Saturday, April 22, 2017

disdain and envy -- other people

Few people around here understand art, but even less than that get artists -- who do they think they are? They won’t hitch up, refuse to define themselves by assignment in the great corporate machine, won’t chase the carrot and always trying to avoid the stick. Misfits by choice, mostly, although refugees innately allergic to the conventions of daily life where they came from, harboring varying degrees of post-stress, wander in. As Freud supposedly suggested, it’s a community invested in self therapy.

In-laws assume incompetence straight away, and business people, even part time employers, give the artist a fishy look, unsure if some ordinary gross superlative concerning the local sports team would elicit more than a smirk, such sulky superior assholes. It takes thick skin, a willingness to show up with paint on your pants, to drive an old car, to live with the inconveniences a lack of money provides, just to make art on your own time. It’s always going to be easier to make more money doing something else, or even to make art that’s easier to sell, but once out this far why compromise? Serious artists tend to be stubborn and self-driven, not unlike old school farmers in a GPS world.

There are compensations for a life in art. Expectations aren’t just low, they’re commodious. It’s difficult to imagine what deviancy, in dress or behavior, would be considered out of bounds for the artist, a great cover for a simple private existence of one’s own choosing. Social pressures are minimal, and the sincerity of friends isn’t questioned since no one expects even an expensive meal in your company. Rich folks will understand. As a fact, ordinary people have a soft spot for artists, and sometimes trade services for art, tear up lunch tabs, and even look intently at their artwork.

There’s a land that I heard of where artists are respected for the life choices they’ve made, the risk they’ve taken, and for their calling to express in the raw the anguish and joy of existence, before it’s pressed out, prepackaged as entertainment, and thrown away. It isn’t someplace else, it just isn’t now.   

Friday, April 21, 2017

speculation and fraud -- thin red lines

‘The contemporary market has been subject to extreme speculation, but there is a difference between speculation and fraud.’ from some online mag
Doesn’t that say it all? There’s a thin red line somewhere dividing honest, reputable people in the field of art from the shysters and manipulators, but we don’t know where it is, and they’ve lost track themselves. It isn’t just about money, institutions form little duck ponds by damming up the steam, prestige and dollars passed out by cultural agencies like they were grading class projects. It’s social issues at the moment, the feckless sort of complaining permissible under state control. They’re calling it serious art, the only serious art, sponsoring exhibits, padding resumes. 

On the speculation side, suppose you’re considering three point five for a mega-star deceased, not knowing there are three hundred nearly identical paintings warehoused somewhere, and that the one in front of you is a forgery, not overly significant since the artist didn’t paint the real ones either -- too boring, hired hourly assistants. Wouldn’t touch it myself, you understand, having survived a lifetime of advertising, phony promises and outrageous lies, but I’m sure you’ll make it all back, unless, of course, the bottom falls out, so sad.

I have no interest in any of it, don’t care to keep up, a lumpen philistine am I, and with further delusion, presume to project this state of mind on a lot of other people I’ve never met, and only imagine to be out there. This ghost army does like art, however, firstly as a way to consolidate their home’s value into something they can see and live with everyday, and which travels with them when they move, sane and practical. They may not know it yet, but a significant painting in the family will read back all that it’s seen years from now, witness and then touchstone of life’s important events, practical and priceless. At present, it's the price that holds them back, ‘extreme speculation’ and artists on salary distorting market values, but regions will eventually determine their own prices as practical people start wanting to own some, start looking around and educating themselves.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

too much time -- a royal solution

We’re heading for a crisis, it’s a coming. Pretty soon there’ll be no work for humans, machines will do it all. Ditch diggers, the proverbial bottom rung, are gone already, one guy pulls levers while a digger made of iron does the work of several. Robots move up the ladder fixing food, performing surgery, doing the taxes. Before long they’ll be driving cars and trucks, and that’s when it becomes seriously awkward. Way more than half the jobs for men in america involve driving something, and what are all those guys going to do? 

We’ve had experience supporting people who don’t work, who aren’t productive, and it hasn’t been pretty. Warehoused people don’t excel. Back home they have a tendency to sit up in the government housing, front brains flickering out on prescription medicinals, watching sit-coms from the fifties, it’s all fuzzy, they don’t care. What happens to rest of us when there are no jobs? The old ball and chain that earns our bread helps us maintain focus, organizes the week, and presents us with achievable goals to work toward. One day some sleepless plastic and metal bot bumps you out of your job, and it will be there ahead of you by the time you retrain. What’s the incentive to rise in the morning, comb the hair, exercise, without work? It’s a fierce problem, socially as big as global warming, and solutions haven’t even been proposed.

Prince Charles, a lovely fella, hosted a documentary about painters among the royal family, ‘royal paintbox’, pbs archive, the useless people at the other end of the spectrum. They’ve seen what happens, over generations, to people who never have to make their bed, wash a dish, or saddle their own horse, and they search for meaning, for mission, anything to avoid the rot of the indulgent, unproductive life. Some, it seems, turned to art. As Charles leaves through a portfolio, you might catch yourself thinking some of these people, both sexes, where really good, like it’s a surprise. Charles explains the ability to sketch made it possible for the royals to recall the exotic landscapes, cities, and peoples they’d seen visiting the global empire, and it got serious from there. Not likely to lead the cavalry charge, subdue an uprising, or even bully their neighbors, anymore, the royals found in art a way to develop and demonstrate character, and to match themselves against the finest painters among the commoners whose hard-won accomplishments they admired and respected.

Their biographies are there in the notebook sketches, apart from the words. Here is a watercolor impression of perhaps north africa, palms in quick sure strokes, confident and deft, domes, people, camels. The person who made this painting was not meek, wasn’t hesitant or nitpicking careful. They were, in fact, totally spontaneous, in command of their medium, and sure of themselves. Their sketch also probably looks pretty much like the place when they made it, the atmosphere, time of day. It doesn’t look that way anymore, but the character, discipline, and wit of the artist remains, their mark as a serious person in the face of privilege and infinite leisure. If the serfdom of machines leaves us with too much time on our hands, what will we do? Chances are in days to come we’ll know a lot more, think a lot more, and some of us will even spend their time making art.

Friday, April 14, 2017

capitalism’s crucible -- people’s choice

Capitalism is an economic system that allows people with intelligence and self-discipline to rise above the social station of their parents, to own a home, to earn a degree, to make a million, but no matter how you slice it the ten percent at the top will see themselves as precious and apart, while the ten percent at the bottom are pushed off the bus, can’t be avoided. Social programs reduce the horror, pensions and welfare, but facing it alone can be daunting, and no matter where you start, it’s all a trapeze act over a gaping, pitiless abyss, aka failure, drug addiction, and poverty -- living on the street. 

Life and death competition from an early age isn’t something we invented, most creatures in nature face a similar situation, but this modern version has been wonderfully productive as compared to caliphates and kingdoms, clans and collectives. Desperation and glory come to the dance arm in arm, and taking dire chances produces the advancement we see expanding geometric as we speak. This crucible of the open market, oddly enough, does not drive art these days, which resembles more a corrupt form of crony socialism in our midst. 

At the top it’s a fetish market, the artificial scarcity of just a few sanctioned names, ready to run a few more generations on the ‘new money’ capitalism is bringing in from all over the world -- yes, already rich people spend their money on this stuff, you’re welcome. They’re set for life even if the government does rewrite the tax laws regarding donations to art museums, don’t bet on it. They control anything left with ‘funding,’ granting agencies behind every bush fielding applications, tossing out the independents, the direct communicators, any art and artist who might generate a popular following.

Bureaucrats probably aren’t bad people, and don’t prefer obscure contemporary art for aesthetic reasons, oh no, more a deep institutional imperative favoring self-perpetuation. ‘Art for everyone’ is just the cover motto for instead being ‘up to date,’ same as perpetually out of reach. Time to turn the tables, as in turn them over, and release art, artists, and everyone else from the yoke of ‘community support,’ and allow the economic system to work. Allow the population the chance at a more accessible, more comparable and understandable, more ownable art being produced right around here -- and see once and for all if art can compete and survive like the rest of us.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

what does it mean -- what paintings do

Curious citizens can’t decide what to look at, the painting itself or what it’s about. Which way to go depends on what decade magazine you pick up, new theories popping from the chest of the last big thing, elbowing to the front of the line. It’s difficult to tell what you’re supposed to be seeing. With canted brow self-proclaimed authorities presume to be in touch, having acquired degrees it’s well known, but something is happening here and they don’t know what it is. 

Sometimes theories get out of hand. Radical extremists in the fifties, insisting their art must be seen totally for itself alone, banned outside reference of any kind, and we had no pictures of anything for years and years. Now there’s a crew claiming the art is just the signifier of some larger truth, some bigger issue -- refreshingly sketchy, unencumbered with trying too hard or having had too much practice.

Come with me down side streets to avoid the jam up on main, horns blaring, tempers rising. First it must be clear, painting isn’t anything like photography, even though they sometimes cover the same beat, enter at the same door. The painter applies color to a blank surface in an attempt to beguile the viewer into paying attention for more than a moment, not such an easy task. Even better would be to create an image that penetrates the scales of habituation and indifference covering most people’s eyes, constructing a picture perpetually present, forever interesting. 

There are no rules for how this is done, although conditions change. Currently the terms of citizenship move under our feet, digital engineers far from sunlight are boring into our back brains, and people watch jumbo-trons with replays instead of the puny little players down on the field. It’s becoming difficult to believe anything, especially anything seen -- imagine Elvis in any context imaginable. That’s the task of the painter, break through all that. It’s a challenge, and it doesn’t help that the art establishment, top to bottom, is in the corner trying to find a withered vein, addicted to controversy and sensationalism, terminal, so sad. 

Paintings don’t change and that’s their charm. Oh, they won’t flash through the sensory circuits like pornographic pickups shooting lasers, whatever your device is selling, but they gain by repetition, becoming more solid and real over time. Buying a painting is actually an investment in your own future, but the possibility of selling it again for more money is considered elsewhere. Finally, when dealing directly with art, seeing what’s actually there both requires independence in the viewer and causes it as well -- an incremental, barely-noticeable advantage day to day.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

the art of controversy -- who paints what

nbc news online -- #MuseumsSoWhite: Black Pain and Why Painting Emmett Till Matters
They’ve been having a dumb argument about who gets to paint what, without bothering to look at the paintings. In this particular case the succinct answer is no one gets to paint this subject, the mutilated corpse of Emmett Till. The photograph is sufficient, there’s nothing more to say.

These two artists, one white, one black, have choreographed a fake news event over a martyr’s dead body, leap frogging up through the google search, the way we do things around here. Something overlooked in all the mad discussion is how marvelously ‘deskilled’ both these painters actually are. They’ve managed to present works of art at sixth grade level, we like to
keep them busy on rainy days -- kudos to you. Who needs to ‘learn to paint’ when just a simple smeary gesture says it all, makes all the national magazines, becomes an item on the news.

This is the bottom, no further down to go. At this point visual art has been reduced to a token for some current view-screen issue, just a place-holder, boring if it says too much. This is a sadly limited way to think about art, as a chic form of advertising for some social cause, made more potent, presumably, by its offhanded, could care less manner of presentation. Generate volumes of controversy if you can, but it still won’t be much to look at. Time to walk away.

Artists all around have moved on to something different, tired of earning the highly quotable press review but no money, a mostly academic privilege in the first place. With federal and state funding draining away, artists struggle with their own commitment as a way to imbue their art with substance, instead of borrowing from someone else's grief. Do the common folk respond? I don’t know, too early to tell. I am pretty sure they won’t ever give a damn about this dumb, disrespectful and demeaning artificial argument.

Monday, March 27, 2017

women and art -- under-representation

Gender politics never seemed very interesting to me. Sorting out my own took up my time, and since I saw early on everyone was lying, anyway, wasn’t much reason to get involved. It is an important issue in art, however, not because of who makes it, but because of who looks at it and how they see it, how they see themselves. On its face it’s a strange issue, women under-represented in art, since every art school I’ve ever seen seemed to be about half and half on the faculty, and three quarters of the students were female. It is the case that most famous artists are male, historically and up until now, but the few exceptions assume their status without qualification.

The more pertinent question to me would be how many women think about art, respond to art, and hope to acquire some. Art is about self image, strangely enough not of the artist, but of the person who buys and owns it. Artists aren’t all geniuses, just driven people attempting to confront the gaping maw of the economy on their own, heroically and probably somewhat naively. Imbedded in their product are the courage and sacrifice, humor and longing they bring with them when they paint, can’t be avoided, and the better they become the more those attributes come through. When those elements find resonance with the values of a viewer, and they buy it and take it home, it becomes their own expression, their reminder of who they are there on the wall seen everyday. 

Who among us today don’t identify with their mothers, with restrictions and role models passed down from biblical times, with the slow pace of bureaucracy, pissed with harassment on the sidewalk, tired of waiting by the phone? Isn’t us. We’re fairly content with beer and sports, pretending to be construction guys in the parking lot, James Bond watching a pole-dancer. Manly men, as a portion of the population, don’t seem to care much for art, and actually aren’t ready to express themselves much about anything, one way or the other. They’re due a breakout too. 

What would make bonding of intellect and sensitivity, revealing attitudes toward both self-identity and communion, quicker and easier? Women special should consider owning art. Patriarchal attitudes toward art, as trophy, as investment, as status symbol, are seriously beside the point. Art is the medium of direct communication, mind to mind, and doesn’t really have a gender, but it does have a time. History has us on different tracks, m’s and f’s, but even so these days everybody has an equal chance to make art, to look at art, and to own it.