Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Quick Word of Encouragement for Your Ongoing Project

  • Opinion #1: No single idea defines an artist of any significance.
  • Opinion #2: Any vein worth mining as an artist will most likely take time.
  • Opinion #3: All interests and tastes come back around again.
  • Opinion #4: The surest way to miss your place at a crowded table is to keep circling it looking for the best place to sit down.
Twice in the past week I've encountered people who felt that artist A's solo show at gallery X in the fall looked ridiculous given the current state of the world. Twice in the past week I've talked with artists who felt that they needed to shift direction in their explorations because of the recession.

Shortly after 9/11 an artist stopped in our new gallery and asked me to review her proposal for an exhibition about the terrorists attacks. By "shortly" I mean within a month of the event. I handed back the proposal and said I wasn't qualified to review her proposal, as I didn't know how I felt about the attacks was too soon for me to be have enough distance to assess the value of her response. What I hoped she'd take away from that statement was the implication that, in my opinion, it was too soon for her to have enough distance to assess the value of her response (and hence make art of any value to anyone else) as well. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe she had been preparing to respond to such an event or was simply gifted enough to do so meaningfully. Somehow I seriously doubted it then, though.

Given that the impact of the recession on our lives is a work in progress, so to speak, and given that most artists' explorations take time to mature before they result in work worth sharing with the world, I'm not at all sure there's any value in switching gears for any artist. Yes, if your work was a tongue-in-cheek response to the gluttony and excess of humanity, for a simplified example, you might find a less responsive audience now that so many people are struggling, but if history teaches us anything, it's that gluttony and excess will come roaring back before too long. Making a note of the fact that such trends ebb and flow can only serve to make your work richer, in my opinion, so to give up on that exploration now (just because it seems temporarily less urgent) is to miss a golden opportunity.

Undoubtedly events in the world can make certain bodies of work seem awkward or inappropriate regardless of how well made or universally true the work seems. That's the way the ball bounces. The thing to remember about that, though, is that such events will pass and good work will eventually get its due. Chasing after current events in one's work is a foolish way to approach "relevance"...the world is moving far too quickly.

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Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Good post, but I have reserve about Opinion 1. There are some artists whom I feel made a significant career out of a single idea. They just extrapolated that idea in every senses they could. It's a good strategy for a generally uninspired artist.

A question I might add is: can you feel a difference between when you are truly being an artist from when you are doing something just in the hope of getting peer recognition (or fame)?

My impression is that artists looking to "adapt" are stressing themselves about fame at the detriment of artistic pleasure.

Cedric Casp

8/12/2009 12:16:00 PM  
Anonymous sharonA said...

Ed, thanks for the encouraging word! I think right now is the best time for anyone - artists, entrepreneur, etc - to do whatever they are inspired to do. In times like these, there's nothing but clear roads ahead, absolute freedom, and nothing to lose.

There are some artists whom I feel made a significant career out of a single idea. They just extrapolated that idea in every senses they could.

I don't see anything wrong with this. Many artists evolving from one idea have simply discovered their theme has different facets, or they aren't done exploring its possibilities. I don't think it's always a schtick or a strategy. Everyone has their own processes.

8/12/2009 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger Dalen said...

Thanks for the encouragement. It's nice to hear that the long view is still of value when there's so much noise out there touting the opposite.

Thank goodness I don't have to jump on the "green" and recycled artwork bandwagon. I'll just keep on keepin' on, making my tiny nudes.

BTW, I like that "Keep Calm and Carry On" image. Did you create that or is it an artist's that I should know (and is it available as a poster for my studio)?

8/12/2009 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

An artist has to know where their inspiration comes from - from something that happens inside them, or from things that happen outside them (like current events - think "Guernica"). Both are good sources of inspiration. Relevance, however, is an assigned quality, determined by others. It's out of the artist's hands.

8/12/2009 01:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

BTW, I like that "Keep Calm and Carry On" image. Did you create that or is it an artist's that I should know (and is it available as a poster for my studio)?

I think I can help you here. That looks like the work of Matt Jones.

8/12/2009 01:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Correction to my last post, whenever if appears (or if Ed prefers, just post this one): It seems that "Keep Calm and Carry On" was a WW2 slogan that circulated on a propaganda poster in the UK.

A current artist named Matt Jones did a similar poster called "Get Excited and Make Things," available on Jen Bekman's 20x200 site, which led me to assume it was the same artist - when in fact Jones was doing a parody of the classic poster. Sorry about that.

These links should help, and the second will provide a source for buying the poster:

8/12/2009 02:02:00 PM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

Thanks for the encouraging words, Ed. It feels relevant since I am preparing for a big upcoming solo show this fall in Boston in that the timing of the market feels a bit 'iffy' but it's going to be one of the best venues yet in my career, so I am pulling out all the stops in my production and preparing to go full steam ahead with the work for the show.

8/12/2009 03:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Dalen said...

Thank you very much Larry! I'll check those links out and Matt Jones too. I'm in need of some self-imposed artist propoganda these days. Something advocating restraint that would keep me from embarking to "fix" a portion of a painting at 1am would be good too. Oh how I've longed for an "undo" button I could click the next day. Not unlike some dates I've had too I suppose.

8/12/2009 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Wanting to "do something" about 9-11 was probably a near universal urge like the idea to gold leaf manhattan or eat some Ben and Jerry's or get high as a kite and watch Fantasia while listening to your favorite instrumental music.

But some people pursue and get commissions and others just keep it to themselves. Sometimes right away.

The fact is, nothing could compare esthetically to the spectacle of two skyscrapers tumbling to the ground, not to mention a 767 full of fuel blowing up. Except maybe the Death Star exploding when you are in third grade.

I've seen some art related to 9-11 and none of it seemed that good (Laurel Nakadate's video comes across as precocious art student work, which she basically was)

I would love to see the millions of pictures people took that day - both for the voyeristic (moral police can kiss my ass I'm sick I love horror movies) thrill and to make sense of something so fantastic it could have been something Stephen King might have written. Which he kind of did.

Funny how writing is generally ahead of art that way.

SO I guess I'm more impressed by people who PREDICT things, which we call visionary, because they have visions. (I'm not saying Stephen king is a real visionary, he owes a lot to older better writers).

And what of those that come after him?

Which is the difference between educated insiders who make references or investigate things and blissfully unaware (young) people who just sort of daydream and imagine, what if.

Without all the baggage of "its been done" or "too soon"

What if everything actually changed like they said it did? Wouldn't that be something?

BTW I'm pretty sure "everything changed" actually means WTF? as far as I can tell (and Its been a while)

8/12/2009 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

oh and this

8/12/2009 05:31:00 PM  
Blogger C. L. DeMedeiros said...

I read your post on the bus in my way to Path train to Manhattan/Brooklyn. At same time as I was reading I was listening All American Rejects, Move Along.

Go ahead as you waste your days with thinking
When you fall everyone sins
Another day and you've had your fill of sinking
With the life held in your
Hands are shaking cold
These hands are meant to hold

Speak to me, when all you got to keep is strong
Move along, move along like I know you do
And even when your hope is gone
Move along, move along just to make it through
Move along
Move along

I don't know why in that especific moment the lyric blended with your thoughts some way.

I've thinking about my own process on create and is something hard to explain. I like to think, I'm creating even when I'm no creating. Tones of ideas come to me when I sleep. I pasted the phase of worrying of the future of my art or the whole:"what if... or when..."

I particularly like your last line:
"the world is moving far too quickly."
If we don't wake to that fact train of history will hit us, with no mercy.


8/12/2009 10:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Zip, I thought music was ahead of fine art. Listening to Erik Satie's mathematical "Sonneries De La Rose†Croix" sound so 20 years ahead of its time.

When I saw the video installation that canadian artist Luc Courchesne
did about 911 (he was on spot and took video shots), I felt very embarassed. You see some of the people falling and hear the artist go "oh my..people are jumping!", and it just seemed wrong. I mean: I wouldn't make art showing off the tragedy of others so directly. I had a similar creepy sentiment about a piece by Carolee Schneemann, but hers looked more abstracted from the real thing as it used found footage, while Courchesne's couldn't have felt more close to realness but ackwardly abusive, like morbid paparazzi.


Cedric Casp

8/12/2009 11:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Timothy Mutzel said...

I'm a day late, but I appreciate Edward's post as well. While it's true that some artists can capture and express the undercurrents of popular sentiment at any given time, it would be pretty silly and tedious for everyone to start commenting about the same things, no matter how urgent they may seem to the world at large. In any heated debate there is often wisdom in stepping back and surveying the larger picture, rather than jumping into the fray directly. And then, of course, there's just plain old honesty. My favorite paintings have always been the weird, personal ones that artists/people make when they are feeling (or avoiding) feeling something devastating to themselves. It's the sincerity of the expression that always moves me, and this, I think can hit people in any political or cultural climate.


8/13/2009 09:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice Post Ed-

I think that any artist worth a damn will agree with you on this one. To alter one's course on external forces alone is much more ridiculous than someone who maintains the interior/internal purpose of their work. Too many artists cave to the prevailing winds or tides in order to make their work "relevant".

What a bunch of bullocks. No real artist will subject their creative output to the false authority of the relevancy police. No one is going to tell me what is relevant, as far as I'm concerned anything that exists or at one time existed is in fact relevant. It all comes back to the notion that there is nothing new under the sun. The most relevant subject matter will always be based in the past the present and the future.


8/13/2009 10:58:00 PM  
Blogger tony said...

One way or another we are creatures of consumption: both consuming & being consumed by our consumption & all this at speed. Instant gratification and disposability have eaten their way into the physche of western democracies for the past 50 years so it is a natural consequence that visual artists will be swept along with the moment. Maybe it comes down to a question of 'character' - is one strong enough to resist; not only in the way one lives but in the work one produces ?

8/14/2009 02:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

+++as far as I'm concerned +++anything that exists or at one +++time existed is in fact relevant.

Philosophically, or perhaps scientifically, that's very beautiful and true. But "cultural" relevance involves a mass acceptance. Cultural relevance is at best when it's not too aware. Or when the protagonists of that relevancy think they are aware (or think they own culture in the form of business), something occurs that escape their expectations and
predictions. Sometimes it's an economical crash.

Cedric Casp

8/14/2009 08:47:00 AM  
Anonymous retnull said...

Very nice post, Edward.

There is too much work that tries to achieve relevance by ambulance-chasing current events. And too many gullible gallerists/curators/critics willing to come along for the ride. Much of this type of work has a shorter shelf-life than milk (and tastes the same once past expiration date).

Before I decide that a piece I have made is good enough to show to anyone, one of the questions I ask myself is "How will this piece look in 10 years? 20 years? 50 years?" There's no way to really know, of course...but for me, asking this question is a requirement.

8/14/2009 02:33:00 PM  

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