Saturday, August 24, 2013

Co Incidence

Co Incidence installation, view upon entry, with one of two portraits at Pablo's Coffee 1300 Pennsylvania St., Denver, CO

I'm talking about two things that happen at once, partners in incidence, existing and acting simultaneously whether in or out of balance.  In the case of this art installation, Co Incidence, that I did at Pablo's Coffee (Pennsylvania St. at 13th Ave., Denver, CO), I intended to highlight a nuance of understanding of this term as described by Carl Jung that particularly affected me as I work to increase my personal, mental stability.

Whew... stay with me.
Jung describes the coincidence of opposites as an achievable state of mind wherein opposing states such as chaos and peace of mind can be balanced by placing one's awareness directly between or in the middle of the two states.  This is an exercise in the mind usually applicable when experiencing overly negative or painful states of mind.  For example, I have a habit of critical self judgement that is usually productive, but, when extreme, can make me feel like a helpless failure.  When I'm feeling this way, I am aware of myself as self supporting and a person of intelligence but the extreme feeling of failure or helplessness keeps me distant from these more useful modes of being.  Jung says that if we can become aware of ourselves as a coincidence of these two opposites that even in these most off-balance experiences we can pull back into balance.  We can reengage with ourselves as whole beings.  It's hard work, but I've been able to do this a few times and when that point of awareness, balance and then compassion for myself arrives (at the co incidence), I am lighter, more peaceful, more clear-thinking, and able to forgive myself for the overly critical, self effacing judgement I've imposed.  At that point, I can even think more clearly about why that critical judge flew off the handle like that.

When I first realized this possibility,  I shared what I had read (in Healing into Life and Death, by Stephen Levine) with my therapist and was feeling particularly hopeful about my personal welfare as I drove home from our session.  In a most typical Colorado way, a storm was moving through and the sunshine burst through from behind me and a rainbow appeared ahead.  The rainbow - a representation of the coincidence of opposites: sunny-day, rainy day.

So I went to my studio and made a portrait of myself having skin with a rainbow gradient of color as my skin.
The rainbow that I made at Pablo's, perfectly level, at average eye-level, cutting through all of the spaces inhabited by cafe goers, represented to me a kind of settling awareness and a moment of looking around, seeing where you are.  The rainbow colors are uniquely uplifting in their color-grouping (different than any other group of colors).  The whole installation evolved out of intuition from the moment I saw the rainbow from the car that late afternoon.  For me, it's personal - a part of the journey of self healing and self balancing and self love that I've been on throughout adulthood and that has increased since the death of my Sister in Law, Whitney and her husband Dave.  For everyone else, it's a moment of present awareness and recognition for the feeling you get when a rainbow sets in.  The rainbow colors of my skin tone (there are two self portrait drawings directly across the room from each other) may imply different things to different people, but to me it was seeing the rainbow in myself.  It was seeing the coincidence of the opposites and placing myself there in order to be a more complete expression of myself.

Formal presentation of this work is viewable on my website, under "Installations."
Many thanks to Christian Butler, AnnaMarie Fidel-Rice, Gretchen Marie Schaefer and Pattie Lee Becker for their assistance in realizing this project.

I don't know what Art is.

I'm at home sick today so maybe that will explain my wild statement about not knowing what Art is in the subject line.  Or, maybe this is just an expression of Zen knowing and not knowing and I'm about to unleash some real higher thinking right now.


I bring this up because I just read in the September 2013 of The Atlantic, Out is the New In : Why outsider art - dirty, brutish, and raw - is all the rage by Sarah Boxer.  From what I gather, in my experience as an artist and with running GroundSwell Gallery, the tendency with most artists is to do what they believe is their "art" and it's usually noticeable when the spark of authenticity is not there.  I'd say that meeting the artist and talking with him or her about the art is usually a good test to find out if this is really Art or not.  Sometimes I do come across folks who are making what I would consider to be decoration or very creative design projects.  Sometimes it seems an artist could dive more deeply into his or her art-making but is distracted by the notion of "reaching the audience," pleasing gallerists, or making works that are "consumable" or "priced to sell."  When it really comes to Contemporary Art Trends, it has nothing to do with, on the whole, what artists are making.  When it comes to Outsider Art today, we're all outsiders for the most part...  The insiders are handpicked by a few know-it-alls looking to make money right now.  This is, unfortunately, how our culture is defined now - not as much by authentic expressions in response to our time, but a framing of "culture" utilized to create a market demand.

Sarah Boxer's article expresses that many outsider artists were psychotic in some fashion, "madman," brut, traumatized, and others were just doing their thing, uneducated, but owning it and practicing art-making as an innate calling.  My favorite reference is to Bill Traylor, an African-American artist in Alabama "discovered" by a younger artist, Charles Shannon, who was enchanted by Traylor's serenity in his art making.  In this case and the case of the "brut," the artist is not driven by expectations, ideas, trends and money of the "Art World."

Oh my, that sounds attractive albeit a little isolated.

Then, the isolated artist (maybe he's psychotic, maybe he's a hermetic monk) and, more importantly, his or her artwork are discovered by someone of influence within the upper echelons of the "Art World."  The know-it-alls are enchanted by the never-before-known genius of this artist and see the art as a another get-rich-quick opportunity: "Oh, Auction House B just went nuts over Henry Darger's obsessive paintings of children!  The crazy sh*t this new-found artist makes out of mud and her own feces is going to hit the market like a firecracker!"

I'm starting to sound bitter, and maybe that's because for the lasts 10 - 15 years I mostly believed that any hardworking artist could make a living off of their ARTwork.  At this point in my artmaking life, I don't really think that's true.  Almost every artist I know has other work that supports them and they're lucky if that work is a healthy utility of their creative talent.  It seems to me, especially after reading Don Thompson's The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, that "Making It" as an artist has two very separate meanings.

Making It! option #1:  Make art in such a way as to brand yourself.  Make sure that people know what you look like or what your artwork looks like by creating an indelible propaganda with your art.  Often this entails tapping into the neuroses of our culture streaming out of popular media trends already driven by marketing tactics and economic models.  Hustle.  Get to know as many people hustling as you can - power in numbers!  Always be in the right place at the right time.  Get into publications, known-name-gallery exhibitions, museums, collections and make sure that you are international in your reach.  Then, there's a .0001% chance that someone in the Auction House arena will PICK YOU.  Yesssssss!

Making It! option #2:  Make art in such a way as to increase awareness, increase tactile and emotional intelligence, and increase truth and joy in this world.  Start with yourself.  It takes a lifetime of practice to reach a point where your artwork may affect the larger culture.  Attend to the inspiration that evolves out of your art practice and the life that you live with friends and family and work.  Pay attention to your dreams and to your intuition and make what you envision.  Make what you want to make.  This isn't a dress rehearsal - make what reflects who you know yourself to be.  If you can do this, talent or no talent (remember the outsider artist), there is a 99.99999% chance that you will die happy.   There is also a .0001% chance that someone in the Auction House arena will PICK YOU.  (...whatever...)

What I mean to say is,
No matter what an artist does, whether making art or making propaganda, whether making mud and feces sculptures, or making perfectly square black lacquered cubes, whether working on the inside or the outside, inside-out or outside-in, the chance of "making it" like a rock star is slim to none.  But, the chance of living a happy, fulfilled, self-knowing, wise and serene existence is pretty high.

I say I don't know what Art is because I see it as ephemeral and in flux.  I know that when I look at many works on the walls at museums, galleries, and in my own home, I understand the work to be "Art."  Sometimes I know nothing about the artist, sometimes I know more than enough.  I have tastes and preferences though even work that I don't aesthetically connect to can move me.  I know that when I set about to make art, I am either working from my own inspiration or I'm plagued by a sense of pleasing others.  When I think about Outsider Art and Insider Art, I realize that either can be Art, and that one or the other is being promoted by those in the Art dealing game.

Art Art Art Art Art Art Art Art Art Art Art

Remember that game where you say a word as many times as it takes to begin to lose meaning and seem to be an arbitrary sound coming out of your mouth?  You can do it with any word.  I think it could be important to do that exercise with the word "art" every once in a while so as to remember how arbitrary the word and it's attending subject matter really are.

Now, I'm going to go and look at some art at two different art shows going on in town.  Then I plan to head back home and make some art with 10 lbs. of leftover porcelain clay I've been musing over in my studio for about a year.

Let it be known that my opinions change and my knowledge is always being reformed.