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[Xmca-l] Elaborations on Nissen's Could Life Be...

Hi everyone,

So after doing a more careful reading, of the Nissen paper, which mike sent to the list last week, today I have a better grasp at what was bothering me about it.

It is a carefully thought out paper, and informative. I like the way Nissen thinks about the problem. I don't think I'm crediting nor discrediting Nissen's observations, but offering a different way to look at the video project and how it is represented as therapy. Is this view informed by Foucault, or by Vygotsky, or by Lave, etc? I'm not certain.

That is, my comments are not framed in a theoretical frame specifically, but rather something I'm responding to as in light of my own experiences about making artwork and activities that seek out the aesthetic, alongside the invisible narratives that we carry around in society to describe and theorize about those activities.

Again, just t be clear, I am not against forms of therapy for drug addiction, if the work that is fantastic.  Also, I don't presume to be informed about the difficulties facing the drug addict or the social workers that help her. I believe those are very private spaces, and we should do all we can to ensure that addicts can survive stigmatization, so they can successfully rebuild their lives.

Instead, my commentary has more to do with questions of the spaces we have left for art making and aesthetic experiences and how we build narratives about them. And what is it that we are actually telling ourselves?

So one of the things that I wondered upon my second reading is what would happen (as a thought sculpture) if instead of making a music video with a professional videographer, etc. that Berrin was given an entrepreneurial project to start a business? Say, to start a bakery, or a dog-walking service, or a yoga studio? I don't know, it doesn't matter what, but it's her choice. And let's say she had professional bankers and accountants and business coaches helping her to make this dream real, this business that she decided upon, that was 'user-directed.'

Or let's say, she could be invited to go to college and she was given a kickass Vygotskian tutor and other academic advisors that were to help her negotiate through the experience of going through college and earning a degree and finding a vocation or career meaningful to her? With the idea she gets to direct her learning.

Would these therapies work any different than the music video?​ And how would these therapies measure up to a more faithful understanding of the ZPD? In terms of learning spaces? Learning zones with more capable others?

Would the Nissen paper change? If so, how would it change?

I'm not pushing the startup solution or the college solution as "the best of breed" in therapies, but if we were to swap that out from video production, we could see that she might have something after the activity was complete and it might provide the kind of external structure that might successfully empower her to pull herself out of a life of addiction. It might be successful because she was involved in creating that structure for herself (with help), something she may not have learned in her family of origin.

Why might this be successful over making a video? Because she would have more options after the project is over, that's why. Compare this with what does she have after she creates the music video? There's a display around the web and her 15 minutes of fame, but then what?? I feel a sense of betrayal in this form of therapy, but then again, I don't know her entire situation.

Still this bothered me.

What else?

Well, I already expounded upon the kitsch aspects of remake of the MTV Madonna video,and the hypocrisy we hold in watching this video feeling we have succeeded in rehabilitating the addict bringing her back into society. But on to a more poignant criticism, it has this narrative so cleanly maps on to (predictable) narratives about how artists are represented as drug addicts, as marginalized people who aren't fully functioning in society, and so we must give them crayons and paper so at least they are doing something meaningful with their bodies and minds. They are seen as children having temper tantrums and making art is like a straightjacket in a padded room where they won't hurt themselves.

In fact at my school the last term I was there, I'd heard it was called "a finishing school for rich drug addicts," all of which I am not. Had I heard that when I applied, I would likely not have gone there. I did get a great education, but if that is what it was known as, that's pretty pathetic marketing.

The narrative of the marginalized dysfunctional artist is particularly virulent, which the Nissen paper depicts quite well without meaning to do so. It is this that I find intriguing because the more I dig into that I can argue how art and the aesthetic are being systematically removed as devalued activities in our society, except for those who are marginalized or are somehow privileged to color with crayons and paper so they do not hurt themselves. Art is only for therapy for the mentally unstable or those who have lost control over their lives, so as to soothe them.

What does this say about us?

It is this coupling of aesthetic search activity as therapy was off-putting. It is true that doing these activities can be therapeutic, but any hobby can be therapeutic, or sports, or journaling, or talking to a dear friend: we find therapy in many different ways. That is a part of human experience. We are in constant need of therapy because of the fundamental human problem if existence and working it all out.

Regardless, there is a valid argument to be made that making art that goes far far beyond catharsis. We frequently don't possess these kinds of observations or narratives about art, because the narrative of the marginalized artist tells us art-making is not considered real work.

To bring this more to life to this audience, I'd like to make a juxtaposition to how frequently academic work is not seen as real work. There is nothing likely to upset you more and make you defensive, fellow xmcars, than to revisit that representation over and over again in social narratives. How do you fight that phantom, a phantom with no body, which has become more problematic with the advent of neoliberal depictions of "What is a University?"

So I might not be commenting deeply about Nissen's critique of CHAT approaches to social work and healing drug addiction, but there is something problematic in the equating of art making (in the prototypical form of the music video as displayed on a website as verification of an effective form of therapy) with experiences for only marginalized members of society.

Can the mimicry of celebrity (as I consider to be the effective produce of video project) really help the drug addict? Is this not similar to taking a homeless person out to get a nice meal at a fancy restaurant to verify my own charity, only to abandon the homeless person after I pay the bill?

So I hope I've provided a more grounded critique on this, which may explain my initial, somewhat charged and perhaps inarticulate reactions. I suppose I needed time to consider the almost invisible narrative woven into the paper. ​

Kind regards,