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 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 things 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, 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.

Monday, November 20, 2017

hiding in plain sight -- art’s invisibilities

Art is not visible to everyone, strange but true. In group scene at a boat landing, the artist is the one person looking back at you, making eye contact with anyone really looking at his painting. There’s one like this at the Speed in Louisville. The museum at the university of Arizona displays a medieval last supper with, one has to guess, the artist himself looking out, the last disciple at the lower right, making a comic gesture indicating skepticism, somehow knowing the bishop, and all believers thereafter, would never see him. It seemed quite intimate, this five hundred year old joke between the artist and me, maybe all painters, maybe all skeptics. From more modern times, once saw an out-of-the-box starving artist painting in a restaurant, in which the painter, on a production line deep in Mexico, had left a cigarette burning on the edge of a sideboard, unseen by his supervisor, or the salesman, the restaurant owner or any of his customers. Hola back to you, you brave, bored person.

This culture’s sensibility about artwork has become like a searchlight, a beam artificially narrowed and directed by enormous movements of money, public philanthropies serving nobody’s interests but their own. Go ahead and lower tax rates but eliminate those ‘loopholes,’ and listen to the whoosh of gigantic institutions collapsing. That’s ok, it was stolen money in the first place. Cede back to the lower classes their share of your obscene wealth, and give up your pretense of having any aesthetic sense whatever. Just look at the art you like, and what you’re claiming you pay for it. Oh, you say you paid full price -- what a chump. 

It isn’t just up to audience alone to awaken to the stabilizing, confidence restoring attributes of living and working around original art. Art itself, the product of area studios, needs to define a common vocabulary, and to establish a number of familiar voices within the hearing range of its community. The great void between the two should fill up quickly, and art would become more authentic, better. Responding to art isn’t about finding inside jokes and deciphering hidden messages, but nothing is seen without a conscious desire to look. It’s up to the artists to make it worthwhile.

Friday, November 17, 2017

art and business -- different apps

Remember a few years back seeing a taped seminar of a panel discussion, a back and forth between artists and businessmen organized by some civic-minded organization in a large city. Everyone spoke english but there was no translation. So while the business people talked supply and demand, the artist in the fedora was saying, ‘so you have to decide, do you want to make art, do you want to make stuff that looks like art, or do you just want to make stuff that looks good?’ The business types shrugged and looked perplexed, and the artists wondered where’s lunch. It didn’t seem to go anywhere.

Have known talented visionary artists who were lousy at business, and taken advantage of on a regular basis, it’s a tough reality. There’s a reason for this.  Art and business come close to being polar opposites, venn diagrams that don’t touch, mentalities that won’t mingle. The most basic business model says, give up as little as possible to get the most back, and the product isn’t that important. Could be fast food, could be real-estate, so long as it’s legal we’re in, don’t want to go to jail. Artists don’t think that way. The artists wonders, ‘how dark can I make the shadows, how green can I make the face, do these clouds look believable,’ such as that.

Artists are at a disadvantage, but without some business sense they won’t last long. Signing big contracts and landing huge commissions aren’t as immediate as negotiating rent, buying safe tires, staying dressed and fed. Old cars are going to need repairs, tenant plumbing can be undependable, and two dollars less for the same tube of paint is worth telling a friend about. Some business acumen comes in handy. Still that basic equation, buy cheap and sell dear, sounds foreign to an artist. The independent artist, living out beyond institutional support, probably knows the hourly price of labor, and would be perfectly happy with even up. Selling enough to support a modest household can be a nagging concern, but the serious artist keeps it separate. 

The artist picks an audience and works for them, alone in a studio. Will there ever be a connection -- time will tell. This is a long road across a desert with foggy mountains up ahead, get trekking. A shortcut is possible, traversing the razor thin sophistication of granting agencies and shiny magazines, the kind found in online push reviews reeking of skyrocketing prices. Just find out what’s going on in NY this season and wait five years, it's like robbery. If the artist wants to address a broader audience, anyone with a similar general experience, maybe just alive on earth at this moment, good luck. They better find a better businessperson than they are to hold their hand.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

reveille for a lost army -- waking up

Owning Art is an attempt to embody and represent the attitudes and tastes of a missing generation, those potential patrons of art essentially disenfranchised by a convergence of special interests, academic, commercial, and political, each seeking to reduce the field and limit access. Although motivated by different agendas, convenience found them in cahoots. Owning Art attempts instead to present the cause of average-citizen lovers of art in absentia, in the familiar terms of daily survival. Will they hear, and the short answer is probably not, but gonna preach anyway. 

Culture evolves when a large segment decides to turn their heads all at once, and old paradigms crumple, an organic yet mysterious molt. The observant outsider with some notion of the past might be able to imagine possible next incarnations, recognize movements toward underserved needs, and be able to divine the ascending and descending vortices of public awareness. That’s all we’re saying. Could go several ways from here, a mind-reading inescapable fascism seems plausible, and nuclear annihilation has been in the news again, but wouldn’t it be nice if things got better? Solar power on the roof breeds democratic independence, and a stable economy serving genuine needs, and not artificially manipulated wants, would in time lead to a sense of security among the population, perhaps even to personal realization and autonomy.

Are common folk too dumb to appreciate art? That does seem to be the establishment’s most basic assumption, and they’ll say it any time derisively, but no need, it’s right there in their art. In the most radical, deskilled refuge assemblage, the message comes through, clear and succinct -- if you’re not willing to go along with this absurdist charade, go home. Don’t mind this, really, and not offended. It’s just good advice. Time to look at something else, and it’s around, always has been. 

Gregarious creatives tend to form bands, exchanging witty banter on breaks while fending off the extra attention, but the more introverted types retreat to studios and are never heard of again. Oh, they struggle nights and weekends for a number of years, but slowly the side-gig, the menial entry-level occupation they took to support their studio, begins to define their lives. They go down thinking, ‘if I could just find exposure in some well-lit venue that even appeared to take my work seriously,’ a carrot that never comes closer, ‘maybe someone would like it, take the next step and buy it, so I could purchase more paint, pay the utilities, call myself an artist.’

Somehow, in this golden scenario, ordinary people would come to realize that while solar on the roof provides energy, artwork on the walls lights up the house, making it more livable, renewing the senses and enhancing life’s possibilities. Would they then jet off to high-roller auctions, vying against the planet’s smarmy looters and swindlers for some trademarked monopoly token -- probably not. Instead they’d learn to see the charm in a painting by a family friend, would find a place for the little watercolor bought at a craft fair, and could be expected to understand why original art costs more, and is worth more than copies.

Monday, November 13, 2017

societies transform -- art evolves

Occasionally have made snide reference to ‘contemporary art,’ but thought I should list my objections explicitly, and basic thought process is the first. Essentially contemporary art is a literary form, a narrative of some sort concerning grand issues, or maybe a complicated joke told in puns, oblique associations, all presented in an inbred self-referencing code. It’s complicated. Grand masters will explain the burdens of viewership, the obligations of confronting and coming to terms with contemporary art -- lots of preparation and research, detective-like discernment, and true belief all come into play.

I must have missed baptism, absent that day, didn’t read the bulletin, wasn’t invited. To my prematurely jaundiced eyes, Jackson Pollock was just another drunkard making excuses for not being able to paint, and it was his grandiose delusion that he could paint better by accident than any historical painter could on purpose. That’s where it all went wrong for me, because without St. Pollock at the front of the parade, the cascading dialogue thereafter, a descending oscillation of ‘isms’ each decade, turns time-bound and hollow. The latest incarnation, a witty, self-congratulatory artfully-deskilled remnant of some super-conscious over-arching truth-telling is miles above my head, said with affection.

I’m liberal but to a degree, and think artists should make anything they want, but opportunists boating across the to the land of public support and sanctioned recognition might be giving up their citizenship back home, all I’m saying. Visual art goes straight in, doesn’t need four paragraphs on the wall parsing antecedents, or a steady patter of erudite explanations in the ear. The person next you, from wherever on the planet, sees roughly the same thing you see, almost like some kinda universal, a point in common. Turns out much of modern art is rather inarticulate in this regard. Instead of being universal, the best of art these days requires scholarly initiation, the memorization of a standardized liturgy, along with an untethered reverence for market value.

I don’t want to bring down the house, content to see it inflate until it pops and blows away, and a delirium of artificial value collapses. In its place, a rational market for area produced art might arise, as economic justice prevails throughout the land -- yes, suspect linkage. Art connects individuals through the portal of shared experience, and brings an elevated consciousness into the home, as an example of effort made for something other than money, for example. Don’t expect this will ever change. As society reconstitutes itself after this interlude of chaos and rebirth, let’s hope visual art, as respite from the churn of misrepresentation spewing from digital devices, can provide a standard of truth, stability, and self-empowerment consistent with the aspirations of a free and prosperous people.

Friday, November 10, 2017

art after undergrad -- a panel discussion

It wasn’t a discussion meant for me, I sat in back. Saw it announced and was curious about roads not taken, the academic ladder never climbed. One instructor spoke with passion about devotion to studio, and inspiration was there, but it would be so helpful to see the work. Letters after a name indicate standing, accomplishment, and expertise in the professional world, but have no meaning when it comes to art. Credentials for an artist are on the canvas, figuratively speaking, in a form much more revealing than framed diplomas.

Picking the right grad school was first considered, price, location, such as that. Related occupations, mostly teaching art, were mulled, although vaguely. The world of paying rent, filling a refrigerator, had the odd feel of foreign territory, the dark premonition of approaching exile. The more mature museum director, invoking broad combat experience, gave all the cadets the word that the civilian world really won’t give you a chance, best not try. Consider something less ambitious, grab a broom, drive a nail. We can all find a place with a state paycheck, climb aboard. 

They exist on an island and operate with a different system of value and meaning, loftier than out in the tract-less barrens of fast food and pickups, beyond campus. No one spoke about studio life on your own, how to buy supplies and squeeze every drop, how to establish a presence without institutional support, because no one they could find has ever done it. It didn’t come up. Even the occasional faculty member with commercial success, any outside income, services a rarified boutique sensibility, and better never appeal to anyone ordinary.

Oh bachelor candidates with broken wings, who could have spent four years learning the tools of visual communication, but instead sought subtle nuances in man-made materials, received pointless praise for third-hand social commentary, and were given the very best grade for totally unfathomable obscurity, where do you think you’re headed? Farther away from the folks back home, that’s for sure, but closer to the cliff, zipping through a field of rye. Seek a better deal. Make art that reaches back and pulls the viewer forward, and maybe they’ll support you, buy your art, even spring for a meal or two. Find alternative spaces to show your work, in salons, restaurants, and even if you never sell a thing, you’ll be contributing to a climate of art awareness and acquisition, supporting fellow artists and causing change. Take a chance.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

one percent -- but who’s counting

Most would agree that one percent of the population controlling fifty percent of the wealth leads to unfortunate outcomes for everyone else, and there are significant, rational reasons why, plus lots of evidence. All progressives know the drill. Actually such imbalances don’t benefit anyone entirely, since some humanity must be lost looking out through bullet-proof glass, just guessing. Anyway, that’s a conversation about the distribution of money and here we care more about art. 

So what percentage do you suppose feels the benefit of NEA largesse? Now, of course, its administrators claim paternal concern for everyone, determined to lift the eyes of pagan sports lovers to finer aspirations, so how’s that been going for ya? Contemporary art will never appeal to the masses, either over their heads or below their attention spans, either way, it’s a small audience that actually tunes in. Are they superior intellectually, but of course, but more than that, they’re totally up to date, in good standing with an international elite, even if a grad student living in a rented flat with posters on the wall. The ultra rich will be on board, simply attracted by the notion of exclusion, and they don’t really care what it looks like.

It never turns out well, a small percentage of the population determining priorities, values, and goals for everybody. Incentives quickly turn rancid and myopic self-interest leads to abuse -- it’s built in. I don’t know the numbers but have noticed signs. Progressive non-profit galleries are spooky quiet during the week, the person on desk duty seems startled when you enter, and the museum at the U is newly admission-free so they don’t have to report meager door revenues. Awards and notoriety require peer group certification, a case of career ticket-punchers recognizing their own. Could the same crew sipping wine at all the openings represent one percent of the population hereabouts, maybe one percent of one percent, and not sure they ever buy art, in any case.

No need to despair, just pivot in place and rebel against the machine that made you, oh arts councils everywhere. Change today. Serve the population, instead of seeking the approval of cultural overlords doling out the grant money from on high. Resist selecting art for your galleries as though you were giving grades for a mid-term review over at the school. Doing so limits your penetration into your community and stifles your impact. It erodes your relevance even as you wheedle for more public money. Present instead thematic exhibitions with enough direct, accessible representation to be appealing to the people who help you pave the parking lot, who cover your overhead. Give up your pretense of elevating taste, that sacred mission, and seek compromise with a community ready to embrace area art production, with an active interest in independent studios and in need of public gallery space to become familiar their own artists.