Michael Fox and his "Immaterial" Marching Band

Marching Band Completes Anonymous Art Participation at Fine Arts Graduation Ceremony

May 6, 2010

A marching band will deliver a message in music about commerce and craft in arts education during the California College of the Arts graduation ceremony tonight in San Francisco. The marching band, playing in a New Orleans funereal style, will play an original piece in the keys of C and A, to reflect the art school’s recent devaluation of craftsmanship in favor of art business.

The band’s performance is the second step of an elaborate piece designed for the ceremony by one of its graduates, Michael Fox, who will earn his MFA along with 65 other students at the CCA. The first stage of Fox’s graduation piece was an anonymous “flash mob” Internet strategy designed to bring strangers to the event who would then assemble an immediate free-form piece without direction other than that the objects brought by each attendee should be small enough to fit in one’s pocket.

The “flash mob” idea has caused some raised eyebrows among the students graduating and the school’s staff. But Fox stresses that both parts of his performance underline the importance of community and generosity, and that fears of a wild mob showing up to claim exhibit space are unfounded:

“At the heart of every artistic impulse is the urge to share and give, and the music piece is my attempt to give something evocative, a memory, to my fellow students and their guests, rather than just another promo card or invite pamphlet,” says Fox, who used the anonymous handle of Holden Art while pushing the flash idea and arranging for the marching band. “And anyone who shows up with a small object to place among other small objects is then giving a moment of expression to the evening, as well, and in this way the artist is both getting and giving. It’s an appropriate response for anyone graduating with a degree who wonders what kind of a career lies ahead, and how much money and fame is there to be won.”

The CCA was formerly known as the California College of Arts and Crafts, and Fox claims that the institute changed its name and dropped the word “crafts” because a survey indicated the word was not as beneficial to the students as the word “art.” The action set off a confusing inner dialogue about art and its craft and commerce in Fox’s thoughts, since he obtained his undergraduate degree from the CCAC and was now getting his MFA from the CCA. The missing C, for craft, represented an issue of priority for Fox, who is a world-renowned glass blower.

“Am I learning art, or how to conduct myself as an artist, or how to make money?” asks Fox, whose primary current art production consists of him writing new ideas onto scraps of paper before immediately shredding the papers in order to preserve the idea as an idea. “Who makes art and who has the license to do so? Would cave painters in the south of France twenty thousand years ago deny entrance to a stranger who showed up with some new color of dye? Isn’t the expression of self on any canvas essentially a bonding experience for a community?”

As for the music, which will be performed by members from the famed Green Street Mortuary Marching Band, Fox created an original tune performed in the New Orleans style for specific aesthetic purposes; the performance will be captured on video and stills, and turned into a blu-ray disc titled, “Craft in the Key of Art,” and Fox wanted an emotion to represent his transformation from student to professional rather than a material product or exhibit.

“I drive the streets of San Francisco with tears in my eyes as I listen to Nat King Cole,” he says, “And I cry like a baby in movies where people show their broken hearts, but I’ve never cried in front of a piece of an art, and I’m interested in knowing why that hasn’t happened.”

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