Downtown, The Young Ones Are Growing
At The Museu Picasso in Barcelona, the collections are shown in chronological groups, giving patrons the opportunity to see the works as they relate to one another within Picasso’s “periods”. Picasso was prolific and it is a real treat to walk through a museum dedicated completely to his work, to see how his aesthetic shifted throughout his life, how ideas and palettes and themes emerged and folded in on themselves and re-emerged in later works.
There is a room in the museum that holds a series of ink drawings from the last decade or so of his life, when he had achieved an easy, reflexive output that came fast and steady. The drawings consist mainly of reclining nude women, dwarfs, horses, and lots of buttholes.
The way he drew eyes during this period was consistent – ovals, filled in completely, with choppy lines radiating outward. The only way I can think to describe them is that they looked dazzled, shimmering. He was just as consistent with the buttholes he drew, which seemed to play prominently into each of these drawings. They were simply drawn, usually just a small dot with the same sort of radiating ink lines as the eyes. If you were to walk quickly around the room and wanted to play a rapid art assessment game called “Name That Painting”, you would certainly have to figure in the buttholes, and as you walked around the room the titles you generated would likely read: “Horse with Butthole”, “Two Ladies and Three Buttholes”, “Horse, Dwarfs, and Buttholes”, “Still Life With Buttholes”, etc.
I had the good fortune to visit the museum in 2000, and the only thing I enjoyed more than the art itself was listening to the incredulity manifesting itself in loud, running commentary by elderly Americans that were part of a tour group with the Museu on their itinerary. One lady who found herself in “The Butthole Period” room announced loudly to her husband that “THIS IS DISGUSTING,” and that she would be waiting for him near the gift shop, ready to leave. With that, she harumphed right out of the room. Mr. Husband clasped his hands behind his back and leaned in closer to a drawing, seemingly looking right into the dazzling starfish of a bull, on the back of which two dwarfs were making love. He didn’t seem to be in any rush to leave. He was enjoying the art.
What is it about discomfort that forces people into a position of judgment? Does this intensify as we age? Anecdotal evidence would seem to suggest that this may be true, the age old cliche about the degeneration of values, or what people might even consider shocking, etc., simply becoming the shifting burden of judgment, like a mantle we collectively earn (inherit?) as we age. How soon until we stop thinking about “why” Picasso might have made the butthole so predominate in his later ink drawings? How soon until we stop laughing about it because it’s simply funny to see so many buttholes all at once, in a museum no less? How soon until we start averting our eyes, because the sheer volume of deliberately drawn and rendered buttholes makes us uncomfortable?
This arc might play out in our music listening as well. Do our tastes become refined as we age? Why do so many punk rockers trade the brash vituperation of their youth for acoustic folk when they slow down and get paunchy? Do we have to trade in our King Missile records for an accruing pile of NPR membership drive tote bags? Do we tuck away our Dr. Demento comps into dusty attics and fill the void on our CD shelves with Joanna Newsom and Hindemith?
The answer is most assuredly no. We can keep the spark alive. We can explore discomfort and revel in youthful abandon. We can reinvent fart jokes and find faith in the fact that Pablo Picasso may have been really earnest when he drew all of those buttholes, that he was painstakingly rendering some notion of confrontation between art and its beholders; or he may have thought that buttholes were really funny to draw, and did so gleefully, chuckling every time he pushed his pen down to make a central dot and then slashed out those trademark radiating lines.
This week’s playlist is an exploration of discomfort, age, and the confrontation of art. It features the purely adolescent music of The Grown-Ups, a short lived Santa Monica punk band who embody everything that is great about making music in high school. The music is all over the place; the playing is urgent and informed by touchstones like Sonic Youth and Pavement and Teenage Jesus and The Jerks; the delivery is snotty, literate, thoughtful, and made to distress. The fact that The Grown-Ups are an all-girl punk band brings another layer to the discussion, because we have gender norms to deal with as well. It’s the listening equivalent of looking at a drawn butthole. Is it art? Is it trash? Is it the product of disturbed minds, immature minds? Why don’t they learn to play their instruments all pretty-like? Why don’t they keep their natural hair color, they’d be so much prettier? As a thirty-four year old, is it appropriate for me to listen to this? Is it there to provoke me? Is it staring at me while I stare at it? Who cares?
The Grown-Ups – Milk Carton
2. Ode to the B-Dogs
2. Nick & Nick
4. Discard Me
5. Espricious Noises
7. Milk Carton
9. David’s Door
11. George Washington Bridge
13. Bambi Slaughter
14. Domestic Arrogance