Monday, June 19, 2006

But is it Art?

So many artists, so little art. This is a claim that I do not make lightly, but here in America you can be whatever you claim to be. I have a story about an abbreviated event that happened a few years back in Manzanita, which drives home my point. One of the people I was dining with took a paper napkin, smeared some catsup on it, drew some squiggle on it with a pencil and two different color pens, ripped a photo out of a magazine and taped it to the napkin and then taped it to the wall. Under it he wrote on another piece of tape, “Mixed Media - $300.”

So what exactly is art? And better yet, what is not art? Sitting at that table watching it happen and the intensity or comedy of the moment combined with the commentary of what the local galleries were selling; this piece of time was total art. The moment alone was worth the $300, though the piece wasn’t.

Cottage industry products are not art to me. Once the uniqueness is over, the art is over. Though known internationally, Dale Chihuly’s glass factory turns out hundreds of pieces every day, each piece in the series looks basically the same. His pieces become like prints after the first one in the series. To further confuse this issue, nearly all of his work is done by he workers in his factory, yet he supposedly signs the pieces and commands a premium price for them. What’s up with that? One would be more connected to an artist if they paid $300 for the mixed media piece in Manzinita than they would by buying a $2000 Chihuly piece that Chihuly has only looked at (maybe) for a moment.

OK, many of my articles talk about blatant consumerism, and art buyers think they are above this? Do you really know what you are buying, and most times over paying for?

I know a printmaker, and I went to see some of his stuff in a gallery in Cannon Beach. I was floored to see the prices he placed on his prints were easily five times the price of comparable prints. Comparable by, size, effort, content, framing and general quality. Though I can see someone from Portland with more money than brains thinking they are getting better art because of the price. This guy’s work is somewhat interesting, but really not something that could easily be displayed because of the dark content, and general lack of content that would make his pieces great. I figure he is setting a price on his guile. He has a lot of it.

Maybe guile is all it takes. I once went to the Stieglitz show in San Francisco. Stieglitz was known as a fringie because he associated with more talented artists than himself. However, many schools of art have elevated him to the level of high art. Strangely, when you look at his work it is snapshot quality at best. There are no interesting compositions and no interesting contrasts. It’s like looking at the stuff your grandfather did with an instamatic back in the day.

I was also very disappointed with the clear cut series by Robert Adams. It was gray on gray and very uninteresting. If he wanted to make a point about how bad it really looked, he should have made his prints look better. It is OK to use filters or higher contrast paper. It looked like he didn’t even bother to get out of the car or roll down his window to shoot the series.

I think that the problem may be with the other artists in the community. They are too timid to tell another practitioner that their work sucks. Probably because they know that one day they may get the same reaction form someone else in their community. I am not a sports fan, but I do admire one thing about the sports community, no one covers up your mistakes for you. If you do something that is bad the referees or umpires, the fans, the reporters and the other team will call it as it is. The worst criticism you will ever get from an artist about the work of another artist is, “I really respect what they are doing and all they have done previously.”

In every other part of life there is success and failure, but in the world of art everyone gets a ribbon for participating. This is why there is so much bad art out there and why those with little artistic skill can get a degree in fine art and make a living showing people how to produce mediocre work.


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