I’ve never been comfortable with the notion of artist as genius. There have been a few over a long span of time, but auditioning for the part takes an audacity makes me uncomfortable. Not intending to brag but I’ve been out there, working for wages, repairing plumbing in rentals, using the once plentiful wire coat hanger under the car. Humility is the password out in the world of physical work and hostile landlords, and it turns out a great deal of the world’s population use it regularly as a badge of recognition.
When Fidel came to the UN and stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria, he and his compadres went down to the market and bought live chickens to grill on their balcony. They refused that glorious room service, so they said. This performance piece was entirely opaque to his rich hosts, but brilliantly transparent to poor people, all over everywhere. In the more rarified world of avant-garde art, there was an italian artist who had his own excrement canned and labeled as such, and the British Museum paid six hundred thousand pounds for one a few years back. Not only a titanic sendup of elitist gullibility, numbered individuals from the edition have been known to explode spontaneously adding a potentially kinetic element.
I’m not talking about the humility of shuffling feet and downcast eyes. I’m suggesting that spilling sloppy paint and using a squeegee is fair enough, but then pretending that this sad accident of an offhand afternoon is worth two decades of a pretty good income is sorta grossly ego-maniacal insane. Did I say that out loud? I don’t know where you get off with that. It takes a bloody genius to be able turn out one masterpiece after another, each like the last, or hiring a crew somewhere else to do it, happens all the time -- sometimes in the open. Say what you will about the corn-syrup sensibilities of Thomas Kincade fans, what about the people who like that stuff? Are they as shallow and vacuous as the art they buy, is that possible?
Contrary to what the media has to report that isn’t all there is to art. In fact, it’s fairly irrelevant. Art is the voice of connection with other minds and you get to choose your channel, just the cool kids at the moment or the mass of human-kind, backward and forward in time like stuff in the museum, and anyone can listen in. Painting as a secular and remarkably plastic medium for direct communication without using language goes back six or seven centuries and the actual examples endure -- it’s an old conversation. To take part, artists don’t need to be geniuses, just to do their best with what they have. We’ve all been there.