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.
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.