Thursday, May 21, 2015

history dissolves -- incentives collide

Owning art isn’t really about art, and doesn’t advocate for any style or taste. If you’re a visual sophisticate capable of appreciating the scribbles of Twombly, the eloquent blotches of Motherwell, I wouldn’t complain simply because I don’t. Spend your millions, I don’t care. What we do here is politics and what we complain about is spending other people’s money on art they’ll never give a damn about while claiming they’re too dumb, too distracted, too visually illiterate to know what’s good for them. Something wrong with that -- fundamentally. 

What we have here is a state-supported art establishment, here in our democracy, with an officially sanctioned style of art purposefully maintained to baffle and confuse the general public, over their heads and beyond their interests. Just another example of the famous “munchausen syndrome by proxy,” causing the patient to be sick in order to keep the caregiver employed. Sounds vile but there’s no reason to ferret out dark conspirators, the incentives are in upside down is the simple mechanical problem here.

Art made on a salary is different than art made to sell. Who disputes this? Is one better than the other would be a point of view, but that the second is more likely to be an authentic reflection of the tastes and interests of the culture all around seems more like a fact. If you yourself derive sustenance in some fashion from the state system this probably sounds like disaster, but to the rest of us not so bad. Too late anyway since the dialectic cranks, and the two contradictory ideas merge as we speak. Galleries are changing from something to do on a date with no cover to places where people go to learn about and buy art, and they proliferate. Artists will switch allegiances in droves.

Art made to be sold, purchased and taken home, will simply overwhelm the traditional notion of art as a medium of charity, as a campus function, and ‘fund for the arts’ will be able pay the musicians better and leave art along. According to relevant books of divination and social science, art as a means of exchange, dollars and ideas, is about to flourish maybe for a decade or two, and that hammering sound is the ground floor being built already. More galleries will need more artists, and a greater variety of the home-grown product will reach the surface, to be seen and eventually recognized by fellow citizens. 

Quality will find its own level among a world traveled population, and art produced around here will come to represent who we are as a community and who we are to ourselves as individuals. Barring a meteor strike some part of this is bound to play out, and it’s not the worst thing.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

privileged dependence -- weaning art

Remember there was a time when the royal court spoke a different language than the common folk who baked their bread and tilled their fields. The disdain that arose from this privileged dependence, a quite human compensation for knowing you're doing wrong, could be quite freely expressed since it was over the head of all but the house-servants. There have been a few such times on different parts of the planet and it's never turned out well.
The federal government in oh so many ways supports an art that involves maybe one percent of the population -- no, way less than that. Rusting culvert pipe squashing itself atop some building, who looks up, isn’t going to uplift the rest of us. We don’t speak that language. All this gigantic movement of money, bought at auction held in trust donated for tax considerations, doesn’t really trickle down to working artists and their natural constituents, those common folk who bake the bread and till the fields -- everybody else. 

To call it a gigantic money laundering racket wouldn’t be polite, although I have hinted from time to time -- see below. You decide. It’s easier to say that ‘contemporary art,’ without the NEA grants, without foundation tax shelters, without federal and state support for a remarkably dead-ended academic establishment, would evaporate -- finally a contextually relevant outcome. The ‘foreign language’ of the ephemeral installation, the half-baked deskilled assemblage, the mashup of borrowed ideas just wouldn’t be spoken around here any more.

This is not the time to increase funding for a self-chosen court of art insiders, income dependent bureaucrats all mannered and intrigued, and for an art which interests so few of us. Civic officers let your discretionary dollars flow to where they’re needed more, somewhere else, and let art -- production, distribution, appreciation and ownership, manage on its own. This will eventually happen, is happening, anyway, and your well-meaning helping hand just gets in the way.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

sunshine of the open mind -- casting shadows

I remember art school just out of the service -- a readjustment I guess I never made. Students in from rural high schools who had dreamt of becoming artists spent their first year bewildered, wondering why their dreams were turning out so strange. A group of them, four or five, actually came to me only because I was a vet and slightly older and asked me what was going on, and I could only say it certainly was educational -- the military having left me guarded and ironic. In the end most of these same students sanely moved on to other fields of study. I was more detached but no less chagrinned, as the graduate students, surly and dismissive, seemed to be running everything.

What they didn’t like was anybody trying to draw anything, paint anything, or make anything recognizable to anyone in favor of stuff that was just stuff, the more unrecognizable the better. Remember a bfa show in which the artist had taken ladies undergarments, soaked them in dye that didn’t take and ran them through a wringer, I’m guessing, leaving purple and blue caked in all the wrinkles, and then hung them on a line laundry style. People would stand and look and offer, “sure looks like a lot of work,” not knowing really what else to say. No one was willing to say out loud it was a total waste of time since that would have blown the whole game, turning the art building back into a warehouse, but that’s what every rational person was thinking.

That’s how they all start out, these cul-de-sacs of thought, and whether they’re religious, political, or cultural, the technique is the same. Seemingly harmless little transgressions of conscience are allowed to take over the garden, suffocating all the beneficial stuff that used to grow there. If it’s art, it’s called ‘open-mindedness,’ which means all academic/contemporary art resides in a sanctified zone where critical thought is suspended. We cheer. Mother church insisted parishioners ignore abuses by clergy all around, for the sake of the revolution patriots aren’t supposed to notice the labor camps and firing squads, and in exchange for the security of a fine career art bureaucrats embrace the notion of the ‘open mind’ -- anything goes.

Problem is it isn’t true. Met an artist once who told me the only way her representational paintings could be reviewed by the class was upside down. Academics spent a couple of generations heaping harsh disdain on any art that attempted common accessibility, and any student who dared try it anyway. Fellow academics who might occasionally attempt to appeal to the public, or just felt the need to create their own most natural art, went straight to the woodshed. That is true.

Somehow it’s the art that isn’t covered by the ‘open mind’ mantra that seems most interesting to me, since whoever makes it hasn’t been just trying to get along. It’s tricky. The genre markets are as closed-minded as the academics at an opposite extreme, wanting everything predictable and standardized, and sometimes it doesn’t seem there’s much real estate between. That’s the tricky part, that’s the independent part, and that’s where there’s a cutting edge that actually slices anything. 

A culture’s self-expression comes through in the art people support by wanting to possess it themselves, art’s most authentic and legitimate jury, and they’re open minded to a degree. Artists just have to come half way, and those nice folks will bring up their speed to meet them. I’ll say that another way -- nothing breeds sophistication quicker than spending personal out of pocket money. Once that first purchase is made, for best results might need to sacrifice a bit, suddenly an automatic process takes over, and every similar piece of art seen thereafter gets mentally compared. It just happens on its own. Given a decent array of styles and levels of accomplishment, people considering parting with part of their paycheck grow up quick. For any artist who would feel sullied by working toward such an exchange, who would rather keep their civil service position and ‘open mindedness,’ I mean no harm nor find fault.... 

The ground shakes, and winds blow. Lord aren’t we tired of moronic comic book movies, and wouldn’t it just make us all feel better, help us see farther and to think more clearly, to have some locally-sourced user-friendly art up on the wall around here?

Friday, April 24, 2015

domesticating art -- rebuild it and help with rent

Independent artists have always been the earthworms of urban renewal, finding cheap housing and studios, aka live-in studios, in any town’s neglected areas. They confront old plumbing, drafty windows, security issues, while improvising habitable and productive spaces, a long tradition of living and working for cheap. This is not gentrification in itself, but soon slick bars and boutiques invade as artsy folks come around. Shopping carts and abandoned washing machines start to disappear, perrenial vagrants just aren’t there. Before long landlords decide to upgrade, and the poor people, including the artists, move out. 'Over-the-Rhine' in Cincinnati is a classic example with the greatest income disparity of seventy-six thousand areas in the US surveyed, transitioning from urban blight to destination for the young professional, porsches in litters, like a renovating tide, due in large part to artists moving in twenty five years ago, now all but gone themselves. 
Here, might be happening everywhere, progressives with grant dollars want to seed low profit real estate with enclave artist communities, hoping to shortcut straight through to urban chic just in time to make a killing for someone. Maybe it works, but sure seems unnatural somehow. I suspect they're really just setting up a tourist stroll with bead work and plywood roosters, as artificial as its roots, and populated with the entrepreneurial bottom-line sort of artist. Seen it other places is all. 

Here’s something they possibly just don’t know. Finding your own way is part of it. It’s an interesting assignment, to survive as an artist here in our sports loving, media-addicted land. To an aspiring artist driving an old car isn’t romance. It requires mechanical skill or at least understanding, and thoughtful and efficient maintenance squeezing out every mile, just like every tube of paint is squeezed. Goes for everything. A person learns to cook, to repair, to negotiate with not the nicest landlords. This is all a part of making art that connects to that larger pool of human experience, and it works. Did they not tell you this in art history class? The city, the state, the united nations making it easier actually defeats the process. 

Consider all the money every civic entity of a certain size spends on art already in the hopes of cashing in on creativity, luring the youthful professional types who'll make that money churn. Now they think they can build birdhouses for artists like they were swallows and real estate around soon becomes desirable -- new paint, new traffic signs, clean sidewalks. Good luck with that. Being an independent artist requires independence, and roosting on shotgun row may not suit them. They probably wish you’d get out of their way, and devote your urban renewal energy to fixing up neighborhoods for the people who already live there, and by the way raising the minimum wage to fifteen dollars so artists can afford their studios in some still rundown part of town.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

art so handy -- the nonfunctional finds purpose

Now here’s a local writer making the points we’ve been harping on around here all along. Art opens the eyes, retools the senses, and brings the present moment into focus. Seems like a revelation when someone else says it. Don’t feel the need to say it again myself just now, but will mention the best part. It doesn’t have to be good art to be effective.
A heightened attention burns anything you put in front of it. Since the machine we’ve been given knows the world only through the agency of comparison, someone’s recently delivered new theory of knowledge, all that’s required is that you see good art sometime. It’s automatically recorded and kept for comparison with all the other art you’ll see, until perhaps you see something better, and so it goes. Thereafter you can look for the qualities you admire, and whether you find them or not, at least you looked. You’ve exercised your immediate attention, and will be rewarded by the new stuff you’ll notice throughout day.

It is necessary to see good art once in a while to prime the whole enterprise, and by good art we mean compelling enough to make you want to look. If you try to see a fair array of all the art available you’ll find most of it boring, but not all of it. Some artists are able to make images that evoke honest sentiment and intelligence and reflection, somehow, and you just want to look at them. On the other hand, there’s also an awful lot of art that’s derivative, poorly made, and uninteresting out there, and you’ll have to look at it too to decide which is which. See how this works?

Art is on its way -- the 21C Hotel, due this fall, is a riverboat of art pulling a wide wake, and pocket galleries, independent studios, and local artwork up in local businesses are about to become visible, as the local population starts to pay attention, to make comparisons, and to take some home. This thoughtful writer, Tom Eblen, having observed the present has projected a future in which art is invited in, taken seriously, and given respect for the contribution it can make to community awareness and individual realization. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

seeking self -- finding expression

Art is about self first of all. All the art there is is simply too much for any one person, all the way from ‘deskilled’ to Da Vinci, from quaint primitive to ultra-chic. Where in that almost infinite spectrum of creative expression do you find your own reflection? It’s a fine question, especially these days when it’s possible to access almost all of it postcard size in your pocket.
applicable to all posts: artists and art movements mentioned on ‘owning art’ are as close as google and can be referenced anytime, but in all cases and with all art, digital is not the same as real. There are many qualities in actual art that don’t survive reproduction in any form, most usually the best parts, and the only way to really understand art is to experience it directly -- in the museum, in a gallery, or in a salon or restaurant showing local art.

There isn’t any reason to feel self-conscious anymore since the fences are down, the printed programs are gibberish, and anything that can be squeezed into a gallery can be declared art. You’re free to decide for yourself and that’s the rub. Who knows who they are? Do you dress for comfort or for style, do you buy a practical car or a roadster, do you read a book or play outdoors? Given reasonable options most folks seem to find their way without over-analyzing, at least in the beginning, and might not become reflective until later in life when events impinge. It’s about this time they might start looking for themselves in art. Perhaps you qualify. 

Before you begin, ask yourself, do you look at art directly or wonder what other people think about it first? I’ll suggest this will be easier once it’s understood that other people are mostly wondering themselves, blowing up a vast self-sustaining soap bubble of false affirmation. Actually, looking at art can be fun once the onerous burden of other peoples’ expertise is popped. It’s also easy. Some art is going to seem more interesting to you than all the other stuff, no need to seek it out -- it finds you. Just see as much of it in person as possible, visiting museums and galleries in cities, and making a point to notice in businesses which display art around town. You’ll soon have favorites, it’s inevitable, and the art you take home will reflect your life in a more personal way than the car, the clothes, or your use of free time.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

cults and conspiracies -- gimme some truth

Scientology is about to get whacked with a big expose on HBO this weekend -- just saw the promo. Somebody’s going to claim it’s all about mind control, that they introduce innocuous mental routines that override free will so they can bleed away a disciple's cash, and it will be convincing, probably. This after a recent play on broadway won awards for a fairly straight forward, with singing, portrayal of Mormonism. It’s all pretty amusing from the outside. 

Not so fast. Who’s been programing the big machine, the baseline reality we mostly all accept and swim around in? The evening news isn’t really about what goes on in the world, just some highlights, but instead is being crafted all afternoon to shape public opinion concerning war readiness, class consciousness, and all of it tuned to a calibrated level of anxiety. Is this news?

Most folks figure being slightly ahead of the game is sufficient, safe and warm, and after seeing the evening news the status quo seems fine. Still, it’s amazing what some folks take for granted and think is real. Religious schisms within all denominations denounce next door variations as totally wrong, economic principles which have been shown to cause financial disaster are fervently adhered to, and cultural elites continue to support a contemporary art which exposes a grasping furtive ambiguity on their part, naked and unsure before centuries of human accomplishment. Well, in defense of all, it’s tough to say what’s real. 

Just gimme some truth can be a tall order, and there’s only so many places to look. It seems to have been discovered just recently that naturalistic television in which production companies attempt to portray authentic situations with believable human characters, no matter how bizarre the setting, finds resonance with an intelligent and hitherto unknown public. Who knew? Even big money is letting the artists lead because it turns out there’s an unfulfilled appetite for authenticity, honesty, and truth no one counted on before. 

Is there truth in art? It’s an antique notion to this modern crowd, but reasonable to ask when up to our asses in convenient lies, maybe higher. The first truth is that lies travel both directions, deceit and belief pairing up in little knots difficult to untie. Art leads out, creates dissonance and finally begins to unravel those invisible bonds which burden free-will -- scientology’s lie becoming genuine. Visual art enters the brain direct and so conveys what can’t be said, breaking old habits of thought and opening the mind.

Truth gets into visual art in the first place the same way it does in the other arts, through the sincerity, dedication, and selfless pursuit of excellence of the artist. In plain language, they probably could have made more money doing something else but chose to make art with those values instead. If some hitherto unimagined general audience can discern these qualities on HBO, it seems reasonable to expect they’ll be able to find them in other forms as well. Visual art contains a ‘time-release’ truth that goes up on the wall and stays for as many decades as its owner has left, helping them to stay free, open-minded, and ‘clear’ to the end.