Saturday, December 3, 2016

Van Gogh’s notebook -- forensic fantasies

Potentially worth millions if authenticated, some ‘newly found’ notebook full of sketches purports to have come from the hand of Vincent himself, and experts diligently analyze the ink, carbon date the paper. A kid could probably look and tell the difference, and almost anyone else could too, drawing technique so much harder to forge than a signature. Looking, it turns out, is a big problem for the expert however -- they’ve been taught to believe a candy wrapper could be a Rembrandt with the proper lab certifications and duly registered provenance. After years in training sorting art into air tight bins, lined up on a shelf with labels and thumbnails, by now they can name what’s in all of them -- it’s their job, but they’ve paid a terrible price for their profession, no longer able to see with human eyes. Art they come across falls through slots and grates, passes over scales, and when it comes back up there’s a numeric ranking over the image and it goes into one of the bins, never to be seen at all. How else to explain not being able to recognize on sight a famous artist’s hand?

Authentication, a spin-off profession, is a highly complex intrigue involving spectrographs and test tubes, under the table negotiations and fat fees for the ‘right’ answer, you be the judge. The artist on the corner, paint brush in hand, laments, ‘nobody wants to just look anymore,’ or even can, having listened to the experts far too long. Let’s all start over. If a particular piece requires authentication it’s going to be far too expensive for you, anyway, so avoid the litigation and use your own eyes instead. This isn’t hard, more art up everyday so easier all the time, and can even turn out to be fun, entertaining, and an extremely cheap spectator sport. Look at the piece of art enough to see what’s there, and then lean forward, look at the price. Machinery in your head, there when you were born or implanted shortly thereafter, will do the rest, don’t even have to think about it.

The price is important because it’s an indication of how seriously the artist thinks you should be taking their work, but you won’t know this without looking a fair amount before hand, enough to establish a base, to keep stats. When you back up from seeing the price, look a little harder this time, and you can judge for yourself if you think the amount is justified based on what other artists are asking, and in the case you happen to agree, maybe wind up taking home a piece of art. Don’t need no expert for that. In the long run, you and all your neighbors and friends can sort it out, decide for yourselves how much art is worth to you, and together express what you like and what you feel about living around here.

Monday, November 28, 2016

fish story -- hunting whale

Sometimes have to laugh, at myself first of all. I think I’m Ahab, in a dinky little boat after a gigantic whale, the entire art establishment post WWII. I’ll die first, but I’ll beckon even in death lashed to the harpoons lodged in its back, my friend Starbucks having had a large part to play. Getting the whale to notice me is the first challenge, but I think if I keep launching my little missives I might hit a tender spot and get a response, get others to notice, finally through subtle argument convince the whale to expire on its own, or at least leave the water.

Big art has merged with exhibitionism, not around here of course, but the most progressive among us do want to be like them, the millionaires in magazines. Taking down pants in front of the Mona Lisa, such as that, the trick being to latch onto someone else's famous work of art, in some prominent place, and cause a fuss. Cut it finer if you want, up to you. The reverence for celebrity art, which I seem to lack, results from the enormous bucks involved, but I have  immunity, apparently, and think about the art instead. What would I need to say to convince you the only difference between a Damian Hirst ‘spin painting’ and the post card size you squirt yourself on a little turntable at the county fair is size, and a whole lot of money? You could see this for yourself, if you wanted, but these days such a fact doesn’t seem all that important.

No one knows what is important -- provoking the press, amusing the ultra-jaded, hits on the internet? Art, once a flowing river, has fanned out into swampy delta, no channel more than in inch deep meandering without direction. ‘Contemporary’ is an advanced sensibility no doubt, like the ripest cheese, but not everyone gets past the aroma, or, let me emphasize, cares to. There, I harpoon for the heart and feel pretty good about it. The whale suffers indigestion quite independently of me, and will roll over in another generation or two, anyway. Maybe sooner.

“you don’t have to call a glass dirty, you just have to put a clean glass up next to it,” as Rev Farrakhan used to say, and it’s happening now. Independent artists are gaining reputations, not at national fairs, in vanity operations far away, but around here by association and word of mouth, along with a greater opportunity to exhibit their work. Tangible art that can be taken home to become part of a living environment is coming out of studios newly rented all directions, like a wave passing through. The big fish will leave the room because with each passing day the broader community expresses an appetite for a token of life’s joy and pain more substantial than ‘monday night football,’ on and on. That’s art on the wall seen everyday, and art made by a friend, or someone met, or an artist followed through a career in your hometown does it better. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

farmer and artist -- not so different

Say this person is a farmer, outdoors sixty to eighty hours a week, all sorts of weather, all times of day. He’s responsible when anything breaks, when the creek floods and the wind blows, not all his animals like him, running a fever is no excuse. So one day he goes to town to sell a  few cows, and he decides while he’s there to see some art. Map in hand he wanders into the Cressman Center for Visual Art, up in louisville, and encounters ‘Nineveh’ featuring ‘vast hanging plateaus of grass,’ cited as the sort of project threatened by the philistines over at the capital. 

Yes, it’s thought provoking, but the thoughts our farmer has won’t entirely correspond the deep philosophic nuances the arts council, the gallery director, or the media art critic have in mind. This farmer may not find a little patch of sod under grow-lights to be as impressive, as evocative of nature, as soul stirringly profound as the funding agency might have hoped. He might think ‘not worth an afternoon’s effort,’ but he’s just uninformed, right, doesn’t know a thing about art. So long as he pays his taxes when he sells his cows, he’ll contribute to this ‘art’ whether he likes it or not, and that’s all we need from him -- such a progressive state, KY.

There’s an obvious presumption here, one charity-immersed culture wags fail to recognize, can’t seem to see. Who are they, with their sugar-water degrees and ticket-punched credentials, having coffee around a conference table in the long afternoon, to decide what people seriously engaged in the unforgiving quest for daily survival should support as art, anyway? Who are they to pass out state money, attention, and prestige, to conceptualists whose airy creations are a guaranteed affront to most of those who work? Let’s remind everyone at this point the farmer came looking for art, and if he recognized in a painting something he felt about his land, or was charmed some other way, he just might take it home -- he just sold his cows. 

Losing the charity-driven, bureaucratic side of art won’t end art. I’m betting, a long term bet, art would flourish among the very folks who’ve been resisting the art council’s progressive sensibilities up until now. There’s an appetite, no, it’s actually a need for relevant and meaningful art in the lives of people under the wheel, and it’s out there. The arts council doesn’t like it, won’t reward it. Say good bye.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

painting -- what it's about

Most painting isn’t about the world at all, it’s about other art. Over to the senior center there’s a bit of paint going down, but they aren’t painting the world as seen. Here’s a pleasant meadow, a meandering stream with a most improbable little waterfall gurgling in the foreground -- not someplace they’ve ever been. It’s a painting of a painting, the kind they put up in senior centers, the kind the TV painter makes in thirty minutes, the kind of painting that stands in for grandma when she’s gone. There’s a place for that.

Uptown in big galleries art crawls forward looking sideways, artists and galleries hyper-tuned to the frequency of the immediate up and down the street, proffering art that will date itself ten years down the line. They inch forward together, similar in their fashion to the repetition and general sameness of so-called ‘western art’ in Santa Fe, just with a classier grade of tourist. Then there’s the fetish market for relics from famous deceased artists, ‘collectibles’ they call them without total concern for what’s on the front, and those seeking tenure are usually content going with the flow.

With sixty inches of NFL grinding away in the den why are we even talking about painting? Then there’s that. What is it about painting that should interest any human living today -- a reasonable question. Must be some odorless, colorless emission, a pheromone which goes straight to the brain without translation, because lots of folks respond. Every morning in Amsterdam a long line of people from all over the planet wait for the opening of the Van Gogh museum, some came for just this purpose. Gnarly purple olive trees and lemon yellow suns penetrate their skulls, start realigning parameters, increasing empathy, connection with nature, ecstatic joy. Folks emerge feeling like they want to do it again in ten years, alive and aware. Maybe that’s not an answer, but could be something to think about.

Painting is even more potent these days given the digitalized, homogenized, 3-D printed nature of everything else, its magnetic field is stronger, its gross tangible ‘realness’ a presence in any setting. Being famous is no guarantee, but best possible in that moment is, and a worthy hard-fought statement by a fellow human facing the same general circumstances is a good thing to hang on the wall and to look at everyday.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Bevin’s bathwater -- saving baby

Governor Bevin has fired the director of ky arts council and artists all over the state are incensed, they register displeasure. What we have here is a microcosm of the national earthquake, overwhelming pressure along a fault line no one seemed to notice. We did. Here at ‘owning art’ it’s no surprise to see the public finally heave their well-intentioned cultural overseers over the side, a populist purge overdue.

It’s not about art, is it? It’s about state and federal support for a style of art that doesn’t stir much interest in the larger community, so they dole out this tax-deducted, charity-funded pie for those ‘deserving’ -- and they get to decide. It’s mostly cool because everybody’s got a share, or might get one someday, at least lots of folks try. Dangling that skinny carrot turns out to be a major influence, grant applications under review, and it bends toward a sort of insular, canapĂ© munching, quasi-participation in art, neither making or owning anything significant. What are we going to do?

Guess we’ll just have to look for support in the private sector. Try to make the case, long abandoned, that the product is worthy of its place in the dialogue of daily life, can contribute to the economic well-being of the community in a positive way, and significantly enhances the lives of the people who own it, such as that. Artists, throw down your crutches and find gallery space, organize a coop and start a gallery, put your stuff up in restaurants and salons, and connect to an audience if it’s out there. Time to find out.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

anticipated obsolescence -- turning tables

There’s a lot more art activity, ‘art strolls’ in all directions these days, and sooner or later it will sort itself out -- won’t need my help. The condition that has prevented local artists from finding support on their own for a generation or two, small town academic monopolies on what was presented in galleries, both on campus and in the non-profits, what was written about, what was sanctioned as serious art, is essentially over, evaporating before our eyes and there’s a reason.

Exposure, plain and simple. All citizens have a dusty, mostly unused room in their heads full of gears and levers that they seldom visit, but looking at art turns on the lights. If they think about it at all they quickly begin to realize they like some of it less, some of it more, and before long with gears and levers engaged, they start making their own decisions about art. Taking on that largely private responsibility can ripple out into other areas, more cooking at home, a refocused conviction about larger issues, a more grounded and stable sense of self, such as that, but no need to get too far ahead.

Conditions are evolving so rapidly the complaint I register here turns rancid in hand, irrelevant, pages turning brown before our eyes, and if you go way back to the beginning of this you’ll see I said it would. As art finds its way around the grant funded, peer reviewed checkpoints, seeks and finds a broader audience, art production becomes self-sustaining, and pretty soon neighbors are noticing what’s on the wall. Won’t happen all at once, but sparks and smoke say soon.

Up until just recently most folks were actually afraid of art. Here’s the erudite arm chair interviewer, reading glasses pushed up on his furrowed brow, a world-traveled expert and authority on every level of human activity, yet he proudly proclaims he knows not a thing about art, the only deficiency he’ll admit to and he doesn’t mind who knows it. Lesser humans have been too self-conscious to even try, afraid of the secret opinions of family members, friends and acquaintances, just about anyone who might ‘know’ more about art than them, a self-imposed, life-limiting straight-jacket. Unbuckle and look around, it’s a brand new day.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

art in trumpland -- seeking its own level

This wasn’t an election of a president. Trump is there by default, could have been some other populist outsider. This friends, by plenty enough to make the difference, was a red-neck repudiation of the arrogance and condescension of progressive culture mavens and academic think tank types, and as we all reevaluate, I realize I’m right there, too. Didn’t vote for Trump but something in the glee of his victory struck a chord in me as well. They didn’t care about his programs, they just wanted to see the other side soiled for a change, and the cry-baby post-election demonstrations make them feel good all over. Too bad there’s tomorrow.

Where from all this rage pundits shrug on the news, life too soft at the top to question much, and they all come to work in limos. Of rage I’ve had my share, but we use it in my trade, a reason to make that first cup of coffee -- can’t complain. They make it easy. This week on the news David Bowie’s art collection, up for grabs, was headlined by a ‘Basquiat,’ in at eight point eight million. Having to live with it would be sweet revenge for all poor people everywhere, but it’s probably destined for storage. Still, this particular artist makes the point better than anyone else in the universe so far. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s resume lists him as a graffiti artist before he met Warhol, his rocket to fame, but he wasn’t. He was just a vandal with a spray can in his hip pocket who went around defacing property, and he wasn’t much more than a vandal as a painter. That’s why we love him so much, so raw, so aching, so burned out, drugged out bored -- same old shit, his slogan. No, really.

That’s what they see out in trump-land, a carnival-grade celebrity cult siphoning off millions just to soak up the loot, to sop up the gravy, no wonder they turn their backs on art. The citizens who actually support much of this artistic endeavor work for a living, and by ‘work’ they mean engaging daily in something they don’t like doing, an unrelenting life-long effort with only incremental rewards. It isn’t that they’re offended by artists never wearing ties or fighting the morning traffic, just hanging around in studios smearing paint on canvas and getting rich like they say on the news, but the small town fact is they simply can’t relate. Some object that perfectly projects a crystalline disavowal of effort and discipline may not move them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like art.

Their vote has been suppressed, they’ve been disenfranchised, demeaned, discounted. Trump was a mistake, but the pressure has been there for something more engaging and honestly felt, closer to direct experience and daily lives. Art’s new demographic will find in art a more measured and intelligent outlet than a pent-up paroxysm of despair and resentment one time in the voting booth. Balance is a natural state, and aren’t we all together?