Tuesday, May 29, 2018

form without substance -- 'altered views'

It was billed as contemporary landscape exhibit but there’s only the most flimsy reference to anything outdoors. Here’s an area of piles of stuff on the floor, could be cornmeal, formed with dixie cups and such in the manner of beach art, an arrangement that just doesn’t stick in the memory. It couldn’t be moved and wasn’t for sale. Also, there’s a vertical stack of little video screens each playing a digital version of outside, a double-dip irony that’s for sure, and it was for sale, but I looked right at the price and couldn’t relate it to anything. Piece by piece, room by room, it was all a calculated affront to honest human endeavor, an insolent sendup of what art is supposed to be. Let me explain.

Here we contend that art is a kind of device you buy for the home to make your life better. The orchestra is a social construction organized to make life better for its listeners, and the prestige of the city, the social status of the audience, and the price of admission are important but secondary, and certainly not the inspiration behind the music. In a similar way the worth of a piece of art is in its tangible influence on the owner’s perceptual sensitivity and appreciation of everything else, and as evidence, instead of charts and graphs, real-life testimonials overwhelm. Ordinary people like and respect art, but the state apparatus wants to keep them apart. This is actually due to an intricate pattern of bureaucratic incentives built in, and not some overriding conspiracy to keep people dumb, but somehow it works out the same.

The state, federal down to local, makes a huge investment in art, and supports public galleries, pays for public art, and government agencies exercise a massive monopoly on art education, an embryonic financial scandal gestating now. On every campus can be found a for-profit free-loading art school, running up student debt for little more than operating a daycare special projects program, for which there is no resulting occupation, no professional status, and no job security, unless you count future daycare drones. With lots of free time after they graduate, academic experts get to choose the art that goes up in the public galleries, going about it as if they were back in school giving grades to people who will never make a living. Openings are swell, everyone loves a party, but there’s going to be plenty of parking the rest of the month. Stupid people, don’t care about our art, sad.

Form without substance can be trendy clever, but beyond the hallowed sanctity of the all-white gallery might resemble clutter, and it’s difficult to imagine taking much of this ‘landscape’ exhibit home. Along with the demise of the annual nude exhibit, these folks have a serious aversion to confronting the subject, peeking and hiding, making mud-pies and calling it cuisine. It’s beginning to seem this term ‘contemporary’ is some sort of invisibility cloak that accepts every form of expression, but excludes with prejudice any attempt to deal with shared reality. This aesthetic is for tax-funded tit-suckers, yet to be weaned to the harshness of everyday reality, and it’s no wonder they avoid it.

Great ideas are cheap over craft-brew late at night, but ordinary people make difficult decisions, adjust their goals to what’s possible, and put out a lot of effort just to stay even. They might not appreciate that four years of earnest effort has led you to make piles of cornmeal on the floor, so intimate, so expressive. That doesn’t mean they don’t like art, won’t support art, or aren’t interested in artists and their lives. You’ve been showing them the wrong art -- on purpose? who cares? I’ll tell you what would work better. Actually show landscapes by local artists, they’re out there, and their paintings won’t be all folk art primitive, corny and quaint. Some will show insight and vision and convey that with emotional impact to any viewer who ever looked out a car window. Your galleries would have visitors all month, people would bring back friends, and some would even consider buying art. Nothing wrong with that.

To achieve enough mastery of any medium to just make stuff recognizable requires at least the kind of commitment ordinary people might apply to their own occupations, and without a doubt they understand that. If the artist can use those tools to bend and alter what a person sees, to defy their expectation, quite average people feel challenged to see more and they like it. The government on any level doesn’t need to be involved, so can keep those multi-layered contributions, use them elsewhere. Then watch while non-profits wither, art schools begin to teach studio survival skills, and then turn around to see local art and artists thrive, in your town as many galleries as restaurants, and original art up in houses down the block.

Monday, May 21, 2018

art’s caged goose -- cashing in on artificial scarcity

Just received a notice for another ‘national juried art competition,’ this time presented by a fine old municipal ‘art club,’ just to the north.They care about art, right? They’re experts on accomplishment, originality and vision, and they’re ready to finally recognize the precocious student, the earnest retired banker, the dedicated driven garrett artist selling plasma and stacking boxes just so they can paint. All it takes is $50 for the first entry, $25 for entries 2-3, and the fourth is free. Sounds legitimate, right, maybe just a little oily, a tinge of late night infomercial slime, but this is a high-brow hustle with unassailable prestige. They have an art gallery. Sad to say, these self-proclaimed arbiters of the public’s aesthetic consciousness just want to maintain an aloof inscrutability, money for nothing and social standing on a stick. Oh yes, they’ll take your non-refundable entry fee, but there’s absolutely no chance going in they’ll accept your sincere, accessible picture of anything, no matter how you frame it. 

Here’s a magazine publisher promising wide distribution for your art and all that’s required is for the artist to verify their dedication, their commitment and talent, by sending money. In this case only $25 for entry, but $40 to also be ‘shared on our blog and social media sites,’ the car salesman’s classic upgrade. There’s online instruction, conference room workshops, and self-help books galore all promising to help artists sell their art, without ever actually mentioning the product, medium or content, nothing about the art at all, seems weird. In fact there’s a stink. So all you 501c nonprofits, how many hundred dollar entries do you intend to keep from the desperate yearnings of artists working outside your contemporary, issue-humping, gender-diverse, high-fashion sensibility? Why all of it, of course, and then they’ll say ‘try again, next time a different juror, and who knows?’  -- maybe we can take some more of your money.

Let’s talk gigantic numbers, astronomical ratios, like the amount spent each year on professional grade art supplies to the money received nation-wide for finished art at all levels, just as a measure of aspiration. Try to imagine the total cash value of entry fees to national and local competitions compared to the prize money given out, or to sales from the resulting exhibitions. Give up attempting to estimate the stadium full of art bureaucrats, benefits and parking provided, and supported by just about all of us, to the on-the-field team of skinny artists, in hometowns everywhere, treading water at the bottom of the job market. For art to flourish there are only two essential groups, the artists who create it and a public that looks, buys, and lives with their art, but they’re last in line and kept apart, pressing their noses against the glass, out in the cold. 

It’s all a vast exploitation, a racket, based on an artificial scarcity, in this case of personally empowering visual art up on the wall. We’ve seen this happen before. An old, old fundamentally corrupt institution tortured, humiliated, and deprived the western world for fifteen hundred years by severely restricting sexuality, dungeon sadisms and burning at the stake, all for their own advantage, grand outfits and the mindless adoration of threadbare, unschooled peasants. No need to mention names, but someone has been sampling their franchise. The creative instincts of humanity are built-in, a part of our makeup and our charm as a species, as essential and not entirely apart from sexuality. This inherent artistic nature can be stomped on by industrial revolutions, ground down by rote learning in repressive educational systems, and perverted by science-powered all-pervasive advertising, but they still squirt out, somewhere.

The irrepressible desire of artists to have their pictures seen, and the residual hunger of an entire culture for something more substantial and inspirational than half-time entertainment, have been lassoed, corralled, and monetized by people who think of art as a meal ticket, and there are bunches. We don’t need reform, we’re ready for cultural revolution. Send those museum directors, arts administrators, and agency bureaucrats, et al, back to the studio, give them brushes and canvas, and let them toil without reward or recognition for a couple of decades. We could call it ‘reeducation.’ Abolish the notion of art as a charity, plug up its tax loopholes, and eliminate those ‘for-profit’ art schools hiding out on college campuses.

Instead -- just look at any original art available. Come to know regional artists by their work, and anyone working within fifty miles of your house would be a good start. Visit a museum to see what the great painters were capable of, and then compare back and forth, doesn’t cost a thing. Discount, actually just disregard, anything said by an expert who doesn’t paint, essentially the difference between a sportscaster and an athlete. Sometime, when no one’s looking, give it a try yourself, the talent is in there, but if you’re too busy, no time for practice, not enough room for a studio, go out and buy something. Just like it was your own art, someday you’ll see yourself in it, hang it where you can see it everyday. Participate in art yourself by bypassing the tired old church-of-modern-art dogma, with its minimalist saints, its circular theologies and intellectual larcenies, and enjoy being a realized citizen in a civilized and humane society, one in which art is discussed, bought, sold, and lived with.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

art’s grand ambitions -- what it actually does

Does art awaken the soul? Sounds a bit grandiose, but last night on the ‘news hour’ a pair of artists who had put up a video display in a thousand year old cathedral, said that was their business. On huge screens pixelated luminescent waterfalls, clouds and such collide, and here’s a lone individual wandering through an untrammeled landscape, probably a stand-in for us, I’m guessing. Thinking about art in such grand terms is beyond me, just a simple freelance image technician, a latter-day knight-errant with a license for windmills.  

My concern is only about what people see, a much more basic approach. I assert that art modifies and recalibrates a person’s sense of sight, thereby altering and enriching every inch of their reality, only that. Please consider what percentage of visual information is registered in the brain from the total bandwidth coming back the optic nerve, a near-impossibility to observe directly. Each of us goes around believing what we see is reality, but are constantly being reminded others don’t see much of anything the same, and instead of assuming they’re all wrong, it might be more productive to take a more flexible approach. 

 If different people actually ‘see’ the world differently, it must mean sight, itself, is mutable, open to influence and to some extent, subject to the will. Spiritual concerns aside, as a sheer practical matter, is the individual able to see a wider world with broader experience, and all who have traveled say yes. Any who have waited tables see restaurants from a different angle, and an athlete’s experience of their game is quite apart from that of their fans. In our busy and sometimes narrow lives, wouldn’t it be handy to have a pill, some concentration of attention and thoughtful observation, a time-release mood-enhancing antidote to the funneling daily digital hash that drenches our brain? 

Art up on the wall is the herbal remedy, a beacon of wider perspective and a retainer for the attention span, but it’s going to be up to the individual to self-medicate. Quacks of all stripes abound, proffering the plumped resume and the scent of ascendency, but a bleeding from your checkbook is their most predictable procedure, and one can expect a self-conscious ownership to ensue. There are different potencies, of course, but labels are notoriously unreliable, and the serious patient will have to use their own eyes, on their way to getting better already. Can art reorder the universe, well, it has been used that way in the past. The art still exists and we can see it at the museum, but today’s broad array of information sources leaves us free, theoretically, to live in pretty much in the world we choose.

Why would you, why would anyone, spend serious money on art? You bought a piece of art because you think you can sell it for a lot more in a few years, but better to go to the races instead, so much quicker. You’ve picked a soon-to-be famous name because you think it will impress your in-laws, the boss, the help, anyone, but sorry, they’ll laugh behind your back. You say you bought original art just to occupy the wall and complete the decor, extravagant, but at least direct and honest. A better reason to pay serious money, whatever that means to you, is because owning this piece of art will have a tangible affect on the way your world is seen, future decisions you’ll make and the life you’ll lead, just by having it around. Can art awaken your soul, maybe, I just don’t know, but it’s easily verified that visual art refreshes the sight, adding complexity and charm that were missing before, not so bad.

Monday, May 7, 2018

social engineering -- utilizing art

Saw a young activist explaining to the camera how confident she was her art would have an answer to some specific social crisis, but they didn’t show the art. Must gonna be something uncompromising and highly relevant when completed one assumes. Just intense to see it and then move on, the way art is consumed these days, the assemblage down in a week, pieces in the wind headed to a landfill so poignant. 

Please, just call it something else. If art can mean anything at all, it means absolutely nothing, that’s simple math. Art as a visual medium was here first, and as a fact, that’s what ‘art’ used to mean. Art ceased being visual when literary criticism invaded, an opaque intellectual kudzu, and art was reduced to a signifier of some renowned personality, and in most cases not much to look at. Oh I’m sure the isolated Rothko, given a wall to itself in the soft lighting of a museum, might seem transcendent, but by the time you’ve seen three hundred in essentially the same configuration, the thrill is gone. By now his bus token art is just called a ‘Rothko,’ with a certain blue-book value, and no one looks further.

It don’t mean a thing if it doesn’t say something through your eyes, doesn’t commandeer your attention and cause a little clicking and whirring in your noggin, pulling it into focus. What is this, say a picture of a cow -- so how close did the artist come, have I learned something new about cows, and will I look at them differently from now on? All good questions about any piece of art and all with visual answers, whether you think them out loud to yourself or not. You’ll either like the piece of art or you won’t, an automatic sensation immediately registered without bothering to cross-reference the name of the artist or thumb through their pile of documentation. Choosing art can turn out to be a test of your innate independence, and bonafide evidence that you value what you see.

The good news is that while the ‘art world’ is distracted, attempting to dictate market value based on a wonky calculus of prior approvals and positioning on an imaginary ladder, worthy art can be had for a song all over town. While progressive media has been covering conceptual break-throughs, more and more people are beginning to paint, first as an exercise, then as a hobby, and finally as a means of expression, finding their voice. Don’t know what it means, but will predict some of them will get caught, quit their jobs and go full time, so sad when that happens, or at least it always has been, up until now. There is a critical point when the business of art exchange ignites and sustains artists and studios, and it approaches.

Social change is local first, after all, and if owning and living with art can open the mind and broaden the vision a few citizens at a time, all over all at once, the national dialogue will follow -- we ought to give it a try, or maybe just let it happen.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

cargo dreams -- live chickens

For years, even decades after WWII, on remote islands in the south seas there existed a weird religion, the ‘cargo cult,’ the result of a sad misunderstanding. Isolated island peoples had witnessed the great war through a very narrow window. One day engineers arrive to bulldoze an airstrip and within a few days more large silver birds, C-47’s, begin to land and disgorge all sorts of stuff, machinery, ammunition, and K-rations. From the trees the native people saw everything and thought they understood. After the god-like warriors left, they cleared their own small strips in the forest and built rickety vine-lashed towers hoping to attract a large silver bird of their own. They sat and waited while the crops withered, becoming poorer and poorer hoping to be suddenly rich. Seems pretty quaint from where we are, wishful thinking plumb out of hand. 

Damien Hirst can get away with stuff because he’s a darling of the super rich. He understands their superficial needs and wants, and this cynical insight provides his edge, his super-star advantage. Having blown through the best of everything, the well-positioned crave the pointless, the ingrown, to be sullied and lightly ridiculed, they don’t know why. They see through the sham, the tawdry goofiness of it all, and yet still embrace it, so sophisticated, and it sorta makes sense. The ultra-wealthy play poker with art, buying and crating ‘masterworks’ until the price goes up, and there’s nothing wrong with that -- if you’re so rich life is boring. What’s sad is to emulate those off-hand, self-mocking, seven-dimensional puzzle-pies out in the provinces where regular people have jobs and pay mortgages.

The kind of art rich people crave isn’t difficult to produce, since doing anything well is out of fashion, and that makes art totally open and democratic, is what you’d think. Since no one can say what’s good anymore, acceptance breeds acceptance, and cocktail-party personalities rocket to the top to fade out after a ‘season’ or two, a scene exciting and glamorous, but not an act that plays well in the provinces. Oh maybe the stray westward-leaning saudi prince, or perhaps a lost chinese billionaire might have flat tire on the limo and wander into some little strip mall art gallery only to recognize stuff like in their penthouse, but way too cheap to take seriously so won’t buy anyway -- silver bird lands, pecks around, flies away. 

Art galleries struggle to survive and insist on blaming the customer for not being eager to step up and pretend to be rich, although some do. Non-profit galleries host well-attended social events, but their galleries stay sleepy and dark the rest of the month, and the museum at the U stopped charging admission, one suspects, so they wouldn’t have to report negligible attendance figures when budgets are discussed. What’s wrong with this picture, literally? From within the industry it’s easy to see it’s the lowbrow cretin culture, playoffs and pickups, that’s holding us back, common citizens too dumb to like art, but that isn’t what it looks like from the outside.

Charity professionals latch onto art as a socially benign gig, the perfect patient who won’t die and yet never gets well as long as they're running the show, so it works for them, but the retail end has been paltry. Embracing the highbrow sensibility of Manhattan has left all those brave-front, upbeat, small town gallery directors staring out through plate glass. It seems galleries are always popping up and flaming out, in what has been a remarkably unstable business. This will change, it’s changing now. Aspiring artists are increasingly abandoning the academic, institutional model, a life based on grants and stipends, insular and aloof in their hometowns, to find forms of expression more compatible with the local climate, more in tune with area expectations. It’s a place to start. We will all grow together, our own chickens here to hatch, silver bird fly on.   

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

art evolves -- the next small thing

The 1% grabbed 82% of all wealth created in 2017  ....... CNN Money
Unsustainable is the first word that comes to mind, so let’s just assume change. The world of tomorrow will be different, and there’s an easy way to get there, and the rest are hard ways. The easy way would be for a rising generational consciousness to finally find exorbitant wealth distasteful, and with cooperation and good humor ensure that the product of human energy is fairly distributed to everyone, or at least a lot closer to that than now. Art will seem to be the first to change just because it’s the most visible. That’s its job, to spread the word.

I predict art will again become a real thing, a solace and an expression for its owner just the way it used to be. Enormous wealth has caused an aberration in society’s artistic expression, and given rise to a velvet-rope cult of celebrity, a mega-inflated market in relics of the stars, and a to-the-bone corruption they think is funny, let them laugh. The art they extol tells their story, and it’s pretty clear they don’t know the difference between a genius and a rank opportunist, and can even be heard to say, ‘you mean there is one?’ Robert Motherwell, pick any of them, couldn’t be expected to to tell his own work from an awkward forgery, large ink blots, an expert stands less chance still, and either way what would you care? You could paint one yourself, but wouldn’t bother. 

No wonder art seems superfluous, a pointless luxury, and somehow non-essential to everyday life, for most people. When change comes round, one day they’ll simply start to notice, in the end mostly a matter of exposure. The medical facility buys local art, creating open galleries seen by everyone, amateur groups paint outdoors and compare their work at the end of the day, and businesses begin to hang local art to much public approval, the world is turning. After long suppression, an awareness and desire for local art and pride in its ownership could go ‘viral’ in any upscale neighborhood almost anywhere, and trickle down as well. 

Big art will go bust one day, with nothing to sustain it but a speculator’s consensus among millionaires. They’ll lose interest, consume conspicuously somewhere else, or maybe go out of style themselves. It’s pointless to deride their art, since they couldn’t care less what it looks like anyway. None of that will matter -- when area artists are recognized by their work, when studios and galleries are integral to local economies, and when average citizens understand that to truly personalize a home means buying art.

Friday, April 20, 2018

inattentional blindness -- seeing what’s invisible

Inattentional blindness is a psychological lack of attention that is not associated with any vision defects or deficits. It may be further defined as the event in which an individual fails to perceive an unexpected stimulus that is in plain sight.

This is a difficult concept, that stuff right in front isn’t seen because it’s unexpected, or maybe we don’t care, but in any case it questions our belief in basic sight, don’t you think? The story goes that the ships that brought Cortez to Vera Cruz weren’t seen at first by the natives on the shore, and they assumed he arose from the sea, having never seen european ships before. Maybe it happens all the time. Could it be that while everyone looks at the same things, what they see is different, depending on how they assign their attention? It would explain a lot.

Did the person in front of you at the checkout use food stamps, and what frivolous non-essential did they buy? Is there a state trooper on the overpass? Are there any celebrities in this bar? Some people go through life without seeing or thinking any of that, but enough about other people, what about you? Driving to work how much do you see? Traffic lights, of course, and lane changes up to about four cars ahead, pulling into the parking space. A ball bouncing down a driveway should ring a bell, but clouds reflected in the lake, dogwoods on a hillside, the magic at dusk in the springtime when fireflies fill the fields might be missed. When driving it’s understandable, but how about the rest of the time? How much in front of you do you habitually not see at all, and how would you know?

Politics makes it fairly clear people on the other side are seeing something totally different, responding to different ‘facts’ in the same story, but only the ones that verify their own beliefs. They, those on the other side, have tuned their attention to stuff you don’t care about, and they’re not seeing anything on your side. We’re all on different pages, maybe not even in the same book, and getting worse everyday, what a dilemma. Art has a role to play, and it’s simple, but first, do you see paintings at all? This is a good first question for both layman and expert, for different reasons. The ordinary citizen may have believed the evening news, that art was a caviar-class trophy hunt for billionaires, or maybe they were intimidated by the priceless art in museums, and just never felt ‘invited’ to take area artists seriously. On the other hand, scholars and various sorts of experts perceive art though such an overlay of category and classification, whatever's on the canvas is opaque to them, and they only look at signatures and rank previous owners, such as that.

If you actually look at paintings, you’ll wind up seeing more -- doesn’t matter which side you’re on. Did the artist do something you wouldn’t expect, and have you finally noticed it? Maybe not the first time, but the third time, the thousandth time, or maybe each time you might see something you haven’t seen before. Did the artist intend that mark or was it an accident, and does it help define the image or perhaps reveal a character trait of the artist, thoughts like that. Paintings inspire these thoughts by degrees, but it’s the question you’ve asked yourself that causes growth, and art is just the hook, the facilitator, the nautilus equipment you use for the task. If you can decelerate your normal operating speed and direct your attention toward a painting, slow down enough to actually see what the artist presented, this readjustment will carry over, opening new channels in your head and sooner or later you’ll be seeing stuff new to you that was there all along.

Now I understand for many art is about something else, economic and social arrival, a barter in autographs, and I find all that status seeking and celebrity bumping remarkably uninteresting, leave it at that. Here at owning art we contend painting represents a prior technology, essentially dating to the renaissance, one capable of altering reality by opening and reordering the perceptual net, by stretching expectation and jarring awake complacency and inattention. Admittedly, there is an open question about whether painting has become irrelevant in a digital age, or if, as a result of our condensed modes of info consumption, original paintings have become more potent and more transformative than ever. Some paintings you might see in a museum of will advance from the frame to greet you when you come into the room, but that’s a pretty heavy dose for the average home, and some form of original art from a local painter you might know, or know of, or have seen before in other places, might have the same beneficial effects over time.

Maybe you won’t see the other side, they’re an obstinate bunch, but your world will seem less black and white if you develop an interest in art, looking at all of it and trying to see. Your inattentional blindness will grow less, your lenses will be cleansed and scales will fall, if just a little, and the world will seem wider and in more detail. You really don’t even have to buy a painting to gain this purely personal super-power from looking at art, but you’ll probably want to.