Being an image maker or thought presenter wields great power as history has shown. Generations have been defined by the images and ‘sayings’ that each has produced. Who doesn’t remember ‘where’s the beef?’ or ‘make love not war’. Think of the peace sign and people like Milton Glaser, Andy Warhol, Peter Max, Ferlinghetti, Robert Indiana and a host of others in all mediums who were masters of this skill. The arts have always reflected the society in which they have lived and have simultaneously responded to and led generations.
Contained within an artist’s repertoire are tools of seduction as well as meaning. We can very easily tickle the eye with color, shine, glitz, novelty of all sorts and give the impression of art while in fact it might contain very little of that. There is the appearance of art and then there is art. The modern day world contains both and is sometimes hard to distinguish. The art fair has taken on the modalities used by malls and retail philosophies for the ultimate goal of the sale. Of necessity the best galleries have mastered this form of influence.
But a little beyond that there is an enclave of something else that might be a bit more challenging in both its craft and intended meaning. To me this is the arena of the beauty of soul. It tends not to fit into the accepted showrooms of art but breaths its own life in its own way. While it may challenge and test the limits of our own understanding of meaning and beauty it contains traits and emotional content that is undeniable. I have seen from the gallery side, with my experience with the viewer or collector, that most aficionados of art are looking for something specific to fill a need within themselves. ‘This disturbs me, I could never live with that!’ is one familiar comment. ‘I have blue drapes and this would just fit so well in my room’ is another. ‘I really don’t want anything sad around me so these pieces definitely don’t work for me’ is another. So every exhibit or work of art has filters applied to it. YET when we go to the theater or read a book or listen to music the challenging elements and the fullness of the contrast enhances our experience.
So artists tend to adapt to the market seeking approval, which is a human need, and then develop mechanisms to feed that craving. The beauty of soul disregards the tendency of approval and imposes its own will on the world. Take it or leave it. In this ‘letting go’ is where I have seen the most moving work and in actuality the best people. It takes some effort to find but it is there alongside all of the other stuff we have come to call art. In a politically correct world where authentic ideas can be crushed for not following party lines I find originality and courage of high value. It takes courage these days to be true to yourself knowing that if someone is offended by your work all hell can break loose. But this might be the new price we have to pay for the Beauty of Soul.
image: in my ongoing quest to include notable work as the blog image I have focused on Mexican artist Javier Marin this week. I find his work amazingly compelling both from the making point of view as well as emotional content.
Because my primary world has been art, I often wonder about all of the unknown artists and true original thinkers that I/we will never know about because they have never sought the limelight and have been ignored by those who determine how to feed the public appetite. It is very apparent that the New Society consists of spoon feeding all of us the headlines of choice, the people of choice, while bombarding us with their point of view in the hopes we will sympathize with and accept this means of informing and influencing.
I see this happening in all fields and more intensely than ever. The availability of information, on one hand, gives us the feeling that we are missing nothing. We can easily find a media source to line up with what we think is our view. Is it possible to be groomed to think a certain way? Has the sophistication and science of ‘information presentation’ reduced our individual ability to know what we really think and feel? This, if true, has obvious societal implications which if done well would be almost invisible to us. This machine of dissemination would have and does control who and what we are aware of.
The other side of this feeling of ‘all knowing’ is the power of complete invisibility; keeping from our view ideas and people who are true original thinkers. This applies to all fields including art. We contend with what we see and are aware of. We never consider what has been kept from our awareness. It is there but we don’t see it so we remain just where we fit in, typically serving someone else’s point of view unconsciously. Significance in the arts and in society appears to be a few steps removed from the main flow of information and sympathetic resonance that it seeks from the individual.
Discovering the unknown matters more to me than ever. I dream of assembling these unknowns into one place, allowing points of views that I agree and don’t agree with, yet anyway. True art speaks loud and clear. It disrupts the accepted. Freedom of expression is just that; the freedom to speak, write or make without fear of retribution and for us in the arts Robert Mapplethorpe is a prime example. I find the rhetoric on the right and left on social media quite scary as the information controllers sway our emotions, seduce us into easy participation and rob us of our independence. The arts and philosophy and literature hold the best of who we are individually and as a society. Committing to that gives me hope. Making art changes the world.
Above in Image:
Dennis Oppenheim, Performance Piece 2000 – Interesting work and I have put the link to the site to see more.Interesting artist in my view.
Simultaneously, as we develop ideas about pieces we have in mind to execute, the brain looks to create a blueprint on how we ‘craft’ the idea to its highest effectiveness and ultimate resolution. If we think about the nature of making a piece and its implication in regards to our body of work, most of the things that we make will far outlive us and becomes a fragment of a larger statement of who we were in life. With this as a backdrop, the choices we make during this creative process have long lasting repercussions potentially.
Think about how many artists who are no longer with us spark something within us when at some point we encounter their work whether in a gallery, a museum or in somebody’s house. The details of selection that that artist decided upon during the process of making this work becomes front and center in your ‘now’ experience with the piece.
As an example, If the work comes from the tradition of oil paint we feel and see this particular artist’s ‘way’ of expressing themselves with a material that is also available to the masses. However we know this piece was made from this particular artist despite that fact. What we are experiencing is a seamless connection of idea, execution and personality. These 3 things define an artist. As I am writing this I find myself thinking about the career of Picasso. He was obviously an outlier in respect to the world in his lifetime but also historically.
What made him an exception was his freedom to explore materials and then apply them seamlessly to his ideas. We all will have major and minor materials but Picasso viewed expression as his means of communicating through physical means. Expression number one, materials number two. I love his naïve use of clay in his ceramic pieces that almost look incidental. He had no prejudice against any material and saw the world as a blank palette of opportunity. His search was to use the proper material for a particular idea and anything was game.
When I was a teenager and I first saw the Bulls Head made out of a bicycle handlebar and seat it forever blew apart my belief that art had to be contained within the accepted. It made me want to see if I could see like Picasso. What was I missing or not seeing around me as potential art materials? Why didn’t I think of those handlebars and seat the way Picasso did? But here we are again, years after Picasso’s passing continually being affected by his choices as he made his work.
When we find ourselves saying to ourselves ‘I can’t use that to express myself or only use what I am comfortable using ‘, maybe it’s time to push further out and give it a try. Experiment with materials and alternative uses of known things. Focus and find your authentic points of interest internally but there is no reason not to push the material envelope. If you happen to find that oil paint just does it for you then become expert in its use and seamlessly connect to it. Typically we artists are curious. Trying new things and forms of expression might just unlock your vault of undiscovered ideas and insight into yourself, the world and the body of work that becomes your statement in life.
The act of making art I find to be an interesting decision many of us choose to make. What thing in us is compelled to develop an idea or concept and then develop the specific skills to create it in the material world? We have been taught from the earliest of ages to use words and sounds to communicate both our survival needs as well as our developmental needs. As a child it appears that when words become no longer sufficient we turn to other ways to express ourselves to communicate with others.
The way of art moves beyond words to symbols, representations and primal bursts that evolve from a deeper place of need. While putting a brush to paper or canvas seems like a simple act [as well as all other ways of making things], the layers of meaning begin when we decide to participate in this form of communication. How do I say in visual terms what this or that means to me and I can’t say in words? How deeply do I feel about this thing that I want to convey? A whole onslaught of factors emerge in unison and drives the creative process to fruition.
The commitment to develop specific disciplines enables us to channel this potent energy and allow for the essence of our personalities to surface and fly free. The need that we have to create and communicate now has a means of expression but it is then that the real work begins. Many will say that Outsider or Naïve work circumvents this requirement to develop skills but if looked at closer the same skills are present but within an alternative vocabulary. We choose for ourselves the vocabulary that aligns closest to who we are as individuals and then consciously or unconsciously develop the means to express that.
All of this is said to highlight what I view as absolutes in the process to produce relevant and compelling work. I love happening upon ‘special’ pieces and special artists. It is like finding gold amongst the mass of offerings filling the white box environments all over America and the world. Some might say, ‘what you think is a special piece can be totally different than what I think is a special piece.’ This is absolutely true but the criteria that we use are universal whether it is instinctive or arrived at through personal studies. I have described some of them above and how the possibility of making extraordinary things even exists.
The thing that I recognize in myself at this place in time is that whenever I visit an artist’s studio or happen to go to an exhibit or whatever I unconsciously look for those works that rise above the norm. The art environment and market is such that we now have the appearance of art and authentic soul containing art. There is public consumption for both as an outcome of astute marketing and status quo pressures of owning certain things in a collection. I need to make the point that what I consider special pieces does not mean gimmicky, overly slick, academic or highly accepted works. It might emerge from this but it can be the elegance of a simple line; the depth of shapes and color relationships that are pure instinctive. The thing is that once you have saturated the eye with thousands and thousands of works we absolutely know it when we see it. As artists and as collectors, the time is here when the bar should be raised and we quickly eliminate the marginal and encourage and support what strikes a chord within is.
Saying ,’go paint me a picture’ takes on new meaning for the artist and I will say to the collectors, ‘find the artists that you resonate and connect with; the ones who are special to you and make it a priority to support and reward them and when possible to carry on your backs.’ It can mean more than you can know for an artist.This is what makes the art world go round and to be genuinely sustainable now and for future generations.
The world of art creates many ironies and clichés that in other industries do not exist. The history of art has brought us to a place where it has become a multi- billion dollar industry. The why of this I will discuss possibly in future articles but this is a given reality for all artists in today’s world. We all now exist within the framework of dollar value when a work of art is produced. As a general rule, once a work enters the public eye a dollar value is determined in some fashion whether concretely or abstractly.
I am setting the groundwork for a conversation of how the arts and artists can be manipulated and misused to the benefit of some but potentially to the detriment of an artist and the arts in general. Have you ever noticed when there is a fundraiser or some charitable something that one of the first groups to be approached are the arts? How many times have we heard, ‘would you donate a piece for our fundraiser or special cause? Usually added in is, ‘the exposure will be good for you and you can deduct the contribution on your taxes.’ One year I think I donated a total of 10 pieces for various ‘causes’ around the country. For most that would have been a year’s worth of income.
If we take this concept one step further, how many times have we been enticed or prodded to being used to revitalize a neighborhood or even a whole city? Are the arts a savior for fixing and resolving the self- serving policies of town politician’s gone wrong or economic woes for which we as artists had no say in? So you have to ask, why would those outside of the arts believe that artists are a way out of their dilemmas when all else has failed? If we take a look at this precarious belief we find some major traits that non artists and politicians feel they can exploit. Let’s be clear; this is exploitation no matter how you package the stated benefit of participation as I described in the donation example.
So riding on the back of many artists are wealthy patrons that for most artists have taken years to build and benefit from. If I can woo you to my bad little neighborhood I will have the assumption that your wealthy patron will follow you and I the developer or I the politician will benefit from all of the free work you will be doing for me that took years for you to accomplish. Maybe I can make others feel they should also be here when they ‘think’ they see your success and I can restore the market value and beyond to my real estate [your space] and the space of others to the point that you can no longer afford to be there. I say ‘job well done artist but now it is time for me to grab corporate America to take your place and pad my pockets and you have to go find another place to revitalize.You are no longer needed here.’
Manipulation at its best when it works and when it doesn’t the propagation of the cliché artist buying into the pitch of ‘the exposure will be good for you and look at the opportunity I am giving to you my friend.’ Arts Councils, believing they are promoting the arts, tend to make the worse decisions in creating public perceptions by holding ‘events’ that trivialize the history of art and reality of the present day art market. We are part of a major industry and that is power by itself. These novelty events foster this idea that artists will participate in anything to get exposure. ‘Look at what those crazy artists are doing again!’ That becomes the public perception, not a serious plan of building value, respect and real opportunity for THE ARTIST to benefit from with longevity. Artists are not Not For Profits. We, like doctors, lawyers, real estate developers etc etc have the right to business as well as personal success. We don’t need to work for free nor do we have to continuously donate our time and dollar invested work whenever we are asked. We do not have to be the saviors of any town or neighborhood. Acting in your own best interest first is a grand lesson we all must learn. They need us if we choose to participate. You do not need them and I hope this rings loud and clear.
This might sound cynical. It is cynical. We have seen this play out over and over from SOHO,Chelsea to North Adams, Beacon to LA. In today’s reality every artist can do quite well apart from the centralized art world. We do not need to take on herculean tasks of saving communities and when we think we are someone has succeeded in convincing you that their enticement into whatever it might be was for your good when all along it was in their self interest alone. Dollars. That’s all it is about. For a town it is tax base increase and for developers it is restoring and increasing real estate values. Every success eventually blows up and we begin all over again somewhere else. Bottom line is if whatever you are choosing to do doesn’t materially benefit you now and over the long run reconsider it. When someone sells ‘this will be good for you’ run for the hills. It is the red flag of manipulation; and remember you are part of a multibillion dollar industry and the clichés of the past are obsolete and they need you more than you need them.
After some time away from the blog, while renovating a house and dealing with life in general; add in a laptop crash with all of my passwords to the previous blog and other assorted things, I have recreated and rebuilt the blog and I view as a new beginning of sorts. The world continues to evolve at breakneck speed with events that could crush the toughest among us. I see an election scenario that at times makes me feel like I have been left in an old Looney Toon cartoon on both sides. The temptation is to focus the commentary to these issues within a global and art context but I will trust that each of us absorbs these world events in our own way and that it eventually takes its place within our own psyche.
I find myself asking ‘where am I?; meaning in the continuum of my development where exactly AM ‘I’? Creatively, once we begin this journey, we are pulled [sometimes dragged] down a road of opportunity as well as challenge. I think each of us looking back can find things we are much better at now than we were a year ago. I also know that we can also identify things that we still fall short of and wish we were closer to. Mastery in any arena comes in small increments, almost unnoticeable. In a time of trauma, distraction and information overload, ‘focus’ itself on what matters to us can be a challenge. There is much that we cannot control in the world and even in our lives sometimes but instilling a personal ‘practice’ is within our capacity and is ultimately our power in the world.
In light of the magnitude of serious events in the world surrounding us, the seeming triviality of our focusing on resolving our identified artistic weaknesses and committing to our stream of creative force, is an opportunity to send flickers of vibration into the world that becomes a statement opposed to destruction in all forms. The trivial becomes epic. Your personal studio time becomes a powerful force inadvertently. Defining for ourselves what areas we know we need to improve is very important and meaningful. Maybe for a visual artist you could never draw hands so hands become your focus. For a musician maybe you are frustrated at not being able to hit that fast run of notes. For writers possibly you feel you need to be more connected to your stories and use of words, but each example focuses on mastery. This is the slow road to getting better, the noblest of activities in my view. Crafting a deliberate practice for yourself.
Looking back a year from now we all want to say, ‘my development and commitment to excellence has made me and the world a better place despite the attempts of others to negate the best of who we are individually as well as universally.’ ‘Where am I?’ Something I think is worth taking a look at for all of us along our creative and life paths.