For the last few years I have been bringing an attention to how important the right of free speech and expression is particularly to the arts. It is really the basis of a free society and the fuel to all forms of creativity and culture. Sometimes we might go astray with distasteful things according to our particular views but the right and freedom to do that is the cornerstone for each of our own endeavors and pursuits.
This week I have read that someone is confronting the Met in NYC about a Balthus painting. They either want it removed or ‘recontextualized’ to meet ‘their’ opinion of it but certainly taking advantage of a very raw moment in our nation’s history. This post is not addressing that court of public opinion but puts the light on the essential necessity to express ourselves even when in conflict with opposing views and mores.
The human experience has never been about perfection or a culture submitting themselves to others standards or impositions. As artists the greatest, most passionate work has always evolved out of turmoil and controversy and have become the enduring works historically from all cultures. This current battle has been brewing for many years quietly under the radar and is not about somebody’s 15 minutes of fame or other frivolous desires.
This in my view is the beginning of an onslaught against any form of thought or expression that collides with what appears to be a higher road. The arguments against the Balthus might seem valid and reasonable to many but that is NOT the point. The point is that we still in this moment have a BIRTHRIGHT of free expression without fear of retribution and the assumption that our fellow brothers and sisters will defend that right even when they disagree with it. This is what has essentially made us the great beacon of light for the world. We don’t die when we say something unpopular or creatively express ourselves in our way. But I fear this is changing.
The arts have always been the target of criticism and the arts community has a history of being enamored with subjects and lifestyles that have run counter to the norms and traditions of society. All masterpieces can be scrutinized to reveal its painful messages and controversies but this IS what great works are made of whether in literature, theater, visual art or any creative expression. I can name writer after writer, artist after artist of who we can now question under the new light of scrutiny but the human experience is never clean nor meant to be.
Are we ready to take the consequences of retribution when we offend someone and they can prosecute us through the power of social and mass media? We might be thinking that we, individually, are immune to this happening but don’t be so sure. The moment you share your work with the public anything is possible. Supporting each other is now critical. Not jumping to conclusions or judgement when something is said about somebody but rather each of us individually respecting, honoring and encouraging another’s point of view and expression EVEN when we disagree with their view.To me this is the anecdote to what is happening. So as I began, in this moment in time, at a new crossroad of history I ask, ‘is freedom of expression really free?’
As a lifer in the world of art, I have seen over and over that the creation of art parallels life in every way conceivable. Some people come into the world apparently hell bent to be a conduit of destruction and others come wanting nothing else but to create and to edify themselves and others through their art and the creation experience. Two distinct opposing forces. It really makes sense that art has a power that very few other things contain. It derives it’s source from a spring within that reflects the magic of being human.
The definition of aesthetics is, ‘a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty, especially in art.’ [dictionary.com] The definition speaks of beauty. Beauty in the mainstream art world has been somewhat frowned upon but the idea of pursuing the possibilities of aesthetics is viewed as being cool.
Aesthetics = Beauty. In the current world environment a little beauty can go a long way and the role of the artist, whatever the medium chosen, is of high value in countering the onslaught of political, religious, and all other dirt and corruption.
These days I search for things that move me in a soulful way in the midst of the daily chatter from those who believe we all want to hear about the ugly details of the worse of who we are. Technology allows us to share at will and what an opportunity to interject your creativity into the ocean of challenge we see day by day. Artists wield an extraordinary power to counter all that we see in whichever way we are prone. Alongside of all of the chaos that feeds upon itself there are amazing artists writing, composing, creating things that reflect what every politician, religious leader etc etc should aspire to. If we seek we shall find and when you do it can give us something to be hopeful about.
Beauty has more value than it ever has in our entire history. Beauty IS in the eye of the beholder but what a great thing to have that kind of diversity and points of view. I wish I could hammer home the idea of staying true to why WE are here and not being enticed to participate in the ugliness that pervades our lives and society week after week. My take away is focus on creating. Beauty. And not only that but sharing it in an exchange of appreciation and tolerance where our right of free speech and expression rights the ship once and for all and for all of us.
image: Leonardo drawing
This week I spent most of my time installing a new exhibition [Fantasy Trains] at Mattatuck Museum in nearby Waterbury CT. In the midst of an effort like this, there typically is a point where you think how can we possibly get this thing finished for the opening date whatever that might be. Unexpected problems and issues arise and somehow out of the ashes we arrive at a greater work of art seen as the combination of space, object and Placement/arrangement. We call that the installation ie exhibit.
All exhibits are not created equal. The individual factors tilt the purpose and feel of any given exhibition. The same work and space in the hands of another curator will have a completely different feel and sensibility.
Post completion of this installation three things strike me. The first is every installation begins as a chaotic assemblage of elements and factors that on their own try to give their message and clues on how they want to be seen and understood. Listening, feeling and letting circumstance redirect the process allows these elements and factors to speak. It is my view that they already know what this greater work of art intends to be and it is up to me to somehow allow it to be, cooperate and stay out of the way.
Secondly, every space/environment emits it’s own pneuma or breath/spirit that needs to be respected and facilitated in order for there to be a compelling merging of object, space and purpose. Each element and factor speaks either in support or discord with each other. I have always believed that if my effort to listen and feel leads me in a non-optimal direction then circumstance will step in to force me down the road that will bring me to the place all involved desire to go. This has been my experience at least over the years and I have learned to trust it.
Thirdly, in involving yourself in things you are compelled to do, we tend to minimize the possibilities that might evolve out of it. Serendipity and happenstance has always come into play in these things and looking back after the fact has always brought a magical amazement of chance happenings and occurrences that have at times been life changing. When I speak to groups about this I always try to somehow convey that one small seeming insignificant decision or prompting can alter your life or lead to a new opportunity. This has been a regular occurrence in my life throughout my career which now spans nearly 40 years.. The fun part of these things is stepping back and just watching the unexpected begin to happen.
All of the information on this exhibit is available on their site or feel free to call the museum with any questions.
Alexander Shundi’s Fantasy Trains, a new project that I have organized and curated, will be opening on November 19th at the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury , CT. Below are the links to the museum event page as well as the Publication on Amazon that pictures and elaborates these miniature sculptures.
FS 8 Express, Alexander Shundi – New Arts Publications
Whenever I was considering adding an artist to the gallery roster two distinct factors came into play in my decision making process. One was considering an established artist who would add immediately to the exposure, the prestige and aesthetic advantage it would contribute and second considering a relatively obscure artist who had a very clear artistic personality and skill set. In other words something I could not get anywhere else and was in complete alignment with the gallery sensibility.
I had recognized that these two strategic factors were powerful enough on their own to make or break any gallery. In fact any significant gallery does the same thing an artist needs to do and that is defining very clearly who they are. Success and failure comes down to having a knack for recognizing something special and then the skill, insight and ability to present that to an audience in a compelling and distinct way.
Many artists and galleries for that matter, get stuck in the developmental stage of their evolution. This, in my view, has to do with closed mindset and the unwillingness to take leaps and to trust yourself. It plays out by reserving a mental space of thinking if one thing doesn’t work I will adapt to the marketplace. In most businesses this is absolutely valid but in the art scene it is deadly no matter how much you want to defend that position. I have actually had artists show me their work and when I concluded it didn’t fit with the gallery they brought out other work and said, ‘well, how about this work that I do?’ My internal reaction is, ’how many freaking kinds of work do you do?’ At that point I know the conversation is over and any future chance of inclusion is gone.
If we look closely this example disintegrates any possibility of creating value. Oversupply decreases value and undersupply increase value. Common sense. Your unique personality combined with your particular skillset is your value metric. Develop it and commit to it and anything is possible. All I know is when I look at any work this is my qualifier for any attention to what I am seeing and possibly considering. And to be clear for pure collectors that is their criteria as well. Much, much more can be said about this but the bottom line is who are you? That’s what I want to know and it should be so obvious on first look that I either want it or I don’t.
So consider asking yourself ‘who am I?’ The benefit of honestly examining this has the potential of kicking you forward and into any possibility. Might be worth a try.
image: Marc Baseman, graphite on paper
Marc is a Southwestern artist who does amazing miniature drawings typically 2″x3-4″.He is a great example of skillset and personality and worth looking up his images online. I have actually exhibited Marc’s work in the past and consider him an extraordinary artist.Love his stuff.
While there are many serious things to concern ourselves with pertaining to life and our chosen professions [ie. artists etc] as we mature we tend to lose the ability to play. This occurrence is so ironic in that we are born into curiosity and the act of playing as an innate human trait. We can all remember the imaginary world that sustained us as small kids and the ease in which we took in others to participate with us. Playing was central to our existence and ability to learn.
As a gallery owner one characteristic that I always look for is the element of ease, an absence of a labored overcomplicated work, something that has been worked to death because more is always better for most. In other words I look for a sense of play and underlying personality. There are so many things that literally beat out of us the ability to play and that turn our mode of operation into mechanical, mundane and predictable skills.
Once we have put in our hours to develop our craft, be it painting, ceramics, glass or whatever means of expression you chose, learning to play at that point is vital to both developing a point of view as well as the motivation to push onward in the face of any and all challenges to your purpose. If going to the studio becomes a job more than a field of play then the core of the what, the why, and the how becomes tainted. Why do we actually do whatever it is that we do?
The business end of art making brings with it ironies that need to be understood and addressed. The commerce part of art is a dead serious endeavor. But the work that is exchanged, valued and coveted must transcend mere product. It IS product and inventory and thus one of those ironies. But it must convey that it is more than that to motivate interest whether in a museum or gallery. As artists we sell ourselves. The work we produce reflects a personality and a very particular skillset named YOU. It can’t be gotten anywhere else. It comes from you alone.
In the world of thousands and thousands of pseudo artists and all that they produce, the work that clearly stands out contains common traits. One is material mastery. Second is conviction of concept and lastly a virtuosity that reflects a complete immersion of ourselves into that work. To describe the feeling it emits is ease of process, play, personality and insight. Seeing something in a way we havn’t seen before. We really learn to play once the hard work has been done, primarily developing our skills. Once we have that the best we can do is learn to play.
Image: Beatrice Wood/ aka The MAMA of DADA
Beatrice lived a colorful life and I have included links to her site and a book that is highly recommended on her life. Loved how she lived her art and made her mark on the artworld.
I Shock Myself
This subject contains so many conundrums that to attempt to address this in a short essay will for sure come up short. But talking about this I think is valuable if only to nudge both maker and viewer away from the status quo and allow something deeper to emerge hopefully.
In my own experience I began making art early on completely enamored by the idea that I could express whatever I wanted in an arena that traditionally accommodated the non-traditional. The larger art world was something that I wanted to be identified with. Walking around with paint on my clothes made me different. Albeit I was still a teenager,but this idea of different meant something and art was the perfect vehicle. The excitement of making things that could be confrontational or question the very notion of what art was kept driving the creative process despite my limited technical skills at that point in time.
As a maker art began to define what was important to me. Different mattered. Expressing whatever I wanted mattered. I always hesitated calling myself an artist because I knew that title was earned and not earned by success but rather by persevering when everything around you said enough, go do something else. I knew I hadn’t been tested despite being on the road. Anyone can make art but that doesn’t make you an artist. Purpose makes an artist and that purpose then goes out into the world on a mission.
Purpose for the maker is commitment to craft and to authentic ideas much like your fingerprint and voice resonance is you. The ‘is you’ is everything for the artist. Until that happens calling yourself an artist is questionable. Commitment to something you care about and eliminating everything else is required. Staying with that commitment in the face of all discouragements and questioning makes you an artist. Ultimately, arriving at an unapologetic expression of yourself defines the artist you might be.
A friend and artist Tom Doyle once said that “if you are having fun making art your most likely not an artist.” I understood exactly what he meant. An artist who has this level of commitment to what they do has a power that others do not. They have the power to move people. To express something at a deeper level that strikes a chord within the viewer that can’t be reached in any other way. It transcends language, culture and most other barriers. This is what I mean when I say ‘there is the appearance of art and then there is art.’ For me, when I see a performance or read a book and it moves me I become so thankful that this person or people had dedicated themselves to what they do. Imagine all of the things we would be deprived of if someone in the solitude of their studio, office, rehearsal space or whatever hadn’t committed to the excellence of what they were passionate about.
As artists we play a critical role in this society and in all others before us. Despite the attempt of politicians, scientists, psychologists and medicine to fix us or lead the way historically it has been the artist who has represented and identified a generation and culture. The times we live in will ultimately repeat the process. The art of our time will define who we were and who we are. Ideas of value use the other fields as our expressions but expression is the thing that lives on. One of the world’s most unique occurrences summed this up best. Picasso declared a profound truth worth spending time thinking about and relating to whatever it is that we attempt to contribute to the continuum of creativity. “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls”. The ability to reach someone’s soul is it. Purpose. That is what an artist’s life is capable of. What else can be said?
Image: Tom Doyle, Phoenix, wood
in my quest to use the above image to show what in my view is some of the best work in the world I have included one of Tom’s sculptures. I was fortunate to have shown Tom’s work for many years.