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Monday, October 27, 2014

artful discourse -- who you gonna call

In my previous post I called into question the art criticism appearing in a progressive new media outlet -- called Under-main, local online journalism. I wish them well. I pointed out that other critics in our area, one for music and one for theater, seem clear and concise, informative and accessible to anyone with an interest, and yet art reviews, in media everywhere, tend to target a much smaller audience, mostly over around the u. It’s a defensive posture, really, making arcane distinctions to fend off the interest of a general readership, all to support an elaborate state-funded art industry hiding behind image ‘privatization’ and visual obscurity.

They’ve had a good run, but the rules are changing. 'Mass' became said in native languages, and critical writing and thinking about art will soon be discussed rationally, using household terms. This will happen because the garden wall is breached, pagans invade the temple, and art is going up everywhere, in salons and restaurants and big hotels. The exclusionary academic approach to art review will lose its power to exclude.
The public will notice and take an interest in visual art simply through exposure -- it’s interesting stuff. After having seen enough of it, and feeling more comfortable that the neighbors might be taking an interest too, people are going to start buying original art and taking it home. Doesn’t really matter how good it is -- it will always be the first piece. Many people feel this verging momentum toward acceptance and appreciation, the emergence of community taste and sensibility, and sustainability for people actually making art. Without the arrival of a comet or other devastation it’s difficult to see how it won’t happen.
I vent a little at the critic but it isn’t the issue. Where could you go to find direct and unbiased appraisal of art and I’m fairly sure a pile of degrees is not the answer. I’d trust Picasso, if he was available, or maybe some demonstratively accomplished painter from around here. Those who actually practice might tend to favor those with similar vision, but mostly they understand the art form and will probably appreciate many styles of expression. For variation there may be more than one with something to say.
If you want to actually hear the direct explanation of why a painting was made why not ask an artist? It’s not realistic to expect the academic reviewer to be neutral, anyway, so why not let artists write about themselves and each other. Independent artists around here are also working people, many with outside occupations, and  they understand the sacrifice and the commitment it takes to own original art and they respect it. Working people, in my experience, tend to respect artists and their work, and they’d come in if invited. Artists would be welcoming. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

“isn’t art, after all”..... no I don’t think so

from ‘thread of a doubt’ in under-main http://www.under-main.com/thread-of-a-doubt/

“Isn’t art, after all, simply a construction of our discourse about it?” so ended a recent review in a local online publication and it’s a much more interesting question than the subject of the review -- ‘does craft drag art down or does art elevate craft,’ the deadest of horses. So, is art, after all, just the physical manifestation of scintillating conversation or is it really something?

Now that’s a subject worth considering. If a work of art, or the work of an artist, never gets talked about or seen does it exist? Not according to the above, and it’s the same as the argument really as about that falling tree. Art happens in the space between what the artist makes and what the viewer sees, and at its best art is an attempt at communion at the deepest, most intimate, most human level possible. I guess I get to say that but if no one is listening, or looking, might as well be mute. Anyway art’s basic equation requires the participation of both parties, but I still think the art, not the discourse, comes first.
What we have here is a closed conversation about just the artists who work in the sanctioned form, but not every citizen can find the time, or really gives a rat’s ass, for these arcane distinctions with an advanced degree. I’ll speak for the left out, and I’m not talking about the artists who realized the situation soon enough and went ahead anyway. They do get to be artists whatever the cost. It’s the citizens who ‘have an interest’ who are left out, because they don’t feel in conflict about what it’s called -- high art or craft. Such a lofty parsing just won’t seem particularly pertinent to them on a burning planet, what with taxes and politics and other real issues.
Maybe the art critic could consider accomplishment as the other critics do. Tunis is big on musicianship and Copley maintains credibility by giving polite but objective assessments of how well local performers sing and act, and any interested person who has gone out to at least some of the events can generally understand their intent. They even get to measure what these critics have said against their own experience when they do attend, and will become more knowledgable and appreciate more as they go along. Critics can and do provide a service to these artists and the community as well.
This ‘art discourse’ about ‘found industrial repurposed’ or ‘intentional moves toward de-skilling’ does give rise to a brand of art but it’s a rarified art, insular and shy about the public and generally disdainful of its interests. Is that all there is? Is that all the discourse you got? Can’t you talk about something else -- originality and vision and the ability to create intentional images would be suggestions. This piddling about cascading derivations just keeps the public at bay so they won’t notice you haven’t done much but confer blessings on your friends without saying anything about art that helps. Worse than that. 
As for the exhibit itself, see the show if you can. Everyone with an interest in learning about art should see as much original art as possible and visit museums when they get to the city, because that’s how genuine discernment arises. Consider what the critic said about this show against what you saw when you get home.

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.