I’ve never understood the appeal of Live Painting events, I mean from the artist’s perspective anyways… There is this performative aspect to it that just doesn’t sit well with me. My studio practice is personal and I protect it. If you happen to ever see me working on my art, it is because I invited you in. Live Painting events? No thank you. I am not a performing monkey… I will work at no one’s leisure but my own.
There is the quote by I do not remember whom... "The most personal is the most universal." The things we wish we could share with others close to us, the stuff that tends to scare people away, when expressed in a slower "media" that people can approach in their own time, without the "burden" of necessitating a response, this is the stuff that resonates. A stranger can look into an artwork of a stranger more comfortably, perhaps, because without a relationship to the artist, the artwork can only function in one direction: as a mirror. True art comes from a lonely place.
It is too easy to become jaded, numb, cynical, and mean. The world gives us ample opportunity, for damn sure. Nights full of tears, years of continued disappointments. And even when you taste success, love, friendship . . . nothing lasts forever. Sometimes you want to scream into the night, shake the stars for all they promised you. That is alright. But then when the morning comes, that is when the real struggle begins. You cannot give up hope, you cannot succumb to the easy temptation to become jaded, numb, cynical, and mean. I make dark cynical art sometimes, and that is fine for its honesty and catharsis - it serves a purpose, screaming into the night - but the best art might still be the triumphant art, the art that seeks the light of the Sun and the Moon and attempts to make peace with the stars, the art that explores and transcends the human condition, the beauty of being human. It is a worthy pursuit, anyways.
I am weary of the trap many seem to succumb to, that is fetishizing one's suffering, romanticizing it as an integral part of artistic production. Of course many in the art world today mock this notion to the point of denying that there is a connection between mental anguish and art at all - but there is sad documented truth in the cliché, that creative types do disproportionately suffer more mental health issues than those in the general population. But to attribute suffering as the root cause for art production, or the greatness of a work of art, even, is a fallacy I no longer support. I once accepted this idea, and it helped me get up in the morning and paint, but it got me nowhere and brought no peace. It is possible to heal, to seek help, and still be a great artist. The source of great art is the artist, not the suffering.
So I've come across this article in the Los Angeles Times reporting on how the citizens of a Los Angeles neighborhood are protesting the influx of artists for fear of gentrification.
Interesting: Gentrification and the idea of the artist as an outsider, a plague of locusts moving from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing, devouring the landscape until it is unrecognizable, but then forced to move on to other pastures, no longer able to "afford" the consequences. It’s a shame that art and artists are blamed for this. The connection definitely there, but it is more of a chicken vs egg scenario, only with more variables - tough to unravel. I may be biased, of course, but maybe chalk it up to yet one more instance of people distrusting and being wary of art and artists... I worry about Atlanta's rapid growth. We've seen how the Beltline went back on its promise of making sure affordable housing was kept in place. The Memorial Drive corridor might be the next battleground. I really want to learn more about this, and see if I can help in my own humble way. Lots to consider: race, class, etc. We need smart growth instead of just growth. We all deserve nice things! Of course there are those who simply want things to stay the way they already are . . . but if smart growth is hard, keeping things the way they are, that is impossible.
Although I haven’t posted in this blog very much lately, it hasn’t been for a lack of want. I am always thinking and writing on art. Here are some fractured thoughts from my notebook and various Facebook postings…
1. On attending Flux night in Atlanta: So, I enjoyed going to Flux night yesterday. I enjoyed the Fast Food Mascot Fight, the Disarm sound work made of old weapons, the Spelman College Choir, and the large drawing of Civil Rights Activists. I was a bit disappointed by Yoko Ono's work. Too frequently she relies on the good intentions of others to complete her work. I love and respect her idealism, but sometimes it comes across as hopelessly naive. I saw this in the way many people were butchering the spirit of her work by smearing the ink and drawing inappropriate things on it. I respect her never failing optimistic take on life - but it is a place I cannot go to and settle in for any length of time. But Yoko Ono is a sacred cow in the art world - and I doubt anyone would criticize her art in print. And maybe I'm fine with that. Although I cannot make an art that is so blindly optimistic, I am glad someone is. We definitely need more of that.
2. I think I make more interesting work than great work, and by great I mean sublime and profound. I want to make more great work. More often I make an art for the now, though sometimes I want to make an art for a forever.
3. Last night I wanted to be wild. I knew I wanted to be wild. No one would join me so I went out alone. It paid off. I had a drunken epiphany as to why my current painting isn’t working. I can’t wait to work in a bit. Didn’t Hemingway once say, “Compose drunk, but edit sober?”
4. In response to the stabbing at the recent Art Basel Miami: Hello art world, please think about this sentence pulled from the attached article: Some patrons thought the stabbing was a performance art presentation. Others believed the police tape cordoning off an area of the convention center was part of an art installation. ------ this statement speaks to - 1. the current over conflation of art and life in contemporary art - and 2. a kind of jaded attitude where nothing is genuine or sincere and everything is suspect or a performance or a facade of some kind.... time to wake up my friends, and learn some sincerity, some trust, some wonder, some belief . . . some empathy.
5. I am king of the night! Now, if I can only master the day. Good night everyone!
6. So, this is 40: a good a time as any to take stock of one’s life, I guess. For those of you who know me well, you must know that my life so far has been . . . challenging. But despite these challenges, I have zero regrets. I’ve always done what compels my heart, I’ve always done what needed to be done, and I’ve always tried to do the right thing. Perhaps it is because of these things that my life has been so full of challenges. I can honestly say without any exaggeration that I would not be here without you, my fantastic friends and family, who have given me support during the many, many, and many less than ideal times in my life. . . But the lesson here is not how many bad times there have been, but how many times you all have come to help me out! And remembering these times, these are sweet, rich memories! I will never forget this, and I am eternally grateful to you all! Thank you!
7. I recently sold an old favorite of mine to a good friend and collector. The work? Ahab (1998). Obviously it is referencing Moby Dick, one of my favorite books. Looking at this painting I remember a line from a poem popular with 19th century American whalers... "Death to the living, long life to the killers." How metal is that! This painting used to hang in my parent's house where it would scare the neighbor's kids. I picked it up tonight and am giving this old friend a good bye. It will be in good company with two other Moby Dick themed paintings.
8. I use a lot humor in my work and it pleases me to make people laugh, but I also want to make art to move people spiritually with beauty, and also to challenge people to think. Art is such a strange thing. There are still other reasons why I make art, and some more altruistic than others. Selfishly, I use art as a catharsis to help with assimilating pain, but also to confront my shadow side, the potential madman, killer, chauvinist, dictator in me. I often manifest my darker self in my art so that it doesn’t manifest itself as much in my life. I know that I can never be perfect. It is silly to try. But if I confront the darker aspects of myself and acknowledge it in my art, I can at least attempt to be whole.
9. I’ve been working a lot on some older works lately, the earliest dating back to 1999. I honestly thought this might be harder than it is. I thought that I wouldn’t be able to do this out of sense of respect or sacredness to a moment long past. I am finding destruction can be just as integral to the process of making art as creation. I feel as though I am taking some great risks here.
10. Work on the dictator series continues, but I am already planning ahead for a future body of work, strangely enough on Art and Art Making. I am pretty excited about this. Of course there are other sketches for works that don’t quite fit into this plan – I hope I can find time to actualize a few of them. And then there is the backlog of over 100 topics I’d like to write about for this blog, reworking my book, etc… Time is a bastard-bitch.
"We must go forth and oscillate." from the Metamodernist Manifesto.
It is always best to be true to yourself, to follow the beat of your own drum. But it can be a lonely path, sometimes, hence my search to find world views and philosophies similar to my own. It is good to have a sense of community, to maybe have a sense of belonging to something greater than yourself. And when you have ambitions to Change the World, it is also good to have a team for validation and mutual support.
I've looked into Altermodernism and Hypermodernism as Postmodern replacements. They are too close to Postmodernism. Neomodernism and Remodernism (while attractive) might be too obsessed with the past and nostalgia... (The Stuckists embrace being "stuck."), even to the point of rejecting all abstract art.
Just recently I came across an article in Hyperallergic which proposed yet another replacement for Postmodernism. It is called Metamodernism...
The article quotes liberally from Timotheus Vermeulen's and Robin van den Akker's essay, Notes on Metamodernism, that was originally published in the Journal of Aesthetics and Culture in 2010. The essay describes Metamodernism in terms of a generational shift:
Indeed, if, simplistically put, the modern outlook vis-à-vis idealism and ideals could be characterized as fanatic and/or naive, and the postmodern mindset as apathetic and/or skeptic, the current generation’s attitude — for it is, and very much so, an attitude tied to a generation —can be conceived of as a kind of informed naivety, a pragmatic idealism.
The metamodern, therefore, “oscillates between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy, between naïveté and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity.”
The Hyperallergic article goes on to say that, "We are too far removed from the early 20th century’s wars and revolutions to believe that art can truly be an agent of change, but we also recognize that it must be something more than hollow commentary. To paraphrase one of the essay’s subtitles, the metamodern is art after the death of art."
For years I've been disgusted by the ideas presented by Postmodernism (though my art aesthetics may reflect it at times). I've always preferred to champion my Modernist heroes, who believed (perhaps naively) that Art Can Change The World. And I want to believe this, too! To me, the Postmodernists were/are cynical/jaded/apolitical artists reflecting the Aesthetics of Surrender, embracing the Nihilist position that nothing matters, that everything is meaningless. I can not stand by this. It is hard to believe that there is a meaning to it all, that Art Matters, but I try to hold on to this belief.
The Modernists were Fanatic Hot-Blooded Creatures of Revolution. I, too, am a Fanatic Hot-Blooded Creature of Revolution. Still, I understand melancholy, disappointment, doubt, and skepticism. I understand the concept of Weltschmerz (world pain). I just can not wallow in it... I go there, but I refuse to stay there.... I always fight my way out of it. Like the X-Files poster says, "I Want to Believe," but I also want to do so with sense of caution, with pragmatism.
Am I alone in this? Who else is with me? I look forward to reading Timotheus Vermeulen's and Robin van den Akker's essay, Notes on Metamodernism and to investigating this new rabbit hole a bit further.
"We must go forth and oscillate." Finally, an art movement that embraces my bi-polar tendencies.
There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die. Hunter S. Thompson, from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
This weekend I was featured by Roger Krava Art at the famous Slotin Folk Fest here in Atlanta. It was an honor to be shown. This occasion, however, has got me to thinking about my place in the art world.
I've always been interested in Folk aka Outsider aka Naive Art. I first came across the concept way back, probably in 1995, when someone told me my work looked Naive. I was at first a bit insulted, until she clarified to me exactly what she meant. As the word "naive" still connotes ignorance and "folk" as something a bit simple, plain, or rooted in tradition, I generally prefer to use the term Outsider Art, but it is pretty much the same thing and the words are interchangeable when used to describe a particular approach toward art making. Some of it is good, some of it is bad, but all of it exhibits the artist's heart, their individual quirkiness and such. To me this is a much better thing than the crisp, cold, overly intellectual investigations that much of contemporary art favors these days.
When I was in grad school everyone knew that I came in heavily influenced by Outsider Art. A professor warned me that after grad school, I could no longer call myself an Outsider artist. During the last months before graduation I made a piece in secret which I planned to reveal as part of my thesis show. It was not an overt act of rebellion, just what I thought might be a pleasant surprise. Upon seeing it, another professor told me, "I thought we beat the Outsider artist out of you!" It was the assemblage entitled Appalachia Girl (2008).
Readers of my blog may be aware of my stance on a lot of the cold and conceptual art investigations that dominate contemporary art, "sophisticated" art that champions the idea over process, sometimes sacrificing any sense of beauty or aesthetic sense. I would prefer a balance, a balance of concept (mind), aesthetics and beauty (body), and spirit (heart, soul, personality). I may not always create art that lives up to this standard, but I think it is a worthy aspiration. Perhaps my critical stance on art then, makes me (despite my education) an Outsider Artist? I don't know. Maybe. At the same time, however, it seems most Outsider Art is done from a joyful place, a place I do not visit too often. I am too critical of things, rarely satisfied . . .
I've tried here to consider what it is that distinguishes an Outsider artist from an "Insider" artist. What I haven't considered is my MFA degree. To some that would be the nail in the coffin that would keep me as being an Outsider artist. Strange. A piece of paper.
But here I am . . .
Too critical for Outsider Art, yet too "outsider" for contemporary "Insider" Art . . . I wonder where I fit in exactly?
Perhaps I am one of those rare Neo-Expressionists I keep hearing about: dinosaurs, lumbering about in the contemporary art world, left over from the early 1980's. I hear they may be going extinct. I hope not. But if that were the case, then at least I would be an interesting study. Maybe people should write books about me.
The Last Beast in the Sky.
Maybe the next book in my life should be called Phoenix Rising, or better yet: Fire Chicken!
How appropriate then, that all the good things that are happening in my life of late are taking place in Atlanta, whose motto is Resurgens and whose symbol is the Phoenix.
This story should have a much happier ending.
In the art world, as in any world, it takes money to make money. Materials, time, travel, promotion, all of this takes money. The cold fact remains: there are not too many successful artists who come from a poor and humble background. I would love to have the time and money (often there is an application fee) to apply to all of the things that would get my art seen . . . I would love to properly promote my work. But when you are concerned that the $20 app fee will take away from your rent, the rent wins.
CAA (College Arts Association) cold called me today asking if I would renew my membership with them. CAA is an association whose main purpose is to provide a professional community for college art professors on a national level. If you want to get a good job teaching at a University, it will behoove you to be a CAA member. It also helps if you can afford to go to their annual meeting, which is usually held in New York or Los Angeles. Once you are there, I suspect there must be a lot of cool and informative lectures and such, but there must also be a good amount of playing the politician, shaking babies, kissing hands (and asses), etc.
I told the CAA rep that I would like very much to renew my membership and go their annual meeting, but that I had to worry more about how I will be getting the gas to go across town than the plane ticket to New York. Although I was polite, the CAA rep cut the conversation short. Usually when people want money from me (alumni associations and such), they will try a little bit harder: "perhaps you can donate only $5 today?" I wonder, should I be relieved or insulted by our short conversation? I am on their level, professionally (the same degree, the same knowledge), but my lack of resources often prevents me from catching a break . . . and from being taken seriously. These are my peers. I am equal to them in my knowledge and ability in my chosen field. But it is as if the CAA is some exclusive club to me, with a secret handshake, a ring, and code-words.
In other news, I received an email telling me that my application to teach at Atlanta Metropolitan College has been rejected. I can not help but feel that money could have potentially given me better connections, CAA connections, and if I had connections, maybe my application would not have been so quickly dismissed. At least Atlanta Metropolitan College sent me an email. Most of the time it seems you are not even given that courtesy.
Illegitimi Non Carborundum - Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down.
Per Aspera Ad Astra - Through Difficulty to the Stars.
When I was a younger artist, some 20 or so years ago, I use to dream more. By dream I mean both literally and figuratively. I used to dream of accomplishing great things during the day (I had wild ambitions!), and at night I would dream of visiting unusual places and "catching tigers in red weather." Sometimes these dreams were terrifying. These were Shamanic Initiation dreams. These dreams fueled my art, which is why a lot of my earliest art can sometimes seem a bit dark and otherworldly.
I don't dream anymore. Really, I don't. At night I close my eyes, black out, and then I wake up in the morning. I'm almost embarrassed to admit it: an artist who doesn't dream. It seems I have to fight more these days. These days I feel as if have been backed into a corner by society, by my difficult life. I don't have time to dream anymore. I've become a brute animal, a crocodile caught in a net. All I do is constantly fight, constantly fighting not to get ahead, but just to stand my ground and not let the world run over me. And my art reflects all this fighting. It comes out as being clever, critical, satirical, humorous, black, ugly, perhaps challenging, maybe even sharp and dangerous - but there is less discovery, and it feels less inspired, less transcendent. Fighting, dreaming - both have a great tradition in art, but I confess, I do miss the dreaming.
I wonder, am I on the right path? Have I lost my way? Can I go back? Is it too late?
As long as I am forced to fight, however, and for table scraps, I fear I will have to continue on this path. Art is a responsibility to me. I am on a mission. What kind of art does the world need? Beauty or a satirical message? But I am also concerned about my own welfare. What kind of art is best for the expression of my soul? The authenticity of my anger or a sweet song of peace?
How I long for peace.
"The problem isn't aesthetic standards, it is standard aesthetics."
I've heard this argued before, and I can support this, but I also think it is worth mentioning that another problem is the complete disregard of aesthetics all together. Aesthetics is the language of visual art, and without its use, there will, more often than not, be a failure to communicate. Art can do many things and it serves many purposes, both good and bad. But if there is one unifying prime directive, I think it can safely be summed up as a need to communicate. Without aesthetics, the communication too often fails or falls flat. Much of conceptual art, it seems to me, disregards the importance of aesthetics, and this is why many a lay person, and even art aficionados, will walk away in disgust. No one likes to feel stupid in front of an artwork that they just don't get. And most of the time it is not the spectator who is stupid, but the artist, because they have failed to properly communicate. Aesthetics draws people into an artwork, bewilderment turns people away. It is good to have a kick ass critical, smart idea, but it is also good to instill a sense of curiosity and wonder. And if you manage to combine these two things, then you just might have something . . . great.
One of the advantages of working in an art supply store is that I get to know my art materials intimately, even the stuff that I don't ordinarily work with. I don't normally write about art materials here in this blog, but today I want to share some of my knowledge on paintbrushes. In the past I really abused my brushes. I'd jam them into my canvas or panel like a knife into the gut of my adversary, I'd let the paint dry on them or let them soak over night in paint thinner until the bristles would be eaten away. Now that I take better care of my brushes and respect my materials a bit, I've gotten to know a little more about what kind of brush to use in a particular situation.
Brush Sizes and Shapes:
Concerning brush sizes: Shorter handles are best for when you are working close up and if you are working with a table top easel. Long handle brushes are best for when you are working standing up. I prefer to paint standing up. I enjoy the dynamic, physical energy I feel when I work in front of a tall easel. As far as the size of the brush fibers, that is pretty much common sense. Larger brushes are best for working with larger canvases and smaller brushes are best with smaller canvases.
There are a lot of brush shapes, but I primarily use only three brush types: flats, rounds, and filberts.
Flats: flats are great for covering a large area fast. The longer the bristles, the more paint it can hold, which means the stroke can be longer before having to go back to the palette. The wider the brush, the more ground you can cover, meaning less work. A large flat is essential. Flats are great for background work.
Rounds: rounds are tube shaped brushes which taper to a point. They are great for line work and the smallest of the rounds are useful for when details need to be picked out. Since I am a more linear artist, in that I love working with the line, rounds are essential to me.
Filberts: as I understand it, filberts were invented for Impressionist artists, probably after some guy named Filbert. Impressionists liked the brush as their technique allowed for loose handling of the paint, and a more improvisational look over a smooth and refined surface. A good filbert brush is really a flattened round brush, a hybrid between the flat and the round. Flats have a squared tip while filberts have tapered off edges. This makes for a more organic looking stroke. Sometimes I will use a filbert when I want a fatter line than my rounds can produce.
Natural vs Synthetic Brushes:
Knowing what kind of paintbrush to use, synthetic or natural, is also important to know. These days I mostly use synthetic brushes, which is fine, as in recent years I've painted in acrylics more than oil paints. I shudder at the thought of using sable and other fine brushes, not only for their cost, but also for animal cruelty issues. I don't have too much a problem with hog's bristle brushes (which are best used with oil paints) as they are a byproduct of food consumption. Sable, however, is a different story. I realize you have to accept a certain amount of hypocrisy in life just to survive, but you also have to draw a line sometimes, however arbitrarily.
Made from nylon, polyester, a blend of nylon and polyester, and “sponge.”)
1. Better to use with water based paints. Natural bristle brushes absorb water from the paint, which can then swell up and lose their shape.
2. More durable than natural bristle. Best to use synthetic on a rough surface.
3. Easier to clean than natural brushes (brush fibers lack scales).
4. Some synthetic brushes, notably those made with nylon, can soften, melt and dissolve if used with shellac, lacquer, contact cement, or paint remover. Polyester brushes would be recommended for use with these materials.
Natural Hair Brushes:
Made from hog’s hair bristle, badger, ox, sable, kervin/mongoose, squirrel, goat, pony, and “camel” (which is really a combination of goat, pony, ox – the more robust hairs).
1. Best used for oil painting.
2. A good quality natural hair brush will provide a smoother finish, desirable for use when varnishing.
3. Has flagging on the tips (split ends) – resulting in the brush being able to move more paint and providing a smoother finish, meaning less brush strokes. Note: Princeton's line of Catalyst Brushes are synthetic and have flagged tips (a first!).
4. Softer brushes (sable, kervin/mongoose, squirrel) are ideal for thin paint which spreads more easily and for detailed work as the brush will form a sharper tip.
5. Robust, hard brushes are ideal for pushing around thick paint and for creating brush marks in the paint.
I admit, I can be a bit thorny concerning my art, but for good reason. And for all my life's difficulties, I can honestly say that because I've never compromised, I have absolutely no regrets to speak of.
Lately I have been asked quite a bit about compromising my art. I can not compromise. Today I saw an artist with a commissioned piece, completed for the owner of the PetSmart company. It was an airbrushed piece on canvas of the PetSmart owner's fancy vintage car in front of a picturesque theater with a marquee that read, “It's a Wonderful Life.” Total Hollywood glam. Perhaps it is a “Wonderful Life” for the PetSmart owner, but if a “Wonderful Life” is defined by how many fancy vintage cars you can own and have portraits of, this is beyond many people's reach. The artwork, while high quality and technically proficient, was a failure in my estimation. It may have successfully stoked the ego of the PetSmart owner, but it has no real application beyond that. When it comes to my art, I have no interest in giving people what they want. People already get too much of what they want. My concern in my art is for providing the world with what it needs. Granted, sometimes the two overlap, but often times it does not.
Of course it would be nice for me to make a living from my art, but not ever at the cost of my integrity or my soul. Some have suggested to me that I should hide away my more provocative works from potential buyers who may be too sensitive to appreciate what I am trying to do . . . as if my work is something to be embarrassed about. If someone is embarrassed by my work, that speaks more to their state of mind, their Puritan prejudices, than to my perceived depravity. In this case, art is an illustration, not an act. Drawing a crime is one thing. Committing a crime is another. There is a profound difference. And besides, many of the things that I illustrate that may be considered a crime by the morality police, I argue in the contrary anyways. I have nothing to be ashamed of. I refuse to be made to feel embarrassed by my own work. Perhaps they should spend more time looking at my work and learn . . . what I offer is nothing to be embarrassed about.
But the world's needs are one thing; I also have my own needs, which are satisfied by making art. Art is a guilty pleasure sometimes. It can be a drug with withdrawal symptoms. It is something necessary for me. If I did not have art, live, breathe, think about art constantly, I suspect I would be an arsonist, a radical terrorist maybe. Everyone benefits, whether they know it or not, whether they like my art or not, by my art practice.
Recently I've read that the iconic mural at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Deborah Whitehouse's Spirit of Atlanta, is being deinstalled after nearly 20 years in residence, to be replaced by a Porsche advertisement. The mural was installed in 1996 to commemorate the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Though Spirit of Atlanta is not as cool as Leo Tanguma's ballsy murals at Denver International Airport (parts of which have also been deinstalled), I've always liked seeing this welcoming work of art as I headed up the escalator from the terminal trains below (well, everything except that diaper kid on the right; that kind of creeped me out).
Art to be replaced by an ad . . . no matter if you liked the mural or not, it certainly is better than yet another advertisement (visual pollution). Although art and advertisement share the same language, their motives are completely different things. Art aspires to truth. Ads, however, are no different than political propaganda, as they both have an ulterior agenda behind the facade. Since the 1960's (with Andy Warhol and Pop Art) and the advent of Postmodernism (with their expanded definition of what could be considered art) many have accepted advertisement as an art-form. I will proudly remain a stick-in-the-mud, however, and a misanthrope if I have to be, working outside of the cultural norms and in defiance of this trend. Nor will you find me a visitor to the High Museum of Art's Coco-Cola exhibit, either.
I can understand (but never agree with) how many people can be uncomfortable with Leo Tanguma's murals, In Peace and Harmony With Nature, and The Children of the World Dream of Peace; most people would choose ignorance and bliss over truth and consequence, but to favor an advertisement over art, as many have done in the comments section of the article I read, that I can not fathom. Take this gem from the comments section by a person identifying themselves as DrSocrates:
Finally the airport is making some sense. The airport is no place for artwork, museums, shopping malls, or fine dining. It is a place for travel. It could be a place for revenue-producing ads. There are many places for ads. Where the mural was, where you wait for the trains (think New York's subway), on the trains, at baggage claim. Whether these ads increase business for the sponsors doesn't matter. The airport should try to maximize its revenue generation so it can DECREASE taxes and fees. Period. End of argument.
What an obtuse ass. And it only gets uglier from there.
In case you were wondering about Leo Tanguma's murals at Denver International Airport, it seems they have become part of a conspiracy theory involving a secret underground base, the Illuminati, the New World Order, Neo-Nazis, and Subterranean Reptoid Aliens. I think we need more of this kind of art! You can learn more about it here:
Recently, in conversation with another artist, it was brought to my attention that I use a Postmodernist aesthetic in my artwork, most notably in my use of text in art, which did not really start to happen until the 1960's. I was, admittedly, taken aback, but I had to agree with the facts. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the Modernist and Postmodernist aesthetic. Postmodernism does not believe in originality; instead it champions pastiche and cultural sampling . . . and Postmodernism has actively mined Modernist art for inspiration. Using Post-modern pastiche techniques can make for interesting results, but I stand firm in my belief, the Modernist belief, that originality is possible. In this regard, and in many others, I mostly subscribe to the Modernist philosophy. But I wonder, am I making a mistake?
Often, I am too much of a dinosaur, philosophically, to be accepted by Postmodernists, but too Postmodern in my aesthetic to be accepted by certain Re-modernists. Just like many other aspects of my life, I find myself without a home, left roaming the swamps like a monster on the outskirts of civilization. In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, we learn that Dr. Victor Frankenstein created his monster by merging the rational Enlightenment science of his day with the ancient, more mystical based science of the alchemists Cornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, and others. His creation was deemed to be a monster and he was doomed to live a life of lonely exile, unloved by all. But Dr. Victor Frankenstein's monster (abandoned at birth, he was never given a name) was not born a monster, he was made out to be a monster the society that shunned him. The monster tried hard to be accepted by others, but after repeated rebuttals, ended up embracing his role as a scourge to mankind. I wonder, is this to be the fate of my work? When I attempt to make an artwork combining Modernist philosophy with Postmodern aesthetics, am I producing monsters? Because I love my work, what I do, does this make me a monster, too? Am I doomed to be forever an outcast? While I might revel in the thought of making monstrous artwork that might become a holy terror among the polite circles of the bourgeois and intelligentsia, I do not revel in the lonely existence it has thus far given me.
“Artists are fiery, they do not weep!” - Ludwig van Beethoven
"What is to give light must endure burning" — Viktor E. Frankl
Life can be hard for artists, especially artists with an uncompromising vision. But just remember who you are. You are a force of nature, an artist! Unlike others, you had the strength, the balls to pursue your artistic vision, irregardless of what other people think. Many people wish they had your life, but they were cowards, and they followed other pursuits. You dared to live, dared to fail! Remember the poem “Self-Pity” by D.H. Lawrence:
I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.
You are that wild thing. You are that rare bird who delights in singing songs in the dead of winter. Keep making art, no matter what happens. Art is your weapon against death in life. Always remember why you make art. As Nietzsche says, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Finally, take comfort in Charles Bukowski's poem, “The Laughing Heart”:
your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
Now get up, and get back to making more art!
A plant's STEM is easily crushed and broken. (STEM: the educational curriculum based on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math that is now all the rage). But now let us add Arts to it. What do you get? You get STEAM. STEAM is powerful stuff. Trains used to run on that shit (and nuclear power plants still do)!
“Picturing things, taking a view, is what makes us human; art is making sense and giving shape to that sense. It is like the religious search for God.” - Gerhard Richter.
“Art is not a substitute religion: it is a religion (in the true sense of the word: 'binding back', 'binding' to the unknowable, transcending reason, transcendent being). But the church is no longer adequate as a means of affording experience of the transcendental, and of making religion real – and so art has been transformed from a means into the sole provider of religion: which means religion itself.” - Gerhard Richter.
For most of my life I can honestly say that I have experienced more bad than good. My life has been marked by suffering in such a way that if I am ever fortunate to finally meet with some success, I fear I may never be able to enjoy it. Often times it seems to me that my life ledger is grossly out of balance. In such circumstances, how does one carry on? Who do we hold accountable for disastrous fate? Even Van Gogh threw in the towel eventually and clocked out of this mortal coil. I think I carry on out of some kind of animalistic urge, akin to what Schopenhauer describes as “The Will.” It is a stubborn kind of thing, and it has prevented me from doing harm to myself in my weaker moments. At times like this, when I am at my worst, when it feels as if all my inner being is on fire and stuck in a perpetual, howling scream, I suddenly I remember why I believe in God. Only someone with total omnipotence and omnipresence would have the dedicated time and strength to commit to making my entire life one living Hell. This is why I say, believe in God, but do not trust.
“...Sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human condition.” - Graham Greene.
“Art is the highest form of hope.” - Gerhard Richter.
But there is another reason why I believe in God. I trace it back to my youth and the old romantic in me. It is buried deep, and sometimes I have to dig for it, but I know that a more benevolent God can be found in Nature and in Art. Perhaps the blame for my sufferings can be placed, as Saint Augustine suggests, squarely in the hands of mankind. Perhaps the blame for my sufferings can be placed on the electric chemistry of my brain. John Milton tells us in Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..” This is true, to an extent, but this does not account for the undeniable amount of bad fortune that has has been my lot, only my reception of it. I have many questions about life, suffering, and the fate of mankind. Reading, writing, making art are my attempts at trying to find answers to these questions, though I confess I have, for the most part, come up empty handed. Many of my questions remain unanswered. At least the process is cathartic, and has, at times, given me peace. Perhaps the process of making art is God's mercy. Perhaps God is trying to redeem us through Art.
“Now there are no priests or philosophers left, artists are the most important people in the world.” Gerhard Richter.
Considering some of Richter's other comments on the connection between religion and art, namely that art is a religion, I think it might be safe to say that in the quote above, Richter is suggesting that artists could, and perhaps should, take on the role of both priest and philosopher. In the West at least, I feel that there has been a growing doubt in the power of organized religion to solve our modern woes, and a growing doubt that an omnipotent, omnipresent, and benevolent God may exist at all. If these people are like myself, they may have questions that they would like answered, or at least would like the solace that can only be found in beauty. Artists, then, can take up the role left behind by priests and philosophers. I think this might be a noble calling, maybe even more noble than using art as a political prop, but certainly more noble than using art as an entertainment tool, or an advertisement for a product.
“A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke” Vincent van Gogh
Sometimes being an artist can be quite lonely. There are the hours spent alone in the studio working. Working, because you love it and because you feel compelled to do it, true, but this work also comes with the sacrifice of not spending time with family and friends. A true friend will stick by you, but fair weather friends will forget about you after a while. There is also the whole being misunderstood thing (cliché as it might sound, it is still a hard fact that can lead to feelings of isolation from society). If the conditions are right, inevitably loneliness will set in, and if you are particularly susceptible to darker moods, such as Van Gogh, or myself even, depression might take hold.
Being misunderstood and marginalized by society is the worse of the two. It can lead to ugliness and bitter feelings. Consider Van Gogh's words, though:
What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.
How did he do it? How did he not fall into bitterness and avoid misanthropy? Many people, including myself, would be tempted to boycott beauty, to purposefully make a bad art, but not Van Gogh. Instead, Van Gogh redoubled his efforts into producing beautiful art. How unimaginable that is to me. Van Gogh had the remarkable patience of a Saint!
I've read Melville's Moby Dick more times than any other book in my life. It has had a huge impact on my art, and on other artist's work as well. Robert Motherwell championed it, as did Jackson Pollock. Laurie Anderson called it “the Expressionist's Bible.” In Moby Dick, Melville, who was himself no stranger to darker moods, writes the following:
There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.
“Beautiful works survive sans virtue. Virtuous works sans beauty do not.” Dave Hickey - The Invisible Dragon.
Contemporary art practice has come to accept art created with an expiration date – art not meant to last forever – especially when it addresses philosophical inquiries such as the nature of mutability and time. Though I've come to respect those who make art which purposefully investigates ideas of temporality, I'm not quite prepared for that in my own practice. I'd rather my art live forever, if possible. I do not have kids. My artworks are my children, my legacy. But what about the art that is more timely than timeless? What about the art that addresses more contemporary concerns? I agree with Hickey in that when an artwork that has outlived its political usefulness, when an artwork's message is no longer relevant, if the art isn't beautiful, if it doesn't make use of aesthetics – that artwork will have a shelf-life; it will slowly fade from memory. Beauty keeps a work alive once it's political impact is blunted.
If I am going to sacrifice aesthetics in my art in the name of serving some political agenda or some other “virtuous” cause, I've got to be damn sure that the cause is worth the sacrifice. I have yet to find that cause. And besides, it has yet to be proven by anyone that a “virtuous” art is made more effective by jettisoning aesthetics. I fact, I firmly believe the opposite – that art is more effective, its message better communicated, when it uses aesthetics. I see no clear reason to abandon beauty. Artists who criticize the use of aesthetics and beauty in art may even be doing so in order to cover for their own lack of talent. It is the barbarian's argument – the whole “I can not read, therefore all books should be burned” argument.
In the end, though, my pondering on the merits and flaws of whether a “virtuous” art is made more effective with or without the use of beauty is inconsequential, considering that so much of contemporary art, especially the art without beauty, is often sarcastic, nihilist, and generally without “virtue.” Perhaps it is fitting that such art is temporary and fated to be forgotten.
Politics are timely, but temporary. Beauty is timeless and eternal.
I recently read a couple of interesting articles in the Remodernist Review and on Salon on the use of irony in the art world, and I felt compelled to share with you some of my thoughts as well. In the Remodernist Review, Richard Bledsoe quotes a line from Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Land That Time Forgot: “I don't like irony. . . it indicates a small soul.” I have to agree with this sentiment. Irony is born out of pessimism. It is something I can understand very well. I have frequent bouts of pessimism in my life, and irony sometimes rears it's ugly head in my art-making. But I believe it is something we should try to transcend. We can do better than this.
In Bledsoe's article, he writes, “To embrace irony is to strike a pose of groundless superiority, to think social status is demonstrated by a jaded attitude.” Bledsoe continues:
Irony is the philosophy of sour grapes. Those who feel incapable of producing something with skill, meaning and significance like to act like they don’t want those achievements manifested in their works. But even worse, and more treacherous, to preserve their facade they must suppress and undermine the works of others who are striving towards some higher purpose or accomplishment. Sophisticated poseurs can tolerate no reminder of their own shortcomings. Irony is a form of passive-aggressive envy. . .
Those are harsh accusations, but accusations that just might float. It is true that a lot of bad contemporary art is justified by impenetrable theory and text, theory and text that is ironic and pessimistic in nature. It just might be that the use of irony might be more than a crutch, but a purposeful obfuscation of the weakness of their argument and art.
Irony, along with sarcasm, has infected our culture. Not only is too readily apparent in contemporary art, it has also manifested itself in the way we interact with other people. Going through the personals on dating websites (yes, ladies, I'm single) I frequently come upon a variation of the addendum “must like sarcasm.” I see it so often that it has become a turn off. To me, “must like sarcasm” is code for “I am so smart, so much smarter than you, that I can allow myself to be insulting and smug about it.” Sarcasm is a form of detached, jaded insincerity. It bespeaks a lack of curiosity, a closed mind, an unwillingness to learn, and a shallow personality. Perhaps in small doses, it is OK, we all go there sometimes, but as a personality trait, I'm not interested. Although contemporary art is filled with irony and sarcasm, I don't blame art for our culture's smug opinion of itself (today's art world is as insular and elitist as ever – not much of an influence on our cultural zeitgeist), instead I think the blame can safely be placed on the pop culture medium of television. I also think that contemporary art, which draws from pop culture trends as much as it does from pessimistic critical theory, has followed suit. The critical detachment of watching a train wreck and ironically discussing its aesthetic merits and flaws or political implications is not the environment with which I want to produce art work. Remember the last two episodes of Seinfeld where the gang are jailed after watching, recording, and laughing as a man is carjacked at gunpoint in front of them? It is a damning criticism of where I think our culture is now, the whole better you than me attitude. Everyone laughs, and nobody stops to help.
Don't get me wrong - I'm no saint. Sometimes I, too, can be jaded, smug, etc., but I always try to treat others with sincerity and respect. I think my use of sarcasm and irony can be traced to my sometimes excessive sense of pride. Pride is perhaps the strongest of my faults (that, and Anger – which often stems from my impatience and disappointment at seeing the world fail to live up to my ideals and expectations). I try to keep my faults in check whenever they appear, and while I am more successful at keeping Pride in check, Anger, being more of an emotion than an attitude, is sometimes harder to control. Humility is the key . . . recognizing that there have been, are presently, and will be people more talented and intelligent than you is but one step on the path toward achieving the peace that comes with wisdom. But this is hard in the Ego driven world, where success is often measured proportionately with how much Ego you have, and how much you brag about yourself. I have no time for Egotism in my life. There is always so much more to work on, to make better, and to learn.
One of the reasons Postmodern and contemporary art critics give as to why sincerity and passion is bad for art and the world is addressed in Matt Ashby's and Brendan Carroll's article in Salon. In it they write:
Skeptics reject sincerity because they worry blind belief can lead to such evils as the Ku Klux Klan and Nazism. They think strong conviction implies vulnerability to emotional rhetoric and lack of critical awareness. But the goal of great art is the same whether one approaches it seriously or dubiously. To make something new, to transcend, one must have an honest relationship with what is: history, context, form, tradition, oneself.
Today the critical default is skepticism and pessimism. Skepticism and pessimism in critical theory was partially born out of the use of art and aesthetics to inspire blind devotion in Nazi Germany. Pessimistic critical theory gained further appeal with the failure of art to spark a world wide revolution in 1968. But I believe with all my heart that we can not just lay there at the bottom of the hill, licking our wounds, laughing as others also fall down. If optimism isn't your thing, then call it something else, like Schopenhauer's animalistic “Will” to carry on. The only thing that matters is that we've got to get up and try again! It is OK to aspire to great things and to stand up for your ideals. Somebody's got to be the hero, and if its not going to be you, if you are not going to even try, then I may as well have a crack at it. I know the odds are stacked against me, and that I may very well fail, but I know that I will at least be the better human being for having been brave enough to try.
In the Salon article, Ashby and Carroll ask some important questions:
So, to be more nuanced about what’s at stake: In the present moment, where does art rise above ironic ridicule and aspire to greatness, in terms of challenging convention and elevating the human spirit? Where does art build on the best of human creation and also open possibilities for the future? What does inspired art-making look like?
One might be tempted to look toward the recent past, towards Modernism for examples of “inspired art,” but we don't have to. There are plenty of people working in contemporary art, exiles still working on the edges of the officially sanctioned art world institutions, waiting for their time to come. These artists, whether they are aware of it or not, are part of a growing art movement called Remodernism. Truly inspired artists, once scattered to the winds in the contemporary art wasteland, are now starting to find each other, banding together for strength in numbers, and they are starting to challenge the status quo and stir things up a bit. My hope is that the movement will continue to grow and gain momentum. Richard Bledsoe closes out his article in his blog Remodernist Review with the following:
It’s an exciting time to be an artist, and help the world move past the self-serving decadence the self-proclaimed elites cultivate. It’s time to call the bluffs, stand up to the bullying, and put the perpetrators to the test. Can their art survive outside the privileged cloisters they huddle in?
It is hard to know exactly what art and the world will be like in the future. We can only speculate based on current circumstances and past examples in art history. In art history we know that Modernism rescued art from the stale clutches of 19th century Academic art, and that there was a spiritual revival in art (Abstract Expressionism) following the comparatively more decadent period of art between the two world wars and the fascist aesthetics of the mid-1930's. Today it seems that there are a few loud voices of dissent operating on the margins of the art world, while a large group of hard-line Postmodernists remain burrowed in the skin of our art institutions like ticks, sucking in as much blood as they can before they die off. And they are dying off. By far the largest group of people in the art world are the ambivalents. They may go either way. While some may be flat out opportunists, I feel the vast majority of these people are truly getting tired of all the irony and sarcasm. They are just looking for something to believe in again. They want something better. The Postmodern parasites will, no doubt, promote successors who share a similar philosophical background. There is not much we can do about that. What we can do is make our voices loud and our message clear, and promote an attractive alternative agenda to replace what is currently being offered by our art institutions. Perhaps someday our ranks will grow large enough where we can properly challenge those who now hold power in the art world institutions. Perhaps someday it will not all be in vain.