(Note: the images associated with this writing have virtually nothing to do with its content and appear simply because, I like them)
I recently picked up a few copies of “art” magazines. After reading a couple, I realized that I am too damn dumb to be a real artist. Real “art” is described in terms like:
“A complicit satire of the art market, or worse, as an example of condescending spectatorship.”
Or a work of art can be “fastidiously carefree.”
Apparently, “the female form speaks of castration and nothing else.”
Sounds a little scary to me. But, looking at a bunch of images of real “art”, it turns out that some of it is a little scary. One well known artist builds a sculpture, live, using a saw horse and rendered lamb parts. I’m way to dumb to think about sculpting like that.
Clearly, the kind of stuff I like and the kind of stuff I make isn’t art. If I were to sculpt a portrait of Michael Jackson decked out in his Thriller costume, at best, it would be an example of proficient craft. But, if I have a team of craftsmen create a portrait of Michael Jackson in porcelain and gold leaf cuddling up with a chimp, well, that there’s art.
Nothing of mine has ever been described as an “image that contextualizes the larger narrative of national history with its attendant traumas.” And, I’m not sure I’d want that description applied to one of my pieces, since I’m really not sure what it means.
I had to read this one a couple of times. “Black lines frame some of the compositions to deadpan effect, paradoxically delineating the non-image.” When I think of deadpan, I think of Buster Keaton.
Some things I make because I like the way they look. Some things I make just to see if I can. Many of the pieces I create are about me, my friends, my family and the human condition as I experience it. My human condition would be hard pressed to be described as “cheeky dubiousness of ambivalence.”
I have never, to my knowledge, sculpted anything containing or referring to a node. A work by a celebrated painter contained “nodes of a feathery density.” Feathery density? Is that like light heaviness? Beats me. The same artist was able to do away with “alloverness in favor of asymmetrical knots of activity.” Two things struck me about that. I didn’t know “alloverness” was a word, let along one word, free of hyphens. And “asymmetrical knots of activity” sounds like something you’d need to take an antibiotic for.
I put a great deal of value in craft. But craft on its own is just skill. Which isn’t to say that a profound level of skill isn’t art. But a high level of craft at the service of an ideal is about all I need from art. But I’m kind of simple.
A work of art “whose formal strength hinges on its violation of pictorial cohesion” seems a little like describing the Emperor’s New Clothes as having a “Wagnerian petulance exhibiting the dichotomy inherent in its formalness.” I made that last bit up. But it sounded good. And I bet, somewhere, to someone much smarter than me, it made sense.
One of my all time favorite artists (and I use the term as it applies to not-real art) is Gil Elvgren. Big strike number one: he painted pin-ups. Big strike number two: he painted art for billboards and advertising. Big strike number three: a lot of people really liked his work. He had mad skill. He was a brilliant designer. A clever story teller. And the guy knew women. He was never crass or condescending. His work may seem a little simple and unsophisticated. A man after my own heart.
Seems to me, being a little dim, that art needs to hit close to the heart and deep into the imagination. Too much brain can get in the way. And if it starts there, and seems not to able make the last leg of the journey, its just as much commentary as it is anything else. This isn’t to say that commentary can’t be art. It most certainly can be and very often is. But without a little sweat, belch or fart, it’s like explaining love, heartache and empathy with a graph and a pie chart.
Back, several decades ago, I had late-night bar conversations much like this. “While devoid of symbolic content, the artist’s paintings – like the abstract cosmological art of India and Tibet – focus both the eye and the mind, conflating the minimal object with the meditative.”
The difference being, I was usually drunk and would have probably forgotten it by morning.