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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

emerging audiences -- who knew

So I’m wondering why is TV so much better than it used to be. I assumed, early on, that the ‘Sopranos’ was a ‘made for television’ rip on the Godfather movies and had to see an episode by accident before I started to catch on. It was more like a movie with top notch production values that went on and on, exploring the lives of characters in a way no movie could. Suddenly an audience appeared that wanted more, expected more, and like ripples in a pond television opened up and became more challenging.

In the case of the Sopranos the obvious difference was a new method of finance, subscription vs mass audience advertising. With salaries paid in advance, attracting the widest audience possible was no longer the first priority of story telling, and soon more naturalistic approaches to more significant subjects were being considered, and by commercial television as well. Seems the audience was always ready to be taken seriously, to take themselves seriously, but television had talked down to them since the beginning, since from the beginning public airways have been paid for by advertising. 

The ‘Mad Men’ of fifties period advertising agencies haven’t gone away. Oh, they dress a bit differently now and some have come out to much applause, but they still objectify everyone and everything, and many are headed for the bottle by the early forties just like several generations before them, burned out, cynical, and finally pushed to the sidelines. They aspired to be artists once you know, many of them, but somewhere along the line they decided to use their talent to make money. It isn’t that hard. Industry at most every level loves talent, and advertising agencies pay more for it than anybody else except, of course, the movies.

You just have to be ready to apply your talent to anything the art director throws across your desk. Sometimes it’s something nice, sometimes it isn’t, doesn’t matter. Your job is to attract attention to this thing, this service, this unwanted and unnecessary whatever, and we don’t care how, use your talent. It wears folks down, and worse than that. It turns them cynical about themselves and lowers their regard for fellow humans, how could it not? Still, there is no conspiracy. Turns out television has never really reached its full potential to educate and enlighten, even to entertain, because corrupted artistic directors looked in their mirrors and saw swine -- I need a drink.

Now it seems some production companies are getting to extend themselves, to tell human stories in a frank and honest way, because it turns out that’s what a lot of people prefer to watch. Who knew? What was needed was an alternative, and thank you HBO for finding the audience commercial television executives claimed wasn’t even there.

Friday, October 3, 2014

renewable mental energy -- art’s capacitance

All this conversation on ‘owning art’ can get sorta abstract. Sometimes there are artist’s names to google and always these testy assertions in an argument few have thought much about. When does it get real would be a reasonable question, so I’ll present a situation. Won’t apply to everyone of course. 

Assume yourself to be a middle-american, work-for-a-living sort of person with normal concerns and no real interest or experience with art, and you visit the home of someone for the first time. Maybe you’re there to install a new water heater or sell an insurance policy. Could be you’ve been invited by someone you’ve met socially or a colleague from work. Anyway, you look around and there’s art on the wall, genuine art -- you can tell. You could think what a fool to spend money on art, but chances are you wouldn’t. Most people wouldn’t.

You’d probably look at it. If some piece interested you, and you mentioned it to the owner, there’s a reasonable chance you’d hear a story about where it came from and maybe even a meeting with the artist. Just to yourself you might assume there was more depth to this person than you would have guessed. It’s difficult, actually, to have original art around the house and not be affected by it. It can’t be scientifically proven that those living there will notice more when they step out of the door, or be more discerning when they read the newspaper, but people who own art testify to that effect.

Art as a luxury frankly doesn’t have that much appeal because you can’t drive it, wear it, or have it for lunch. It just hangs on the wall, a pricy decoration. On the other hand, thinking of art as a functioning, sense-rejuvenating, humanizing factor in making a home more livable would be the more profitable way to look at it. Like the furnace and AC, like the stove and refrigerator, art pulls its weight, lightens the day and rewards the journey home.

Friday, September 26, 2014

two conversations at once -- differing destinations

Let’s acknowledge there’s a couple of conversations going on about art. There’s the big one in the back pages of New Yorker which involves all the intelligent, culturally aware folks eyeing the markets for underpriced crumbs from fabulous careers, and the quiet one over here. See, I don’t care about the money. I think an artist should be paid like a craftsman who gets to charge a little more per hour when they do a better than average job. I’d be content to let the quality of the product determine price and not the stratospheric crest of an imaginary wave, but that’s me.

To read in the New Yorker, “sells, at auction, for respectable six-figure sums, with the odd spike into the low millions” about an artist who made the same self-referencing statement on and on is just me eavesdropping on that other conversation. I understand fashion well enough. It’s about what other people want. Is it time-bound? -- to the year, to the season, to the day. People are always changing their minds since they don’t know what they want unless everyone else wants it. It’s a maze with no exit.

I can’t get over this messianic vision in which art, perhaps that picture on the wall by an artist in your town, transcends the cultural hammerlock that school, family, and ‘all over at the same time television’ imposes on everyone without anyone really noticing. It's true this notion of the liberating power of art has sometimes been open to question. I just find for about every third painting I see by Van Gogh I feel an almost mind-melding intimacy that comes across entirely without words, so I couldn’t explain it. It isn’t just him. Art from all over can be like that. 

After all, a consensus made of money can blow away when conditions change, and they will, but that’s not the sad part. The real shame is the low expectation on the part of people who spend millions on the colored monograms of fame only because they might go up in value. Maybe they will, but who could live with that off-handed, talent-deriding section of colored cloth up in the living room without the price tag hovering close by? Their grandiose game of liar’s poker, all hold, fold, and cold-eyed bluff, gives art a bad name, and it’s also seriously beside the point.

Credentials don’t count for as much as doing the work, since each decision made once the canvas receives the first mark reveals the personality and life-experience of the person who makes it. There’s no reason to doubt when looking at a Jackson Pollock here was an alcoholic in temperament and method, and as such I’ve always found his work repulsive, but then I take him seriously. It means almost nothing to me that he was famous by proclamation or that any one of his 'painter’s drop-cloth' paintings is worth millions, respectable millions. Artists are attempting to reveal 'self', their own and everyone else’s, something that just happens automatically in the process of making art, and people see themselves in the work or they don’t. Considering the price tag first doesn't help. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

street art indoors -- the feral petting zoo

In the paper today, lex HL 9-14, a local university is presenting ‘Street Tested: Kentucky Graffiti Artists’ in their gallery. This in itself is an amusing idea, snarly defiant art insurgents participating in a sunday afternoon panel discussion, but maybe it will set some standards for fence and alley vandals in our fair city. Not that I’m not a fan. Never disappointed to be stopped at a train crossing so long as it’s composed of cars from all over. 

Somewhere in train yards, under threat of more than just justice, kids with spray cans make amazing art. They must be doing it for others like themselves because I can never figure out what it says and if I do I don’t know it means, but the color contrasts, the rhythmic balance and imagination crank very hard at fifty mph clicking past. They take these chances, train yards have private security, to send their tag out into the world and I’m looking.

Now that’s romantic and the art carries the load. Some of it’s so good and its reasons so pure, they don’t get paid, it almost justifies defacing the private property of some gigantic corporation. It can get out of hand. Chicago banned aerosol paint years ago so too bad if you want to paint a kitchen chair. Let’s face it, not everyone who wields the can has worked out the design beforehand or developed the deftness to apply spray paint, and not every blank space needs decoration.

Be careful what you sanction would be my suggestion to the progressive university, presenting semi-legal artwork “not meant to be auctioned to the the highest bidder” lest you find a heart in red spray paint on your own front steps. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

below grassroots -- politics of self

It isn’t just art about politics that’s political. It depends on how far you want to break it down. How a person feels about themselves has a lot to do with how they relate to other people -- how they treat other people, what they accept from other people, and pretty soon we’re talking politics. If you want to know how people feel about themselves look at their art.

Creating art is a human attribute and it follows us everywhere. A rigid hierarchical culture in Egypt yields the same art with minor variation for thirty five hundred years, while pre-Columbian ceramic vessels from the coast of south america reveal an individual inventiveness, ribald humor, and vivid imagination all indicating the cultural character of a long lost people. ‘Art history’ is about putting boxes in boxes, but history and art can be pretty interesting. Yes, the mentality of the renaissance was decidedly different from the preceding gothic era, and there’s a way we all know this. We see the art.

Nowadays is a free-for-all, all the influences churned together, and it’s possible to pull most anything out of the mix. In the present situation you’re on your own when deciding what sort of influences to come home to. Should you choose art that looks cool to all your friends or just what speaks to you personally? Do you choose art that reinforces your familiar view of life, or something closer to the edge? There isn’t any wrong since it’s just art, after all. If you’d like to own something of value buy original art, but no one gets to tell you of what. Decide who you are and buy the art that expresses it, or live with art you find appealing and find out who you are -- it works both ways at once.


Friday, September 5, 2014

reclaiming the pit -- flowers on slag heaps

The idea behind 'owning art' is reclamation and renewal of art’s grass-roots audience after the massive environmental degradation of abstract expressionist strip-mining, beginning about the middle of the last century. The reason this was done originally was largely political expediency in unrelated areas but as a result weeds abound in a wrecked landscape.

The forces behind the ascendancy of abstraction, in broad terms, were the extremely powerful who suffered severe discomfort at the universally understood painted criticisms made by Diego Rivera and others like him, they were legion. Abstractionists were also to benefit from a ruthless international competition in which the American government promoted abstract art as somehow more democratic and individualistic than the collectivized, state-glorifying representational art in Russia. 

Abstract art won't cause anyone in power to lose sleep at night and academics can hide their ineptitude behind it, but its riddles all seem goofy in the end. Side effects of removing the depiction of identifiable content from visual art have been devastating for the individual and society, since a most fundamental means of human communication was silenced. The marketing of art has elevated an incestuous royal line of ‘masters’, visual entrepreneurs who turned some minor conceit into a trademark, and that glamorous load in big time galleries has degenerated into monographic imbecilities in just a few generations -- google Hirst, google Koons, google them all.

Representational art, still derided as ‘illusionist’ by old-school abstractionists and their progeny, is capable of transmitting mind to mind much more information than just the time of day in a wheat field, as anyone who has admired Van Gogh will attest. The representational image engages the experience, memory, and mind of the viewer, and even more effectively of the everyday owner, and its sensibilities then participate in whatever the person sees. Did you think art was passive? For those who subscribe to the epic that has become known as ‘contemporary art’, come out from behind your tiara-snatching masquerade and join the rest of us, sighted uprights who can speak without language using pictures.

Monday, August 25, 2014

art's one way mirror -- the invisible audience

Art folks have some pretty insulting ideas about everybody else. Why if it weren't for the progressives in bureaucratic positions passing out grants art beyond big cities would probably die, and the reason so many galleries fail is cretin sports fans are taking up all the parking. In art school students are taught the common folk have no direct interest in petty mind games and that’s probably correct.

‘Contemporary art requires much more from its audience’ intones the resident expert and there’s no doubt. It requires faith, a powerful force shaking the world about now in its more fanatical manifestations, but in art it just entails believing nonsense has significance -- seems almost benign. Damien Hirst has reduced his product line to polka dot and spin paintings done by ‘assistants’, and it’s difficult to compare them to world art and still feel good about our culture, unless of course we just declare ourselves obliviously self-absorbed. Happens all the time.

Not everyone gets on the bus and that includes most people. It doesn’t mean they don’t like art, wouldn’t respond to art, or wouldn’t buy it. They might prefer a more authentic effort from the artist, an image more relevant to their own experience, and maybe a work of art which establishes its presence without a pound of paperwork. Where is this art you ask, and the answer is it’s always been around. It may not have seen sunlight for a while although with recent climate changes new growth is possible. 

This change of climate is simple exposure to the public, the first imperative of retail markets everywhere, and it’s happening now. More art is going up in businesses and shops, and galleries are claiming spaces within walking distance of the new 21C hotel. As more art is seen in galleries, hotels, and alternate venues all around town, worthy area-produced art will rise toward the surface and become visible to the local population. It would be wrong to suggest quality would go down since artists respond to attention and support and get better. People who spend their own money on art can self-educate pretty quickly too, and almost always recognize the better piece side by side. Eventually the art around here might become more relevant and authentic to the community, and more important to people’s lives.