17 December 2011

An Unlikely Whiner Responds

If I may be permitted to lift the moratorium on CalArts "issues" for just another day...

As of yesterday afternoon, an anonymous open letter-ish document obviously written by a student has been posted sparingly but consistently around the building chiding students (all of us, apparently) for three main transgressions: the "hipster thing," a lack of personal respect for one another, and excessive complaining about the state of the Institute.

Without quoting the letter verbatim, I'll say that the first two points resonated very much with me based on my experiences here over the past three and a half months. The third, however, rings quite hollow, and not because there is not a lot of visible complaining going on here. To call it "complaining" rather than "criticism" or "unrest" frames the issue negatively from the start, and not in a way that I feel is particularly accurate. While there is certainly some whining here, as there is at every school I've attended, most of my direct acquaintances are able to articulate their grievances (and they all have some) quite a bit more cogently than I've witnessed before, and I rarely disagree with them (also unusual). This, however, is incidental to the larger argument expressed in this section of the letter, namely that we should all just shut up and go along with however the Institute decides to do things, and that this is somehow the only way to conserve the legendary CalArts...thing, whatever it actually is (and if it still exists in the first place, which I'm not at all convinced that it does).

Pardon me for saying so, but unless I'm badly mistaken, the original CalArts...thing could not reasonably be said to have had such blind reverence for authority, could it? And surely if no one had thought to agitate (including "complaining," if you insist on calling it that) for something like CalArts, it would never have existed in the first place. Given all of that, I think it's incumbent upon all of us here to speak up when something isn't working, especially when we can all see an obvious solution. I would not want to attend a school nor live in a world where any such individual is written off as a mere "complainer" while administrators and bureaucrats run amok.

The question of my potential involvement in any sort of "movement" to improve CalArts has been on my mind for several weeks. I am very conflicted about it: my time at the U of MN essentially sapped me of all will to undertake such ventures, not to mention any faith that they could ever succeed in even the smallest way. I have already sat down face-to-face with a few administrators, written them letters, tasted their evasive answers, lived their poor decisions, watched the carousel turn, and marveled at the uniformity of thought and action from one to the next. I also realize that most if not all of the problems I am most concerned with here really are bigger than CalArts, and that fighting them on that level, even if it were effective, would be a waste of time in the grand geo-political and socio-economic scheme of things. So in a sense, I can't blame anyone for simply checking out and investing their time in their work (and/or some real community activism if they're so inclined). Even so, let's not quit our whining just yet. As bad as things ever look, I have to think they'd look a lot worse if we simply accepted them on blind faith.

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