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Sunday, September 25, 2016

changing lanes -- choosing highways

Art can change overnight. Consider movies in the thirties, an era of individual deprivation and amazing collective endeavors, roads, parks, and great monuments. Plots of popular movies were inane, preadolescent adult romance somehow meshed with visually spectacular, manically-drilled dance numbers culminating in overhead kaleidoscope abstractions featuring actual arms and legs. Entertaining no doubt, as well as worthy accomplishments considering the special effects were all staged, lit and performed on the spot.

There was a great war, a subsequent reevaluation, and people almost overnight saw themselves and thought of their lives differently. Gritty reality broke through on stage, later to become movies -- ‘long day’s journey,’ ‘streetcar,’ and ‘death of a salesman,’ a play about feeling used up and discarded by a corrupt and demeaning commercialism, such as that. Did art suddenly get better is the pretty good question, and from the outside it’s just a point of view, but at the time, in that moment, the answer was definitely ‘yes, tell us more about life as it’s lived. We don’t care about robotic showgirls anymore.’

When evaluating art, ‘good or bad’ is often not as good a question as is it appropriate for its time, and times change, tremors all around at the moment. How art changes is only conjecture at this point, just like every other thought about the future, but one thing sure, the whole ballpark is going to change shape, new lines, new scoreboard. Redefinition of the self will find reflection in what art goes on the walls, and lordy there’s room for almost anything up there now. The fifteen percent of us who ‘care’ about the arts have been using everybody’s money for their own pet projects, leaving walls in our community mostly blank, scattered posters, wildlife prints, and mall abstracts, just place-holders for original art, maybe someday.

Enigmatic contemporary art may just be a passing fancy, along with its public funding, and a better bet for actual community support would be the product of area studios, appropriate to this time and place, and it’s happening all around everywhere, or just emerging. There’s a reevaluation going on in politics, in personal identity, and the desire to own and live with art might turn out to be part of its expression, the way rock was for hippies, or words and jazz were for the beats. All the components are lining up like that’s what’s about to happen, galleries popping up in broom closets and art for sale on the walls of restaurants and salons. 


This isn’t about bringing in a new set of turnstiles, more about taking back the ability to see and judge art independently, individually. Who can doubt that more art up in houses and public spaces would contribute to a general prosperity of the spirit, a greater sense of well being and confidence all around? If this happens, if a broader portion of your neighbors take an interest in owning art, the character of art changes, its purpose and role in the community, and in individual lives, becomes more significant, and the transition will be transparent for all to see.

Monday, September 19, 2016

the conceptual art of the deal -- art’s politics

Trump doesn’t act like a politician, everyone agrees. He foments bullshit and then gets headlines across the board when he renounces it. He puffs imaginary mole-hills into luminous clouds, and goes up in polls. His ripe idiocy is dissected and scrutinized, made substantial by the sheer volume of attention it receives. I’m beginning to suspect he’s really a contemporary artist, Christo bow down.

Dada, the art movement, produced a wave of irreverent irrationality that has finally seeped out into the everyday, and many of Trump’s supporters know full well he could never run the country. Like the people who rig their diesel pickups to put out extra black smoke, a vote for Trump is a big ‘fuck you’ to common interests -- just as the soup cans were to everyone who thought they liked art about a generation back. This gleeful welcoming of the apocalypse, popular culture leaping for a sinking raft, reeks of decadence and dead-ends don’t you think?


Consider the politician you’d prefer, you can use your imagination, and then try to figure out what that would look like as art, consider rational and accessible, competent yet visionary. Whatever art you wind up with will be a reflection of your own character and aspiration, reassuring to yourself and a quiet declaration to others who see it. Politics and art are not disconnected, spokes on the same wheel actually, and it may be time to get serious about what we look at every day.

Friday, September 16, 2016

power objects -- user manual

Back on april 14 this year we discussed power objects, ‘power objects -- modern methods,’ about how artists taking on their role as community shaman had found new ways to apply ancient principles, imbuing inanimate objects with potency, charging them up like renewable batteries. Didn’t say much about how to use your power object, that’s personal and subjective, but general do’s and don’ts apply.

Buying a piece of original art for decoration is an extravagant choice really. To acquire the nugget formed in the crucible of another person’s life experience, just to add a little red, to maintain a theme, is rich indeed, like insisting your socks be hand-woven by a princess. Every image ever recorded, protected or not, is available on the net for a one-off, and you can have it billboard size if you want. Why bother with, and why pay for original art if you’re just going for a ‘certain look?’

More likely would be to buy original art for social affirmation, the way it’s sometimes sold. This is squishy territory, anticipating what the neighbors will think when you have them over for drinks, the boss, the in-laws. In effect this line of thinking nullifies individual opinion, an abdication really, and gives gallery personnel the green light to tout just about anything on hand. On the up side, people who also buy their art this way will recognize the pointlessness of your expenditures, connection made.

Best would be to purchase significant art at some personal sacrifice, giving up something else just to own it, justified because of the difference it’s going to make in the quality of life from here on out. Obviously wealthier folks have to stretch a little further. Let me explain. Original art has qualities other stuff doesn’t, and you can get all mystical about it or stick to facts, comes out the same. Let’s do facts. First of all, this thing, being made by hand, is rare, and becoming rarer, people 3-D printing chess pieces while they’re making toast. That in itself has value and it only gets better with age. There’s also consciousness. 


If it looks like a pot of flowers, a sunset, anything like your uncle bob you can pretty well bet it wasn’t the artist’s first try, even the second. The image you’re seeing is witness to long practice and a stubborn insistence on communication, sharing their vision, since it’s so much easier to gain acceptance doing abstract/accidental these days. In this respect this object exhibits an extra dimension, the accumulated effort and intention of years behind it, constructing a dense and manifold image, as well as a testimonial to the interests and character of the mind that made it. This level of perception isn’t the least mystical, but a basic human attribute located in a seldom visited sector of every citizen’s personal bandwidth. Access is gained by looking at all original art with interest. This lights up the circuits, the way just knowing a lot won’t and doesn’t. After a certain amount of looking some piece of art will wind up in your home, a mystical advantage, it turns out, in a computer logical universe.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

artless living -- just a house

So reading the sunday paper see the home section where someone’s house is celebrated, what a view, great fireplace, kitchen enough to feed the field hands. Seldom, week after week, is there any art on the wall. In the kitchen we see a framed graphic, ‘hot java’ in plaid. Why is this?

Designers don’t much like art except maybe as an accent, something from a catalogue that picks up the metallic thread in the upholstery, but unique pieces of art get out of here. Chrome and glass, leather and tile, find something unobtrusive to blend in, but no distracting, soul-searing renderings, please, messes up the flow, constantly attracting the eye and expanding the consciousness. Fun to try, take your modest little collection of art, say four or five originals, and ask your designer to incorporate them -- such a look you’ll get.

We’re in the business of selling furnishings, not art, and we don’t want individuals expressing their own tastes in our swell design, that’s what they’d say. They want to give your rooms that movie set look so impersonal and difficult to live with, pajamas in a heap the whole room untidy. For those who feather their nest more eclectically, there’s good news. Your collection of art will coordinate and tie together those disparate antiques, odd chairs and yard sale lamps into a cozy little home, one that will be remarked on and remembered by those who visit, and which will prove easier to come back to as years slide by.


Even expensive art is cheap pro-rated over the rest of a lifetime. It can pay back several times over just by making the furniture you have now seem fine for a few more years, and, by the way, questioning your perception, cleaning your windows, providing an anchor for your little boat in a swirling digital sea, such as that. Your neighbors may not get to see your house in the paper, nor will you, but you’ll probably wind up skipping that section anyway.

Monday, September 5, 2016

yellow brick lessons -- no place like home

It’s been an interesting transformation, and it’s hard to say if it was blind market forces or society itself gazing too intently in the mirror that did it, made the artist more important than the art. Picasso was the first superstar, an artist who painted in several styles over seven or so decades and yet all his works are simply known as ‘Picassos.’ Nowadays Rothkos and Pollocks come up for bids and no one really gives a damn what’s on them, same stuff we’ve all seen before and that’s what makes them so easy to trade around don’t you see?

Anything a genius touches is bound to be valuable, that’s the ticket, and art schools across the land turn them out, subtle thinkers capable of assembling selected refuge with hot glue and making more of a living than you, you workaday busting your hump drone. It’s little wonder that you may not always see the point, and might even feel a slow burn when you read about the glamorous doings the art world slyly alludes to, sipping wine and having sex in the long afternoons.

Don’t care if it’s true or not, they’re turning out art could have only been created by geniuses, so inbred and self-referential that serious, accomplished, educated, and worldly people would rather buy a ski-boat than to try to untangle it. Here’s a suggestion -- shred those cascading accounts of approval and acceptance, and just for a moment forget who did it. Slide the million dollar painting in with ten others, a couple from the ‘good will,’ a couple by recent grads, a couple from serious working artists in your own community, all lined up against the wall and pick the one you’d most like to live with.

Let’s just forget the artist, humble and unassuming, working away on those long afternoons. They’re speaking to you and the world through this thing they’ve made, please consider it. That other examples of this same artist’s work have been purchased in hollywood, toured with the ‘stones,’ and received the adulation of the queen won’t make it any better. Probably will affect the price, but that’s a separate negotiation. 


We’ve undergone some sort of awful inversion, got the cart before the horse, the dog was wagged, but now it’s time to flip it back over, to put the art back in art. Does this thing in a frame hold your attention? That’s a test, and there are add-ons -- is the content appealing, does it physically appear well-made, any personal responses unique to yourself and possibly the artist, such as that. This readjustment comes with looking instead of trying to see what isn't really there, believing your eyes and not the wizard of oz explaining that the pile of plywood thus arranged on the floor in front of you deserves your respect, even admiration. Seeing through establishment orthodoxy is a liberating thing to do, and a way to find a real heart, brain, and courage, there all along.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

thought or thing -- art’s skitz

Conceptual thinking transformed art, but not everyone made the turn. There are still those who think of art as an object created by an artist to be bought, owned, and lived with forever. That’s them left standing on the platform as modern art left the station some hundred years back, and that’s them again first in line when the train comes around this time.

Let’s review. The acknowledged inauguration of ‘modern art,’ the famous Duchamp ‘readymade’ urinal exhibited in independent artist’s exhibit of 1917, was an act of genius only in art books, seminal only for scholars. Submitted by a less worldly and obviously superior person, he was theatrically aloof, it might have been called an adolescent prank by a mediocre artist, making the major pillar of modern art, and indeed conceptual art’s very conception, only a porcelain hood ornament on the limo of sour grapes.

After early notoriety Duchamp became more and more enigmatic, critics and scholars pretending he was Einstein and they the interpreters of relativity. Oh really? What legitimacy to declare someone’s else's work your own just by signing it, the way ragtag explorers used to claim whole continents on the authority of the squirrelly little pope? Experts said sure, it’s appropriate, and a new art became sanctified, essentially the formalistic dismantling of any former pretense to art, a gigantic breakthrough to be sure but the thrill is gone.

Sol LeWitt in 1967...... “In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work,” LeWitt wrote. “When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair.”

That’s thin ice. Conceiving of a great bridge across a mighty river is a heroic chunk of thinking, but just making an offhand sketch won’t get anyone across. Retrograde? immensely, but the average person thinks this way. When they become interested in art they want to see accomplishment, and are less interested in the fetish objects in art magazines, the dialogue of fashion.

Average people have been interested in art all along, curious about artists, respectful of the art, but have felt pushed aside by a smirking condescending skybox of sycophants pretending elevation. Well it’s all over now, baby blue. The calf floating in a tank of formaldehyde, four vacuum cleaners in a glass box, the chrome cartoon character twelve feet high made in a shop somewhere will all at once seem pointless, and close to worthless, once the long deprived culture asserts itself.

The good news is that user-friendly art is available, a balm to the disenchanted, a solace for the disenfranchised, a compensation for the less than obscenely wealthy, and the culture, all directions, is waking up to it about now. More art to be seen begets more seeing, and more seeing begets buying and owning, which is bound to make more and better art available, round and round.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

unlearning history -- forgetting art

lexington herald-leader aug 11 -- New 21c public artwork addresses race, Confederate statue debate
The history of the civil war and its aftermath are good to know, but removing statues won’t change it, won’t turn it back or wash out a line. As a fact, erasing history for the sake of psychic comfort can have unfortunate consequences, such as leaving folks defenseless when it comes around again, but manipulating civic symbols isn’t our beat.

For the purposes of art, I’ve forgotten who John Hunt Morgan was, some rich kid with a feather in his hat. His daddy bought him a uniform and a few extra muskets, and he and his boys raided around the edges of a the civil war without affecting the outcome. Long gone, still I’ve seen him sitting on his horse pretty much every day for more than three decades. It’s a tidy piece of work, his statue, a big casting with all those cuts, all that detail, and would be a handsome accomplishment even today done with modern equipment, pushbutton hoists and electric furnaces.

Maybe you see a symbol of racial oppression, but I see six months in a studio working everyday, all day and into the night, hand-forming not just the likeness of John’s face, but his tunic with buttons, his holster and livery, everything correct, and this ain’t no ‘cut and paste‘ operation. After that I see a black smoky foundry with a crew of thick muscular men with black fingernails, burn scars on their arms and chests, working within inches of truly horrible death pouring the molten metal, filling the voids, temperature and speed and years of experience, and feel with them the pride when the mold was broken and pulled away, shoulder slaps and handshakes -- a piece of metal worthy of lasting a thousand years. They didn’t give a damn about John Hunt either. 


Turns out the symbol, the meaning, even the subject matter whatever it is, was never the main event anyway. We judge ancient peoples by their artwork almost entirely, the symbolic meanings lost in time, and don’t seem to have much problem agreeing on which were the more advanced. In those terms John doesn’t rank up with the Parthenon, but he’s way too good to be thrown away.