Thursday, December 10, 2009

Art Is My Life...Not

Every now and then someone does something so remarkably self-absorbed in their pursuit of promoting art, either theirs or their artists, that it makes me wince and wonder where the Foreign Legion is bouncing about these days. How could I get far enough away from this place to cleanse my soul?

We often hear folks argue that "Art is my life," but that is hyperbole. It might makes sense in the context by which generally they mean that they've made a series of decisions to ensure their practice within the art world remains front and center to where and how they live, how they socialize, what they do with their free time, etc. We hear this from artists and curators, gallerists and writers alike. But that distinction needs to remain clear to them.

Art isn't actually anybody's life, even if it dominates their lifestyle. Art, in the broadest sense (the making, selling, curating, collecting, contemplating, and writing about it), is and forever will be a luxury. For many people, myself included, it becomes essential at the Safety level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs (for lack of a more universally accepted vocabulary and structure for discussing such things). But it's not even remotely essential at the Physiological level (despite what Tracey Emin may argue :-)).

This became horrendously clear to me in reading Cormac McCarthy's book, The Road, recently. (I've heard the movie is so-so, but the book is as poignant a human experience as you're likely to ever have, short of living through some type of holocaust). The fight for survival in this novel (a father and his increasingly weakening son trying desperately to walk South in a post-apocalyptic world where the sun never shines, all plants and animals are dead, and the few other humans alive are more likley to want to kill and eat you than befriend you) is such an unimaginably dark and detailed portrait of what it is one really needs to live another day (one reviewer, rightly IMO, wrote that you feel that should you put the book down, the characters will die...that their very survival depends upon you continuing to read their story) that there was no place at all in this world for art. Even toys that the child used to distract himself for a while were purposely left behind at one point, becoming cruel reminders of just how futile escapist fantasies were.

Of course, that's not our world (not yet, anyway), and Art is indeed a very important part of our thriving, which we rightly want. But I drag you through this dreary post, on a morning when I browsed through the most moronically hedonistic photographs of parties in Art Basel Miami (seriously, a few photo editors should be embarrassed), to make a point that becomes somewhat blurred in the frenzy of activity (which I myself enjoy) each December in Miami. This is all a luxury. It's not anyone's birthright, and it's most definitely not anyone's life. It gives no one a license to behave as if real life and death matters are secondary to any part of it. You know who you stop it.

There...I'm climbing down off my soapbox now...carry on.

Labels: art world, artists lifestyle


Blogger Tom Hering said...

Re: Maslow. I've lived through solely "physiological" periods, and felt like one of the walking dead. As an artist, I simply have to find some way up to the "self-actualization" level. Creativity - if not always Art with a capital "A" - really is my life. I just make sure that my loved ones, responsibilities, engagement with the world, etc. don't end up in second place. Even if I have to "die" a little bit and put my art aside now and then.

Cheer up, Ed. Not everyone in the world of art (as opposed to the art world) is represented by what you see at the fairs. Honestly. :-)

12/10/2009 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

Yes. All true. But in the scenario you paint, Edward, health care, human rights, love - for example - are all luxuries, too. Civilization is a luxury in The Road (I've not read it, but can imagine). I imagine interesting discussion and political debate are as well. I've never been to The Fairs, and my experience of art and art-making is probably a bit different from those that attend, but I get the gist. But whether there, in the academy, or as an Outsider, you're right. Art is not life, art is not needed to survive. But it may just be vital for civilization - depending on what you define as 'art' or as 'civilization,' that is :)

12/10/2009 09:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah,a voice of sanity! How rare these days. My favorite quote is from Auntie Mame "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death" but sadly most act like that banquet is literally one of excess food and objects and not of ideas and exchanges.

We've lost our way since Reagan dragged this country back into the 50's again and there we've stayed for the last 3 decades, part of the country in terminal suburban white flight and part of the country reeling from it with multi-nationals providing the soundtrack.

----ondine nyc

12/10/2009 09:39:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Cheer up, Ed.

Thanks, but I'm not as uncheery as the post suggests...just appalled at someone in particular and felt it best to establish a baseline for my upcoming admonishments. And, of course, I hope it stirs, as usual, an interesting dialog among folks who might disagree here.

12/10/2009 09:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Marc said...

I saw The Road 2 days ago (having read it a couple of years ago) and it does put many things about our world into stark perspective. However, while I would agree that art may not be essential to survival, I do tend to think that it is essential to humanity. Admittedly, that may be very difficult to swallow amidst some of the obscenity that one witnesses at contemporary art fairs, but I think that its no coincidence that great tragedy or suffering has almost always lead to a vibrant and necessary period of artistic creativity, wherever you are in the world. Just think how great an artist that boy could be if there was some kind of life at the end of The Road.

12/10/2009 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Suzanne Révy said...

I don't know... early humans were in "survival" mode each day of their lives, I suspect, and still made incredible paintings on the cave walls.

Though maybe they weren't necessary to their very survival, I suspect the paintings were integral to how they went about their hunt.

Of course, they were blessedly free of an "art world", weren't they?

12/10/2009 10:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed, without identifying the particular person who offended you, can you tell us what s/he did that was so appalling?


12/10/2009 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Let's just say that s/he inserted themselves in a true life and death situation to score some political points on a situation that truly, truly could have waited. It was grotesque.

12/10/2009 10:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

Was it Joe Lieberman?

12/10/2009 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Dilettante Ventures said...

The Germans might disagree in that they felt it necessary apparently to have a word for living one's life as art. Things get much more complicated when you talk about activist art practices in which people do dedicate themselves in a way that actually places them at some real risk in the world. Look at Steve Kurtz for instance. Can we say that for Joseph Beuys art was not his life? There are many, most probably, for whom art is merely a profession. And yes there are those for whom it is more than a profession, it is a passionate exercise of their identity. There are still those for whom art is a way of life, something at the core of their lived experience and humanity, but I agree those are in very short supply at Art Basel or among the luxury showrooms of Chelsea.

12/10/2009 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Even with Beuys, though, I would argue that art was (mostly) his chosen way of life, not his life. From the fictionalization of his biography to the depression that forced him into recovery, it's difficult to argue there was no distinction between his true life and his work.

12/10/2009 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Dilettante Ventures said...

Edward - That's an awfully dicey distinction isn't it? If one chooses to become a priest or chooses to convert to Islam is that life of faith not one's life? And if not, then are we just saying that no one thing no matter how fundamentally perceived, no matter the life altering course it puts one one, is still not the *totality* of one's life? And if that *is* what we're saying then how useful a distinction is it in the first place? And re: Beuys You are right that many of his "performances" are readily distinguished from other aspects of his life. They were clearly art, but what of other aspects of his "social sculpture?" What do we make of the latter years of his life when he (at least thought) was remaking the world via his work with the Greens? And how are we as outsiders able to judge whether it was his "life" or not, aside from the aforementioned use of life as a toatlity?

12/10/2009 11:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure where this fits on the hierarchy but how about 'Art is my afterlife'? I don't think I want a tricked out coffin but awareness and fear of mortality has much to do with an appreciation of the present and so with creating.


12/10/2009 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It's actually the critical distinction here, IMO, DV.

Folks fall in and out of "callings" throughout their lives, but many (I would argue) will stick with something like the clergy or whatever long past the point that it's hurting themselves or others because they've convinced themselves it is their raison d'etre when each of these fields (faith, art, etc.) is a societal construct that will not survive an apocalypse and should be kept in perspective because of that.

The harm here IMO is in assuming because you consider something "your life" that you can justify doing things (to others or yourself) that you would otherwise not feel justified in doing (unless, as noted, not doing so should threaten your "life"/livelihood).

I'm trying to come up with a parallel example that doesn't reveal exactly what prompted this post...let me think about that a bit.

12/10/2009 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

'Art is my afterlife'

Nice! ;-)

12/10/2009 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Art is one of the essences of humanity, an intrical part of conscious being. Basically, we’re all artists, practicing the art of survival.

12/10/2009 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Basically, we’re all artists, practicing the art of survival.

Poetic as that is, though, James, it doesn't exactly square with Tom's observation that "I've lived through solely "physiological" periods, and felt like one of the walking dead." does it? If so, how?

12/10/2009 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Art ain’t just about the pretty stuff, or the salable stuff, it’s also about the nasty, grimy, depressing, disgusting stuff of life.
You gave two examples of things that provoked this thread. One: “The Road” (a novel, an art work). Two: a despicable act that made you question the good sense of some people in the art scene. Both made you stop and consider life. Both made you change the way you saw the world. Hopefully both might be processed through your own consciousness to make you more aware, more alive. Though that might not be a perfect analogy of what art is, your interpretations put these objects into that category. And please excuse any relationship to poetry.

12/10/2009 12:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dedicating one's life to art and proclaiming someone else's in the name of art are two very different things. The first being honorable, the latter unforgivable. It sounds like what you witnessed (through photos) and took offense to was the latter, but by failing to differentiate the two you falsely conclude that art is only a luxury not worthy of anyone's life.

You use a work of art, The Road, to illustrate your point. Cormac McCarthy, in this interview with the WSJ, pretty much says his life is dedicated to 1) creating art and 2) his son, "I have had no desire to do anything but work and be with [son] John. I hear people talking about going on a vacation or something and I think, what is that about? I have no desire to go on a trip. My perfect day is sitting in a room with some blank paper. That's heaven. That's gold and anything else is just a waste of time."

No one has the right to tell me what gives my life meaning, what is central to my existence or a luxury. Not you or anyone at Art Basel Miami. Perhaps "My Art is Your Life...Not" would be a better post title.

12/10/2009 12:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

isn't "The Road" art ?

12/10/2009 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger Brent said...

Fine Art is the ultimate luxury, but in this economy excess can sometime provoke bewilderment, and sometimes disgust. Especially with people who are struggling to avoid homelessness, bankruptcy and other financial catastrophe.

I suppose ... these days ... sober is the new black!

12/10/2009 01:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematicks and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, musick, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelaine.” John Adams, Letter to Abigail Adams, May 12, 1780.

12/10/2009 02:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charlie Finch had what i consider one of his best entries here about how contemporary art is in danger of losing its (already tenuous) relevance. And for the record I do not share Charlie's taste most of the time.

as someone who has been an exhibiting artist with some validation and spends a lot of time outside of the art world I can tell you that art barely registers on the public's radar screen the way, say, film or music does, even among highly educated people who are working in "cultural" industries.

12/10/2009 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger Dilettante Ventures said...

Art, in the broadest sense (the making, selling, curating, collecting, contemplating, and writing about it), is and forever will be a luxury.

In re-reading, I hinted at it, but should state explicitly that your line quoted above actually talks about art in the narrowest sense. Again was ACT-UP, or more specifically, the artists associated with it (Gran Fury, Gregg Bordowitz, etc.) a luxurious endeavor?

And to re-visit the "totality" distinction - why draw the line at an individual life then? Why not adopt the ultimate god's eye view of things and say one's life is not Life-Itself? Because, I would argue it is not a satisfying, or particularly useful distinction for the individual whose life experience is being parsed by a presumptuous outsider.

To try to be clearer, I absolutely agree that professional, capital A artists are rarely engaged in anything more than a luxury, but that does not mean that others aren't attempting something different. I also agree with what I think is implicit in your post and comments - that grandiose claims about the importance of one's activities need to be examined, contextualized and placed in perspective. I just want to be careful to distinguish between noble claims ("working for justice is my life") and self-serving (the scenario that seemingly sparked this post) ones.

12/10/2009 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

In re-reading, I hinted at it, but should state explicitly that your line quoted above actually talks about art in the narrowest sense.

How so?

12/10/2009 03:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon 2:21 here,

i would say that 99.9% of what you see at any art fair is a luxury. Even socially conscious work. For example, there are many, many more effective ways of getting a message out than the via the art world.

and yes, creating art is a luxury as well. It takes time and resources, most of which is (with a very, very few exceptions) effectively donated by the artist, since the opportunity cost of making one's work vs. going out and making a living is so high.

12/10/2009 03:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has art ever (temporarily anyhow) stood in the way of death? I would say, without certainty, that it has.

But to use it, as Ed states, as license to get in the way of the vital well being of another strikes me as the worst kind of drama. I don't know the specifics but have already pilloried that rat!


12/10/2009 03:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Is all of this just a precursor to tell us that that Sylvester Stallone will be joining your stable of artists?

12/10/2009 04:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Luxury is being able to visit some of the best hospitals around the world, meeting some of the best experts, and having a great deluxe room when you are being hospitalized for a serious health problem. Art is the object someone made while you were being operated and which they present to you (the patient) during visiting hours, claiming that it is how they envision what you are going through.

Art is pleasure but it's more than a box of chocolate. Its claim above luxury is in how it can entertain the spiritual.

Cedric Casp

12/10/2009 04:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leonard Nemoy?

12/10/2009 04:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Beuys had great ideas but his mistake was turning them into a spectacle. It's the irony of his legacy. It wouldn't exist otherwise.

Cedric C

12/10/2009 04:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

There is a citation by Ben Vautier which I often use and surely on this blog before, when I wish to illustrate how art is separated from life.

Ben Vautier was holding a glass of water, and saying (something along the line of) "You see this glass of water? I can pretend to drink it, than it would be theatre, I could also really drink it to make some sort of statement, than it would be performance art, but I can also drink it because I am really thirsty, than it is life."

I still think art is more than luxury, because whatever the auction people will tell you, it's not something that only the few can afford. Anyone can make art, and (yes, Beuys) everyone is an artist. You just have to permit yourself that. And yes if you look at the Terezin children drawings
at the holocaust memorial museum in Prag, you can witness how people can depend on art for the survival of their sense of spirit up to the very moment they are sent to their death.

Escapism? Hell, why not. But not a futile luxury.

And if you're talking about that central america artist that let a dog starve in an exhibit, this is only the difference between trying to paint a nightmare or deciding to make that nightmare a reality.
A fact of life.

Cedric Caspesyan

12/10/2009 05:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Randall Anderson said...

Art is a luxury only within a narrow definition. Art happens. It has happened throughout human history. I think it's the best part of what we are. Something inside compels us to create for no practical reason, which is truly amazing. To make something just because it's fascinating to see what happens when red touches green. It's truly the best that we can be. But it's also a means to communicate the things that cannot be articulated any other way. So, it seems to me art isn't one's life but rather something that makes that life as rich as it can be. Art is like play. Friedrich Schiller said "Man is most human when he plays." Maybe human is most human when it makes art, most alive when it makes art. But it does require a full stomach, a bit of shelter, and some spare time.

12/10/2009 10:42:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think one could argue whether art happens either way, Randall, delving into the question of what is it about humans that makes "art happen" by their very existence and whatever that is, do certain animals possess it as well (is it a certain level of intelligence, or is it limited to what we'd call self-awareness, etc., etc.).

But throughout the history of this blog we have discussed "art" as the intentional presentation of something by someone who self-defines themselves as an "artist" and that is how I'm using "art" in this thread as well.

12/11/2009 08:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Jerome said...

art vs life, two great artists have already discussed it:
kandinsky in "Concerning the spiritual in art" and Rilke in "Letters to a young poet". They both say that for an artist creating is a necessity. Your post is more about which art today comes from this necessity?

12/11/2009 08:24:00 AM  
Blogger Stefano Pasquini said...

I don't know, Ed, if art is not essential to our life, life is not essential to this universe. No?

12/11/2009 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Stef et al. you know I love you and you know your art is essential to my personal happiness, but in the context of true life and death situations (consider your family or friends), does art truly trump their well being for you?

12/11/2009 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Any artist who uses their calling as an excuse to treat others like shit is a shitty human being. I think the calling itself (the inescapable necessity one feels to be creative, or, "it's my life") is an entirely separate issue. Feeling you have a primary calling doesn't necessarily result in acting like an asshole (though the danger is there). And reducing the understanding of your calling to something less than "it's my life" won't stop you from acting like an asshole. You're still human, and can always find some other excuse to act like a shithead.

12/11/2009 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger Christopher Quirk said...


Regarding your response to Randall, I don't think it's arguable that the impulse to make art is deeply embedded in human nature, as evidenced by cave paintings, artifacts from pre-history, etc. We can debate the function of these artifacts, but the impulse to make them and to enhance them is indisputable, even if their use is radically different from what we ask from art. The use of art changes for us from century to century as well. We still call those ancient artifacts art. Maybe we shouldn't? I'm open to that.

Moreover, if you limit the definition of art as you do here (even if it is very similar to the one I generally use), it leaves out a lot. In this case the definition describes art’s appearance and framing in the world, but doesn’t cover the elemental inclination to make art, which is not insignificant to the claim that art is a luxury.

If the argument for luxury is rooted in functionality, when you look at it closely it doesn’t separate art from many other human activities. If one surmise's that a cave painting was done to aid the hunt for food (and we have no idea, really) and that a contemporary art object is made to please or provide food only for thought, the distinction leaves direct provision of shelter and nutrients on one side and everything else on the other. That puts art in with social interactions, reading, politics, etc., which means almost every human activity is a luxury. This is blurred by constructs such as “work,” but that is an ambiguous and compound activity as well. Mainly, though, such a distinction doesn't address the impulse to create and enhance in the first place, which precedes an assessment of an activity’s value to survival. Using the word luxury might describe the contemporary transaction of acquiring art, having the liberty to make it, or looking at it, but it doesn't cover the completely natural (and I think admirable) human trait to make, to be industrious, which I think needs to be simply recognized, no matter how we feel about it, just like less admirable human traits such as our capacity for violence.

No one can argue that art’s capacity to change human events is very high, if for no other reason than that the scale is so limited. Auden said it best 70 years ago:

"For poetry makes nothing happen. It survives in the valley of its making, where executives would never want to tamper..."

What he doesn't say is that it is unimportant. Maybe the reason some people take umbrage to the luxury line of reasoning is not because there is disagreement about whether or not the fact that we can take a work of art home or go to a museum is less critical than food; that is clear. But if you call the impulse to make art a luxury as well, it becomes personal for someone for whom making art (of any variety), following that human impulse, is not superfluous but completely organic. To turn against it would be a betrayal of oneself. The impulse would persist and the making would go on whether or not there were an art world to frame it.

That’s not an excuse for behaving like a heel, of course. There are other human impulses that we resist (thankfully) all the time, and perhaps what you witnessed was pretty unsavory. If this is another case of the Wagner syndrome, well, the guilty verdict is long in, but it’s a condemnation of conduct, not of art.

12/11/2009 11:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well that Really hit the nail on the head...I am in full agreement.
If I didn't work as an artist I would have nothing to do with most of the art world clientèle. They make my skin crawl with there superficial over-the-top quilted conversation or plain down right lies.
I'm just too working class and have an in-built bullshit detector that never lets me down.
Then again if someone was paying millions for my work I'd probably play the court jester if it meant them parting with their inherited never-had-to-work-ever money.

12/11/2009 02:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But it does require a full stomach, a bit of shelter, and some spare time."

ergo, it's a luxury. Especially the bit about spare time.

12/11/2009 03:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

The bottom line is, if Edward falls sick in bed, don't bring him your crap art. Because it's really not helping.

Cedric C

12/11/2009 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Okay, let's say art belongs in the category of luxury. People who work very hard to survive still treasure "useless" things. Ever see the gorgeous way the interior of a traditional Indian tipi is furnished and decorated? Perhaps it's our divorce from life-and-death struggles that allows us to entertain the notion that art is a non-essential thing.

12/11/2009 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Believe it or not Cedric, this time this is really NOT about me.

12/11/2009 04:04:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher Quirk said...

Anonymous 3:19, Not sure I agree with the quote, but in any case just about every verb in the dictionary requires some spare time. Are they all luxuries? If so, the definition of luxury has expanded to absurd proportions. Maybe the idea of what is "spare time" is relative and not subject to another's judgement. This doesn't come up so much when people talk about having children.

12/11/2009 04:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think Ed wants your crap art even if he's not sick in bed. But I still want to know what the awful thing the nameless person did.


12/11/2009 04:54:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

The art market is a luxury, but making art isn't. People have made art in the gulags, in Auschwitz, and other horrific life-or-death situations. Art and religion are something every culture has -- even cultures that had no contact with the outside world. There's certainly something primal and important about it.

But partying at Art Basel, not so much.

12/11/2009 05:16:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Good points, Lisa. This is where Cormac McCarthy got it wrong. People who lose everything in a tornado search hardest through the devastation for - what? The Honda generator that was in the garage? The case of beef stew that was in the pantry? No. They search hardest for grandma's hand-painted plate. Or the childhood toy they saved for sixty years. Objects that are things of beauty and meaning for them. Utterly useless things - things not essential to life. Or are they?

12/11/2009 05:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

search for identity and purpose is about life; the hunger here is deeply human; maslow got is wrong by giving the label "self-actualization." the human life is sadly more than bread and fish. that has to be met, yes, but identity and purpose are often intertwined. this is our curse.

**pardon but why is a rant/observation/essay/etc called "soapbox"?

12/11/2009 06:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


just to add:

art fairs, activities around 'art' are enterprises, luxury, monetary, financial...

art is no luxury.

12/11/2009 06:09:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

The Pianist (based on an autobiography) is a truer picture of mankind than The Road (entirely a work of fiction). What did people faced with extinction try to preserve in Polanski's film? A musician. Music. Cultural identity. Art.

12/11/2009 06:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The creation, sale and collecting of art is perhaps a luxury, but the perception of it is not. The very ground of life, even in terms of survival is saturated with moments and experiences which are saturated with art. I second Tom's assessment...the expereince and perception of art can be seesntial to life in the most fundamental of terms.

12/11/2009 11:50:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Lisa says: "The art market is a luxury, but making art isn't." That's it in a nutshell.

Sorry I'm coming late to the discussion. I've been over at my blog making sense of what I saw at the fairs.

There's a scene in "Brokeback Mountain"--the scene where Jack says, "I wish I knew how to quit you." Ennis responds that every job he'd ever taken was so that he could pick up and leave to be with Jack, and as a result he was living a life of poverty with almost nothing in the way of material comfort. I'm not describing it well, but as the audience is sniffling over the never-to-be happy ending, I'm sobbing because it sounded exactly like what artists do. (How many times have you moved--to be in New York? To have a better studio with more light and space?) And, of course, we're all in too deep to quit.

Yes,it sounds ridiculous to say, "Art is my life," but the fact is that most artists give up material stability to continue the relationship they have with this thing they do.

Frankly, I think it's an addiction, but that's another issue.

12/12/2009 01:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Tom, another example is Cast Away, the hollywood film with Tom Hanks. Why does he keep the basketball? Art can mean psychological survival, if not spiritual.

Keeping the grandma painted-plate
might have to do because it encloses part of her psychology,
of who she really was, and for some, long-term memory also involves spiritual quality. Sometimes you use an object with personal history to talk to someone who is not present, even if they are alive. Like the soldier to the photograph of his fiancée.

Fine Art sometimes aims to be filled with such values, it can be pretentious in that way. But it does because it is fit to enclose the psychological, if that is what the artist is interested in.

Cedric C

12/12/2009 02:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Someone mentioned the necessity to "play", and art for me is a form of play, a "pleasure" in the broad sense, but it can be as necessary to psychology as two child tap-dancing with their hands when there is a blackout and there is no other toy around. And children WILL play, even in the worst conditions. Playing can relieve stress and fear. Singing too. Tapping your bunk in a prison.

My cats run around the house: they play. This is not just a human thing. Maybe cats are closer to grasp the pleasure of contemplating art than we think.

I think Play is a privilege of life, not a luxury. Play is available for everyone.

Luxury is not privilege, it's somethingt you have artificially acquired. Probably bypassing a few moral rules.

Cedric C

12/12/2009 02:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Simply put: The content of Edward's main post is incorrect. There do exist people in this world for whom art or art making is as vital to their mental stability as sleep and food.

I do not expect others to understand this position unless their lives are directly touched by such madness. Nor do I claim it is a state one should aspire. But no amount of intellectual debate or witty retort can change the fact that, for some in this world, art is indeed life.

It is threads like this and the prior about the all too bland work of Mr. Powhida that remind me truly how far I have drifted beyond the borders of the collective commercial cultural enterprises known as the "Art World." Up until a few years ago, such conversations left me with a dejected sorrowful sense of helplessness. But increasingly, witnessing these silly caucus races fills me with a confidence that my current state and trajectories are the correct ones for me. The human definition of art will always be broader than the professional and fashion driven definitions.

12/12/2009 06:08:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Yes, yes, yes... Heard it all before... And yet what no one has answered despite a direct question is whether this "essential" "vital" "necessary" thing is such to the degree that it trumps the well being of your loved ones or even a perfect stranger.

12/12/2009 07:41:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Ed, yes, it can trump the well being of others. Any pursuit involving identity and self-actualization can. But it doesn't have to, if the artist is capable of loving others - of putting self aside, at times, for a time.

Does this answer your question? If not, would you try restating it? I might be missing something.

12/12/2009 08:29:00 AM  
Blogger Christopher Quirk said...

For goodness sake, Ed, I don't see how you can say that. Plenty of people here have stated unambiguously that the drive to make art is in no way an ethical carte blanche to "trump the well being of loved ones or even a perfect stranger." Period. Artists aren't a bunch of Raskolnikovs with paint brushes. On the other hand it doesn't follow from that that art, for an artist, is a luxury. Maybe you saw something gauche. (And I don't want to know.) Your original post talked about art practice being front and center in the art world. But most artists are concerned about their practice being front and center in the studio.

12/12/2009 08:31:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Ok, so let me use an analogy to get at my point, which, again is an important foundation to a larger context.

Breathing is life. If you're swimming in a lake and come across a stranger drowning who drags you under in an attempt to save himself, you are fully justified in disregarding his well being to ensure you can continue to breath.

Breathing is not a luxury in any context. But perhaps Cedric has found the best way to discuss this. Art is perhaps better described as a privilege rather than a luxury.

12/12/2009 08:48:00 AM  
Blogger Stefano Pasquini said...

There's an artwork by Paola Pivi (whom I admire) which is called "Cento Cinesi" (A hundred Chinese). Apparently she paid 100 Chinese people in Italy to stand in a room all dressed up looking the same, and took photos and a video of it. Allegedly after half an hour a few of them got really angry and stormed off the place. To me, that is an awful piece of work, although it actually looks quite good. One thing is to work like Santiago Sierra and expose the exploitation of human beings, another is to do so for the sake of art.

Ed, I had to look up "trump" in the English dictionary and you're right, I think even for the most inspired artist the dignity and life of who surrounds you has to be more important than your art. Otherwise you're an asshole, or a criminal, depending by your actions.

12/12/2009 08:51:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

or "to ensure you can continue to breathe." even

12/12/2009 09:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, take Gauguin. The only important thing anyone in Tahiti got from the man was syphilis. And he left a wife and five children to rot in Denmark to pursue his art. What a fine specimen of a man.

I won't judge whether his artistic legacy has more value than the lives he ruined but I, selfishly, am glad he didn't remain a stockbroker and responsible family man.

So it's another gray issue to me. With no certitude I say great accomplishments can serve as a kind of counterbalance to the wreckage left behind.


12/12/2009 09:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And yet what no one has answered despite a direct question is whether this "essential" "vital" "necessary" thing is such to the degree that it trumps the well being of your loved ones or even a perfect stranger.

By your logic, other more universal needs should also be discounted by every parent who goes without for the sake of their children. The essentiality of a need, whether universal or specific, does NOT govern how often one pursues that need or the behaviors one displays in such pursuits.

I'm not sure about others' assertions, but I in no way claim that acting like a pissy two-year old towards people I care about is right. But it does happen from time to time... when I haven't slept enough, eaten properly or spent time by myself doing my version of that stuff we shove under the giant umbrella called art.

So unless you walk around thinking it's okay to beat a stranger with a stick for a burger, you're asking for too much in response here. You may not feel the deep health-based need for art that obviously some respondents to your post either do or wish they did. Good for you. Please do not feel threatened by this expressed difference. It does not reflect poorly on your ability to run an art gallery. If anything, it means you may be on better footing in terms of your mental health. That's probably a good thing as I'd assume it an unwritten prerequisite to being a successful businessman, investment banking and Gordon Ramsey aside.

At the end of the day, an asshole is an asshole, no matter their state of mental health. In my estimation, Jackson Pollock was one such historically acclaimed figure who likely needed art for his mental health. Unfortunately, he received inadequate treatment and overall management strategies. Electroshock is nowhere near as universally helpful or effective as once believed, early 20th century meds frankly sucked and the very effective techniques of EMDR and brainspotting were decades away from being developed. But had the man the proper tools to quit the bottle for good and manage his underlying mental health issues, I bet like so many unknown anonymous souls out there, he would have still experienced flare ups without regular means for creative output. Would he have still painted the same way? Would he have continued to pursue a career as an artist in the public eye? No telling. But that doesn't change the fact that for some of us that art is a very palpable need and full abstinent deferral does lead to some nasty, frustrating and at times debilitating results. Still, the deepness of this need never justifies being outright cruel to others though it can help explain some behaviors when they occur and in turn be used as a compass to help a sufferer and their carer(s) navigate the murky waters of chronic mental illness.

Lastly, your breathing analogy above is indicative of a person in crisis. I don't know what you encountered that prompted the initial post, but if the person was not just hiding behind feigned anguish over art (perhaps in a wrongheaded effort to publicly prove their dedication in front of a gallerist?), they may very well have been in crisis. If anything, to extend your analogy, it might have been best to throw them a life preserver by gently suggesting some critical care. But such a move is always complicated and really depends upon the relationship you share with this person. Anyways, for those of us that need it, art is less like air and more like food and sex. At least one of which is (and for many of us,arguably both are) needed at regular intervals. But when behaviors to sate this need become regular and constant, something similar to addiction has crept in and is a sign of much deeper ills.

Sorry to hear someone was openly an asshole to or in front of you and hid behind either real or feigned problems to explain away their behavior. Either way, you did the right thing by resisting so as not to drown along with this person. Drowning helps no one. This is a regular daily challenge for carers.

12/12/2009 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cathy, I have to disagree. Gauguin's gift to the world doesn't make up for the damage he did to real human beings. It's not as if he only had two choices in his life - though I'm sure he served his ambitions by framing his situation that way.

12/12/2009 09:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I once had a "pseudo fight" with a performance artist because she claimed that with art you could express everything. And I was bold enough to reply that I believe that, on the contrary, they are many things that fine art is not suited to express.

And I was giving the example of the first shock you get as a child burning your hand on something hot,
or even the caress you make on someone to tell them you love them. You can write the greatest love poem, it will never beat the human caress. In this, art is very limited. And there is also the ethical debate: should one opinion count over the others because it has the talents and skills for expression? There ARE dark holes in "art", some that the earliest philosophers warned us about.

But still, art can be necessary. There are many people in the world of who we would never dream having
them caress us. But they might be able to affect us through art, and even change our mind on that matter (of letting them physically caress us). When that happens, art was the necessary passage. I guess art is a like a black hole, it can hide a passageway. But it's not really the "thing" that it "communicates". It just leads you to "there", the "there" being life and this prescient awareness of living and thinking.

Cedric C

(can't wait that Ewdard spill the beans about what shocked him so much)

12/12/2009 10:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Tom, we could have a very uncomfortable conversation about Polanski too. ;-)


12/12/2009 10:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Short and to the point.)

What we call Art is the result of millions of years of evolution. A gene(s) developed/evolved to solve problems and was passed along to the next generation. Our brain and memory grew facilitating survival/creativity/imaginantion/leaps. Call it the "Creative gene(s)". When we had free time we painted the caves and so on. Not until then. The rest is history; technique, styles, the uses and abuses of art, and theory. Up until Marcel Duchamp, Art was the exclusive manifestation of that gene(s). Making Art is one of the many skills given by that gene(s). We don't need Art to exist or survive since we can express our creativity in other ways. Science for example.

This is what I think. My theory.


12/12/2009 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...


I don't deny that Gauguin and Polanski created great art. Or that "the world" is a better place for it. I do say it doesn't atone for the suffering they caused others - whose cries of pain still echo somewhere in the universe.

12/12/2009 01:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, I agree that great art doesn't atone for great suffering nor is the desire to make it a valid excuse for abuse or neglect. But great art can come from very flawed beings and so I wonder how often the flaws, which can have inner suffering as a big component, are an essential catalyst.

Since we're all a mixed bag of good and bad, the attempt to communicate just how if feels to be alive strikes me as having some redemptive value, if not for the artist, then for the world left behind.


12/12/2009 05:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is true that by definition art cannot be life (but this is an issue of semantics). However, Art and Life are two sides of the same coin. More so than any other aspect of life, art and religion can address the most pressing issues facing the human condition.

So the question may not be about the essential nature of art to any individual, but the essential necessity of art to the continued progress, development and advancement of culture and hence life.

Art may not be life, but it is one of the greatest substrates, fabrics or grounds of life. As long as we are beyond the point of physically struggling for our survival (and perhaps even in the midst of the struggle) Art will remain one of the most fundamentally important human endeavors.

Art breathes, nourishes, cultivates and strengthens the fabric of life and society. Art will always remain a fundamental quality of life, even if it cannot claim to be life itself.

---I AM

12/13/2009 01:31:00 AM  
Anonymous courtney said...

Re: "But it's not even remotely essential at the Physiological level"--I have to disagree. I'm thinking primarily of The Holocaust when I say that art, in situations of such despair, is an element as nourishing as food, water and air, and was in some cases, more readily available. Furthermore, because the inspiration for and the enjoyment of art come from within, I see this as being as physiologically connected to the body as breathing.

12/14/2009 12:15:00 PM  

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