Now that I have moved to the middle Atlantic, I am anxious to look into some places in this part of the country that might show my work: Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, etc. I was looking at a postcard the other day, the kind with an individual image from each of the artists represented by the gallery. I have been planning on approaching this gallery, because they are really the only one in this particular city showing art that is even slightly "edgy" or contemporary, and they often feature work made with non-traditional materials.
But looking at the artists that they represent en masse (all galleries should do this, as it really gives one a strong visual sense of what they are about at a glance), I suddenly realized that they would probably not be interested in my work, because none of the art on the postcard seemed to be "about" anything, or, more specifically, that none of the art seemed to be "about" anything IMPORTANT. I apologize for the lack of specific visual references, but I am already well on my way to alienating myself from any possible source of art world income in the future by impulse blogging, but if you get out to look at art with any regularity, I hope that you will recognize the genre I am referring to: the work seems to have no weight. What I see in front of me are several things that look like doodles from high school or middle school notebooks, some psychedelic nostalgia imagery, things made from unusual materials for the sake of novelty (not because the chosen medium informs or contradicts the content), at least one artist making something sparkling or glittery, and some regurgitation of Pop culture, with little or no transcendence.
I'm not talking about lack of drawing skill, because I love that kind of rawness... I collect folk art, and buy children's drawings off the wall of grammar schools and frame them when afforded the opportunity. One of the reasons that I love folk art is that it is often about love, death, or God. I am talking about a kind of deliberate, conscious superficiality.... as if the people making them have only been looking at various illuminated screens and magazines their whole lives, not walking around on this chaotic, shrinking planet, falling in love, experiencing grief, struggling with moral dilemmas or wrapping their minds around a concept. The art is as flat as the original imagery it is derived from.
(So maybe I don't get it because I don't watch TV....)
I'm not saying that the Art Lite can't be seductive, either. I remember going to shows in Miami, where this sort of thing is multiplying like spores and getting reviewed and discussed (!?) ad nauseum, and thinking, "you know, I would like to take this art painted on shiny vinyl home and hang it on my wall because I would like to look at it", but the enthusiasm I was feeling about the object was akin to finding a really cool pair of shoes. Those who know me know that I can get pretty excited about a cool pair of shoes, but thoughts of footwear don't keep me up nights.
This kind of art seems to have no ambition beyond being Prom Queen, and, lucky for them, the current art establishment has stuffed the ballot box in their favor. Am I a snob to think that, in a world filled with so much art, it should aspire to be more?
I mentioned a while back that there is a drawing that I want make a trade for. I will publish the image only if I am lucky enough to ever get it into my hot little mitts, so no one buys it out from underneath me. But when I reconnected with this artist from grad school, I saw some of her work for the first time in years, and I printed a few of them out and tacked them on my wall. Every day, I see this image out of the corner of my eye while I am working, and now I need to possess it. It has wormed its way into my brain through my eyeballs.
I am doomed to always be unfashionable... Years ago, I remember reading something about the new "post ironic" art, and I got so excited, thinking, "finally, my work will be in synch with what is cool", and then 9/11 happened, and I thought, "this will really do it, how can anyone make fluff after this?" but some people still do. Am I just getting old? We all reach this point, right?... when we look at what younger people are doing and worry about the future of art, and don't get it because the game has changed and we haven't? But I don't think it is a generation gap, because I have been teaching for a long time, and I have seen work made by twenty-somethings that is layered and powerful, that makes me think and feel rather than just sitting there, resting on my retina.
I remember having a revelation at the Laura Owens exhibition at MOCA a few years back. I was looking at all the paintings with the cute fuzzy animals, and another piece of two people snuggling in bed, and I thought, "Not only is she daring to use all the tricks and bad painting techniques that you see taught on cable television, but she is just painting things that make her HAPPY!" The thought was so revolutionary and liberating, honestly, I was a bit manic leaving the exhibition. I could do it too, I thought, "So, what will I paint?... Radley? Deep blue Hydrangeas? My niece twirling in a new dress or my nephew sleeping with his stuffed puppy?" Immediately, my inner censor intervened: "BEEN DONE BEFORE! IS THIS THE LEGACY YOU WANT TO LEAVE?!! TOO CUTE! CLICHE!, TOO MUCH LIKE A HALLMARK CARD" I would fail someone who brought something like that to a crit. But I might buy it from them after the crit, and hang it on my wall as a "guilty pleasure"... we have all seen work that straddles this interesting fence, and sometimes the executor is not even aware that they doing it. (But that is for another blog...)
Now I am thinking of last year's Art Basel, where the same kind of impressions were hitting me again: "bad painting techniques & cliche images, that is the theme", I thought, "I can't believe they have the balls to do this, and that none of the collectors are saying, "I watch Bob Ross, and this entire painting looks like it was done with 'the magic brush' from his painting kit". History repeats itself.... break the cardinal rules, and popular taste will follow, finding it revolutionary, whether the concept is born of boldness, or naivete.
It is time to question my own firmly held convictions, and ask myself, "Where did I get this idea that art was supposed to be IMPORTANT? Who put this rule in my brain?", and "As much as I hate to hear people talking about their 'inner critic', has mine saddled me with a battery-powered collar and erected an invisible fence while I wasn't looking, keeping me from wide open, true artistic freedom?!"
I can get emotional and yes, even judgemental, talking about art: sometimes, when I need to see things clearly, I pretend that one of my students is asking me the question that I happen to be turning over and over in my own head. My unbiased, professorial answer to my student-self wondering "why?" is this: "Maybe this kind of work is a commentary on how superficial life appears to these particular artists. Perhaps it doesn't even go that deep, maybe this is truly how the world appears to them, and they are just replicating it and throwing it back out there. Me? I make the art that I make because I have stood in front of art that I admire, asking myself what makes it "great" or "effective", and I try to integrate those qualities into my own vision. I suspect that is the same process that leads other people to make the work that THEY make. The real question is... what kind of art do you want to spend YOUR precious hours on earth making?"
Radley, running in a sea of blue hydrangeas, his ears flapping in the breeze, with clouds made of tagliatelle in truffle sauce.....
Come on, I would really like to hear back on this one, you can comment anonymously, you just click the "comments" below.......