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Monday, April 16, 2018

art for business -- a new perspective

So what would happen if, across the country, a class approaching their MBA’s decide all together, on every campus, to use their skills to benefit all mankind, and disappoint their fathers? Humans stopped evolving physically a couple of hundred millennia back, but human mentality changes all the time, adapts to new conditions and adjusts for the best outcomes, although not always before it’s too late. Those renegade business types better come along quick. Rampant commercialism promises more and more stuff, but it degrades and compromises the consumer, a classic case of blind expediency leading nowhere good, time to evolve.

The business people hold the reins on our dollar-driven way of life, great wealth rides in the coach, and scholars and professionals climb aboard to stay dry. It’s the business leaders who have the means to make change, and if they change everything changes. They’ve never really engaged with art, but there are nuts and bolts reasons to reconsider this valuable asset. We’re not talking ‘corporate collections,’ curated by a vice-president’s artsy niece, and destined to be forgotten in a warehouse, that’s been done. There are tangible reasons why actually engaging with art, purchasing and displaying original art in offices and production areas, is less expensive and more efficient than other office upgrades, and provides a more effective influence on job performance and job satisfaction than motivational posters and attendance incentives.

Within an industry, original art stands out. Vendor representatives making endless rounds of similar companies notice and remember offices with art, and for businesses with a public interface, interesting art makes a positive impression on customers. Original art helps to convey both an established corporate identity and a progressive mentality, all at once. Art bought and displayed for the benefit of employees is a gesture of respect far less costly, and perhaps more appreciated, than lots of small bonuses, and an accomplished painting or two provides a daily example of commitment and attainment that will pay back for years to come in quality control. Thoughtfully displayed art in the conference room impresses prospective associates and intimidates the competition. In offices, reception, and even areas available to production staff, original art catalyzes innovation and forges group identity. There’s even an account for office expenses, so no one’s personal pocket gets dinged for good art on the wall. 

For all those practical bottom-line reasons, do you think having art around might influence the way the typical businessperson thinks? Could be, art is insidious. For one thing, knowing about art, owning and living with art, could be considered a reward and compensation for a lifetime of dedication, and success, a reason for all the hard work. Purchases of art for the office could be the beginning of that. It does rub off, simple exposure to art stimulates curiosity, and the hook is set. Would art acquired for strategic corporate considerations begin to mellow out cut-throat industrial competition, engender more respect and fairness top to bottom, and make the world a greener, nicer place to live, probably not, but it could turn out to be the most visible sign that it’s happening.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

losing the NEA -- who will lead us

What’s going to happen next? Art will be there, but it will morph and change to fit the situation, adapt to new conditions, and have a different meaning to people coming along after, depending on their needs. The current situation in the heartland is one of depression and drought, independent artists waiting tables, unseen bird prints in the hall, normal for so long by now it’s just seems normal. Now, I don’t know where all those muralists hired by the WPA came from, painting in post offices and public buildings across the land, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t learn through on-the-job-training. They must have been around already and doing pretty well until the depression came along, so the notion our national culture never supported artists may not be historically accurate, however, it all came true in the fifties when high art flew away leaving a stunned population behind. 

Popular artists, Grant Wood, Ed Hopper, Tom Benton, maestro Diego Rivera, and all the hometown practitioners disappeared, went underground, shunned by national media and lost to popular awareness. Abstractionists marched away at a right angle, turning art into an essentially literary enterprise, soaring scholarship and movie star fame, but their rote repetitions weren’t much to look at, and not all that popular. The early AbEx painters received massive government support because their giant paintings were exhibited as international cold-war declarations of free enterprise and unbridled egoism, existentially superior to the other side’s severely regimented bolshoi ballet, makes you so proud. A schism was formed, and high culture appropriated art as their exclusive marker of financial and social attainment. These new rich didn’t much care what it looked so long as it was obviously expensive, or at least looked expensive, taking their cues from slick magazines happy to validate any smear, for a taste of the take. Art became a status symbol, a monopoly token to collect, and ‘about to be famous’ became the secret sauce that made anything non-referential palatable. 

Government became involved, big time. The NEA arose in the sixties, and banished referential painting of any kind, preferring to support more progressive, more adventurous and less commonly accessible forms, and for years figurative art was dismissed without a second look, so commercial, too easy, just dumb. Students who brought such paintings to class critiques caught ridicule from the instructor first of all, and playground rules applied. As a result, a wide uncrossed wasteland grew between a high culture, elegant and sophisticated brand-name collecting, and art for the masses, manufactured decorator art, posters and prints, and the substitute art available at the mall. There remained regional genre markets where representational artists took refuge and where the talented did quite well, but their efforts never enter a national conversation. 

Well, it’s all over now. Local coops spring up, and amateur artists group together to motivate and inspire each other, making better art each day for themselves first of all, and local businesses have begun to allow local artists to exhibit on their walls because customers enjoy it. Social media enables local artists to become familiar to fans who come out to see their actual work, and maybe take some home. There are, incidentally, also a few psychological changes happening in society overall, and a national reassessing of personal identity plays a part in a new taste for art as well. The arid basin between a popular appetite for intimate individual expression, and the artists already living and working in everyone’s hometown is about to revive, and it’s already starting to rain.

The NEA will still beg for money, who cares? Art never asked to be a charity, to be crippled by abstraction, encouraged toward the pointedly abrasive, and then held up as an example of a poor disadvantaged and malnourished relic of culture that just wouldn’t survive without massive government assistance. There’s a name for that brand of madness, that sort of crime. Let Trump demolish the NEA, we’ll get by. Local art and artists are getting better, just as citizens are beginning to expect more, comparing area artists in public settings, and becoming familiar with what they do well. The new awareness engendered by this dark political interlude, the contradictions of our hypocritical society welling up and exiting the body politic like a rampaging boil, eventually will lead us to a new civility and rationality, and probably more art up in houses, with artists taking the place of athletes as heroes in hometowns. Wouldn’t it be nice?

Monday, April 2, 2018

quoting Chris Hedges -- sorta

So I’m reading a Chris Hedges essay posted on fb, but only half interested. This guy is overbearingly strident, absolutely convinced of his own wisdom, and ready to kick anyone in his way, lookout. Get the feeling he’d kick himself to make a point. Then I began to notice a certain a similar brutalization of logic to fit the message he’s selling along with a withering contempt for establishment thinking, and realized in certain respects it sounded familiar. 

I occasionally offer global solutions and suggest actions the individual might find within their power, like looking at and owning art, and each post attempt to present a few reasons for what I’m saying, but stripped down the complaints are strikingly similar, so I’ll present both versions, his and mine.

‘The ideology of neoliberalism never made sense. It was a con. No society can effectively govern itself by basing its decisions and policies on the dictates of the marketplace. The marketplace became God............... Those who questioned the doctrine were cast out like medieval heretics, their careers blocked and their voices muted or silenced. The contradictions, lies and destruction within neoliberal ideology were ignored by those who dominated the national discourse, leading to mounting frustration and rage among a populace that had been abandoned and betrayed.’ —- Chris Hedges

‘The ideology of contemporary art never made sense. It was a con. No society can effectively govern itself by basing its decisions and policies on the dictates of the marketplace. The marketplace became God............. Those who questioned the doctrine were cast out like medieval heretics, their careers blocked and their voices muted or silenced. The contradictions, lies and destruction within the contemporary art establishment were ignored by those who dominated the national discourse, leading to mounting frustration and rage among a populace that had been abandoned and betrayed.’ -- OA

Saturday, March 31, 2018

advocating for art -- gimme gimme

“Remember, governments don’t cut arts funding to save money. They do it when they are afraid of what artists say and do."

Saw this interesting quote on facebook, and didn’t know whether to register amusement or grief. It was said with all the brusque defiance of a teenager demanding the family car, and demonstrated a similar self-serving crybaby logic. Where is this phalanx of artists ready to bite the hand that feeds them, and where is this hand that passes out goodies to biters? I’d like to know. That isn’t the way life works, not since I’ve been here. Artists who live on government subsidy are pets, patted on the head and given a patch to play in.

Saying that out loud may be offensive to some, but show me different. I’ve been to the graduate/faculty show over at the U, and I didn’t see too much for the government to fear. Actually, I also didn’t see much to like, by anyone. What sort of art do you have in your houses, people? Broken teacups on the floor and six foot cream-color sculptures of snot, I doubt it. I suspect without massive ‘funding‘ you’d have to look for other work, or maybe apply yourself to reaching out to fellow citizens, identifying with the community you live in, and producing an art that speaks to some common aspiration, whether the government approves or not. Sounds harsh, so sorry.

I understand they seem alien, the people who actually contribute from their own lively-hoods to provide all these swell studios, the professional grade gallery spaces, and send their kids off to school hoping to learn about art. The rich people in tuxes have shifted your sizable burden down onto them, and their accountants and lawyers also ride. It’s a little unseemly for you to express your contempt for the sensibilities of common folk, or study on ways to offend them, maybe to gain a moment’s notoriety or just to express your cultural superiority. The rich can be counted on to understand. All in all, sorta looks like pooping in the hand that just handed you a twenty, sad.

The government would be just as happy if art and artists said nothing at all, since those on top want to run everything. Art represents a level of communication, of human interaction, they can’t control and it makes them uneasy. Rather than censor and harass the way the fascists do, democratic governments would rather subsidize obscurity, blind the court jester and pull out his tongue. It’s done with peer group reviewers who recognize their own, the freeloader’s wink and nod, and at the same time they create a huge unassailable money sink to launder tons of stinky cash and avoid paying legitimate taxes. Rejoicing all around except for the culture losing its eyes and a voice, the people who pay and yet are deprived of this means of realization and growth, along with the artists who attempt to live from their art in their own communities.

If you don’t like government censorship, don’t take their money. Give up your swell studio and grant allowances, paycheck with parking space, and ease on out into the deep end of the pool where art is a two way enterprise, meeting a public halfway and providing a value worth the money, an improvement for their lives. I can see why you whine when purse strings get tight, but don’t bitch about a government you’re part of, agents of anti-art, you share in the guilt. No sympathy.

Friday, March 30, 2018

mild media nausea -- home remedies

Do international trolls fanning the embers of paranoia in the survivalist community create the chaos, or are those dark imaginings just the organic result of social media, and does it really matter? Probably not. The trolls didn’t invent paranoia, they just poke it through the bars of its cage, amping up non-specific petty resentments into white-hot hysteria, attempting to push the conspiracy-minded adrift on their own armed island of insanity. Mad scientists direct the show and tell the trolls what to say, just technicians after all, it’s like their day job.

These scientists are busy molding the world for others from inside their heads, pumping out little pleasure bumps for just the right answers, scaring them to get their attention and then making them mad, steering chunks of the population like sheep into separate penned enclosures. From the outside we can just watch it happen, and if some superhero from the comics doesn’t intervene soon, save the day, we’re all getting marched right back to the middle ages, only this time with wall to wall surveillance and machine gun towers. Where are the lines of resistance? Who stands against these big-number mass-manipulators, and how does the individual keep their feet when the swirling digital whirlpool is dissolving the floor? 

Painters fight a rear-guard action, keeping open the gate to three dimensional spatial awareness, the so-called ‘real world,’ by expanding unique moments and freezing the flow of sensation in an act of total attention, the proof embodied in its artifact, the work of art. At this point I feel obligated to acknowledge there are others who define art differently, well ok, everybody else, but time seems short, and while not ready to panic, it might be time to reconsider painting as the visual art form it was back before it became ‘anything at all.’ Painting as a technology doesn’t just record reality, even when it tries -- it alters it. Consider how malleable reality is for online vermin with their flickering outrage videos and insane accusations, and then imagine the power, over time, of a painting that never changes, that absorbs and collects memories, and that somehow has you constantly noticing stuff for the first time.

Can’t take it lightly. People travel far, leap out of airplanes, splash through rough canyons, try exotic desserts, all in the hope of feeling something, a reminder of being alive, each day of the week so dull and boring. It’s like an epidemic. Take a shortcut, buy some art. Occasionally consider the talent and time it took to make it and the personality and human feeling put into it, although the art should be whispering this to you all the time on its own. Better art says it louder, that’s how you can tell. The reason to own and live with art is to establish your own little garden at home, a nice non-digital place to sit down, and to access the upper floors of your perception when out in the world, a better view than endless streaming video has to offer. Art is a concentrate, the distilled essence of what’s been left out of modern life. Art on the wall is a seasoning for the bland porridge of everyday existence, a wedge to hold open the doors of perception, and an antidote for the toxicity of strident talking heads on the telly every evening.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

mutable reality -- personal mile-markers

 I’ve quoted ‘Dennis the Menace’ before, probably my favorite comic graphically -- great economy of line, texture and background, and along with the threadbare gag of embarrassing parents over something said in private, occasionally someone says something interesting. On feb 27, Mr Wilson remarks sideways to his wife while watching Dennis over the fence, ‘I believe he’s a good boy, but I’ve also read a lot of fiction, and it could be affecting my reality.’  Mrs Wilson looks noncommittal, just the slightest squint pondering what her husband’s been smoking, but all in just a few lines, hair and glasses. Well, Mr Wilson, there’s a lot more than the antics of the boy next door at stake, and just reading books isn’t the worst of it these days.

Turns out an army of online trolls has been yanking everybody’s reality toward a dark paranoid pit of tribalism and hostility with short videos featuring staged outrages and false conspiracy narratives. No need for social scientists, we can all see it works. I could stand here and tell you that reality, itself, is like jelly, subject to be squeezed and pushed by all you see and listen to, but no one listens to me. I’m just not as convincing as the digitally-spawned seething dragon of misinformation and chaos distorting the world in front of us, perhaps you’ve noticed. Dealing with dragons is beyond my puny reach, but I will assert that original art in one out of ten houses slowly points us in the right direction, calms us down, and eventually nudges us toward more thoughtful and reasonable conversation, all of us living in a more pleasant universe. 

When it comes to influencing reality, paintings have certain advantages over the technical device, long term. Successful art doesn’t habituate, won’t fade into the background -- the image remains fresh each time it's seen. In time bonding takes place, people grow fond of the art they own, and as its contents are incorporated into their point of view, the world alters accordingly. Pretty bold contention, I’ll admit, but stand back from the evening news and consider the current national debate over what’s real and who gets to decide, all of that, and then appreciate how fragile and mutable our reality really is. Art doesn’t change things, but in subtle ways it alters attention, and isn’t that the key? The process will never be more transparent than in this moment, or the issue more thoroughly analyzed and debated. The nature of reality, of truth, of what sort of world we live in, rages in front of us, news network vs network, and could there be a better time to buy a first piece of art?

Monday, March 19, 2018

pragmatic art -- role reversals

I used to think the major utility of visual art was in the realm of general perception, the individual’s interface with the world. Early on I began to notice that looking at english landscapes at the museum seemed to enhance the depth and detail of what I saw on drives around here, but didn’t know why. Wondered if it has something to do with the nature of painting, itself, since everything in a painting is noticed and accounted for. When taking a picture of a cow by a fence with your digital, the clouds in the sky, the willows down by the creek, every small detail just comes along, but the painter’s been everywhere, seeing and translating into ‘flat’ the field, the fence, the cow. The evocative painting helps you to notice stuff you’ve just been sloughing aside, if only by example. The actual experience is an increasing appetite for more detail in everyday surroundings, and a deepening of atmospheric awareness. Your spectacles are gradually becoming cleaner, but you won’t know why. That painting from the pawn shop with the unreadable signature, it’s worthless, hanging over the mantle, behind the couch, maybe in the kitchen could be having an influence. Even totally abstract art can have this effect, raising to awareness the pattern in a wooden door or shadows in a shaft of light, the texture of the driveway or coherent design in nature.

The notion that art has utility at all isn’t really part of any conversation I hear, so I make these assertions in a vacuum, or maybe on an island. Now and again I might contend that contemporary art is over my head, but it isn’t really. I just don’t want to play, but this isn’t about what I want, there’s lot’s of us. I understand entrenched cadres of arts professionals come to quick consensus when an artist has ‘matured’ enough to receive grant aid and official recognition. They embrace obscurity and are really just agents of the state, self-perpetuating drones from the bureau of silly walks, so sad. So instead of all that, I’m saying art is the bracing you install at home to keep the collapsing walls from squeezing you down into your iphone. Original art can be a wormhole portage back to fresh air and sunshine, a pan-pipe beckoning back to direct sensual experience. Could turn out, these days, visual art communicates even more than that. 

The young today are very entrepreneurial, making ice cream and brewing beer, but mostly searching for the app that will earn money while they go off sight-seeing, good luck. As bulkheads begin to buckle, long-term security doesn’t seem as secure anymore, and independence and personal freedom have been gaining in popularity. Original art is a projection of that as well. The independent artist is a person who decided to make a stand against gigantic odds, a pugnacious shrew challenging a mostly indifferent rhino society, and they leave a trail, a testament to their insight or rage, all informed by their outsider, free-range existence, odd jobs and social experimentation. How that level of information comes across in a picture of anything, sailing ship or sunny meadow, I don’t know. Like the pheromone in the air you respond to but can’t smell, there must be some faculty in your brain, might be dusty, that recognizes and responds to the declaration of personal freedom the artist unconsciously put there while rendering a pot of flowers or a portrait of your aunt. As the world melts down in digital and is built back up with 3-D printing, original art is the one element that can’t be reduced, that won’t be censored or commercially compromised, and that one day soon could be valued for just existing at all.