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Sunday, February 7, 2016

chick little and the arts -- holding up the sky

We have an new governor, one with a tea party reputation. He did and said what was needed to get elected, and no one really has any idea what he’ll do in office. He’s expected to re-prioritize the budget, eliminate waste wherever it can be found and spend even less on state services. We all expect leaner times but one special interest group panicked fearing annihilation, lit up social media, called for meetings to plan activism and retaliation, occupation of the rotunda, signs and shouting and stomping around. Gov said he had no idea how the rumor got started. What happened?

Methinks excessive protest reveals a special sensitivity, an uneasy conscience over privilege unearned -- how else to explain? They made it sound like the governor was about to kill art, an astounding idea. Predictions of doom which the average citizen may not have followed closely, or cared about, were dire. We should all be aroused considering what’s at stake -- what’s at stake? It probably isn’t art.

Art is old, here long before help arrived. It wasn’t contemporary art, of course, but an art admired and owned by the educated and well-traveled in many kentucky homes, and generally respected by everybody. Then the ‘state,’ federal, state, and local, got involved and suddenly there was a mission, the reeducation and cultural elevation of a heathen population. These agencies quickly became refuge to many a useless degree, to many who instead of making art decided to administer it. 

Here we have an exhibit featuring a wounded sawhorse, arrows in one flank, a hoof supported by a stack of vinyl records, in jackets, couldn’t tell what they were, not sure it’s important. A private gallery is not the place to see it. Takes tax money to sanction art of this calibre, and don’t it flow? Over on campus, check the non-profits, this is the art threatened when its state-funded budget is eliminated, along with phalanxes of copiers decommissioned and bleeping terminals gone blank. So sad.

Art would be dead, huh? With no more state money to support ‘conceptualists,' the cutting edge would round to general acceptance, and perhaps working artists could make a living on their own, directly, without dribbles of grant money and juried exhibits which alienate the public. Well, it didn’t happen. Everyone loses a nine percent slice, but the lights stay on, although I’m not sure all the commotion didn’t give the governor something to think about. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

a museum's mission -- front-loading fortifiers

The mind is pliable, and the brain will alter its function, even change its shape, trying to keep up. Images flood in through the eyes, go shifting through registers, the turnstiles of habit and security check of pet prejudices, to assemble the world we live in somewhere in back. Look it up. We all live in a virtual reality we construct, more or less, by what we choose to look at -- that is when we get to choose. 

Gone is that simple way of life in which the oak down by the creek was the same, only bigger, in a lifetime. People back then might have heard the wind, noticed the moonrise, been comfortable with their own identities, seeing much the same tableau everyday. We live in such a flood of images our attention span stands on its tip toes gasping for breath. In many ways our national consciousness is being shaped, might say manipulated, on a meta-scale -- what’s funny, what’s sexy, what’s an acceptable level of mayhem, and if you choose to stay you play.

Is it really radical to suggest that the visual aspect of an assemblage of fast food outlets, out along some belt-line somewhere, is as soulless and lacking in nutrition for the mind as their food is for the body? Now it’s possible to survive exclusively on big macs, as some seeker after world-record fame has shown, but only with heavy reliance on supplements via capsule every morning. Same goes for the rest of us, really. That action-packed orgy of demolition at the Imax goes somewhere, just like the sugar in that coke you’re drinking. 

Suppose the images and thoughts encountered in a normal day determined the limits of what a person could think about. What’s the supplemental compensation for urban traffic, the florescent-lit cubical, the rude debasing appeal for attention blasting from all directions? That big museum on donated land at the top of the hill might offer some relief, if you happen to live near a city. People visit art museums to counteract the banality of mass production, the sensationalism of mass communication, the sameness of day to day. Couple of years back the historic Grand Palais in Paris remained open twenty four hours a day for the last two weeks of an exhibit, people standing on the sidewalk under umbrellas way after midnight to see the paintings of american Ed Hopper. 

Here is not so different. So long as the routine we all face is leavened with art, living day to day isn’t so bad.  

Thursday, January 28, 2016

intention vs the happy accident -- making art

There’s a theory that in making a painting the thousands of momentary decisions about where to put the brush for each stroke unconsciously encodes a statement of character and attitude, regardless of subject matter, that can somehow be read back by some component of our mind. It would seem the tremendous appeal of a Van Gogh painting, for example, isn’t in the sunflowers, but instead in something about the way they’re painted. It’s very hard to explain, actually can’t be explained, because explanations are in words and words won’t touch what Van Gogh was doing, but we can see it.

Art sometimes takes up a cause, say a socially relevant, consciousness lifting expose’ appropriate to the times, but times pass and citizens lobby to replace old art with new as social priorities change. We’re not talking about that. Whether artwork supports the revolution, legitimizes the establishment, or sells a stick of butter, it’s the potency of the image that grabs the attention. Visual art goes mind to mind, no filter, and its appeal is more felt than intellectualized, just like other art forms.

It’s pretty much a fact that other art forms don’t do accidents. There’s improv but it isn’t random, just spontaneous, and remaining in control is its charm. Clark Terry might ‘triple-tongue‘ up and down in one solo, but that’s polar opposite of accidental, which he just expects you to understand. It’s difficult to conceive of anything analogous in any other form to the ‘happy accident’ smearing, staining, dripping school of making art, but that’s what was happening for a while. Here’s what’s happened since. Without the sustaining motive of communication art has become a vehicle for the supersonic cutting edge of fashion, frivolous and time-bound. I understand it, just don’t care for it, big Japanese gallery full of jagged chunks of something I wouldn’t go next door to see-- not much for runway couture either. I ain’t alone.

I saw a Picasso rooster at the Cincinnati Art Museum and the brushstrokes that made up the feathers on the neck were intricate and even, even though the rooster was considerably less, or more, than photographic. I’m not always a fan, don’t always agree, but always interested to see what he was saying, since no matter what Picasso did, no one ever doubted the intention imbedded in his art. So here’s my point. Jackson Pollock was on to something, in theory, thinking of artistic expression as a form of automatism, the artist’s unconscious projection of meaning, but his shortcut just didn’t work.

The ‘truth’ he sought requires the mastery of technique, the acquisition of voice, and it isn’t easy. Musicians practice, dancers leap, actors sit if front of mirrors, each seeking the control to express themselves honestly and totally. That’s what makes their art compelling and they know it. When it comes to painting the same rules apply, really. Another line on the resume won’t move the total stranger like a dedicated attempt to portray early evening in the park, a park similar to one the viewer may have walked in long ago -- a nod back and forth deeper than clouds and trees.

Monday, January 25, 2016

starving outlets -- in through the backdoor

I’ve been writing out of my own experience but not directly about myself. I imagine a constituency of like-minded folks who have realized how arbitrary reality can really be, and it’s been leading more than a few to an interest in art. For example, everyday people can be curious about ‘starving artists outlets’ -- “is it actually art just because it’s done by hand,” and “do the artists actually starve,” interesting questions really, typical of first glimmerings. The answers are, no, it isn’t art because its sole purpose is to acquire some of your money, and, yes, because they pay very low wages in Mexico where much of it is made, the ‘artists’ do not live well. 

By and large not considered great art, stop by ‘starving artists’ sometime and look anyway. All ten versions of the flowers in a blue vase are slightly different. The salesman will, in fact, put two of the same painting up next to itself so the client can decide which, right or left, they want to take home. This is because some of the minimal wage workers actually have talent and their flowers are a bit more convincing, their colors less muddy, and occasionally they may even insert a little joke that neither their supervisor, nor the salesman, nor the customer will ever see. Once saw a lit cigarette left on the edge of a sideboard supporting a generic bowl of fruit that only the artist and I even knew was there -- in that moment, we smiled at each other. Hola, a fellow painter.

Actually there is a path from that kind of art to the real thing, and if you can identify the differences among ten versions of the same painting you’ve stepped out on it. It has to do with looking and seeing, simple as that. Better art has more to say and it’s up to you, the viewer, to see it. Education, it turns out, may not be your friend in this regard. If you were taught, and accepted, that Jackson Pollock was a revolutionary genius who with a slinging and a spattering made all painting since the renaissance obsolete, you might have a problem with the simply looking and seeing part. Admiring a Pollock painting takes a bit of faith that the average person may not give up that easily, a rarified taste reserved for the literary minded who see the world through thick lenses of rationales and justifications. Modern art has been built on those.

Seeing what’s actually there, in a painting, in the newspaper, happening in real time, is a challenge we all face each time we open our eyes. Learning to see just what each artist has accomplished can be extremely liberating, and can generalize across the board, to politics, to advertising, even to seeing the sunset, smelling a rose, and noticing the world around you. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

all the wrong places -- seeking value

Just listening to media one might think art is just a playground for hedge fund managers and other high rolling tax manipulators who, as a class, do seem to have a singular taste in art -- they like it expensive. Doesn’t matter what’s on the front. Recently saw pre-auction estimates for a Van Gogh and a Rothko both at about twenty seven million, and it’s pretty certain the same shills would be bidding on both, with equal passion. Don’t we all dream of great chunks of money, but as the sole criterion of artistic value just the price tag seems lacking, and the present system stinks of larceny, frankly. In any case, what goes on in the ‘market’ has nothing to do with the individual decision to buy with the intention of owning. Not remotely.

Self-verification is a good reason to own art, here on a planet where even spare body parts can come spitting out of the 3-D printer, there next to the microwave. As our identities have become digitalized -- stolen, crunched, and sold back to us, nothing says ‘individual’ quite like a unique piece of art. Original art becomes a repository for events in our memories, a trolley ride back to when it was first acquired, and having it around becomes quite ‘utilitarian’ over a lifetime. Like the purchase of a car or a house, considering art is an exercise of personal judgement and taste, only much easier with fewer ‘practical’ constraints. 

Almost everything that’s been said about art, particularly since mid-century, has drowned in a din of careerist bleating, and it’s near impossible to find rationality on any level, even if it’s in there. Do yourself a favor and forget whatever you’ve heard, read, or learned in school, and good for you if you ‘don’t know a thing about art’ -- start fresh. All you do, instead, is look at art whenever you come across it. See, you have these automatic mechanisms in your head that will sort it out for you, you’re human. This ability, even desire, to express what can’t be said with words is built-in, and in our age of specialization artists are there to do it for you. When you look at art, gears and levers click into place and you find yourself liking some art more, and finally, after looking enough, liking a particular piece a lot. The recitation of four pages of resume won’t be necessary, since it’s probably better to be there before a reputation develops anyway, if you get my drift. In any case, buying something you simply like, maybe only every couple of years, will in time come to reflect who you are, and estimated price at auction won’t matter. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

art and the public -- the blockade busted

So how did these artists, from the last post, become feral in the first place a gentle reader would like to know. Turns out it’s an interesting story of international intrigue and the sheer power of concentrated wealth to shape human consciousness -- something to ponder. The details of how it was done, names and dates, are well documented, as well as the stated and unstated motives for why. 


That was long ago, yet an event so catastrophic art history began over at year one. State sponsored 'radical extremists' stormed the bastions of art, already sadly demoralized by a devastating war, lifted a leg to art history and slathered the walls with slung and smeared paint. An ‘influenced’ press called them heroes, and false-front foundations started trading chunks of cash, on paper, for a piece of them, since the public wouldn’t buy any for a generation or two.

Books by the learned were published by the truckload explaining that slavishly ‘copying nature’ was a sign of retro-grade stupid, lack of imagination commercial crap, such as that, whereas this smearing and scraping portends deep wells of significance, meaning, as well as being a commercial bonanza for that most elite brand of hustler specializing in ‘intangibles,’ all sizzle and no steak at all. Teaching institutions happily withdrew from public scrutiny and began promoting art only a grant committee, or some other faculty member, could love. 

The unseen collateral damage was suffered primarily by two groups, independent artists who felt an urge to communicate with those around them, and a public robbed of their own visual heritage and art’s significant influence in their lives. Painters who for some reason just wanted to paint what they saw were 'internally exiled' to menial occupations in their hometowns, and that includes established artists run out of NY, careers terminated, when the abstractionists first came to power. 

That’s how come wooly artists lurk in the woods working as printers and waiters and such, because the academics who control access to the public through non-profit galleries and university activities won’t even acknowledge them as artists, won’t accept their artwork in competitions, ignores them completely and urges everyone else to. They protect their small, self-selecting elitist turf, and who can blame them? Up until now they’ve been holding all the cards, including what gets reviewed in local media, but times are changing. 

Long estranged, a public suddenly curious and increasingly aware that art offers satisfactions which can’t be had by just constantly buying new stuff, and the artists, heating their studios with sterno cans and wearing out their clothes, can finally find each other, stagger across the dmz of academic disapproval to reconnect in local businesses, bars and restaurants, and galleries devoted to local art. This authentic movement will eventually replace the cardboard edifice of the current art establishment. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

feral artists -- free-range art

Today we consider ‘free-range’ art. No, not the kind that pecks a nice green lawn during the day, cozy in a coop at night. We mean ‘free-range’ -- sleeping in woodpiles, running from the foxes, not always looking your best. There are artists over at the university on salary and talented entrepreneurs who find a genre and make art for an established market, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but verily they’re doing ok.

Our concern is for the waitress, mechanic, delivery driver who aspires to one day give up the day job, and to that end spends evenings and weekends in any studio they can afford -- above a garage is sometimes available. Maybe their dream is to ‘break-through,’ suddenly blaze incandescent with glamour and limos, but most just want to paint full-time, someday. Their first goal is paying-the-bills self-sufficiency, and too much thinking about what comes after just turns out counter-productive.

Something interesting happens in a vacuum. Without the attention of the local credentialed critic, tactfully and resolutely ‘not accepted’ in area competitions, and after having cast uncounted grant applications into a black hole, the truly independent artist experiences a kind of lightness. There’s no venal agent demanding more of that stuff like you were doing before, no fawning hangers on expecting you to buy lunch, fancy openings not so often. Slightly eccentric in the eyes of neighbors might turn out to be the only recognition the independent artist receives, how else to explain making art that’s not selling?

With no outside influences, inside a bubble of indifference, the independent artist feels free to follow personal inclinations to make the best art they can. Talent, experience, and vision combine a lot of different ways, and the output of independent studios just about anywhere is more varied and more interesting than all afternoon in SoHo. Now admittedly, without a little cracked-corn occasionally, people give up and move on to something more practical, and those who persist may never reach the potential they envisioned, but if neighbors were to suddenly notice, a crew of field-wise, self-motivated artists would flock home to roost.