Monday, May 30, 2011

Thumbs up for thumbs down

Let it be known how much I want to stop writing posts for this blog. I'd rather escape into snippets of passing thoughts – the kind you get on Facebook – because it makes life seem easier. I’d surely enjoy cocaine. Instead I get high on social media.

But the crash is inevitable. Because I don’t get any real sustenance from “likes.” I can’t say I get it from this blog either, but at least it forces me to think about things just a wee bit more. And while the process is mostly hell these days, I like the feeling of having gotten somewhere else afterward.

But why do it when what it really means is confronting feelings of anger, disgust and loneliness? I can’t be sure, but this op-ed piece Jonathan Franzen wrote in the Times hints at an answer:
To speak more generally, the ultimate goal of technology, the telos of techne, is to replace a natural world that’s indifferent to our wishes — a world of hurricanes and hardships and breakable hearts, a world of resistance — with a world so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self […] If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you’ve despaired of being loved for who you really are. And if you succeed in manipulating other people into liking you, it will be hard not to feel, at some level, contempt for those people, because they’ve fallen for your shtick. You may find yourself becoming depressed, or alcoholic, or, if you’re Donald Trump, running for president (and then quitting).
In sum, through commitment, you get to love and despair, which makes you who you really are, which is alive. Like or dislike?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sans Claustrophobia

I think it’s worth the sixteen bucks to see the new Herzog movie, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, in 3D. Even if you don’t have enough money to pay your apartment electric bill. Really.

What’s great about Herzog is that he gets away with being über earnest, without sounding stupid in the least. He can say things like, “let us now listen to the heartbeat of the cave,” and all you can do is answer a chipper “ok!” I think it’s because his primary and keen interest is fully seeing his subjects. He defers to them. Righteousness comes along when an artist’s interest is paired with a desire to teach it, or make a point about it. That makes viewers feel like they’re in school.

Part of what makes art generous (if it is) is the space it leaves its viewers. The space to draw different conclusions, to make one’s own connections, to move about freely through the artist’s proposition.

Art is generous when it feels like a break from your electric bill.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Give it up

(Francis Alÿs, still from Paradox of Praxis 1 (Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing), 1997)

Nothing but pans in the press for the Francis Alÿs retrospective at MoMa. The drumbeat is satisfying, because, as the basis for good art, ideas are losing support. Especially when these ideas are samey and pat. It seems prominent New York critics want something to look at, not think about. Me too.

I’ve always felt strongly that artists should be responsible, even when provocative. If an artist is going to put something out into the public realm, she should know the concepts behind it. That being said, more and more what I want from art viewing is pleasure – not entertainment, but pleasure. And for me pleasure in art usually means seeing. Seeing makes me feel good. Even seeing difficult things can feel good.

This brings me to the idea of generosity. What is art giving us? In Christian Viveros-Fauné’s review of the Alÿs show, he uses the word generosity twice. First as way to distinguish between conceptual art actions (masturbating in a gallery vs. founding a political party); second, to describe what and how much is given to the viewer.

This doesn’t mean we artists have to reveal everything. But artists, let’s not show how smart we are, let’s be generous.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Some studio visit do's and don'ts

(Francis Bacon's studio)

Yesterday I visited a studio (not Francis Bacon's). Speaking from the other side, here are some tips for artists.

1. Shut up already. Artists spend loads of time with their work, but visitors need time to soak it up. Give some silence.
2. Don’t defer. If the visitor asks, “Which drawing do you prefer,” don’t say, “well, you would know better.” Really?
3. Don’t make statements about your guest like, “Oh, you’re just so busy,” as the guise for saying “God, I feel so bad that I made you schlep over here.”
4. Say what you see. It’s helpful to hear, “I like the way these blacks got so dark. That’s why I like this paper because it allows for it.”
5. Don’t show everything and the kitchen sink.

And here are some tips for visitors:

1. Say something already! Just say what you see. It’s the artist’s job not to make you feel stupid.
2. Don’t act smart.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Taking Sides

(Christopher Wool, 2005)

Whether it’s fear or reality, I’m concerned that working as an art consultant will negatively impact my drawing and efforts to exhibit as an artist.

People who like artists are artists, one-time artists or wanna-be-artists. The rest think we’re a bit volatile or that we want something from them. Maybe we’re going to invite them to our studio (where they’ll be forced to say something about stuff they don’t like or understand) or ask them to buy or show what we make. Then what? So even though an “artist’s eye” is a selling point, better not tell clients I’m an artist too. But if I don’t mention it, does it mean I still am?

Let’s say it does. If I am in fact an artist, why am I consulting? Why am I trying to move other people’s art? Shouldn’t I be in the studio working or planning my own exhibition? I’d be more devoted if I were starving. On the other hand, this may be my only shot to get my work in the mix.

I can do both I think. I always have. But my brain can’t hold too many ideas about a person – or myself - at once. Even though that’s precisely why I like Kippenberger. He’s so diverse: sculpture, paintings, books, kinetic contraptions, lithographs, posters, all on vast subjects made through diverse approaches. Yet it all comes from a same, palpable personality.