Sunday, February 4, 2018

a little complexity, s'il vous plaît

The simplicity of disapprobation.
The simplicity of approbation.
Both pertain to the human skein.

These days, a seeming horde of entertainment moguls, politicians and prelates have taken their licks as one-time abusers of the young and vulnerable. Ugly acts have brought on a tsunami of accusation and presumed guilt after a long period of overlooking, hiding and disguising ugliness.

Now art museums have considered banning the works of artists whose acts were as ugly as their art was compelling.
Following accusations of sexual misconduct, Washington’s National Gallery of Art has indefinitely postponed an upcoming exhibition of Chuck Close, one of this country’s most celebrated portrait artists and Seattle University removed his “Self-Portrait 2000” from display citing concerns over “potential student, faculty or staff reaction”.
 How much simpler to villain-ize villains through and through. If they can be this bad then they must be bad through and through, in all reaches of their activities. Simultaneously, how much simpler to elevate the wondrous ladies and lads of this life: If they can be this good, then they must be good through and through.

But the simultaneity of those opposing thoughts is tiring. It requires effort. Every onlooker might like to think they can be 'balanced' and 'even-handed' but in the end, it is easier to call someone a star or a villain, if only in the mind. How is anyone to hold both the gag-reflex and the hosanna in the palm of the hand simultaneously?
In these politically polarized times, we need to value art institutions as places where we can think about complexity – including about how artists of such creative gifts can be such awful human beings - rather than treat them as churches obligated to issue judgments about who merits salvation and who doesn’t.
And of course it's not just art museums that warrant such effort.

My Zen teacher, Kyudo Nakagawa, once told me his own approach to Eido Shimano, a fellow with whom Kyudo had studied Zen at the Ryutaku monastery in Japan. Eido was also someone accused of abusing his 'teacher' status by hitting on/manipulating/coercing his female Zen students. Kyudo had gone to visit Eido on two occasions in New York. On each occasion (which I haven't got the energy to reprise here) Kyudo had received without comment some shoddy and uppity treatment from Eido. And when I asked Kyudo about his reaction to Eido these days, as we sat across from each other at a kitchen table and he told the tale, he said simply, "I have finished with him."

Complexity is holding two hot coals in the palm of the hand. In the end, hot coals, both of elevation and denigration, boil down to Kyudo's approach: Hot coals burn and produce an "ouch" and create a personal choice which deserves to be acknowledged as such.

Beauty and ugliness here in the palm of my hand. No one likes getting burned. It does not require a degree in ethics or philosophy or religion. Complexity is pretty simple -- a lot simpler than heroes and villains.

A little complexity, s'il vous plaît.

1 comment:

  1. There are mistakes, and there are career misbehaviors, misbehaviors that come from a sense of entitlement or a disdain for the needs of another. Mistakes are forgivable, misunderstandings can be corrected, but a continued indifference toward others may require actions that protect potential future victims. Playfulness might be overstepped and apologized for. Continuous abuse is another animal entirely.