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Saturday, February 18, 2017

artists vs galleries -- buying direct


Artists have few things in common with gallery owners, slightly different values and ambitions, life strategies and points of view, yet the gallery system remains the restricted bottle neck of art distribution. As a business the gallery is just a consignment shop for the artist, and an artificially-ranked pre-selected product line for patrons, little wonder it’s so difficult for artists to make a living and for average folks to acquire the art they want.

First of all the gallery business is not always about making money, sometimes more about losing money, handy for tax write-offs and a diversion for those who don’t need any. This is hardly ever the case for the artist, and as desperation is always a disadvantage, galleries still have the upper hand. Theirs is not a business based on volume, they're trolling just for the wealthy fish, with art as their bait.

They build their snares in the most expensive real estate they can hope to afford someday, austere sensory-deprived polar regions where the occasional curious fish swims in, perusing. They are approached with radar-like attention to shoes, demeanor, general finish. A few questions discern origin, wealth, and relative level of art awareness, tailoring the perfect pitch on the fly -- ‘let me show you something special.’ Not many artists want to know the details, the sly confidential glances over teacups it takes to unload their most serious efforts, and galleries think of the artists as innocent, unappreciative brats. There’s these contradictions built in.


Better would be to visit the galleries, pretend an interest just to listen to their spiel, it’s all free, and then go swimming in the wide ocean, art for sale up in restaurants and salons, in artists’ coops, in studios and artist-owned galleries open to the public. Buying direct doesn’t come with the nodding, smiling assurance that you’ve done the right thing, but then you won’t be paying a hundred percent markup for just holding your hand, either.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

medicinal or recreational -- art’s mission

What’s the cure for everything, fans of the evening news want to know. Mostly it seems the cure for anything comes in the form of a pill, prescription or otherwise. Disease or unease, either way, ingest a chemical. On the other hand, it might not work for everything. The major malady of the day is shrinking attention-span, fractured thinking, and the creeping dread that the big drop on the digital roller coaster isn’t going to have a bottom, everyone starting to scream. The world speeds up, cascades of photographs flicker across the screen leaving a montage in afterimage, and every ad, every cause, every political agenda dive bombs the nervous system just to be heard -- it’s gotten brutal, people living in individual fortresses, with multiple locks and barbed wire over the door peeping out hardly seeing nothing at all.  

Paintings, on the other hand, are slow. They can’t even be seen at the 1.5 second pace of average visitors to a museum, although they do provide benches for those who care to spend more time. Some paintings have more to say the longer you look, and simply slowing down to consider them can feel like meditation to the modern citizen. This effect becomes compounded when art is owned and seen each day, at home or in the office. As the 3-D printed, pressure extruded, recycled composite material reality we inhabit becomes more fluid, more uniform, more interchangeable, a made-by-hand object that remains unchanged for all the time you own it becomes increasingly unique, and can provide great comfort as time goes by.

Not all art will bring relief, quacks abound, but there are a few simple tests. For one thing, a copy of anything won’t have much potency, doesn’t matter how ‘accurate‘ it is. A vital component of an original work of art is the artist’s actual involvement, intention and execution, and technology can’t reproduce that part. Beyond that the artist has to invest their own life history, their vision, their total effort -- the reason it’s called art. Something funny happens. Those elements remain and radiate from the wall, becoming more noticed with passing time, more intimate and friendly with each decade. Your own life experience will guide you, and picking the right art is automatic. 


The right art for you causes chemical interactions in your brain which you’ll experience as recognition, understanding, undifferentiated pleasure, you won’t know why. Your tastes may change, but the best guide will still be those sacred molecules ready to light up your cerebrum when the art you like comes into view. The art you eventually own will become your stepping stones across the digital tide washing around us, slowing you down, stretching your attention span, making you feel like a human again.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

working class art -- on its own

‘When the U.S. Government Paid the Working Class to be Artists’, jan 31, artsy magazine online.
Saw this article about artists of the WPA, and the freudian admission in the title caught my eye. First of all you can’t hire someone to be an artist who hasn’t paid the dues, it isn’t day-labor. Even so there is a working class point of view, and some artists have it. The article says they discovered an old cache of thirties-era posters in a trunk somewhere, advocating worker solidarity, concern for the environment, book reading, such as that, just a few words with graphic content to convey the message. Some of them needed no words at all.


Rich people don’t like working class nothing, and that goes double for art. They were highly offended by Diego Rivera and his peasant army of painters and poster designers, communicating back and forth throughout the thirties, establishing common ground for the bulk of humanity, so subversive. The war consolidated control for the few, and the entire social consciousness art movement was denounced as ‘communist inspired’ -- tarred, feathered, rode out of town. In its place, most folks already know, came years and years of rich people’s art -- collectible, deductible, abstract and mute.


After the long repression there’s new conversation in an old language, the universal visual mode which requires no translation, yet conveys meaning and emotion, charm and consolation, and many layers and shadings of thought words can’t touch. Don’t trust translations, summaries, or critical reviews, usually produced by art’s hanger-ons, hogtied with words and concepts, consensus seeking unseeing nabobs. Use your own eyes instead, you’re qualified. We’re all qualified. So what if we’re working class, assigned to the economy’s infantry, subject to incoming from all directions. Art addresses that.


The time for government programs has past. Their self-perpetuating ‘peer group’ reviews failed to advance a common heritage, failed to make art accessible to the people who paid the bills or to produce an art sustainable on its own. Working class people, who isn’t really, are going to increasingly recognize in art an encapsulation of what they feel and experience, or they won’t. It isn’t up to anyone else. The essential silliness of the competitive acquisition cult at the high end of art’s media visibility hasn’t been helpful, but it’s not really relevant on a working class level, and no one cares. Art gets real when times get tight. It happened before, FDR had the vision, but this time uncle isn’t going to hold its hand.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

art’s tension -- communication vs hiding

"Artists Are People Driven by the Tension Between the Desire to Communicate and the Desire to Hide" 
Don’t know who said it, doesn’t matter, sure sums it up. Yes, that’s the high wire, the razor’s edge to negotiate if you want to make art, and it’s something to keep in mind if you care to understand it. Art addresses a built in human dilemma made particularly intense in impersonal contemporary times. To ‘communicate’ as an artist requires a willingness to become vulnerable, to reveal the inner self, something most folks wouldn’t consider doing in public. Turns out there are ways to work around the embarrassing part if everyone pulls together, an excuse to hide behind the art.

The period immediately following WWII witnessed art veering harshly to the right, into a radical fundamentalism called ‘abstract expressionism’ which banned depiction of anything, pissed on art history, and generally made a mess, so daring. The quite mature artist in John Fowles story ‘Ebony Tower,’ called it a failure of nerve after the great human trauma of the war, a decision by art, and the culture behind it, to hide its face. The image, the conduit of thought and feeling, the vehicle of visual communication, was lost. Much of abstract art reveals the artist only by default, in the blankness of its form, the featureless green panel of Elsworth Kelly and the opaque and hidden mentality behind it.


The conspiracy involved a motley crew of self-perpetuating government agencies and slightly shady commercial opportunists. The notion that representational art is ‘simply copying nature’ has been infinitely repeated in campus rookeries where legions of artists have been hiding out for decades comfortable with benefits, don’t rock the boat. Up from bible door to door in alligator shoes to the heavyweight uptown galleries tourists never see, the salesman of the mystic ‘intangible’ is a wizard of human insecurities, pleased to sell you your own tie. Mostly we’ve been living in a society willing to hardly notice abstract art in motel lobbies, in board rooms, anywhere a point of view of any persuasion would be avoided. We’ve become distracted.


At some point there’s an awakening, folks rub their eyes and want to see what’s there, suddenly more interested in their own everyday experience, and art that confronts it. The artist willing to let you decide if this painting they’ve made reminds you of something you’ve seen before is taking a big chance in the first place. Oh they may say they don’t care, but that would make them just an illustrator, and they have way more invested. Acknowledging that vulnerability, and how well they’ve earned your trust in return, is the first line of you talking back. This is a conversation that takes courage both ways. In the end it isn’t the artists who make this decision but the culture itself which turns all of its heads as one, and chooses a new vision and an evolving art that communicates frankly and directly what they see and how they feel about themselves.  

Thursday, January 26, 2017

punctuated vision -- sudden sight

The world looks different from a new point of view, and it changes in chunks. The recent election has helped a large portion of the population to focus on substance, and has reminded individuals to make critical personal choices for themselves. When a new consciousness appears art changes.

Art is a search for common meaning, for a welcome sign in the crowd, a glimpse of your own reflection in all the art to be seen these days. That’s right. The center of the universe is at your feet when it comes to art, and it moves forward when you do. The standards within a community should be a collaboration between art producers and the population that supports and owns art, and don’t they grow together? Once the myth of secret knowledge blows away, art can be evaluated at face value, which means in direct comparison to the other art available. Both art and the population's discernment get better geometric.


A common sci-fi theme from the fifties -- one summer night a meteor lands in a field just outside of town, and all the children conceived that year share some common alien bond, so creepy. Big jolts to the system, the economic collapse in 08, our recent election, kick over slow social evolution and produce a new mentality that spreads on contact, making old ideas obsolete. In an increasingly digitalized reality will citizens come to value the singular created object as something rare and unique, seeing in art a reward and a refuge for individual thought? Maybe.


If it happens, art all at once seems interesting to a new demographic, the same folks who didn’t much care before -- they won’t know why. If about the same time artists find a more accessible means of expression, if media on all levels become more open-minded about the art they cover, and if non-profits devote more effort to developing an audience for local artists than in cultivating tribal identity for ‘we progressives,’ a self-sustaining art exchange between studios and private ownership might occur, a more authentic regional character would eventually be expressed, and common civility, understanding, and empathy would become easier all around.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

comes around -- karma’s tool box

Hey progressives, does it seem ironic to you that the tinhorn mercenary values you abhor in Donald Trump are the exact same qualities you celebrated in Andy Warhol just a generation back? Up on Olympus they noticed. Let’s give them a dose of the real thing, greedy, shallow, and dumb, and see how much they like living it. Was it the russians, was it the FBI, who primed the pump to produce this fiasco -- it was you.

As a person Warhol was a translucent newt-boy, so unwholesome and genderless, so inarticulate and evasive, so morbidly shallow and celebrity sodden one wondered if sunlight would reduce him to a wisp straight away, but it’s the art that’s been corrosive. If you can believe a blow up of a soup can is art, not just art but worth tens of thousands, and no one knowing how many there are, you sorta deserve your Trump. So sad.

Meanwhile high above the clouds the minor god of contemporary art has run amok, offending the immortals with tinny imitation, mindless repetition, and relaxed moral judgement leaking out into business, scholarship, and yes, even politics. There are forces at play here larger than the candidates, more powerful than puny policies, and we act it out down here on earth. How do you like fake news?  


Solutions are simple if you still believe the the old gods -- change the art. Seek out the qualities you admire, integrity and accomplishment, commitment and originality, and buy some, hang it where you see it everyday. Not right away, but in time see it all begin to change into a world where human dignity, dedication, and honesty mean more than they do these days.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

gimme some truth -- faking the news

Seems somebody sabotaged our truth meter, abused their exalted positions as experts and sold a line of crap so corrupt the whole enterprise is being called into question. It’s getting to the point any person of dubious intent can make up the news, and if enough people believe it might as well call it truth.

Where is the festering source of this herd-like delusion regarding what’s actually going on? It isn’t in the history books, slanted perhaps, but largely accurate when it comes to facts, and it doesn’t come from science, intimately engaged with reality and aware of actual consequences. Could it be art, which has insisted for decades that repetitious signage was worth obscene amounts of money, touting an aesthetic system patently at odds with common sensibilities? It’s more than possible, and the tax code rides shotgun. For all its glamour and prestige, contemporary art is a confidence game carried out in plain sight, a robbery during business hours, and the culture pays the price when no one believes anyone, anymore.

‘Who are you gonna believe’ is the question of the moment, the lying art magazines, the compensated critics, the safe and warm academics, or your own eyes? Unless you happen to be an impeccably sophisticated urbanite high above street level, you can’t do both. Everyday people like pictures, but the art industry doesn’t. Actual inherent worth in a work of art gets in the way of their spiel, confuses their issues, defeats their bluebook assessments. Take a charming little painting from above the mantle to a certified appraiser who might glance out of vague curiosity, then looks in a book. Can’t find the name, signature indistinct, according to them, worthless. You didn’t want to sell it anyway.


In the face of dire conditions can we expect an upgrade in the discernment of a free and self-reliant people, one day soon responding to an art more truly reflective of the interests and aspirations of their region, their generation, and the individual’s place in the world? If it happened the resulting grounding of owning art would ripple out, inform the day, and insist on a personal verification for stuff believed.