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-conjured 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 -- it’s one of the ways you can tell. 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.

Friday, March 2, 2018

times art a’changing -- new rules

At the movies, back in the black and white fifties, one summer night a meteor falls in a field just outside of town, and all the children born that year have vacant stares and nothing in common with their parents. In the sixties it sorta happened. As culture evolves, next generations see the world, not opposite exactly, but definitely in opposition, and it’s happening again. The outcome is uncertain. A high-tech return to middle ages feudalism and the superior status of the ultra-wealthy seems plausible, they obviously want it, but democracy, that gritty underdog, each individual within reach of their full human potential, might win out someday.

No one person could change things, but it might be time to pick a side. Don’t need a weatherperson to know which way the wind blows, and culture gurus are even less reliable. Better it would be just to lick your own finger and hold it up to the sky. It will feel colder on the windward side, and you get to make your own determination. Shouldn’t be hard these days as the wind begins to howl, the earth moves under foot, and it seems change is happening on its own already. Authority discredits itself before our eyes, politics and business are besmirched, and the harbinger of it all, art, teeters on a cliff. Will the art object, perhaps obscure in itself but with long resume a flapping, continue to represent the social aspiration of new money, mute as coffee stain, aloof and unfriendly, or will art assume a whole new assignment in the world of tomorrow, almost here?

At this point could explain why exposure to original art tunes up the receptor cells and resensitizes the perceptual net, and further how it modifies and supports its owner’s self-image, an all day effect, but words can be deceitful and enough has been said on all fronts already. Can only offer a prescription, to be filled whenever any artist offers their work in public. Look at everything. Most art you’ll see is bad, but you won’t know that, not until you’ve begun to notice what’s better, which won’t take long. Above all, don’t listen to academic experts, a crusty old clergy reciting an arcane genealogy of past market icons, the rebels and rascals, still touting their descendants and derivatives, finally bankrupt, galleries empty, public finance shriveling, so sad.

As artificial pinnacles of art sophistication and high finance begin to collapse, all that penned-up interest and art awareness will spread out, finding a more natural level in the daily lives of ordinary citizens. The moist finger knows the wind will be howling shortly, and a new point of view, more nuanced regarding personal identity and less inclined to accept bs from above, blows in, as a new generation learns to express themselves through the art they buy and live with.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

escaping oz -- the art of self

So what happened to art after WWII? Some have suggested a massive ‘failure of nerve’ in society, among both winners and losers, a collective inability to address a shattered reality. Abstraction, at the extreme end of the visual art spectrum, suddenly became virulent, and like an invasive species began dismantling and replacing the existing order. Any reference to the world we all share disappeared, to be replaced by psychological excavations, the artist’s inner being resplendent in drips and slashes, really? Sure, art evolves and in this moment, immersed in the super-star modern mythology, the pantheon of successive geniuses who brought us to here seems to make sense, but from the outside, to the newly arrived alien, to anyone with a historical perspective, to people right here and now with real and natural concerns about living day to day, it all looks sorta dumb. 

The closet-guilty super-rich attempt to impress each other by pissing away megabucks. This seems to happen in societies with great inequities, so quite often. The well-padded ultra-wealthy don’t care about art, and as a fact it’s probably beyond them, their metal unquenched by life’s rainy weather, so sad. They only respond to price tags, and their game-show auctions and accountant-driven cultural philanthropies are a wallow of corruption, and don’t their ugly art so testify? Jeff Koons’s giant knick-knack cozies exude this quality of skin-crawly revulsion, of innocence regurgitated, and that’s the beauty of it don’t you see? Maybe not. Just what the hell is going on? 

Art was kidnapped sometime last century, held hostage and forced to betray its sacred mission of enabling a perception of shared reality, of becoming an instrument of empathy and understanding for all to see. Somehow they privatized art, limited access, humiliated and abused it. Dealers and scholars joined in, sharing the advantages of secret knowledge, a sly conspiracy of winks and nods. They abetted the odd inversion of logic that made the accidental splash vastly superior to the intentional mark, books were written. Buy that, accept the industry’s tall tale, and a long succession of shallow sensationalist breakthroughs and celebrity trivia come your way.  

Who would speak for the victims of crime, the people who live in regular houses with little prints of birds and flowers on the wall? How come model homes never have anything but generic abstracts above the couch, those perfect examples of how to live? Where is art in the lives of everyday people, in their houses, in their offices, in the waiting rooms and reception areas they visit all the time? Stolen long ago, blindfolded and forced to kneel in their dollar-green emerald city before the fake magician, Duchamp, hiding behind his velvet curtain of twisted intellect, a vast con job. Time to wake up and realize the ability to judge art for ourselves was inside us all along. Heart, mind, and courage are yours to recognize, to own and live with -- no place like home.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

art anticipates -- rear-viewing

Art leads, sure seems to. Social and political movements of the twentieth century were previewed by art, so easy to see looking back. The Abstract Expressionists’ ascension was marked by an overthrow of the existing order, make that a radical contempt for all of art history, and the humiliation and banishment of just about everybody involved up until then. No blood, but careers stopped dead, and so did picture making. They claimed the old way of making art was too easy, painting pictures of things, and slathered paint from buckets. Since then, in the ‘real’ world, we’ve had the Taliban blowing up Buddhas, Isis dynamiting Roman ruins, and Pol Pot attempting to turn the human calendar back to the year one. Are these events related -- didn’t say that.

Along came Andy, with a haughty contempt for the high notions of art, ‘Art, why that’s a man’s name’, and ridicule for even the appearance of integrity of any stripe. He presented commercial flotsam for art, stole and copied, and had no regard for any traditional notion of value or propriety. ‘Print more Lisa’s, we can always sell those,’ is typical of other such stuff he used to say, and now we have a president sorta like that. One isn’t connected to the other, of course, and must be some kind of coincidence the way art seems to preview these shifts in culture, in morality, and even expectation by the general population.

Conceptual art is all the rage these days, applauded for all its unbridled audacity, its fearless excoriation of social ills, and its gold key access to media attention and expenditure of public money, but it can also be interpreted as an elitist affront to an offended and resentful middle class, and anyone else left out. In auction houses millions, upon millions, are spent for artwork that could be duplicated by a sign painter, and one did, forging most all the moderns for eighty-eight million dollars worth before he was caught, by forensics. Gotta call BS. It’s money laundering, sliding out of a tax burden and hiding wealth by moving painted squares between warehouses, by funding non-profit agencies and foundations, and the everyday people who pay their share resent that too.

What’s next? Just in the last couple of days there was a review in the local paper, more of an acknowledgement but just as good, of an artist hanging art in a restaurant. Never saw that before. Is this new found attention and tacit legitimacy a harbinger of change -- maybe. If common citizens began to admire and then choose art based on what they’ve seen in public places, restaurants and offices, and in the homes of friends, perhaps they’d rely less on windbag authority explaining why some gruesome graffiti fetish is worth a staggering fortune. Would an emerging generation recognize in enduring works of art the extreme opposite of a constantly dissolving and reforming digital universe, and seek to forge an individual character, to express a singular sensibility, attempt to find themselves as persons by hanging serious art where they can see it everyday? Something to think about. Society could begin to heal itself, citizens cultivating self-reliance and personal identity, on a quest for empathetic connection instead of demagogic tribalism, and likely to express this new and emerging consciousness by owning art.   

Friday, February 16, 2018

what’s original -- a working definition

Any art we seriously consider ought to be original, but what does that mean? Direct from the source and not a copy is the simple notion, but it’s a bigger word, not necessarily with different meanings but it extends, becomes narrower and more specific when applied to individual works of art. It’s a term that’s used both for the making and for the creative inspiration behind it, although for some artists these are inseparable. Made by hand has been the traditional first qualifier, and it still counts for a lot, even though these days computers and inkjet printers claim legitimacy as well. Mostly the notion of original has to do with thought process, the amalgam of cultural milieu and personal character that shapes the art, a formula that has varied throughout history.

These days when the individual is exalted as free and capable of maxing-out their own personal potential, art becomes a token of that ideal, the expression of humanity unbounded by financial obligation, rush-hour twice-a-days, and the many layered expectations of others, churches, bosses, and family, that hold us captive, that limit our freedom. Many find in art an example of accomplishment for its own sake, a voice unsullied by crass commercialism, unlashed from the wheel, available to be bought, hung on the wall and seen everyday. In a world of the manufactured, everything molded and extruded, simply owning something truly unique and inherently valuable offers a singular satisfaction, and works of art serve as an enduring anchorage for personal identity and serve as a touchstone of self-possession.

Original works of art contains mental nutrients that open vision and lubricate thought. The dedication and intent needed to forge the image radiate back into the room to influence and enhance the lives of occupants, yes it’s true, an effect that builds over time. Too bad if this sounds like science fiction, romantic and strange, perhaps you’ve taken a wrong turn. If the term original, to you, means something novel brought to market, some monographic replicated icon with track record and celebrity collectors, that’s a few doors down. Here we treat art as active in itself, as a means to help navigate the oncoming rush of sensation that makes our world, a message in a bottle, a recollection of the humanity we share. It’s organic, the artist doesn’t plan it, but successful art has an overtone of meaning which transforms with time into an intimate familiarity, while projecting an unique presence each time it’s seen.                                              

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

portraits -- altering reality

The nude is universal. No clothing to signify rank and station, just the person as human, naked, representing all of us. The portrait, on the other hand, is the depiction of one specific human at one particular time in their life, dressed and accessorized to support an individual identity, unique and sealed forever in a painting. A little book, written by a portrait artist and read long ago, suggested a few tips for pleasing the client to any who followed. In his observations there were larger truths about the nature of art in general.

He suggested an absolutely accurate portrait would result in the same complaint from family members, that the subject appears too old, and there’s a reason. It has to do with the way we see, all of us all the time. They’ve known this person over many years, and what they see is a composite image, from childhood up until now, and it’s a younger self than the more objective artist sees and represents. He also said merging the features of the successful businessman with the visage of the current president would always be met with glad approval and a check. We’ve recently discussed how farmers see cows, subject subjective -- 1-29, and turns out painting is stranger and intellectually more complicated than taking pictures.

There’s no magic in paint, sleeping away in the tube, but applied to canvas the pigments produce an instrument of pure mentality, a version of reality which seeks to produce resonances within the viewer, reinforcing or altering expectations, realigning and recalibrating the way the world is seen. People instinctively seek sympathetic portrait artists who’ll help them seem younger and prettier, more earnest and handsome, because they know it works, that the successful portrait changes the way the person looks to everyone else, and even in the mirror. Still, portraits are just one small department, a single application, of an immense slumbering technology available to the individual house or apartment dweller, the progressive CEO with offices, reception and break areas, or anyone who wishes to utilize the power of art to change their immediate and long term circumstance, to change the world.