Jemima and the Grits

After having written the following post i realized that, even for me, not only had i gone on for way too long, but that i may have crossed a line in asserting an opinion that even i'd regret. Therefore, i visit you now, here at the beginning, to tell you that i'm gonna edit and break this thing down into three installments. These installments are as follows:

1) one of the values of blogs

2) is capital "A" Art a bloated substance-less slob dedicated solely to the consumptive pleasure of wealthy white people?

3) a Charleston everypainting i call "Jemima and the Grits."

okay. on with the entry:

Here's another over-reaching, far too inclusive, wants-to-be-about-everything post for you.

What i'm fixin' to do here is probably stupid and dangerous. I'm gonna write an opinion about a community and an industry that i may eventually have to depend upon to feed myself. But first, let me talk about topic number one: one of the valuable attributes of blogs...

I'm here on my back porch, Thursday, May 4th, writing this. In a few minutes i'll have to make the choice of hitting either the "save as draft" button, or the "publish post" button. I'm well aware what that second option means. It means, of course, that i'm gonna commit what i'm writing to cyberspace. That writing, as far as my limited knowledge of cyberspace goes, will be floating around for years to come. It'll also be there right now. Anyone--a gallery owner here in Charleston, people that make and teach art for a living that might possibly employ me, etc.--will be able to see this. I'll be opening my big, fat mouth for all to see. But, then, that side effect of blogs may just be one of their benefits also. Here's a couple of stories that might vaguely help me illustrate my point:

I had a great uncle who was known around his hometown of Triune, Tennessee for having a big, fat mouth (a big, fat mouth is one of the side effects of being a Biffle, it seems). Anyway, this uncle used to make outrageous claims. He used tell outrageous lies. He was known to open his big fat mouth. He also, however, tended to make good on some of these claims. For instance, one day at my grandfather's general store, he told everyone within earshot that he was gonna ride with the Guvna of Tennessee--in his limosine no less--down to Mule Day, an age-old festival in Columbia that got its start by seeing how far a man's mule team could pull an outhouse. Of course, everyone knew that my uncle was pullin' their leg.

He got away with it, though. What he did was actually call up the freakin' governor of the state, explain that he'd lied to a crowd of people and was gonna get dragged over the coals if he didn't make good, and would the governor, please, please, be so kind as to actually come by my grandfather's store in Triune--in a limosine--and pick him up?

Well, believe it or not, it worked. Come Mule Day, the governor showed up--in a limo--and picked up my uncle. (What no one knew is that the deal he'd struck with the gov. was that he'd get picked up, driven out of sight of the store, and and then get dropped back off again.)

Another time, at that same store, he told everybody he was gonna ride a bike all the way to New Orleans. He had no intention of doing it when he said it, but, yet again, having said this to the public, he had to make good on his claim. This time, though, and unlike the Mule Day deception, he actually did it. After like three months, and with a very sore butt, he made it to New Orleans on a bicycle.

The point here is this: we don't have general stores anymore. We don't have--well, at least my generation and ethnic group--doesn't have barber shops. There is no forum--save for blogs--where a person can make an outrageous claim to the larger public, a la Floyd's in Mayberry, and get taken to task for it. Yeah, we can do this at work or at school, just like we did in the past, but it's not the same. Those places are too close and personal. There isn't the anonymity, the public clearinghouse kind-of-place like the barber shop or the general store where disparate groups of people gather together to create grist for the rumor mill. In other words--save for blogs--there isn't a place where a person can get fodder for a good rumor that begins "did you hear what that Biffle boy was sayin' down at the store today?"

I don't think that particular kind of public scrutiny exists anymore. Oh, sure, we're all neurotic about our public image, but that image can't quite come back to haunt us as directly as it did back when you opened your mouth at the barber shop. (I think that happens to explain the appeal of the television show, Seinfield--the idea that, although you, personally, might live in an anonymous world, the Seinfield guys seemed to live in that unique community of "acquainted strangers" where a person is taken to task for their actions or words.)

See, we depend on that community of acquainted strangers to keep us honest. Family is kind of stuck with you, our friends either forgive us or write us off and disappear. The work place may come closest to what i'm talking about here, but even then those relationships are still tighter than the kind of public i'm talking about.

Having said all that, what i'm getting at is this: if i put an outrageous claim here on this blog--specifically about what i want to say about the arts community in the place that i live-- i'm kinda bound by my word, to a group of acquainted strangers, to make good on it.

okay. So there's part one. If i--or you, for that matter--still care tommorrow, i'll continue.


Kelly Love said...

Nice post and interesting observations about community. I can't wait to read the second installment!

mary said...

i vote yes, please for the next post!

Anonymous said...

It takes a village, and the village got crushed by the mall. Looking forward to your next installment!

p.s. What great stories about your uncle - ever thought about writing a book about these loud mouthed Biffle's?

Anonymous said...

Don't worry about too much employment. Don't artists usually get famous when they die? Just express yourself and oneday maybe somebody will buy that giant pipe for $92 million, like the Piccasso that sold the other day.... fill it with dust of the angel for an extra $100 million.

Scout said...

Ah, but those communities of 'acquainted strangers', they just don't exist in your immediate post-graduate school/art world. Ask any parent who picks up his/her kids from school each day. Or anyone who hauls his/her kids around to activities. Wherever there is a group of strangers who meet once a week and wait for children, there is ample opportunity for general store type interactions. There are modern substitutes. Maybe they are female or family dominated, but they exist. I suspect the old general store experience was dominated by men and the women were relegated to beauty shop gossipists.

B said...

Walter - Nice post. I have fond memories of Triune, and your uncle sounds like he might have been a great horse trader. :)

I agree with "anonymous" about how the village got crushed by the mall. Ah, progress...but at what expense?