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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

socialism so smart -- sometimes

Socialists are generally well-meaning folks who seem to assume they know what’s best for everyone, and when it comes to public health and transportation, schools and state parks, we can all appreciate their efforts, but the free market is the realm of individual choice and expression, and socialists shouldn’t meddle. They don’t know everything. 

‘Cuba implementing law to restrict artists gradually’ from lex HL, dec 9

The law won’t stop anyone from painting, but it will restrict the work from being shown in public, even in private homes, and intends to fine and imprison artists if they try to sell their work without prior approval by a panel of ‘supervising inspectors.’ This is one terrible situation, an example of a state attempting mind-control by trying to limit and coerce artistic expression. One sentence toward the end of the article reveals a bias shared by ministers of culture everywhere. ‘Minister of Culture, Alpidio Alonso Grau defended the breadth of artistic expression in Cuba, which he said is “scarcely found where the market is the censor.”

It’s such an odd phrase, ‘where the market is the censor,’ and I’m not sure what it means. It reveals a distrust of common people, a paternalistic disregard for what people attest they want by giving up something, even financially sacrificing, just to own it. Really? So, just who the fuck are you, mr minister of culture? Do you think you know best what should go up on the wall in Cuban homes? Do you imagine you are so wise as to know who the worthy artists are, and which ones should be ignored? Well, in case you ever want to defect, you can find a comfortable roost at the NEA, a gigantic national bureaucracy devoted to just that, choosing art for Americans. They think like you do.

Selling art is an anathema to the culture drones who assess and grade our art, and they cringe at the notion of popularity, especially among the common folk who happen to support their swell activities. While they live on public money, and even distribute it, they’re not keen on public tastes, preferring more progressive, conceptual forms of art, one assumes hoping to avoid public scrutiny, public awareness, and public concern. They should all defect to Cuba.

The market can sort art out without their help. Not only will the market sort it all out, it will make the art better, continuously, as a growing sophistication meets a more rewarded, more dedicated creativity emerging from studios, almost anywhere the rent is cheap. Socialists rise up, help us with health care and infrastructure, but don’t get carried away. Don’t suppose you can choose art for anyone, that’s personal, a matter of individual expression, and within the realm of the ‘free market,‘ and is, in fact, why it’s called ‘free.’

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

art as antidote -- modern addictions

I’ve wandered far far away from what other people say about art, on a different page in a different book. Well fine, no reason to avoid the obvious. I’ll try to be explicit, make the differences indelible, setting out to homestead in unclaimed territory. I begin with the notion that we are by nature ‘sight' animals, with half of the brain’s mass and a large percentage of its circuitry devoted to deciphering vision, so say TV documentaries, but the necessities of modern life insist we think and write in words, strings of abstract symbols that represent reality. Written information comes in through the eyes, but is routed through much less complex hearing circuits, like spoken words. A practical adaptation no doubt, but it’s going to leave a lot of unused capacity, tiers of vacant rooms in everyone’s mansion, levels of feeling and thinking, attitudes and responses that don’t squeeze down into words.

Along with this notion of non-verbal areas of awareness and communication, I’ll also have to admit that my ideas about art history sound like science fiction. No need for the intervention of aliens, it’s just the artists changing the whole world by altering the way everyone sees it. Painters in the renaissance didn’t ‘discover’ perspective, whatever that means. They absorbed Aristotle’s world view, a logical system of cause and effect, and then they ‘converted’ everyone else who saw their paintings. This new way of seeing, and thinking, granted europeans a huge tactical advantage over the rest of the world for several centuries, trade and warfare, science and art. Even though modern culture is much more diverse, this technique should be as potent today, and by now it’s in the public domain, free to use.

Can't help but be automatically suspicious of governments wanting to be involved with art, at all, let them tend to other matters. In totalitarian regimes attempting mind-control, artists are harassed and worse, while in democracies team players are smothered with love, encouraged with grants and stipends to dive deep in the weeds, national endowments sponsoring art nobody wants, even justifying government participation solely because no one else would pay for it. Well meaning, perhaps, but art produced on a salary is incentivized all wrong, producing instead havens for mediocrity. It’s predictable enough, just the standard government paycheck ‘no one rocks the boat’ complicity setting in.

I’m also not pretending to be smarter than the people I grew up with. Some might be limited regarding art, painting in particular, but at the far end of national culture, in a state that traditionally lags, it’s possible to think average citizens may have been cheated, groomed to consume, with soup cans to represent art, so sad. Here’s where it gets crazy. I think original art calls to them, and when enough local art displayed where the public can see it, they’ll start to respond, that means by buying it. This supposes there’s a thirst for honest direct expression, perhaps the part that’s been missing, and that common folk will start to realize it, just by seeing a heartfelt and unpretentious art. For sure, it’s not coming out of a phone. Thought of this way, art is the antidote for chronic sense overload, medicine for our media addictions, and a distant call to wakeup while we slumber, morning on its way, anyway.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

business vs art -- more than money

So why are artists such lousy business people, poor helpless souls who never seem to get anywhere without the help of some more practical person making the deals and doing the books. Humans are quite adaptable, surviving in almost any environment, by any set of rules, but there are limits on how far one individual can stretch. The same person could turn out to be an artist in a studio attempting to express something unique yet universal, or the top-dog at some premier ad agency, beguiling public consciousness for any product or service that pays big bucks, but it’s highly unlikely one person could manage to be both at once. 

The overall overriding ethic of a commercial culture is, ‘gain as much as you can while giving up as little as possible,’ and doing it well, in any legal endeavor, leads to prosperity and elevated community standing. We grew up with this cutthroat formula and take it for granted, and probably won’t sense anything wrong as long as we stay warm and dry, but it isn’t the only way to approach spending time on the planet. Sometimes frustrated damaged people, post-traumatic seeking healing, possibly in some degree autistic attempting connection, or temperamentally just not inclined to participate, and somehow have it backward. They’re called artists.

Something happened in modern times to obscure this distinction. A business mentality, contained and regulated in its natural terrain, invaded and overran commerce in art, and the auctioneer became the final authority determining value. It’s a red-tide contamination brought on by an unnatural inversion in market forces, too many newly-rich customers and not enough high-quality supply. A big-bang inflation of trademark, its fans call it ‘signature,’ art emerged, featuring velvet rope exclusive and all the media signifiers of glamour and excess. The entire era will be seen as an aberration, and major museums with an example of each modern ‘master’ will de-acquisition to disappointing returns some day, but that’s not part of this discussion.

The artist, instead of considering wise market strategy, pours out as much as they can, working weekends, late at night, all in the hope of getting something back, anything back, just enough to live on would be ever so nice. It’s somewhere beyond unreasonable to expect such a person, with such naive and wide-eyed trust in fate, to wade out into the surging rapids of commerce and do much more than drown. Darwinism dictates our social order, and we each have a share, but artists shouldn’t face discrimination simply because they think there are things more important than money. What those things might be must vary with each artist, but the fact that they feel this way is apparent from how they devote their energy, in what they do, and it’s always going to be there in the art.

Does it have any real value, this created thing more important to the artist than money? I wouldn’t try to convince you that it did, but the artist must have felt that way, and others when they see it, may begin to realize they do too. If some practical sort needs to reduce this transference to strictly mechanical terms, we are just organic robots, after all, constantly digesting examples all around us, with the sum total determining who we are. Art is an enriched little thumb-drive of experience, longing, and attitude about life. This information, encoded in colors and shapes, is meant to be compatible with your operating system, goes straight in, an automatic update you won’t even be aware of, but everything will work better, quicker, and you'll process more information. Business, in the future, will try to keep up.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

some way out of here -- art’s secret door

The culture goes downhill, expectations plummet, fast food becomes the national cuisine. Over a certain age and you begin to notice, literary icon Hemingway who wrote books is replaced by Stan Lee, a drawer of comics, and Miles Davis gives way to Snoop. It’s all a matter of taste, of course, but certain human values may be lost in the carnage of modern entertainment, the short-cut simplification of traditional moral narrative by fresh-faced teens with super-powers. Makes a person wonder, just what the hell is going on?

Looks like commercialism, with a price tag on everything, has been dragging down our common denominator with crime and hateful emotions on the television every night. It’s nothing sinister, just trying to sell more trucks and beer is all. Football players on the field risk life-long debility and even their sanity, while the commentators, ignoring the game, are discussing contracts and options, and rank players against their salaries instead of other players. CEO’s piss away loot on stuff they don’t need just to impress their peers, and the quality of art is supposed to depend on what someone else, with more money than you, is willing to pay for it. No one really cares what’s on the front.

Can’t stop it, can’t slow it down, better stand aside. The embodiment of unbridled amoral enterprise, foreshadowed incidentally by art in the eighties, has risen to head of state, and an unhinged bifurcating hysteria stalks the land. If history works at all, it’s about time to take a new grip on reality, to find something positive and good to cling to, perhaps to look around for a signpost that leads out of this swamp. Here we come to an interesting and open question about art -- is art active or passive? Does art reflect or does it inspire, and is it the result, or the cause, of change? 


Can an evolving national mood channel itself through working artists in their studios, influencing their work in ways even they might not fully understand? Well, yeah, actually, that does seem possible, and the example cited above just confirms it. Painting may seem an archaic form but there’s more of it all the time, on the sides of buildings, even as an excuse to drink wine, and it’s being seen more often in businesses that are open to the public. Oddly enough, it turns out the time-binding duration of original art has become more significant as the world trends toward one-use disposable, digital volatility. Just the artifact of that much concentrated human effort, and the anguished, perhaps only half-successful attempt to get through to you, has a value of its own, and if you also like the picture, it’s a bonus. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

greek perspectives -- modern apps

There was an article in New Yorker recently about greek statues, suggesting they were originally painted bright colors. Minuscule grains of pigment were scrapped from tiny pits in the marble, and analyzed high-tech. It’s become particularly important these days, some people extra sensitive because the marble with the paint worn away is white, white, and just another example, they go on. Seems more likely that for the victorians, monochrome was the most they could tolerate, such sexually obsessed people they could be aroused by the loosening of a shoe, and those statues were way too real already.

Of all ancient artists, it was the greeks who most perfected ‘realism,’ the faithful depiction of muscle, flesh, and form, and sometimes they even went beyond that. Consider the Parthenon, what’s left of it, where all the straight lines are actually imperceptible curves. In a hundred and fifty feet of base there’s a deviancy of about an inch and a quarter, and the columns exhibit only the slightest bulge, so why is that? Seems the greeks were compensating for the distortion inherent in the 35mm lens at the front of our eye, something we never notice because the brain makes adjustments.

Maybe the Parthenon was all painted, figures included, but it’s a range of possibility too big to think about. It’s obvious already they were way smarter than us, we’ll only be leaving junk behind, and how they went about using color in and on their temples is something we’ll never know by buzzing atoms. Let’s just consider it as white, the way we found it. The Parthenon from a distance, atop the acropolis, must have given the impression of platonic perfection, of being impossibly ‘real,’ the entire edifice tuned to correct for the imperfection in our sense of vision. It’s an uncanny level of genius our own civic designers will never approach, and an open and enduring questioning of reality that giant atom smashers will never address.

Did they make great art because they suddenly became smart, or did making and living with art eventually make them all smarter -- it’s difficult to say. With no more technology than prophetic trances, they pretty much maxed-out human potential in a general population, in part sustained by the labor of others, and no one has ever come close since. Some might claim they received help from ancient aliens, but isn’t it nicer to suppose they did it by themselves, by singing, and acting, and making art?

Here the center cannot hold, and everything flies apart, who disputes? Chasing dollars cheapens art as it cheapens life, but as individuals we’re free as we dare to be in our own little patch, since unless we’re famous, no one cares. Greek art belongs to another age, but using art the way they seemed to might come in handy these days, as an influence on how we see and think, and on how we live our lives. It’s just a small part of our reality, really, the art on our wall, but it's something we can control ourselves. Pick the art that leads the direction you want to go, and hang it where you’ll see it everyday. You’ll probably never notice how the world changes.

Monday, November 5, 2018

trusting the internal compass -- ignoring expertise

Rousseau of french revolution fame, asserted that truth was whatever the majority believed, he was very egalitarian, and in a commercial culture such as ours, his common denominator formula goes double, big dollars back him up.

Musical artists are the beasts of  burden for the entertainment industry, creating authentic and heartfelt music that’s fed into the machine, ‘please listen to my demo.’ There rough edges and heartfelt emotion are peeled away, some big name act is found to turn it into platinum, and it’s in your head forever. Something wrong here, I can feel it. The public is being robbed, somehow duller and less attentive year by year, while the artists at the front end are just getting screwed, no kissing. People in the middle are getting rich, stupidly rich. Do they play an instrument, do they sing and dance, do they influence the entire culture, preset the mentality of the majority, and limit what can possibly be attained here? Some of that stuff, yes. They have their foot on the garden hose of free and direct expression, and they’re living off the backup.

Being commercial is, after all, the way we all got here, but capitalism loves bottlenecks, and a drought or a blight is always good for someone. Sly operators go right out and create them, or at least their illusion, and are much respected in the business world, the ‘any industry will do’ mass manipulators. When they insinuate themselves into perfectly legitimate commercial exchange, they limit supply and monopolize distribution through branding and big-budget advertising, value-adding themselves and their expensive tastes to the price the customer pays. Given an item of exchange that’s essentially an intangible, say like art, these talented manipulators of fellow souls have the opportunity to fly. With nothing really going for them but a conjured perception of rarity, and the nodding, smiling affirmation that everyone else wants it too, they navigate in rarified air. In a world where making money is the game, these suave hustlers occupy the top rung.

Fake auctions and outrageous bidding are just the front for a whole industry of pretence and bluff, all based on the false narrative of modern art with its exclusive stable of super-stars. I wouldn’t disparage the work of any artist who accomplishes anything in their own studio, whether anyone else likes it or not, but leaping for a passing bandwagon isn’t really a free ride, doesn’t go anywhere. Philosophically old Jackson Pollock might have a few points, mostly goofy, but looking at his art makes me want to drink, heavily, and I don’t drink. I long ago let go of the notion that believing in his transcendent insight was the price I had to pay to participate, and to any who ask, feels like a new suit of clothes.

By ignoring what isn’t there, it becomes possible to see what is, and this makes looking at art so much easier. An infinite spectrum of art presents itself, as broad and as deep as you need to go, and some of it is available right around where you live. Give up your preconceived, preprogramed boundaries and just look at all of it until, one day, you feel a resonance, it’s only semi-conscious and indirect, like a little magnetic pulse you can’t explain. Hope it’s not too expensive.

Friday, November 2, 2018

gift of prophecy -- the artist’s curse

So why do artists have to die before they receive recognition, art’s oldest cliche, and the first thing people say when they find out you’re an artist. There must be a reason. Artists could be seeing the future, but that seems a bit far-fetched. Artists can’t pay their bills, live in substandard locations, and are exposed to myriad bad habits any of which saps the impulse, so it's unlikely they'd become time-travelers. The secret may be that they’re simply detached, not on the corporate ladder even at the bottom, and this free-floating independence leads to a kind of unblinking objectivity, and being down on the ground they sense the rumbles first. Most of their siblings and classmates went out for as much pie as they could carry home, burrowing into some secure niche in society’s broad fabric, but artists struggle along with menial occupations that don’t pay extra for loyalty, and they feel none. Artist are confronted with and react to things as they are, and it gives them a head start.

There’s a lot of insulation between the well-to-do and things as they are, and for the most part the rich don’t even want to know. In terms of awareness, this level of comfort creates a lag-time, a persistent gap that follows a culture’s real-time meanderings, but always a few steps back, and the general public usually rides with them. As the world turns over, as new mentalities advance past obsolete and faltering systems, people find the artists have been there already, saying something that relates to how they feel, in that moment. It happens over and over -- it’s a cliche, the biggest cliche there is about being an artist. Artists sometimes have to die before they receive recognition because their life-span doesn’t quite cover the lag-time in public awareness, and there it is, the curse of artistic prophecy.

It might even be a more active process, and art might be more than just the reflection of its culture, even if two steps ahead. It’s art that spreads the word, that carries the message mind to mind, a new point of view, an attitude, a way of seeing the world that never occurred to the previous generation, even though they’re still dominating public discourse. From the art that's available now, it’s possible to buy a piece of the future, a zip-line to a changing world view, in your town, in your state, on the whole planet. Textbook art history, sad to say, and its legions of state-supported administrators and sly marketeers, together touting a pantheon of ‘tongue-speaking’ savants, have become just last century's fairy tale with an unhappy ending, good bye.

Go find art that’s just beginning to speak, that makes music in your inner ear and pulls at your attention, even when displayed with other art. Just as the fruit that tastes the best turns out to be the most nutritious, the art you’re apt to like might help you keep your feet, as new realities arise. Prophetic, detached, totally independent artists are everywhere.