BOMB: A Manifesto of Art Terrorism

Artist and filmmaker Raymond Salvatore Harmon has written an inspiring and thought-provoking book that insists on changing the way art is perceived and approached by artists, viewers and the ever-problematic gallery world. Harmon presents several stories of his own brushes with law enforcement that are both funny and rather harrowing. He consistently recommends behaving as if you have every business being exactly where you are even if you have no permission to paint the front of a building. Confidence and apparent command of a situation will often get a clever artist out of a jam. Harmon is a very likeable guy and I can’t imagine there would be too many police all that interested in arresting this particular artist whose work always seems to have good intentions behind it.

Here’s an important quote from the book:

Ultimately, corporations play the biggest part in designing our modern world. Corporations sell goods, make cars, pump oil and make medicines. They design city planning and develop urban neighborhoods in order to make profit. They create ghettos to house those people that they pay so little they are unable to afford to live anywhere else. Making them exist at the most nominal part of financial need, particularly outside of the white picket fences of the 1st world nations.

Yet, in the darkness of the city night there are those that go out and change the urban landscape without planning permission of a performance license. These people vary in intent and talent but they collectively do what they do against society and against the law.

I like this book. I find it generally inspiring and agitating in the best possible way. However, I do have arguments with it. In general, I tend to prefer looking at street art that does not actually destroy or harm property. Artists who violate laws by gluing things on walls should I think be treated rather lightly. However, I can certainly imagine scenarios in which a business – even a corporate one – could be seriously harmed by the placement of street art on its walls. Not all corporations are British Petroleum. I don’t see any logical link between artistic statement and one’s attitude about a public or corporate wall. If art should in fact be more focused on the act of creation and viewing by the public without concern for how quickly the art is removed, as Harmon’s book suggests, then street artists should be content with painting their work on paper or cloth and hanging it from those corporate walls. Why is there a link between the making of an image and the destruction of a blank corporate wall? Why not make the art and preserve the blank wall?

Harmon has some harsh words for the art world that links itself inextricably with the art schools, identifying artists it likes, feeding them into a network of wealthy friends and collectors, creating an insular world of wealthy back slappers and promoters. You can see this world in operation all over New York and even in Los Angeles. However, I would point out that crony networks are notoriously good at finding and publicizing actual brilliance.

Elsewhere in the book, famed artist/street prankster Banksy is quoted as saying:

Remember, crime against property is not real crime.

Banksy is of course not someone I would want to be taking very seriously since it is more than likely that he is little more than an employee or creative group working at Urban Outfitters. Thankfully, one of Harmon’s stories about copyright leads right into an episode that reveals Mr. Urban… sorry… Banksy, to be just as copyright-obsessed as any corporation. Banksy is apparently working hard on a piece in model Kate Moss’s bathroom… you kind of get the picture?

You’d do much better reading this marvelous and good-natured jab-in-the-ribs art manifesto than paying attention to Banksy, that’s for sure.

Elsewhere in the book is a thoroughly amusing account of an assault on a major art world event that involves video cameras, dark suits and some very CIA-type stuff going on. Read it and enjoy.

Here is the entire book:

Reality Hunger: I Think David Shields Missed the Joke

I finished it a couple of weeks ago.  Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by David Shields is a fascinating read most of the time.  Some quotations are simply better than others.  I have my favorites.  Hemingway gets quoted for his: “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector.”

What might Ernest have meant by that? Did he mean that a writer should be writing what he/she knows?  Writing from reality?  David Shields seems to think so.  He puts this quote in the chapter called ‘Reality.’  But I don’t know.  I think the inclusion of this quote is a weak pin in the framework of Reality Hunger.  I don’t think Hemingway had any concern whatsoever with reality.  I don’t think Hemingway’s ‘shit’ equals ‘fiction’ or ‘made-up.’  I think Hemingway’s ‘shit’ equals shit.  My shit-detector is going off and it’s pointing in Mr. Shields’ direction.

His book pinpoints the weakness of fictional form in today’s reality-obsessed culture.  The more real we get in our art, the more real our art will be.  We see it all around us, this fixation on reality shows and data and news and of-the-moment information.  We want people to write memoirs more than we want them to write fantasies with fictional characters running around dragging us through the usual plot structures of the worn-out novel form.

I’d believe David Shields if he’d tell more lies.  His book is a big collection of quotations from writers, artists, philosophers, academics, photographers, and filmmakers through history.  The quotations lead us ever closer to the general idea that the observation and reporting of reality in and of itself creates all the fiction we really need.  The pulling together of various shards and bits of reality and observation build art and culture.  To hold a memoir writer hostage to absolute truth is futile and ridiculous because the writer’s job is simply to write.

But I think I’d prefer the book if, having read it to the end and found the appendix with all the sources of the book’s quotations listed, I then could go on to discover that every single one of the quotations was in fact… fake.

The book should have been an absolutely made-up total fake because that would be really real.

Reality Hunger: A Manifesto

I haven’t finished it yet.  But Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by David Shields is making me forget to eat my food. That’s how good it is. I’m sitting there in my local restaurants trying my best to finish my Pasta Siciliana, but I’m staring at my Kindle screen and almost jumping out of my chair with ideas. That’s what this book is for. It was written to light a fire underneath the bottom of an artist.

Don’t be afraid of stealing.  Just do it.

David Shields is a thief and he’s the happiest most energetic thief you’ll ever meet between to covers.  All art is theft.  We build all our original creations on top of other creations.  We consume and then we spit the pieces back out in exploding new arrangements.  We appropriate all the time when we incorporate bits of newsprint into paintings, or street sounds into symphonies, or quotes into novels.

Novels.  What are they and what do they really do?  Do we need or want novels anymore?  Fiction?  Or do we want the more real?  Are we craving more and more reality?  It’s on TV everywhere.  Can the old form of the novel that describes scenes so well and gets into the characters’ heads really compete with all the new forms coming to life that are built primarily upon reality?

What is reality?  Whose reality?  Isn’t one’s perception of a simple street scene actually fiction once it passes through the subjective filter?  Isn’t everything ultimately fiction?

Shields’s book is composed of many fragments mostly snatched from other people throughout history.  Shields leaves his own remarks unannounced until the back of the book where he finally credits his sources.  The point is to connect thoughts from all over the world through many ages to gradually build up a central argument or ‘manifesto’ for a modern art or literature that eliminates the guilt from borrowing or ‘stealing.’  The ideas are obviously not all new, otherwise there would be no fragments to put in the book.  But the expression of the ideas in this way is new.  Reality Hunger is a jolt and it will offend as many or more people than it inspires.

Several years ago Bob Dylan got into hot water for using a phrase from a relatively unknown novel.  Sure enough, Dylan’s phrase did match the novelist’s.  Outrage ensued.  When the novelist was asked about his feelings he stated that if Bob Dylan wanted to use one of his phrases he was simply honored.

This book is very timely in a world where people are getting into lawsuits because some artist’s sculpture appears in a street photo.  We’ve been waiting for this book.  Fortunately, Mr. Shields is as excited about this book as his readers are – those who aren’t outraged anyway.  He comes off as a very energetic and enthusiastic partner to the artist.  I admire this book a great deal and will most likely be referring to bits and pieces of it for many years – and stealing them.