Wednesday, November 19, 2014

art -- capitalism’s high-wire act

In capitalism a raw material is extracted far away, shipped, refined, and extruded into all the stuff around. It’s complicated bringing a product to market and involves the efforts and livelihoods of many people in many places. The people who make the real money never lift a brick, far away, high up in the sky -- just the way it works.
Here is a person for whatever reason attempting to tame the enormously complex economic system directly, to remain independent playing by the rules. They are going to try to take raw material, in this case canvas and paint cheap and available to anyone, and transform it into a product of so much value they can sell it and make a living. Wouldn’t that be a fine thing to pull off?

It’s both an amazingly egotistical and yet humble approach to living here, both a ‘calling’ and a sly attempt to bypass the fine print in the social contract. It’s egotistical obviously because someone thinks their talent and commitment could provide them with roof and sustenance, and modest because it’s a trade that traditionally involves scraping by doing other stuff.

All the same questions apply bringing any product to market -- will it be mostly sizzle, will it be substance? Quality is a conversation between the artist and the prospective owner, and the more knowledgable the buyer the nicer the chat. Exposed to the spectrum of art from around here a community could find its own true level of sophistication and taste, develop its own artists, find its own regional voice, and it’s a transformation which builds slowly but seems sudden when it happens. Long experience shows the most authentic, accomplished, interesting art is found when people make their own choices, buy for their own reasons, and spend their own money -- capitalism’s better self and democracy’s genius.

Monday, November 17, 2014

solid state art -- no wires, no batteries

What does a work of art do? We’ve gotten over the notion that art is a pointless luxury purchased with what’s left over after closets are full of furs and seven car garages stuffed with exotic iron, but what is its function day to day? Oh, the smart set may drop a couple of hundred thou on some smear any talented grad student could reproduce, and probably did, but such trade seems frivolous and silly to the average citizen. Art as an investment seems cavalier even to those who value risk, and without any control, really, regarding authenticity it makes no sense at all. 
As decoration all that stuff in frames that ‘looks like art’ from factory outlets claiming to represent starving artists has that look about it, and for good reason. At the other end are sweat-shop conditions for people who, as a fact, are paid rather poorly. Even high quality reproductions of great works of art don’t lie very well, and aren’t likely to draw attention away from tasteful drapes and carpeting. Original art, on the other hand, exerts an influence over the room it’s in.

Does it compete with sixty inches of hyper-intense, slo-mo replay, guns a poppin’, burgers and pickups -- not much does including sunsets and waterfalls, but sometimes it’s off and art on the wall is a constant presence, drawing our attention and influencing how we see. With no wires or external source of energy art offers the example of directed focus and applied attention, and that’s not without value in a land of digitalized mass-produced everything. As a fact it’s this 3-D printed, special effects enhanced, hand-held ‘looking-glass’ reality we’ve wandered into that makes original art so potent. 

Art is a bit of protein in the high-fat, artificially sweetened comfort diet of modern living, and it’s going to taste pretty good even with a mediocre cook. Excellent art, you get to choose, will help stave off the soft bones and ego-depletion that being caught in traffic twice a day, endless tail-chasing conferences, and office pecking orders can bring on. This quality of visual art, this rejuvenation of the senses and grounding for the personality haven’t been emphasized much because salesmen are generally uncomfortable with those issues. Salesmen would rather refer to bluebook listings and cite reputation, prices at auction, and maybe offer you a deal because you got this special appreciation -- such as that.

Art is a machine, a technology from a different era perhaps, but one that still operates, still influences and enhances its owner’s perception and thought process, and all it needs to work is to be seen everyday.  

Friday, October 31, 2014

preparing the way -- art in public

I must have been out on the back forty when it happened. Oh yeah, I’d seen it coming decades ago and told everyone who would listen but that was nobody. Somehow the artist in this community went from social nonentity, a dreamy wastrel who won’t take a job to cultural superhero whose ideas, utterances, and public creations are inviolate, beyond community approval, official sanction, and you better not paint over nothing even if you own it. Where was I? 

Where was everyone else? Some local booking agent all of a sudden is contracting with world-trotting gunslingers who ride into town, emblazon their enormous creative expressions on any convenient blankness, and on their way rejoicing while the community sorts out conflicting feelings about what they’ve left behind. I personally couldn’t complain about any of it because this public painting asks all the right questions, and citizens have to sort out their own answers. It represents a mighty transition, like when evolution turns a corner.

Public painting itself doesn’t have a great future. For one thing there’s only so many blank walls that face the public and they’ll soon be covered, and then there’s the technical side. What does it take to prep a concrete or brick wall for a painted image and did they all do it? In any case, paintings normally shouldn’t be left outside in all sorts of weather, and without regular maintenance they won’t last long. It doesn’t matter. They will have done their job and faded away.

This infusion of international euro-pop mentality will arouse an awareness of what’s already here, what has been here all along, but off the view screen, under the radar, out of mind. These very large paintings are immensely impractical from the individual’s point of view -- they can’t be moved or even seen except when parking, but regular sized paintings in galleries, or for sale in restaurants and salons, can be taken home and hung in the living room. 

From this jump-start, artists will rise in the community mind from being the decorators of public utilities and providers of raw material for charity auctions to serious self-employed contributors. The quirky genius who flaunts society’s norms is slightly beyond the ambition of most artists, and simply being included in community life would satisfy many. All the grating controversy that accompanies public art is overcome when someone buys a piece and expresses their own opinion through ownership. 

Stars align, ancient locks begin to turn, and some new state of community self-concept is at hand, as has already been seen in several quarters. Art is about self-concept first of all, and owning some can ease the friction all this change can cause. Outside ‘public’ art will blossom and fade but the seed will germinate indoors, all around the town.

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

“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.