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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hope at the Hopewell -- the art of Paris

They almost tore it down, the 1909 Beaux-arts post office in Paris, KY, long known for tobacco and race horses. Instead they renovated it into the Hopewell History Museum with a big first floor gallery. In it they are currently displaying a recently assembled collection of all Kentucky based artists mostly from just before and after the turn of the twentieth century. 

Posted next to each painting is small biography -- academic training, trips to Europe, and the general arc of their careers, and that’s all interesting stuff but the paintings tell their own tale. The fact that some of them are first rate, more resolved and effective from across the room than up close for example, contains its own subtext. These folks made a living at it and it wasn’t because they were good since no one is in the beginning, but because they evidently sold enough work to eventually become good. Still, this isn’t about them. 

Somebody bought their art. Since many of the artists lived here, came back to here from other places, and seemed to thrive here with full time studios wouldn’t one suppose there was a native appetite for art. Not just that, but some buyers must have had pretty sophisticated taste since some of the artwork is. Stone fences lined dirt pikes and water was carried when these paintings were hung in parlors and admired by those who had traveled and seen the world. These paintings tell the story of a culture that supported her artists and through them expressed the outlook of their generation. 

This is a different time. Does any current generation cycling by see the value of engaging the world of the senses directly and honestly in images made by hand? Well, yeah. Back when these paintings were made building stone walls was winter work for field hands and now it’s a pretty good trade. Back then hand engraving was an art but a common one, and making paintings to be bought and hung in houses provided a living. With new technologies some occupations have become obsolete while others have increased in value and making paintings to buy and take home is making a comeback. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

shots fired -- seeking the source

It’s amusing that this community gets all excited about art but thinks of it as a sort of life-style accouterment, a finer thing, an uplifting diversion. It might suddenly seem more important if we were to realize art shapes our world and that Bruce Willis has more influence on our peculiar gun laws and our casual attitude toward violence than all our politicians. We seem to enjoy our dramatized mayhem but recoil when it leaks out into the real world.

This ain’t no game. The machinery you inherited gets you through the day and it works pretty well, but it processes just what you see and that pretty much decides what you look at. Within this looping and limiting mechanism lies the possibility of intervention. If your society seems caught in a self-destructive downward spiral we recommend fifteen minutes in the park every morning on the way to work just looking at trees, your green salad. On TV catch an occasional nature documentary or listen to an objective commentator, a healthy entree, and on your walls hang the original art of artists you know or care about, your vitamins. Avoid Bruce Willis. Let’s all get healthier together.

Monday, July 14, 2014

karaoke surprise -- for granted rethought

My idea of karaoke was drunken Japanese businessmen, or anyone else, taking turns trying to be Elvis and it didn’t sound appealing as a spectator. I confess I didn’t know much about it because I don’t drink nothin’, and this quirk has limited my cultural awareness in numerous ways, underexposure to popular entertainment being one. I have, however, been caught with a plate of ribs just as the sound track started, and to my surprise the waitress put down her order pad, picked up the microphone and sounded really good, just like on the radio. When the song was over she picked up her pad and went back to waitressing. The next singer was pretty good too and even the brave eight year old added a little to Johnny Cash. I decided to rethink. 

It’s easy to believe national talent tournaments are showcasing the near-future super stars of entertainment, but some pretty amazing music can be heard in dorm rooms and there are shipping clerk guitar players with something to say. Local bands with a few years together are better than the high fashion show bands on late night TV. Not as good as but better, more creative, more diverse.

Media up until just a few years ago had a way of narrowing the attention of the public to just three major networks each ruthlessly competing to be just like the other two. Perhaps because of the internet and cable we’ve entered a period of readjustment as a sort of transpersonal honesty begins to penetrate the realm of false advertising, the myths we’ve been living by. Even the business of big art has grown wobbly.

The cheek-by-jowl gallery districts in the heart of major cities are off-white high-roller tourist traps and their brand name monopoly on genius has been overrated. There are artists somewhere in your vicinity actually better than people who got famous, and that’s largely because fame is about fame and not art. We’ve been there. If you’re looking for the sly investment might be better to lose your money in a casino, so much quicker, but if some artist’s very best effort up around the house would make your day a little lighter it’s money well spent. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

owning art -- why so positive

Older artists I know are a generally pessimistic lot. After many cycles of hope and despair they’re wary of enthusiasm and don’t particularly like to see it in others. They accept with resignation that sports mania in neighborhood bars with instant replay and nostril hair closeups is just way too compelling to compete with, and that the attention of the average citizen will forevermore be devoted to less challenging pursuits.  Sometimes it might seem that way, but there are indications all around that it isn’t. 

There’s only one question that really matters concerning the future of art, and it isn’t about fund-raising, or national notoriety, or new digs for art schools. The number one national affliction is boredom, and flipping between elephants charging, family sedans sliding sideways, and more stuff, and more stuff, doesn’t seem to help. We’re noticing this together. Is there something more substantial than everything ever written illustrated with everything ever photographed in our pocket destined to be, oops, suddenly superseded by some totally new technical concept in the next hour or so? Maybe there is.

Is there an appetite for art -- this is the one wheel that turns all other wheels. Is there a reason a person might want to own something thoughtful, well-made, and totally unique, and the answer is more everyday, and that’s only a place to start. Would some essence of humanity, here and there on the wall, make the machine-made self-driving day more livable, the conditioned air more breathable, our time spent doing whatever seem more worthwhile, and the answer is yes -- that’s art’s function here in this new century. As more people are exposed to various forms of art the more they begin to appreciate some form, and nothing else really matters.

I’ve suggested in my first hundred posts, this is number 101, many of the ways visual art has been manipulated and suppressed by both private and institutional interests who found in art a vehicle for their own ambitions, and if all or any part of it is true it’s led to an interesting condition. The rubber band is drawn tight, the pendulum has been pulled back, the roller coaster tops the incline -- visual art is poised to make a comeback. The sheer capacity of this community, any similar community, to absorb new art is astonishing -- miles of sheetrock, soaring atriums, expensive furnishings with only lifeless department store art on the walls. If it was only a matter of money all that fancy landscaping stays when you move on but the art on the wall leaves with you, and we’re getting that feeling now. 

Art in your hometown is only approaching adolescence and with a little attention and support will mature into a regional identity with familiar artwork in the houses of friends and family, all around the town. It’s a comin’ whether I say anything about it or not.

Friday, July 4, 2014

subversive art -- slamming the world order

Cold hard fact is about a fifth of the US lives in the third world. What would the difference be if restaurant and service workers started out at fifteen dollars an hour? With average CEO pay hovering right around ten million dollars a year we’re really not going to consider negative effects -- three cents more for a cup of coffee, a quarter on a hamburger. We already know the economy would improve for these people and for everyone else as well, so it isn’t necessary to debate the point here. It’s a given.

What would art be like if these people had more money? It wouldn’t be all cool and with it, that’s for sure. The people lower down aren’t as interested in urban tribalism and group-think conformity, and are therefore more likely to actually look at and think about art. They tend to respect artists and art itself. They’d decide how much art was worth to them and buy some. This is because life experience has led them to an understanding of the broader human condition, effort and strain with only a slim chance of success, and they see these things expressed in art.

Sheet glass with a silver backing yields a faithful visual rendition of physical space while art reflects concerns and values in a human. Art closest to the daily experience, the strategies and execution that represents the individual’s own confrontation with the world, has a way of earning the affection of the people who live it. Right now they can only look and might not even do that. They don’t have the money to buy and the art they’re likely to see isn’t meant for them anyway. Works of art in galleries and contemporary museums seem to be only analogue artifacts of the career status of the artist and who gives a shit, really? It sure doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not they’re good.

Common people can express themselves through art by what they buy and live with, and that’s its function in a truly progressive society, wherever that might be. Now I’m going to say something interesting. We could wait for politics to evolve and there’d be the art, or we could choose self-affirming, perception-challenging art and bend society from the back side. So far it’s only a theory, but it’s at least a change we can make for ourselves and it's time to do something. An income disparity approaching that of the middle ages has collateral aspects few acknowledge, and the reduction of the aspiration and self-awareness of the majority to brand-identification is a big problem. Art is the answer. Game on.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

ceo search -- defining the mission

Last night attended a meeting concerning the hiring of a new director for the central funding agency for arts in our community. They’re out to find some person with superior leadership ability who is also a strategic-planning, fund-raising guru full of passion for the arts. That’s not the hard part.

What’s the mission -- we don’t know. Do we want a teacup tipper capable of casting coils of flattery and guilt around the local business community and other well-heeled ‘givers’ thereby raking in the cash, or should it be someone who knows and cares about art and artists? Could the same person do both? Actually could they please be able to do everything because we don’t know what we want.

Here’s the bureaucratic dilemma -- do we use public money to midwife self-sustaining art commerce for the economic and spiritual benefit of the community, or do we perpetuate our charity-based institutions, most of all, us? Whining for the city, the state, the federal largesse to look our way seems insensitive, just does, what with conditions on the street. Soliciting businessmen and their accountants for a little chunk of write-off in exchange for their name on a plaque isn’t going to earn their respect. This approach will however give us the power to direct which favorites put on performances, what artists succeed -- an off-the-shelf small town byzantine court of cronyism. This really isn’t an option anymore.

The world changes and the charity model is rapidly becoming obsolete. Time to contribute to the future or grind on in futility and dwindling support -- don’t we complain? Broaden the audience or get out of the way. Actively facilitate community awareness and appreciation of art instead of engineering artistic dependency by dribbling out funds -- not enough to live on, just enough to keep hope alive. This new director should be working to make his or her job less important, the institution’s influence less, and instead improve the climate for ticket sales and direct purchases for visual artists by becoming a bridge between an increasingly interested community and its creative class. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

original art and free will -- somewhere deep inside

Heard this interesting radio program claimed wiring in the ear is receptive to the familiar but doesn’t like to process the unexpected -- they say it’s brain chemistry. They cited as an example the 1913 presentation of Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ which caused a riot -- folks in black tie and tiaras went berserk and these scientists surmise the cause was a flood of rejection juice in the brain brought on by the music’s massive dissonance, which they had never experienced before. Next year it was performed again and the audience loved it. The composer was carried out into the streets.

Isn’t that the way it always is, only a little quicker?  Folks just aren’t fond of new experiences because new file folders have to be named and stored somewhere, and the familiar just saves automatic. Behind all that is this chemical reaction they’ve found takes it almost out of free-will territory. Cognition itself is biased toward prior experience, and that’s just the way the machine is set up. Too bad for original anything. It takes an act of will to consider something new and a little at a time seems advisable. Stravinsky wisely ducked out the back door when the first performance turned ugly. 

This is the reason second tier emulation can be the key to success in any field of art, and that originators are sometimes passed by -- consider music. Andy Warhol seemed to intuit this modern brain breakthrough by picking only the most familiar cultural and commercial images to call art, thereby releasing that little burst of recognition oil we all find so pleasing, don’t know why. Well wouldn’t say it’s poison but it’s definitely empty calories, just responding to stuff seen before. As harsh and alien as it seems at first, original art tends to scrape away the scales and illuminate the senses, and although lab results aren’t in yet, we believe this could be reduced to a reordering of molecules in the brain that happens when a person looks at a painting done by an artist they've never seen before.

From then on when they see the artist's work they're going to get a burst of ‘oh I recognize that’ clear and pure as county air. Sorta the man inside, drugs you can do just by looking, a habit you get fixed by thoughtfully considering works of art. In a world of moral potholes why not a good addiction, one that expands your humanity, brings continuity day by day and adds a few years -- try looking at and living with original art.