Of Prison and Art



High frustration tolerance is something everyone becoming an adult needs to develop, short term pain for long term gain


'To those of us living with stress and frustration during COVID-19 restrictions, these artists demonstrate how to develop an inner space of freedom – and how to live imaginatively and purposefully in a strange new world.' - What we can learn about isolation from prison artists - Janie Paul Professor Emerita of Art and Design, University of Michigan - published in The Conversation newsletter.


The other word for stress is fear, usually stemming from the notion life is terrible and awful and I can't stand it, which means I will die from it. Evidence based psychology suggests you aren't dead so you have been standing it, you are standing it, so you will stand it. The debilitating discomfort anxiety then stems from low frustration tolerance is a choice, high frustration tolerance is something everyone becoming an adult needs to develop, short term pain for long term gain.


Comparing quarantine where you stay home and chill to prison experience, where murder and rape are around every corner is a bit of a stretch, but the terribleizing and awfulizing it can feel the same, the terror of anxiety whether the cause is real or imagined is still terror.


In my anthro class we were shown that monkeys incarcerated, raised in lab cages, used repetitive behavior to distract from that terror, they masturbated repeatedly.


Religious folks are those trained to live in fear and shame & obligation, its called F.O.G., (it’s also how narcissists manipulate others) then use repetitive behavior to distract from their induced programmed over-anxiety, prayer, chanting what have you.


Yoga it turns out is also a distraction but not a cure and the relief from over-anxiety (terror) can be so profound it is called a spiritual experience. Some, often intelligent and educated, then dedicate their lives to this distraction, even signing over their houses and their bodies to the cult, the cult of fear creation and distraction.


When I was an addictions counsellor at the local jail using REBT (rational emotive behavioral therapy) I noticed many folks there were 'good' at art making, at the time I thought painstaking realistic drawing was art and that it was good, not just repetitive behaviour, the distraction therapy of art therapy.


When I started a formal art school career I learned that anyone can draw and in 6 months all the students were able to achieve a high level of realism, due to the practice demanded from the heavy work load.


Hitler, it is said, bounced all the artists out of Germany that weren’t realists, fear based conservatives love realism, but perhaps that’s an urban myth as compelling as it is.


So when I went back to the jail art, after art school, I looked for such things as the beauty of the hand made mark, subtlety, elegance or even accurate rendering from observation to no avail. I found instead renderings that reminded of the stained bedsheets of the residue of masturbating teenage boys, evidence of a untreated disease process.


When Ms. Paul talks about imagination and purpose, well we all have an imagination, its our evolutionary birthright, we couldn’t have survived the jungle (using anxiety) without it, let alone cross the street.


The purpose of life as the religious folks like call it, is a trap, its like self esteem, if you have it you can lose it, then you are depressed and anxious. Better to take the elegant solution that Dr. Ellis in his book The Myth of Self Esteem prescribes, dump the entire notion and focus on something more satisfying, the purpose of life is satisfaction.


I recently put this to the test, after losing an arm and a leg, using his advice, do every thing you can to deal with it, then ignore it and focus on something more satisfying. The physiatrists at the hospital wanted to know why I wasn’t over-depressed and over-anxious without drugs, they had no experience with psychotherapy being simple elegant and effective, too much Jung and Freud perhaps.


What I didn’t do was change my art practice to something repetitive and self distracting. How often have I seen this rubber stamp ‘art’ in the gallery, seen one seen them all, nothing compelling, cruise the entire exhibition in five minutes, Yawn.


So I kind of resent these poor incarcerated people, like masturbating monkey’s in a cage, being presented as something more than society’s disease process. Like religion and cults or even the rites of passage of art and academia where I see the bars of self imposed incarceration but I see no evidence of higher purpose, for it is a concept used to sell stuff, like very expensive art or religious trappings, a used car salesman’s scam taking advantage of the ill and vulnerable to sell to the morbidly self righteous.



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