Hasta La Victoria No Mas

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Steve Inskeep has an extended piece on Cuba this morning on NPR’s Morning Edition.  In the wake of Fidel Castro’s death, I imagine we will be hearing many such pieces.  Inskeep spoke of his many trips to Cuba, how he always had a wonderful time, and how he always felt guilty.  He talked about his minders, how information was controlled for both him and the people of Cuba, portraying them as victims of the oppressive Castro regime, kept in isolation from the rest of the world, never hearing anything but the party line.  I think he does the Cuban people a disservice.

When Inskeep went to Cuba, it was in an official capacity as the representative of the American press.  He stayed in a luxury hotel, was shadowed by minders at every step, and was unable to talk to any of the ordinary Cuban people.  I went as an ordinary Tourist, without US government sanction, traveled all over the country staying in people’s homes and talking to people on the street about anything and everything.  The notion that Cubans are isolated and insulated from outside news and ideas is patently ridiculous.  Four million Canadian tourists visit Cuba every year.  Millions of European and Latin American tourists visit Cuba every year.  500,000 Americans visit through Mexico or Canada every year.  Many of them speak Spanish.  Yes, internet is restricted, and, until recently, nobody had cell phones, but that doesn’t stop the flow of information, it just slows the speed of communication.  Cubans are quite aware of and knowledgable about the world around them.  Remember, this is a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world.

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There is no great love for Castro amongst the Cuban people.  Yes, there are the diehard party members, and the families of those who participated in the revolution, but I was told my numerous people “yo odio a Castro” or “I hate Castro”.  The mural above is one of the few depicting Castro that I saw in my travels across the island.  Che Guevara is everywhere, worshipped by the people on billboards, signs, and in statuary.  I believe it is because he represents the revolution, with its high ideals and hope, whereas Castro represents the regime which buried those ideals and killed that hope.  Castro uses Che and his image to this day to keep the people in line.

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Hasta La Victoria Siempre, is the ubiquitous rallying cry.  Always Towards Victory it means.  Never reaching victory, of course, because that would eliminate the reason for maintaining the revolutionary dictatorship and the power of the Castros.  The pride of the Cuban people is understandable.  They threw off the yoke of oppression by the most powerful nation on the planet, defied us by siding with the USSR, threw off many attempts to overthrow their government, distributed doctors throughout Central and South America and, for a while, with Soviet help, prospered in a way.

Cuba today is a shadow of what it was, a mockery of what it could have been.  Castro promised free elections when he took power, but never delivered.  We could blame him for everything which came after, but I suggest we look at why the revolution happened to begin with. In 1952, US backed president Batista lost the democratic election for a third term and staged a coup, cancelling the elections and installing himself as dictator.  The US recognized his government almost immediately, leading to 7 years of dictatorship.  Coincidentally, running for the parliament in the cancelled elections was one Fidel Castro.  The United States, by recognizing the dictator who overthrew a democratic election, set the stage for 60 years of Communist dictatorship.

It remains to be seen what the death of Fidel will mean for US-Cuba relations, especially under a president Trump.  There will certainly be a power struggle in Cuba, especially since Raul Castro is also nearing the end of his life.  Will Cuba move towards economic reform?  Canada already controls a large portion of the Cuban economy.  Opening trade and tourism with the US could bring millions of tourists and much investment, but at what cost?  What about all the families and businesses who had their property seized by Castro in 1959?  Will there be a McDonalds in the center of Havana Vieja?  It is going to be a very complicated time for Cuba and its people.  I hope they can find their way without selling their country to the US again.

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Seeking Depth, Substance, and Complexity

My online presence was born on June 8, 2000, user number 4752 (farbel) of the fledgling social networking site called LiveJournal.  I had been around for a while, occasionally posting on the message boards of Ana Voog.  It was from there that a number of us migrated to LiveJournal, and active blogging. Many of these people remain my friends in the age of FaceBook and in the “real” world as well.

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I have always argued politics online.  On Ana Voog’s message board we argued about the politics of the Clinton White House, the 2000 election, and the beginning of the second Bush presidency.  During my first year on LiveJournal we made fun of President Bush’s bumbling ineptitude, expecting him to be dethroned easily in 2004.  During that year, my list of friends also grew, aided by LiveJournal’s interest list search function.  I felt I really knew my circle.  We posted seriously about our lives, our loves, our culture, and politics, embedding multiple images, links, and videos to flesh out our words.  We had posts with hundreds of comments, but they were all threaded, so you could follow individual conversations within the parent thread with ease.

15 months after I entered the world of LiveJournal, 9-11 happened.  I was working in a very conservative industry.  I had my second journal by then (i), and it became the place where I could really talk about the issues and concerns which mattered most to me, with people who actually thought about their answers.  Many of my friendships became closer during that period of Global shock and upheaval.  Some were strained, but held together despite political differences, because our conversations were more than just a series of simplistic memes, headline links, and news fabricated to tailor towards a particular belief set.

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Five years later, I started hearing about a new copycat blogging site.  There had been many, all trying to cut in to LiveJournal’s appeal.  This one, FaceBook, had an interesting twist.  It allowed you search for and/or invite all your friends to the site, and it required the use of real names to facilitate the process.  One of the appeals of LiveJournal, was the ability to remain as anonymous as you chose, only revealing your actual identity to people you trusted.  On LiveJournal, the writer has complete control over who sees their posts, and the reader has complete control over what they see.  There is no algorithm filtering your feed.  It consists simply of the most recent posts by the friends you choose to see.  All of them.

Why did I move to FaceBook, you ask?  Quite simply because everyone else did, including both my LiveJournal community and all the family and friends who looked upon my LiveJournaling as something eccentric, if not creepy.  Overnight, it seemed, everyone in my life, past and present, was on FaceBook.  So I opened an account.  Here was my chance to reconnect with old friends, to stay in touch with current ones and family as well.  Here was an opportunity to expose my art to millions of people.

I was soon frustrated by the platform.  The basic functionality of it, from the lack of threaded comments to the difficulty in finding people with shared interests, all paled in comparison to even the early days of LiveJournal, years prior.  Despite recent upgrades, it still falls far behind.  I want to be able to go back and see what I said on a certain day.  I want all comments threaded in multiple tiers, with my email notification taking me directly to the comment in question when I click.  I want to be able to embed multiple photos within a post, in the position I choose.  I want to be able to insert multiple links into the text.  I want to be able to add emphasis or italics or color to my font at will.  FaceBook could do all of this, but they don’t.  I want to see every post of each page I like.  That is why I like them.  I want all the people who like my page to see all my posts.  I assume that is why they liked my page.  FaceBook doesn’t do this either.  That is because FaceBook is not actually about communication.  It is about profit.

OK, I accept that.  FaceBook got so big it had to go public to continue to operate.  It has to make money for its shareholders.  So it charges me to show the posts on my page to more people.  The problem is, it doesn’t even do that well.  I would happily pay a yearly fee, for example, to assure that my page posts made it to the feed of everyone who has liked it.  Instead, I am forced, if I want to promote a post, to spam hundreds or thousands of people, including the unsuspecting friends of my readers, and my post still doesn’t reach all the people who have liked the page.

FaceBook is a terrible platform for communication, full of fake news, deceptive memes, snarky twitter posts, and filters most people are unaware of that ensure you stay within your bubble, polarizing us more and more every day.  It is a terrible platform for friendship, catering to the one line zingers and fake intimacy that cheapen relationships from both directions.  It is a terrible site for business, withholding information from your clients, even if you pay to have it disseminated.  Imagine a band which is having a show on a certain night in a certain town.  they post about it, and FaceBook shows it to a random 10% of their fan base.  If they pay to promote it, they show it to another 10% of that base and to a bunch of people randomly connected to them.  This is insane.

But everyone is there.  You have to be on FaceBook, or nobody will know you exist.  This is why I came back to Facebook after deleting my entire presence a couple years ago.  I came back because I wanted to crowdsource funding for a dream project of mine.  I was not as successful as I had hoped in raising funds, but, more importantly, I got sucked in to the adversarial back and forth of FaceBook, the shallow jousting over critical issues, the political gamesmanship, and the just plain nastiness of this election year.

I am burned out.  I want real words, strung together by thinking minds into coherent thoughts and arguments.  I want beautiful, image filled posts from the people who actually made those images, and who talk about them eloquently.  I want to choose what I see.

I’m not going back to LiveJournal.  I still maintain my two blogs there, but the site was bought by a Russian conglomerate a few years back, and the place no longer has the feel it used to.  I’m going to post here at my WordPress blog and have it automatically sent to FaceBook, in case anyone feels like clicking on it.  I will maintain my photo and drawing pages on FaceBook, but I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the feed.  It is poison.

I hope to maintain friendships with people I have met on FaceBook, but  if that isn’t possible without the platform, I suspect those friendships weren’t very deep anyway.

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What Does It Mean To You To Be A Successful Artist?

A friend posed this question on Facebook today.  It is a difficult one to answer, because neither “artist” nor “successful” has a concrete definition.  So first I must explain my definition of both.

What is art?  How many times have you been standing in front of a DeKooning in a museum and heard someone say “my kid could do better than that, that isn’t art”?kooning_woman_v

How many people paid thousands of dollars for an inkjet print of a Kinkaid painting with dabs of paint strategically placed on it by minimum wage interns to make it an “original”? t-216Jackson Pollock got shitfaced drunk and dribbled housepaint on canvas and now it is called a masterpiece.

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What is art?  Art is anything which is more than functional.  Art is any act of creation, any figment of the imagination, anything brought into being by the human mind.  So all of the above are art, and everyone is an artist.  I don’t care if you “can’t draw a straight line”.  Neither can I.365-10sm

The only difference between me and the person who claims they “can’t do art” is the desire to do it, and the willingness to work at it.  I recently decided to do a self portrait a day for a year.  The above image is one of my earliest.  This is my most recent.365-60sm

You will notice that I still can’t draw a straight line, but this drawing actually resembles me.  I am a person who loves art enough to keep doing it over and over again, even if I am not satisfied with the result, simply because I love doing it and want to learn.  I spent 30 years exploring color and design within very narrow non-objective parameters. chaos I sold some paintings, but never made a living at it.  I decided to play with photography and bought a nice camera.  Five years later, because I knew someone, I was making most of my living with it, and had my own gallery (which did not make money).juarezjuggler

After three years, the work dried up and I closed the gallery.

Was I successful?  Am I successful? If success means acclaim and wealth, no, I am definitely not.  If success means perseverance and productivity, I might be, but I know artists who work much harder than I, who have mastered more skills, make more art, and, often, make more money. So I don’t know if I am a successful artist.  I have had successes, the greatest of which is imparting a love for creation to my grandchildren, who have become fabulous artists in their own right. This image is from an opening at my gallery for their work.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I don’t feel “successful”, though, so I can’t tell you exactly what it means to me.  I set goals for myself all the time, but rarely achieve them.  Most of my dreams for “success” as an artist are dust.  I have ceased striving for financial recognition of my talent, and have begun searching for ways to use it to benefit others.  I suppose achieving that goal will make me a success of some sort.