The films of winter break

Over our break, we’ve been catching up on some watching. I was sadly disappointed with Barbie. It was fun enough, but flatter than I had expected, based on the positive hype. Margot Robbie was wonderful, but I was expecting more in the telling, perhaps. Beverly, Lily and I got to see Oppenheimer in the theater, and I think it would have been fun to try and see both on the same day.

I really enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See. I haven’t read the book yet, but the decor and filming was wonderful. I loved the winding story, and, for me, the only snag was that I didn’t buy the protagonist’s affection for each other at the end, given their short acquaintance. It was too cozy.

We watched The Guilty, which, if I’m remembering correctly, had only 4 speaking actors on screen. This would be a wonderful play, and Jake Gyllenhaal puts so much into this performance.

We also watched Bradley Cooper in Maestro, and I was floored. I loved the score for West Side Story as a kid, but Leonard Bernstein has been on the far periphery of my musical life. For me, this was a great introduction to a complex, charismatic, brilliant artist, and while it’s a little salacious, we view his marriage, family, sexuality, affairs, his energy and drive, and relentless smoking. I am interested to know more about his friendship with Aaron Copland.

At the end, there’s a 6 minute scene where Cooper conducts Mahler’s 2nd symphony, and it’s just stunning. He does an incredible job. I’m so impressed.


Alt Guitar Summit in Big Indian, NY

I attended the alt guitar summit in Big Indian, New York. I got to hear Wayne Krantz, Marc Ribot, Julian Lage, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Bill Frisel among others. I met a lot of nice people. I heard A LOT of Jazz guitar.

If you found this via Google, here’s a disclaimer. I’m glad I went, but for me this is a one-and-done kind of event. It was very expensive – I wasn’t able to camp, which would have saved a lot of money. I tried to get some of my music buddies to go in with me, but no one wanted to. I debated not going, but… I thought I should try something new, and outside of my comfort zone, in the pursuit of being a better improvisor. By the time I registered, they only had a few spaces in the cabins with a roommate. Fortunately, my roommate was a great guy, and we had a lot in common. In fact, just about every attendee there had a lot in common with both of us. Coincidence?

I debated putting this post under the music category, but it expresses too many opinions. If you found this online and are debating attending, then I happily offer the following observations. Please consume with the appropriate grains of sodium.

First, the website claimed all styles were welcome, it’s not just a Jazz event. It was totally, exclusively a Jazz event.

Second, every session that was listed as a masterclass started with the presenter saying “This is supposed to be a masterclass, but, um, I didn’t prepare anything. Does anyone have any question?” Every single time.

Third, it’s highly advertised that there were plentiful spaces for jamming each night, and we were told to not bring amplification, but rather a guitar, extra guitar straps and our own drum sticks. I was excited by bringing drum sticks, figuring I could accompany tons of folks who wanted to jam with a drummer. I should have brought an amp. Frankly, I should have brought a drum kit, since I drove all the way there and had my car with me. The spaces for jamming ended up being overrun (3-4 guitarists on stage per song, does everyone know the same standard? Next!). I went to the “free music” space, and the tiny little amps were garbage, there were no drums or a PA. Had I brought an amp, I could have played with my roommate, demonstrated my pedals, and even gotten some recording done.

Also, the photos in the marketing materials and the website show attendees sitting with guitars in hand at the “workshops.” In reality, we were asked to not bring our guitars to said workshops, and if we did, to please not play them. While I picked up some useful information from listening to Lage and Krantz, this thing has the feel of a Jazz festival, where one is a passive attendee, more than a place to jam and learn from instructors. It is NOT that.

The main organizer is Joel Harrison, of He’s an odd fit on stage with all the other luminaries, and projects a Gilderoy Lockhart vibe, if Lockhart had been a wannabe 1970’s singer songwriter rock dude turned wannabe Jazz dude in a flat cap. Several attendees observed that Joel uses the other guitarist’s celebrity to elevate himself. I had enough yucky interactions with him that he earned his own paragraph in this recap.

The location itself was lovely, and the food, while heavy, was pretty good. So, what did I come home with? A few things.

Marc Ribot

I love watching Marc Ribot perform, and it was fun to talk with him. I attended his lunch where he explained his activist work organizing the non-union Music Worker’s Alliance. His performances crushed it.

Wayne Krantz

I wasn’t familiar with Wayne Krantz, but his approach to improvisation made a lot of sense, and I picked up his book. To me, he thinks a lot like a drummer, and a few lights went on in my theoretical room of improvisation. I’m really glad I got to chat with him about improvising, and looping. He was very kind and encouraging.

And, I got to see Ribot and Krantz on stage together for the very first time.

Julian Lage was a wonder, literally surprising me every 7 seconds or so of his playing. He offered an exercise, which I’ll share with you, here:

Record yourself every day improvising for 60 seconds. During your 60 seconds, do anything that comes to mind. You might pull an idea out of the ether, develop it until around 30 seconds, heat it up at 45 seconds, and conclude at 60. Or, whatever.

Do this every day for a week, or maybe two weeks. Do not listen to any of it. Put the recordings away for several weeks, and then, listen to them altogether.

This should reveal things you like and want to develop, as well as what doesn’t work that well.

I tried this, and I love it.

Lage also echoed something Steve Vai had said to us a few weeks before, which was that we are all worthy to make the music we make. No one else, in truth, can make it. And we are worthy right now – not at some imaginary point in the future when we attain some out of reach skills or ideas.

He also noted that these kinds of events can do harm. The attendees sit in this hall for hours at a time, listening to some of the best guitarists on the planet, and the inevitable self critiquing comparisons dwarf the intended inspiration.

If Rosenwinkel and company are your jam, then this event might be for you. Whether you need a guitar is questionable. You might not. Probably not. It’s really not that kind of event.


Give me Sanctuary

We had an anniversary data. We went to Clavel for the first time, after hearing so much hype about it, and it did not disappoint. We got there right as they opened and there was a line formed around the building.

We had the ceviche with shrimp and sea bass – delicious.

The queso is served bubbling hot in an iron skillet, and has onions and jalapeño. This is my favorite fancy queso so far.

Honestly, the cevechie and queso was enough, but I’m glad we sampled to tacos. It was all delicious, and I love the space. I love cucumber as a garnish.

After that, we walked down to the Charles theater, and watched Sanctuary. This was the first time I’ve ever sat in a theater to watch a film that I have:

  1. No previous indication as to what I’m going to see
  2. Never heard of the film I’m going to watch

That experience alone was fun. And, I think Sanctuary was even more fun.

It’s a dark comedy a wealthy heir and his longtime employee. They struggle for control over their relationship in this twisty duet. The entire film takes place in a hotel suite (with a couple of scenes in the hallway and elevator). It was filmed in just 18 days, and could be a wonderful play. I like the NYT review, and the only thing that I haven’t read in other reviews so far is that I believe the writers understood their subjects in a way that adds a lot depth to the story.

I found myself leaning forward in my seat in the theater, and I’m very happy with the ending. It reminded me strongly of 1982’s Deathtrap (Christopher Reeve, Michael Caine, Dyan Cannon) – not so much because of plot inventions, although Sanctuary certainly delivers a windy road – but maybe more because of the intimate setting and emotional content.

I haven’t seen Christopher Abbott in anything yet, and honestly didn’t recognize Margaret Qualley until I googled her. She was in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as seen here with my man Brad Pitt. As an aside, I saw Once Upon a Time in Hollywood at the Senator Theater when it came out. It’s my favorite Quentin Tarantino film, and I recommend reading the companion novel by the same title. The book isn’t an exact retelling of the movie, strictly speaking, but more like bonus scenes and deep cuts. It explains a lot about the characters, and has a ton of Hollywood folklore, which makes it really fun.

Anyway, Abbott and Qualley really bring Sanctuary home.

We ended the evening out by wandering into Tapas Teatro for their flourless chocolate cake – a delight unto itself, my friends.


Rethinking Modest Art

Here’s a story I’ve been looking forward to sharing with you.

I was scrolling Instagram when I came across this post by Jane Housham:

While in Lisbon, we visited the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT). It’s a gorgeous building, and it’s mostly underground, as in, under the ground. We had a little trouble finding our way to the entrance, as it faces the Targus river. But, enter we did.

We visited Hervé Di Rosa‘s fantastic exhibit of both his work, and materials he collects in his own museum in Sète, France. Here’s a longish video from MAAT where he discusses his journey and history.

Apparently, these folks publish a kind of manifesto for Di Rosa that I have not yet read. But, the publisher has this blurb on their site:

In 1988, Hervé Di Rosa heard a child getting out of his exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, named it “modest Museum of Art.” Delighted with this confusion, he suddenly becomes aware of his taste for every day things: gadgets, action figures, kites, billboards… So many things he wants to legitimize the presence within the art, in the street, into museums: an art which rejects nothing and can be understood by everyone.

The MAAT website says this about Modest Art:

Neither a concept nor a movement, modest art is a way of renewing the definition of art and extending its field to little or not yet considered marginal forms and practices.

Some more, from

What are the Modest Arts  ?

Les Arts Modestes draws the spectator’s attention to marginal creations and the peripheral territories of art. They encourage an open outlook on all forms of art and the free circulation of images and ideas between high culture and popular culture.

The Modest Arts are neither an artistic genre nor a movement; they move the gaze. They are an opening of this gaze, a disposition to curiosity. The Modest Arts concern both mass-produced objects and unique creations. They constitute a kind of super-category that encompasses and connects the margins of each domain. 

 (Hervé Di Rosa, Artpress n° 493, p. 6)

At the turn of the 1980s, the notion of Modest Arts was forged by Hervé Di Rosa to designate a set of objects that evade all classifications and do not belong not to the Great Art.

Popular figures, Action Figures, amateur paintings, devotional objects, tourist objects, advertising signs, body arts, imagery of video games, from here or elsewhere, these abandoned or downgraded productions challenge us and form the labile territory of Arts Modestes, a dynamic space with moving borders, capable of constant renewal.

Is Modest Art really Modest?
Di Rosa says

“‘Modest’ isn’t a criterion of values. ‘Modest’ doesn’t mean ‘humble’ or ‘poor.’ A Superman can be modest. I’m an artist, and when I was younger I really suffered from a certain pretentiousness in the contemporary art world. The adjective ‘modest’ is a reaction to that.”

Di Rosa says Modest Art includes Pop art/culture, which has spread to every corner of the globe. Rather than classifying creations by historical or market value, Modest Art places an emphasis on feelings, desire and all the things that have no place in a theoretical context.

From the same interview, How do you judge what Modest Art is?

Fundamentally, there’s always a personal criterion, the creator’s need to make the object. The second criterion is there’s no preoccupation with art history, in the sense of doing something new, or even being recognised. And the third criterion is the creator must have a feeling of embellishing life, of making something pretty, rather than beautiful, and the one of doing good, even if it’s badly done.

“A lover of modest arts can’t be confused with an art lover. I think to be a lover of modest art, you have to be a collector. Everyone has a sort of personal altar at home.” ~Di Rosa

I had never head of Modest Art until I saw this exhibit. Maybe that’s because Di Rosa and his partner Bernard Belluc at his MIAM museum are the gatekeepers of this “non-movement/non-genre.” The article cited above quotes Di Rosa as saying creative content can move into and away from Modest Art (the snow globe collection, for example). But who decides this? Why, the owners the MIAM museum, of course. Gotta keep selling tickets, if you own a museum, yeah? At this point, I think I should mention there is some controversy surrounding Di Rosa and his 1991 mural in the French Parliament, and according to wikipedia, he “accepted no responsibility for any offense caused by the work nor acknowledged that it could even be honestly perceived as harmful.” I mention that only to say I am aware of that information, but I don’t think it should have a bearing on the ideas I’m about to discuss. Just an FYI.

Something resonated with me at MAAT on a very deep level.

I love this idea of an art which rejects nothing and can be understood by everyone.

Let’s start with the second part: can be understood by everyone. I might phrase that as anyone, as not everyone shares a single unified perception of subjective material, or may have the capacity to understand the artists’ or works’ intention/meaning/purpose. But, I love the inclusive idea of this.

What really excites me is an art which rejects nothing. I consider myself outside of art scenes. I have a community of artist friends and students here, and am friendly with a few galleries, but I do not see my self connected to any particular group or movement. I’ve written that I identify as a surrealist, but it would be more accurate to say I use surrealism to address certain political and environmental concerns.

I began this current leg of my artistic journey in 2007. I started sharing my responses to the now defunct Illustration Friday weekly drawing prompt online. Most of those posts are still on this site, too. The prompt gave me a manageable deadline, and I was able to apply some of my professional production/time management skills to a new creative pursuit, and that simple exercise has served me well.

I started using WordPress around the same time as a means to learn WordPress, and rather than blog about technology, design or (shudder) my personal life, I decided to make a website for art. This completely transformed my life – I had a place to develop and share my art. The potential reach of my little website was unconstrained. I even had something go viral once. Sure, there is an almost infiniate amount of noise and content all competing for our on the web. Yet, I’m still here 16 years later minding this desk, just as empowered as I ever was.

This site is my gallery and home. It’s not just a portfolio site, because prior to 2013, I had the comments enabled, and felt a connection with community that paralleled the feeling I get from in-person interactions. I disabled the comments as my divorce started – I wanted to withdraw for a time, and haven’t felt a need to turn them back on.

In 2015, armed with my gallery and a set of processes for making work, I entered an MFA program. I’ve written about that elsewhere. The academic art world is a container that one voluntarily occupies. It produces historians and critics that are considered experts, yet they do not need to be artists, and often are not. The academic art world is where one is asked to engage in debates such as “is this Art, or is it Craft?” I was told by a professor that I am not an artist, I am a “crafter,” and that this question was a very important one. I asked “Is it? Why is it important?” to which he said it was, but couldn’t explain why it is important. The debate ended on that note. I think it can be a novel (or tedious) debate while one is on campus, and it might help some artists define their identity for themselves. I still identify as an artist, by the way. Ultimately, however, in the real world, I cannot see how this debate matters. You get to decide what you are.

Another professor declared that “the reason your dioramas don’t work is because they are in Altoid boxes. They should be in paper boxes.” Up to that moment, I wasn’t aware that my dioramas “don’t work.” I have obviously used other materials for the containers over the years, but she was wrong and missed the point. Part of the reason they work is BECAUSE they are in Altoid boxes. The humble, accessible, curious little containers are great for my tiny tableaus. After this pronouncement, I was asked to leave the faculty in my studio so they could critique my work in private.

A third professor took me aside after this exchange and earnestly said “Don’t let anyone ever tell you there is no place for humor in art.” I wasn’t privy to that portion of their discussion, and still don’t know exactly what was said. I think I can guess, however. And, of course there is a place for humor in art.

Faculty members are humans, and they only offer opinions – some are helpful, some are not.

Jim Doran,

Upon graduation, I reached out my friend Rebecca Hoffberger, the founder of the American Visionary Art Museum here in Baltimore. AVAM has been designated by Congress as America’s national museum for visionary art, and one of the things I love about the place is that it’s open to all self taught visionary artists. I got my start here, and have been included in two shows. I have a lot of love for this museum, and its mission of raising awareness, inspiring people, and increasing universal consciousness. A lot of “outsider art” museums adhere to showing strictly outsider art, naive art, art brute, and frankly are as out of reach to self taught artists as the big museums. There are parameters around what qualifies one as an outsider artist, and these distinctions help propel the commodification of the “outsider” work by collectors.

I told Rebecca that I hoped I wouldn’t be “voted off” the AVAM island, now that I have a shiny new MFA. Having an MFA doesn’t make one any less visionary, or any less self taught. Rebecca, of course, was retiring, and we left it there. Life moves on, and it seems that it was time for me to move on, too. I thank my lucky stars for AVAM, in any event.

I met a woman in grad school who was an employee of the university, and an accomplished artist in her own right. She worked hard on her extensive body of work, and I loved her ideas. She was never formally allowed to enter the MFA program, and I still don’t understand why that is. Her presence contributed to the cohort I was in, and I enjoyed her intelligence and the work she made. She was/is certainly as worthy as anyone I met in grad school. I’m happy to say she continues to make her work, and why wouldn’t she? She’s an artist.

What if Modest Art was actually a movement?

For me, the Paper Moon Diner in Baltimore, and its accumulation(s) of toys and sculpture is a fine example of Modest Art. I wonder how many thousands of people have been inspired by that place (and AVAM, for that matter)? Many. That’s a lot of good mojo that moves out into the world.

I think Art’s value, including the act of making art, extends far outside the boundaries of New York, Paris, Los Angeles, etc. What if the work that was made for the pure joy of making it was afforded the same respect as powerful social justice art? If the world were a more joyful place, we would need a lot less social justice art. There’s a place and need for both.

I once worked as an expressive therapist in a geriatric hospital/nursing home. I helped people make music, pottery and paintings. There was a retired woman with failing eyesight who always wanted to be an artist. She would grouse at me, and was generally grumpy, and she began painting with me during the last weeks of her life. She painted simply, prolifically, and we all could see the profound joy and a sense of accomplishment it gave her. I held her hand as she passed away, and I believe that being as artist mattered to her, even if for just a few weeks at the end of her life.

For myself, I want people to see my work, and have access to it. That’s why I keep working on my websites. Having had the good experience of exhibiting and screening my stuff in the real world, I know it’s important to me, too. When I figured out that I really need to make things, I wondered if I would die one day, leaving behind a house full of unknown materials. I am glad that hasn’t happened.

An art that rejects nothing, or anyone, and extends its field to little or not yet considered marginal forms and practices sounds good to me. It seems to have vitality, and to be awake. So many parts of our society are currently divided (politics, religion, etc.) that this idea of inclusion by default seems wonderful to me. Do you have an art degree? Welcome! Do you collect bread ties and make clothes with them? Come on in! You haven’t studied art but make your own work? We are glad you are here.

Making honest work leads to finding one’s unique voice, and that brings self awareness, and a kind of “presence” that I think most humans crave. Do we need art movements and genres to be artists? Of course not. Could it help? Maybe.

I really like parts of the Modest Arts ideology: being a collector, finding artistic value in unconventional places, existing both within and outside the contemporary art world, existing in a space parallel to the art worlds acceptance or rejection, and for me, living in an artistic life that is authentic, honest, joyful, humorous and full of wonder.



We saw Inside last night, and then came home and read reviews. I don’t think this is a spoiler, as you get the premise from the trailer. During a heist gone wrong, an art thief gets trapped in a modern, “smart” apartment for, it seems, months. But read on at your own risk.

There really aren’t many good reviews, at least, I haven’t read any. Of the bad reviews, I agree that:

  • The film is hollow
  • Another director could have made something great out of this
  • It would have been interesting to see a slicker, more polished actor portray Dafoe’s character. He is gritty and doesn’t have far to fall, in other words.

I take issue with the idea that this film is not worth watching. It is totally worth watching. It’s mostly a one man show, Willem Dafoe as Nemo works the material with mastery. There is room for movies like this – we need more films like this.

As Nemo confronts his situation, I was thinking of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, and could see this being an amazing novella under Auster’s pen. The director is mostly unsuccessful in using the camera to bring any depth to Nemo’s predicament, or in portraying Nemo’s internal struggles, his character, etc.

Something that the other reviews I’ve read missed: Inside provides commentary on art commodification, and the NYC art world. The choices made by the collector, the items to be stolen, and Nemo’s relationship to the apartment and the works contained inside are worth considering. It also hints at madness as it relates to vision and art, although weakly. It’s subtle, but I think if these ideas are teased out, the film might reveal that is has legs. That said… there are problems.

This film places us directly and intimately in a confined space with Nemo, and as such, the following plot holes are quite glaring:

  1. Nemo is clearly a sophisticated thief – he, and his “man in the chair” number 3, have done a lot of homework to get into this apartment. They have a helicopter! So, why wouldn’t Nemo wear gloves? And a mask? The odds that Nemo has a clean record seem very low.
  2. Why didn’t number 2 or 3 come find Nemo, once it was clear the police weren’t involved, yet Nemo has disappeared?
  3. The “Owner” is an architect. How is it that such a sophisticated, well thought out dwelling wouldn’t notify the owner or building attendant that the system(s) have failed? Given that the fridge plays Hey Macarena through the whole apartment if left open too long, wouldn’t the apartment have fail safe systems, too? And, since Nemo disabled all the speakers in the place to silence the deafening alarm, how can we hear the fridge so loudly?
  4. Nemo doesn’t notice the smoke detectors for… a very long time. Again, unlikely. Also, I would have thought someone as smart as Nemo would have searched every inch of the apartment and found the secrets a lot sooner, like, by day two.
  5. The water is turned off, yet somehow the sprinkler system for the plants works. What?
  6. The electricity is on – but, there is no Microwave?
  7. Nemo works to move a very heavy table from upstairs to downstairs. The table top seems to be marble or concrete. I believe he might have been able to break a window with it.
  8. When Nemo talks to a pigeon, he taps a window and the bird jumped. I think that glass would be breakable.
  9. Why doesn’t the building manager/Owner representative/fire department respond to the fire alarm?
  10. Where does all the water go after the sprinkles go off, and why didn’t anyone notice?
  11. How did Nemo defecate what seems to be his own body weight, on a few condiments and some pasta?
  12. The passage of time could have been marked more clearly – we see snow and fireworks, but they are outside the apartment, and I don’t know why that needed to be subtle, when it could have enhanced the story.
  13. I doubt very much those bolts could have been removed with chair legs.
  14. The hallucinations were gratuitous and unnecessary. They only detract from the films stronger parts.
  15. The biggest crime: Not enough set up regarding Nemo or the Owner, and while we hear Nemo’s voice over the ending credits the ending was completely unsatisfactory. Lazy, pretending to be craft?

Yes, the problems outweigh the film’s strengths (Dafoe’s performance aside). Definitely a streaming option, as it’s more fun to think about what is wrong with the picture, than it’s few strong points.


That’s Wonkers!

There is a piece in yesterday’s New York Times about how Puffin Books and Roald Dahl’s estate are set to release newly edited editions of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Matilda, ” “James and the Giant Peach” and seven other titles in an effort to make them “less offensive and more inclusive.” For example, references to “mothers” and “fathers” have been updated to “parents” or “family.”

From what I’ve read in the past about Dahl and his thoughts on censorship, I don’t think he would approve. Does that matter? Should it matter?

This is primarily a financial decision, calculated to sell more of Dahl’s work by making it seem more “inclusive.” Another example of financial opportunism comes to mind, only it was presented under the veil of artistic license, and not under the banner of social justice.

In 1997, George Lucas released new versions of the original Star Wars trilogy (episodes IV, V, VI). I read, at the time, that he would never release the original versions again, stating that the new versions matched his original vision and intent that he was unable to execute some twenty odd years before. Of course, he did release the originals in a raw, unmastered form on DVD as bonus discs to the second DVD release of the new versions. Anything to get fans to shell out a few extra bucks for yet “another new version” of the same films, right?

What’s more, there were the theatrical releases of the new versions, which drew many children-fans-as-adults (and their own children) to the theaters to enjoy seeing these on the big screen. A perfect set up for episodes I-III, and a box office sweep to boot.

If it seems like I took all this personally, I did.

When I was a boy, my dad took me to see Star Wars. I hadn’t seen a commercial for it on television, and we went on the recommendation of a neighbor who thought I would like it. I knew it had something to do with outer space, but that was it. From the opening sequence to the ending, I was speechless with wonder. I loved every second of it. To young me, it was perfect. When we came home, the real world seemed a little dimmer to me. I wanted to get into the world I had just experienced. I made drawings of what I had seen to try and hold on to it. I haven’t had that experience since. I’m not alone, either – lots of kids my age had the exact same reaction and relationship to A New Hope.

That summer, and during a second run of the film, I saved my money and rode my bike to the theater as many times as I could. I think I saw it about 17 times or so.

Seeing Star Wars as a young person made a permanent impression on me, and has certainly influenced the arc of my life. That seems like a very dramatic thing to write when I read it back, but it’s true.

Lucas didn’t just remaster the old films, he changed them, re-edited them, and added scenes, music and effects. Lucas maintains that it is his prerogative to do this, and I suppose it is. Yet, I haven’t rewatched any of the modified versions since he changed them. I did not find the changes to be an improvement. They did not add significant value to the work. It ruined them for me. And then he ruined everything else with episodes I-III, but mesa thinks that’s a different matter.

When art becomes embedded into our culture, the original work (no matter how brilliant or flawed) no longer belongs to the artist. I don’t mean trademarks and copyrights – I mean the non-monetary value of the thing itself. Lucas can continue to ruin his films all he wants (and he will certainly continue to grind out plastic Star Wars crap destined for our landfills because there are still a few pennies to be made), but I maintain that the originals, or some form of them, belong to us.

When I go to see a band that I liked in the 80’s, they play their fan favorites, and any hits they might have had back then. Bands like Fishbone earn their living from live shows, and they have to play “Party at Ground Zero” every night. And, bands like Fishbone and the Cure seem to genuinely enjoy playing their catalog, given the intensity they bring to each show. As I watched the Psychedelic Furs play “Ghost in you,” I wondered if they are sick of those songs. Certainly, Richard Butler is in a different space in his life. Does he still feel the way he did when he wrote those tunes? Songs are time capsules, both for their author, and for the listener. Songs evoke a particular place in the past. That’s part of their magic. I don’t think replacing the original version of “Ghost in you” (or whatever) to match the songwriters current state of mind, or to make use of some new technology, would fly.

The original A New Hope and what it meant to young me, belongs to me. It should not be edited away. Nor should it be made unavailable. The same holds true with Roald Dahl’s work. Many of us grew up with these stories, warts and all. I have vivid memories of listening to my fifth grade elementary school teacher read James and the Giant Peach during school recess, and I delighted to find myself transported into Dahl’s story. What’s more, as I reflect upon that memory, James and the Giant Peach helps to mark a place in time during my life. Just as A New Hope did. Dahl, Mark Twain, and many others mark time and history with their work. We don’t have to continue to read their words, or even publish new copies, but I’m not sure anyone has the right to change them.

As an aside, I think Gene Wilder is the definitive Willy Wonka. I don’t much care for the Burton/Depp version (we’ll see what Timothée Chalamet can do), but the great part is Burton and Warner Bros. gave us new interpretations without modifying or eliminating the original.

Please note that I’m not making commentary on the social upheaval we as a country are grappling with, for many changes are long overdue. For my part, I know black lives matter, LGBTQ+ people deserve the same rights as non-LGBTQ+ people, and women should have control over their bodies. I do not think there should be billionaires, and everyone should have the same access to excellent healthcare and education. I actively participate in my own examination of identity, bias and privilege, and am better for it.

This post is commentary on creative censorship, and a culture’s right to its art.

Does art have a right to evolve? I think it does, just as we as people have a right to evolve. As humans, we must evolve and take care of each other, all of Earth’s animals and inhabitants, and the environment, or we won’t be here much longer.

I don’t necessarily mind new edits to writing, films and art. But please call them “new editions” or something similar, and leave the originals intact. Changing the original material to suit a private agenda reminds me of the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984 rewriting history, only someone is tampering with our culture materials, and not political and military history.

It seems to me that editing Dahl’s stories posthumously will do little to advance the over arching conversations around social justice. I believe that the truly harmful work will be (and should be) weeded out by the culture itself, and not people hoping to earn a few more bucks.