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Friday, December 8, 2017

visual art resists -- witness to the revolution

Trump is not the cause, he’s merely a symptom of a hysteria no one wants to acknowledge -- I hate to tell ya. The ultra wealthy are abusing the golden goose again, and she can’t take much more. People around here approach adulthood wondering who their highest bidder will be, grooming themselves to receive a higher station, a better income. It’s a stifling system that becomes more tenuous and uncertain the further down you go, and these days vast majorities groan under the downward pressure of wealth’s rampant consolidation, everyday watching while others slide over the edge.

Nowhere is the peasant’s nose pushed deeper into the manure pile than when it comes to big international art, visible for all to see. Here the super wealthy burn off excess cash like gas flares over oil refineries, wallowing in the guilt pit of pointless extravagance, and the financial manipulators climb aboard as well, seeing a chance to cover outright theft -- I must mean perfectly legal creative accounting, and everyone can see that too. 

It’s a trifle, you’re likely to say. Surely job insecurity, fear of losing identity against competing ethnicities, and a shattering of traditional norms of behavior are all more important than what’s hanging on the wall. Maybe. On the other hand, a diet of fast food and the mental mayhem of action entertainment squanders human potential, who wants to disagree? If your tribe is warm and dry for a little longer, ignore these deficiencies while you can, but we float above a caldera of seething resentment, wasted talent, and stunted dreams, and that brings us back to art.

A sports poster on the wall isn’t a sufficient reflection of a fully formed adult personality, just isn’t. People could use a little affirmation of their own uniqueness, as well as a creative connection to the human condition. Why come to think of it, if we didn’t live in a culture starving for meaning, gasping for equitable distribution, and longing for an adequate education, we wouldn’t be in this fix, now would we? How much can we change by tomorrow?

None of it, but we can watch the system heal itself. The transformation will be expressed through art, harbinger of a general awakening. As a sign of this change, art would start going up on city walls all around the planet, a broad enough array for people to begin understand the power and potency of visual expression, and to find themselves in art. Leading businesses would endeavor to project a progressive yet mature image by owning and displaying worthy art, and a hotel chain might even arise requiring a premium price just to sleep in the same room with original art. Sounds like fantasy SF, or surely would have a couple of decades back, but seems a fairly safe bet by now, since it’s all happening already.

What change in mentality -- what new politics, morality, and self concept, both individually and collectively, would a renewed interest in visual art represent? More independence and self-reliance, along with a more humane and open relationship with other people would seem reasonable, and maybe even a path to self-realization and fulfillment would present itself. All in all, it suggests a future just a bit brighter than being reduced to the paranoid, shrunken, back-biting drones the oligarchs would prefer, inmates of a mind-control ant farm. They’ve used their money to elect Trump, to degrade us, to make us dumb -- resist with art.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

art’s efficiency -- simple means

Making art is about efficiency -- making simple means go farthest. These days it’s possible to digitalize and manipulate images, change color with a stroke, borrow from anywhere, print on anything, so why is the Mona Lisa still a thing? Why would modern people bother with painting at all?

Painting is caveman basic. Ground minerals suspended in oil are applied to stretched fabric, light and portable. It’s meant to be hung on a wall, perhaps embellished with a frame, and a discreet source of light would be helpful. There is no alien technology filched from a crashed saucer, actually there’s nothing new at all. It’s a system largely unchanged for thirty five thousand years we know of, the application of pigment to a flat surface representing the world in two dimensions.

The implements used have largely remained the same as well, animal hair at the end of a stick being the most common, and mediums have improved but still serve the same function, beguiling the eye. Primitive maybe, but not a bad place to begin if accomplishment is measured in sheer distance from start to finish, from materials utilized to statement made. It’s about efficiency, the guiding principle of an artist's life, anyway. Will concede the popular image from movies and such is one of cocaine and limos, artists rich like their patrons, but it’s a sad fact that the artistic community waited a couple of decades longer to take hot showers than everyone else, and it hasn’t changed that much. Independent artists live on the edge, and don’t waste nothing.

Technology, it turns out, is a six dimensional crutch, the kind of kinetic assist that leaves the body weak and wasted, statements posted on endlessly updating platforms, as unsuited for significant art as scratching love letters in the sand. It’s so much easier, in the long run, to start further back up the road where’s there’s less traffic, more miles to roam. Visual art made on an easel already represents a different time-scale, a concentration of effort and attention on an instant, a momentary glance otherwise destined to be lost in the flow of a day’s passing. By convincingly portraying actual experience, the painting establishes a portal on memory that widens each time it’s seen, an enduring image that seems to expand with familiarity, to reveal more with time. That’s old school. 

Vision and talent make the job easier, but diligence and effort crank the process over, condensing a moment’s observation into a tangible, visible chunk you can hold in your hand, hang on your wall. What make it good? A simple answer is miles down the road, how much depth of feeling and sense of presence can be wrung from simple stuff. This becomes the greatest efficiency of all, producing an object of significance and value almost from thin air.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

cultivated blindness -- simple sight

Here’s the thing -- brand new, truly original art couldn’t even be seen. We’re just not technically equipped to see totally new stuff. The alien standing next to you taking notes won’t impinge on your senses because you’ve never seen one before, and your mind can’t define him, her, or it. Folk lore has it that new world natives couldn’t see Cortez’s ships in the bay at Vera Cruz, and thought he had emerged from the sea. After a lot of diligent looking the shaman began to see them, like wooden houses with poles extending upward, and he explained to the rest what to look for. 

It has to do with the act of seeing, itself, the search for similar templates throughout the endless file cabinets of memories and experiences we have in our heads already, starting from when we first arrived. It happens instantaneously most of the time, but sometimes a crumpled bag on the lawn tries to be a squirrel for just a split-second, just enough lapse to be confusing, to glimpse the process in action. This collaboration of sensation and memory, altered by personal biases this way and that, produces what we see, probably at least slightly different for everyone.

Here we come to a basic premise of art, long left out of the conversation. Is the source for the art found in life as lived, or is it derived from other antecedent art, a long progression? There’s is a good reason to ask this question because we’re specialized, and can have similar sensations but see things differently, so true when it comes to art. Let’s suppose you have a degree, maybe took some classes, flipped through a few magazines, just trying to keep up you see, and you’ve filed a lot of art in your memory banks the typical citizen might not have. Makes you cool, right? Maybe.

Art about art cantilevers out over the abyss, but can become pretty flimsy, loud but anemic, requiring constant fan support from the wealthy and intelligent. So here we have a gallery space four inches deep in white flour with a surround of clear plastic sheeting, the pure whiteness festooned with twisted cigarette packs, gum wrappers, and other signifiers of what, exactly? Do you know, would you be impressed? I’m guessing on some level this exhibition cuts like a laser, witty and wise, but over my head by a mile, and it seems that bothers no one. That’s where they were aiming in the first place, it’s art about art. 

The whole business reeks of complicity, is nothing if not expensive, a social-club cult of economic exclusion and tribal totems. Only a prude would bother to object, so easy to just walk away and find more direct engagement, a more rational playing field, but wait. What about an art about life, some variation of representation that draws its comparisons from the common experience side, that seeks access to the mind and heart by opening a file compiled from daily living? As art, it would surely be considered quaint by the subsidized crowd, but it might resonate with everyday citizens in unexpected ways, an art that can be ‘seen’ by everyone.  

Monday, November 27, 2017

instantaneous reformation -- sliding toward critical mass

Recently fielded feedback praising valiant rowboat sorties against the art establishment’s massively fortified beachheads, but at the same time registering gentile skepticism that any of these utopian predictions would come to pass -- original art up in houses up and down the block, an active visual dialogue within communities, and at least break-even prosperity for creatives, busy expanding vision and widening empathy for just about everyone. Looking out the window these days, it’s difficult to disagree. With rampant commercialism demeaning what’s true, even what’s real, all for a buck, and the downward pressure of the world’s wealth in roiling boil toward the top, there isn’t much room for art -- looking, making, thinking about at all.

Impossible odds tends to make the best art, a high-pressure crucible difficult to simulate under lab conditions. Sports fans will understand, being in a position to win is all that’s necessary. We’ve entered a zone of choppy water, successive waves of gender sensitivity, political scandal, monument madness, and executive-power impositions, buffeted and bobbing. A big wave might come along. Some progressive businessperson could decide that the way to impress vendors, create envy among competitors, and remain in the public mind, was to purchase and strategically install original art, so much more economical than new carpets and swedish furniture. These folks are competitive, play golf, brag about their kids, and they’ll notice pretty quick any conversation about someone else’s offices. This could be the detonator. 

Average citizens, having seen enough art up in public to begin to like some more than others, one day strolling a craft fair might spend a significant amount for a painting, even take a moment to speak to the artist. Say they went a little high, a couple of hundred, maybe more, and now they see it everyday. In time they’ll come to understand why some paintings cost much more than that. Of course this happens somewhere everyday, but it remains isolated, even quirky, and eventually fades without the reinforcement and support of neighbors and friends, but if it ever starts happening all around all at once, a new self-sustaining process takes over. Ka-boom. 

Will agree it looks dark, the president only likes art with his face in it, and he represents the nation’s mood at the moment much better than most will admit, but it’s claustrophobic, stifling, airless, and dumb, sorry to say. Visual art, the tangible art object, is looking pretty good these days, as music dissolves in digital, DJ's displacing musicians and effortless transcription shredding notions of originality and ownership. Visual art’s major disadvantage in the twentieth century, the inability to replicate and still retain value, has become its greatest asset in a technological world of 3-D printed anything. This ability of visual art to concentrate and hold value, in the form of unique human expression, will begin to occur to isolated individuals here and there all at once, and one day they’ll become interested in art. They’ll each think it was their idea. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Charlie loses touch -- too much affirmation

Too much affirmation can be a bad thing. Consider Charlie Rose, urbane, cosmopolitan, famous, rich, and yet in his pitiful attempts to reach out to other people he exposes himself, like maybe a baboon, the so-called ‘shower trick.’ He’s not the only one. As a ploy to win friends this disarming gesture is fairly crude. We don’t know who’s gone along with it, but sometimes people complain publicly, and in this incandescent moment, in a blinding flash of social awareness, it seems wrong. Actually none of it makes any sense at all. 

Rich and famous used to be enough, influential friends, the best seats, and romance should be so easy. On the DL, many professional services are available, well, just about everywhere, and everyday, everyone so much wants to be your friend, including comely career-climbing nubiles, so why? Why behave like a drooling inmate jerking open his robe at a state facility somewhere? Of several possibilities that come to mind, none seems healthy or wise, or in any way fulfilling. Ordinary people suspect it’s a sickness.

Too much affirmation, too much deference, too much phony butt-smooching day after day can make a person ill. The person with power begins to lose touch, begins to see others as fawning sycophants, which, around them, they mostly are. Along with all those privileges, they also feel the weight of everyone’s expectation, their judgement, their jealousy and resentment, whether it’s there or not. I’m guessing here, of course, but we have examples of power corrupting. Military officers of a certain rank can openly declare creationist belief without fear of contradiction from any college educated lieutenant, diving toward mandatory retirement, they won’t know why. Those constructive criticisms in the suggestion box just might be taken personally in the front office, it’s risky.

Does any of this apply to the state of art these days, don’t see how. It might be that some folks are overly impressed with rich and famous, nodding and smiling at openings for ugly, repulsive visual effronteries claiming to be art. Art can be open-robe crude these days, and not all that grand to look at, either. It’s a matter of losing touch, simply by concentrating the power to judge in the hands of too few. They congratulate themselves endlessly, grants and awards, and they sell stock in a bogus house of cards, touting an extrapolated, cross-referenced, mostly imaginary collector value for art, instead of considering inherent worth. 

Damien Hirst and his ilk are carnally despoiling the ultra wealthy, a deliberately painful public groping, preying on their gullibility, their innate competitiveness over trifles, and their inability to relate to the rest of humanity, what they think or feel. It’s right there in the tank with his decomposing goat, a desperation to ingratiate almost beyond human understanding. Live with it, and look at it everyday why don’t you -- pardon, my outrage brims over. It’s just that we’ve tolerated these abuses for so long. Let’s all demand a bit of decorum from our art, at least an attempt at charm, and for sure a willingness to relate back and forth. Candlelight isn’t necessary, but maybe a little intelligent conversation, a bit of time to get to know each other, and things ought to work out fine. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

looking at same -- seeing different

Once they’re painted, paintings don’t change. A portrait stays young while the person ages, the landscape remains green after the bulldozers and pavers have made parking lots. It’s the viewers who change, what they see and what they care about. Scholars, consultants, and curators are a fickle band, all in frenetic search for that sweet spot two degrees ahead of art-world consensus, careers are born. So one day one of them says, ‘Norman Rockwell, so long dismissed, ought to be reconsidered,’ and the rest ruefully admit to having been a fan all along, like birds shifting down a wire. Art is their day job.

Turns out the general public has been reluctant to visit the big art museums, so as outreach they promote movie posters, host blockbusters, and plan family events to draw people in, desperately attempting to justify monster subsidies. Museum officials time and plot, this is true, the average time the average visitor spends in front of each piece of art, about a second and a half, and wring their hands about the six-pack swilling cretins they’re bound to serve. Projecting the values of their vintage-wine benefactors, they think art can be made interesting by extravagant price tag alone, but big replicated splashes and blobs, signature styles all fabulously expensive, don’t require second glances. So when was the last time you spent the afternoon contemplating your Ellsworth Kelly, your Motherwell, anything else you pass on the way up to your office every day?

 It’s a fact the general public hasn’t seemed much interested in art, content instead with posters and prints, thinking of art more as a knick-knack decoration than as a serious, significant possession. Coming into a new prosperity in the middle of the last century, the common folk just never warmed to abstract art, and view the art scene as reported in media these days as cover for an obscene money cult, which it is. The operative word that changes the whole mess is exposure, the opportunity for people in the community to see locally produced art in a dignified setting. The well-lit, white walled galleries of the non-profits would be nice, but restaurants will do. The very best place to see an original painting is in the home of a friend, in the office of a professional, anywhere you’re required to wait, and better yet, on your own wall at home. 

Look at all those houses, the landscaping, the cars. Doesn’t it seem like somewhere out there, someone would want to own something that didn’t depreciate, go out of date, or get ground up for recycle every ten years or so? Imagine a possession that endures unchanged through every phase of life, that as witness absorbs associations and family events along the way, to be read back in contented maturity in any quiet moment. This would be a possession that can be known like a friend, that becomes a friend, and which, in addition, dependably retains its value. Put another way, how long before the excess of material stuff bulging from public storage units because the house isn’t big enough, begins to consolidate and concentrate into smaller units of greater value? 

When it’s time to reexamine priorities after the turbulent ferment of politics and mores we’re passing through, the parts will come back different, the system will be changed, and art, as visual expression arising from a common experience, could find itself a lot closer to the front of the line. Would a diverse community, with both traditional and world-traveled sensibilities, become aware this asset in their midst and support full-time artists? Maybe.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

windows and mirrors -- painting tech

Glass has a flat surface that can be seen through, and glass with silver backing accurately reflects anything in front of it. Ideally it makes no comment, doesn’t have its own point of view, and yields nothing new. Paintings provide a different sort of information from the same flatness, both seen through to the subject and reflecting back on the viewer, a two way experience. The artist chooses a visual vocabulary like the printer chooses a font, aiming for maximum clarity and openness to a particular audience, even if its form is opaque to everyone else.

There are qualities of visual experience that can’t be directly addressed with language, and so a kind of poetry is employed, a free-form, free-association style used in art commentaries on all levels, all in an attempt to serve as abstract approximation of visual art’s potency. Not going to try that here. Will suggest a visit to an art museum, pick a large city for best results. Find a painting you find visually appealing, and spend some time looking. You’re in luck because the lo-cal steady diet of digital fast food you’ve been feeding your brain has left a hunger, a resident longing for the kind of direct human one-to-one interaction authentic art provides. 

A word of caution for those seeking shortcuts. Original art is beguiling for the very qualities reproductions leave out, and the original Hopper has depth and meaning the poster, or the coffee table book, does not. His paintings, many paintings, are also reflections, not of the face you see when brushing your teeth, but revealing of thoughts and feelings you may not have recognized in yourself until now -- what it’s for. You’ll have to do your homework, can’t phone it in. Even if you believe every word I'm saying, you’ll find time with art will allow you to enter a room you may not have been in before, where words don’t seem so important and arguments don’t matter -- worth a try.

Stand in front of your chosen painting and watch while the intention and attitude of the artist rise to the surface -- can you feel the breeze in your face, smell the sea air, hear a dog bark in the distance? Do you feel a presence that spills out of the frame and revives memories, renews vision, and makes you feel good for no particular reason? Now that you’re a believer, go back to your hometown and find an affordable painting that does some of it, and take it home. Let it sink in and find yourself in it.