Research

Summer Reading List 2009

I’ve taken a break from going to shows in order to hit the books. Some of these books are just food for thought, others will be reviewed in due time here. In the meantime, though, here’s my Summer Reading List so far:

Source: University of Chicago Press website

Source: University of Chicago Press website

Johanna Drucker’s “Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art and Complicity,” University of Chicago, 2005

I’ve become an acolyte, and I can admit that I can barely restrain myself from evangelizing about this book. Drucker’s an American artist, theorist and art/design historian. She’s currently a research fellow at Stanford U., but she’s typically based at UCLA. “Sweet Dreams” presents Drucker’s critical theory with a refreshing methodology: developing critical theory out of contemporary artistic practice, rather than projecting theory onto art. Her thesis is that the academia’s radical negativity (that criticality = opposition) has become orthodoxy, which is rigid and outmoded. She proposes a position of acknowledged complicity that is better suited for the attitudes of affirmation, engagement with material pleasure, and complexity of art of the 1990s and 2000s.

I’ve only read the first few chapters, but I’d recommend this books to artists and curators interested in theory and new ways of understanding recent contemporary practice. I wouldn’t recommend it to artists allergic to aesthetic theory (though Drucker accomplishes a Herculean task of summing up modernism, postmodernism and aesthetic theory in the first three chapters), but she also writes cogently (it’s not a speculative work of philosophy—it’s precise and methodical).

Also on the list, in various stages of completion:

Source: MIT Press website

Source: MIT Press website

Martha Buskirk, “The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art,” MIT Press, 2003

Buskirk’s investigation into “contingency” in 1980s and 1990s art might be a good bridge between Modernist “autuonomy” and Drucker’s “complicity” for art of the 1990s and aughts.

Source: Tal Ben-Shahars website

Source: Tal Ben-Shahar's website

Tal Ben-Shahar, “Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment,” McGraw-Hill, 2007

Positive Psychology from a Harvard University professor. Hands on, concise, useful for reminding oneself of what’s ultimately meaningful in life.

Source: Lucifer Effect website

Source: Lucifer Effect website

Philip Zimbardo, “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil,” Random House, 2008

The psychologist behind the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment turns towards morality and how humans are highly influenced by their conditions.

Source: Simon & Schuster website, Learned Optimism CD page

Source: Simon & Schuster website, Learned Optimism CD page

Martin E. P. Seligman, “Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life,” Free Press, 1990/1998.

Much of my inquiry into optimism and pessimism has been shaded by skepticism, so I think it’s high time to embrace the attitude/beneficent delusion of optimism.

Source: Princeton Architectural Press website

Source: Princeton Architectural Press website

Ellen Lupton, “Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors and Students,” Princeton Architectural Press, 2004.

A concise, erudite read; I will continue to employ this newly gained knowledge for a long time.

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Citizenship

Some media mullings

Things I’ve been thinking about. I’ll keep this brief:

The Bad at Sports contemporary art podcast is great for frank, in-depth art interviews, even if the hosts often over-indulge in candor and chit-chat.

[Update, 2/24/2012: This podcast’s consistency and audio production, and the prestige of interview subjects, has risen in the past four years. Unfortunately, the original hosts remain dedicated to the podcast’s origins in bar conversations. The quality of dialogue remains informal and joke-y, verging on anti-intellectual and overly self-reflective. When the subjects allow the hosts to lead, it can seem like a college radio DJ interviewing an indie band, both trying hard to look like they are not trying at all. The only full episodes I’ve been able to finish lately has been with subjects who refused to be embarrassed about speaking seriously about their work.]

The Fresh Air episode on extraordinary rendition, with interviews with N.Y. Times writer Jane Mayer and a Canadian citizen sent to Syria for torture and detainment without just cause by the US government (aired Sept. 23, 2008). We really should pay attention and be more outraged. Another case of hubristic American Exceptionalism again…

The damn-the-world, God-chose-us rage of that America has sharpened as U.S. exceptionalism has become harder to square with the 21st-century world’s interconnectedness. How exceptional can you be when every major problem you face, from terrorism to nuclear proliferation to gas prices, requires joint action?

Very exceptional, insists Palin, and so does John McCain by choosing her. (He has said: “I do believe in American exceptionalism. We are the only nation I know that really is deeply concerned about adhering to the principle that all of us are created equal.”)

Roger Cohen, “Palin’s American Exception,” NYTimes.com, September 25, 2008

Tom Morello (RATM) speaking out in the current issue of SPIN Magazine: in between snarky quotables about the wacky intersection of music and politics, Morello tells it like it is: Bush should be tried for war crimes (including, in my opinion, extraordinary renditions and Geneva Convention violations at Guantanamo and Abu Gharib, not to mention the unconstitutional expansion of the Vice Presidential office into the Legislative Branch). Furthermore, Morello reminds us that while a certain Presidential candidate may be hope-inspiring, in the truest democracy all citizens participate in making social change. Word!

Philip Zimbardo’s TED talk on the principles outlined in his book, The Lucifer Effect. After focusing on evil in his infamous Stanford experiment, Zimbardo wants to emphasize the possibility of good by bucking conformity, taking action, and following one’s own heroic imagination.

That almost-instantaneous meme, “Wall Street/Main Street,” and the dangerously explosive draw of anti-intellectual, common-sense wisdom and Joe-Six-Pack vernacular.

Finally, a quick bailout drawing, after Candyass.

toxic assets

toxic assets

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