Saturday, May 21, 2011
How Not To Conduct A Meeting
We had gravitated towards each other, being part of a handful of Chicano art students attending a prestigious art school in Oakland in the late 1950's. Having embarked on their careers teaching, the two were already accomplished in their art and they were busy fostering a new generation of Chicano artists, the RCAF, Royal (Rebel Chicano Artists Front), one they later dubbed Royal Chicano Air Force, working to define and validate a new art movement, Chicano Art.
We were tired of mainstream art, the kind of stuff that hung in European and American galleries and museums. We wanted an art that reflected us, our people, the barrio. We wanted to paint pyramids, Aztec and Maya symbols, farm workers, zoot-suiters, eagles and rising suns in bold reds, blacks and yellows and if the mainstream galleries were going to turn their noses at us, so what? We would simply create our own galleries, our own barrio centers.
I must admit it took me a while to buy into the concept of a "Chicano Art". At that point, to me art was just art and I was still into imitating the stylized and abstract painting of the 60's, with little inclination to change what my Europeanized art education had taught me.
I knew some of the other artists at the meeting having met them briefly before, Ricardo Favela, and Louie The Foot and I had grown to respect this new cadre of Chicano artists. I secretly longed to be a part of them but being in Stockton, some 45 miles away, it was not convenient. Besides, I was never invited.
About an hour past the announced time of the meeting, "Chicano Time", the artists finally sat down in some rickety old folding chairs and the meeting was called to order. By that time we had already consumed some red wine and a couple of beers. As the purpose of the meeting was announced, a fresh 6-pak was passed around the circle of members."This is my kind of meeting", I thought to myself.
"All of us in this room are accomplished artists and we have to value our work to reflect this. Our drawings and paintings deserve higher selling prices and too many of us are giving them away for next to nothing." Jose continued to argue that we had to set a higher standard, and that if people wanted to own our art they had to pay for it and that doing otherwise, was opening the door for exploitation of our work. He gave examples of how people could buy one of our pieces for $150 and turn around and sell it for $500.
A discussion ensued, interrupted only by the pop of another beer can being opened up by someone. Soon disagreements and tempers began to flare up. Some artists felt we should make art affordable to our people. They were not Anglos used to paying hundreds, even thousands for a piece of art! A wine bottle was passed around as the debate heated up. Funny, the thought had never occured to me, and like some in the room, I would have been content if someone had paid me $150 for one of my pieces!
"Hey, that's a lot of bullshit, man. Sit down. Let this other guy speak!"
"It ain't bullshit man. It's the truth. What the fuck do you know, anyway?!"
"Sit down, pendejo!" "Who you calling a pendejo, guey?!"
I'm not sure what it is, maybe it's in our blood but when you get a bunch of Mexicans or Chicanos in a room and try to get them to agree on something, a fight is usually going to break out. Someone opened up another can of beer.
At one point I began to fear someone was going to start throwing punches. Everybody was pointing fingers and several debates ensued to the point of chaos. Then, a little old man who had been sitting to the back of the room began to raise his hand. He wanted to speak but no one was paying any attention to him being in the heat of battle. He kept waving his hand until I quieted the group. "Hey, this man wants to speak. Let's listen to what he has to say!" The group quieted down.
He wore a pair of old khakis and red and black checkered flannel shirt. I had noticed him when I arrived and assumed he was just somebody's father. "I am not a learned man like some of you in this room", he said "but I do have some advice to give you. When you gather like this to conduct business, never include alcohol."
I don't know about the others in the room but I felt small, embarrassed. I can't remember exactly how the summit ended but the old man's truth had cut through our bullshit like a sharp paring knife. It had taken the gentle wisdom of this little old man to put us all in our small, intellectual places.