Wednesday, May 24, 2017

self revelation -- paying the price

The average price of a home selling around here is close to a quarter mil, a lot of money. How the money is spent, landscaping, pool, multi-car garage, isn’t difficult to understand, it adds up, but what about the walls? Who doesn’t like granite counter tops, programable showers, surround sound, all that stuff, but there’s no general consensus on art, and putting up any is taking a chance. Designers won’t touch it, preferring catalogue simulations that compliment the decor, blend with the drapes, and which won’t disrupt the flow. Real art can be so unpredictable and assertive.

They have a point. Original art can seem a little harsh at first, an odd presence in a room of mass-marketed furnishings, an immigrant still in native dress standing in the mall. It’s difficult not to notice it every time, always the same yet it always draws attention. Why is that? First of all there’s a difference of kind. The unique, made-by-hand object is qualitatively different in the same way a live performance is superior to an impeccable recording, perpetually invoking a more direct experience, a more intimate connection. Starting from there, a well-made and thoughtful piece of art can come to dominate an interior, subordinate all that designer stuff, and even influence what goes on there.  

If you buy art and hang it yourself, you’re making your own statement, revealing what you like, maybe even how you think and the sort of person you are. There’s always the make of the car you drive and the team you root for, but art expresses as much about the person who buys it as the person who made it, and it takes some getting used to, down at the deep end of the pool. Funny thing happens when the toes no longer touch bottom, when the safety and anonymity of our brand-name reality is left behind. Turns out swimming is easy, buying and owning art is fun, and finding yourself through art has a way of feeding back, of verifying and reinforcing who you are, reminders on the wall, and there’s more comfort and self assurance when adding more.  

Monday, May 22, 2017

Basquiat’s revenge -- making fools

Jean-Michel Basquiat, now he was a hell of a man. A ‘graffiti artist’ with a spray can in his hip pocket vandalizing garage doors, coming on all wild and freaky, such a natural, so unpolished. I’ve seen the work of real graffiti artists, some of the best on boxcars out of the southwest where hispanic kids plot out color schemes and graphics, take a chance on beatings and arrest to get their art out, to have it seen, and I don’t mind stops at railroad crossings, but that isn’t what Jean-Michel was doing. His was stick figure impotent rage, his dissent in spray paint was more like an ongoing tantrum. He made city life uglier, a minor league menace.

I can see Jean-Michel’s resume is impeccable, found in the street, rode Warhol’s rocket to stardom, dead in seven years from OD, all perfect career moves, and now his finite reserve of genius is up for bids -- perfect merchandizing. It’s the art, so transcendent, so illuminating, so deep and profound that’s worth all that money, no doubt, but let me ask you a question, just between us two. If you were to see this same painting leaned against the wall at the goodwill, in the stacks at an art school, would you give a hundred for it? Would you carry it home to spouse and say ‘look at this work of genius I just bought,’ and try to hang it in the living room? How would you like to wake up and see it everyday? I’m guessing this hideous trite image, already imprinted on everything from surfboards to baby blankets, wouldn’t help digest the oatmeal, and knowing some billionaire just bought his own fame for paying stupid money could cause one to lose it. 

This is all stupid, and over a hundred million dollars won’t make it smarter, doesn’t help at all. Evil and corrosive, I couldn’t say, but this headline across the universe will just confuse art students, give unlimited license to college faculties, and decimate an indigenous population of working artists by discouraging and demoralizing their potential audience, average people curious about and interested in art. Revulsion and contempt is what I feel, but at least that’s something say the burned out, sensation sodden, nihilistic high rollers who use art the way they use each other, and who don’t see art at all.

Friday, May 19, 2017

southern accent -- summing up

Went to a slide lecture covering an exhibit at the Speed Museum in Louisville, Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art, about the state of art down south. Found out it’s more of a literary form, all about racial oppression, gender realignment, rancid nostalgia and sulky recrimination, and that’s just fine, as it should be, what art’s about these days. This is art with message, or maybe message with art on the side, just a garnish, a cryptic footnote on the menu.

These are puzzles, follow along, fill in the blanks, add up the score. Sorry to say, only art historians give a damn about sneaky clues, left-handed references, derived influences. They train as cross-association detectives, snipe hunting for the shady innuendo, trolling for the pithy juxtaposition, black feet dangle from a sugar plum tree, such as that. Why are the photos, obliquely suggesting significant moments, always out of focus, is it my glasses? Why does all this edgy provocation seem so dreamily second hand, so harmless, so hermetic? Why would some of these mean artists insist on calling their stuff simply ‘untitled,’ leaving us adrift to make up something on our own, so inconsiderate?

I’m sitting there wondering who pays for all this, and, frankly, why. Are these artists trust-fund babies or do they teach, are they receiving support from institutions, grants and stipends and intercollegiate play-dates, how do they live? Just curious. Granted, earning a living directly from art, even the aspiration, is base and commercial, high grounds for excommunication straight away. For the ‘collector’ I suppose this is hot stuff, so up to the minute and raw, but for people more eyeball fond of visual art, who might want to own some and see it everyday forever, this exhibit is a challenge.

The state-run culinary school has been reduced to teaching ‘mudpie 101,‘ a faux cuisine of off-hand gestures, puns and grainy history from a morally superior position. Oh we don’t eat the stuff, we turn it in for grants and recognition, having our tickets punched and meshing with our peers. We go for grub at the yellow arches and so does the faculty. Well, good for you. You have this art thing down. So Speed, look to thy parking lots and see how many art thirsty citizens take up space there. Contemporary art is the recurring resident in non-profit galleries all around the town, and during the week they’re peaceful quiet places swell for contemplation of this season’s secret knowing, rude and deskilled.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

long shot -- new order art

I have a personal aversion to sensationalism and celebrity culture, and never warmed to Warhol, but I’m not in charge. I don’t pick and choose except for my own wall, but see larger movements turning, and see art as both expression and a means of cultural transition. Oh, I’d like to nudge along what will happen anyway, but resigned to just yelling from the bleachers.

The trophies of wealth continue dominate florid art commentaries, glam parties, decadence, prices up and up, fabulous, and an entrenched high court of academic clerics distributes state largesse to true believers, the way it’s always been. They’re the ones who have limited art, who put up fences, who domesticate the herd and fatten for market, and it’s me wants to open it up to a new constituency, to redefine the product, to put a little free-range back in the mix, and to respect a larger audience capable of discernment and receptive to an art they find palatable.

Changes are at hand, and when the government reconstitutes itself after it’s weird melt-down/molt, in progress, art might find itself on ‘stand-by’ -- more pressing needs cry out, roads and bridges, on and on. Decadence as well could be going out of favor, as a working class starts waking up, developing self awareness, and serious art around the house could help with that. Human culture doesn’t mutate until the stress becomes unbearable history shows, and it’s been getting a little tight around here recently. Visual art offers a common connection unsullied by the corruption of language, and to an individual can become a life-line of duration and substance in an increasingly slippery digital universe. Once they start buying art, the people who budget, those first few drops of rain will make the desert bloom. That was my bet long time ago, an alternative audience for a more open inclusive notion of art, and while still not certain, the odds keep going down.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

outlying -- walking uphill

I’m so rustic, by now it’s like a profession, just a lonely lemming swimming upstream against a great tide of big-time art, stupendous events with glamorous prices, huge commissions at the arid airport, tea cozies for the corporate courtyard and gigantic smears of color for the boardroom, rubbing up against the rich, receiving rewards and acknowledgments from inside the industry, all such as that. I wasn’t invited, don’t own the wardrobe, can’t speak the language, and in the end really don’t care, no really. Wasn’t born to it and don’t aspire. Ironically, the pursuit of art found me seeking entry into the working class, the people who make stuff, who measure themselves and others by skill and commitment, and it changed my point of view. I’ve also read a few books, attended some classes, and know a floppy premise when I see one.

I only care about painting, images that rise from a flat surface, although anything truly interesting to look at has to be considered. Paintings have the advantage due to the ability of humans to think abstractly, to internalize, to imagine. The painter uses this unique attribute to create a passkey to the viewer’s archive of memories, gaining access to thoughts and emotions, a foot planted in the revolving door of daily experience. How much and just what is conveyed is between viewer and artist, but we can see art’s historical ability to change thinking and open minds. As a graphic example, rationality came to the renaissance through the painters and their paintings, not by a general reading of the latest translation of Aristotle -- covered elsewhere.

In addition, paintings can be carried about and hung on walls in different cities, providing familiarity, even intimacy, to each new living situation. They can be manufactured using simple and readily available supplies, and sold in discreet units to buy the paint and pay the rent to make more. It’s an effort that could become self-sustaining, never again to need grants or stipends or support from taxpayers in any form. Academics scoff, demean common sensibilities and violate them for sport. They feel safe and warm, insulated from the culture that supports them, becoming militant if challenged to justify patent absurdity and proud of themselves for it, but they’re not welcome anymore. Average people can come to recognize skill and commitment in works of art, no doubt as well as the rich, and if exposed to an honest array of artwork made in local studios, these days commonly displayed in offices, restaurants, and salons, could at some point decide some to take some home, to support local art production, and I wouldn’t seem so out of touch.

Monday, May 8, 2017

art of Bernie -- populism’s picture

I’m signed up for the revolution, the one Bernie talks about. He’s suggesting, I believe, a new definition of citizenship, the empowerment and sovereignty of average people, the redefinition of the term ‘self-interest’ to be broader and more inclusive than just grubbing for more money, and I applaud him for it. It’s visible on the horizon, coming this way, but it’s in a race. Other ‘interests,’ various forms of anthill collective, will try to get here first. In the face of this mortal competition for the fate of the planet and humanity, painters make their humble ‘drummer boy’ contribution, not carrying signs but deep in studios trying to bend the group mind all around them toward a more thoughtful self-regard, a more enlightened and communal self-interest.

For their influence to take effect their artwork must be seen, exchanged in the marketplace, fairly distributed in the community, and in the past the inability to even reach an audience has nullified a lot of studio effort around here, anywhere you happen to be. Average people have been excluded from access to art on purpose. Cultural elites control state-sponsored art, directing grants, supporting cultural institutions, with academics at all levels on payroll, and their guiding principle has been whatever seems offensive to the middle class and common sensibility can’t be that bad, must be good. This peculiar inversion, the less than glamorous hand-biting reflex of guilty dependency, was made into like a law about a hundred years back by Duchamp, favored genius of leisure classes.

Hear the call -- pull the plug, take back local control, see what happens. Imagine no NEA, and instead of immediate sympathy for pale hothouse grant-jockeys facing sunlight, consider the effect on the common citizen no longer baffled by artistic posturing, condescended to by salaried arts professionals, shunted off to athletic competitions while art remains a notch above, sophisticated and remote, over their heads. Would these six-pack people respond to the art created by area artists if they were to see it everywhere, everyday? Would average citizens begin to visit the serenely quiet non-profit galleries, even now, if they had an expectation of finding art they admired, perhaps by an artist they know or whose work they’ve followed? Maybe. Would artists give up the pursuit of establishment acceptance, grants, acknowledgements and awards, fame and glamour, and seek common ground with their neighbors instead? It could happen.

Political implications are clear, point made, agree or not, but the art would get a lot better, that’s for sure. Passion in studios, recognizing art on neighbor’s walls, warm clothes for artists in winter, and something to talk about besides ‘them cats.’ Bernie’s world.

Monday, May 1, 2017

mechanisms of change -- visual supplements

The political sentiment of the whole world is reverting, we’ve done all this before. To some the responsibilities of modern life are more onerous than its opportunities are swell, and people abdicate, defer, and finally worship the leader who relieves their burden. Why does the peasant in rags stand in the ditch weeping, hat in hand, when the king’s gold carriage rumbles by? It’s an acquired quirk of communal living, some set of hormones squeezes around assigning rank, selecting appropriate emotions, equating love and loyalty in the brain. It’s all good for living in a pack, or a pride, or a tribe, especially for those on top, but life becomes less appealing as you move down the line.

Oligarchy is a fancy word and a difficult threshold to find, so why not just use the old familiar term ‘feudalism,’ the state of the world up until a couple of hundred years ago? There are those from both the top and the bottom, apparently, who want to go back, and there’s slippage in politics these days. Carry placards if you must, but change comes when people see the world and themselves differently, altering the operating instructions they’ve been given. There are a several ways this can be done -- by willfully accepting a package of beliefs no matter how bizarre, by committing to a total change of lifestyle, or by developing an interest in art

Least traumatic would be the third, art in this case being a physical device for loosening the unseen restrictions we place on ourselves, on how we see and what we think. An individual attempting to depict something universal and known drops a rope ladder of open-mindedness and possibility into your particular situation, one you climb by staring at it. Now I know this seems a lot to ask from a wall decoration, a clever investment, a third-hand connection to fame, but art has been hiding in plain sight all this time, practically invisible, even a joke. Humanity’s existential crisis has called forth the Jedi, awakened a sudden seriousness in the face of the next several thousand years of groveling in mines, fields, and forests watching gigantic yachts drift by, this time monitored by digital cameras in every crapper. Well, what’s art’s message, now that we’re ready to listen?

Art is an artifact of some fellow human’s journey out of bounds, a seeking after something besides money, cold hard evidence, and we all know the score. Without teaching it’s a long hard pull, no platform and no support -- that’s ok, part of it, crucial to the statement they’re making, and a large part of the message, pure and simple. If they’ve gotten this good without getting paid, there must be something they wanted to say, and maybe it’s just that, first of all. I didn’t do this for the money. That's one reason it might be a good idea to buy this person's art, anyway, and have it around to look at every day. It reveals a crack in the commercial code we all live by, a ray of light beaming from a larger human heritage of wisdom and equilibrium, recalling a bond we all share beyond capitalism's ‘mutual self-interests,’ aka cut-throat competition.

The artist doesn’t have to be wise, would be nice but isn’t necessary -- it’s the effort, the example, the courage to be original that dominates any decor, changes the mood and atmosphere of the room it’s in, and presents the possibility of new ways of thinking you have not been shown, not a set of rules but a door to walk through. Perhaps you don’t see art this way, and I sometimes I wonder if I’m just a bit in front, I'm thinking about a decade, but as the wind begins to howl maybe it’s time to look for ways to exert even a drop of conscious influence over the tons of input the brain processes every day.