by Elliott Earls
Just as the smash hit films, Superbad, Knocked-up and She’s Out of My League, resonate deeply in American culture because they portray a re-balanced universe of pathetic couch-squatting, disempowered male losers  who magically win the affection of overachieving super-females, Art School Confidential resonates deeply with all of those sleep-walking Bags of Meat, who see any knowledge beyond their immediate intellectual grasp as illegitimate. Art School Confidential is a mirror that legitimizes ones’ intellectual, spiritual and physical laziness. Like the law of gravity, there are simple immutable physical laws that govern the universe.  Chief among these laws is: knowledge is power. This simple inescapable truth undergirds what Sentient students in real art schools are working so hard to achieve. These students strive to achieve agency and real power through knowledge. Knowledge begets power. Power begets a higher level of self-determination. Self-determination begets a better life.
1. Typically there is a corollary to every theorem, and in this case it’s important to understand the Jonah Hill Corollary. It is true that super-females will mate with men who appear to be disempowered couching, squatting losers. But there are two conditions that must be met in order to achieve thebalance necessary to sustain this relationship. First, the aforementioned male must be hilariously funny. And second (and most importantly) the male must be fabulously wealthy. This wealth is reflection of drive, intellect, cunning, power, social capital or family connection. The problem with Apatowian films, and the reason why they resonate so deeply, is that they specifically leave this critical element out. They are specifically about the disempowered finding the short-cut, taking the easy way out, living the impossible dream. They buttress the viewer’s basest instincts and laziest impulse.
2. Most foundation studies courses contain a two-dimensional design component. This foundation usually deals with perceptual psychology, color theory and highly formalist issues. Form making can be traced back to simple principles dealing with the physical structure of the human eye and how that interfaces with perception. This is not some highfalutin city-slicker bullshit a beret-wearing intellectual made up. These issues have an evolutionary function and are tied to our survival as a species. Coming to a deeper understanding of these issues bolsters one's ability to bring form-making under ones command — it gives one agency with regard to form. Ah, but obviously the art school snake-oil that Clowes is debunking refers to this thing called “Theory”: structuralism, post-structuralism, queer theory, post-colonial theory, linguistics, etc... The same issues are at play here but extend the conversation into what a work means. Struggling with Chomsky or de Saussures’ writings on the nature of language, as an example, do not make you a weaker artist. It makes you a stronger artist.
3. “I still say that you are overlooking the third type. I think you have bags of meat, robot sharks, and sentient beings. Robot sharks are quick with an excuse, like the bag of meat, but quick with an answer, like a sentient being. Robot sharks are aiming at a salary, but pretend to be concerned with meaning. They are the type that is most difficult to discern because the bag of meat has not, for the most part, the capacity to maintain the appearance of anything but a bag of meat; the sentient being cannot maintain deception for terribly long, because his conscience will not allow it; but the robot shark can mimic all the positive attributes of both when necessary. I think you could potentially acknowledge a third type and still make your concern the sentient being. However, as it is and as it will be misinterpreted regardless, the ultimate point of the essay does not REALLY hinge on these distinctions. The essence of your argument may be just as valuable for the bag of meat as the sentient being. But the design world is largely made up of robot sharks, so it may be a good provocative addition to include that type.” — Joshua Ray Stephens
4. Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, edited by Betty Sue Flowers. Doubleday, 1988, p. 120.
5. I plan to explore these ideas in much greater detail at DesignInquiry:JOY in June 2010.
6. At the risk of seriously undermining my position, our culture’s primary spiritual leader Deepak-Opra reminds us that we should love what we do, and the rest will take care of itself.