The Elbow of Art

by Ken Shaddock

The Red Pope  2004 by Ken Shaddock

Ken Shaddock - The Red Pope Brandishes the Mysterious Elbow of David - 2004


Since J R is taking a short sabbatical from extensive writing, he asked that I put fingertip to keyboard and pound out something pithy and unforgettable, which only demonstrates how really desperate he has become and gives some substance to the old saying “With friends like him …”

Before I begin, although astute readers will recognize that I have already begun, let me point out that J R and I are not even in the same league when it comes to appreciating and knowing art.

J.R. and I have been friends for a very long time and he really does know art, and ART, so much so that I have encouraged him to change his name to JaRt, sort of a play on DARts. He is so attached to his camera, I once saw him, when he thought no one was looking, French kiss his Sony on the tripod attachment. It was a disgusting sight, but somehow moving.

I am tap dancing this script on a delicate looking plastic keyboard that makes little clunking noises that I detest. Does anyone else feel this way? Commercials on TV that feature someone typing on a computer keyboard and making those clunking noises as they hit the keys drive me nuts.

This is the first time I have revealed this information about myself. I have been breached. I feel naked. Almost penetrated (I will be using some words that some people feel uncomfortable with. If this is a problem, best stop reading now and pray really hard and fast).

But let's talk about art, or should I say ART?


My opinions about art can be summed up in two words: what art? Depending of course on the artist and the kind of art and the artfully created "thing" itself. Being this kind of person, that is to say, uncompromisingly ambivalent, is not always as easy as it sounds. Well, maybe it really is.

My concept of what constitutes art is extremely broad. When in the presence of people who have deluded themselves and sincerely believe they know what art is, I get a little goosey and try to divert the conversation to something I feel more comfortable with, like, “Is that a giant cicada laying eggs in your hair?”

Maybe I am not the best person to be offering opinions about art, or even ART. I just thought of a great example. Now, in my opinion, most pornography constitutes a form of art, which will not surprise those people foolish enough to know me well.

This may be just a rationalized justification for enjoying something that will send me to hell. Do you consider pornography art? Of course not! At least now we know which stall we stand in, or sit, as the case may be.


Marcel Duchamp clears his sinuses.


Back to REAL art. Most art baffles or bores me, probably because I don't understand it. Am I supposed to appreciate the technique, the materials, the style, the colors, the "deeper meaning," the act of creation (or destruction), the size, the shape, the hors d’oeuvres?

I am not alone. I would say the vast majority of people could


“give a fig or a fart about
artists and their art.”

- Me
from a short phrase I wrote


I hope this does not offend you. It is an unfortunate fact, but a fact nevertheless. If you ask most people who their favorite artist is, they would probably say Dr. Seuss, since he wrote and drew practically at the same time, and has a couple of pretty bad motion picture adaptations to account for.

However, I happen to have a lot of friends who I can safely say are artists (they create art, much of it in my uneducated and pedestrian opinion good) and I myself have from time to time been accused of this same activity, or a variant thereof.


Victor Dada in the office at Club Dada

Victor Dada at Club Dada: Farley Scott behind Tom Henvey, Ken Shaddock,
and VDD founders Gary Deen and the late Joe Stanco

Photograph by J R Compton — circa mid 80s


Waaaaaaay back in the '80s — that’s the 1980s, not the 1880s — I was accidentally part of a performance group called, by nice people, Victor Dada.

Victor Dada did not quibble about the larger questions: we knew what art was. It was us and we were it. Now if we could only convince someone besides our convinced selves that this was true. A silly and somewhat pompous notion, we considered ourselves poets (some of us actually were) and proclaimed the province of poetry to include the entire realm of sound, any sound.

Synchronicity, chance, and subconscious impulse were our theoretical tools for creating art, but how to convey this complex and subtle concept to the masses? No problem.


Assault. Pure and simple and sometimes physical (although, to make the case in our defense, we never smashed watermelons on stage, spraying debris over the audience; once, however, we almost blinded a White Rock Bathhouse audience with an oil based fog machine during a very complicated abstract surrealist piece).

Screaming Monkey from Victor Dada programHow simple! How painless! Anything we did became art, any sound or noise or movement or... well, just anything. Of course, much art was shot down in rehearsal by us other artists, and only the smelly ones survived.

We certainly could not be accused of pandering to our audiences, which (whom?) often showed more good will than I might have under similar circumstances. We were not an easy act to appreciate, we expected a certain amount of patience and intelligence, plus about $5 per ticket (a bargain!). Massive amounts of psychoactive agents helped as well.

All this is to say that I have some small experience with the logistics of art and its creation. To me, it was less like giving birth than like a satisfying elimination, and if you get paid for it, so much the better!

I won't bother you with descriptions of anal nerve stimuli and sensory impulses to the hypothalamus, or psychological twaddle about regression to infantile developmental states, and other such neurobiological and mental fiddle-faddle; suffice it to say, I may not know art, but I know what I like.

Screaming Monkey art by Ken Shaddock

I have strayed. This is a habit of mine. I used to think it was advancing age. My doctor tells me it is the medication I take, so I no longer worry about it. My one time canine pal, Mr. Wuss, began having seizures after an unfortunate encounter with a short leash and a badly timed leap from a car window.

The vet explained to me how the nerves in the brain, neurons, are surrounded by a sheath of material called myelin which begins to break down in the golden years, and allows cross talk between unrelated neurons, which can cause all kinds of strange behavior.

I have often used this same "neuronal" excuse with limited success for some time now to explain my own forgetful or erratic behavior, although I have never been nearly strangulated by a dog collar after an unsuccessful escape attempt. Any other associations I have had with a dog collar will have to wait for another essay; I have gone too far afield already.

Art. ART. Art.


We are surrounded by art and design from the moment we awake until we drift into restful sleep. Fine art. Commercial art. Folk art. Trash art. Graffiti art. We can't get away from it.

It's like the parting in the Red Sea; riding our chariots into the Sea of Art, intent on art homicide, just when we think we are in control and ready to strike, here's more art like shifting waves of blue and green jello with fruit crashing in on us (this is only true, of course, if you are an artless Egyptian; if you are of the Israelite persuasion, then you march artly ever onward to the promised land of Art with the Ark of Art — say that fast enough and it becomes arkafart — before you.

Unfortunately, because of the naughty and godless arts, which includes lots of skin and inappropriate fun, we will have to wander in the desert of artlessness for a while; damn!).

Let’s go back and pick up the thread of our discussion … and just where does this thing called Art occur? Is the occurrence of art in the act of creation? Is it in the act of perception? Is art the art object itself, apart from creation or perception? Does art exist in some alternate dimension of forms, the object partaking of the form? Good grief, exactly what is the nature of art?



Plato from the The Academy by Raphael

One guess, an attempt to get at the truth by a middle aged guy with bad eyesight: art is dependent on its context. Duchamp demonstrated this truth with his urinal; the object is in an art exhibit, it must be art. Duchamp's creative act was to place it in the exhibit.

A stalwart platonist (neoplatonist? All the real Platonists have been dead centuries, and now enjoy the form of dirt) might ask, yeth but what form of beauty doth a urinal partake in: the formth of beautiful urinalth? What kind of art ith thith?

Why am I writing like Daffy Duck?

Is this more of an act of art than a work of art? Not to mention the whole issue of beauty. Should those words even go together? Beauty. Art. I think I need to find a Duchamp and drain my good Bishop Berkeley.

Maybe I am asking the wrong question. Maybe art doesn’t really “occur” but simply “exists,” art simply “is.”…  I guess it depends on what the meaning of is, is (okay, that was a cheap gag, please chill).

One thing I am fairly certain of. Art does not exist apart from human thinking, some deliberative act of cognition that ultimately creates art. Someone had to take some material, move it, or shape it, or thump it, or squeeze it out of a tube, and call it art, perhaps modifying it on its way to becoming art, or just calling the “thing” art.

The early Dadaists, some of my favorite people, used to create (or not create) performance art by just not showing up. Is that art? Is that anti-art? Can there be such a thing as anti-art? Isn’t anti-art a form of art?


In which case, it is art and not anti-art. Then, yes, the expectation of a performance where no performers actually perform is art. Let’s hope it was tastefully done and honestly reviewed. Would you like a mint?

No, there must be something else. Maybe art is independent of its context and exists as itself, like the sound of a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear. If you have the most beautiful piece of art in the universe with no one to perceive it, is it still art, or just another piece of cultural debris? If you were blind, deaf, dumb, and completely numb from head to toe, and Pamela Anderson sat down next to you, would you care?


Members of Victor Dada and B L Lacerta

Members of Victor Dada and B L Lacerta promo a joint venture
Gary Deen, unidentified, Tom Henvey, Robert Price, Farley Scott, David Anderson,
Ken Shaddock, Les Gay and Joe Stanco


No rational human being over the age of 21 would argue that Michelangelo's David, standing nude in the middle of the night with no one but the security cameras to see him, is not a work of art, although, to my way of thinking, the genitals could have been bigger, maybe like John Holmes or Ron Jeremy (this, of course, is just my prejudiced opinion). If enough people believe an object or thing or music or performance or whatever constitutes art, then it must be art.


But wait ... what about those grotesque Jadorowski movies with lizard popes and midget gladiators and magic mountains ... some people swear those movies are art. This despite the fact that, to my knowledge, neither John Holmes nor Ron Jeremy ever appeared in one of his pictures.

Fish Mask from Somewhere

JR Compton photo

Or those ceremonial African masks that look like Angelina Jolie before she puts on her makeup in the morning. How does all that stuff fit in? Have I invoked enough pop culture to submit this last paragraph to Entertainment Weekly?


I sometimes wonder, when I am thinking in upon myself, when consciousness collapses like an outlawed Aggie bonfire, if it is not our neural wiring that dictates what we think is art. Like computer programs that recognize curves and straight lines and squares and circles and symmetry and alignment, do we register "art" when certain stimuli are placed before us?


Is the appreciation of movement and form and color and design an "effect" resulting from genetic predisposition? Do certain tones or combinations of musical notes automatically create wood, or woodess, as the case may be? Can art be reduced to a predictable mathematic formula, recognized involuntarily by tactile, auditory, or visual sensors and nerve multiplexes as “art?”

But, and this is a big but, perhaps art is like the bullfighter standing on tip toe about to plunge his sword into the charging bull, as the crowd shouts "Parkay!"

Is synchronicity and chance as integral to the process of creation as talent and execution? Does the act of art even require an artist? Have I opened Pandora's crayon box or a vicious can of gummy worms?

Have you missed any of the phallic symbolism in this essay so far? Do you wish you had?

Frank Tollbert, Jr.

Francis X Tolbert, Jr. - Devil cutout

from the J R Compton Collection

To be continued (maybe)…

As usual, DallasArtsRevue is eager to publish any feedback — positive, negative or caught somewhere in between. E-mail the Editor.



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