March 6, 2015
Posted on Jan 23, 2012
By Mr. Fish
Let me start at the beginning.
It’s been about six months since I dropped out of art school, which I did, not because I don’t see myself as an artist, but rather because I do. Turns out that practically none of my heroes went to college to learn anything about how to either concoct or hone their artistic abilities or to acquire some insight into what their purpose might be. In fact, many of the writers and musicians and painters that I most admire, as a matter of course, have gone out of their way to express indifference toward or real disdain for higher education. There’s Noam Chomsky’s declaration that “education is a system of imposed ignorance,” and Helen Keller’s statement that “college isn’t the place to go for ideas.” There’s Robert Frost, who said, “Education doesn’t change life much—it just lifts trouble to a higher plane of regard,” and James Baldwin, who said, “It is very nearly impossible to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.”
Oscar Wilde: “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” Mark Twain: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
There are famous college dropouts like Picasso, Woody Allen, Jack Kerouac, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ingmar Bergman, Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Leo Tolstoy. There are those who didn’t finish high school, sometimes not even elementary school, like Twain, Shakespeare, Woody Guthrie, Lenny Bruce, Groucho Marx, Malcolm X, Louis Armstrong, Jack Benny, George Carlin, Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, Eugene Debs, Benjamin Franklin, Cary Grant, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, George Washington, even Jesus Helluvaguy Christ. There are the Beatles who couldn’t read music and never received any formal training in songwriting and there is Mahatma Gandhi whose civil disobedience and spiritual genius were developed outside of his law classes at University College London.
In short, unlike it was with every classmate I’d ever spoken with regarding the subject, going to college and graduating with a degree was not one of those unspoken understandings that my brothers and sisters and I had with our parents. In fact, nobody in my family ever wanted to go to college before my older brother and me. The only unspoken understanding in our house was that nobody in the world was as funny or smart as we were and that college, like a well-paying job or a car that wasn’t held together in spots with duct tape and expletives, was only for people who were overcompensating for their lack of innate, self-sustaining intelligence. These were people who needed to mask their mediocrity by wrapping their frank absence of a personality in a piece of rolled and ribboned parchment paper that had been offered up as some sort of triumphant proof that they could memorize shit and repeat it back, their hollowness made somehow whole by the addition of an academic echo.
In fact, the only reason why I went to college was to get out of South Jersey, which, after 17 years, was beginning to make me wonder if perhaps the only reason why my family was able to see itself as being so superior to everybody else was because we’d actually emigrated from Pennsylvania and weren’t really from there. This appeared to give us an unfair advantage over people who seemed to have set the bar so low for themselves, not so much because they were stupid or lazy, but rather because—after ZZ Top, CB radio, fishin’, crabbin’, huntin’, prayin’, smokin’, pokin’, tokin’, cokin’, teen pregnancy and tournament-level alcoholism—they were absolutely apeshit about limbo. How low can you go? How low can you go … ?
So what am I doing here?
If, in the eyes of a teenager, a pecker will never be entirely free from attracting the cheapest sort of sexual significance, the exposed private parts bleating out goofy salutations like a dirty tin horn, what can be learned by the drawing of one? If it’s true that there is a definite incompatibility between a human being’s concept of a thing and the thing, itself, then an artist might best be described as the intrepid individual who tries to fill the void, the glorious and terrifying swimming space, between those two points by creating objects and concepts that either celebrate the boundless freedom of weightlessness suggested by the incompatibility or embrace the absurd spookiness of the unmoored anarchy suggested by the emptiness; the difference between the abstract expressionists and the Dadaists.
So the question remains: How, precisely, is my pecker integral to the shaping of an art student into an artist?
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