AN OPEN LETTER TO EVERYONE WHO WANTS TO HAVE FUN AND MAKE GOOD ART RIGHT NOW IN NEW YORK CITY (for Penny Arcade):
Every new generation suspects that the grown-ups have been feeding them a lot of shit, which may just be a natural reaction, meant to get people to figure things out for themselves. And generally, yes, the culture you are given is indeed shit, but eventually everyone realizes that mixed with it are some important things too. They then start digging back through it looking for what they need. This is probably just the process of “growing” and how History works. What nobody finds useful in this is a paradoxical parental-type wagging their finger. Maybe its just my “being young” but it seems to me when someone tries to scold you, any sensible person should say “fuck you” and walk away, no matter who is doing the scolding.
And that is what I felt like doing while listening to Penny Arcade on Sunday. Even though I generally agree with what she was saying, I’m upset because, for someone in her position, she is picking the wrong side of a fight, and we need her in it as an ally.
This weekend Arcade, iconic performance artist of the downtown scene, concluded a lovely night of readings for Justin Sayre’s Red Couch Salon, at the LES garden patch Le Petit Versailles. The whole series was dedicated to the memory of Taylor Meade and she began by sharing her reminiscences of that sweet poet which, unfortunately, became a litany of gripes, without irony, about “whats wrong with the kids these days…”
At this point let me make clear I have nothing but respect and admiration for Penny Arcade, her work and life, and it is precisely my respect that makes this bother me. This comes on the heels of her leading a digital lynch mob last week (via facebook, yuck!) after a 20 year-old trans performance artist for an article written in VICE magazine. (Regardless of any issues with the article, if we are going to become enraged with VICE, that piece is the least of our concerns.)
I suspect the percentage of authentically interesting artists now is the same as it was in that mythical golden age Arcade remembers from her youth, and that percentage is a small one; now there is more dreck to wade through because infinitely more people want to be part of the contemporary scene. This is made all the more difficult by the fact that the money infusing New York makes it increasingly hard for artists to live and work. Its a real problem for everyone, felt especially by young artists, but a problem my friends and I are committed to finding creative solutions to. That is what artists do best: create ways to make life not only livable but wonderful despite always crummy pre-existing conditions, and the most important way is by supporting eachother (laments like those of another elder, Patti Smith, that “young artists should not come to New York because its too expensive” seem similarly unhelpful.)
I spend a lot of my time with artists and writers older than Arcade, people in their 70s and 80s. Like her, I listen to them. I want to understand what they did and why. There is a lot of gross stuff going on in the world right now and people like Arcade should direct their ire towards higher targets, using their gifts to help envision new possibilities. Calling out a wayward peer has it’s place—a good example is Yvonne Rainer’s open letter to Marina Abramovic—but that is of course different than a legend going after a fresh face.
A useful thing for everyone would be to leave the negativity at the door and instead focus on actively supporting new things that are interesting. Let everything else “disappear without any help from me” as Frank O’Hara said. Even from the perspective of a peer, it rarely makes sense to me to call someone out in public, (if I wanted to complain about every idiot making horrible art I’d never get out of bed.) We all have better things to do. This article is not a critique, but a reminder: as artists committed to living interesting lives, to making a true cultural community in New York regardless of the “money” or “fame” thing (but not reactionary against them, because that too is an uninteresting prison) then we need to spend time trying to understand and talk to each other with some generosity. So many other artists and writers were ready to gleefully jump on Hari Nef last week instead of trying to work through a thorny conversation, and that doesn’t make anyone look good.
After the reading, Penny Arcade posted on her facebook this nice note: “the night was soft, the garden beautiful, an oasis of tranquility…we who have been thru it all felt an opening, a new possibility…there is a new generation out there, more open, less narcissistic, seekers…again there are seekers come into the waste land.amen” Yes, Penny Arcade knows what is going on, despite the darts she’s thrown recently. I agree with that statement and I believe that there is a new generation out there that is going to have a lot of fun and bring something great to the table. This process of opening will be helped along quite a bit by less griping from our elders and more tangible acts of camaraderie all the way around.
-Contributed by Jarrett Earnest