Friday, February 23, 2018

Miscellaneous: Mass School Shootings--Here We are Again

Personally, I believe the 2nd Amendment doesn't (and was never intended to) guarantee an unrestricted right to all citizens to own any kind of firearm. I believe the NRA and gun rights supporters have perverted the meaning of the 2nd Amendment, but, let's set that aside for a moment. Let's assume it DOES guarantee that right. If it does, then, on the face of it, it imposes no restrictions on the kind of arms citizens are allowed to bear (throwing out the well-regulated militia idea as well, for the sake of argument and ignoring the fact that "bear arms" was never, until recently, understood to be the equivalent of "own a gun"). Logically, that means all US citizens have a constitutional right to own and use ANY kind of arms--simply, "to bear arms"; this is the NRA position. There seems to be a logical inconsistency here, though. Why stop at an AR-15 then? US citizens, by this interpretation have the right to own bazookas, cruise missiles, even ICBMs with nuclear warheads, if they can afford to buy such a thing. Further then, the authorities are failing to uphold the Constitution if they refuse citizens the right to buy nuclear weapons, cruise missiles, bazookas, machine guns--anything.

Crazy? Maybe, but even the Lapierres of the world seem to balk at claiming an individual's right to own an ICBM. To own a cruise missile maybe? Probably not. To own a bazooka? Maybe: I think there are probably a few gun rights activists who are angry they can't own a bazooka. So, even the staunchest gun advocates draw a line SOMEWHERE--somewhere just beyond a bazooka, perhaps. If so, that means even gun rights advocates recognize a class of weapons the ownership of which is NOT protected by the 2nd Amendment--that is, that the 2nd Amendment does not guarantee an individual's right to own ANY kind of weapon, that there are exceptions, limits. This is the common ground between gun control advocates and gun rights advocates.

I have to wonder: on what basis do gun advocates concede (if they do) that the Constitution does not guarantee citizens the right to own certain kinds of arms--say, a cruise missile? Presumably they would acknowledge that it is because such a missile is a weapon of war designed solely for the purpose of killing many human beings quickly. That suggests an obvious question: is an AR-15 different? I don't think it is. Someone please explain to me how an AR-15 or similar small arm is different in that respect from a bazooka, a cruise missile, a nuclear ICBM?

But, of course, this is all nonsense. The Amendment was written to protect state militias (well-regulated state militias) from the potential threat of a tyrannical government wielding a standing army against the people, and, historically, "to bear arms" has almost always meant "military service," not "own a gun." The Second Amendment says nothing about a private right to own weapons, and virtually any child can see that a right to the possession of anything has no place trumping the right to live in safety and with piece of mind.  It's time to take back the 2nd Amendment.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Art I'm Looking At: Robert Rauschenberg and Walker Evans at SF MOMA

Robert Rauschenberg, Collection (1954/1955)
San Francisco Museum of Art
I recently saw the Robert Rauschenberg retrospective now on view at SF MOMA (November 18, 2017 through March 25, 2018). I think the most striking thing about the show is the impression it gives that Rauschenberg was, essentially, a collage artist. Often his work actually was collage (or assemblage, the three-dimensional version of collage), but even when he was not making collages or assemblages, his sensibility remained that of a collagist to a remarkable degree; it was his instinct to juxtapose fragments of things.

Robert Rauschenberg, From
34 Illustrations for Dante's Inferno (1958-1960)
He came into his own at the height of abstract expressionism and matured as pop art emerged, but, looking at his work, he seems to be of neither movement. He worked large, but I don't feel he was concerned about the idea of the heroic painter. Although he incorporated commercial images and everyday objects into his work, I doubt his intent was to comment on consumerism and consumption or on how the media represent the world. He was an aesthete. What seems revolutionary was that he succeeded in created so much visually engaging work without using pretty materials. Up close, many of the pieces are messy (sometimes made out of actual trash), but ultimately they always seem to be about composition. Radical approaches and materials never trump composition.

Walker Evans
Garage in Southern City Outskirts, Atlanta Georgia (1936, printed 1972)
I also saw the large Walker Evans retrospective (closed February 4)—one of those shows that puts the best known work of an artist into perspective, teaching that the most familiar work is not necessarily the most representative. I had seen mostly Walker's familiar depression-era photographs before, but not a lot else, I realize now.

Walker Evans
Tin Snips by J. Wiss and Sons Co. (1955)
The exhibition looked at Walker's career from the perspective of his interest in the everyday, his implicit rejection of the formal, highly aestheticized conception of photography in the work of photographers like Stieglitz. Walker was interested in the things around him and in revealing them as they were. I think it was Ansel Adams who once said you don't "take" a photograph, you "make" a photograph, emphasizing the control of the photographer over the viewed world that resides in the finished image; the photographer is seen as a manipulator of the seen world, but Walker would have rejected that idea. His interest was in recording the present, taking what was there for what it was. A comparison with Atget is an obvious one, but I wasn't aware that Walker was conscious of and inspired by Atget. Apparently he was. Walker had seen and studied Atget's photographs (several of which appear in the show near similar views by Evans). I especially enjoyed a series of photographs of everyday objects shot almost as if intended for a sales catalog, such as the tin snips shown here. An enlightening show that was well worth seeing.  
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