Sunday, August 23, 2009

What is The Purpose of Art

This is NOT me on my bicycleDear artists of all stripes,

Recently, I commissioned a portfolio of photography. This was my first commissioning (and I'm so new to this that I don't even know if I'm using the terminology correctly), and I hoped to have my favorite photographer* collect some of the unique features of my neighborhood in Chicago. See, as I've been riding my bicycle around quite a bit this summer, I've noticed many objects that I consider art, though others might think of it as little more than a public nuisance.

Blago HeadBlago TorsoBlago FeetIn any case, I commissioned the portfolio of photography, and as I looked over the images, I began considering the reasons why people make art. What motivates the beginning of a creative work?

In the case of Ray Noland, I think the purpose is clear: to comment on the political. This, in my mind, goes along with the other commentaries (commentary on socio-cultural norms, art itself, materialism, etc). Blago Escape the CityBut here, through the spray-painted street art depicting the bad-guy-of-the-year, Rod Blagojevich, Ray has made commentary on all the corruption associated with a political figure. I can't say I disagree with his message.

Old Ukrainian GroceryOther times, I think that art is not the intention at all, even if it is the by-product. This is sometimes the case with advertising. In our neighborhood, even the lettering is often artistic to me, given that Cyrillic lettering is often used. I think of Andy Warhol's painting of the Campbell's Soup can, and how he turned an everyday brand into art. In the same way, I believe that everyday advertising is often art in its own right.

Door ArchSpiral StairsThis might go hand-in-hand with Craftsmanship-as-art, although I'd like to think that the art here is more intentional than that of advertisements. With craftsmanship, art is formed as part of the creative work of constructing something functional. Architecture largely falls into this category for me, and this is why I like the old buildings in my neighborhood much more than the concrete-brick, bland-facade that seems to be the norm in new condo construction these days. With craftsmanship, the maker creates something that is descriptive beyond the function of the piece, by adding something of himself to make the object unique.

Oh Shit! HighwayI really mean it!In a way, it is the craftsman's self-expression that creates the art. But self-expression can be so much times. Consider the various scribblings of some graffiti artist in West Town, who has managed to get his/her scrawl on many prominent locations (thankfully, without apparent gang affiliation). Why the comment, "Oh Shit!"? Is there a purpose beyond self-expression? Does there need to be a purpose beyond that?

Dripping to a watery reflectionAs I pondered the various rationales for art, it dawned on me that ultimately, art is self-expression. I cannot imagine an art form that does not in some way derive from the mind of the creator--even Jackson Pollock's random-seeming paintings are based on his choices of paint color and exist only because he chose to create them.

I think it is this self-expression that makes me enjoy art. Because, after all, how many other times do you have the chance to see someone publicly express themselves for all to see?



*My favorite photographer happens to be my wife, E. Stock. All of the photography in this post is hers, and she retains all copyrights. Please feel free to click through (ad-free Picasa photo album) and see the rest of the portfolio.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Health Care Reform

Dear Jimmy Duncan,

I got your newsletter the other day. Thanks for sending it.

First, I want to thank you, once again, for your courage as a Republican legislator who did not vote to initiate the mess that we call the Iraq War. Had others listened to your wisdom back in 2003, we may find ourselves in quite a different world than we are in today.

Though you are far more conservative in your political positions than I am, I like the fact that you think for yourself and are not afraid to take stand that diverge from party politics.

But I want to talk with you about health care. You said in your newsletter that: "Until the federal government got heavily involved in the mid-60s, health care was cheap and affordable for almost everyone. Doctors even made house calls. We took what was a very minor problem and turned it into a major problem for everyone." You continued to imply that the existence of Medicare and Medicaid is causally related to the explosion of medical costs.

I guess that I have to disagree with that analysis. I think that the skyrocketing costs relate more directly to two or three other things.

1. Medical costs have increased because of the increase in technological advances that while providing miracle diagnoses and healing options are incredibly expensive to use. Treatment costs are far more expensive today than they were in the 1960's.

One reason that I will always vote for you (though I am a registered Democrat) is the kindness you showed to my family back in the early 90's when my daughter was fighting leukemia. I will never forget that your wife actually came to my home and cleaned the day before we returned home from the hospital. (Thank her again for me.) In the 90's there were treatments, expensive treatments, that saved my daughter's life. Until 1973, there were no treatments available for children diagnosed with leukemia. Children lived a few weeks and then died.

The medical advances we have enjoyed over the last 40 years have been wonderful but they are high ticket items.

2. The second reason that costs have skyrocketed is that the medical insurance industry has grown astronomically. It is the elephant in the room. Medical insurance executives earn far more than the finest surgeons. Who pays for them? Well, actually Medicare and Medicaid pay their share. Rather than costing out medical appointments and procedures realistically, doctors and hospitals are pulled into an enormous pricing scam that affects individuals without insurance, the government, and those with insurance.

Congressman Duncan, it is my opinion that insurance companies, not Medicare and Medicaid, are responsible for increasing financial costs.

3. The third reason relates to insurance also. And it relates to litigation. Doctors and hospitals have been forced to insure themselves very heavily because of rampant litigation. The insurance costs that have been foisted on medical professionals because the government has not placed appropriate caps on awards and has not acted to protect doctors from frivolous lawsuits, has significantly raised medical costs.

Don't blame Medicare and Medicaid. They are victims, not causes.

Before I end my missive, I want to say one more thing. I want health care reform. However, I don't want it this year. I want a little bit this year and a little bit next year. I want change over the next 15 or 20 years. I want reform that is thought through, not pushed through. I want legislators to say, "Yes, I read all the sections of this bill and I am voting for it based upon knowledge of it's contents." You said in your newsletter, of the Energy Bill that it was 1,428 pages long and that "no one who voted for it could have known more than a fraction of what was in it."

(To me, that is a very big issue. And I have heard other legislators say this of the health care reform bill. If you and your colleagues are not reading the bills you are voting on, then who is? Who is writing all of these words . . . undergraduates from American University on work study assignment? If the bills are too long to read, then they are too long to vote on.)

I would say that it is time to change the system in more than one way. For me, I would like Republicans and Democrats to put both party politics aside and actually think about what realistic health care might look like in 20 years. My thought is that the best we can hope for might look like something that already exists in Canada and Scandinavia. Perhaps, you could do some research about the best of what is working in those places.

Oh, well, have a good weekend.

Betsy DeGeorge

Monday, August 10, 2009