Up until a couple weeks ago, the last commencement I attended was an intimate and informal rite held at the University of Michigan School of Art & Design in 1999 that I took my dad to while my mom was traveling in China, and after which we shared a bottle of champagne with my teacher Joseph Grigley and his wife Amy outside behind the Art Building, then directly after that my dad dropped me off at my house where I mowed the lawn until Jason came over in his orange van and we went on our first date which was a walk in the woods with our dogs.
On December 20th, I went to the UTSA Commencement, with my third and fourth New Media undergrad students graduating from our program. Neither of them were in attendance, but it was good for me to check it out, and think about the relevance and importance of group ritual. Art students are by nature outsider, status-quo-questioning entities. I relate personally to what I interpret as an aversion to mainstream mass-ritual, and at the same time couldn't help feeling the potential of what their presence could signify-- in a positive way for both them and their peers in the rest of the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, and the Business School.
"If.." is a film by Lindsay Anderson, starring Malcom McDowell, that I watched recently. Depicted in it are traditional, self-important and overbearing customs of British public school. The story takes a turn at the very end, when McDowell's character violently rebels against the oppressive and stifling circumstance of his environs. The sudden turn of events is unexpected in its extremity, is effective because of it, and cuts a deep question into the facade of brainless, empty conventions. Made in 1968, around the time of the Situationist International, the student uprisings in France, race riots in the States, and other incidents of cultural unrest, the film is a clear reflection of its zeitgeist.
In the first chapter of The Audacity of Hope, our President Elect outlines a trajectory of political and cultural energy from that period (the Sixities) to the present day, illustrating a deterioration over time of the climate in which present day politics is practiced. Part of Obama's political platform of change is the modification or reclamation of the political process, in the name of the citizens. I'm not sure why, but I see this moment in relation to my deep-felt belief that its time for artists to take up a more meaningful role in society. When most people don't feel any relationship to the art of our moment, I must question the validity of what we, as artists, are doing. Our currency is creativity, and I hope we can use it to find a way to be more socially responsible and connected to every day people. Fortunately, there are a few artists out there who are pioneering new models.
People need aesthetic experiences-- spaces that allow them to move outside of our mediated environment, an ecology designed to amplify our proclivity to consume. This is a topic for another day...
Only to say, the Mariachi band concluded the ceremony on a most joyful and feisty note: