Mommy Where Does Criticism Come From?


My mother was my first teacher and in most ways my best. She grew up on a farm in the upper penisula of Michigan during the Depression in a community that spoke mostly Finnish. Finnish is a language that is very difficult almost an Asian language. The Finns came to Northern Europe from Mongolia. I recall my drunken father calling my Mom a Mongolian when they fought (she called him a draft dodger, he'd spend most of the war in Trinidad drinking rum and unloading cargo). I wondered if I was a Chinaman? If this was the dirty lil' secret, John had married a Mongolian though my mom was very attractive ; she used to say peeps told her she looked like Ingrid Bergman. But she was insane which is a drawback in this life. My sister and I used to take her to Dunning the state mental hospital on the Northwest border of Chicago when she flipped. One gets their psyche from Mom and whatever brain chemistry creates the disease or is it a disorder we name shizophrenia or bi-polar . I've been taking lithium carbonate since 1978, it's my conviction that everyone is a bit nuts some more than others and some wildly fucked up. The lithium cured me though I still don't respond to stress very, well who does? Once when my sister and I were waiting for the paddy wagon to take mom to the hospital I had my mother make a drawing called "Party Time in The Yukon",. trying to distract her by remembering winter in the U.P. which has fierce winters .Distraction and digression are ways you lure people into a different pattern of thought. Teaching me teaching made my mother proud that her boy was a teacher made her feel like something had gone right in our family. Of course teaching fine art isn't the same as teaching 3rd grade. It was a step up from laboring, her dad and brothers worked in the White Pine Copper Mines and her husband was a union painter in Chicago. Meanwhile I was trying to figure out how to teach art to semi-literate students who really did'nt know much save they all liked Pink Floyd. I started teaching reading, as I realized I was over educated (for them) it was as if I was talking a different language. As I had found in Wittgenstein the limits of one's language are the limits of one's world. The students didn't have basic language skills, they couldn't talk about their work indeed  my perception was they resorted to pictures because they couldn't make sentences .I know this sounds critical but I was trying to help them think, to reason and to make them better able to enter into a serious encounter with art. The thing is of course the drugs and the easy wisdom of intoxication complicated teaching. But if someone earnestly wanted to learn I could help and I could give them a sense of scale , the immensity of knowledge comes a surprise to an 18 year old. My mom ran more on the emotional track than on the intellectual but the emotional life she had was incredibily rich. Alice was sensitive maybe way past sensitive. From her I got some sense of the world outside of reason and order and the deep desire of the crazy person to re-enter the sane world.The thing she loved, and loving is someone outside the techno-perpetual war cultural we live in was life flowers her children etc. She was the same as those students without the grandiosity that they could be artists. Truth is love is the main ingredient in learning and in art. If you really care it makes anything  easier to do. The danger is this idea that you are somehow above criticism, that you become so great that mere criticism rolls off your back. When the truth is if you get no response then the work is  not touching people, like a lamp that wouldn't light up after you repair it you need to try again, to find away to bridge the gap between yourself and others. Because the reponse of the viewer is the completion of the art work. Elsewise it's masturbation of a sort playing with art making rather than making something bigger than the self. At some point the artist realizes that criticism is the final varnish. And that great art is criticism it reflects our world and offers up a picture of how things are and how they could be.