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. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

why buy? -- collecting is for china roosters

Why buy art -- there aren’t that many good reasons on the market these days. The main ones usually presented have discouraging downsides they drag along with them. Say the reason you want to buy art is to impress the in-laws, your social set, the gardner who peeks in the window. No matter what you put up your insurance adjuster brother-in-law will say something snide, moron, you can shake it off, but what if the nephew with glasses is laughing behind your back because there’s something wrong with Thomas Kinkade that you don’t know about? Substitute any other name, even Picasso, and the gnawing insecurity remains. It has to do with buying art to impress, and nothing to do with the art at all is what I’m suggesting.

Buying art for investment is a trip to Reno without the flashing lights and bells. Oh they proclaim on billboards how some tourist went home with fifty thousand, but on the sidewalk young couples weep uncontrollably. It’s like that. When some dealer drops his or her voice to just above a whisper, you’re in big trouble because you’re about to hear how this prodigy is on the verge of skyrocketing to the top dragging your paltry ‘seems-like-alot-now’ along. With enough documentation the client’s greed could eventually cloud their vision for this contrived mediocrity, no buybacks. It would be better to go to Reno and hear the news straight away.

Many people just collect, anything. On TV shows experts pronounce the current collector’s value for vintage pewter spoons, faded autographs, slightly chipped grandma vases from the attic. Everything older than a minute seems to plug into some unseen metering machine counting up the dollars of its ‘collector value’, even after its useful life is through, your very own mint-condition cream separator. They say this applies to art but that's demeaning. Collecting art would be like collecting anything else, always looking to trade up to more perceived market value and more fame no matter how acquired. It can be an exciting and expensive hobby, but not essentially different than a private mania for dime store ashtrays.

Recognizing the human investment that’s already been made in a work of art might make the exchange seem more worthwhile. This painting, drawing, limited print isn’t the artist’s first attempt. That happened long ago, was awkward and crude, and looked that way to them at the time. They’ve walked every step from there to what you’re looking at in this moment, the art they’ve made. Labors undertaken without compensation are embedded there, and of all the options possible they chose to say this, their personal response to life in general. Maybe in some part you agree, and if you do they would probably sell it to you so that you can incorporate this shard of their journey into your own, and so they can acquire more tubes of paint, visit more ethnic restaurants, and purchase more renewable fuel to go looking for neat stuff to paint. The object around here is not to collect -- it’s to understand, to truly appreciate, and to actually own art.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

this world was never made -- Vincent’s birthday

Time to talk about Vincent again, so close to his birthday. He’d be right around one fifty if he was still around. He left early, and his peculiar life story has come to embody our ambivalent attitudes toward art, or maybe our attitudes have conveniently adopted him. There have been several movies, each with a slightly different Vincent, but generally he’s thought of as tortured, just plain crazy, with some sort of savant’s ability to paint. That might be wrong. 

Somebody floated the notion recently that he didn’t really commit suicide by shooting himself in the torso, three days to die, but that he took the blame for boys who had teased him with a gun and shot him accidentally. It also might turn out that having a drunk roommate who owned a samurai sword, Gauguin, could cause one to lose an ear, and he might have taken the blame for that, too, at a cost to his own reputation. Simply being generous and forgiving isn’t quite the crazy we like in our movies, but you can sorta see it in his work. 

The letters between the brothers, Vincent and Theo, a big bound book, chronicle the weird symbiosis between the commercial side and the creative, the yin-yang of art in one family. Theo, the art dealer, tipped the tea cup while Vincent burned in squalor and they wrote letters back and forth. In a certain respect they exploited each other, trading for life’s essentials right out at the existential edge, times were tight. Theo vicariously lived a creative life through Vincent’s almost tedious descriptions of applying the paint, and Vincent received a few bucks for art supplies and ate beans with the rest. This is fertile ground for screenplays but they both had personal motives and may have each embellished, conned, and persuaded once in a while.

More to the point, I say more to the point, would be to look at the work, itself. It’s probably the case that in general crazy people don’t paint, or at least wouldn’t paint with oils since it’s a fairly organized activity. Vincent didn’t during periods of confusion, but when he felt brilliant and crystal clear he made paint transmute directly into tangible poetry. No one else, maybe ever, has been able to cause color and texture to resonate so deeply in an ordinary person’s brain, a perpetual knot of viewers in front of his paintings in any museum. I wouldn’t attempt to explain how this works -- no one could. A person needs to use their own eyes in front of his actual paintings for his century-old admiration and respect to really make sense.

So he didn’t sell stuff. In the long run that’s not the final test. He painted from the heart and that meant more to him. Turns out the public loved him from the time his work was finally seen, shortly after his death. It was the dealers, his brother included, who rejected his work and refused him space in a gallery. They wanted something smooth and predictable, like that painting of the berber souk they sold last week. The market isn’t fond of originality still, and the typical gallery director is more interested in who else sells it and what it sold for than in what it looks like, whatever it is. Vincent couldn’t, or wouldn’t, please them.

Somehow he left just at the point of being discovered, suddenly to be hailed as a genius and expected to appear at social occasions, openings -- black tie, nails trimmed, wearing cologne. I don’t think he killed himself, that his aim was that poor, but I do think he took the center cut and left the fat, committed his turmoil and joy to canvas and moved on. Each day when the Van Gogh Museum opens in Amsterdam people from all over the planet are standing in line, a long line. They’ll forget how much his paintings are worth once they’re in there, and see things differently when they come out. Happy BD VVG.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

dark side of the moon -- shouting

It’s peculiar to be out of step. At first it seems like conversation, but when the other party just looks off there’s a tendency to talk a little louder, to use more colorful language, finally to shout. No one seems to hear. It’s sorta liberating really. 
There’s just stuff people don’t want to hear so they won’t. This can be particularly disappointing in the professionally open-minded. Bread usually comes with butter on one side and most folks lean toward self-interest before they apply logic, and so it’s always been. Art, of all fields of human endeavor, glorifies in the absolutely unfettered, uncensored freedom to say, think, or do anything -- in the studio, in the gallery, in the street. Heard such testimony on the radio from a big time artist who became famous doing the same tedious pastel protractors on and on, an essentially identical example in art museums everywhere, and one of the most austere, unrelentingly unimaginative bodies of work ever. Why am I confused?

In actuality, the consensus-driven art establishment is so astoundingly close-minded that it’s only through gossip in the trades that it’s possible to know if Norman Rockwell is legitimately going to be an artist this scholarly ten year cycle, or just a sentiment-slut magazine illustrator. It’s hard to keep up. Chunks of cash reputedly spent on the work of grad student geniuses to be warehoused until matured as even bigger bundles of bank notes, are the gas flares burning above the refinery of grossly accumulating wealth, excess cigar-lighting money. Legitimate or not, it looks like a truckload of butter on 'sixty minutes', and the office staff doesn’t want to hear it’s going rancid in front of them while the culture yearns for substance.

Independent artists can be insightful, even prophetic, largely because the economy, society, even the art establishment leaves them out, and it’s this bread without butter on either side that allows a certain objectivity. To be clear, just remaining outside is an obstinate position, a naive insistence that words and actions meet, or that they at least bend toward each other. It could be shouted or painted but until the society at large is ready to listen it won’t be heard, or seen. 

In the future works of art will be bought by people seeking their own inner expression, their own solace, and they won’t really give a damn about splendid resumes. The turnstiles of art’s academic certification will be flattened and artists will be free to seek an audience from within their own communities through numerous private galleries and alternative venues. The vast teaching establishment leading art students toward a professional cliff will be bypassed by the talented and driven, and the charity model of non-profit art dependency will dwindle down to dusty basket-weaving backwaters. The business of art will be between artists and the communities where they live, and all those who presently make a living from art without making art, buying and selling art, or even owning art, will have to go get jobs. Who has ears?