Friday, July 14, 2017

glimmer and shine -- visually challenged

The Art Market Has Changed Dramatically -- but Is It a Mature Industry?
an ‘Artsy’ editorial by Anna Louie Sussman     Jul 8th

The above article contained the following: Yet this sense of exclusivity, even snobbery, is not just a fact of the art market, but the thing that makes it glimmer and shine, said Olav Velthuis, sociology professor at University of Amsterdam. “It is that part of the market that makes it attractive to people, the whole spiel about the waiting lists, and about getting access and not getting access.” Art acquisition serves as “a status mechanism,” he said, a way for the newly wealthy to understand “where they are in this global cultural elite.”

So true dat. I certainly don’t have the credentials to question it, haven’t kept up in any case, and frankly find the politics implied sordid and despicable, but it doesn’t matter. The Venice Biennale, a running with the mega rich, is far, far, far away. The rich, I’ll remind you, are not like you or I, and the art they like varies from year to year along with handbags and super-cars, and all the other super neat stuff they use and discard. So far down in the world’s ‘cultural elite’ I don’t care much for any of it, and that isn’t what I mean when I say art. 

A hundred years back machine tools, cranks and levers, basic parts would have floral motifs graved into the faces of the metal. Didn’t make them work any better, just a reminder of humanity amid the heat and grease, one grimy, smoky reality saying hello to another. Some would call that part ‘non-functional,‘ but a part of the whole, testimony to the craftsmanship of the part itself, would be more correct. Art, it’s true, doesn’t perform a task, but it speaks -- about the artist, about the person who chooses it, and sometimes about everyone and our time on earth.

So who are you, just a spectator here to experience what’s it’s like to be rich third-hand, to become emotionally wrought for moments at a time about deprivations and injustices far away, for which we accept not a twinge of responsibility? Apply yourself to art, where you’ve been, what you’ve seen, and what you know about art so far, and it will begin to answer back. It’s like finding a room in your head you didn’t know was there. For quickest results look at everything, good and bad, expensive and cheap, and let your brain sort it out so natural. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was as easy for the massively wealthy, but it isn’t.

Monday, July 10, 2017

smarter -- home remedies

Dumb and dumber audiences, the museum directors’ lament. Well, if they want movie posters we’ll cook up a traveling exhibit, scanty attire and guns a blazin’, mindless action and prostituted art. The board has been insisting we keep up appearances with cars in the parking lot when fronting for their convenient philanthropies. One suspects, considering the current state of contemporary art, that someone’s heart is in the wrong place.

It’s amusing, sorta, when institutions cause a problem and then complain about it. Woeful indeed is the state of visual art these days, the grant dependent crowd flogging gender and racial motifs with the flimsiest of backgrounds and only casual control of their medium, whatever it might be. The already famous are farming it out anyway. Oh glamorous art establishment, as your dollar-drunk cruise ship sinks slowly in your own poisonous lagoon, surrounded by multi-million dollar flotsam, smears and drips and half-baked signage, we bid farewell.

Out here we’re concerned about distribution, ownership, the real business of making art in the real world. Fame must be nice, so many people chase, but it seems relatively unimportant to the reasonably secure adult engaged with work and family, normal. Do they like art? Well, no, not the stuff they see featured on the news, in the magazines, covered tabloid style online. Conceptual art is over their heads, off their view-screens, call them dummies if you must. When they think about the art at all they must first confront a tsunami of corny stunts, preposterous nonsense -- Christo’s fence, Koon’s Popeye, Hirst’s pickled goat, who’s a dummy?

It’s much easier to start from the bottom than the top. An actual market for art doesn’t begin the bidding at fifty million, more probably three or four hundred. May not be top-notch, the artist isn’t attempting to make a living but trying hard, revealing potential, probably getting better. One out of ten in this price range will be worth the money, probably more, and it’s a good place to start. It’s up to you to figure out which one it is, and if you make a mistake won’t hurt too bad. As soon as you take this first step automatic processes engage, gears slip into position, and you’re accepted into the club.

Sometimes called ‘buyer’s remorse,’ there’s a simple mechanism in our heads that second guesses every dollar spent, and makes us smarter for next time, we rely on it. Use it like an escalator when learning about art. Simply seeing other art will inevitably inform you if you made the right choice, and if not you’ll be smarter about it next time, see? After a while you’ll understand why some paintings are worth more, even a lot more, and it won’t have anything to do with the artist’s social life, or even who they are.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

art as antidote -- ditching dope

Today we’re going to talk about the most important attribute you have, any creature has down to the mud-dwelling mollusk -- simple attention, the ability to recognize what’s important. The wolf’s howl may be farther away but somehow more relevant, worth taking more seriously than the hoot of an owl. And so it goes, we’re built to survey the territory and guide ourselves accordingly -- all of us, anything that moves. 

Milk of the poppy is flooding the land, and it gets anybody, all walks of life, every economic level, young and old. This chemical dulls the attention, that’s its job. That’s also why it’s so popular, and it isn’t being used for just physical pain. That’s only an excuse in the beginning. So many of them die, and if you could ask them the question just as the EMT squirts in the narcan, a large number would probably pass, tired of the life they’ve been living. This seems unnatural.

The evening news likes squalor and shows us mud streets with sewage, blowing paper and trash, houses made of salvaged sheet metal, and out in front a gang of laughing kids, showing each other affection, giggling at the odd stranger in a safari jacket and his sidekick with a camera. To our eyes, sodden as we are with modern conveniences, their joy doesn’t seem natural either. Just what the hell is going on?

You’re not a genius, over-stimulation is going to overwhelm you. Your bucket for attention only holds so much, and when it overflows you feel bored. As a fact, that’s one of the ways you can tell. More input, turning everything up to nine, more watts of sound and more pixels in the eye doesn’t help, in fact just makes it worse. Who isn’t on board so far? Who among us hasn’t noticed this already on their own? Turns out there can be such a thing as too much fun.

Instead of narcan, we suggest owning art, looking at art, becoming comfortable with it. Art grooms the attention, that’s its job. Art on the wall doesn’t shoot lasers, has no digital components, won’t interact -- it’s just an arrangement of colors on a flat surface. If it’s good art, it’s continually worthy of your attention, that’s the test. Sit in your living room and look at it. Mental processes stop racing, something you may not have noticed until it all begins to slow down. Contemplating a work of art reveals more than you thought was there at first in the hours, days, and years you spend with it, and you’ll start noticing other stuff too, birds singing in the parking lot, the color of the sky in traffic. More than that, you won’t be wanting to turn it all off with a pill.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

confessions -- contented discontent

I realize these days how my life has been shaped by early experiences. Just out of school, along with many young unemployeds, the war lurking just around the corner, I wound up in a crew selling encyclopedias door to door. The pitch we used promised the books were free on a promotional basis, and some lucky couple in the neighborhood would only have to show enough commitment to maintain the updating services for a nominal fee -- oddly enough the price of the books. Only people who wanted something for nothing believed it, but there I was a poor college student driving a red Austin Healey. My job every evening was to help people delude themselves, to believe something they knew to be false in the name of simple greed. That experience made me very skeptical of cultivated enthusiasms, everywhere, and may have led to an overblown sense of righteousness. I’ve been very obstinate.

Also, I’ve always wanted to do things the hardest way possible, don’t know why. In some professions there’s a premium for that. Dunking the basketball on a ten foot rim isn’t particularly difficult for those six foot six and above, so they have an annual contest to see just how difficult they can make it, and the one who does it the hardest way wins. Like that. Oh, I’d like the acknowledgement of my peers, an award or a grant now and then, and a market for my art among young urbanites wouldn’t be so bad, but to me those aren’t the hardest things in art. The hardest thing is to paint a cow, a truck, a tree, something that the viewer has seen before and knows already. In the first place, representation leaves the artist much more vulnerable to the judgement of others, since they can see right off how much it looks like a cow, a truck, or a tree for themselves. I might add that this ability to judge is meant to empower the viewer, to broaden accessibility and level the exchange. All that, and it totally bypasses the post-modern contemporary maze of exclusion woven by the literati with credentials and degrees, so sad.

The question then becomes, does it look sorta like the subject, say a cow, exactly like the subject as in a photograph, or does it somehow look more real than the actual fact -- a highly subjective notion. I’ve seen paintings that were definitely more interesting, somehow even more tangible, than the scene in real life would have been, and as a fact, a lot of them do that. For a long time that’s what artists thought they were doing, and when the camera came along they just got better, for a while. Fashion sort of slipped away from them, and new styles of painting became more reflective of personality, of sheer bursts of audacity bordering on genius, and finally brand-name celebrityhood, their art, piece by piece, mere artifacts, more like relics, of their famous, fabulous careers. Really sad.

Like my namesake, I’ve chosen the less popular road, couldn’t help it really, and I’ve seen some sights along the way, factories and conference rooms, along with deserts and mountains, painting the whole time. All around me the world is changing, sea-sick sailors row home, Judy hits Punch, and a new demographic is beginning to realize that long-term survival requires wakefulness, self-awareness, and the autonomy to make personal decisions. Art could turn out to be a part of that, to augment that, to become its expression. I’m guessing that means pictures of things.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

bar fight -- impossible odds

Just back from two day online discussion with a couple of heavyweights, big guys in the industry, a museum administrator and another guy who presumes to greatness, crusher credentials I’m sure, and little me with nothing more than a profile portrait I painted of myself, so unfair. Don’t think they looked, didn’t have to, they knew way more than me already.

One guy quotes Wynton Marsalis referencing Tim Duncan and comparing him to someone shooting hoops in a driveway, think he meant me. The other guy was downright abusive. They produced an avalanche of indignation, paragraphs and pages, explaining to me how seriously inadequate my life had been, how naive have been my assumptions about art and the world, and what a small town amateur nobody I really was. Three or four lines from me and they were off again, justifying themselves to me as though I was somebody. It was weird. 

Aggressively defensive about their profession and their personal professionalism, casting hardcore sneers and haughty pouts, couldn’t tell if they agreed with each other on anything, but they were ganging up on me. At this point I’m not entirely sure I’m the insecure one. I appreciated the opportunity really. I’m not even on the ground floor of the art building, that’s me on the park bench across the street. The doorman has never let me in. These guys were shouting down from the penthouse, so they kept saying, and I was glad to return serve, told them about my life and art in my hometown, what I thought of their tax sucking parasitic dead-weight on the cultural expression of regular folks, both of them so sophisticated and beholden to the rich and all. It was fun.

After about fifteen sweaty rounds they decide they’ve finished me off, dusting their palms they go off arms over each others shoulders, satisfied they’ve demolished and demoralized me, sent me whimpering back to my day job. They’re on the same side as Damien Hirst who has reduced the very essence of visual art down to polka dots on pieces of plywood, his assistants paint the dots, ‘no two alike,’ attached to a great big price tag, an enormous price tag. These guys get that. I’ll side with Vincent, an actual artist -- he didn’t like them as much as they didn’t like him, and I’ll take those odds, too. 

painting outdoors -- cloud seeding

Studios are sanctuaries, little sovereign embassies of a country far away, a bit more liberal, sometimes not as orderly as the world outside. To take a very private activity, painting at an easel, into the street for an annual city-wide event, seems almost like a duty, missionaries among native peoples, out there painting street scenes, porches, gardens, construction sites.

It’s not much fun, having to search for all your gear in boxes and bags, the easel set up on a sidewalk somewhere. There’s the sun with constantly moving shadows, inconvenient conveniences, eating and drinking on the spot, it’s a strain. There’s a deadline. Still, it feels good to be doing it. People want to peek, sometimes ask permission, shy and curious. Well of course, that’s the point, even though showing an unfinished painting feels something like giving a speech in your underwear. This is a day to see how they’re made, to compare one corner to the next, to decide what works and what doesn’t yet. It’s visual bootcamp for the community, and an opportunity to introduce artists and potential audience, both sides a little eager, sorta sweet.

I could care less what people have already learned from art’s commercial and scholarly mandarins, they have these lists. That stuff just gets in the way. Every human has the gear on board to discern quality in art, it just requires looking. Got to admit Thomas Kinkade looks pretty good, warm and sentimental, a silvery glow, until one day in a museum, in a gallery, on a neighbor's wall this KinKade fan sees something better. It could take a while, but with an open mind eventually they’ll probably be drawn to something a little more reserved, maybe with a bit more imagination, in some intangible way somehow more sincere. A note of caution, this is not something that can be calculated in isolation, and only can be determined by direct comparison. The good news is it’s automatic, a basic app wired in, part of the package you were born with.

It lies dormant while the evening news drones on about millions at auction over and above already astronomical projections, a deep snooze, but out in the fresh air, looking over some artist’s shoulder while they put color to canvas, as the scene across the street begins to emerge, certain hormones are released, sleeping circuits fire up. Before long strolling citizens want to know who’s better and discover, maybe for the first time, they get to decide for themselves. It’s the seed of awareness, the awakening of a visual appetite that might blossom in a decade or two into a regional art destination for the entire eastern half of the nation, with a range of art available from affordable to elevated, prosperous artists, busy shopkeepers, smiles all around.

Friday, June 23, 2017

picture making -- figuration re-appears

So what is abstract art? Why it’s total freedom, escape from the shackles of mundane reality, the ability to make stuff up. In the beginning critics romanced about emotional states, the inchoate internal machinations of the angst-ridden mind there on the canvas for us to contemplate -- so superior to the obsolete lumpen dumbness of ‘copying nature.’ Representational art was considered too easy, too commercial, and yes, too common and accessible to even be considered by several generations of scholars, university faculties, and grant administrators. It was banished, marooned, and so were any artists who wanted to paint that way.

Artistic freedom, now there’s a myth. Gaining official acceptance is more like passing a velvet rope manned by a coterie of true believers in whatever is currently chic among millionaires, so discerning, such lively minds. They’re not keen on originality, preferring the nods and winks of a corrupt clergy while an innocent flock foots the bill. Good to remember it isn’t parasitic if the host benefits, but today’s art establishment, tier upon tier of arts bureaucracy, tax sucking museums and subsidies to non-profits, teaching facilities on every college campus sure drains the system, but what we get back is so worth it, so they say. Still, wouldn’t someone like to ask, where is the art on the walls of ordinary people, what is the investment in art of the average middle class household, and how much does the everyday citizen think about art? 

This isn’t about the artists, they could go do something else. It’s the culture that doesn’t need this enormous welfare apparatus, the multi-level art support network, all those fat bureaucrats and skinny artists, but what it does need isn’t there, an authentic artistic expression that has somehow been subverted and maligned. Art and artists should be a part of daily life. Art ought to be a family investment as an enhancement to the home, as a marker of endurance and stability, and as a bond of personal identity when out in the world. It’s probably going to be a picture of something.