The politician says we need more welders and fewer philosophers. I say we need more philosophers and more robot welders. Philosophy is not so difficult as people suppose. My father was a very philosophical man though he only had a third grade education (the requirement for immigrants in the late 1930's), He lived a life much more tumultuous than I coming here in a rusty tub from Norway and finding his way to his mom's place in Chicago without any English. His mom had answered an advertisement in a newspaper in Norway of a widowed farmer in Minnesota looking for a wife. When the farmer died she sold the farm moved to Chicago and bought an old Victorian house on Humboldt Blvd. She then brought her youngest children over to start new lives in Chicago. My dad worked on the dredges cleaning the Chicago River and Lake Michigan shoreline to make way for ships coming in through the Great Lakes. Literally shittest job a person could do. When a friend got him in the painter's union it was as if he had won the sweepstakes .
During the war years he spent time working as a dock hand in Trinidad , he used to tell me those were the happiest days of his life. My mom said he was a draft dodger I said he gave me a tradition to follow. I resisted the conscription laws during the Viet Nam war and spent the war years here in Minneapolis working in an old provincial fine arts college as poorly paid teacher. Conscription is slavery. Philosophy is not just books philosophy is action, it is the way we live and the choices we make. I was able to continue to do my artwork and my inquiries into philosophical questions. You may remember the admonition in the lyrics of the Jefferson Airplane song "FEED YOUR HEAD" which I did even if during my sabbatical at the college made it necessary to get food stamps to survive on half my salary. I always considered knowledge as valuable as money. Again philosophical ideas come into play, I wanted to make an art that was forever. Indeed from Nietzsche I had learned that art was the eternalisation of life. Even without god I wanted to make something that would be beautiful and compelling long into a future I would not live to see. My mother was mentally ill and I inherited her madness maybe not as deep and debilitating but enough to put me in the psych hospitals 5 times. But I managed not to kill myself and to make art through those difficult years. Though my art is retinal indeed optical at times I think my art is a product of my mind as much as my feelings and perceptions.
Philosophy is the study of life in light of death which is to say the muse of philosophy is death. We live with a shadow a sense that we are not here forever and we must get at our work before our time runs out. Indeed the urgency of my art is a reflection of my sense of the temporary nature of being. We are here and then we vanish. Art is a trace of our life our thinking our vision of what it is to be in this world at this time. I remember my father sitting on my bedside when I was a child telling me that their is no god Frankie. That's just not real, I took it hard I was hoping for something better than the mean streets of Chicago. It did help me focus on what we can do in this life not in some world that never comes to pass. My art became my means to the have a posthumous existence. As well we leave the example to our babies to get their shit together (another 1960's expression) before the sands run out. Nietzsche felt he would have a posthumous fame and what other philosopher from the 19th century is still so relevant and vivid today? To inspire is to live to give your work to a world yet becoming born. Another favorite lyric line from the 1960's I'll conclude with -" And time will tell just who has fell and who is left behind when you go your way and I go mine." (Robert Zimmerman) aka Bob Dylan who was an inspiration in those dark days of conscripted armies ,napalm and an assassasination nation.