Thursday, August 16, 2018

Andy’s viral influence -- getting better

Regular readers of ‘owning art’ may have noted an animosity toward Andy Warhol that seems downright obsessional, and perhaps I should explain. It’s possible I’ve been over familiar using his rather unwholesome visage as shorthand for a process, an infection really, with Andy serving as its main vector, its figurehead. It’s true Andy gave the impression that direct sunlight would turn him even more translucent, like a newt-boy hybrid in transition, and central-casting perfect for the part. It would seem to follow that a celebrity ghoul feasts on dead celebrities, Marilyn and Elvis come to mind, and a metro vampire drains the vitality from living cultural institutions to animate their lavishly deviant lifestyle, but he isn’t my concern and I find his renowned amorality artistically irrelevant. It was his introduction of a virus into the already fevered and deranged body of visual art that cranks my ire.

virus --  1.  an infective agent .......... able to multiply only within the living cells of a host. "a virus infection" -- a harmful or corrupting influence."the virus of cruelty that is latent in all human beings"     2.  a piece of code that is capable of copying itself and typically has a detrimental effect, such as corrupting the system or destroying data.

Take your pick, either will do. Viruses are dead fragments of living cells capable of replicating only within a living host, and then it’s curtains, all downhill, because once they’re in they replicate like crazy. So what is a soup can label, an interesting and conceptually challenging visual image, or a forgotten fragment of childhood memory buried so deep that seeing it again intimates something innately familiar and nostalgically appealing, don’t know why? Are his myriad portraits of Marilyn more revealing than the cover of a movie magazine from the fifties, no, not a chance, because it’s the same photograph. That Andy made a lot of money is way beside the point, it’s the corrosive effect his wholesale piracy had on art -- ‘a detrimental effect, such as corrupting the system or destroying data,’ that needs fixing now.

At some point the fever subsides, and the patient recovers the outlook different. We recommend simple pictures of things, something from a fair or a studio tour, not too expensive just as a starter. Slowly, as confidence returns, the average citizen may move up to art that costs more but will seem worth the price, because they want to own and live with it, on the mend with a healthy direct interest in visual art, even better, more aware, and more engaged than before.

Monday, August 13, 2018

art wars -- painting the resistance

Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones when cornered by divorce lawyers in courts of law cop to just being entertainers, testifying that what they say isn’t meant to be factual, just incendiary. Their hateful, stupid diatribes are only for the amusement of their rabid, socially degenerate audiences, and the first amendment protects them from liable liability. So just what the hell is going on?

So what if art turned out to be more powerful than nuclear weapons? A heavy nuclear exchange in SE Asia would be terminal for us all, but there might be some ways we just wouldn’t want to live, like drones in an ant colony, such as that. Whatever our fate, it isn’t about guns, not any more. It’s about art. The Kremlin has special openings for theater majors, video production people, and creative writers willing to sabotage democracy for a few bucks, a better car and nicer apartment. The russians want mock trials, staged 'spontaneous' demonstrations complete with counter protestors, and provocateurs willing to caricature any point of view and make it preposterous. This is not technology, this not weaponry, this is not economic leverage, just a little play-acting, a bit of thought paralyzing poetry, the mind control of consciously weaponized art.

Warhol is the great architect, the genius who invented the system. He screwed the culture for money and fame, demeaning our character, and sabotaging our notions of integrity and accomplishment. After all, ‘in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes,’ his most famous quote, makes actually striving for any achievement, all the hard work and dedication, seem pretty pointless. Well, everyone knows the russians love art. They’re using Andy’s techniques, fragments of public discourse whipped into a toxic froth of regressing familiarity that dissolves and diminishes our sense of self, and it’s not for the money, but just to watch us crumble as a nation, as an idea, out to eliminate the notion of personal freedom apart from state control.

We’ve had artists dedicated to making life better for all of us, inspirational and invested in human freedom, Arthur Miller, John Coltrane, Ed Hopper, all demonstrating discipline and self-sacrifice, striving always for maximum integrity and excellence, and providing an example of what a fully human existence can attain. The hour is late, but new art can sprout green from the rudderless fermenting pile called ‘contemporary,’ incestuous and inbred. All over, all at once, common folk need to cleanse their eyes, to see what’s actually there in front of them, and that means looking at and learning from art. Art from the neighborhood is a good place to begin. Seek truth.

Friday, August 10, 2018

the war of art -- fake news

How can you identify ‘fake news?’ On facebook one side posts a picture of two beefy idiots wearing ‘better russian than democrat’ tee shirts at a Trump rally, while the other side circulates a phony interview in which a democratic socialist agrees to abolishing private property. Both are bogus, phony and photoshopped, just cheap manipulations and not worthy of consideration by either side, but how does the busy citizen discern what’s real ‘when anything goes?’

Art was there first, of course, back in the eighties when honesty, integrity, dedication and accomplishment, all that stuff was declared obsolete, over and done with. A maniacally clever, brilliantly cynical artist, having ascended through the cutthroat milieu of advertising, understood and knew how to exploit the fundamental pressure points in the consumeristic mind. He managed to contrive a degenerative feedback loop by repackaging the culture’s most familiar and ingrained images, producing a screeching media art frenzy. This cheap trick, and it was such a cheap trick, eventually lost potency, petered out, leaving in its wake the desolation of conceptual art, tinsel and chaff from an abandoned carnival.

The Russians make movies, hold mock trials and stage fake events, plant absurd accusations and violate every expectation of honesty and integrity they can find. Using visual elements from old movies, exploiting incendiary stereotypes and reinforcing old bigotries, gosh, I wonder where they learned it all. Andy’s first great triumph and his most emblematic work of art, the complete set of Campbell’s soup can labels, reproduced and amplified the one most common visual image bored into the consciousness of every north american since the time they first rode in a shopping cart. It became a viral infection of the institution of art, itself, featuring high fever, followed by lowered expectations, and eventual listlessness and apathy.

We find ourselves being driven apart and penned in separate enclosures as though these Russians were the sheep dogs and we were the sheep. Well it’s art they’re using, not guns, and if we don’t snap out of it pretty quick baby blue will be all over. What’s the answer? Well, if art got us into this fix, maybe art can get us out. All over, all at once, let’s begin to look for our own self-respect in art, and screenprinted soup cans, no matter how astronomical the price tag, may not be the best place to start. Consider a real painting by a real person, someone who thought enough of themselves to paint it, and begin a day-to-day conversation with them. Between the two of you, back and forth, decide what’s real and what isn’t.

Friday, August 3, 2018

philosophy vs art history -- lost in thought

My university education prior to military service centered around philosophy, and when I returned with priorities rearranged, I instead sought the independence of studio life, and committed to a visual mode of expression. Philosophy is a verbal discipline which relies on logic, and substantiates its claims through reasoned argument. Philosophers may not agree, but they can carry on a conversation because rules apply, and their words have meaning. Writing about art is an impersonation of scholarly discourse, sounds like but isn’t, mostly just name dropping and convoluted references to more famous and favored artists, borrowed big words, a lot of artful puff and bluff, unreadable.

Art history has canonized the moment visual art broke free from depicting the visual world we share, stepping off into total abstraction just about a hundred years ago, calling it a great liberation and the birth of modern art. The philosopher, and maybe the social psychologist, might interpret this monumental breakthrough in slightly different terms, psychic alienation comes to mind. Maybe it’s time to take the early abstractionists at face value, deKooning, Pollack, and all their alcohol-reeking compatriots, blind drunk, waking up in filthy alleys and staggering home to drip and smear their anguish, their disappointment, their futile impotent rage, and that’s supposed to be at the least pleasant to look at? Taking their art seriously would be to risk suicides in museum parking lots, but scholars call their work ecstatic and celebratory -- how would that even be possible?

The painter, once they’ve acquired a rudimentary command of their medium, chooses what to paint, and that’s a first level of expression, a first hint of insight. Beginners usually don’t confront reality directly, but instead tend to copy types of paintings they’ve seen before, bucolic landscapes and snowy peaks, maybe portraits of celebrities never met, an art that’s secondhand to begin with. As a painter gets better, elements of their personality emerge and can be seen and identified in their work. This is called ‘authenticity’ and is neither conscious or contrived, and by this time the artist is probably presenting the actual world in unconventional ways, constructing an image that perpetually registers as a surprise to anyone’s casual glance. Now that’s a painting.

My philosophy side doesn’t care about big art’s shameless media shills, finds contemporary art humorlessly self-involved, and when placed in big museums an awful waste of real estate, but mostly I just don’t care, period. My artist side knows there are little artists’ enclaves all around in which artists are making each other better, competing and learning and trying new things. Egos are held in check by a general consensus on fair pricing, and in a few studios conventional visual limits are being pulled and stretched. Before too long these cells will merge, and you’ll find yourself living in a community aware of and concerned with art, and maybe you’ll join in. Don’t read about art, buy something and take it home.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

inventing wealth -- finding value

Art dealer claims contents of storage locker he bought for $15,000 includes six Willem de Koonings............  Artsy Magazine, online
Will the art world believe anything? Six ‘unsigned’ deKoonings miraculously found in a locker of junk by gallery owner David Killen, what kind of art dealer buys unclaimed storage lockers? These works were ‘authenticated’ by some guy claims to have been a studio assistant to the deKoonings, probably the real painter. “In my opinion, they are [by de Kooning],” he told the Post. “There’s no doubt about it.” Guess that’s good enough, all anyone’s going to get. The article goes on, ‘the works may result in a major return on Killen’s $15,000 investment—the current auction record for a de Kooning....... $66.3 million. Killen plans to unveil the works Tuesday night at his West 25th Street gallery and auction them off starting in the fall.

Willem de Kooning, Untitled XXV, 1977, oil on canvas. At auction: $66.3 million.

This is so much better than stealing. The ‘victims’ write the checks themselves, figuring to get well when they donate the absolutely untraceable gestural exuberance to some colluding municipal museum for a big tax write-off, so guess who the real victims are. Politicians and business people try to hide their bribery and corruption, but this brazen conjuring thrives on publicity and seeks it out. Millions of dollars will change hands and no one will complain, all of them in on it you see, because in the end it’s the little people who pay. It stinks. Such a shame to burden art with excessive wealth’s shenanigans, shifting their burden down with the tax code. This auction house art business is so unsavory and its product so visually dissociated, that many serious, thoughtful, busy people are simply unmoved, and move on.

On the other hand, you may not have the power to change it all, but you could help it along in your hometown, while helping yourself as well. There’s an artist not that far away doing these charming quiet landscapes, been around a while and getting better. You ought to buy one, take it home and hang it where you’ll see it everyday. You can compare it to the one the neighbor bought, something to talk about besides the upcoming season. Leave those phony auction records to the high rollers, profiling their loot for anyone who cares to look. Chances are you’d be happier with the art of someone who’s lived a life something like your own, finding their place in the same economy, driving the same streets, seeing the same sights, and by their talent and dedication nailing down a time, a place, a mood, or a memory all your own in a worthy vessel, a work of art that lasts a lifetime.