Tuesday, December 30, 2014

input systems

I'm going to write a bit today about a concept that has to do with larger cultural concerns but plays into the art world, particularly with art fairs, commodification, and other issues that many people are discussing within and outside of the art world.

I honestly don't know if I can justify this beyond being a hunch, but I feel strongly that individuals in many historical and current cultures have relied on other individuals to form their identity and morals.  Different cultures have different levels of individuality--some have had a much higher need for communal function than others; the United States seems to be one that is frequently pegged as an individualistic society that favors the individual over any community.  I don't know if this is exactly true, but I do feel that this is the case, and I often think about self-sufficiency as "good", though self-sufficiency does not preclude community-based thinking.  Regardless, an individual gets input somehow--older cultures, I believe, received input from story telling, advice, conversation, discussion, with other individuals to form a network of thinking that, in part, creates the individual's identity (and helps them tend towards certain decisions, encourages individuals to pass along information for others' input, etc).  If I had a bad experience planting a certain vegetable or learned of a new pest, I could pass it along to a neighbor or friend who was trying to grow the same crop.  If I knew that there was a predator near a fishing spot, I could pass that information along so that others didn't run the risk of being pursued by a predator.  If I ate at a restaurant and got food poisoning, I would tell others (and probably alert the Health Department) that I was sick so they would not have the same experience.  All of these inputs have a tremendous affect on others.

One important note today, particularly in the United States but in other cultures as well, is the overwhelming influence of media and the vastness of its affect on us.  It takes up such a large portion of our input that it is, in my thinking, forming the majority of our identity.  There are so many facets of media that it is hard to address them all here, but living in a smaller Midwestern city, many of our friends have smart phones that profoundly influence people's identity.  Where I grew up there are far fewer smart phones, but many of those people are influenced by television or newspapers.  I might even go so far as to speculate that input of a sensory nature (that is non-media based) makes up less of our input than media-based input, that is to say that the looking that I do with my eyes to determine my path of travel, to avoid obstacles, to learn something new is less than the input that I get from media.  One example of this is, of course, from food--I had never cooked rabbit before, and have tried to expand the types of meat that we eat, particularly for more sustainable animals, and when it came time to butcher the rabbit I watched a video on butchering instead of trusting instincts (gained from butchering other animals) and looking at the animal for obvious butchering points.  I will not say that I should have just looked--I appreciate the resources available to me--but it is interesting to think about other options.  If I had not watched the video, what is worst case scenario?

That is a relatively inconsequential example, but I use it to illustrate my ideas to think about the broader implications in this.  What is determined to be valuable in our culture is undeniable influenced (and I might even argue totally and solely influenced) by media because we are using the media as our input in a manner that prevents us from relying on our own, non-media input.

There has been a tremendous amount written about art fairs--I feel like it bubbles up every December during Basel and during other art fairs around the U.S.  Many of these articles are against art fairs and some are supportive of them, but I think it is good to think about your own input systems while reading these articles and honestly contemplate what the fair means to you as an artist and as an artist connected to the art community of the United States or the greater art world.  Will you refuse to participate in an art fair?  If so, why?  How are you being influenced in this?  Who are fairs for, and what purpose do they serve?  I don't think there are easy answers to this question--but I can say, for sure, that if I lived near Basel I would attend to see things.  I've attended Expo Chicago (or whatever it has been called over the years) multiple times, and have never purchased a thing nor gone with the intention of participating in the money side of these fairs.  I honestly find it an amazing place to see what a large number of galleries are presenting--even if its shit--and love to attend them.  Without fairs, the art market doesn't magically become un-commodified, so I don't know if my time is best spent trying to eradicate art fairs or criticize the attendees or artists that participate.

I do know for sure that art is, even if it is influenced by the media, a pristine input that offers solace from the overwhelming amount of media that we encounter.  This is probably one reason that I think of, over and over again, for me being invested in painting and abstract painting: media has very little influence on the images that I create, or, probably the more truthful statement would be that my images would still exist even if media did not.

What remains after media might be the kernel of this that I am thinking about in a broader sense.   After the end of media, what survives, and how do we go on?  I doubt it will ever end in my lifetime, but I'd much rather continue to seek out non-media inputs and experiences because I feel that they contribute to my life in a richer way than media inputs.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

the end, the shortest day, and midwinter

I won't apologize for the long delay, but know that I have intended to write many times before today.
This will be more of an update than anything of substance, but I'm hoping to start writing regularly again.

I haven't finished it yet, but Martha Rosler's book Culture Class is my favorite read of the year.  I think its an important book for artists to read to be able to communicate about where artists belong in society.  One aspect of Rosler's writing is to criticize Richard Florida's concept of the creative class, which is sorely needed as I see artists posting articles and interviews by Florida as evidence that artists belong in the social structure of a community because they make a community more prosperous and economically successful.  This type of argument is problematic on a number of levels in which I'll address in future posts, but I highly recommend reading the book when you can.  

I plan to address the ideas of zombie formalism and other recent critiques of contemporary abstract painting.  I think it is valid to be critical of this type of painting, but often feel like the critiques are incredibly limited to painting within a six block radius in Chelsea, avoiding a number of great abstract painters outside of that area.  It won't be surprising to anyone, even artists who live across the river in New Jersey, that New York can tend towards narrow parameters of art, but I think this is worth flushing out soon.

I hope you all enjoy the end of the year and the start of the new!  I'll leave you with a studio view:

Thursday, October 2, 2014

artist and consumer

I've been working on new theories of the relationship between the artist and the consumer.  These will only be working ideas--probably impossible ideas--that may never get resolved; but that, to me, is a sign of a productive line of thinking in something that is organic and will change over time.  

Simply, historical models of artist/consumer or artist/benefactor or patron relationship are: 
1) artist working for and/or selling to a larger organization (government, museum, church, etc)
2) artist selling to individual/group consumers, with "collecting" consumers
3) artist selling to individual/group consumers, non-"collecting"
4) artist producing work for ritual, religion*, socio-culture practice** where the consumer's role is perhaps not qualified by exchange of money.  

What we commonly call a "commission" could fall under any of these, though I feel that commission is often a relationship that has a high probability of exploiting the artist.  This is not to say a commission is good or bad, but practically is up to each individual artist to determine and agree to the arrangement of a commission and often ends with an artist sacrificing many aspects of her or his work to make the commission.  

Not included, because it is a different list/relationship: 

artist producing work without selling (no consumer)
Consumer purchasing a mass produced piece without an artist (no artist***)
Organization purchasing from a corporation****
More on this soon.

*I intend religion here to have more social implications as opposed to "church", in 1), which implies a governing body that commissions a work.  Religion, here, is meant to stand for relics, paintings, statues, etc made for religious purposes but are not paid for by the church to further the church's or patron's agenda.  The most obvious example of this would be patronage in Italian Renaissance painting.  
**I do not mean social practice as a buzzword as it is used too often in contemporary art, but rather attempting to define producing work that has a broader purpose (from the artist's perspective) within society and culture.  
***Contrary to any political statements or any other theories, corporations are not artists.  Some artists should be considered corporations as they employ many workers and function, organizationally, very much like a corporation in terms of production and their relationship to the consumer (Koons), and I am against this form of artistic production
****These theories are not based on Sotheby's selling to the Met, for example, as both the artists--who will only receive negligible profits from a sale like this in the best case--and consumer are confused, complicated, and frankly have little influence on individual artists.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

entrepreneurship (and a suitable replacement)

In the last few weeks I've had a much needed vacation and participated in a panel discussion (which was more of a panel of individual opinions expressed by each member) on art collecting.  The panel and their ideas brought up some points that have stuck with me, and this is an appropriate venue for flushing them out a bit further in the next few posts.    

1. Entrepreneurship

The idea of entrepreneurship needs to be reevaluated as it is used in the art world.  It is often used as a state of artists working independently.  I am putting forth that it should be referred to as self-reliance or subsistence.  Entrepreneurial is so far rooted in capitalism that it sullies the idea of artists working productively for themselves, and oversimplifies what artists might do to make a living.  When I’ve heard people use this as a way to justify not working with galleries, starting projects, or crowdsourcing funds it almost always reduces the artists’ work to an economic strategy (with only one end goal--the acquisition of capital).  I know subsistence—doing what is needed to maintain at the minimum level—is problematic in some ways, but it is closer to what I see and feel in the art world than entrepreneurship (unless we are talking about an artist who makes work and sells it only on Etsy, which one could argue that those artists are making conscious choices to be outside of the art world or sell their work in an entrepreneurial way in addition to being a part of the art world).

Though one can argue that the art world is intertwined (or even dependent on) the art market (or the capitalist economic system), I think it can be problematic and dangerous to use capitalism's rhetoric.  The system should not define modes of making within the art world, even if it lasts forever and the art world's relationship to it does not change.  

One must also admit that making money as an artist is a necessity but should not ever determine the entirety or reason of one's production.  As a function of capitalism and a part of the small business economy, entrepreneurship has the end goal of gaining capital.  The two are opposed to one another.   

I, of course, am open to suggestions on possible replacement words.  My suggestions come from a life spent working to avoid the system as much as possible, so in some ways the vocabulary is against it but also acknowledge its prevalence.  Perhaps there is some better substitute.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

the city

A few quick thoughts after a brief moment of reflection on a recent trip to New York City:

  • There are lots of interesting ventures and projects being formulated in the city; interesting work being made, smaller galleries and dealers that are holding artists and patrons at full attention.  Certainly my views on what these things are may not be the same as other artists and patrons, but I was most impressed by the galleries on the lower east side*.  I wasn't, of course, able to see everything, and spent most of my time in Chelsea and LES. 
  • I met a number of amazing and kind people in five days.  I had discussions and conversations that I would not have ever expected--the type that both energize me and make me thirst for having more discussions like that here in Des Moines.  Ky Anderson, Jason Rohlf,  and Molly Merson are just a few of the people I got to talk with.  I was able to meet people heavily involved in art in the city as well as talk to artists about the history of New York City.  
  • To state the obvious:  there are some amazing museums in New York City.  I still can't believe that I saw as much as I did.  I did not see the Koons exhibition at the Whitney, for reasons that should become clear if you read other posts.    
  • The city is a subset of the art world, and its relationship to the greater art world is an interesting thing to think about.  I would have guessed New York to be far ahead of the other cities that I have seen but can't say that I totally understand that to be true; while it is certainly more feasible to be an artist making a living off their work in the city there is still the problem of rampant gentrification, soaring real estate prices, income disparity, and other issues that face parts of the art world in the U.S.  I bought Martha Rosler's Culture Class and hope to learn more about some of these relationships.  
  • New York is a rugged place.  We tend to relegate rugged to "nature" and that which is outside of the city, but one only need to go to New York to understand how that term can be used.  Though the terrain is man-made, it is still a difficult, trying, and natural example of an urban center.  It made me realize, once again, that the city has its own ecosystem and I, as much as I am secluded in the woods, am either functioning well in the ecosystem or functioning poorly.  The more difficult it is to function well, the more "rugged" a place is, in my mind. 
  • I had a really odd experience eating at Momofuku Noodle Bar.  I have a lot of respect for David Chang, and thought the food was good; but it was strange to have read his book, hearing him talk, and thinking about his place in food (or the business of food) before the actual aesthetic experience.  I will write more in the future about this disconnect, particularly as it relates to the generally exploitative nature of mass media and what it did to my aesthetic experience.   
St. Paul's Churchyard, Manhattan

*This might seem conflicted as I was there, in part, to talk with a gallery in LES about an upcoming exhibition in October of this year.  If this conflict annoys you, take what I'm saying as that I'm incredibly happy and honored to be working with a gallery in LES (rather than other areas with higher grossing galleries).  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

things just got weird (CINDERS)

No idea where this is going, but some friends and I have been playing music for three or four months now, and I've started composing some of my own by technological means under the name CINDERS.  Long live the ability for an average person to be able to put something like this together, it has been a blast to play with others and make crazy sounds myself.  I'm happy to share everything if you are interested--drop me a line, and I'll share it.  For now, here is one of the five tracks, titled "one and one".

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

the idea of plurality, continued

I should say that, in terms of my thinking about the impossibility of plurality in the art market, I mean strictly in the art market (and not the world in general).  Our relationship as artists and makers to the market is what then becomes the main issue.

To reiterate, I am forming an idea around the impossibility of plurality within an art market due to the main motivator of selling within the art market.  I don't see this as the fault of gallery owners, curators, or other professionals, but rather a fault of capitalism in a broader sense--if capital gain is the sole motivation for our economy (and culture), plurality will always be reduced to a kind of tokenism of artists of color or ironic inclusion (I'm thinking of the inclusion of Thomas Kinkade in exhibitions of contemporary painting), which is far from a plurality.

This is not to say that artists of color have not sold work within the capitalist system.  The gender and race gaps in the art market is far from representative of the art world (ELF Study, article on Micol Hebron's project for representations of the gender gap), though, and I think this is a good example of what I'm trying to establish.  Obviously, gender and race are not the only aspects of pluralism--and, in fact, fall under what we are more likely to call diversity--but I think this is a good indicator of some of the issues that the supposedly progressive art market are dealing with in 2014.  

The art world, on the other hand, is pluralistic, as is the world in general.  This whole idea of pluralism is related to the idea that there is no Truth, but many truths; and, in some senses, that the dialogue and discourse that can come from a discussion of these many truths is important and beneficial for everyone involved.

An important thing to remember in all of this, too, is that divisions that have been constructed within the art market (and the art world, actually) are part of the problem in preventing plurality.  Artforum, always a target when it comes to thinking like this, tends to have the same type of writing, the same advertisements, and a lack of diversity in terms of the exhibitions that are written about.

These constructions, then, are things that need to be analyzed and reflected upon.  The critical spirit can think about how these institutions function and in what ways they are limiting diversity and plurality--as well as devise ways to maintain a number of methods of thinking and world views (ideologies, frameworks, etc.  We have so many ways of saying this concept--the concept of how an individual or group approaches everything--which is really quite striking to me because, in fact, it is really difficult for someone or a group to approach everything the same way, time after time).


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

the idea of plurality in the (art) world

I first came across the word and idea of plurality in connection with Sartre's concept of a plurality of solitude/isolation.  Plurality has come up a few times recently and I have given it considerable thought, particularly as it stems from a few recent readings on biennials.  "Has Biennial Culture Gentrified the Art World?" by Kimberly Bradley and Ben Davis's incredible interview "The Yams, on The Whitney and White Supremacy" have both contributed to this thinking, and as always, I'm sure it will develop over time.  I'd like to lay out a basic statement of plurality and, what I suspect is its impossibility in our society.

So, basically, I feel that true plurality is impossible within capitalism (and, to use Marcuse's terms, advanced industrial society).  Perhaps this is not the only system that makes plurality impossible, but I think I can make a pretty good rational for thinking in terms of where we are now, particularly in the art world, but in the sense that the art market is a subset (in a reductive way) of the larger economy as the art world is a subset of the larger world.

I can't really make this case without revisiting Herbert Marcuse, as my theory here relies on a bit of Marcuse's argument in One-Dimensional Man.  Some of the points that have stuck with me from Marcuse's work are ideas surrounding advanced industrial society.  This society created (and continues to create) a network of need--fueled by mass media, advertising, and other social aspects--that is inherently false (as in they are not necessities).  This created network reduces all of the world to a single  way of thinking, hence the one-dimensional universe.  "The great refusal" and critical thinking (or negative thinking to Marcuse) are the only ways of resistance.

So, in response to Marcuse's theories lodged in my head for the last ten years and reading Bradley and Davis's articles, I think we can see a partial description of the art market.  The question of Bradley's essay, rhetorical or not, is that Biennial culture has probably contributed to gentrification, but the art market has, since the dawn of capitalism, been one-dimensional (and, thus, gentrified).  I know this might be hard to imagine--particularly for a part of the market that prides itself on "creative" thinking and artists that are "way out there"--canning and selling their own shit, doing other things that piss off the public, etc.  The selling of this, though, has always supported one idea--and that is the idea of capital gain.

Plurality, then, is limited to what is sellable and what the market is selling.  This has certainly been painting in the past, now it might be something different, but it can never be a true plurality.  And, if I may be allowed to modify a lack of plurality into the oppression of particular races, genders, and social classes, these things are amplified beyond theoretical thinking and into cultural and social issues that are endemic in our society.

I am aware that some people within the art world are working towards sustainable plurality and inclusiveness that transcends capital gain, but until we move away from a capitalist system, the market, I'm afraid, will only allow for tokenism and not a true plurality of people involved in the market.  Certainly we can break the art market down into different subsets, but their aim is all to gain capital.  I would hope to say that non profit spaces, then, are the answer, but the complexity here is that those institutions are so entwined with the market its difficult to really say how pluralist non-profits can even be.

I'll need to spend more time flushing this out, but I think Marcuse's advice still rings true for us as artists (and is present in HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN's action of withdrawing from the Whitney as well as their answers to Davis's questions) is that all we have is the right to refuse, to question, to be critical in the world that we are a part of.

Doing so will undoubtedly be beneficial for the art world, but also could potentially be an example of moving from pure capitalism into another system of working--one in which, at least, people's voices are heard and critical thinking is encouraged, as opposed to repressed.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to those of you who have sent notes in the past couple of months, they really mean a lot!   

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Commodity | Ideology

While watching Zizek + Fiennes' The Pervert's Guide to Ideology (full version available here) in the studio today, something came about that further complicates my understanding of capital (manifests as the art market for me, but also in the fact that, in terms of the art market, I am a producer of capital), consumerism, and my own views against these as priorities for living.  In talking about Coke, Zizek states:

"It was Marx who long ago emphasized that a commodity is never a simple object that we buy and consume.  A commodity is an object full of theological, even metaphysical, niceties.  Its presence always reflects an invisible transcendence."

And later, in talking about Starbucks, Zizek references the perfection of it as a commodity--that we are buying an ideology when we purchase a cup of coffee.

I drink Starbucks like its water, but I'm also aware of its implications: not purchasing something that benefits local business owners (forget localism for coffee--its just not grown in large quantities anywhere in the US besides Hawaii--interesting to think what that implies about the US's relationship to the Island-state), something that is from a large corporation (though I am generally supportive of some of the priorities the corporation has for its workers, including health insurance for part time workers), and that I am supporting Starbuck's mission.  What its mission is--its ideology--is incredibly complex and can be seen in a variety of forms, including its Consumer-Philanthropist* ideal (in that we can purchase a cup of coffee and, in doing so, donate to a cause, as Zizek states in the film), its posters describing "the good life", and all of the other manifestations of it as a brand--including affluence and privilege, something that I can not often be accused of espousing.  

All of this, though, becomes incredibly interesting and worth thinking about in terms of art as a commodity.  I know I've stated that we as artists can resist the commodification of art work to some extent, but it is admittedly idealistic; we are producers/workers making capital within a part of the economic system in which we live (in the US, anyway).  Is art, then, a "perfect commodity" in the ideas of Zizek?  Though it will take longer to figure out arguments of why it is not, I plan to do so.  Some statements that support the concept of the perfect commodity of art are listed below:

+  The "perfect commodity" allows the consumer to purchase the object and also purchase its connected ideology:  its funny to think of the art world having an ideology, because the surface reading is that it transcend ideology (and I might have even stated things that reinforce this before!), or that it has so many ideologies that it can't be linked to just one.  But here goes a simple ideological read of art (including the world, market, history, etc):
     a) Art is expression and communication
     b) Art prioritizes the "new", particularly through the concept of the avant-garde.
     c) Art is necessary to culture
     d) Art is a representation of culture
     e) Art is a privilege**

+ Does everyone who purchases art know about the ideology that is purchased with it?  Of course not--but neither does everyone who purchases Coke or Starbucks.

+ Transcendence is another aspect of the perfection of art as a commodity: in some ways, this might be the use of aesthetics and discourse around works of art these days, but the idea that one person will find on work of art particularly "moving" while another might find it drab points towards Zizek's (and Marx's) idea of transcendence.

This could go on forever--even flushing out the ideologies of art could be the start of a much longer text, particularly for a profession that sees itself as so multifaceted, accepting, and enlightened that it would deny the existence of any ideology in art.  I highly recommend watching the film.  A bit of what I am working towards is covered in Zizek's read of The Sound of Music in which he talks about the message (ideology) of the film is often read as the oppression of the church (as the main character is a free-spirited nun that is sent to live with the Von Trapp family) and how individuals can transcend this oppression; yet, in actuality, Zizek reads the ideology of the film as being the church's support of being free, finding love, pursuing your passions.

Similarly, I think art passes along the ideology that art is ideology-breaking, and has no agenda, when in actuality, we all have a number of ideas that are, in fact, ideological (and, in this sense, prevent true avant-gardism, original thinking, and personal work).  I'm going to need more than this one post to justify this idea, so stay tuned.

*See also Geoff Schullenberger's article "The Rise of the Voluntariat" on Jacobin's blog.  Slightly different concept, focusing on work and workers, but I think it can be linked to a rise of justifying consumption through charity (or perceived charity).
**Though I think the inverse, the idea that everyone should have access to art, is also an ideology of the art world.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Materiality, physicality, and abstraction

Most often I read and hear about abstraction talked about in terms of materiality, but I have been thinking most about physicality (particularly relating to the human body) as of late.  I think the historical texts and analysis of abstraction, particularly abstract painting, have often defaulted to materialism as a means to understand what is going on in a painting--we can't see a subject matter or are told that it is up to multiple interpretations, so we must then talk about the materiality--particularly in gestural and painterly paintings.

I am mostly a materialist, and often find material products that reference non-material ideas (shaker gift drawings, for example) incredibly interesting, but I think there is an aspect of the materials of painting that are important but should not be expected to carry all of the meaning of a work.  Paint is paint, it is itself and nothing more.  

Physicality, however, can reference a broader spectrum of painting's aesthetics.  Paint is physical, but not particularly more or less than other traditional art materials (erasing a charcoal drawing, welding steel, etc).  How a painting--hanging on a wall, either illusionistic or an image in and of itself--interacts with a viewer always has a physical aspect.  Gestural painting can reference movements of limbs, dripping paint can feel like fluids.  Even how the painting enters in to our brain is a physical phenomena as the eyes must interpret, look, and cognitively process a painting with all of these things in mind.

I am not, however, advocating for a reemergence of abstract expressionism as the most important art form.  I often think reflectively about my own work in relationship to this history, and I have a hard time resolving how my work is different or the same as 'ab ex'.  I am, though, attempting to point out something that is overlooked when we start to talk about socially engaged art and public art projects.  Politically and socially engagement is omnipresent in the history of art.  Painting has, for years, engaged viewers and lead non-artists to dialogue, discourse, and theory.  There is plenty of room in this discourse for non-painting, but it seems a bit odd that so many people are abandoning it for quasi-meaningful 'events'.

Below is a recent painting that is three panels stacked on top of one another, hung on the wall but directly on the floor.  The painting, cathedral (bones), is one that I've worked on while also producing a large number of works on paper for an upcoming exhibition in New York.  The painting stands (intentional reference) at 6' tall and 4' wide and has a really interesting scale, even more than I could have predicted--its body size, approximately, and has references to structures within us.  An image of it (and some other works on paper) should be on my website soon.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

emancipation (continued)

A [virtual] artist friend Allison Reimus posted this recently, and I was struck at how dead on it is with my thinking as of late, reading Ranciere.  

"The life of an artist can be a really difficult one. I want all my artist friends to know that I care a lot about the work that you do. I know it feels sometimes like nobody gives a shit. For what its worth, please know that I give a shit and that I admire you for continuing to make stuff regardless"

It made me feel like I am perhaps being too theoretical about some of this studio practice and reflection; and made me want to be more straight forward about how incredible a concept Ranciere's emancipation really is; for artists and for living.  

Now, this will not solve all of the questions regarding the concept, but rather continue to fill in a structure that could be built on continuously, as my interpretation of emancipation is fluid in as much as what we need emancipation from is not always immediately apparent.  What I have thought about lately, though, are these parts of the art world in particular; I'm sure there will be more, and I'm planning on making a sort of shorthand notation for future concepts.  

1.  Commodification of art.  It won't take long to find my previous writings about the market and commodification, so I won't repeat it here, but emancipation from commodification serves as an alternative motivation for continuing to make art, whatever that might be.  

2.  Artists work for gallerists, curators, auction houses.  If we do not work for ourselves, and for the benefit of society and culture at large, we are doing ourselves and our community a great disservice. 

3.  Artists are not workers.  Though this may contradict the second point, I think it is absolutely important to remember and know that we are a work force, and can be organized, and think collectively if it benefits the larger portion of our work force.  

4.  Artists need to make a consistent body of work to be represented or to be considered as having a serious studio practice.  (See previous post) This, often, is a holdover from schooling, and is just plain wrong in my mind.  Freeing yourself from thinking this undoubtedly provides more opportunity for pushing your studio practice into different areas and developing work unexpectedly.   

5.  Public / political / socially engaged art only comes from artists making work about these topics.  This should probably not seem like it needs to be stated, but I can't believe the assumptions I hear on a regular basis about art making and how it does or does not play a social / cultural role.  All art is making some sort of political statement: even a finely painted representational landscape in a gilded frame has some place in the public / political / social, if only a statement of idealism, romanticism; both of which have political and social implications of wealth, land ownership, representation, utopian ideals, and manifest destiny.  I might advocate that the most simplistic and uninteresting thinking being done in the art world right now are artists and curators who don't consider emancipating themselves from this idea.  

I could also put down more lighthearted concepts, too, like Abstraction is oversimplified into abstract expressionism, minimalism, geometric abstraction, conceptual art, etc.  but I'm not sure its worth the time; I think it is important to realize that emancipation should be sought to free oneself from concepts that bind us and prevent growth of ideas, studio practice, and our work.   

some kind, 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

emancipation (after Ranciere).

I've been formulating a new artist statement--I think that this is incredibly important for a number of reasons, but the main motivations now are due to rewatching Painters Painting (available on DVD and much more affordable than it was previously) and reading The Emancipated Spectator by Jaques Ranciere.

Ranciere, in his writing on forms of emancipation, is easy to surmise in some senses; he is certainly talking about broader ideas that extend beyond their subject matter.  In The Ignorant Schoolmaster, it takes the form of a Jacotot teaching students something that he himself has not learned, the stultifying (normative) relationship between teacher-student is that the teacher knows and teaches and the student must learn what the teacher is professing; it is emancipatory to eradicate that as the normative form of education and, instead, think about the teacher and student learning in tandem--reading material for the first time, discussing texts, etc so that the student might know something other than what the teacher teaches.  The student, approaching a text with the teacher, might learn (and subsequently know) something that the teacher would have never thought to teach in the traditional relationship.   Likewise, there is a normative (or stultifying, as Ranciere uses it) relationship between the spectator and any form of art.  I'll save describing this relationship until I finish the book.  What I'm taking from Ranciere, though, is that these normative relationships continue to exist--and, by analyzing them, we can become emancipated from their predictable and unhelpful parameters.  Ranciere is analyzing cultural phenomena as far as I have read, and in that way incredibly beneficial to us involved in contemporary art.

Painters Painting does an incredible job of placing art in a broader cultural context.  When I originally watched it, I just thought it was amazing to see the artists talking about their work--I pictured myself somewhere between Rauschenberg and Stella, both full of energy and kicking against the negativity (I have always kept Rauschenberg's words on not wanting to waste time being anxious or depressed with me in the studio) that a number of the ab ex painters poetically dealt in.  The whole premise, though, has much more depth to it; including talk about dealers, the market, and issues that we are still dealing with today.  I hope to read the introduction and will plan to post a transcript of parts of it, as I think it has some amazing implications today.

This, all, has spurred continued thought on how painting relates to the cultural fabric of the contemporary and global context.  I think, for myself, a form of the Ranciere-type emancipation has come from not producing a body of work but reveling in unabashed exploration.  This obviously provides problems with cataloging and keeping track of my work, but to be able to approach every surface as an entirely new opportunity is the greatest freedom I've known in art making.  Certainly, things build and form loose connections between one work and another--but, perhaps most importantly--connections form from work made years ago, a cycle and resurfacing that I could not have predicted in a lifetime.

If the normative relationship, then, is for an artist to work in body of works that then communicate a particular subject matter (and help the viewer to understand that work because of the subject matter), I am proposing that stagnation occurs in the structure of the body of work; knowing and learning can become predictable.  Emancipation occurs for me in the unknowing of where a work might lead.

Certainly, there is something akin to "style" that surfaces, even among the numerous and disparate works that I make.  My argument, here, though, is that for me, exploration is a essential part of making art.

Perhaps yet another strike against me in terms of the marketability of my work.  Look for a newer artist statement soon that addresses some of these issues and hopefully better encompasses what is going on in the studio.
Untitled work on paper, 2014
acrylic, tape, ink
15" x 11"


Sunday, March 16, 2014

[ ] (insert lyric from Kenny Roger's 'The Gambler' here)

Interesting article in the Times about a phenomena that happens probably more regularly than the art world would admit; I'm curious as to why the particular artists that are noted, historically, as "too young" to have successful careers (or, more literally, that their work has inflated in value too quickly).  Its funny, too, with the references to gambling (a unabashed link to commodity thinking in terms of value) and this quote in particular: 

“The last time I saw that kind of energy was Keith Haring or Jean-Michel” Basquiat, Ms. Rubell said. “It was so intense. I don’t even think he was on drugs.” (Mr. Murillo assured a reporter that he was “lucid and sober.”)
--Art World Places Its Bet, Carol Vogel

I think there are plenty of artists with a lot of energy--both for studio practice and for putting up with all of these narrow definitions of working artists.  I've seen artists and friends develop such a strong studio work ethic that I am jealous.  To imply, though, that artists who work with energy and intensity are few and far between is a bit out of line.  We're around, even if we aren't breaking six figures at the auctions (and don't ever care to).  

Congratulations, though, to Oscar Murillo, I have no problems with the age of artists and think the "too young" thing is a bit arbitrary; though I do think Vogel's article is a good addition to the "What is happening in the Art World" file.   Imbedded in the article on the Times website is a slideshow of Murillo's work, too. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

more about the artist as a worker, and some implications of our labor

I fully realize that, despite my writing in the last post, we as artists are not left with many options.  I hear a lot of rhetoric about not donating your artwork to auctions because of what it does to the market--and, while I don't disagree that this can be damaging to the market (and subsequently artists' livelihood), I'm not sure if it is the most important thing to take a stance on.

On one hand, artists are seen as people with secret talents that onlookers don't possess; a fairly common response to me telling someone that I am an artist (fully realizing that I live in a small metropolitan area) is that the person I am conversing with "can't even draw a stick figure".  Another impression is that what we do is a service for other professions.  I see this quite frequently in academia, believe it or not, and even amongst art and design faculty; people are forming "collaborative" projects that are simply asking students of art to serve as the art directors/designers/creative consultants for their projects.  I don't think I need to tell you that this is not collaboration but hiring out labor; truly collaborative projects are developed by both groups of students and professors.  One other perception of artists important to note here is the amount of money made off of our work, work that has quality that is subjective.  This is, undoubtedly, connected to the perception that artists are esoteric and/or pretentious, especially to the population that feels like they do not understand contemporary art (or, even, older forms of art) and are purely a part of the upper class of society.

On the other, I want to speak to my experience in particular and know that some might overlap with other's opinions or experiences, and some might not.  As an artist, I have worked at earning an academic position that requires me to be a professional artist by submitting to exhibitions, participating in conferences, and being reviewed--in a number of possible forms--by my peers.  I have not, in any way, been approached by high-end galleries and do not sell my work for a lot of money.  Whenever I have worked with a gallery or consultant, for a juried exhibition or with representation, I have discussed the issue of price for my work and try to keep retail price in line with my own vision as much as I can, but I also know that other professionals (particularly those involved in the selling of artwork by individual, living artists) have a better understanding than I do about the worth of a painting.

What is implied here, though, is that I have an understanding of the professional that I am working with--where they are coming from, what their priorities are, what their intention and purpose is as it manifests itself through their organization.  These organizations and/or businesses require a certain amount of money to function and work, something that I can only begin to imagine; and much like making paintings, I think artists often tend towards thinking that running a gallery is easy without taking the entire context into account, let alone thinking that gallerists or consultants should make a profit off of what they do.  I know that there are conniving, manipulative, and greedy gallerists out there but I have been fortunate to not converse with one; who we work with has the potential, though, to be just as important as wether or not we donate work to auctions.  Good gallerists are aware of political issues, where their money is coming from, and where their artwork is going, and should not hesitate to communicate with artists if something is potentially of concern--artists, however, have to be something other than seeking money to make good decisions (and moral decisions) when it comes to selling work, either on your own or with another professional.

I am still constructing this argument, to a certain extent, but want to offer some alternatives.  There are, without a doubt, high quality professionals and businesses involved in the selling of artwork that fit within these (and the unformed ones in my mind) parameters; nor am I proposing that professionals live on less money, as I don't believe that this is truly the issue--there will always be the upper class, and if that person has started a lucrative business, I'm not here to say they shouldn't have or tell them what they should do with their money.  I do see, however, artists and gallerists who are clearly invested in a sustainable culture of art, and are being proactive about selling work and working with artists for the sake of visual art persisting over time.  Reckless and irresponsible behavior--artificially inflating prices, selling to collectors and companies with questionable histories, and being profit-driven in a short term sense is wrong--and will undoubtedly affect the work of an artist negatively.  Artists could, in a sort of theoretical and gloomy way of thinking, become mechanized workers making art for these profit driven machines.  

These traits are not always easy to detect, but just take a practical approach.  Do you agree with the gallerist, their track record, and the mission of the gallery?  I am also not suggesting that we should all lower our expectations in the quality of venues that we work with.  I do think we could radically rethink the ideas of where the art market is and if/how a gallery can be profitable in other geographical locations, but this is contextually a fairly large issue, and will need lots of minds working on it.  While other businesses have successfully brought things like sushi, newspapers, and other formerly regional offerings throughout the country (I am always surprised at the number of people in Iowa who get the Sunday New York Times, despite the public knowledge that it is increasingly difficult to be successful in print journalism and publications), but art has not been one; if there are large scale art collectors in the Midwest, for example, they tend to head to the coasts with a large part of their art buying budget.

I frequently come back to the idea, though, that artists need to take responsibility for themselves as workers and producers in the market.  Perhaps we always do--and I am out of touch with the real sides of the market--but my impression is that, at least to some extent, artists like to have a hands-off approach to selling their work and would rather someone else handle the business and market.  I can understand this completely--it can be a drag to be out of the studio and constructing a website or answering emails.  The point I want to emphasize, though, is that we should all agree that it is in all artists best interest to think and act proactively when it comes to the art market--not simply stay on the outside while someone else does our dirty work.  It is our responsibility, because it is our labor.  Without our collective attention to what is happening in the market, we risk not only having no input, but even worse, our work being exploited and commodified.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

call for artists (of a different kind)

Within the last week or so, a few things have led me to deep and critical thought about the art world and the market that is attached.  Steven Zevitas' article in the Huffington Post is one, and Tony Tasset's Artists Memorial at the Whitney Biennial is another.  The artists withdrawing from the Sydney Biennale (and the subsequent resignation of the Biennale chairperson) due to funding from a company called Transfield Holdings and Transfield Services, a company that is contracted for immigrant detention centers in Australia is also on my mind as I work through living and working as a professional artist here and now.

I've heard a number of people mention that if artists in the U.S. started boycotting exhibitions funded by ethically questionable companies, there would be very few art exhibitions and events.  Zevitas' article is much needed to increase the dialogue between artists, curators, collectors, and museums and questions the high price tags of art works as of late.  The most difficult thing in all of this is, though, is that the art market is inflated and large amounts of money are exchanged for artwork, the money is almost certainly coming from less than ideal sources.  Even if we take the money's origin out of the equation, income inequality is a difficult hurdle to overcome when it comes to the amount of money that is being paid for works of art.

I'm not sure that I can solve these problems in this post, but I want to take issue with a part of Zevitas' article, in particular his call to how artists should deal the problems prevalent in the art world:

                To artists I say: Keep making art and make it because you have a deep NEED to, not     
                because you WANT to. Follow your own unique visions and not current consensus. You 
                are the bedrock (Zevitas, "The Things We Think and Do Not Say").

I understand and appreciate Zevitas' sentiment here, but it is incredibly problematic.  It presupposes that artists are actually not working (in the sense that workers get paid for the work that they do) and rather doing what they do purely out of "need", which is a misnomer.  I have, absolutely, said that I NEED to make work in the past but in reality could also, absolutely, sacrifice studio time to help a friend, spend time with family, etc.  I'm not even convinced, on a biological level, that it is a core need of human beings--I do believe some sort of aesthetic output or beautification of objects to be a part of most cultures, but this is far from an individual artists toiling away in the studio (which, I might argue, is a highly privileged and Western view of what art is and can be).  I digress, though--my biggest issue with this call is that the need for artists to make a living off what they do trumps any vague, lyrical claims for an artists to "keep doing what you are doing" (and things will work themselves out the implication).  We cannot keep doing what we are doing unless we get paid to do it, and can make some kind of living off of doing it.  Let us be honest about all of this.

Secondly, I think artists should do what they want to.  Zevitas' statement takes away artists' will, and implies that artists WANT to follow current consensus, but NEED to "Follow our own unique visions".

Thirdly, this statement reinforces the hierarchical nature of the art world and the art market.  Simply replace "bedrock" with proletariat and we are workers supporting a market that Zevitas is rightly calling out.  Bedrock is demeaning, too, as it implies that artists do not know the cultural value of their work--leave that to the other people in the market (that are the subject of Zevitas' critique).

I could go on...there are many things I take issue with in this article.  I am happy that it is being shared on social networking sites and many people are reading it.  The implication of the article title, though, is that no one is talking about these things, and I know a number of artists that have conversations about this frequently, and I've given talks at conferences on this precise topic.  I am an artist that does what I WANT, talking about how screwed up the market of my profession is.  We are all talking about it.  The people that matter are talking about it and have been talking about it for some time.  Artists deal with this every time they sell a work of art, either through a gallery or not.  Any artist that has assessed their career goals has thought about these issues and worked towards developing their own outlook on how to navigate the art world.

Tasset's work at the Whitney Biennial, then, is something of an unintentional answer to Zevitas' article for me.  The Artists Memorial, listing over 390,000 working artists and dead artists names on site of the future Whitney Museum of Art is something of a memorial to what IS the art market--not the bedrock, but the essence.  Without artists everything else just becomes a commodity game of wealthy adults.

There are many other content-related issues to discuss with Tasset's memorial, but for such a great gesture to artists who often feel under appreciated in their field, the memorial is a key into a world that many of us will never see.  This is one great example of artists taking responsibility for other artists and continuing the profession in a way that is sustainable.

I often feel fortunate to be a professor of art--one of the reasons is that I have the ability to teach about the issues of the artist in the art world (and market).  I have had the opportunity to work with a number of incredibly talented, driven, and interesting students that I hope continue to find ways to make work--but, perhaps most importantly, find ways to contribute to society as artists.  I'm not talking about socially-based art work, but rather being responsible citizens and artists.  I will always be a part of working with younger artists, as I think it is my answer to the commodification of art and the discontent I feel about the market side of my profession.

In the spirit of discussion, I want to formulate my own call to arms for artists, in which I would propose is a better song to sing as we toil in our studios:

       To Artists, I say: make work and fight for acknowledgement of our profession in ways beyond the
       art market, because it will not last as it exists now.  Contribute to intelligent discourse about our
       profession--we are responsible for our ideas and thusly must be able to communicate them in some
       form.  Any person other than ourselves that speaks for us has motives separate from that in which
       the art work was made, and can offer interpretations, which are not the same thing as our ideas and
       intentions.  We are the essence of the art world.

section of Tasset's Artists Memorial, 2014
photo credit: Kendra Paitz


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

abstraction and subject matter

Just a brief introduction to some of my recent thinking, and some texts that I'll be working on for the next year or so in anticipation of an abstract painting exhibition at Anderson Gallery in Fall 2014.

Abstraction is seen as a type of artwork, but not as a possible subject matter of artwork.  I don't think this has anything to do with the more popular digital media, time-based work, and Relational Aesthetics/ Social engagement trends in contemporary art, I think that it has a lot to do with how we see abstraction and the history of art.

This historical relegation, I might argue, stems from an ability to systematically differentiate representation from abstraction and is a method of distinguishing works.  It is understandable as a category, but most artists that work abstractly would offer that abstraction is more than a category.  I'm not referring to some quasi-physical meaning that comes from "the search", I am referring more directly to abstraction and its ability to be meaningful.

I think that we are still dealing with this division (of the categories of representation/abstraction) in contemporary art, as artists, viewers, collectors, and historians.  It is difficult for us to articulate that abstraction is what a painting looks like, but not that it can be (or reference) subject matter.

More to come on these ideas...in the meantime, there is a great interview with Paul Behnke on Painter's Table called "The Ability of Paint" concerning his exhibition Eight Painters at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts, it is well worth the read.  

Friday, January 10, 2014

first of things

Happy new year.  Its a bit of a miserable day here in Iowa, but lots of exciting things on the horizon.
This post might be a bit scattered, in part because I haven't posted regularly for awhile, but I thought it wise to at least put something to the page (or screen) before time gets away from me.

1)  Amiri Baraka passed away today.  Baraka was incredibly influential to me as a young person, and his poem Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note is, to this day, one of my favorites:

'Lately, I've become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus...

Things have come to that.

And now, each night I count the stars.
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.

Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night I tiptoed up
To my daughter's room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there...
Only she on her knees, peeking into

Her own clasped hands'

He's well known for many things, but above everything he was a hell of a writer.

2)  I'm working on a mural for the Des Moines Social Club which should open later this Spring.  The space will have a full restaurant, at least one bar, a large theater, art gallery, and many other venues for various art forms.  It will be the first mural that I've done and I think it is coming at a perfect time.  Once the building is open, it will be open to the public, so please go see it!  Sometime around early summer (well after the opening) I'll post pictures for those of you unable to see it in person.

3)  DUSK.  More to come soon, but another project I'm honored to be a part of, straight out of Brooklyn, NY...

4)  Above and Below, an exhibition with Amy Sacksteder, Nina Rizzo, and Miguel Arzabe and myself, at Wright State University.  Exhibition opens on Sunday, January 19th, at 3:00 pm, and runs through March 2nd.  I'll be at the opening, and I know that Amy Sacksteder will be as well for sure, along with curator Danielle Rante.

5)   A painting was also selected by juror Timothy McDowell for the Young Painters 2014.  The opening reception is at 5:15 on January 31st, with a lecture by McDowell at 4pm on the 31st.  I won't be able to attend the reception, but would be glad to hear how the show looks if anyone can attend!  For anyone who doesn't know about this exhibition, I've submitted for ten years (years alternate figurative and abstraction, so I've only applied to 5 of the abstraction exhibitions) and, at the last possible moment, was accepted (as there is an age restriction of 35 years, and I turn 35 this February!), so I'm happy to be included in this exhibition, too.

And I'll leave you with the first painting of the year.  More images to come!
ascend, don't bend, 2014
acrylic, collage, wood, fabric, cardboard on panel
about 32" x 20"