Thursday, April 29, 2010

"Choosy Mothers Chose Jif", And Who Makes Authority?


Welcome to the Cooper studio, Jefferson, Iowa, on a fine Thursday, April 29th.

Today we are going to talk about authority. More specifically, we'll talk about what makes it. Yesterday's conversation started with toast, of the burnt variety, someone wasn't paying attention to the details. Peanut butter toast is the headliner today, possibly because I just consumed a piece. While my slice of bread was languishing between the heater coils of my counter top machinery I happened to read the label of the peanut butter jar. Immediately my mind brought forth their advertising slogan, "Choosy Mothers Choose Jif". (to give equal time, do I need to mention that "Skippy is the peanutiest"?) What makes either of them the peanut butter authority?

As you can clearly see that brings us to our subject of the day! We've got several varieties:

1. authority by power: bigger, tougher, meaner, I can tell you what to do, and enforce that you believe me
2. authority by purchase: lots of money, can buy the opinion, and everybody believes it because there's lots of money involved (forgive me for typing this word on my blogspace, but think "lobbyist")
3. authority by talent/skill: you are so blooming good at what you do, that no one wants to even contest that you are not the authoratative expert
4. authority by volume: the majority rules, in bad form it could be the lynch mob, in positive form we call it the common good
5. authority by election: everybody loves you and they want you to have it
6. authority by knowledge: know it all, way more than you, I can belittle you about your lack of knowledge while I overwhelm you with the mass of mine
7. authority by experience: you've seen it all and done it all, and everyone else wants to take the short cut, so they ask you

When we look at 2 + 2 = 4, most of us will agree, the math teacher can be an authority. Is it one of the few places in the world where authority is based on fact rather than opinion? If you put two apples with two apples, you really do end up with four apples. In contrast, when we've got a painting hanging in a prestigous place, and the critic lauds it as the best ever, and calls the creator "the next big thing" don't you just want to ask "who made you the authority, Mr. Critic?" [Robert Genn's newsletter from yesterday was about "the next big thing" and you should go read it.] Is it really the best painting ever? Why doesn't anyone holler out "prove it!"?

A little time spent in blog-land can yield up quite a few misappointed authorities. Not so long ago, I read a fellow artist's post on the subject of "how to varnish a painting". I wondered where his authority came from. He obviously hadn't read the label on the back of a jar of Golden. (For you non-painters, Golden is a producer of quality art products, including varnish) Yet, if someone googled "how to varnish a painting", aforementioned fellow artist was going to be there, ready to tell you how to do it, and wrong. Whoa, am I calling myself the authority on truthful blog writing? This could really get sticky.

By now, I suppose a few of you are beginning to wonder if I grew up in the "challenge the authorities" 60's and 70's, and yes, yes I did. Let me quickly state that I firmly believe authority can be good, and we need the good kind. However! I think as artists, we need to constantly remind ourselves that authority is so often just an opinion. Be it the opinion bought with money, OR the opinion of someone with great talent and skills. So fellow artist, when the person in charge says "nope, we don't want your painting in our show", that means it's NOT time to heave that painting toward the nearest dumpster, rather it's time to go find a different authority. After all, it almost always is, just an opinion.

Later, Cooper