Sunday, August 14, 2016

unlearning history -- forgetting art

lexington herald-leader aug 11 -- New 21c public artwork addresses race, Confederate statue debate
The history of the civil war and its aftermath are good to know, but removing statues won’t change it, won’t turn it back or wash out a line. As a fact, erasing history for the sake of psychic comfort can have unfortunate consequences, such as leaving folks defenseless when it comes around again, but manipulating civic symbols isn’t our beat.

For the purposes of art, I’ve forgotten who John Hunt Morgan was, some rich kid with a feather in his hat. His daddy bought him a uniform and a few extra muskets, and he and his boys raided around the edges of a the civil war without affecting the outcome. Long gone, still I’ve seen him sitting on his horse pretty much every day for more than three decades. It’s a tidy piece of work, his statue, a big casting with all those cuts, all that detail, and would be a handsome accomplishment even today done with modern equipment, pushbutton hoists and electric furnaces.

Maybe you see a symbol of racial oppression, but I see six months in a studio working everyday, all day and into the night, hand-forming not just the likeness of John’s face, but his tunic with buttons, his holster and livery, everything correct, and this ain’t no ‘cut and paste‘ operation. After that I see a black smoky foundry with a crew of thick muscular men with black fingernails, burn scars on their arms and chests, working within inches of truly horrible death pouring the molten metal, filling the voids, temperature and speed and years of experience, and feel with them the pride when the mold was broken and pulled away, shoulder slaps and handshakes -- a piece of metal worthy of lasting a thousand years. They didn’t give a damn about John Hunt either. 

Turns out the symbol, the meaning, even the subject matter whatever it is, was never the main event anyway. We judge ancient peoples by their artwork almost entirely, the symbolic meanings lost in time, and don’t seem to have much problem agreeing on which were the more advanced. In those terms John doesn’t rank up with the Parthenon, but he’s way too good to be thrown away.

Friday, August 12, 2016

whistling in the wind -- unrequited commentaries

Is there an audience for this point of view? I don’t know. Owning art is unscientific, unverified, a leap of faith since none of its theories have to date been clinically tested. OA stands in opposition to the current art establishment as exclusionary and aloof, with velvet rope access, and shoulder to shoulder with a lot of people who have never thought much about art, didn’t think it applied to them, and who don’t much seem to care. It’s an awkward place to start.

Still society is in dynamic turmoil, tooling around on a revolutionary roundabout, and no one sure what street we drive out on. The economic calamity about a decade back had its sobering effect on the ‘just give me more’ mentality, and engendered reevaluations all around. Increasingly our lives are populated by robots replicated by other robots, turns out almost everything is soluble in digital, and cars are going to drive themselves. We be at a crossroads.

There’s a pile of humanity in art. As a fact it’s a refuge. In most other areas there’s nothing you can do a bot can’t do better. They can drive a train better than a sleepy engineer, prepare dinner without burning anything, even let you win at chess, but they can’t make art. They were manufactured, have no life experience, and it would never occur to them to make art. Now it is the case that a computer can be programed to make stuff that looks like art, just as occasionally humans will do this just to make money, but creating actual art is not among their vast capabilities.

So, let’s suppose ordinary folks somehow start being curious about art, perhaps as a result of huge shifts in societal perspective beyond their awareness the way they sometimes do. If they once discover the potency of art to alter and aerate their low-oxygen living spaces, see in it a magnet for memories and a unique signifier of home, and come to think of art a stable and enduring object worthy of respect, something singular from a living hand, then maybe they’ll want to buy some and take it home. They are the phantom audience, the potential avid readers of my encouragement and exhortations but not quite ready, behind a partition, although in the end it won’t matter. Art will change as people change their minds, and it will be art that helps them think those new thoughts.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

personal verification -- shared insights

Contemporary art could be anything, it’s like their motto, and uncle Aristotle explained there might not be much traction there. Owning art has always been fond of painting, a thirty thousand year tradition, and its uncanny ability to communicate mind to mind. Painting isn’t the only art form, but is itself broad and deep enough to be considered separately, and its unique physical properties make it conveniently portable and easily owned.

All paintings are a design in color on a flat surface. The artist sometimes arranges the colors in a clever way that somehow reminds the viewer of something they’ve seen before, a smiling lady, a placid lake, a pot of flowers, but no one is ever fooled. That isn’t the point. In making the painting the artist encodes enough of their character and singular point of view to make each painting a perpetual conversation, constantly engaging the viewer’s attention. Better art does this better and has more to say.

For example -- if you’ve never been to the southern rim of the grand canyon all grand canyon paintings will look pretty much alike to you, just vertical stacks of horizontal bands, nothing special. If you’ve stood at the lookout for a while, sunlight and shadow, crisp clear air, an hour’s movement of the sun among the silhouettes, you’re probably ready to head up to Taos to crawl the galleries. Lots of paintings of the grand canyon, lots, but in front of one you feel the vertical rush of air against your face as you stare out into that fat slice of eternity, registering just the slightest tinge of vertigo. This is the one to take back to Indiana.

Real life and art aren’t separate but play against each other, inform each other, embrace and enhance each other, and if an artist nails you with some deep down response to something you both have seen, maybe even finds a place inside you didn’t know was there, something will click in your head and painting, the whole business, will make suddenly make sense to you.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

tuning receivers -- touching the dials

We each exist in a perceptual net, sound, sight, and smell forming the world around us, forming us. More than just passive receivers, we quite intentionally tune our personal antennae for levels and distinctions we’re already used to and have come to expect, the ‘rut‘ of daily living. Art is our handle on a chaotic reality allowing us adjustments and recalibrations, opening the portals to fresh experience, and keeping the whole business pliable and able to change. As a fact, art has always been mankind’s mental control panel, the hidden dashboard, the key to altering the code that determines what’s real, and museums reveal how succeeding epics went about it.

We humans inhabit an ever-morphing reality not easy to pin down. Is the planet thousands or billions of years old, is there an afterlife and what are its conditions, such as that, and dynasties use art to construct the field of play, to determine the rules and boundaries, and to make sure they stay on top. Aware of art’s influence, these days it falls on the individual to find the art that enhances their own place on the planet, that helps them see better days and do better things. There’s a vast array out there.

A lot of the art we encounter, art in this case meaning any created version of reality, the pickup moving a mountain, a pain medication bestowing bliss, is unavoidable really, from billboards to popups. We are free to choose, however, the art on our own walls, and that has its influence on how we see the world as well, how we process new facts, how aware we are of our immediate environment, how seriously we see ourselves when we glance in the mirror. That’s a lot to ask but art is powerful stuff, just ask the Egyptians, the Mayans, any monolithic culture that maintained its total world order by controlling art, and we have the evidence on hand. 

An art that transports would probably be a dangerous thing, and since the middle ages we’ve become harder to impress, but a little painting for the kitchen, maybe a bigger one over a couch, nudging us awake, adding a little flavor and coaxing us to notice just a little more, is not that hard to find.

Friday, July 15, 2016

sibling rivalry -- the solomon solution

Art is an odd business -- half government enterprise and half in the public realm, two sides with little in common conjoined in the same body, a revolting predicament. See the academic side has disdain for commerce and it isn’t just implied, it’s out front, proud of the fact. They think that art that won’t be sold, can’t be sold, is superior, simple as that. They endeavor to prove it with the stuff they make, the things they teach, the awards and grants they bestow, and the exhibits and competitions they curate. Artists with steady incomes, professional prestige, and a package of perks already, have no need for the public’s approval or participation. In fact it’s sorta natural they’d want to insulate their lucrative little worm garden from the rest of us, as dependent institutions of all sorts tend to do.

The public approach to art is much different, seeking insight and significance in the frame, on the wall. In this arena the objective is finding common ground with an audience, and appealing to someone enough to want to own it. This is the twin that suffers, losing nutrition and vitality to an overbearing state supported usurper, and there’s a funny reason why. Gallery owners have been trying to sell their consignments using credentials supplied by the academic side, meanwhile complaining no one buys art, like they was the victims. I’d like to sympathize, but also notice that people aren’t owning art, talking about art, or thinking about art and the stuff you’re showing isn’t helping, is it?

A man ran for president on the sole accomplishment of having separated conjoined twins, books and lectures, television interviews, and I’m here to do surgery. Gallery directors -- all those credentials you fan out are from that other side, that insular, exclusionary, copy planet called academic art, and they don’t really convince people, enough people, that the derived macaroon in front of them has value. Instead consider the ‘sunday’ painters in your midst, and cultivate a couple who are committed to depicting familiar subject matter. Two things will happen. Your clients will show more interest in owning art, and the artists will get better, rapidly. Art is a community business, could be, ought to be, and local-source galleries can be profitable doing business at face value, or will be soon.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

poverty’s up side -- art’s coded rap

Who buys art and why? There are the investors, they get the press. Here’s a Rothko and a Van Gogh in the same auction estimated to bring about the same price, around twenty seven million, immediately to be re-crated and sent back to storage hoping they bring fifty the next time they see daylight. So much alike. ‘Art accrues value faster than the stock market,’ becomes the boilerplate refrain for almost any hustle chasing big discretionary bankrolls. It was housing equities before the crash of 2008, just as the dutch once went crazy for tulips, the classic case of market mania and the frenetic psychology of auction. As art appreciators the ultra-wealthy don’t count since they don’t look, only interested in outbidding their ‘friends’ and bragging about the big return, just another form of gaming to them. Pretend you ‘get it’ if you must.

Big corporations buy art to gain prestige among peers, and in an attempt to infuse some color into their cost efficient, steel and glass architecture. They favor abstraction, open-ended, non-committal, big splashy patches in the chrome and grey conference room, behind the receptionist. Existential questioning isn’t their bag, and they purchase through agencies, hire a curator, don’t really care. The large public institutions, museums and such, favor big ticket units, doing an indecent tango with the donor class as the tax burden trickles down, and they measure their success in bucks transferred.

Turns out the ones who generally like art best are poor people, those who can least afford it, an irony passing itself off as a law of the universe. Economics aside, maybe it’s life experience, the grind of physical work, learning a trade, doing home repairs that makes the common citizen receptive to art’s physical presence. Could be they can better conceive of process and practice, and what it takes to turn pure thought into a material object. It’s also possible they live in less than glamourous circumstances and feel a desire to own something of value they can see everyday, unlike their retirement fund. Might even turn out some of them are thoughtful and well read, dropouts, too skeptical of cultural politics to believe in soup cans but willing to consider actual accomplishment. Pushed aside in a rigged system, blue collars are not disinterested in art.

You can see art like them without giving away your stuff, scuffing up the hands. Art will help you -- try going back the other direction. When you look at art consider how it was made and what it tells you. You can squint at the explanation posted on the wall, or attempt to see and comprehend what’s actually in the frame, the way the less culturally sophisticated, more-grounded poor person might. You can bet the cavalier looking out at you there among the gawkers at the corner of the painting is the artist himself, just as he looked the day he delivered it, wearing that same sly smile, never to be noticed by his rich patron and finally to be seen by you this morning, he winks at you across a couple of centuries. Such as that.  

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

critic inside -- art's chemistry

Buying and selling art in galleries has nothing to do with art, I’ve concluded. What’s on the block is consensus approval, credentialed affirmation, all packaged and delivered in the slickly coded language of social ascension. For the market ‘good art’ has made its way into corporate collections, has been widely exhibited domestically and internationally, has won awards, garnered press, and when owned becomes an indication of sophistication and in-crowd awareness. Really? Is that all you’ve got, a stack of documents to close the sale? It’s understandable, even practical, since there’s no way to tell visually if the thing your looking at was painted by a farm animal, some plucky amateur, or a certified genius going to cost you millions. To give up the cash you’re going to need some sort of notarization.

All that paper is like homework. It’s the artwork itself we’d rather discuss, in terms that apply to all art no matter its style. What makes this thing, in this example something flat against the wall, worth more than all the furniture in the room? Original art has presence, and unlike other possessions, continues to appear fresh in the mind through the years. It’s of a different order than all the manufactured stuff, and has this unusual quality for a couple of reasons. The artist gave their best effort, part of the unwritten bargain they’ve made, imparting a quality that looks like honesty at any level. The art, itself, endures, and becomes a presence indeed when all the furniture has been worn out and changed, when households have moved to different cities, and when people have lived their lives in front of it. 

Better art does all this better, but there isn’t any way to quantify it, to grade it for market. That’s why it’s all so crazy out there -- see two hundred previous posts. Well it’s science to the rescue, finding the answer in a recent study with old people, love the old people. They took brain scans before and after having them look at art, and the blue chemical makes you sadder while the red one makes you feel elated. Well, the brain map lit up with the good one when they saw art they liked, or was it the other way around, no matter. Turns out there’s a critic ‘inside,’ a bit more reasonable and reliable than a ticket punched report card when it comes to recognizing what’s worthy in art. This app was part of your original package, becomes activated by looking at original art wherever found, and comes online when the consensus-driven art industry is ignored, forgotten. Listen to your brain.