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Thursday, March 23, 2017

mob art -- the next wave

They’re a coming -- pitchforks and torches, so all you artsy folks better take cover, crowd on to small quiet campuses or look to other occupations interested in fluffy degrees. The art racket is busted, subsidies shrinking, cultural enclaves shutting down. They’ve decided to slash and burn, make way for new growth, and art’s copy planet of mutual affirmations is in the way. It isn’t me saying this, everyone with income derived in some form from government largesse, grants and subsidies and tax credits, on and on, feels those shutters down the spine just watching the evening news.

Try to imagine what it would be like if the NEA were suddenly yanked out by the roots to buy more guns, to build a wall, and on top of that congress restructures the tax code, lower rates for the rich but with no deductions for donating to museums, such as that -- the money hose runs dry. Foundations and non-profits would deflate and pass out notices, public art would cease to educate, and an elitist and totally dependent industry bites the dust, so sad. Seems unlikely to happen, yet still might be worth considering since it’s in the proposed budget. What would happen to art?

Well guess it would just fade away, lost in a carnival midway of advertising and war footage, movie trailers and YouTube, the whole idea reduced to posters and celebrity photographs, why does this sound so familiar, anyway that’s all we’d have. On the other hand, a new movement might arise, a populist awakening from among a harried general population, reduced to statistics by giant algorithms, battened on by bots unctuously feigning concern while really not caring at all. They’re the ones who have to take an interest if art is to become a functional element in the broader society, a means of expression and signifier of conviction for home and office, and a source of enduring mental nourishment and cumulative pleasure and satisfaction that gains value and weight with age.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

successful art -- hidden doorway

What makes a successful piece of art? Selling it for a whole lotta money would be the most popular answer straight away, and some folks stop there, but art is deep and wide and has functions other than keeping someone’s money warm. The painter decides, first of all, if work still on the easel satisfied their intention, fulfilled the potential in the idea, and overall makes a strong unified statement. For a typical painter, out of five paintings probably one doesn’t quite get there, one turns out surprisingly well, while the middle three represent the artist just doing their work.

Thinking like the artist would help you sort them out, pick the best one to take home. Painters do not think like scholars, they use different mediums, live on different planets. The scholar starts way back reciting the linage by contact of ‘studied under’ artists back to someone in the pantheon, and lived in the same town with someone famous must have used the same laundromat, such as that. Then they start analyzing the image for fatal clues, the spider-like motif in the brocade tablecloth indicating the young lady was a prostitute, there’s lots to know. Abstract art lets them soar. 

Painters are more concerned about tonal relationships, tablecloth against the dress, the cohesive completeness of object and background, and a mood and attitude that comes through when they paint, don’t know why. Whatever their style, they’re attempting to bore through your battle-hardened forehead, armored against the streaming myriad of images tugging at your sleeve, poking for your groin, telling you outrageous lies just to get you to buy their thing, it’s everywhere. People hardly notice nothing these days, and it’s a challenge. The image, abstract, fantastic, tangibly realistic, whatever, that causes someone like you to pause, that focuses your attention, that doesn’t try to answer its own question, is the grail of visual art, from the inventive graffiti artists who tag the boxcars to the painter working in the vacancy over the store hoping one day to shed the day job.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

emerging -- eyelids lifting

We really don’t need any more emerging artists, the road to fame and glory pretty well traveled at least for the first few miles, pitfalls and detours still up ahead as support begins to fade. What art really needs is an emerging audience with an appetite for vision and substance, and enough of their own to recognize those qualities distilled in art. Sooner or later people come to understand when an artist has taken them seriously, an arresting experience that can feel like communion, seems familiar even intimate. If this very personal response in front of paintings becomes acknowledged and valued, a door opens in common thought that ripples out to nourish and inform other forms of discourse, broadcasting a humanizing influence felt all over town. 

Emerging artists, instead of courting grant committees and curators, the establishment’s gatekeepers, would be required to earn the direct support of fellow citizens, and aren’t we all in this together? I don’t think anyone really comprehends the incredible capacity of this virtually dry valley to absorb a river of art, producing abundantly another channel of community identity and cohesion. What mechanism makes this happen I don’t know, but gears grind. Every local artist seen enough to be recognized by the average citizen in a restaurant, on the wall of a salon or in the home of a friend, means art as a part of everyday life is emerging around here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

metamorphosis -- effect and cause

Read a story once about a responsible young man supporting his whole family, a crew of dependent, semi-grateful, self-centered apathetic non-functionals. Well, one morning he wakes up as president with cotton candy hair, a small, really small vocabulary, and absolutely no idea how anything works -- like a bad dream for everyone. Turns out in the story they all eventually got well, became productive, made it on their own. Remember the reclining-chair old father became a night guard with brass buttons, lost some weight, trimmed his mustache, such as that.

Is real life like art? Here’s a chance to find out. Will ‘ART,’ the slightly degenerate, irreverent jester of the ultra-rich, invited to all the important parties, good for a laugh, or a joke, or a prank, also proving useful sneaking money bags past the tax man, clean up his act? Right now, when all that NEA money and those corporate foundation dollars are about to be cannibalized by battleships and border walls, does art just collapse? Don’t leave me on my own it cries -- my warehouses of investment art withering in the fresh air of change like mummies when a tomb is opened. Art, humbled and repentant, will have to appeal to common folk, so degrading, just to earn its keep, and if the story is like life, art will wind up stronger, more relevant, an active contributing participant in the culture and the lives of average citizens.

Change seems to happen all over at once, and the evolution we’re all witnessing isn’t really a matter of cause and effect. Art is rising up to meet a new consciousness, and will be there when it arrives. Murals abound, spreading like an invasive species, but haven’t seen an abstract yet, and gallery exhibits are becoming user friendly, finding more patrons with pictures of things. Art is the harbinger of change, not its biographer, and leads a new way of thinking as much as follows it.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

nuts and bolts -- terms and distinctions

An original artist, pursuing a personal vision rather than flogging current trends for fame and fortune, discovers enormous disadvantage in the current gallery system. Successful galleries exclude artists without prior acceptances elsewhere, more interested in prospective sales than providing exposure for worthy art, merchants after all. Along with independent artists, the slotted and gated gallery system also excludes an audience for a more personal and direct style of art, and the culture overall is diminished. At this point it becomes a felony.
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It is the odd paradox of art that privilege and ease make art more available, and yet also more opaque and less important. Finally, the very well off spend millions for artwork that would be turned to the wall at the goodwill, hoping to hook some even richer fool next time around, their notion of sport. Who gets left out? The uncounted and the don’t count, denizens of the outback, the people ready for ridicule if they spend a dime on art, defensive and shy -- everybody else. Some percentage will always want to be like the rich, and galleries are gonna constantly whisper ‘upgrade,’ beguiling the social aspirant with the impressive resume, but most people want something to look at.
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All art is abstract. No one has ever eaten the hundred year old pear, caught a stray bullet from a historic battle, or spent a night on a dark highway standing in front of a painting. The whole idea is abstract, always has been, and depicting actual experience on a flat surface always begins from the same location -- an unbroken blankness. It’s a most democratic space, doesn’t discriminate by gender, race, and so on, and everything popularly called ‘abstract art’ is in there too. Just  blank space is becoming rarer these days with every inch of a race car, inside and out, including the driver, the substrate for jostling logos, that also goes for ballparks and buses, and on the internet don’t get me started. Still, every artist knows the tyranny of that pristine innocence, the dazzling white surface before the first mark, and it’s a good thing to keep in mind when looking at art as well.
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Just how much is abstracted from life in any painting? Is it just the part you see and recognize, or are there parallel elements that enter the brain like pheromones, those chemicals in the air that alter perception without impinging consciousness? Whatever it is, sometimes original paintings are capable of exhibiting a presence, almost like gravity, that the very best poster or reproduction, even totally accurate digital never will. This magnetic effect certain paintings have on the attention, usually becoming stronger over time, can only be experienced directly, and if you’re looking at enough art now, you’ll know when it comes along. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

old songs -- new ears

The culture undergoes primal molt, it’s a vulnerable period. The old shell, our established civic policies and institutions, had grown mired in self-interest and too polarized to function. Something had to give, pressure building from the disenfranchised and the disenchanted. In a state of frenzy we elected a party of anarchist trolls dedicated to dismantling the state, and they’ll clear some underbrush before they’re pulled away from the controls. What comes next none can say, but we know it will be different.

Some bio-digital hive may arise, millions of human drones wired in, and this super entity probably won’t be much interested in individual expression, or society could just turn fascist where individual anything is not allowed, all the tools in place already. However, if the opposite occurs, if the authority of the state diminishes and democratic autonomy reasserts itself, a new art that verifies and fortifies character and aspiration will suddenly seem relevant, interesting, important. Whatever it is, this new art will reflect an evolving, hopefully more humane set of values. 


Raw consumerism as a driver of general prosperity has worked pretty well, but comes with unfortunate side effects. Less than necessary stuff piles up as mass advertising makes everyone dumber, more insecure, more cynical, look around. This myopic materialism reduces art to market estimates on trademark names without regard to content, and average citizens want more. Top down systems are so yesterday, and the mysterious fetishism of contemporary art is just another cult, from the outside so boring. Self awareness, civic responsibility, and what holds true value have all been called into question by recent events, and people look for answers. Relatable referential art is ready to converse with a new audience, and there might be one.

Monday, February 27, 2017

visual language -- local dialects

The political cartoonist’s drawings that seemed childish and inept when first encountered, somehow manage to become more expressive and articulate when seen day to day. Once the artist’s vocabulary is assimilated the sense of humor comes through, caricatures are more astute, the comment more pointed. This isn’t a difficult process, in fact it’s automatic -- all it takes is exposure. Your human mind does the rest.

This has always been a primary obstacle for the original artist, yakking away but without being seen enough for anyone to absorb their language, and so the work isn’t ‘seen’ in the first place. The oldest cliche’ about the life of the artist has to do with the lag time between the making of art and its appreciation. So much different these days, with optional venues available, the gallery system loses sway. Uptown rent so high, competition so intense, and the aroused sharks in those track-lit off-white lagoons disquiet the tourists. The product as well is suspect, propped up with tinny testimonials -- listing one-person shows, articles written, honors received, previous price points. Too much art is up in public nowadays for their exclusionary marketing, cultivating a stable of clients constantly encouraged to trade up toward those bigger resumes, to more obscure art.

Murals on blank walls, placements in public venues, even businesses newly established for people to paint while drinking wine, all contribute to a general visual awareness, the acquisition of visual language out in the community. Once visual art establishes a voice that isn’t just trying to sell something, there will rise up a broader community ready to listen, bet they’re out there now. Art isn’t just for beautiful people anymore.