been many myths about the business of "being an artist" and living the special kind of life that artists are reputed to live, that if the artist is too concerned with "being an artist" he will never get around to doing any work. Hence it is to his advantage, first of all, to be free from the myths about "Art" and even from myths about the threat which society offers to his "freedom." This applies, at least, to artists living in "the West," where in fact nobody is seriously interfering with his freedom." --Thomas Merton

Quit simply going from one day to the next. Live with intention. Live with desire. What you give your attention to is who you are. There is no getting around that. More fully live the life you are living. Be a part of your own life.

Come to Summer Arts. Rub language against photographs and see what happens.

To practice means to perform, in the face of obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired. Martha Graham

Come do this at Summer Arts.

What would you think about if you were not taught what to think about? Summer Arts makes such thinking possible.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings