My Dinner with Ruby

February 22, 2010

Wally Shawn and Andre Gregory made a movie with Louis Malle. It was a movie about talking.  It was also a movie about dinner. It was mainly a movie about theater – and confusion – and friendship. They called it, “My dinner with Andre.”

Wally Shawn asks Andre Gregory where he went for a protracted period of time. Gregory explains Poland. Shawn asks why. Gregory says to play with the experimental theater director, Jerzy Grotowski.  Shawn and Gregory talk about the theater that Gregory absorbed himself in (like being buried alive in a hole for an installation). They talk a LOT. They drink their drinks. They grapple with something that was of interest in the 1970’s — the theater:  it was exploding with experiments, and new forms, and no money, and no hits, only the search for what theater meant to people.

Perhaps it’s because I grew up in that theater world – the experimental one of the 1970’s (in Greenwich Village, New York) that I feel that movie in a certain way: it’s the kind of talks we had at our dinner table – it had a slow pace of discovery.  And, it’s not an intellectual movie for me – for me, it’s a movie about how people disappear – and then come back: changed.

I remember people disappearing into theater companies, going off to europe, generally being wild. As a kid of those times it was sometimes kind of creepy. But, it was also cool – because those people, those theater people were creation warriors. Chatty warriors. Never stop talking warriors. But, chutzpah warriors none the less.

I thought those days, or at least those meals, were over.

But, few weeks ago I had such a dinner: my dinner with Ruby.

Ruby Lerner is a bona fide dame. She is hip, and brisk, and smart, and no bullshit. She’s also the CEO of Creative Capital www.creative-capital.org – an incredibly innovative fund for artists.

This is a fabulous article from Stanford Social Innovation Review about their work http://www.ssireview.org/images/articles/2010WI_WhatWorks_SparkArt.pdf

Ruby and her crew help to fund artists like one might a start-up – except the artists are not products – they are expected to be the captains of their own ships. Artists are granted an amount over three years, then have coaching and workshops about building and maintaining their career. It’s the reverse of co-dependency, it’s the empowerment program for people who have been told all their lives that they are never going to be able to live off their art, that they are like children in the woods, and that they are nuts. Tall order to counter all of  that negative feedback, but Ruby does it!

Our dinner wasn’t quite like My Dinner with Andre. That was a movie about the esoteric, slightly Socratic, yakka yakka of two intellectual, but let’s face it, experimental hoofers. My dinner with Ruby was the modern version of that conversation, although it took place in a cafe, and it involved wine – like the film we explored the topic of disappearing.

The disappearance of boundaries in art forms.

The disappearance of artists belief that they cannot be in the business of their art, without selling out.

It was also about how I disappeared from the art world, but returned (from the hole I had dug) to reach out to Ruby.

In 1992 I ran away from the theater. Too many of those wonderful people described in My Dinner with Andre had died of Aids. I was just too sad to stand on, in or around a stage. My warriors had died, so I decided to go elsewhere.

Over the past fifteen years I’ve found my way back into that artful dinner conversation – but from an odd, and seemingly counter intuitive way: through technology. I landed in San Francisco just as the Internet was exploding, and found a way to be part of something. The journey, the Grotowski-esque  experiment (which is, after all Burning Man) with new forms of telling a story, was manifested in media. And, for me, virtual reality, software, digital distribution, social sites, video, all of these forms, have been the players in my fine play: the play of returning to storytelling.

The storytelling I like is digital installation. I love it in fact. I like the theater of it. I like the Geek of it. I love the mess of trying to get a piece of technology to support the lyrics of an artist’s eye. For some years now I’ve been skulking in the shadows, the edges of this new form, and I was meeting with Ruby to ask for her advice.

(Note: Installation of artist I work with, Ame Hoch.  All photos and materials on these pages are under copyright by A. M. Hoch)

Ruby and I shared escargot. We had a good wine. I whined a bit, not much. She smiled at me a lot – knowing. I asked for help about how to present a few projects to potential funders. She gave very sound advice.

But, I wish you could have seen her eyes when we talked about artists. She loves them. And, she loves art. Not the heady, “inside baseball” art where only those from the same graduate program get “it” – she likes it like I like it: a bit rough around the edges, in process, with a voice: with a stand. Her eyes talking about artists reminded me of the eyes of thirty years ago – times were hard, but there was a belief that art was a good thing: an ever emerging form that we grasp at, with vigor, and hope.

In My Dinner with Andre most of the movie are the faces of those two guys. Shawn’s loopy eyes, and Gregory’s slanted wink of a person who saw a promised land – and still is trying to explain it. They were, to be frank, eyes that were full of themselves.

I recommend you meet Ruby Lerner and look at her eyes: it’s not all about her. You’ll see it, a vision with a clear look – a deep glance – she’s not full of words or theory. She’s taken a brave position: that art is not dead, and that emerging forms are not theory, but people – people as they evolve.

My dinner with Ruby wasn’t just about us, alone. It was a good dinner. The desert is yet to come…and we don’t know what it will taste like.

I can’t wait.