I have never taken anything in a book to heart that was not somehow confirmed in my ordinary experience — and did not, to some extent, reform and redeem that experience. Nor have I had any experience of high art that was not somehow confirmed in my experience of ordinary culture — and did not, to some extent, reform and redeem that.
When I was a kid, books and paintings and music were all around me, all the time, but never in the guise of culture….
The whole cultural enterprise, when I was growing up, was at once intimate and a little mysterious. It took place at home, in other people’s homes, and in little stores. Everywhere my family went to live, there were bookstores and record shops, art galleries and jazz clubs, where otherwise normal people did all these cool things. And nobody knew anything about it. My teachers didn’t know about it. The newspapers, my scoutmasters, the television, my friends, nobody knew about it.
I chose to dwell in that underground empire for the first forty-seven years of my life — in record stores, honky tonks, art bars, hot-rod shops, recording studios, commercial art galleries, city rooms, jazz clubs, cocktail lounges, surf shops, bookstores, rock-and-roll bars, editorial offices, discos, and song factories. I lived the freelance life, in other words, until 1987 when, faced with the unavailability of health insurance, I began to take teaching gigs in universities. There I discovered that, according to the masters of my new universe, all the cruelties and inequities of this civilization derived from the greed and philistinism of shopkeepers, the people who ran these little stores, who bought things and sold them, as I had done.
I found this amazing, because the problem for me had never been who sold the dumb object, or bought it, but how you acquired the privilege of talking about it — how you found people with whom you could talk about it. I wondered what my new masters would have thought of Sumpter Bruton, a tasty jazz drummer by night and shopkeeper by day, who ran the little record store where I learned about everything from bel canto to Blind Lemon to Erik Satie, who loved every kind of noise that human beings made — with the possible exception of the noises made by Neil Diamond. And what would they have thought of Harold Garner and David Smith, whose bookstore was their baby and the site upon which I discovered Twentysix Gasoline Stations and Logique du Sens, who would order weird books because they thought I might be interested in them, and never tell me if they weren’t returnable? The books I didn’t buy would just lie around, gathering dust, until I figured that out. And then I would buy them for cost, and cheap at the price.
The best thing about little stores was that if you were a nobody like me, and didn’t know anything, you could go into one of them and find things out. People would talk to you, not because you were going to buy something, but because they loved the stuff they had to sell. The guy in the Billabong Surf Shop, I can assure you, wants to talk about his boards. Even if you want to buy one, right now, he still wants to talk about them, will talk you out into the street, you with the board under your arm, if he is a true child of the high water.
And I love that kind of talk, have lived on it and lived by it, writing that kind of talk for magazines. To me, it has always been the heart of mystery, the heart of the heart: the way people talk about loving things, which things, and why. Thus it was, after two years on university campuses without hearing anything approximating this kind of talk, it finally dawned on me that in this place that we had set aside to nurture culture and study its workings, culture didn’t work. Because in universities, books and paintings and music were not “cool stuff.” In ordinary society, they were the occasions for gossip — for opinions, where there is no truth. In school, they were the occasion for mastery where there is no truth — an even more dangerous proposition — although my colleagues, being masters, had no choice but to behave masterfully. Exempted by their status from the whims of affection and the commerce of opinion, professors could only mark territory from the podium, with footnotes, and speak in the language of authority about things which they did not love.
This book is about other, more ordinary uses for art and books and music — about what they seem to do and how they seem to do it on a day-to-day basis. It is not about how they should work, or must work, just about the way they seem to have worked in my experience, and the ways that I have seen them work for others.
— from Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy, via Lee Lady
Dave Hickey’s (old?) faculty page at UNLV.
An interview in The Believer.
A very strangely formatted interview with Lee Klein in A Gathering of the Tribes.
My Lunch with Dave Hickey, from the Los Angeles Times.
Hickey’s argument, essentially, is that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. It depends on a direct, one-to-one relationship between the viewer and the image. Once we allow meaning to figure into a work’s value, we become slaves to the establishment that’s in the business of “enlightening” the masses: the museums, universities, foundations and publications Hickey terms, collectively, “the therapeutic institution.” He’s not opposed to museums altogether, but he prefers they be privately funded—governments should deal with our wickedness, he says, paraphrasing Thomas Paine, not our pleasures.
–Jennie Yabroff, “Dave Hickey: Reenter the Dragon,” Newsweek
Well, I am interested in what’s beautiful to me. I’m not a civil servant. I feel betrayed by our cultural institutions because they aren’t giving me any joy—any experiences that I may know in my body and confirm in my consciousness. A Marxist would call that subjectivity, I guess, but looking at art is a physical activity for me. So, let me make a distinction here between beauty and “the beautiful.” The beautiful is a social construction. It’s a set of ambient community standards as to what constitutes an appropriate visual configuration. It’s what we’re supposed to like. Beauty is what we like, whether we should or not, what we respond to involuntarily. So beauty is not the product of communities. It creates communities. Communities of desire, if you wish. I entered the art world, for instance, as part of a community which thought Warhol’s flower paintings were drop-dead gorgeous. I saw them in Paris. I thought they were fucking killer, which went against everything that I had been taught. Then, I met other people who loved those paintings, too. Stevie Mueller, Ed Ruscha, Peter Schjeldahl, and Terry Allen. We constituted a community created by our subjective, bodily response to those dumb paintings. I still live in that community today, and in the community of people who think Robert Mitchum was pretty cool.
–Dave Hickey, interview with Saul Ostrow in BOMB Magazine
Watching a video of another ridiculous lecture by Dave Hickey at SVA, one is not surprised to see that the bulbous phony is still up to his old tricks. Hickey is a guy who tickles his audience with hoary signifiers, constantly preens his own self-regard and takes an obvious theme, that is also false, and gently beats it to death.
In his current dispensation, he begins by making a joke about not turning off his iPod during the lecture so he can listen to T-Rex. Well, people just love to cite Mark Bolan’s band as a lost reservoir of genius, and Hickey’s audience giggles in recognition. A less pretentious sophisticate might have referenced Nazz or the Flamin’ Groovies. Then Hick the Dick compares his hair to Einstein and refers to the with-it philosophe Peter Lanborn Wilson by his nickname “Tim” and wonders if people are happier in Bhutan “when Uma Thurman’s father is there.”
–Charlie Finch, “Still a Fraud,” artnet