Saturday, August 24, 2013

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. 


Anonymous said...

What did you do with the clay?

Rebecca Peebles said...

I made a cube.
I wanted to try out a hand-building technique that someone showed me once but that I'd never tried myself.
The clay, sitting out on my work-table, is just ASKING for me to "just do something and follow your intuition."
I still have so much of it... I'll be working with that clay for the rest of the year at this rate.