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Why Artists Need (Good) Critics: A Thank You to Roger Ebert

The artist can not exist without the critic. Artists tend to awkwardly balance in-between self doubt/loathing and intense egotism. The critic corrects this balance, shifting through the seemingly endless works, to elevate the art that is most deserving and to bringing down that which is not. The critic's role is to encourage better work and cut out the pretention. They are there to help the audience connect and spend their precious time well. 

Not all critics do their job correctly. Some seem to enjoy trashing everything just to elevate themselves. Some have too much ego of their own and forget their role. Some can be easily bought to praise something they don't really support. Some just have awful taste. Like every profession, only a few stand out above the rest. We lost one of the best this week. 

I'd like to take a minute to thank Roger Ebert. A critic with a sincere love of, and appreciation for, the craft of film making, from an academic as well as layperson perspective. Well spoken, empathic, clever, and kind. He will surely be missed.
Image Credit: Everett Collection
"Thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies."
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On Voting 3rd Party

Those of you who actually pay attention might recall the post I wrote a while ago about deciding not to vote. This, more than anything, was a symptom of the logical fallacy known as "learned helplessness". When we are stuck in an unpleasant circumstance for long enough, our spirit breaks. We decide there's nothing we can do, so that is exactly what happens. When we do nothing, nothing ever changes. Voting for the status quo, or not voting at all, both accomplish about the same goal in my eyes. 

Luckily for me, a few months ago, I developed a political crush on Dr. Jill Stein, running for POTUS for the Green Party. Dr. Stein is a physician, an environmentalist, a feminist, an activist, and a bad ass. Dr. Stein was arrested last year during the Occupy Wallstreet raids and numerous related protests. Last month, Dr. Stein and her running mate, Cheri Honkala, were barred from attending the presidential debates (along with every and any 3rd party candidate) and were arrested while attempting to enter the building anyway. P.S. - They were also forcibly detained for hours with no official charges. (Not that anyone actively tries to silence independent candidates or anything...) I love Dr. Stein's New Green Deal, which mimics the plan that got us out of the Depression, though this will focus on creating jobs in new, environmental technologies, to save the planet while we save the economy. (I'm truncating her ideals here, obviously. For more info, please visit jillstein.org )

Anyone who follows me on other social platforms will already know my support for Jill Stein. They'll also know how many people argue with me that I'm "throwing away my vote", or doing the wrong thing in such an "important election". But c'mon. All elections are important. This fear that says we MUST vote for the top two dudes (always dudes) should signal to smart people that this is rather an healthy practice. The truth of the matter is that we still vote under the Electoral College; a plan developed in a day when most of the population could not read, nor had access to timely news. In a nutshell, it was invented to protect people from their own ignorance. Now we have Internet, and smartphones, and 24 hour news networks. There's no excuse to not know something anymore. However, since we are forced to work within this anachronistic, insulting construct, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that Barack Obama will win the state of New York. The support for him from my historically democratic home state is so overwhelming, it renders my vote basically moot. Normally this news would be upsetting. BUT - did you know that any 3rd party candidate who receives 5% of the popular vote would receive $20 Million in federal funding to run in the next presidential election? I'm not throwing away anything, I'm voting towards the future. Every time you vote for a Democrat or a Republican, you're saying, "Yes, I'll have 4 more years of the same, please." I'm voting for the hopes that maybe 16 or so years from now, we might be able to elect someone that will actually stand for something or bring real change. This is the most excited I've been to vote since I was 18! There is hope, just not where you might have guessed. 

I'm not throwing my vote away. I'm making my vote count, for the first time. 

For any still undecided voters, I urge you to look into the alternative choices:

Jill Stein - Green Party

Gary Johnson - Libertarian Party 

Rocky Anderson - Justice Party 

Virgil Goode - Constitution Party 

No matter what, make sure you get out there and VOTE.

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On Amanda Palmer & Artist Volunteers

On tuesday night, I attended the Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra album release show in New York.
It was a historic show for the ages. A brilliant display of light and joy and sorrow and love and creation. I do feel touched and changed having been there, and grateful for the experience. However, there has been some controversy that I feel I need to address. It's come up that the string and brass sections of the show were comprised of volunteers who were requested on her website. Amanda addressed this on stage, saying that there has always been a tradition of artists helping artists if they believe in the cause. I knew where she was coming from, but this still made me uneasy.
Amanda has built a career via her dedicated fan-base and with their help (my own included) raised over a million dollars to fund this album and tour. And I think that's great. Remarkable, even. Such things are expensive, and even if she may be well off in her own right, she would probably have gone bankrupt trying to do this with money out of her own pocket. The project has also sent a message to record companies that consumers are done following the old model. "We are the media" now. Amanda has worked as an artist in various forms, including a street performing/living statue. She knows the meaning of hard work and how difficult it is to make it doing what you love. This all leaves me more conflicted than anything.
Yes, it is totally fine for creatives to volunteer for projects that inspire them. Many times, nonprofitable endeavors lead to actually profitable ones, like a domino effect. Yes, we all have to pay our dues. Yes, we all have the right to make our own decisions. However, we, as artists, already live in a world that undervalues us. That wants us to work "on spec" or enter "design contests" for logos, or illustrate graphic novels in promise of a split "if it sells", or done work that's "great for our portfolio" or "our reel". And while we all have the drive to make things and will do so whether someone pays us or not, the fact that so many of us WILL, diminishes and hurts the rest of us. Why would anyone pay me, so long as someone else will do it for free?
The answer is that they won't. And they don't. And they'll continue to mistreat us, unless we all get together and demand change.
Maybe the need for volunteers was a budgeting error. Maybe the need for more musicians was a last minute idea, after all funds had already been spent. I'm sure everyone who worked on the show had an amazing time doing so, and will carry it in their hearts with as much joy, if not more, than I for having seen it.
My point is that just because someone says "Yes" doesn't always mean it was OK to ask in the first place.
Amanda, dear, I love you. Your music makes me want to be a better artist. As such, my respect for my craft is of the utmost importance. It's not just my art, it is myself. You teach us that. I don't expect you to be perfect (this is why I don't believe in having heroes), but I expect you to practice what you preach.
I forgive you, but you should know better.

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New York Transit Users: Advice for Happier Mornings

You know how at least once a week, your train stalls for no reason and you sit there in (mostly) silence for 5 to 10 minutes before the conductor finally comes on the speaker to meekly announce that you're "being held momentarily by the train dispatcher"? Now, as intelligent adults, we know that the dispatcher is the person in the control room who keeps track of trains and traffic and schedules and turns the green track lights on or off to keep trains from accidentally plowing into each other underground. 

- BUT -

Wouldn't it make your day better if instead you thought of them as The Dispatcher, a demon-like apparition that appears in the darkness and threatens the lives of passengers with a horrible, slow, torturous and fiery demise (i.e. "disptach" them..TO HELL) ...unless the conductor can answer his malicious riddle? What if the delay is because, as we all know, every time The Dispatcher appears you have to first sit through a lengthy bravado introduction, his theme music (organ with a back-up chorus of the damned, obviously) and a brief pyrotechnic display before he delivers his evil proposition - which of course is to answer him or die - before he even tells the conductor the riddle? Wouldn't you then appreciate the time and care that's been taken to save your life? To save all our lives?? I should think so. 

DISPATCHER: Lazy artist rendition
If, every time the train is delayed, you imagine this battle of good versus evil, and every time the train starts moving again, you imagine has your life having been saved by a brave and quick-thinking conductor, you will have a new appreciation for arriving to work almost-on-time and the privilege of another day.

You're welcome.

P.S. - If there isn't already a death metal band called DISPATCHER (or, DZPTCHR) there should be.
P.P.S. - If you live in a different city with a major underground transit system, this may apply to you as well, but I wouldn't know nuthin' 'bout that.

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