Essay from Norman J. Olson

thoughts on art and the death of my cousin

by: Norman J. Olson

 

on April 2, 2017, which was a Sunday, Mary and I caught a flight from MSP to LAX… we arrived at about 3:30 p.m. I had a rental car reserved, so we picked up the car and headed out on the 105… the car was a brand new Hyundai accent with like 1600 miles on it… it is always fun to get a brand new car when renting… and I have always liked Hyundai cars… we owned one about ten years ago and it was a very nice car… the counter guy tried like they always do to convince me that I needed a bigger car, but, I love small cars… I find them easier to drive and park and they use less gas, which on a driving road trip is sort of a big deal to me…

 

so, we headed east on the 105, north on the 605 and then east again on the 210 until we picked up the 15 north at Rancho Cucamonga and Fontana… then this lovely little car breezed up the mountain, through the Cajon Pass and into Victorville, where we picked up In and Out burgers for the drive… with a quick pit stop at State Line, we made it into Vegas and checked into the California Hotel… I love the drive across the desert and even though we have made it many times, I still love the colors as evening descends and the mountains go from blue to purple and gold… and this time of year, the creosote bush is green so the desert looks very lush in the sunlight with rich black shadows…

we spent two nights at the California and then two more nights at the Orleans Hotel on Tropicana near the strip… we spent a couple of afternoons wandering around some of the big casinos on the Strip first, Mandalay Bay and the next day, the Tropicana and MGM… at the MGM, an audience rating company solicits the gamblers to sit in on cuts from new tv shows and rate what they see… they offer various coupons and in some cases cash for this… we tried to go to one that was offering $50 but we missed that one by a few minutes, but we did sign up for the next one… the way it worked was, we were led by a woman into a room with about twenty small monitors and we each sat in front of one of the monitors… in our hands we had a rating device where we could continuously rate the show we were watching… it was a pretty lame sit-com, so I rated it as pretty crappy all the way… the woman said that the company was just a rating company and had nothing to do with making the actual programs but sent the rating information in statistical form to the production companies that made the shows…

 

also, while we were at the hotel California, a film crew set up across the street from the hotel in a parking lot where they were filming some kind of night scene… they had a big limo set up with all kinds of lights, reflection screens and cameras and sound equipment… there were a few dozen people busy setting up the equipment, checking the sound and lights etc… next to the set, inside the roped off area, they had tables set up with snacks and people who were not busy were grazing at the snack table… somebody asked one of the guards what they were filming and he said they were filming an Izod commercial and we should be careful not to step on the lizard… so, I have no idea what they were actually filming…

 

these two events got me thinking about art and how it exists in modern America… like, there are three players in the art game…   1) the talent – writers, directors, artists, actors, etc… who actually create the art… 2) production staff – in the case of film or tv, people like we saw on the set of the filming event or the people who we interacted with at the tv rating service… these are the people who bring the art to the audience… and 3) of course, the audience… the consumer of the art…

 

in film arts, where there is lots of money passed around and earned, there are lots of people and organizations in the second role, helping the talent make the film and then when the film is made, bringing it to an audience… in fact, there are lots of great stories in rock music about how the talent made a recording that was a hit but the record company got all the money because the band had signed a bad deal… the money comes from the audience but usually goes to the production people who pay the talent more or less depending on “the deal…”

 

so, as a literary press artist and poet, this paradigm applies differently… first there is no money to attract the promoters and fixers who in the case of Hollywood, put the work in a consumable format and present it to the audience in a palatable and profitable way… so, the poet and literary artist are left with the question of how do they get their work to an audience… now that we have the internet, the internet poetry journals are the vehicle of choice for me… the production people are usually poets and artists who are interested enough in their art to put in the hard work of editing and presenting these on line journals, usually at little pecuniary advance to themselves and often enough with the added annoyance of having to deal with poets and artists who think they are god’s gift to the world and are only poor working class shits because their great genius has not yet been discovered… I want to say, “you have been discovered, dude, but you are a poet not a rock star… there is no fame or fortune here, get used to it!!!!”

 

in the case of the fine arts which is to say the visual arts, we get production people who run museums of modern art who seem to feel that their job is not to bring art to the people that the people want and need but rather to give art to the people that will in the opinion of the arts people be good for the audience… fine arts artists are educated to take their place in this conceptual art paradigm and so you get all of the silly shit you see at a place like the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis… which has a small but very rich and influential audience and brings us crap like Damien Hirst’s pickled cows…

 

so, the production people are very important as long as their role is to bring art to the audience because it is that interaction between artist and audience that makes true art possible and valuable in the first place… without that interaction, we have artists sitting in their mother’s basement making art that nobody will ever see or we have the puerile intellectual elitism of Damien Hirst and a public aesthetically bereft to the degree that instead of art, they will attempt to get their aesthetic needs met by stupid sit coms… and the antidote to either situation is an audience that demands quality art, artists who make quality art and production people sensitive both to the needs of the audience and the abilities of the artists…

 

 

well, on Thursday, we left Las Vegas in the morning and drove again across the beautiful desert… coming across the high desert it was magnificent to see the snow covered peaks of Mt. Baldy to the right and Mt. San Gorgonio in the distance on the left… after all of the dry, desert mountains from Las Vegas to Riverside… we spent four days in Riverside with our amazing grandkids….

 

then Sunday night, took the red eye from LAX to MSP… arriving in MSP at about 7 a.m… on March 29, one of my many cousins had died and I had hoped to make it home to attend his funeral at 11:00 a.m. on Monday, April 10, which I was able to do… my cousin’s name was Kurt Youngdahl and he died of a massive heart attack at age 60… his funeral was very sad and moving… my older brother, who has been dead for many years now, and I used to babysit for Kurt and his older brother when we were in our early teens… I remember him as a cheerful kid… I know that he had a troubled life, dealing as so many in our family have, with addiction but that he had been sober for the last 6 years of his life…   and had been able to reconnect with his family in his sobriety… I had seen Kurt at a family gathering last summer and had spoken with him at length… so was sad to hear that he had died… on a personal level, this is certainly a reminder to me that we are all living on borrowed time and that we really have to make the most of these few days and hours that are given to us… so, I am recommitted to be thankful every single day for all of the many blessings I have received and continue to receive… I am unbelievably lucky to have my amazing and wonderful wife, children and grandchildren… and to still at age 69 be making art and living what is hopefully a thoughtful and engaged life…

 

 

 

 

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