Posts Tagged ‘Objectivism’

We’ve established that the word “despair” blows me away and that you don’t need to feel sorry for me. So, why should you give a shit about me and my lack of grandkids, at all?

The first answer is easy:

Love is not binary. Feelings are not binary. Emotions are not binary. In fact, love, feelings, and emotions are not even discreet. These elements of our life are continuous functions. So, just because I’m not suicidal does not mean you shouldn’t care. I want your love and support.

The second answer is more complex:

To me, a part of examining one’s life in an open forum is to help others learn by sharing experiences. I share many things here and on Facebook and Twitter that are really no one’s business but my own. I choose to share my shit, not so you will feel sorry for me, but so that we can learn from each other.

  • I guarantee you hate some of my posts.
  • I guarantee you smile at at least a few.
  • I guarantee you don’t know why the hell I share some things I do.
  • I guarantee I piss you off.
  • I guarantee that, at least on occasion, you think about the value of compassion, the need for personal responsibility, and the value of integrity. Those are the 3 pillars that support me and…
  • I guarantee it helps ME to get shit out of my system and to embrace your feedback.

As Socrates reminds us, “The unexamined life is not worth living“. I embrace that in a public way both for me and for anyone who cares. So, it’s good for us all if you care.

The fact is that caring about other people, while holding myself accountable for my own actions, is the foundation of my life.

I used to think I was an Objectivist. Then I found how much joy I got from helping other people succeed. I gave up the Objectivist path because if lacked a notion of benevolence. Then my friend Nathaniel Branden (of blessed memory) started speaking of benevolence at Objectivism conferences. I’ll still never be an Objectivist because it conflicts with some of my Reform Jewish values. But, from it, I learned to take responsibility for myself and to recognize that making one’s self the best one can be DOES help others succeed! it does so because one may stand as a role model and because there is nothing wrong with bringing others along for the ride. So, when I paired that with my Jewish notion of benevolence I came up with a value system that works for me.

That is why you should care about me and my desire for children. Because my hope is that taking you along for the ride will make us all better people. Helping all of us to become better people is why I see those of you who share your children with me as an extraordinary blessing. It provides both the giver and the receiver the opportunity to help others through responsible action.

More on that is coming soon…


In a world daily ripped apart by violence, hatred, and pain; a world where religious zealotry and irrational dogma routinely takes precedence over love and respect; a world where individual achievement is routinely sacrificed on the altar of conformity; Newberry and his art shine like a spotlight on the all too often ignored values of individual human existence and the power of striving for personal greatness.

Every day, I live in the presence of an array of pastels, prints, and paintings that help me remember how beautiful and noble it is to strive to be one’s best. These are “Our Newberrys”. These are our inspiration.

I remember how touched Patt and I were when, as a show of compassion and concern following Patt’s breast cancer surgeries, Michael called to tell Patt he was naming one of his female nudes in her honor. That was not about money or publicity or the “trader principle” of his Objectivist ethics.  That was simply an expression of love from one individual human soul to another. We remember that to this very day.

I love the non-representational works, the Judaica, the sculpture, and, really, every piece in my collection. I even love my own glasswork and photographs. But, only Newberry reminds me, every day, that my individual human life has intrinsic value. For that I will always cherish his art and his friendship!

Another of my gurus died this week.

I first encountered Nathaniel Branden long ago when I was a shy, introverted young man of questionable self-esteem. Initially I found him a bit off-putting. Like most of the followers of Ayn Rand, Nathaniel was (at that time) a dogmatic Objectivist with no room to even enter into discussions with people like me – we who want to wrestle with hard questions like the existence of God; the possibility that not everything about individualism is good; the possibility that there is something to be learned from Kant or Rousseau no matter how much we disagree with – perhaps even detest – them; or the idea that dogmatic, doctrinal,, rationalism is not necessarily any better than dogmatic, doctrinal religion. The evidence of the senses and the finitude of Aristotelian logic were, in early Objectivism, incontestable. And Nathaniel was the great teacher with the great aversion to even speaking about other possibilities.

I once told Nathaniel that I was a practicing reform Jew because I felt it was to only way to preserve the culture and civilization of the Jewish people. I asked him if there was a way to compartmentalize and to live a rational life while still saying prayers and practicing rituals. He told me that it would never work and that if I wanted to have high self-esteem I need to live consistently not in perpetual contradiction. Of course, you know, he’s right. But, Judaism is important to me and if keeping our culture alive forces me to live with contradictions, I’ll accept that. Long ago Nathaniel would chastise me for saying that and even in these last years he would not agree with it. But, by the end, he would no longer refuse to admit that I’m a good person even with my imperfect application of reason.

When I say that, what I mean is that over the years, Nathaniel shed his dogmatism, became willing to enter dialog with all sorts of people (evening going so far as to befriend Ken Wilbur, who could not be a more opposite thinker), and learned the power of benevolence and spontaneity. That is why I like Nathaniel more than almost any other Objectivist I know.

Nathaniel was part of Ayn Rand’s “Collective”. He and Ms. Rand had a sexual relationship and split entirely when their affair ended inharmoniously in the late 60’s. After that, all “official” Objectivists were required to denounce him, Evidently Ms. Rand did not leave all of her Soviet history behind! Still, the break was a good thing and eventually Nathaniel became an extremely successful writer on human psychology, and the pioneer of the “self-esteem” movement.

It is Nathaniel’s work in Los Angeles that brought me to revere him. Although he remained an Objectivist to the end of his life, he was more of a pragmatic “doer” than he was a philosopher. Nathaniel never gave up devotion to even a single Objectivist virtue. What he did give up was that dogmatic devotion to Ms. Rand. He could have remained in the class of Randian rationalists who viewed Objectivism as a closed system. But, no. Like other more open-minded Objectivists such as David Kelley, Nathaniel came to accept diversity, to have a willingness to discuss even what he did not agree with, and most profoundly, to realize that objective happiness could include spontaneous joy, benevolence for the pure sake of benevolence, and kindness unhinged from self-edification.

From his early beginnings with Ms. Rand, to his death this week at the age of 84, Nathaniel grew and matured. Ultimately being a man who I personally view as “Atlas Matured”.

Rest in peace, Dr. Branden!

Hey, it’s time again for the “Value Voters” summit. It’s the time, in Washington DC, where politicians quote Corinthians, and Libertarians show pictures of fetuses. It’s the time when the fundamentalists among us stand up for the right to be closed-minded and to make it clear that Christian values are the ONLY values.

In this close minded land of isolation we Jews, our Muslim friends, our Buddhist friends, our Hindu friends, and, God forbid, our Atheist and agnostic friends are insulted, degraded, and generally treated like crap. Oh, and by the way, let’s not forget about how much we hate the LGBT community.

Welcome value voters!

I have to tell you, candidly, that I hold some relatively conservative opinions. But, I also have to say that, when it comes to conservatism, It is mostly about economics where I sit on that side of the line. I, personally, have never seen a great society founded on socialist principles. While there are some really terrible capitalists around, I have to say that a capitalist society is the type of society in which I choose to live. I am not as hard line as most of my Libertarian friends. I think that government, and even government regulation, have a place in our society. But, to me, that is not what the value voters summit is about.

The reason that I could never be a Republican is because of your social views. This is where I adamantly side with my Libertarian friends. Using government to force people to live according to fundamentalist Christian values is exactly the opposite of that upon which my country was founded.

You folks have every right to be fundamentalist Christians. I respect that. I even admire you for your dedication to your beliefs. But, I have a value system that is formed on Jewish ethics which has at least as much validity in its foundation in biblical history as yours.

One major difference between me and you fundamentalist Christians is that I am not caught up in dogma. Furthermore, I use my study of the Bible as but one of many data points in my construction of my own value system and ethics. Along with that I consider reason and rationality to be a tremendous virtue.

I also try to live my life on the premise of liberty. You stay out of my bedroom and I will happily stay out of yours. You leave my gay and lesbian friends alone to enjoy their love and I will happily leave your straight friends the same way. In fact, I will happily leave MY straight friends the same way as well. You try not to make value judgments about my atheist friends and I will try my best not to make value judgments about your Baptist ones. And, for what it’s worth, I admit this is difficult for me.

You see, I disagree with your religious and your political views but I would die defending your right to hold them. On the other hand, not only would you not die in defense of my right to hold my views, but a few of you would shoot an abortion doctor, let Latin American children die in the desert, defend someone who shoots a black teenager just for being black, choose non-interventionism over human rights, prohibit a loving the lesbian couple from having the same relationship that you could have with your partner, and will gather for the express purpose of the degrading everyone who does not believe what you believe.

Welcome Value Voters!

Now, I want to be perfectly clear. You all have every right to have a Value Voters summit. What you do not have is the right to do is to contend that everyone who has values which differ from your own is VALUELESS.

That is what bothers me about you calling this event a Value Voters summit. I disagree with you on many, many things. Simply by naming your event as you do, you are making the direct statement that people like me not only disagree with your values but have no values. I take issue with that. In fact, I would say that my values are equally valid as yours. I admit that I have quite a bit of difficulty accepting you, but at least I will try. Conversely, you will never accept my belief system as being valid. That, my friends, is why I called you closed-minded.

Now here’s an especially funny one…

Many of you consider yourselves to be in the intellectual line of Ayn Rand. Have you ever actually read Ayn Rand? Have you ever heard her speak? Have you ever gone to YouTube and listened to her interviews? She is the intellectual opposite of you. I have to admit, she is equally dogmatic. But Ms. Rand would have absolutely nothing to do with any of your religiosity; in fact, when she was alive, she often very vocally spoke out against religion: your religion, my religion, any religion; because religion is not rational. So, for God’s sake (sic), don’t think that Ayn Rand would support The Tea Party, or any of your “value voters” agenda. You think she’s one of your role models, yet the word that she would use to describe you, and me, and every other person who participates in any religious practice, is “EVIL”. So, please don’t pretend that your belief system is even consistent, let alone accepting of anyone besides yourselves.

If you are thinking about telling me that I am no better than you, then I will not even dispute that. But, I do have to say that this blog is specifically about my contradictions and my struggle with them. So, at least, instead of having a political summit with everyone with whom I agree, I am trying to deal openly, and publicly, with my own intellectual struggles. In my humble opinion, this to be a better use of my time.

My bottom line is this: enjoy your summit but please don’t think that your values are the only values that can be held as the foundation of an ethical, vital life. My value system diverges from yours but it is a solid foundation for a life. Ms. Rand’s value system is diametrically (except when it comes to the sign of the dollar) opposed to yours: yet it too can be the foundation of a valid, vibrant, and highly fulfilling life. So, meet, speak, and speechify to your heart’s content. But, if you think that fundamentalist Christian values are the only valid values, then I, Jews around the world, atheists, and every religionist who is not Christian will be there to fight the battle for our own liberty, our own right to believe what we believe, our own sexual ethics, and our own paths to a world of love, benevolence, and respect for all human souls.

Not long ago, this BLOG was just my way of being me. I wrote for myself; in large part because I wanted to keep my “chops” polished. A few people per day would find their way here and that was just fine. I said what was on my mind and that was the end of it.

But one week ago, my dear friend Emily Gottfried passed away. My essay in  memory of Emily drew over 1200 people to this little space of mine; and more than one of them has asked me why I write a BLOG. It’s not about a single subject. It’s not about a single viewpoint. It’s not about a particular political philosophy. So, what the hell is it and why do I write it? I think it’s only fair that I try to answer the question – so I will.

Emily used to say, about my BLOG and Facebook page, and Twitter feed that “Steve is just a completely open book“. I think she’s basically right. But, it’s not because I think anyone really cares about what I do and think every day. I’m not arrogant enough to think that. I’d say it’s because, while lacking in arrogance, I do have high enough self-esteem (thank you Nathaniel Branden) to think that sharing my struggles might some day be helpful to others. So, yes Emily, I am an open book.

Among the most well-known and over-used phrases we see today is the ancient saying of Socrates: “An unexamined life is not worth living“. I’ve heard that for my entire life but until a few years ago it never fully sunk in.

In the past couple decades I’ve lost several dear friends. Emily Gottfried is the latest. But before her was my best friend in Oregon, Pablo Esteve; my co-worker, Bruce McPherran; my college mentor, friend, and one of the people I most admired in the universe, Stephen Lucky Mosko; Lucky’s wife and my college friend Dorothy Stone; and several others who were all far too young to die. This brought me to terms with the importance of living ones’ life purposefully.

After having read some very technical works of philosophy by Robert Nozick (yes, he too died young), I happened upon his book: “The Examined Life“. In it were “meditations” on everything from parenting, to sexuality, to the nature of faith, to the Holocaust. That is when I got the idea to write this BLOG. Not because I’m the genius that Nozick was; but, because I saw value to how Nozick thought and then synthesized an eclectic blend of thinking into an examination of a personal life. So, I decided to pursue an examined life through writing publically.

In essence, this BLOG is really about one question:  Why is an actively practicing Reform Jew who reads Roland Barthes, was initiated into Kriya Yoga, and watches Antonioni  films a fan of Ayn Rand, Objectivism, and Libertarianism?

Well… I am awash in inconsistencies. So, I might as well share the struggle!

Nathaniel Branden told me that trying to keep living with my contradictory views would just make me unhappy. In many ways, he was right. But, wrestling with my conflicts also seems (to me) to make for a very rich life. It would be nice if I could just pick a belief system, like Objectivism or Christianity, or Judaism, or Shinto, and then live my life happily ever after. But, for better or for worse, I can’t (or won’t).

From Rand I get my belief in the importance of striving to be the best you can be. taking responsibility for yourself and valuing your own life; and my belief in the fundamental importance of living rationally using the mind that is uniquely human. From Judaism I get validation that the fulfillment I get from fighting discrimination, working for peace, speaking out against genocide, and standing up for human rights, is a real, viable way to be edified. Those are 2 conflicting systems but I gain from them both. Rand would surely have none of it; nor, probably would the Bal Shem Tov and the Kotzker Rebbe. But, too bad… I am who I am.

I’m not sure I could ever say, in good conscience, that an unexamined life is not worth living because, each in its own way, every life is precious. Yet, for me, living an examined life makes the life I lead richer and more fulfilling. If you get a little entertainment, or someday something I’ve said helps you in your own life struggles, all I can say is thanks for riding along!

Mitt Romney has selected a running mate who is supposedly a disciple of the great free market, laissez-faire thinkers. Indeed, Paul Ryan speaks of economics with much the same verbiage as Hayek and Mises. From that perspective, I actually like some of the things that Ryan has to say. I, too, consider myself a disciple of Mises and Hayek. And, although I dislike the dogmatic aspects of Randian Objectivism, I, too, was inspired in my youth by Ms. Rand’s vision of human potential, free rational societal structure, and the need for man to thrive through leveraging our uniquely human trait of reason. Rand’s vision, as seen through the eyes of people like Nathaniel Branden, David Kelley, and my friends Stephen Hicks and Michael Newberry (not the dogmatic views of Peter Schwartz and Leonard Peikoff) is inspiring. They will never consider my ties to my Judaism as intellectually valid; but neither do they disparage me for them.

So, then, you might think that I would like Paul Ryan… and…. you’d be….. WRONG.

You see, neither Hayek nor Mises, NOR UNQUESTIONABLY RAND, would accept Paul Ryan’s socially conservative positions. Remember that Rand has issues with both the Left AND the Right. Remember that Peikoff and Schwartz tried to sever all ties between Objectivism and David Kelley just because David was WILLING TO TALK TO Libertarians. Rand, Hayek, and Mises would certainly look upon Ryan’s economics as derivative of their own and they would fully embrace those views. But none of those thinkers are, like Ryan, willing to divorce their social politics from their economic ones. None of them would embrace the inconsistencies between Ryan’s notion of economic freedom and his acceptance of governmental social coercion (like laws about who can marry who or who can or can’t have an abortion.)

It’s like I’ve said before, you can NOT accept Laissez Faire economics and Evangelical Christian social values at the same time, and then try to call yourself consistent. We can all love or hate the Tea Party Movement, but I’m quite confident that Rand would have none of it. The willingness of the Tea Party to accept inconsistent views would turn her off more than the comparable acceptance of those inconsistencies in the Libertarian movement.

So, it’s absolutely fair to say that Ryan was influenced by Rand, Hayek, and Mises. But, don’t be deluded into thinking that any of them would actually view him as their disciple.  Believe me, I’m at least as inconsistent as Paul Ryan. Then again, I’m not running for Vice President. If I was, most of you would not vote for me; which is how I feel about Paul Ryan.

Try asking Ayn Rand what she thinks of the notion that our rights were granted to us by God. See how far Rand would follow Ryan then.

For the past few months I have written about Mark Rothko. I’ve given you a chance to watch me wrestle with Rothko and the reasons I like his work. I’d like to turn now to a painter whose work I need not wrestle with; a painter whose work I just plain love; a painter who’s entire 40 year career has been one of perfect philosophical consistency. His name is Michael Newberry and his painting “Denouement” is both my favorite painting of all time and among the few pieces of art that I can truly say has affected my life at its core. I’ve mentioned his work before but now I simply want to “cut to the chase”. Here is my favorite painting of all time:

You might be inclined to call this “realism”. In fact, Newberry himself would call it “Romantic Realism”. But this painting is orders of magnitude deeper than that. For one thing, yes it’s figurative, but that doesn’t mean it’s simply “realistic”; in fact, there is a lot about this painting that I’d say falls squarely in the domain of abstraction. Let’s pick one rather clear element and consider it more closely: The first question I always ask myself when I see this painting is “Where the hell is the light coming from?” It’s not coming from a window. It’s not coming from a lamp. In fact, it’s neither omnidirectional ambient light nor is it coming from any directional source. It’s coming from INSIDE the painting! That, my friends, is an abstraction. It’s not Rothko’s abstraction or Pollack’s abstraction. What it IS, is a gorgeously nuanced abstraction with the clear purpose of conveying the message of the painting. It is an abstraction WITH PURPOSE!

Let’s say, for the heck of it, that you agree with me. The next question is “what’s the purpose?” I’ve never asked Newberry about that so I’ll tell you what I think. In my humble opinion, the purpose of the painting’s internal light is to unequivocally convey the burst of utter joy that comes from the relationship of the 2 subjects. To me, this is a painting about love. It has a certain eroticism but that is a surface element on top of something deeper. At that deeper level, at the painting’s philosophical core, is the pure joy of love. The inner light represents perfect human joy, It’s not the joy of an external entity like “God” or “Karma” or “universal peace”. It is the joy of two HUMANS experiencing the happiness that comes from human love. I can’t speak for you and I can’t speak for Newberry. But, for me, when I see this painting I not only feel joyful but “I want what he’s got!”. It makes me want to strive to achieve that level of joy in my own life.

This is why I say that Newberry’s work has a 40 year history of philosophical consistency. Over those year, his technique has been honed, his ability to execute has sped up, and his work has matured. But, through all that, he has never once forsaken his fundamental goal of using art to inspire us to strive for joy, to look for and admire greatness, and to want to feel good about our species. THAT is why this is my favorite painting of all time.

I first encountered “Denouement” in the form of a small postcard. I was sitting in my old favorite hangout in LA, “Al’s Bar” on Traction Avenue. In comes my old friend Judith Harding, carrying a postcard. She handed it to me ans asked me what I thought. I was speechless. I had to meet the man who made this painting. Lo and behold, he lived right across the street. From that day, this was my favorite painting and Michael Newberry became a part of my life. Today, I still can’t afford a painting like this. But my collection contains at least 10 of his pastels, lithographs, minor paintings, and even a color study from another painting I’ll never be able to afford.

I have to tell you that Michael is not a big fan of all of my Rothko writings. His philosophy diverges from that of Rothko and other abstract painters to such an extent that he can’t (and I don’t expect him to) agree with my love of Rothko. With a painter like Rothko, I wrestle. Newberry doesn’t have to. As an artist, he is so philosophically consistent and so rigorous in his position that art must inspire us to greatness, that he doesn’t need to find ways to like art that he feels has other goals. I like more art than Newberry likes. Then again, I’m an amateur collector and he is a creator. I think that says it all. Irrespective of all that, my admiration for Newberry’s consistency, commitment to expressing the experience of joy, and sheer painterly beauty is unending. So, while I wrestle, Newberry creates. For that I love him and for “Denouement” more than anything else, I thank him.

I follow and befriend a lot of people who are either Libertarians, Objectivists, or Atheist Evolutionists (or some combination of the 3). This is because I’m basically a classical liberal rationalist, who believes in a God that doesn’t give stuff to you just because you happen to pray for it, and who has very little tolerance for intolerance. I don’t think that the last clause of the previous sentence is hypocritical, but that’s the subject for another post. Interestingly, the Objectivists and Atheists, who are always disparaging the dogma of religion, are frequently equally dogmatic in their anti-religion. They say very insulting things about people who believe in God; but they save some of their greatest criticism for people like me.

What I mean is this: Ayn Rand called accepting irrational concepts “evil”. To some Objectivists, then, people who have strong “faith” are “evil” by virtue of the objectivist ethics. Some may just be naive and Objectivist will just write them off. But worse than the naive ones, is a guy like me who accepts reason as the primary distinguishing characteristic of human existence but who still identifies with a religious community. To me they ask: “Why do you believe in God?” or “Why do you study the Torah?” or why…. whatever. And, about my belief that the Bible is not literally true and that God doesn’t actually answer your prayers, they say: “What good is a lame belief like that?!?”

This is my answer….

For several thousand years, the Jewish people have existed as an independent culture. Do I think we really ate manna? No. Do I think we really all stood at Sinai? No. Do I think that we should hope for a 3rd temple so we can start sacrificing cows again?  Hell no. Do I think that some angels are helping God write down all our deeds in a big book that gets reviewed on the High Holy Days? I think not. But, what I do think is that the cultural history of my people must be preserved at all cost. Why? Because from the day we expressed our independence as a culture, other people have been trying to obliterate it. Whether it was the first crusade in 1098, or the Spanish expulsion in 1492, or the murderously evil Nazis in the 1930’s and 40’s, or the holocaust denying bastards of today, everyone seems to want to destroy my people’s history.

Today I study ancient texts in an ancient language, perform ritual that I don’t believe has any real supernatural power, and actively practice prayer in a Synagogue when I don’t believe in a God who actually “does stuff for you”, because those are the things that make my culture identifiable.  I know of no way to keep Jewish culture alive without actively wrestling with the Jewish myth and trying to identify with what, for lack of a better word, I’ll call the Jewish semiology (a Mazzuah is a symbol, Tefellin are symbols, Shabbat candles are symbols, etc).

My Objectivist friends might think that’s stupid; my Atheist friends might think it’s irrational; my Christian friends might think that’s a lot of work dedicated to a lame conception of God; my orthodox Jewish friends (yes, I have and I cherish them even if I don’t agree with or understand them)  may think I’m missing out on the richness of the religion of my Grandfather’s home town of Berdichiv or the great rabbinate of Breslov. And… you know… one or more of them may even be right. But I’ve studied too much Jewish history, I’ve seen too many people speak too many times of their experiences in Nazi Germany and war torn Europe, and I’ve read too much Holocaust denial bullshit to do anything other than my very best to actively contribute to saving my culture.

Nathaniel Branden once told me that my choice to practice “religion”, when I know full well that the highest human virtue is reason, builds an inner conflict that makes my life harder than it has to be. Dr. Branden is right. But, for better or worse, if I have to wrestle with intellectual and emotional and spiritual conflict so that I can say that I did my part to save Jewish culture, then so be it. I’ll accept that burden. Because if everyone who doesn’t believe in an active supernatural relationship with a prayer-answering God who created the world in 7-days and then led us around a desert for 40 years were to give up on Judaism, then it would surely die. Other people’s opinions and my own spiritual conflicts aside, I’m doing my part to keep my rich culture alive. If that seems silly to you, fine. When I’m gone from the Earth I want people to say: “you know, he might have been a little confused, but he sure did his part to keep Judaism alive. The world is better because he was willing to wrestle”.

Shabbat Shalom.

Since 1980 I’ve had the desire to experience a whole array of emotionally charged installation and video art. Since 1988 I’ve had a continuously growing collection of pastel and pencil drawn nudes hanging on my walls. Since 1989 I’ve had a personalized Oregon vehicle license plate that says “R MUSIC”. Interestingly (at least to me) is the thread that binds together those 3 seemingly disparate aspects of my life. To understand the thread, you need to know why each is important to me.

Let’s begin at the end – with the license plate. I moved to Oregon in 1989. I had California plates that said 3DGRFX because working with 3D Graphics is what I did for a living. When I moved to Oregon I wanted to make a change to, not only my state, but also my identity. So, I changed what the plates said. For a long time I did not know what to put on those new plates. Then, one day I was going to lunch with a friend and the car stereo had been turned up quite loud on my drive in to work. As soon as we got into the car, the Opera “Tosca” went blasting through the parking lot. My friend turned to me and said: “turn it off! Turn it off! I hate that kind of music!” I apologized for the volume and then said: “hey, lots of people don’t like opera; but Patt and I LOVE opera so Opera is what plays in MY car. This is our car and this is our music!” That was the very instant that I decided on my new plates: R MUSIC.

The nudes represent a less silly story. I used to hang out in Los Angeles at a place on Traction Avenue, called “Al’s Bar”. One day, one of my downtown friends brought a postcard into the bar and showed it to me. It was a painting called “Denouement”  by an artist who lived across the street. I was stunned by the uplifting beauty of the painting and I had to meet the artist. While I could never afford to own Denouement or any of his other major works, we did become friends and I did start buying his pastels.

As for the video and installation art, all I can say is “read my last blog post”. Several times in my college career I saw video work by an artist who’s work I could neither afford, nor take my eyes off. The artist came to teach in several video art classes that I took from Professor Gene Youngblood at CalArts. He is my favorite artist and I still can’t take my eyes off his work.

So… who are these 3 guys and why do I consider their work to be contributing factors in my own personal philosophical, emotional, and psychological development? The first question is easily answered. These 3 guys are Giacomo Puccini, Michael Newberry, and Bill Viola. The second question is relatively straightforward but is not as easily answered. The simplest answer is just that each of these artists focuses like a laser beam on the thing that I personally find most powerful in art and in life: EMOTION. But that’s a rather banal explanation unless coupled with the rationale. So, here goes.

The word “emotion” can mean many things. In my context, it really refers to something more broadly called “The Passions”. Honestly, I know very little about intellectual history prior to the 17th century so I won’t pretend that I know where the categorization of the passions began. What I do know is that in 1668 Charles Le Brun cataloged 22 of them based on facial movements. Three and a half centuries later, today’s master of emotional communication, Paul Ekman, is still working on understanding them. What I also know are two things that are entirely personal and subjective. I know that I respond very strongly to highly emotional art. And, I know that the art I personally find most powerful is that which helps us to develop our ability to see or hear deeply and with sensitivity. So, if I was writing a manifesto (right… in my dreams!) I would say that the purpose of art is to provide audiences or viewers with tools that cultivate their mindfulness, and sensitivity to the subtle beauty of all that surrounds us. Each of these artists provide me with exactly that.

Puccini often took everyday experiences, rather than heroic Wagnerian characters and subjects, as the basis for his operas. This neither implies that Madame Butterfly is “everyday” nor does it imply that I like Wagner. Both are untrue. What is does imply is that Puccini understood the subtleties of ordinary life and was able to portray them sensitively. More important was Puccini’s ability to write extraordinary melody in a way that evokes enormous emotion. The man clearly understood the power of melody to express every subtle aspect of every possible emotion.

In a very different way, Bill Viola understands emotions on a very subtle level. He wants his viewers to experience these emotions but he also wants to heighten out awareness of them. Bill’s work serves to make us aware of how life is lived and experienced and how we emotionally respond to that. Not every emotion that Bill wants us to experience is positive. As much as he want’s us to know what love and ecstasy are like, he also wants us to understand things like sadness, fear, death, loss, grief, confusion, emotional conflict, anger, and everything in between. That’s why Bill can create a piece like “The Passing” which eloquently examines the spiritual, emotional, existential extremes of human birth and death; concurrently juxtaposing them.It’s why he can create something like “I do not know what it is I am like” that does the exact same thing with the natural world. It’s why a viewer can sit transfixed in an installation of “Five Angels for the Millennium” and feel uplifted. And, it’s why “The Passions” can effectively juxtapose everything from “Man of Sorrow” to  “Emergence” in a way that maintains philosophical integrity. Bill doesn’t only want us to be uplifted. He wants us to know what every emotion feels like and, through experiencing his work, to become sensitized to those emotions and to be better able to recognize and wrestle with them. All of Bill’s work reaches it’s pinnacle in “The Passions” because all of those pieces deal with what John Walsh calls “Emotions in Extreme Time”. The pieces were not shot on video. They were shot on 35mm film at an extremely high frame rate. The result is that we viewers need to spend time with the pieces (you can’t just walk by them). But, when you do, you experience the most intricate subtlety imaginable. You learn everything about the emotion expressed in the work. For I guy like me, who values emotion as the most affecting component of art, nothing is more powerful than Bills most recent work!

Like Viola and Puccini, Michael Newberry’s work is about emotion. Somewhat different from Puccini and drastically different from Viola, Newberry’s work focuses on a only a subset of the passions. That subset, however, is the core of both his aesthetic and his beliefs about the purpose of art. Michael DOES have a manifesto and it’s not the same as what I said mine would be. I have a broader range of art that I would call “good” than Michael does but that is because Michael has very solid, rational, consistent beliefs about why he does what he does. So, much of the art I like, Michael does not like because it does not meet his standards for what he believes art should do. I had a conversation with Michael recently, about Picasso’s composition. Michael sad this: “Picasso is one of my favorite painters but he is not one of my favorite artists“. I’ve never discussed Viola’s work with him but I have the feeling he’d feel similarly.  Michael has an aesthetic that is strongly rooted in Romantic aesthetics. To him, the most important thing that art should do is to help the viewer or listener understand his potential for greatness; to make the audience see their human potential; and to make them have a desire to be the best, most productive, most glorious humans that they can be. Michael does not try to work with the whole gamut of emotions. Many of Le Brun’s 22 passions are exactly the opposite of what Michael wants his work to express. What he wants is for his viewers to see intense love; pure, unfiltered, unimpeded ecstasy; and the feeling of joy brought to its ultimate heights. Unlike Viola, or even Puccini, Michael does not want his work to have anything to do with fear, anger, disappointment, sadness, or death. Where Viola wants us to see everything and to be forced to deal with our own responses, Michael wants only one thing: to show you your highest, greatest, most amazing potential and to make you strive to achieve your own.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to all three of these artists. To Puccini I owe my love for some of the most passionate aural experiences one can ever have. To Viola I own my love for visual experiences that forever change ones perceptions. To Newberry I own a house full of some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, the daily renewal of my desire to strive to be my best, a constant reminder to take the personal responsibility for achieving (or not) my goals, and the acknowledgement that it’s okay (dare I say mandatory) for one to nurture one’s own joy, happiness, and love.

What my favorite artists would think of each other, I don’t really know. I’m pretty sure that Puccini would love Newberry’s painting and, at least, the most recent of Viola’s work. I’m certain that if Viola saw Newberry’s painting he’d feel he’d found a kindred spirit. I know that Newberry loves Puccini because we’ve spoken about it and listened together; about Viola’s later work I guess that Michael would respect it and love (or come to love) “The Passions”. Each of these guys would have a different view of how the others meet the aesthetic objectives of their own artistic conceptions. But, that’s why they are all great artists. Their artistic conceptions each differ but, unlike so much of the terrible art that has been produced in the last 100 years, what make each of these aesthetics unique is their unadulterated nobility.

As for me, I am just a lover of emotionally charged art with a bunch of pastel and pencil drawn nudes and a silly “R MUSIC” license plate. But the thread that binds together those really important parts of my life is passion. Today I live more passionately, more compassionately, and with greater mindfulness of our world and our human potential because of them.