Ezra Pound said that The artist is the antenna of the race.
Ive always liked this quote because it reminds me of how artists pick up and rebroadcast the news back to us, framed on a more human scale, and hitting you in the gut or striking you in the heart in just that way, that indescribable way that art and only art can do and does. It is through art that I find translations of the world, interpretations if you will, of science, of war, of the harsh and brutal stuff, of complicated and intricate things, of love, of bitterness, of regret, of whatever and of everything.
For me, art grounds the abstract.
And I rely on artists for this kind of information. Its one of the reasons I started working in the arts in the first place I knew my perception of the world would continue to be expanded.
One year when I was curating Project 18 at Sand Point Arts & Cultural Exchange, I gave all the artists something Claes Oldenburg wrote in 1961. Im just going to read just the very beginning of it:
And it goes on from there naming all kinds of ridiculous everyday things. I am a huge advocate for the first art named, the kind that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum. And I think we are in a time when that art is becoming increasingly critical.
FBI surveillance is not new and thats basically what were talking about here, FBI surveillance.
In the 1950s, it was the House Committee on Un-American Activities (which was renamed the House Un-American Activities or HUAC by the leftists) and it targeted communists. Abbie Hoffman, Charlie Chaplin, the Hollywood 10 among them.
In the 1950s and 1960s COINTELPRO was designed to disrupt or neutralize dissidents. Among others, the Black Panther Party, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, many more all of which were deemed a threat to national security.
In the 70s it was DISCO.
the 80s, Reagan decided to take things global with the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act (FISA) which you could say provided the architecture
for the PATRIOT Act.
Now the base of government targets is hugely expanded and suspected terrorists come in many guises, including, as always, artists and intellectuals.
Are the stakes higher now? It feels that way. As the situation was described earlier, one single misstep by Steve Kurtz and hes fucked.
So why are we raising money, why are you here, why am I here, why are we raising money for an artist who is not even from here, who none of us really know the way we like to know each other in Seattle?
This case is important because, if we dont act in Steve Kurtzs defense, a precedent is set and each and every artist, writer, poet, dancer, sculptor, what have you, is at risk of the very same thing happening to them. If charges are pressed and Steve Kurtz is found guilty then were ALL fucked.
An example is being set, a warning if you will, the government is telling artists everywhere: See. This can happen to you.
And as responsible people, artists, citizens we cannot allow that example to be set.
Im going to close with something Adrienne Rich wrote in 1983, North American Time, again, just a bit of it.
© 2004 Katie J. Kurtz