Monday, June 29, 2015

COLUMN: Naked Final

I am not a deep thinker.

The other day, I was asked to join a book club... and politely declined. I felt bad about saying no, but book clubs just aren't my scene. It's not that I don't enjoy reading -- my Amazon Kindle account can certainly attest to that. And it's not that I don't have time -- frankly, I should be grateful for any excuse to shut the TV off these days.

The truth is, I don't want to join a book club because I'm certain I'd have nothing to contribute.

As a rule, symbolism and allegory and everything that makes "great art" great just flies past me. To me, a good story doesn't have to be something that speaks to the human condition on eight simultaneous allegorical levels of understanding. To me, a good story has some laughs, some heart, and maybe a car chase or two.

Most of my friends are artsy intellectual types. As such, they flock to artsy intellectual stuff. I have friends who are way into black-and-white foreign films that make zero sense to me. I know people who actually enjoy opera. I, on the other hand, thought that "High School Musical 3" was a little better than "High School Musical 2" but didn't hold a candle to "High School Musical 1."

You get where I'm coming from? Maybe I don't recognize art that speaks to the human condition because I don't especially care about the human condition (unless you're talking about MY sorry condition when the alarm clock rings at 7:30 a.m. on a Monday morning.) I yearn to be sophisticated, profound, and worldly -- but it's just not my nature. Some folks pick up the paper and carefully study local and world news of great importance. I tend to pick up the paper and carefully study whether or not Garfield still hates Mondays.

But I've come to discover that there ARE occasional advantages to going through life as a shallow simpleton. It turns out that when you don't really care about seeking out deeper meaning from art, it's a lot easier to distinguish true art from pretentious pap.

I once attended a performance of a piece written for "koto and trashcan." Imagine a room full of art lovers in rapt attention while one guy expertly played a koto (which was admittedly kinda cool) while another guy climbed a stepladder and flicked pennies randomly into a metal trashcan. To many in attendance, this was high art. To me, this was a guy who figured out how to be cool by flicking pennies into a trashcan.

I might not appreciate high art, but I sure know how to be amused by it. I just got done reading a wire piece headlined, "Nude college final causes parent outrage," a story I came across out of sheer journalistic curiosity and not at all because I have a Google news alert set up for the words "nude" and "college." It turns out there's a visual arts class being taught at UCSD called "Performing the Self," whatever that means. And the final exam in this class happens to be a performance-art recital where all of the students are expected to perform... in the nude.

This graded final exam is called "The Erotic Self." Explaining the class to the blog Inside Higher Ed, Associate Professor Ricardo Dominguez said that "the prompt is to speak about or do a gesture or create an installation that says, 'what is more you than you are.'" Already I like this guy's commitment to his pretension.

"The students can choose to do the nude gesture version or the naked version," he went on. "The naked gesture means you must perform a laying bare of your 'traumatic' self, and students can do this gesture under a rug or in any way they choose - but they must share their most fragile self... the nude self gesture takes place in complete darkness, and everyone is nude with only one candle for each performance... a student may decide to focus on their big toe, their hair, an armpit, as being a part of their body that is 'more them than they are.'"

That's right, Californians. Your tax dollars are officially hard at work training tomorrow's leaders in the fine art of naked armpit gesturing.

My shallow simpleton mind has LOTS of questions here, so let's try to break it down. These students are learning how to "perform the self," and a key part in doing so is to writhe around naked while other college kids watch. Nope, nothing skeevy there. I don't see how parents could possibly have any issues with this sort of activity.

First off, if this is an upper-level class in your field, I have to ask: What exactly IS your major? Are you going for a B.A. in Advanced Douchery? Contemporary Snobbery? If this is your hipster idea of fine art at its most sophisticated, I'm pretty sure I want to punch your face.

Weirder yet, this isn't just any old performance, it's an EXAM. You're being GRADED on your public nudity. How exactly does THAT work? How is some professor able to judge your "most fragile self"? Isn't art different things to different people? Who's to say what's art and, in this case, what's a giant steaming pile of naked cow poo? What's a more realistic artistic statement: someone who flops around naked on stage for five minutes or someone who grabs a candle, holds it up to their armpit, and yells, "Smell it! SMELL IT! IT'S MORE ME THAN ME! INHALE MY TRAUMATIC SELF!"

Clearly, I'm missing something here. To me, this sounds like little more than an ideal way for a pervy teacher to check out the student bodies of his student body. But don't worry, it's not actually THAT weird. Why? Because during the "gesture," the professor's nude, too. And that certainly doesn't take an already questionable exercise and make it twenty times skeevier, nooooo.

To his credit, the professor claims to have held the same nude final for eleven years without complaint, which means that either his former students are too scarred for life to ever speak of it again, or perhaps the deep art of naked armpit gesticulation is above and beyond comprehension by shallow simpletons like us.

All I know is that if that if the attainment of true artistic depth is as simple as shaking your nether-regions in front of a judgemental middle-aged guy, then let me tell all of you aspiring female artists about the one-on-one independent study class that I'll be teaching throughout the remainder of the summer. It's called -- umm, lemme think here -- Interpersonal Intimacy Behavioral Studies 101. Classes will help you self-actualize your inner expressionism, which will then be judged during a final exam where we will make out on my couch to the music of Marvin Gaye.

I think we can all agree that's better than any book club. Maybe I'm deeper than I thought.

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