Considering the calamity of the past few days, or last eight years, or last two hundred years, or whenever, it has given me pause to, once again think about art (as if I do much of anything else). I’m referring to the art we used to know and make. So hear the old voices.
The art that means something of substance, of ideas, of feeling, of mystery, of beauty, of nuance …when it steals my time and I am deeply grateful. That art that arrests me for a million different reasons. The art that does this well with confidence and vision and verve and new imagination; that seeks me out. Now I know I might sound rather stiff here and uncool and old fashioned but art lately has been under whelming me and has been lulled and adrift in very predictable modes, even stuck. All over. This is not a secret. This has to do with modernism and the perils there in … all the tech and panoplies of imaging appearing everywhere … for anything, anywhere. A rabbit hole we can go down indefinitely. But not now. We need to set up the older voices. Art is a human trait intrinsic to our species and needs to be reclaimed, consciously. This is an issue we need to address. Once again, as we confront the reality of horrible war.
I say, we need something to boost our spirits and remind us how we really are in contradistinction to war. How human we are, good humans, despite our problems. Art is made of an from problems. Art is how we deal with problems. Presumptuous? I think not. Civilization is largely defined in art’s problem solving on many levels. Although we may posture the ‘evil’ that men may do, and we will do evil again and again, it is right in front of all of us, again, and it is scary. We shan’t deny this as war is always going on but as Americans and Europeans, and for all global citizens it is in our face. So … Hence we make art. We have been making art to know ourselves for sixty thousand years, last count. And yes for many reasons but principally to remind us, ourselves, we are not the beasts we are capable of being – or I would like to think so – whether we know it or not we can still wonder about it. Difficult.
I know this sounds simplistic but sagas of war are an old story now and massively regrettable. Especially when it seems so absurd and profoundly stupid. I do not need to moralize about this and it really need not be said but voila! here we are again and so I feel a bit freed up to think about art in this light. Indulge me. War and Art in our face, in out time.
I think what we are largely ill at ease with in discussing the problems of art lately; how defused and sidelined art is in importance; how art has been high-jacked out of what was its identity as our culture and made to serve many different rich masters. And, in so doing, robbing the power of art away from its inherent nature and then delegating it to another purpose much farther down its once high influence as espousing our human identity. We all know art has become a store of monetary value. This has traduced us to a corrupted sense of the relationship between art and money and it’s very cruel complications. All down to the artist being supported, to art as an investment, to art being materially mythologized, to art markets and stock markets and public concerns and private holdings of wealth to tax dodges to just about anything of ego and pretense, celebrity and despair etc.
The average person would be shocked to know how many great works of art are being privately kept in free ports around airports and ports the world over, hidden from public view, to avoid individuals being taxed. Or how many art works are forged – but the enlightened owner has to pretend it is authentic to avoid an embarrassment of financial loss once the truth is revealed about his ‘masterpiece’. This happens all the time. Or the phenomenon of NTFs – non fungible tokens – a digital recognition on the ethereal block chain that determines that only one original image is certificated despite the fact it can be reproduced ad nauseam, or course, ,digitally. NTFs are, as one prominent broker stated, nothing but a scam. I reported on the Beeple NFT that sold for $69 million. Or members of the board of a public museum influencing the director to buy an artist’s work while other members may own works of said artist, thusly increasing their value as assets. Shameless. And I am certain most of you could add to this list that cheapens art … or derails it . All this is not to mention what happens to the idea of art on the academic and community level. There art focuses inward. Art as a community project is given the job in identity politics and virtue signaling or promoting very tightly constructed instant fads with no substance but the image. Art is not a muscle to ride the mythology of superficial change on, especially when the larger paradigm that it lives in is not held up to high scrutiny or analysis or even actual confrontation to actually make real change; not mask it in what passes for art today. If we do not search deeper in the sea we swim in we may unknowingly drown in a surface squall of unpredictable fury and invisible rip tides, creatures we never knew of but which hold us captive.
The mystical experience of cave painting is a testimony to the mark making presence of human-kind. Be they affirmations or exchanges of what animal is running or important to kill or questions … do you know who I am or might be? These were the unbridled scribbling of these people who had no conscious audience except one another. But we know it meant something to them. They certainly were about something that we know was important to them hence our fascination with the art of the caves of early people, for they appear as discussions and dialogues around the world. Something they were conscious of and passed on.
So the mystical experience of art rides up the historical ladder. I would never tell anyone to stop drawing or painting or imagining creativity. I would, however, ask some questions to individuals who believe themselves to be serious about their art. Because art in history is not disposable but an anchor to who we are and aspire to be. I think we should take our art making as a very necessary phenomena not a detached, money orientated activity. I would ask the artist if they has a sense of aspiration about their art. Most art I see now has no saddle on the arrow of destiny or a vision that will conjure my mind in some greater sense. Am I delusional ? Most art seems to be practice for the questions the artist has not yet lived himself or herself or they-self or selves. Like some sort of ‘who cares?’ We need to once again trust art at its heart. What self is this art of me? Rembrandt never failed to confront his issues and it is alive in his work for us to see. And true, as a member of the community of failed artists, a dues paying member, I am left with myself as I gaze upon art. I often feel betrayed by myself. Now if somehow an artist is trusting of his art and it needs to move on to the great ocean of views, another question rings in our minds. If somehow the arrow of destiny is fired off to the larger spheres of viewing, one must ask personally, yes my arrow flies but to what end?
This is where the might of history may take over. We have a planet of hungry eyes and minds waiting for a human ‘brake on time’. This certainly has prevailed in our history before and we certainly seek this now and we may be surprised but this is Earth and as Beckett said ‘there is no cure for that’
And so it goes. May our arrows fly well and high to their destiny.