Sunday, July 30, 2006

Thoughts on painting - I

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 century, 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. (From my remark in the comments section of the previous post.)

Painting and the Industrial Revolution: "The effects [of the industrial revolution] spread throughout Western Europe and North America during the 19th century, eventually affecting most of the world. The impact of this change on society was enormous and is often compared to the Neolithic revolution, when mankind developed agriculture and gave up its nomadic lifestyle." [Wiki] The Industrial Revolution ushered in the modern age and the shift away from an agricultural to an urban lifestyle. Coincident with this radical social change was the invention of photography which provided an alternative to painting for documentary representation.

No longer confined to strict representation, painting in the Modern era (roughly 1840 on) began to explore other modes of expression, which for lack of a better word I am referring to as "styles". I cannot think of another period in the past where there has been such a rapid and radical evolution of pictorial styles. The modern quest for the "new" resulted in the proliferation and rapid turnover in pictorial styles.

If I can digress for a moment here, I concede that "personal style", the way a painter makes a painting, the trace of the hand, can be unique within certain categorical parameters. This is an important aspect of the work which conveys personal identity. It is not what I am referring to as "style" for this discussion. When I say "style" I mean "cubism" and the like.

Painters who desired to make "advanced work" saw the quest for the "new", the invention of a "different" pictorial style, as the path to follow. So here we are, 160 or so years later and I want to suggest that this course of inquiry cannot logically continue. Because the course of this inquiry is closed, it is a loop. Once someone makes a "stripe painting" it becomes a definition and the stripe paintings which follow are variants and therefore technically not "new".

While I have no doubts that there will continue to be "new styles" I am questioning whether this can continue to occur at the same pace as we proceed further into the new century. Is this quest for "newness", nothing more than just playing "dress up" with painting, reducing it to nothing more than an ever-changing decorative fashion?

Is to be the course for painting for the next 100 years? I don't think so.

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.