Yes We Can, Can (aka “¡Si se puede!”)

March 29, 2014


The History of Yes We Can seems to start with Allen Toussaint and the first artists who recorded it. Lee Dorsey made a record of it in 1970. It was co-produced by the song’s writer Allen Toussaint. The Pointer Sisters version, in 1972, was a big hit.

In 1972, the great César E. Chávez started to use “¡Si se puede!” as his slogan to organize the farm workers. This translates to something that’s very similar to “yes we can!” I’m not sure whether Chavez was inspired by the song or if the idea was just in the air.

In 2008, Barack Obama used “Yes We Can” as his campaign slogan. I think that he was inspired both by the song and by Chávez.

It’s a classic slogan. Yet mindless or misdirected “positivism” can be a dangerous thing. We need to think carefully about which battles we fight. Then we need to devise impeccable and true strategies within each battle. Then, it’s like “All bets are off!”

The underdog can wear down or outsmart the overdog. It happens again and again. Sometimes it takes a long time though. Persevere! Don’t Quit! Never say die! We can do it, yes we can!

The song:

César Chávez:

The slogan has also been used in promoting home canning:

“The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Bertrand Russell

This post is dedicated to my brother Dennis on his birthday.

Waking Up the Day

February 28, 2014

2000 october 18

In the realm of total silence, a small child yawns and stretches.  Occasionally, he pauses to grasp at straws.  The room fills with a flood of spattered rainbow and warm mist.  An old woman walks in and says “We will wake up the day.  Humanity has been caught up in dark and tangled slumbers for far too long.  We need to see the absolute truth, to taste it and smell it.”

The child laughs and rubs his hands together.  The woman opens the window and the room fills up with the caws, tweets and cackles of hundreds of nearby birds.  Two more people enter the room.  They all start laughing and chanting the words “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes….”

2013: Trouble at Detroit’s Heidelberg Project

January 1, 2014

Last_part_of_july 024

Eight houses have been destroyed in seven months at Detroit’s Heidelberg Project.  This all took place this year and they’ve all
been classified as arson.

Detroit is plagued by deliberate fires.  Some of these are done for payment or for revenge.  Others are done for no reason at all or for “kicks.”  In any case, such fires often turn deadly.  They can spread to inhabited homes.  Residents or firefighters can be injured,  or worse.  Why the Heidelberg Project is being attacked is anyone’s guess.  Rumors and stories are in the air.  I’m not sure whether it’s one person and his friends or if there are several perpetrators.

In any case, it’s a terrible thing.  Detroit’s had enough trouble this year without this.

I helped them when Coleman Young’s Detroit government tore down four houses in one day in November 1991.  This is the worst attack since then.  This time it’s not “legal.”

In the 1991 assault, Tyree Guyton told me that he was inside of one of the houses trying to retrieve some of his art work.  The bulldozer smashed through the wall with him inside the house!  Luckily, he wasn’t seriously hurt!

We were down there, helping him clean up and trying to save what we could.  I held a long interview with Mr. Guyton around this time.  His work helped inspire me to do my own massive street art project on the late, great J.L. Hudsons Building in downtown Detroit.

They’re doing what they can.  I hope that they rebuild and renew.  I hope there’s no further trouble.  I wish them all the best.  These are my wishes for a great 2014 to Tyree Guyton, Jenenne Whitfield and all the Heidelberg Project crew!

Maurice Greenia, Jr.  December 31, 2013

Last_part_of_july 019

This film gives a good picture of the current “fire situation” in Detroit:

Last_part_of_july 027

John F. Kennedy on Art: October 26, 1963

November 27, 2013

Less than a month before he was killed, President John F. Kennedy gave a speech at Amherst College.  This was part of a ceremony at the groundbreaking of a new library named after the poet Robert Frost.

Frost had died earlier in 1963.  In January 1960, Frost read his poem The Gift Outright at Kennedy’s inauguration.  Prior to giving the speech, Kennedy received an honorary degree from Amherst.

I love these quotes which follow.  Maybe JFK would have done more for the arts, had he lived.

Here are some quotes from that speech:

“There is inherited wealth in this country and also inherited poverty.”

“The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, a lover’s quarrel with the world. In pursuing his perceptions of reality, he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role.”

“If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him aware that our Nation fails short of its highest potential. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.”

“I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.”

October 26, 1963


Trouble at the Detroit Institute of Arts

October 9, 2013
September 6, 2013 A protest rally in front of the Detroit Institute of Arts

September 6, 2013 A protest rally in front of the Detroit Institute of Arts

1. The Detroit Institute of Arts is in trouble.  There’s talk of selling off some of its most important works.  This would raise money to pay off creditors and, maybe, to help pay off the pensions of city workers.  Some of those creditors are very wealthy, others less so.

Some would have a bad taste in their mouths from it.  They don’t enjoy getting their money by attacking an art museum.  Others won’t care.  Money is money.

The City of Detroit did not buy this art as treasure.  It did not intend the art to stand as insurance against any future disaster.  I doubt whether it crossed any of their minds at all.  If it did, they probably laughed and shook their heads or muttered “Ah!  No way…”

Yet now it seems as if some of the most loved works in our collection may soon be up for sale.  If so, it may threaten the very existence of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

It’s not just about losing key works of art.  There’s a sense that losing the art would set off a chain reaction of trouble and woe.  If they’re only able to stay open one or two days a week, on weekends say, it’d be bad for the city as a whole.  Why diminish or injure one of our prime attractions?

This would also be bad for other museums around the country.  An attack on one art museum is an attack on all art museums.

I’ve long wondered whether this day would ever come.  In my wildest dreams though, I never thought it could happen in my local art museum, less than a mile from my home.

Also September 6, 2013

Also September 6, 2013

2. Some of us are totally convinced that the current artistic system is flawed.  An artistic system is the entire sphere of art and artists as they relate to the cycles of recognition and payment.  As it is now, a few artists make a lot of money.  Most of those who do, make a lot of money after they are dead.

Others eke out some sort of living through their creativity.  They manage to survive without having to get a “day job.”  Others work full-time at their normal jobs and struggle to work full-time with their art as well.  It all seems to be rigged against the artist.  This can be an annoyance.  There are troubles and hassles yet you become accustomed to them.  Sometimes it can be far worse.  It can be cruel, exploitative and soul-killing.  Sometimes the deck seems to be stacked against you.  Under pressure, only the strongest, toughest and most determined stick to the creative path.

Artists suffer every day from the art-commodity system.  Price tags are on everything, yet some people refuse to let you price their flesh, hearts and minds.  We’ve been suffering from this for years.  Even some of the most successful sense that things are not as they should be.

Now, if the museums and galleries start to suffer from it as well, maybe someday the system will change.  If we all suffer, will we have the stupidity and timidity to grin it and bear it?

The art lovers and fans have their place in this too.  They can act in solidarity with the artists and with the museums both.

Some of the artists have teeth!  Will our anger over these attacks have any juice?

The state, federal and local governments all did serious damage to our city.  Now that there’s trouble, the state and federal governments tend to blame it all on Detroit.  They did their part to make a bad situation worse.  NAFTA is only the most obvious example.  Of course, our local government has often done us wrong too.

They really set us up for the fall and added to a bad situation.  It finally got to the point where the people who were supposed to be helping us were hurting us.  They stepped on us, kicked us and robbed us while we were down.  Some feel sure that many of them got away with it.  Well maybe not entirely so.  As I write this, one of our former mayors is about to receive his prison sentence.  Others have been caught and punished.

If the art work didn’t have this extreme “artificial value” they wouldn’t be trying to sell it to help the city.  For many of us, its Wall Street value or auction value is usually of little concern.  The art meets our gaze and it moves us.  Now we’re forced to pay attention to the monetary value of the art.  It’s come full circle and it’s too bad.  Good luck!  Some of us will stand with the D.I.A. as best we can and hope for the best, work for the best and fight for the best.

I got by this protest rally in front of the DIA last Friday:

The Doppelgänger (Homage to René Magritte)

September 26, 2013
New York City, circa 1996

New York City, circa 1996

This photograph was taken with one of those old “drug store” panoramic cameras. They were on the market from 1996 to 1998 or so. They gave you a whole camera. You’d use it and they’d develop it, giving you back the prints and negatives.

This was one of my favorite photos I’ve taken with that format. It’s a bit grainy but my timing was good.

It looks like a printing error but it’s not. I did this intentionally. The section on the right is a mirror image of the image on the left. Note the reverse writing on the truck.

The man walking (with the white pants) is the same man whose head appears on the shoulder of the figure at left. The woman walking by has her hand and the tip of her shoe appear on the left.

The figure on the far right and the far left are the same man. On one side is the “real” person and on the other is his reflection.

Many of us have doubles or ghost selves. I’ve often had people swear they saw me or tell that they saw someone who looked exactly like me. I’d wonder “Who is this person? What if I was to run into them?

September 26, 2013 for René Magritte

Not to be Reproduced:

You can click onto the photo to enlarge it, or click twice to enlarge it further.

Back in my Life Again

August 30, 2013
My father and I, early on

My father and I, early on

Before this year ends, I’ll turn 60.  It’s really hard to believe in ways.  There’s been a lot of water under the bridge.  Ah yes, the times that we have seen.

I was looking through old photos today, back when I was a baby or a child or a young man.  If I hang in there,  I’ll be looking at photos of myself as I am today, maybe in the year 2040 or so.

All the parts of life hang together.  They touch each other and tell each other secrets.  To be alive: that’s the key (and there lies the rub).  To exist is not enough.  Some us attempt to transcend, to go for the gusto.

With my Grandpa Greenia and my dad, Christmas 1953

With my Grandpa Greenia and my dad, Christmas 1953

With my Grandpa White, singing.

With my Grandpa White, singing.

“Artists are not made; they are born…there is very little you can do for them.”  Louise Bourgeois (in the film ART CITY)

From the get-go, it seems that I was an artist, an artist of some sort.  I just ran across this quotation this week.  Many people are different but some are more different than others.

With my brother Dennis and my Teddy Bear

With my brother Dennis and my Teddy Bear

ABC: Always being creative!  I look at my childhood drawings and paintings and they’re quite good, of kind.  Jacques Karamanoukian saw them and kidded me “Maurice, what happened?  You were so good!”  Yet I didn’t really get serious about making visual art until I was 23 or 24.  Since then, I’ve made up for lost time.

I write and do performances too.  I’m in two or three musical groups or bands.  Then I do puppet shows, at least a few a year.

Brooklyn Bridge 1990

Brooklyn Bridge 1990

Yes art is a way of life.  I want art to wake people up and change their lives.  Many people see art as “watered down” by definition.  They look at it like it’s some sort “candy” or “wallpaper.”

Yet I know that it can shake people to their core.  It can make you see life and the world in a whole new way.  People have told me that my work’s helped them get through some tough times.  That means more than a prize or an award.  It’s nice to get paid, at least some of the time.  Yet there are different ways to get paid.

It’s not all about the money or fame.  A lot of it’s about love, imagination, dreams, magic and (if you will) revolution.  It’s world-changing time!  I just want to try to shake things up a bit and cause some trouble while I’m here.  Onward!

Flint, Mchigan (May 2013)

Flint, Michigan (May 2013)


Bigger Cages, Longer Chains

July 31, 2013


The story goes that, in Britain, there was a protest rally.  A group in the crowd started in chanting “Bigger cages!  Longer chains!”  I always thought that this was a scream!  It appealed to my sense of humor.

To wit:

Toxteth riots, England, 1981.  During a lull in the action a leftist militant climbs on to a box and addresses the crowd on the subject of the coming socialist utopia.  Her promise that there will be jobs for all is met with derisory laughter from a group of young rioters.  As the speaker details other reforms, the group begins a mocking chant, “Bigger cages, longer chains!”

from the SPECTACULAR TIMES booklet “bigger cages longer chains” (from Larry Law).

Sun Ra said “It’s ridiculous for America to even talk about freedom when all the artists are in chains?”

Most true, deep artists struggle, fight and suffer as a matter of course.  It’s especially true of visual artists.  The odds of making a living off of making pictures aren’t very encouraging.  It’s like you’re carrying a psychic ball and chain around with you.  Eventually, you get so used to it that you forget that it’s there.

Many of the artists who do make it big do so through luck more than talent.  Or they study art magazines and the art scene, foster connections and get ready for the “big swindle.”

Most true artists don’t create to make money or to strive for success.  They do so because they must.  It’s part of their character and the way that they breathe, the way that they move.

The game is slanted toward entertainment and the popular arts.  It’s not easy to make it there either.  Yet with talent and persistence, one might have a fighting chance at least.

For most of us though, it seems to be a losing game from the get go.  We can’t stop playing it.  A labor of love is still work.  Yet many of us play it our whole lives, with little reward or recognition.  We create a good body of work and hope that it touches people.  If it doesn’t do so while we’re alive, maybe it will after we’re gone.

This is true for us visual artists.  It also often applies to other artists as well.

If need be, yes “Bigger cages! Longer chains!”  Better still would be to find ways to escape from our cages.  We could break and remove the chains.

The next stop would be a total artistic Renaissance.  Art would play its truest part in changing life and transforming the world.  Sometimes just “enriching” society is not quite enough.

living under a cloud

A Note from Miriam Patchen, from June 1989

June 28, 2013

Writing and receiving postal letters is one of the great things in life.  It’s difficult to find the time to do so though.  Now, it’s even harder what with email and related digital communications.

I sent many mailings to Miriam Patchen.  I’d often enclose a Stamped Self-Addressed Envelope containing blank index cards when I’d write someone.  This would make it easier for them to reply.  This is how I attained some of my best letters, notes and autographs.

This was postmarked 25 June 1989 and arrived on both side of two blank index cards:

Dear Maurice-

I’d been away-Germany (a Patchen show)- a friend took care (?) of my mail, suddenly your letter turned up!  But how good to hear from you.  It seems so long ago since the first POETIC EXPRESSES came here.  At least you are continuing on the clear way.  Would there be more who’d do so!

I take part in the essential peace work.  every Tuesday (for five years now) at a mall or shopping center with posters, parades, meetings etc.  It won’t make peace but, like you with your writing, I must affirm the importance of life, not death.

Thanks for your remembering-for reading Patchen & loving jazz!  best, Miriam

miriam onemiriam two

Here’s a link to my xerox publication, digitally archived.  I’m still putting it out.  I haven’t missed a month since April 1985:|subcoll&term=grepoe

Art Therapy for a Sick World

June 21, 2013

blue gardens (from May 2002)(

In 2002 I had two solo shows going.  One was at my work, at the library on the McNichols campus of the University of Detroit Mercy.  The other was at the late, great Zeitgeist Gallery and Performance Venue.

This second exhibit was titled Art Therapy for a Sick World.  I wrote this statement in connection with that.  Wow, it was eleven years ago now.

I decided to put this out again, without many corrections or updates.  There are more (parenthesis) than I’d use today.  It was an experiment with that, stylistic flourishes?

If anything, the world is far sicker than it was in 2002.  I still believe that art could have an important part to play in the healing.  Sometimes, a cure must be provoked.  The heart of the sickness has no idea how sick it is.

this introduction: June 21, 2013, the first day of Summer



April 25, 2002    from Maurice Greenia, Jr.

Many “art critics” have always discounted the power of art to make a difference in the real world, to change things for the better.

To them, art is a happy paradise, a child’s “fairyland” or a little sweetness off-setting the sourness of this so-called reality.

To me though, art does have an important, even urgent part to play.

What’s more, it’s not being permitted to play it.

If it’s not “entertainment” or if it’s not (otherwise) a good “financial risk” it’s often swept under the rug, “ghettoized” and otherwise ignored.

Yet the thing about being “ostrichsized” is that the ostrich may have a temper.

Many critics find themselves influenced (consciously or unconsciously) by how the creative works they judge relate to/fit in with the MARKETPLACE.

I judge my work (and other’s) in regard to dream content, the potency of the imagination, the residue of deep and complex thinking, absolute awareness (without filters or blinders), the amount of LOVE which is visible in the work (heartfelt) and (finally) the mysterious and even magical element (the old “X factor”).

These are not things often in the mind of the critics or in the minds of those who rule our nations, start our wars, exploit the poor, terrorize and so on and so forth.  (Is politics the criticism of reality?)

This is not to overly criticize our needed cultural critics and observers.

Yet (so far as the rulers, legislators, fat cats, bigwigs, generals, kings, queens etc. are concerned) things do seem to be off, out of synch and in a mess.

Who believes that all (or most) is right with the world?

If those in power were open to the creative spirit (love, deep thought, imagination, energy, enthusiasm) perhaps this would help inform some of their choices and plans.  What is art’s true place in the world?  What should it be doing that it (largely) is not?

Is art the criticism of reality?  (Or can it be?)

It should be part of life, deeply CONNECTED with life in a living, near primal and organic way (not just electronically or as possible PRODUCT).  It could be similar to how it is (and has been) in so-called “primitive-tribal” paths.  The artist can sometimes be like a shaman, gathering forces and then letting them re-emerge in healing forms.

To try to find ways to have art, TRUE ART really have an impact on an expansive REALITY, to touch people and make them more awake, more alive-this is a constant challenge.  Art could explode into a new renaissance, evading traps and pitfalls aglow & alive.


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