Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Call to Arms.

This commentary started off as an answer to a question Ed Winkleman asked in The Lost Lifestyle "What I'm most interested in here is whether a lifestyle has been lost and if so does that matter and if so why?"

I got to thinking about the implications of what he was referring to, in essence the hypothetical loss of the "café society" and what that might mean. If we were sitting at the French Bistro across the street, given a couple of bottles of Bordeaux this is what might have ensued .

The speed of modern life, or maybe it's just the pressure, puts a crimp into the old café-bar society intellectual discussion. The French are very good at this, they will argue a philosophical point just to argue, Americans are more practical, show me the beef, buy or sell, what's the diff? In any case, it is not something which is currently commonplace but that does not mean it cannot exist.

In thinking about it, I believe that what's needed by the culture, is manufactured by the culture to fulfill the need.

Right now, the artworld is obsessed with money and glamour, it want's to be Alleywood, with a small glam audience that fits neatly on the pages of Artforum's blog and the NYC social diary. So, if this is what interests you, you're set, you get what you want.

On the other hand, I have the faint suspicion that something deeper lurks in the dark shadows, or maybe it's something darker lurking in the deep shadows, of this culture.

Why is anyone even reading this? Is there a terrible disconnect between what we believe, what we want for our lives, and the world as we know it? "They" want us to think about the money, about petty desires, maybe we won't notice what is happening.

I am not talking about political action, I could be but I'm not, I'm just thinking that society needs the artist to think a bit more about life and a bit less about success or money.

To realize that this society is sick, it argues it's course with a soundbite.

It argues it's course with a soundbite, and this glib course affects the life or death of someone you do not know. Should that matter?

Does it matter at all what discourse is put forth by the intellectual communities of society, including the artists? What if I suggested that the logical conclusion of postmodern philosophy is George Bush? Oh my God, how can I say that? Easy, just keep bending the truth, reinterpreting the facts as one sees fit, until everyone gives in, which is what has happened.

Where in society must resistance to this madness start? Why among the intellectuals, including the artists, of course.

It is not necessary to arrive at a solution, nor even assert a political action. The problem is apathy, the acceptance of something which you know is wrong in spite of yourself. It is not the responsibility of the artist to change society, in truth this is a course for the politicians.

It is the responsibility of the artists to reveal society as it is, or is not, to speak the unsaid, to think the unthinkable, to reassert the common dialog so that society can steer its own course. If the artist is obsessed with fame and fortune, society will be obsessed with fame and fortune. Gee maybe we are self corrupting, sounds pornographic, shouldn't it be fun?

Life is not simple, societies problems will not succumb to simple solutions, and just because you think something is right does not mean it is. Western free societies, the gift of the Greeks perchance, are based upon debate and consensus.

If society reduces debate to a soundbite we might as well eliminate the body politic and just flip a coin. Debate requires awareness, and awareness requires information, thought and action. How the artist fits into this puzzle is interesting, the artists is not a politician, it is not his or her responsibility to fill the queue with the body politic. It is the artists responsibility to illuminate the nature of debate itself, to affect by action, the process of debate not necessarily its outcome.

The current American problem is that we are told to be afraid of debate, we are afraid of the truth, whatever it might be, we reduce it to a binary option, a soundbite of thought, yay or nay by whatever means necessary. It is the responsibility of the artist to resurrect the debate, to ask the question, take a position, be political, intellectual, hedonistic, shit just be real, we need the truth.

To seek the truth, any truth, is better than repeating a lie.

What I am suggesting here is that the artist functions in society in a way which is psychic and subtle. In a way, the artist gives license to the culture, if we poke ironic fun at societal issues, a wink, wink, nod, nod, masturbation of acceptance, we in essence, deprecate their importance by avoidance.

If art has any meaning at all, any societal function, it is this, art is capable of seeding thought, refocusing perception, changing attitudes, in essence art can provide a subtle model for perceptual change as evidence that such perceptual change is possible. As evidence that such perceptual change is possible, not some political ideology or some philosophical theory, these come and go with the wind, but the idea that humankind must be adaptive in its thought process is a necessarily evolutionary concept which is at the core of the art making process.

It is 2006, six years into the new century, six years into the new millennium and we are debating evolution and the morality of stem cell research. What is wrong with this fucking picture? Oh yea, the body politic is dead against attempts by Islamic conservatives seeking a return to philosophy from middle ages. Oh god, Salem witch hunts would make a great reality TV show, sex, sin and torture for morality. Let's hear it for morality, my morality, my voting morality, my vote, my my. Oh, you say, fuck morality. I say what is the difference? Life is not black and white, as they say "it's in living color", the question is up for debate.

It is 2006, six years into the new century, six years into the new millennium and I think artists have wimped out, "Show me the check, I want mine while the getting is good, I'll be your whore, will you be my pimp?"

It is 2006, six years into the new century, six years into the new millennium and the world is on the verge of blowing itself up. As artists what can we do to affect a psychic change into societies perception of the future?

If you do not have an opinion about this, then you are part of the problem.

12 comments:

fisher6000 said...

Hey George, I have an opinion about this, a lot of people do. I linked to you today.

Anonymous said...

I'm the anonymous that sent the Furedi quote to Edward Winkleman and thanks to the resulting comments am now reading A Nation Gone Blind. Thank you, George, Deborah and Edward. And Eric.
A straight white male, I got my MFA in the early 80's- Harmony Hammond did the seminar and only showed slides of women artists, with the exception of a Lucas Samaras quilt. I thought, "I borrowed money for this? WTF?" As Eric Larsen writes, what people are has become more important than what they do. I need to say here that my favorite painters at that time were Susan Rothenberg, Lois Lane and Denise Green. The past 25 years have been a nightmare, art-world-wise, but I've stuck with it, made the sacrifices and kept going. With what I'm reading on the blogs lately I'm glad I did. Looks like it may be the beginning of the end- expect it to get worse before it gets better.

Angela Ferreira said...

I am a 27 year old female artist and from reading all these blogs, people who I look up to, who I consider successful artists, their uncertainties, their experiences and disappointments, it's scary!

fisher6000 said...

Hey Anon,

I studied with HH at University of Arizona in the early 90's... you go there or New Mexico?

You wrote: "A straight white male, I got my MFA in the early 80's- Harmony Hammond did the seminar and only showed slides of women artists, with the exception of a Lucas Samaras quilt. I thought, "I borrowed money for this? WTF?""

You are dicing up the conversation in a weird way when you put it like this. Was the work good? Or was it more important that it was gendered according to HH's agenda? You're making a fallacious argument, kind of asserting that straight white male art is better than woman art, and then you double back on yourself by saying that your fave painters were three women...

...it's the "some of my best friends are black/women/gay" cul-de-sac... a rhetorical dead end. What was the problem with the art itself that you saw? What made it flat?

The thing that bugs me is the way nobody talks about identity art as art. If identity art was talked about in terms of whether or not it's good, then that would promote forward movement, no?

Anonymous said...

fisher6000

What I meant to imply was that as an ambitious grad student I wanted to see the best work no matter who made it. Still do. I know 'best' is subjective, but I came into school more or less willing to go along with whoever was teaching the seminars until I more fully formed my own opinions. If it reads to you that I'm kind of asserting that straight white male art is better than woman art, that is not my intention. That the work shown in grad seminar was by women artists only, with one exception, was to my mind evidence of an agenda that wasn't about aesthetics. Some was good stuff, to me, some wasn't. My expectation at that time was that art had more to do with aesthetics and what aesthetics is good for (oh God)than the gender of the person who made it. To me it's like Larsen's analogy with the dentist who thinks about feet all the time- why doesn't he/she become a podiatrist instead of putting caps and braces on toes?

I liked Harmony a lot, one-on-one. Very warm. I went to school in the East and would move to coastal CA in a heartbeat (wife's uncle has a house near Bodega Bay) if I wasn't comitted to making the paintings I want/have to make, no matter the financial consequences.

fisher6000 said...

Hey Anon,
It sounded like you were trying to make this point:

That the work shown in grad seminar was by women artists only, with one exception, was to my mind evidence of an agenda that wasn't about aesthetics.

But that it came out funny.

I hate this aspect of identity politics--to call anyone out on having an agenda that is not aesthetic/visual/artistic is to worry about being called racist/sexist/etc.ist.

As a woman I feel like I have more cred when talking about HH's work, or The Dinner Party, or whatever, and I think that is not a good thing. We should not be patrolling the same boundaries that have always existed like that. I want my work to be subject to the same kinds of scrutiny that your work is subjected to.

And yeah, HH was a really good, supportive teacher one-on-one. But yeah, I think I saw the same slides you did...

George said...

Deborah, yes, I have been reading your blog of late, it's been interesting. Deborah Fisher's blog

The issue with "identity politics" (your theme here) is an interesting one. The fact that it becomes a topic to be discussed I think is good. When these ideas become the conceptual basis for, or otherwise included in an artwork, then I think the artwork must take precedence. An "issue" cannot carry an artwork for there is no guarantee that at another point in time, the "issue" will even matter. In the end the artwork succeeds or fails on its own artistic merits.

poppy said...

hey good little essay
must say i agree with you and have made some overheated comments about similar ideas on other blogs.. too much being made for the art world.. would rather not be called an artist, not participate, but must one to change anything? In a weird way i've been always making work that i was told was old news or i shouldn't make.. Being asked the question many times.. How does this connect to art of the past, what are you saying about cubism(insert movement here) with this piece? I am starting to wonder about school and what a headache Grad school might be. What do you think of as a starting point and how do similar minds connect and discussions ensue in 2006? Blogs? I find them troublesome..

a.s. said...

george:

It is 2006, six years into the new century, six years into the new millennium and I think artists have wimped out, "Show me the check, I want mine while the getting is good, I'll be your whore, will you be my pimp?"

The answer for me is to drop out of the gallery scene for good -- no more commercial gallery art, no more commercial gallery openings, no more dealers, no more collectors. In fact, I'm embarrassed that I've already wasted so much of my life wandering through mythologized-white-cubes-masquerading-as-humanist-projects.

I still believe (now more than ever) in the importance of creativity to 'seed thought, refocus perception, change attitudes, and provide a model for perceptual change,' but such endeavors need not refer to themselves as Art, and they sure as hell can't be found in art boutiques whose only interest in an audience outside of wealthy collectors is a superficial one.

poppy:

In case you haven't been told this a million times, your paintings look almost exactly like those of Martin Kippenberger (but yours are more of a neo-bad-painting-lite). You'd better cash in while the going is good, his style is one of the hottest, and most widely copied, on the market.

George said...

Hey Poppy, thanks for the comment. I was in a cranky mood when I wrote this post but I have a hunch I'm probably picking up on something just as cranky in the zeitgeist.

I believe that the artist plays a valuable role in society. It is more than just providing entertainment for the masses. I do not expect everyone to agree with my views but what I would hope for is that other young artists will at least think about, what being an artist in today's society can be about.

The questions you are asking yourself are a start and here's why. Your peers and your teachers are responding to you based upon a set of assumptions they believe are true but at best are only partial truths and most likely, nothing more than a safe set of personal beliefs.

Let's get down and dirty with this, you said "… I've been always making work that I was told was old news or I shouldn't make". So why would someone else think this ("bla, bla, bla…") about someone else's work, in this case yours?

1. Someone else must believe in a world view which states that path A leads to B. So if B is a desirable result then one should take path A. (i.e. should or shouldn't do such-n-such)
2. Now I would ask if there is any real proof that path A leads to B?
3. The problem is, that while well meaning, "someone else" is making an assumption based upon their own personal criteria, experience and abilities, not yours.
4. This is a huge difference in point of view.

One of the most interesting qualities about young artists (youth in general) is that they don't know it cannot be done. Naiveness precludes the existence of a success-failure tested set of "rules" The older artist might say "it's just a rehash of 50's surrealism", a fair enough statement which was success-failure tested in 1967 as something "one shouldn't do" Well maybe in 1967, but what about today?

Taking this a radical step forward. All assumptions about the stylistic evolution in painting for the last 100 years are suspect. The idea that there is somehow "progress" in stylistic evolution is false. What one might see as the evolution of painting in the twentieth, the popular path, Picasso to Pop, is only part of the story. It was built on the idea of the "modern", the constant roiling change of styles leading into the future. It was about the radical social changes brought forth by the industrial revolution.

It's over with. People are telling you how they would fight the last war. What conceptually worked in the twentieth century, my gosh could it be any clearer than saying Art Since 1900?

It's now the Twenty First Century, what does it all mean?

Bill Gusky said...

All assumptions about the stylistic evolution in painting for the last 100 years are suspect. The idea that there is somehow "progress" in stylistic evolution is false. What one might see as the evolution of painting in the twentieth, the popular path, Picasso to Pop, is only part of the story. It was built on the idea of the "modern", the constant roiling change of styles leading into the future. It was about the radical social changes brought forth by the industrial revolution.

Breathtaking.

I almost see the "stylistic evolution in painting" as Vasarian art history extended beyond the kind of civilizations Vasari (or anyone else of that time) might have envisioned.

Could anyone living in the 1500s have imagined an era in which the tides of civilization itself are outpowered by the infinitely more capricious tides of the marketplace? Do contemporary artistic motivations resemble those of artists living in the 1500s?

George said...

Well, the marketplace, patronage is different today and as such must have an affect. Whether it is better or worse is hard to say. Regarding the motivations of artists today compared to those in the past. I honestly don't believe the range of human psychology has changed that much in 500 years. I would guess that while the "motivations" might be similar, because of the radical social changes over the last 500 years, how they can be expressed is different.

Could someone living in the 2006 imagine an era in the future, what might it be like?