Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Puff the pipe

(Self-portrait of Polish artist Pawel Althamer in Milan)

I showed some of my new drawings to an artist friend of mine and she at one point asked, “what about shading?” I told her I thought shading in this case would be mostly a shtick, that it served no other purpose than effect. She looked at me like I was some kind of uptight puritan. I can handle that.

Then we were talking about some text-based videos I’m preparing for a concert at a club on the Lower East Side this fall. I told her it was essentially enjoyable but lightweight work for which I had to worry about things like shades of red. She basically wondered what was wrong with that and recommended that I become more “hedonistic.” I can see what she means.

Then, in a review of “After Nature” at the New Museum, Peter Schjeldahl in this week’s New Yorker notes, “But the futility of artistic technique in the face of world conditions may constitute a subject for art as substantial as any other, and rather more compelling than today’s stacked-deck models of success.” What I think he means by that is that there’s a trend in contemporary art that’s veering away from virtuosity and seduction and towards what he actually calls “existentialist standards of authenticity” (ie: contemplative, serious work with a pinch of suffering).

He says,
“Politically, the new art is benumbed. Desperate to eschew narcissism of money and fame, along with academically entrenched ideology, the artists operate at psychological depths at which social attitudes can’t coalesce. (This is an interesting counterpoint in a summer when politics of the get-out-the-vote kind generates something like avant-gardist passion among young people suddenly excited to deem themselves citizens.)"

I don’t quite get what he means, but my hunch is that this attitude could turn into self-importance. I think I’d like to aim for an unaffected balance between “hedonism” and “existentialism.”

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