Ariel Goldberg has worked as a babysitter, a door to door salesman, artist assistant, hebrew school principal's assistant, the country's best yogurt server, photo transporter, and teacher. Recent publications include the chapbooks Picture Cameras from NoNo Press and The Photographer without a Camera from Trafficker Press. More work is online at www.arielgoldberg.com
Quasi-symmetrical Limbs Attached to a Whole Body
The jobs I supposedly want are the ones where art and work are not in a dynamic war over time and energy but operate as quasi-symmetrical limbs attached to a whole body. Like in Maggie Nelson’s book The Art of Cruelty, she keeps referencing her class called The Art of Cruelty. Perhaps this looks better than it is, but it seems like a gift. In order to wrap her head around what to say about artists and writers she’d mention in her book, they became part of a syllabus.
In a fit of inspiration and life transition, I’ve decided to invent a class called Writing as Photography that will frame my artistic obsession. It could be for photographers, or writers, or people not identifying as anything. This class can be formatted to a quarter or semester schedule. It could even be just a daylong workshop. It’s flexible. I should mention here that I don’t have a book length work published. And I'm pretty young. Maybe Maggie Nelson would tell me all about how teaching her class that shared the title of her book was hard work and she never wants to do it again. How teaching an invented class still wouldn’t get me a contract longer than a semester or health insurance. But I figure I should just go for this.
I’d like you to read a draft of my syllabus. Pretend like you want to hire me when you read it. Keep in mind that I’ll go anywhere to teach. I have six years of classroom experience. I can diffuse bad attitudes, as well as explain grammar, which may not seem relevant but is. I feel passionate about how seating arrangements create situations where people feel they are challenging hierarchies inherent to institutional environments. Here it is:
The objective of Writing as Photography is to consider how and when language can replace cameras. The premise of this class is a response to how photographs are haltingly ubiquitous, as well as agents of change in our consciousness. The relationship between language and photography will be explored not as symbiotic but as in conflict. The invisibility of watching without a camera will be employed.
The assignments for this class will explore various poetic forms for language to replace photography. These forms include:
The Press Conference
The Annotated Inventory of Photographic Detritus
The class time will be both seminar style and critique. Just as photos of our contemporary landscape often include people taking pictures, we will consider how people photograph to perform an action, as opposed to produce a printed picture. We will examine types of photographs that appear in our lives daily, and types of photographers. You can choose to write in any supposed genre or hybrid form. The final assignment will be a portfolio of writings from the weekly assignments, or a directed project.
Discussions will be centered on these themes:
Impulse, consumer markets, and dematerialization
The myth of the photographer as hero and the contested ethics of Photojournalism
How to look at art photography when everyone is a photographer
Reckoning with Photos that Depict Loss
Readings will include selections from:
Towards a Philosophy of Photography and Into the Universe of Technical Images by the philosopher Vilém Flusser
The Journalist & The Murderer, by Janet Malcolm
The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders, by Emmanuel Guibert
The film Born into Brothels, directed by Zana Briski
The Civil Contract of Photography, by Ariella Azoulay
Slide lectures will focus on Gustav Metzger, Ehren Tool, Oreet Ashery, and the text fields on photo sharing websites.
The class will also take trips to heavily photographed places to watch photographers and photographs.
When I try to make a narrative out of it, my job history reflects a string of disillusioned attempts at how I can make money doing something that will help me be a better artist. Standing up in front of people and practicing something, or attempting an explanation, became attractive because it felt like performance art. I formed this conceit when I was determined to be an autodidact performance artist, shortly after a very expensive BFA in the obsolete skills of analogue photography and English literature. At this time, I also decided to decline an offer to become a New York City Teaching Fellow, a full time job as a public high school teacher that came with a free masters in education. I decided I wanted to really be an artist.
Just trying to put art first by filling my schedule with unstable part-time jobs was only possible because of my fancy education and the ability to live on a low-income. I didn’t have any debt. My whole family saved so I could go to a “good” college. I was incredibly lucky to get this undergraduate degree without any loans, and my family did it as if there was pride in buying this thing. Does how my family paid for it matter? My grandfather’s savings from a frugal life as a garment worker and war reparations from the German government paid for most of it. Then it was my dad working as an accountant, my mom as a social worker, and my brother dying when I was a kid. Even though he died at eight, I still feel like I got double what I deserve.
If art was valued in this country, if that work of mine was less invisible, then maybe I would feel like I’ve done something with the investment my family has made on me. I feel like what I write or perform (I don’t photograph that much for many reasons, one of which is because it’s really expensive) barely translates outside of esoteric groups of supportive people, who are also artists and writers. I'm grateful for these groups of people, but I don’t think being an artist should be so hidden. The argument of course is that art is purer and in defiance when underground or removed from the economic system. That we must struggle. But I think artists (and I mean writers too) should get money, should be funded more, in all sorts of ways. Just because this is idealistic, and comes from a place of privilege, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t believe in it. Because it shouldn’t feel like the only artists who are justified are the ones with mainstream exposure.
When I began to teach, keeping a room quiet felt impossible. I started in a religious Jewish High School, but I never wanted to figure out how to discipline people. So I learned how to teach English, the language. I think in part because that’s how my grandparents first survived in this country. There are also more jobs for teaching English. Depending on how low paying or homophobic1 the environment, I’ve teetered on burnt out teacher at what feels like too soon.
Why have I kept on teaching, I wonder. How much I despise offices doesn’t seem like a real reason. I’ve worked at TCBY and a residence for pregnant teens in foster care. The odd job that’s felt the most glamorous was when I worked the door at Party Hole, a queer club that my friend who deejays hooked me up with. I would make about the same amount in one night than I did in my 3-hour college level composition class at The Academy of Art. Recently I did that weird thing of editing the letter of recommendation an old boss wrote for me. This Photographer I worked for as an assistant mentioned, of all things, how I was such a varied artist because I drove a truck for a farmer one summer. We sold apples and cider. I had the driver’s license in a group of Tibetan men.
I don’t romanticize teaching; it is just my messy, imperfect skill. Everything is invented or tested, with lots of room for mistakes. I don’t think I could be so imperfect at an office job. Classrooms are comfortable for me because I’ve always been this nerdy good student, eager to please, eager to work hard. Theoretically, to work in education was also a way to be near some value of knowledge. This is a sad and hard thought to hold, because, like art, the U.S. seems to actively work at devaluing education.
This week in the mornings I taught English to Haitian Youth Ambassadors through my longstanding job with the YMCA’s New American’s Center. Probably because it was only two classes, in a packed schedule they had in disaster relief trainings and tourism, they seemed like the best students’ ever. The gratitude was palpable. When we talked about the differences in education here and there, they told me they don’t know if they’ll get into college because so many schools have collapsed and haven’t been rebuilt. When I asked them to write what they want people in the U.S. to know about Haiti, they said not for us to think that it’s a poor country. Multiple students wrote they want us to know about their artists.
For the rest of the week I subbed for a multi level free English class in the basement of a church. I would take a long break at 1pm and head to my friends’ studio where each time I’ve visited New York in the past year, they’ve given me a set of keys, and I sit at a table surrounded by materials for sculpture, painting, and collage. On days I taught two classes I didn’t go to the studio. Other days all I could muster was a nap. Lately I’ve felt tired. I can hardly write at home. I need to go somewhere. I tend to panic at cafes. My writing is a form of survival. If I don’t write at least in my journal every day I feel like I am going crazy. I am trying to get close to a final draft of an essay “on the states of queer art” that I’ve been writing for a year and the deadline is, like, now. And critical writing feels like a form of punishment sometimes. That essay is called The Estrangement Principal.
I can barely get work teaching English to immigrants in New York because of recent budget cuts reeking of discrimination. I never even got a job interview in California for teaching immigrants, probably because my certification is not accredited, and it is not a Masters. I have an MFA, also from an expensive school, which my parents have helped me begin to pay off loans from.
Most often, I'm employed as this ambiguous thing at the end of a huge purchase International students make. And I usually get the job because I’ve been doing it long enough. Whenever I teach language school style classes, which have a constant flow of coming and going, students bring their cameras to their last class. They come out of pockets or hang from wrists, clanking on the cheap tables. I once had a student take my picture because they couldn’t believe I was their teacher. They wanted to show their mother how young I looked. I feel so uncomfortable in this reoccurring picture, which of course I sort of enjoy, because it makes that energy dump feel useful.
11 I wrote an essay on being a queer teacher, in response to questions students wrote, for a PFLAG lecture at the Language School I worked at for 2 years. http://www.arielgoldberg.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/thequestions.pdf