Archive for October, 2008

Celebrity theory 101
When The Art Bubble Bursts Into A Splash  by  Elizabeth Currid

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You read Us Weekly for the articles. You can’t help but be interested in what Lindsay Lohan snorted, ran her car into or slept with this week. But, you went to college, you read the new Chabons and Lethems as soon as they come out! You’re not a vapid person! Good news: Celebrity is not only a major driver of the economy, it’s a subject worthy of academic scrutiny. University of Southern California professor Elizabeth Currid, PhD., explains the sociology of fame and pop culture.

Elizabeth writes:

The art world has a problem with itself, verging on self-loathing. No, I’m not talking about the impending bubble bursting that will render currently celebrated (or at least expensive) art work valueless. I’m not talking about the transformation of starving artists into celebrities who sashay about town with socialites and end up in the gossip columns alongside Paris Hilton or Jay-Z. They are both only symptoms of a bigger concern: Art is no longer just the stuff on museum walls or in wealthy collectors’ homes.

Art has become a marketable and highly successful commercial product that can be sold in many different forms, across many different genres, to lots of different people, and that success is creating a rupture within the art world between artists who believe that art should remain elitist and artists creating those commercialized products who believe art should be a part of everyday life for all different types of people. For sure, the translation of art into a commodity has been big business since Andy Warhol, who famously aspired to be a “business artist.” But never have we observed it with the gusto and ubiquity seen in today’s commercialized art. And nowhere is this more present than in the street art movement.

A stroll through the art districts of New York or Los Angeles or London gives you a sense of the buzz surrounding the contemporary street art movement—something unseen since the days of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Lines stretch around the corner for Los Angeles-based artist Shepard Fairy’s opening. The photographer Ryan McGinley became the youngest artist with a solo show at New York City’s Whitney Museum for his startling images of young graffiti artists, “The Kids Are Alright.” banksyThe anonymous London-based graffiti writer Banksy’s show in a downtown warehouse in LA brought celebrities like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie along with 50,000 visitors. In the three days the show was open, every single piece of artwork sold. The Soho-based gallery Deitch Projects has become a pivotal force in the art world, forecasting the next rising star with frightening accuracy.

These days, New York City artists are playing a significant role in driving the city’s economy. According to the Alliance for the Arts, a New York-based arts advocacy and research organization, in 2005 arts industries (ranging from theater to art galleries to commercial art) generated $8.2 billion in wages, $904 million in taxes, 160,300 jobs for New York City. If you consider what economists call the “spillover effect,” which is all the restaurants, hotels, bars and clubs that arts patrons also go to when they attend art openings, museum exhibitions, comedy clubs or the Tribeca Film Festival, the arts have an overall impact of $21.2 billion on New York City’s economy. Art galleries alone contribute $38 million in taxes and $420 million in wages, with an overall economic impact of $1.4 billion to New York City’s economy.

Despite all the hype, some within the graffiti world resent the invasion of their subversive clique by wealthy art collectors, masses of gallery goers, and Abercrombie & Fitch-wearing co-eds. Thus has it always been: Success breeds disgruntlement and resentment. People have complained about the “undeserved” success of their peers for a long time. But instead of breeding nasty cocktail party chatter, this resentment over artists’ “selling out” has bred something new: A campaign of violence (whether of actual or perceived danger) and intimidation against commercially successful artists.

In June, some kid lit a stink bomb at a Shepard Fairey opening in Brooklyn. Last November a hooded figure distributed propaganda flyers at a panel discussion that featured the street artist Swoon. And the last year has seen dozens of anonymous attacks on well-known street artists’ work throughout New York City by “the Splasher” (widely believed to be a curmudgeonly vandal collective), who throws buckets of paint on the art work, destroying it in the process, and leaving anarchist messages like “destroy the museums, in the streets and everywhere.” They also fancy themselves to be journalists, printing a mindless little treatise with the phrase “If We Did It, This Is How It Would’ve Happened” on the cover (a seeming play on the maybe-to-be-released OJ Simpson fictional tell-all) and a picture of a destroyed Fairey piece.

splasher1.jpgThese attacks are not just for kicks. The attacks have been directed mainly toward street artists who have been able to translate writing graffiti into making a living. The attackers’ fear is ostensibly invasion of the mainstream—save us from the pathetic masses coming from the Midwest or Pennsylvania or the Upper East Side to buy our culture. That this apprehension outweighs supporting artists’ who are actually creating livelihoods out of their passion reeks of jealousy and resentment masked as self-righteous art snobbery. When it comes down to it, the Splasher(s) and his/her/their ilk (those who believe commercially successful artists are sell-outs) come across as losers who are pissed that their artwork wasn’t good enough to get its own gallery show so they had to destroy someone else’s. These stunts are the straw man equivalent of hating the Prom Queen because she’s beautiful but pretending it’s because she’s a bimbo.

I’m not suggesting the dissent or disagreement is stupid—it’s not—but throwing buckets of paint is. For more constructive, pointed, creative responses to the commercialization of art, consider the recent flurry of attention London artist Damien Hirst is getting for his latest installment of absurdity: “For the Love of God,” a skull encrusted with 8,601 diamonds, which, with an asking price of over $100 million, is the most expensive piece of art ever made by a living artist. You may or may not like Hirst’s formaldehyde sharks, millions of dead butterfly wings or chopped up cows. His latest creation can be looked at as hilarious genius or simply an exercise in rococo kitsch. But even the critical responses to Hirst’s work represent everything art dialogue could be. The Polish artist Peter Fuss is selling a parody, “For the Laugh of God,” a skull encrusted in almost 10,000 fake diamonds. lauraAnother artist, known as “Laura”, dumped a skull of her own with Swarovski crystals and a pile of trash outside of London’s WhiteCube Gallery where Hirst’s skull was being shown. Or consider the recent gag at the MoMA, “Excuse me, is this a work of art?,” which entailed artists putting up signs complete with artist names, date of creation and origination in front of banal objects like water fountains, bathroom sinks and fire extinguishers, incorporating them into the museum’s collection. Or Banksy’s dozens of clever commentaries (and pranks) on the art world that are actually pieces of art in their own right. Creating a dialogue about what is good or bad art is important for the future of the art world, but at the very least the responses should be thoughtful and intelligent, not just thinly-guised jealousy towards an artist who became successful or famous.

Those within the art world who resent the commercial success of fellow artists who get book deals or commissioned work for fashion houses or sold out shows really need to think about what they really think they’re up against. Is it that street art is getting respect and admiration from the general public not just art collectors and gallery owners? Is it that these artists’ are able to hold down full time jobs as artists and not have to work part time as waiters or Starbucks baristas? Is it that these artists have become successful in a variety of different cultural ventures ranging from magazines to sneaker designs to clothing companies?

It strikes me that the anti-commercial sentiment within the art world ironically exhibits the very same “short cut to celebrity” that its followers rally against. Isn’t throwing buckets of paint on famous graffiti and having your protests written up in major national newspapers just another version of getting attention the cheap and easy way?

One might argue that commercial success is not the same thing as artistic success, but Warhol taught us that things can be otherwise. Business art was the ultimate validation of one’s aesthetic skills. If people bothered to buy an artist’s work then by extension one could conclude that the artist was producing good art. These days, the intimate relationship between money and successful art means that really good art sells. And maybe some good art doesn’t sell, but when the bohemian art demigod Ryan McGinley gets hired to do photography for the New York Times and has an entire project devoted to documenting Kate Moss, one might say that the economic market validated what the art world already knew: McGinley is an art superstar. His commercial success is merely a signal of his brilliance. Art goers can bicker endlessly about whether commercial art validates or detracts from the virtue of an artist, but ultimately this is an existential debate: The reality is that given the opportunity to make a living out of making art, many artists will choose to do so and there’s really nothing wrong with that.

When I interviewed Shepard Fairey several months ago for the research I conduct, he (like the other artists I spoke with) bore no ill will toward either the masses or the elite art world. He just wanted to do what he loved to do, and he was happy that it had been a successful venture that allowed him to provide an income for himself and own his own company. He also told me that it was important that he was able to get his art out there to as many people as possible. As he put it, “I can make pieces that are expensive but I want to sell $35 screen prints and $25 T-shirts. Where I am coming from in my work is that art is empowering. I want people to be able to access me…I never started as a fine artist and felt like a ‘sell out’. I went in the opposite direction. I really like the street artist – you didn’t have to submit to a gallery or a magazine, you just went out and did it…A T-shirt is a walking piece of art. When I do a record label’s album cover, I am producing art that gives people pleasure while listening.”

I’m not exactly sure what’s worth making a “splash” about other than the fact that street art is actually getting the respect and public interest it deserves. Isn’t that what art was always about in the first place?
Elizabeth Currid is assistant professor at University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning and Development. Her first book, The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City, will be published by Princeton University Press this September.

6:04 PM on Mon Aug 27 2007

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8:11 AM 7/16/2008 [original draft]

automatism with a heavy filter

also see the artist as a filter

My definitions of automatism and how I use it:

Automatism as a “pure” process in art making is virtually impossible to achieve.  An artists process involves making history and life history and it is impossible to eliminate this history from a person’s process, let alone an artist’s process when making art.  All of this experience and education becomes the “stuff” that makes up how the artist is a filter.

If a painter could somehow tap into a “pure” automatism making state, there would be no style.  All of the elements that make up a particular piece would follow the laws of chance and random.  A painting would only be formed from the artistic choice of medium and support; scale; etc.  The design would have no connection to the artist per se; thus forming a design similar in structure and color as what might show up in a rock.

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diversity discussion, again!

8:52 AM 5/16/2008 [original draft]

diversity discussion, again!

my art work is like handwriting; all from the same hand, just different content.  There are distinguishing identity marks embedded.  Sometimes they aren’t readily apparent.  Even when I use a particular artist as a filter or aid, the final results come close to the originator, sometimes, but most often my handwriting will come through in the way I handle the brush or something similar.

I don’t know why the diversity issue bothers me so.  I have had this issue bouncing around in my brain for over 40 years; since graduate school daze.  When I get off this treadmill and just work, everything comes out fine.  I think this issue,for me, is an insecurity issue.  Also it is a product of my impatience.  Also it is a product of my interests in never stepping into the same river twice; i don’t like to repeat myself; making more than one image look-a-like tends to become a boring activity and I want painting to be exciting and dynamic.

12:23 PM 6/13/2008 Update:  While reading an article on the paintings of Sam Francis [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_7_37/ai_54169955/pg_3] , these words rang a bell for me; “And it was when the assembly line really started cranking that his work began to turn a bit stale, a bit predictable.”  Translating these words to fit into my scheme of making art, to me I have a long running fear of making stale and predictable art by making images that are similar; or making images in long sets;  by repeating myself.  I don’t want to repeat myself.  On special occasions I want to explore an idea in-depth,  then I will create images in series.  Example, I am working on a set of paintings on paper, wood, and cloth centering on a concept of mantle (fireplace mantle I guess — dunno, just like the idea of a mantle).

12:45 PM 6/13/2008:  Also as my mind jumps from place to place revealing only what it can reveal, so do my paintings throughout a session- jump from one image to another (sometimes).  Usually, as I work each painting influences the next one.  I see something that I just painted and it sparks energy to make something else.  I just follow the impulses and paint.  If I procrastinate the intuition, then the process stops dead in its tracks and the session is dead.  I have to start all over again.  Sometimes it never restarts for that day.  Automatism makes this so.  Automatism creates the life in my painting.  Questioning the first solution idea/move automatically stops the process.  This is what I observe and experience in the studio.  This is what makes all of this so exciting.  It can be a problem for a viewer who wants to see logical progression from one painting t another over a period of time.  Well, there is logic.  It comes in the form of Dada and Automatism.  Wrap your mind around this and you can wrap your mind around my painting.  It is that simple.

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2:40 PM 5/11/2008 [original draft]


Concept:  The process, techniques, and materials, and design, and everything else painting is the subject, content, meaning, raison d’etre defining painting and its message/s communicated, real or otherwise.  In many ways it [concept] has always been this way for painting save for the illustrators who work exclusively with word-to-painting translations whether the translation is from something an artist is interested in illustrating a literature from a personal position or the artist is illustrating a literature of others; including poetry.  Without process art cannot exist; painting cannot exist.

That being said, this is a very simplistic approach to defining all painting and my painting in particular.  I have stated, and my work illustrates this, my painting has its basic roots in classical Abstract Expressionism as defined in mid 1940 and practiced until the mid 1960’s when it was successfully challenged by minimalism, pop art and other divisions of painting developed as a reaction to AE.  In my opinion, all of this stew has co-existed quite successfully since that time.  Over the years I too have challenged this position in my work only to keep coming back to a thread that links back to the 1945-65 AE period.  It is my belief that artists must be true to their centers (however defined) and let their art be a reflection or projection of this center.

I have often of late made reference to using Automatism in a pure form.  Again I mean here that I am choosing a form of Automatism that dates back to its origins in the early 20th century.  I am also trying to use this system of art making in a pure a form as I can.  However, a person cannot separate influences of life experience from a behavior pattern.  Therefore, at best, my use of Automatism is that of a filter.  I filter my experience as a person and as an artist through an imagined Automatism filter; thinking that the way I use it is pure in its structure in all ways.  Well, this isn’t really truth because I can’t eliminate all the influences that have formed my art from the beginning and the influences that still put pressure on how I make my art and what tools and material make up my art.

Also, of late, I have made and make reference to the idea that my paintings are nothing more or nothing less that working spaces; space as a place to put and arrange the stuff of painting.  What this stuff is covers wide territory and its parts are forever in addition as well as subtraction (removal); this last concept has been referred to as a dialectical analysis process).

Since I intentionally do not insert any literature in my painting, there is no (or should not be) any verbal translations of what my painting is when it is said to be completed and then hanging on a gallery or museum wall.  So what are they?  My best guess, and this guess has held up now for some years, my paintings operate in the human world as mirrors.  If an audience member has to start a translation process that remotely starts to add words to the mix of understanding, then the viewer should start discussing themselves.  There is no way to find any detailed verbal or literature about or from me in my painting.  The question, “what does it mean?” doesn’t have an answer.  My painting/s individually or in groups don’t mean anything.  There is no politics here.  There is no literature here.  There are no stories being told.
8:50 AM 7/11/2008

When you look at one of my paintings you are essentially looking at your self.  These paintings act like mirrors reflecting some essence of the viewer.  At times this can get scary.  Revealing a truth about one self can cause a denial.  The denial can also lead to anger, etc.  Don’t get angry at me, get angry at your self.  If what you see is negative, try to correct the issue.

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Size does matter

10:14 AM 3/24/2008 [original draft]

Size does matter

1)  If it weren’t for the bad economy for the past 4 years (for me) and who knows how long for others in my situation (artists/painters), I never would have started working on small wood blocks.  Another influence on me to turn to painting on wood, recent retro of Richard Tuttle.  I have looked at his work closely over many years, like it to some extent, but never got enthralled.  But after I had a look this time around, I fell in love with the work on wood; and some of the small sculptures.  However, he works his way and I work mine.  I fell in love with how paint and wood relate to each other.

2)  Bad economy means I can’t afford to ship large paintings to a gallery/venue on spec; no sales no shipping.  This is a catch 22 to the nth degree.  Very frustrating.  But life must go on.  I still make large paintings, but they seem to stay in the studio.  I make small paintings for the shipping crowd; no not boats, UPS and USPS.  I can afford to ship small stuff to a venue on spec.  This means, no sales and I haven’t gone bankrupt.  I live to work another day.

3)  Size affects the painting process.  I think and work differently on a 5 x 5 x 1 block of pine than I do on a 58 x 55 canvas.  I don’t think this is unique.  It is unique for me since I don’t plan a painting’ image structure in advance.  I work as pure as I can using a modified program of surrealist automatism.  The modifications are simple: over 40 years of living and painting; studying and practicing; forming and making.  No matter how pure one tries to tap into our subconscious and let it out without any conscious connections, you still can’t separate the brain parts and the brain from our life’s experiences.  It is a computer and one that learns every second it is operating.  So we are left dealing with world of ideals.  This gets me going everyday in the studio.

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