Sunday, March 6, 2011

Art, Perseverance, and Inertia

  The wonderful reality and the persistent difficulty of being a visual artist today is that there is no universally recognized art style or styles that artists have to work within the constraints off. The Internet and especially the proliferation of social networks are revealing to anyone who didn’t already realize it, that there are actually innumerable contending art styles that appeal to many diverse interests. Anyone who goes out to galleries today will find a befuddlement of art styles and media on offer often within the same gallery. If you watch this TED talk by Malcolm Gladwell and substitute “art” for “spaghetti sauce” you will get a good idea of what I am talking about.
    This artistic plurality is the hardest to accept for those who burn with the need to distinguish themselves. Art has often been a means, for both art buyers and artists themselves to communicate elevated status; art buyers through the wealth required to purchase one of a kind works of art, and artists through skill, taste, and the refusal to commit oneself to practical or mundane pursuits. This need to feel superior, even when dressed in egalitarian garb, is often thwarted by our democratic ethos. This frustrated need is exacerbated further by the considerable difficulties in paying for one’s life and education wile making art that competes with other art and less expensive mass-produced imagery.

       No one art movement can compete with higher and higher quality mass production of images and objects from thousands of years of art history as well as popular art forms like the movies and television. Understanding this tension alone can shed light on most of the art movements of the twentieth century. Where before art movements in a given society reacted to each other and to the surrounding society in a way that, at least in retrospect, could be analogized to a conversation, the art movements in the last hundred years or so seem more like a political talk show with everyone interrupting and talking over each-other and only the loudest prevailing for a fleeting moment.

    This is especially true for artists who want to distinguish themselves as a cultural or intellectual elite. Even the most scientifically and economically illiterate of the self-anointed cultural overseers produce art and criticism designed to interrogate those with real or perceived power in modern society. Critiquing economic, social, and scientific trends has historically been achieved through reducing all the inherent complexities to a formula; greed versus freedom, western society against nature etc. This dream of having privileged access to so many diverse fields of knowledge and expertise, and oversimplifying it to uphold a vision, however, seems more ridiculous now than ever before.

   After a certain age, the badge of “ poor artist” looses its luster and we have to just find a way of making art that works and take it all the way. In the United States even entrepreneurs, ostensibly the true American heroes, struggle to start and maintain businesses for more than a few years.  Artists, despite their smug, ironic relationship with the market are not above it or especially the people that actually constitute it. There are just so many talented people making so much different work that sits idle on gallery walls, or worse, in parent’s attics.

     Making art today requires real humility and honesty about what kind of communication and value we are bringing to such a competitive and interconnected world. That is why I am starting this blog to try to have a venue for those of us who need to vent and connect over the trials, tribulations, and joys of making art in the 21st century.