Can the Entrenched Language Found in Contemporary Art Be Political in Today’s World?

Or, that all-over scribbly mark-making of the oft-quoted abstract-expressionists and today’s contemporary artist’s continued use of it

“Now listen!  Can’t you see that when the language was new – as it was with Chaucer and Homer – the poet could use the name of a thing and the thing was really there?  And can’t you see that after hundreds of years had gone by and thousands of poems had been written, he could call on those words and find that they were just wornout literary words?  The excitingness of pure being had withdrawn from them, they were just rather stale literary words.  Now the poet has to work in the excitingness of pure being; he has to get back that intensity into the language.”

Gertrude Stein

The use of painting as a vehicle for change, for social-political commentary in today’s world, or, for advancing any discussion within the more specific field of Contemporary Art is something we might want to take a look at.  We might want to figure out how the subject matter or meaning of these kinds of familiar mannered surfaces actually translate.  Is the language used an effective form?  Is the intended backdrop of political or social commentary (something artists insist exists as they battle with paint and brush on ever-enlarging surfaces) at all possible given the predisposed way in which we look at large (very large) abstract-expressive mark-filled paintings? 

The collaging of photos painted over, personal expressive paint strokes layered thickly onto surfaces, graffiti-type mark-making in an all-over approach comprise these currently successful works of art.  Julie Mehretu and Mark Bradford, [two artists who have made a name for themselves in 21st Century Art] exhibit paintings that secure both this busy-ness mannerism and its very large wall-length surface.  These two artists not only use the language of abstract and large-scale, but also aim for social-political readings to be found in their work.

The spectacle-seeking environment we live in provides us good reason for the success of these two artists.  The paintings get our attention through scale and spectacular visual.  We are all Disneyland at the American core.  [Was it not Baudrillard who gave us Disney as our true reality?] The 21st Century Art World aims the spotlight on works like these, and, in doing so, claims that yes, these paintings are relevant, and, political.  But is this meaning derived or presented as such due to the art object on the wall that we stand before, or, the artist’s own activism in the real world running alongside the actual paintings?  Can any artwork made today be political in its reading?  Moreover, if presented “as art” – can it be political? 

We no longer rely upon the artist to show us our political sphere (Goya, Daumier, Courbet) for we have a far more direct means of political activism through technology and its media-covered real-time political protest.  Same-day activism, same-minute response conveyed via the Internet and social media technology makes the static art object tucked away on a gallery wall somewhat arcane, remote.  It is only with the direction of the curator, the gallery operation, the art world system do these things operate beyond a really fantastic visual presentation.  Do art works existing on such a scale and promotion instead, and, yes, maybe by default, serve capitalism’s unfettered reach? 

Large Abstract-Expressionist paintings are not only visually powerful; powerful in terms of our encultured definition of what we see as visually strong, but, to most of us now, familiar. 

“Stadia I”. 2004

.www.nytimes.com/2017/08/03/arts/design/julie-mehretu-san-francisco-museum-of-modern-art.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=photo-spot-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

The painting, (with its busy-ness of brushwork all appealing to our ingrained appreciation of this manner) is Postmodernism’s answer to Modernism’s innovations – and, by default, (because we are Post-Modern) involve the use of visual language once acknowledged as avant-garde but now a quotable component to echo in direct reference when used today.  Homages are possible in certain works, as are the more cynically claimed appropriations. 

“The abolitionist movement, the Civil War, the move towards emancipation, all of these social dynamics that are a part of that narrative we don’t really talk about in regards to {sic} American landscape painting. And so, what does it mean to paint a landscape and try and be an artist in this political moment?” — Julie Mehretu

When we look at Mehretu’s “Stadia I”, 2004 or,

“Black Venus”, 2005

Mark Bradford’s “Black Venus” 2005 – we see something gorgeously made and executed, [heavy on compositional tactics that credit Modernism’s successful visual language trials] and composed of a deliberate layering which adds to the overall reading of a dense history, relative space, and visual complexity.  All of this is wonderful in terms of the final visual created.  The only issue is that the language used offers first, (and, maybe only) that of a purely formal spectacular visual surface.  We are right back to Greenberg and Rosenberg battling it out in the seminar classes across the Modernist landscape – well over 50 years ago. 

We are well into a world where we’ve become so very familiar with large abstract-expressive mark-making works that cover gallery walls and large public spaces that the language chosen by (these) artists trying to say something with their painting is no longer an effective form.  The work looks too much like every other using the same vocabulary, the same manner. We’ve grown fond of seeing these things; their scale and busy-ness of marks and colorful shapes echoing maybe, an early Joan Mitchell in appeal, a Frank Stella (color), a Cy Twombly or Mark Tobey (marks) and an Anselm Kiefer (scale) we’ve experienced decades ago when it was initially(?) introduced.

If we are honest about this, and, if the art world itself could somehow be honest, we might find that the success story of the artist, or, the artwork’s market value is the thing that we end up with in meaning.  Today’s political-statement abstract-expressive paintings are more about the artists making them.  It is about the biography of the artist, the kinds of music the artist listens to while in the studio, (we all love a good biopic), the artist’s economic status, ethnicity, or gender.  In an age of identity politics, we have no choice but to respond in accordance with the current cultural environment.  Art that addresses identity has trouble succeeding if using a hackneyed language, an art-world mannerism which will only and more loudly speak about itself.  The social-political meaning or message made by the artist will remain buried in appended notecards. 

We may arrive at the jaw-dropping nature of the endeavor, the “wow of the making”, (yes, specifically because it has become so very large!- one need only compare one of Picasso’s seminal works and our response when we see it (how small) on a museum wall) or, the championing of the artist’s story:  the artist’s geography, economic background, occupation, age, etc.  The artist may insist the painting is about the struggles of the middle-class, our unsavory past, or the consequences of climate change, but the language itself, the Visual Language of abstract expressionist mark-making doesn’t quite get us there.

At one time abstract expressive marks made on a canvas along with the random outpouring of paint spilled, smudged and dripped were political – the Abstract Expressionists in America’s 1940’s defying illusive pictorial space by disrupting the previous manner of representation, having the process of painting itself become the subject.  Random chance, automatism, bio-morphism, and physical gesture become significant elements of the new subject of process.  The action painting was new, as counter-cultural as it could have possibly been at the time, and, responded in kind to the social-political events of that time. 

There had been Cubism, Futurism, Dadaism, Nihilism, the expansion of industrialization, advances made in Psychology, Theatre, Existentialism, Freudian analysis, and the pivotal reckoning of two World Wars which served as echoing prompts to this radical change in form, this radical change in subject matter, this new language entering into the discipline of painting.  The language was alive, new, and worked because it was new, (not anything seen before within the discipline) another key component to art.

It is no different today.  We have our own social- political landscape to confront.  It is this very issue where I find the language artists using to be antiquated, out-of-touch with the otherwise successful modes of communication used by all of us, for better or worse.  It is the effectiveness of the form, the language, the tools available, the form we use that defines us, and, in the end, matters.  This is at the heart of this discussion.  If the social-political reading is lost to the gorgeous mark-making of a marketable object, how can this method of approach succeed?

Our language today is found in the icon and the soundbite via social media connections; the using of an abbreviated visual cue to mean something in sign, an immediacy in both form and reading.  The less visual mark-making used, the more communicative.  Memes are our new alphabet.  Our ability to read dense passages of text, or, visual compositions that demand some time to take in are no longer viable. Not only has brevity claimed the soul of wit, brevity has moved us to pure visual utterance.  Smiley face tells us everything.  A Like’s thumb’s-up is more than enough for us. 

The use of an obsolete language in art echoes the overall contemporary art world’s stagnation within its own exclusive arena.  The political and social change occurring in our society at record pace due to our digital platform of communication stands in ironic contrast with the art world and its snail-pace change.  The only thing that seems to change at an equal pace is the market value of biopic’d stardom-making marketable paintings. 

Let’s consider an artist who did allow form to communicate meaning – the artist Nick Cave, with his sound suits.  A Nick Cave Sound Suit, for example, work that uses a language (form) that is (was?) truly effective in its initial arrival in the art world ends up losing its political meaning while allowing the art market to co-opt the work for its own marketing purposes. 

“The highest price to date was $150,000 for a 2008 Soundsuit that Sotheby’s offered in its contemporary day sale this past November (estimate: $80–100,000). Another example, from 2007, sold for $118,750, also at Sotheby’s, in November 2013, on an $80–120,000 estimate.”

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/how-nick-caves-soundsuits-made-him-an-art-world-rock-star_n_57277dcde4b0b49df6abd1c4

Do we no longer read the political in Cave’s artwork?  Is it no longer possible to do given its art-world elevated price-tag?  Which meaning do we end up within the discourse of Art History?  Is marketability, brand, signature, style, fame, luxury our true meaning for us today?  Is anything we artists make today unable to be read as anything but fodder for yet another spectacular purchase by our continually protracted ridiculously-priced art market which, in its own way, points to nothing other than a perfect mirroring of what currently defines the debate we need to have in our political landscape > the further securing of wealth concentration at the top?  Is this failing then, as a political statement by default, and, as disservice to the meaning (intent) of the artwork?

“Untitled”, Lithograph, 1983

The language of expressive mark-making in an overall field of something we all agree to be gorgeously composed is something we can appreciate for its visual splendor, as we have been conditioned to do by virtue of familiarity.  But, with this, the message stops. If the visual is stuck in communicating only itself, its formal properties with only chance allusion to something other, something we might read into if prompted by a completely separate language, (an artist telling us what the work is about in an interview on Public Radio, or, in a written artist statement found in a catalogue or brochure provided at a gallery’s entrance) we have quite a different picture. If the content matters to the artist, if the meaning each artist contends is “somewhere in there” but we as an audience can only reach the spectacular, why continue with its use?  Why paint in this manner?

This makes me think of The Guerilla Girls appearing on the Stephen Colbert Show several years ago, when asked the obvious (and, obvious only to those outside of the art world) by Mr. Colbert  – “if you’ve been at this for over 30 years, your art as your method of political commentary – and it has left you in virtually the same place – why use this method if it hasn’t worked over all this time?”  The Guerilla Girls simply answer – “because we’re artists.” Thirty years of “making their art” and there are still only a tiny percentage of women artists represented in the establishment museum collections they wished to challenge and change. 

It seems we artists are blind to the barriers we’ve created and get caught up in the routine and acceptance of what we do, the language we’ve decided to stick with, regardless of its steady and long-since-reached ineffectiveness.  

The only thing we can do if we continue using such a manner will be to attempt even larger works, go beyond the Basquiats and Kiefers to our currently EVEN LARGER Bradfords and Mehretus, and make bigger and bigger paintings until maybe we somehow regain the language, express ourselves in a manner that just might give us our message and allow our chosen medium to succeed.  Making something bigger seems a great way to convince us of [a thing’s] physical presence.  Can this also, then, be translated into a social relevance? 

10/20

 

    Contemporary Photography’s Response to Digital

cmyk

Forget the illusions of Surrealism and Realism and History Painting and Portrait Painting and Religious Painting and the Still-life.  There is nothing but the process here, the process of painting.

 

Like American painting of the 1940’s, Photography opens itself up to the gesture and visceral connections we (once) had with paint.  No illusion suffices when the darkroom magic no longer means anything, just as the representational after WWII proved meaningless.

When the photographer’s eye loses out to digital photography’s own technological magic, when any image, all images, made, taken, shown can be easily edited, cropped, and placed into any context, when this is the new norm, Photography readjusts.

 

The “eye” of the photographer – the ability to capture something from nature ‘as is’ – print full-frame – is no longer viable.  The prestige we once placed on the skill of the photographer’s eye has been replaced with the egalitarian ‘so can I’.  Photoshop toolbars are the new darkroom and access to it all exists no matter what level or claim.

 

The Everyman’s camera with digital grip on capturing every moment before us – because we can — must somehow be distanced from the art photographer working diligently at his/her craft.  Rather than a World War to diminish the significance of painting things from nature ……we have the ubiquity of Digital diluting the democratized pool of images we now all make with abandon.

 

It is no wonder that new work in Contemporary Photography is found returning to that of origin, and, with it, possibly, an aim for the retrieval of aura in the literally-pulled-from-the-negative; a move to discussing the process of Photography itself. The subject matter contemporary artists photograph now is imbued with the process of making one.  And, the subject matter photographed is likewise ensured of greater meaning because it is indeed, a (true) photo.  Artists photograph Photography now, leaving the task of recording sunsets and snapping in successive impulse the documenting of the everyday to the now incurable digital.

 

 

In the late 19th Century, Painting went through its own self-evaluative phase with the advent of the camera –its arrival on the scene challenging artists re-presenting likenesses on canvas.  If the camera can reproduce nature as it is, (and, much more directly) we painters must give the Nature we aim to imitate with our brushes and canvas another angle, another view.  Realistic portrayal is no longer the painter’s aim, but one of creating more of an impression of what we see (one which examines the Science of light and the study of refraction, saturation and hue) rather than what the artist has worked at for centuries to achieve.  The camera changes everything.

 

Today, Photography has been taken over by the dpi pixelation of image —  computer-generated and electronically processed without any gestural, personal touch or hand in the making other than the holding-at-arm’s-length distance (no longer eye pressed tightly peering through the closeness of the camera’s lens) one of the many electronic devices we carry around without distinction, and then, the tapping of a few remote keys on a keyboard while awaiting the contrast-adjusted screen resolution’s response.

 

With digital technology we can paint photos, make photos look like paintings, scan photos and print them as if paintings, photos, or, maybe, if we wish, both.  (There is even an app that can make an image photographed look as though a painting by Thomas Hart Benton!) The origin of source is rejected for the contrivance of cut and paste and digital manipulation.  The advantage of the eye in seeing something unique in the real world is overwhelmed by the savvy nature of the digital screen’s editing options offered at the touch of a distanced keystroke.  Darkroom pools of chemicals and physical film emulsions dipped and swirled and submerged and pulled are all part of the mystical past printed in sepia-toned nostalgia.  The capturing of the observable taken by our clunky cameras and then preserved in a photograph has been replaced by the ease and facility and access and uniformity of technology’s latest picture-taking app.

 

What then, can the artist who works in Photography do to maintain a level of artistic creation, freshness, scholarship, expertise, and, add to the discipline by contributing to the evolution of Photography in offering commentary on this phenomenon through one’s art, one’s own photographic work?  How does the artist comment upon this digital world and its competing role?  Where are the Impressionists of today and what are they doing to unite past history and our current ‘taking of pictures’?

 

The photographer’s image will now, always be measured against the new paradigm, the digital world’s offering — (in both quantity and kind); the photograph no longer able to carry itself just by virtue of “its being”.  “Is that digitally created?” is the context all photography now faces.  It no longer matters if it looks one way or another.  It is now about the viewing of such a thing amidst – and, how it reads now that technology has diluted [in its own nonchemical solution] Photography’s very origin, process and meaning.

 

 

2017

 

art vs an artwork:  aka – the thought’s the thing

 

 

Don Quixote

 

The artist thrives in the unique state of being able to see things beyond surface appearance, and presents to the rest of us such a translation in an equally unique vision.

 

Art is both verb and noun.  It is an act of thinking and receiving.  It is a sinking-in of information which prompts us to consider our place in the much larger world.  Art prompts us to recognize meaning in an artist’s object, a playwright’s dialogue, an actor’s performance, a novelist’s writing, a poet’s verse.

 

Art is not something which one can visit without having some sort of thought-process, some act of thinking immediately following.  This is where the art happens; with the thought—the thinking-about – usually in response to [the] contradictory nature of what is observed.  A contrast in size, shape, material within an environment prompts us to think in symbolic terms, and, here, we begin to venture into the realm of Art.

All of this makes me consider Melville’s description of art in his poem of the same name, for he posits just this with his lines: “A wind to melt, a flame to freeze, sad patience, joyous energies – such unlike things must meet and mate” and, also, Wilde’s “Art can make an almond tree blossom in winter, or make snow fall upon the ripe cornfield”; …. or Blake’s “Joy and woe are woven fine, a clothing for the soul divine” or, in Berger’s sharper prose “the wooden bird is wafted by the warm air rising from the stove in the kitchen while the real birds are outside freezing to death!”

These are all effective definitions of what art is – for they all contain within them an engagement of opposites, an irony, a new angle in the way things are seen.  This is art.  Art jolts us out of our accepted narrative, and makes us consider the veracity of that narrative, and, then, has us question our nominal acceptance before we came to our newest point of questioning.

This is why we need the art, artists = to keep us from slipping into a world where there is no contrast, no quest, no questioning, no new view presented to us, no way to really see our world and our place within it.

Whether through Alice’s Looking-Glass prompting us to look at the society of Victorian England or Don Quixote’s Chivalric-Lens in realizing Spain’s place in the advancing modern world, both of these works, (especially) and, all works of literary fiction, works of successful art lead us to a significant and greatly-appreciated truth.

 

July  2019

 

 

 

 

the potential for Art: where dialogue and emphasis seem to matter

 

 

The Wrestler:  An Unrealized Potential; (at least from where I was sitting)

 

 

“The Wrestler,” directed by Darren Aronofsky was one film I had always wanted to see.  This was mainly due to the much-hyped screen “debut” of a long-lost Mickey Rourke.  I was even willing to stomach the idea of watching professional wrestling in order to witness something extraordinary…

 

<><<><><>>><>

To begin, it is a given that the story line of this film almost demands sentimentality.  This is not a problem.  We think of the quintessential sentimental film “Rocky” * and its improbable story line, but somehow it renders our sentimental hearts moved.  We are moved by a well-written script (Stallone), its rough-edged camera work and editing, good direction (Stallone) and supporting role performances in Shire and Meredith.  It need not court a realistic turning of events, nor contain the acting performance [a] Rourke can give, but rather, in its honest dialogue and warmth in originality – it has no problem at all reeling the viewer in.

 

*In revisiting (viewing on my tiny television screen over a holiday weekend) the original “Rocky”, I came to appreciate the skating-rink scene, and this, far more than I recall the first time viewing it over 30 years ago.  Why was this?  I remarked upon the dialogue in each scene, how refreshing and original it was (despite its out-dated-ness).  For a full five minutes we watch Stallone woo Shire as he stomps around the ice rink mumbling things about what it means to be a southpaw.  Was it the cold outside in contrast with the warm couch and wood stove filling my need for a nice holiday weekend escape?  Or, was I displacing the disappointment I have in current films that had me slipping into a mythical “new remembering” of this film?  Was it desperation at trying to consider anything I see these days as wonderfully written that had me adopting such nostalgia?

 

 

 

In “The Wrestler”, Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, played by Mickey Rourke is shown to us from the very start of the film, from the back – not through a subjective camera point of view, (as if seeing things through his eyes) but an objective one – he is our object given —  to watch, to look at, to get to know.  Aronofsky uses this technique over and over, creating for us a nice figurative motif.   It us up to the director, (the painter of the canvas) to have us meet metaphor with motif and realize what is offered here (given the story line) as a possible redemption, real-life resurrection or return.

 

<<><><><<><><><>><><> 

 

“Since an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering, part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience . . . We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible.”  DFW

 

It is of no coincidence that Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” is mentioned in this film.  Though briefly, and, only once, it is purposeful in that the director of this film hopes to have the suffering of Randy realized by the moviegoer.  It is here, with the idea of sympathy from the viewer, [a pathos realized for the story to succeed in its telling] where the dilemma for Aronofsky exists, and where the reference to Gibson’s “Passion” is ironically relevant.

 

Gibson’s film, in giving to us his story of Christ’s suffering, concentrates on the ‘how’ of his protagonist’s suffering. The film spends its time showing us the actual graphic depiction of a crucifixion.  For art, this approach becomes flawed, for part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience.  If all we are given are images composing [a] crucifixion, what would cause us to feel anything for the specific person suffering if we are not given his story?

 

For Gibson’s approach to work — the story must already be known; the audience already having a knowledge of the ‘story’ before even entering the theatre.  With the person of Christ, this is possible.  We care despite not being given the story of Christ’s life here, by the director, in this film being shown before us only because we are inclined to “already know the story”.   The director knows this, and, is thus afforded this “luxury of neglected story line”—– for we are able to tap into an already-existing (however fraught with controversy) story line template.  The director then, can concentrate on giving us the far-easier-to-produce shock-value graphic tale.

 

All of this leads to the showing of suffering, or, its counterpart, the conveyance of an inner suffering with which an audience can identify.  The former relies upon the literal; and for the two films involved here, is destined to be graphic, violent, bloody.  The latter relies upon storytelling and metaphor, allusion and symbol.  The endgame for the director of a film is to make his audience care.  It is easy to show blood pour; it is difficult to make an audience care that it’s pouring.

 

The potential of “The Wrestler” resides in this very distinction made between the two methods of depicting suffering (literal graphic vs metaphorical symbolic) and the two types of audiences (collective crowd vs sympathetic moviegoer) involved.  Here is where the film succeeds in one respect, and yet, overall, where an otherwise surefire motif loses its potential power in metaphor.

 

<><><><>

With the world of professional wrestling, we have the boundary well-secured between detached viewer and spectacle:  the viewing is of a collective nature, where the event watched is encouraged by [an] audience kept at a sympathetic distance.  The collective viewing of pain and suffering as object, and not as subject, precludes sympathy while preserving spectacle.

To watch Randy suffering in the ring is simply abiding by professional wrestling’s intended design, where each blow has no consequence, each spill of blood only serving to further the distancing and preserve the lack of any emotive connection with the person(s) in the ring.  The wrestler knows this; the audience knows this. The audience will never understand what it is like up there in the ring if kept at its required distance.  This is deliberate on the part of the spectacle itself; the act is understood by both those in the ring, and, those not.  And, furthermore, the audience not only need not understand, but cannot know anything about the real-life person in the ring in order to successfully complete its role as spectator.

There is this nice boundary maintained – and, one which must be for it all to work.  It is the same boundary created for the mob-like crowd who gathers at the foot of the platform upon which Hawthorne places Hester Prynne amidst 17th century Boston Puritanism.  With boundary maintained, no sympathy is possible.  The collective crowd no more wishes to know Hester Prynne and “follow her to” her story than do the crowds who gather along the road to Calvary.

But, as spectator of this film, (a film where I will no doubt be asked to watch some violence, blood, depictions of physical and graphically-portrayed suffering) I must know the story for me to complete my role as satisfied (sympathetic) moviegoer.  My role is as subjective viewer, not objective.  I cannot survive “outside the ring”.  I need to know why this specific person’s blood pours, not see blood pouring in an overall general and distanced way for “an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience”– to be realized. 

 

_________________________________________

 

 

The essence of art, be it film, literature, visual art, etc. is to “make us see”.  If we are prevented from seeing, from identifying with, from knowing, no amount of clever motif will get us there, bring us in the locker room, so to speak, up on the platform with Hester, or knowing the historical figure in Christ.  And to find a given motif symbolically powerful, we must appreciate its context – its surrounding story.

 

A way in which this can happen, [and, to Aronofsky’s credit, does] is in the staple-gun wrestling match scene.  By employing the use of flashback, (a film tool which disturbs the real-time sequencing of narration) – showing both the blood inside the ring, and then, outside it, afterward, in the locker room – the crucial distinction between the two audiences, objective and subjective is made.  Yes, blood flows in both scenes, [and the graphic nature is equal in intensity in each] but the pain in the latter, we now realize, is far greater.  Why?  Because we’ve been allowed a glimpse into this person’s pain, the pain outside the spectacle with which we, as sympathetic human beings must identify.  We never need to have been punctured with staples and razors and glass in order to realize that the pain Randy suffers is not to be found in the ring, but rather, outside of it, fumbling with his hearing aid, begging for more work hours, seeking reparation, reflecting upon his life, enduring his self.

 

…its rough-edged camera work and editing, good direction (Stallone) and supporting role performances in Shire and Meredith. 

 

____________________

 

 

Given the powerful performance of Mickey Rourke, the symbolic ‘motif to metaphor’ potential set up by Aronofsky in direction, and the multi-level story line of resurrection and return, one would think this film to be able to succeed beyond expectation.  But, why didn’t it?  What was lacking in the film?  Why didn’t the showing of Randy from the back throughout the entire film materialize into something more?

 

This motif found itself in Randy’s searching for his own front door, the door to his daughter’s apartment, his boss’s office door begging for more hours, and ultimately, his entering the ring.  It was so intentional an attempt by the director to show this hulking tattered outdated down-jacket in front of us throughout the entire film, moving away from us while confronting symbolic thresholds in the form of literal doorways which either open or reject.  Rourke’s character is shown continually walking away from the movie-going audience and toward those things he was in search of; a faceless large figure shown from the back in continual pursuit of something, and, for added allusion for Rourke himself, something other than that of the movie-viewing audience

 

This is the closest thing we get to art in this movie, and yet, it never really makes it to this realm.  The outdated down jacket walking away from us is the perfect symbol of the actor himself, — as equal to, or, maybe even more, the character he plays.  Rourke the actor snubbed his audience years ago, and his real-life search for reparation and return could not be better portrayed.  But, why didn’t it work?

 

One has to again, look at the scenes in which this motif has been placed, and consider the time we spend as “distanced spectator” versus “sympathetic viewer”.  The supporting performances (by E. Rachel Wood and Marissa Tomei) seemed to never get past cliché.  The father-daughter template is the centerpiece, and yet there was nothing offered to make one want the two to reunite, make reparation.  Their story, their narrative, is never tapped into nearly enough, nor, without stereotypical image, so we are left at a distance unable to sympathize.  Without the narration, we are stuck with appearances, and can only respond to the character as something to look at, and not someone to know.  The dialogue contributes greatly to this in its substance and delivery; neither Wood nor Tomei able to do much with the script given them and the lack of their story.

 

Tomei’s character is given to us primarily as spectacle; a strip-club act her version of the wrestling ring where we cannot see who she really is.  Why did the director choose to exhaust so much film time with the audience kept at the collective-crowd level and not that of the sympathetic viewer?  One scene in a clothing shop ‘outside the ring,’ and, without much more than this was not enough to make us care about her character.   The lengthy pockets of pulp-fiction-viewing give us nothing [except maybe some ratings issues] and – what does this all serve other than to keep the viewer at a distance watching her “act”?  Maybe this is the parallel intended by the director – to show us the parallel lives of empty spectacle.  But, to do this, one must counter it with the sympathetic.

 

<><><>

 

If anything, this film offers tons of irony.  My whole worried-over wariness in having to watch a film about professional wrestling ends up being completely misguided.  The wrestling scenes were probably the strongest ones Aronofsky offers, the ones I most enjoyed, (and, yes, from my sympathetic role as moviegoer); the most real and the least spectator-like despite their heavy doses of Passion-ate bleeding.  It is ironically the storytelling aspect (the part which should reel me in and make me care about all that blood) which leaves me unnerved and detached.  Stomaching the stuff in the wrestling ring was nothing compared to the dialogue, the non-dimensionality of the characters.

 

 

If a film’s dialogue is weak, the created characters one-dimensional, and the emphasis placed on the “how” rather than the “why” we end up with a well-devised metaphor with no narrative in which to place it.  We then have a great performance given by an actor whose own offering of self (Christ figure complete) is there to save the film from its unfortunate mediocre reception.  Rourke as ‘Saviour’ – again, is maybe the best metaphor yet – (to be realized here) – though, one devised not by the director, but by the viewing audience.

 

 

In an ironic way, Aronofsky’s passionate portrayal of his Christ figure in Rourke need not be realized through the Gibson spectacle but rather, through the slowly-before-our-very-eyes painful realization that Rourke has found himself not in a realm of resurrection, (that which brought us to see the film in the first place) but in one having to carry the burden of trying to save yet another film.

 

 

This film gave me the actor Rourke in his other ring, the real-life ring of professional boxing, unleashing his own barrage of blows to the audience in the form of his acting genius, yet all we can do is wince and suffer with each glove to the face as we recognize [once again], the wasted talent before us.  Rourke’s performance as Randy rings true to life, true to form in the furthered echo of his own acting career, where his films (barring “Diner”, “Rumble Fish” and his part opposite William Hurt in “Body Heat”) have been just that; mediocre at best, artlessly awful at worst.  This is the real tragedy.  The more devastating destruction of Rourke doesn’t come from the receipt of blows he endures in the boxing ring all those years, but rather, from the landed gloves of suffering and loss recognized by the moviegoer.

 

The only thing holding anything together in this film is Rourke himself; his unique talent evident in even the worst of dialogue given him.  Loss is the theme here, as it is always in the examination of life; our loss as viewer unable to appreciate a gifted actor, and, Rourke’s, in plying his talent in a constant swill of bad films.  Just add “The Wrestler” (despite his outstanding performance) to the already-too-long list.

 

 

January 

 

 

 Addendum: 

One scene which may be on par with Stallone and his southpaw is the video game scene played in Ram’s trailer.  The outdated Nintendo game with images of wrestlers barely discernible, [stiff and obsolete in geometric form] are a perfect symbol for Randy as he sits in front of us now, worn out, out-of-fashion, tired.

He wins, but he wins at a game so far in the past that his “opponent” (an eight-year-old kid) has no interest in a re-match.  This is metaphor at its best.  Rourke’s minimized little victory on the video screen (in its equally sad and outdated state of technology) on par with the minimal and spare existence inside a trailer was perfect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

that venue for showing art

caa show announcement

Regarding the static painted visual art piece on a wall, or, the static sculpted object on a pedestal, what are we to read beyond the object’s own “art-object-ness” in a recycled environment of reference and quotation? Can the object we now make be successful at translating our meaning given its expected reception in a now seemingly all-too familiar field? Is the gallery context itself somehow inhibiting as it moves from exclusive space visited by students of art and other artists to the David Byrne familiar with Eric Fischl painting art’s own art-going morphology?

Is it like the phenomenon of digital accessibility —- with too much equaling too ordinary and expected for us to even blink an eye no matter the possible strength of the work residing? Can the static art object give us the reading it means to in its current context of “being art in a gallery”? or, have we become too savvy an audience, too familiar with how the system works for the art object itself to move beyond the space it relies upon for its translation?

Is Visual Art stuck in its own necessary replication, unable to move beyond the “look” of what we know art on a wall to be, to move beyond the entrenched orthodoxy of this look, this paradigm? Does the gallery space by default, due to our familiarity with it – create for the artist a space impossible for understanding the actual work?  Is our awareness of “looking at art” getting in the way?  Has our method of looking overwhelmed the actual art (if there is any) to be found?

Not unlike a Kafka character caught in truest dilemma, the balance for both lies between the method used (gallery space = traveling circus ) and, the very awareness of the method by both the artist (when placing work in such a prescribed space) and the viewer (upon experiencing that space).  Both require an isolation without self-awareness, and, given our method of viewing art – (which includes taking along our image-conscious selves), neither of these seems possible.

Sept.  2018

today’s realism and bowls of fruit drawn, painted

 

Apples with PLU - entry 1

  • Apples [w/ PLU Sticker] in Pewter Bowl : ( w/r/t the history of Still Life painting)  37” x 46” – Digital – inkjet collage – 2016

 

A realistically drawn apple may be read as the mastering of a skill in the field of representational drawing.  There are endless ways in which the drawing can be done:  varying materials, altering the approach in tackling formal qualities, playing with scale to name but a few.

 

The subject of an apple, or, bowl of fruit, allows for a connection with 2-dimensional art’s tradition, its history in both the academic “learning how to draw” and the prominent genre works found in painting.  This connecting to the past empowers the apple, the fruit as subject matter, referencing a linear progression comprising any true discipline or study which, in turn, genially accounts for its validity and, yes, its relevance.

 

Depending upon how “good” the drawn fruit is (honoring the laws of Realism) will determine the level of mastering.  The drawing becomes somewhat of a biographical sketch of where the artist is at the time in the advancement of a learned technical skill.  Like hitting the perfect note in music, the wows of the viewer are in response to the artist’s performance, the result of a practiced skill, the visual cue to an artist’s bettering this sought-after facility.  We are struck by the artist’s ongoing mastery of drawing something convincingly “real” on a 2-D surface.

 

In looking at a drawing of an apple or fruit Still-life made today, we might be asked to look at it not in terms of success or failure of a bench-marked realism, (our go-to assessment as viewers) but rather in terms of the choice of subject matter itself.  It is in the choosing to draw an apple, fruit bowl that is now our subject matter.  Not unlike our original choosing of the apple, the enactment, the act of drawing or painting is now our content.

 

The weight fruit carries today is not the same in origin, when introduced as subject as it was for Bruegel, Chardin, Courbet.  Our supermarket-stickered fruit reads far differently than the anonymous peasant apple-carting of a Bruegel, the bourgeoisie interior sitting-room of a Chardin, or the crumbling aristocracy of a Courbet.  Our fruit drawings or paintings hold all of these weighted meanings in reference and tribute which is now our subject.

 

In today’s world of the ease of digital rendering, and, an omnipresence of PLU- stickered fruit, the romantic notion of a fruit bowl set in golden-hued light on an elegantly arranged table seems foreign, out-of-date, remote, exotic.  The only connection to this is precedent, art’s own history’s role in continuity of subject for meaning.  We paint and draw fruit because we know painted and drawn fruit register as art.  Still-lifes are wonderful rendering workshops and tradition gives us the proverbial nod to go right ahead and draw the apple, so to speak.  Weight of subject matter is found with a nod from history and the enactment of the actual making.

 

The art part, if there is any to be found, might arise, for instance, from the enacted, the activity or ‘scene from a play’, [maybe Chekhov in spirit?] where the fruit bowl is set upon an old yet elegant gate-legged table, and a drawing is worked on by an actor on stage, the actual result never seen by the audience.

The fruit bowl need not be drawn or painted well, poorly, or … at all, even, for the visual prompt to our much larger subject matter is there, found in the reference to an acceptable academic art-making approach and made real by our artist’s set-up of easel and oils; and, our artist, maybe long-since disillusioned —- yet still searching for meaning in a palette of colors fully within physical reach, but, irretrievably lost to one’s failing eyesight or quickly closing memory.

 

May  2018

Language and its Evolution in the Advancing of a Digital Technology

“Electric circuitry profoundly involves men with one another.  Information pours upon us, instantaneously and continuously.  As soon as information is acquired, it is very rapidly replaced by still newer information.  Our electrically-configured world has forced us to move from the habit of data classification to the mode of pattern recognition.  We can no longer build serially, block-by-block, step-by-step, because instant communication insures that all factors of the environment and of experience co-exist in a state of active interplay.”1

Marshall McLuhan

1967 from”The Media is the Massage”

 

detail-from-mapping-arts-genome
detail from “mapping art’s genome”

 

 

Speech units or phonemes are represented by sign and symbol which evolve through repetition and convention into a working tool of communication.  Signs become letters, and letters, alphabets; ideas become pictures which, [in symbolic representation and combination], become words.  Words, arbitrary in origin, [extended in translation through derivative root, added suffix and prefix] are then made conventional by use. Use, in response, becomes contingent upon convention.

 

<><><><><>

In origin, writing systems were generated by the need to tally and record food production.  Counting grain and creating seasonal calendars of planting and harvesting demanded a uniformity of mark-making in order to retain utility.  From the earliest tallying of crop production to the flow of dissemination of information to the masses in reaching our contemporary state of universal literacy, writing systems have continually evolved and produced for us both the necessary invention for ultimate mass communication, and, in their respective states of physical record and object preservation, provide for an extensive anthropological and cultural/literary study.

<><><><><>

Other than a spontaneous human utterance of fear or joy, what else can be noted in its origin, its original context that has not gone through some sort of historical transcription? 2

J. G. Herder

 

nbynw
detail from “a shifting of variables”

 

 

><>>><><
Every academic discipline contains a language, a patterning of elements, be they composed of number, word, letter, shape, color, symbol, image, or any repeated system of mark-making.  The repetition, structuring and replication make possible the language; the physical (legible) mark-making acting as both the means (to a communication) and an end (that which is [eventually] communicated).  The written shapes and letters in their manufactured pattern create as they record (in real time) and, if remaining active in communicating, continue to offer meaning within an ongoing historical context.  If no longer used in the act of communicating, the language [in its (now) purely formal state] resides in residual pattern.

Whether composed of letters, words, mathematical symbol, numerical notation, etc., all written language systems rely upon a conventionalized patterning (structure) for their survival.  In order for the individual voice to be heard, it must conform to an existing convention.  Here lies one of the many paradoxes of language regarding its utility and unique reception.

“The more alive a language is, the less one has thought of reducing it to letters, the more spontaneous it rises to the full unsorted sounds of nature, the less, too, is it writeable…” J. G. Herder

 

If the overall goal of language is communication, the formal language with which the artist ‘speaks’ is contingent upon the language of the society it intends to speak both to and about.  The artist who breaks with the traditional language of its discipline in creating a new form of communication (i.e.: Courbet, Millet, Van Gogh) is initially rejected due to this change in form.  Eventually, within the context of history, the society catches up with the new form, [the artist is then identified as being one “ahead of his time”] and the discipline itself is altered, and cannot return to its “time before”.

Language too, moves in this linear fashion, and is as mutable as the society which uses it.  The paradox of language is shown here, with the unique voice of the artist “the less, too, is it writeable” having to submit to the conventional in order to be heard.  The proverbial misunderstood artist with his “illegible handwriting” is often misread (or, unread?), only to be deciphered much later by the privileged spectators of history.

 

<><><><><><><

 

The way in which we communicate is no doubt being altered by 21st century digital technology with its pace, immediacy, and accessibility.  Information is transmitted and made available all of the time, and foremost, is generated in “real time”.  This poses all sorts of changes made in how we write, read, gather and assess, streamline and interpret, and, ultimately, make changes to our existing language.  The form is inseparable from the content, thus, our language can only reflect our existing medium.

 

If the medium for writing changes from handwritten correspondence to instant messaging, the language in turn, follows suit.  The limited time and space of the text message and the tweet makes no room for the contemplative lengthy passage, the periodic sentence.  The abbreviated word in the rising use of acronym is just one of the changes taking place in the field of digital communication.  The phonetic translation of these acronyms could certainly find their way (back?) to the logogram.  A three word expression taking the form of three letters in acronym could eventually turn into a furthered shorthand symbol.  The new shape is no longer phonetic, but logographic.  Our written language is changing.

 

The earlier theories of Johann Herder realign themselves with the current flow of our digital language.  Noting Herder’s claim that words are rooted in verb form seems to make perfect sense today, with our activity demanding a new word to be formed to not only identify it, but (actively) participate in its identity.  In order to understand the world around us, we naturally, by our given nature, give things names.  ‘To blog”, ‘to Google’ and ‘to tweet’ are infinitive forms of verbs which have successfully risen out of the necessarily mutable nature of language and its newest placement in the medium of electronic communication.   Conventional use mixes with historical change and gives to language its life.  Without both components operating, (and, both seemingly contradictory) [a] language would cease to exist as a language, and would become instead, an historical record of a once-used (but now antiquated) pattern.

 

In the field of Linguistics, Benjamin Whorf claimed that the content of a language is directly related to the content of a culture and the structure of a language is directly related to the structure of a culture.  If this is true, the culture of the tweet, text, and blog (the form) alongside the globalizing power of the Internet (the context of influence) will invariably alter our existing language, or, evolve into a completely new system of sign and symbol all of its own.

 

><>><<><><> 

 

Our earliest use of the computer gave to us the Word Processor, a tool further advancing our facility (of writing) while distancing ourselves from the uniqueness of a personal penmanship.  The term “word processing” itself gives us a reading of [a] manufactured item being distributed large-scale and to the masses [in the same manner as did Warhol’s images, with the ‘making of’ image through the mechanism of factory-built process, and then, engaging both marketing strategy (the selling of image) and the mass assembling (in the gallery exhibition) of its parts.  Image was the subject; mass production (and, mirrored manipulation), the content.

 

As for image, the computer software program Adobe Photoshop also gives us change in the way in which we take photographs.  We no longer take photographs, we “make photographs”.  Again, facility and ease of doing this run alongside the distancing of the personal; all images can be manufactured with this software tool, and, the tool, made available to anyone with a computer and the purchasing of the software.  The “Photo-Shopping” of image denies any such vestigial concept of “original” or “authentic”.

The shattering of aura (of an art object) with the advent of mechanical reproduction [unveiled for us by Walter Benjamin in 1935] (and made real by Warhol) can now be compared to the advent of the blog, twitter, and text in terms of its own altering of established academically ruled fields.  Journalism seems the most affected, along with that of publishing and the copyright.  As for language itself, its rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling along with the formal nature of [its] written translation is transforming as rapidly as is the technology we use to communicate.

On another level, the digital transcription and then storage of texts in electronic form [without the need of any actual physical written record, any tangible piece of paper, or reel of microfilm, [or, furthered – any clay tablet, carved vessel or hidden scroll] is the current stage set for the recording of a culture’s history.  Electronic blips of translated shapes of 1’s and 0’s house the “history” we now make.  The tactile objects of the past will remain just that, (becoming even more of a museum treasure) while the scanning and processing of literature turns what used to be individual books and references into one large electronic ball of page-less citation.  If we are lucky, the works existing in their secured digital form will not be lost to technical whimsy, or, political nightmare.

<<><><><><>

might
“might ( possible)”

 

After years of creating odes to writing’s formal cadence and aesthetic script, there is now the revolutionary text message, hypertext translation and abbreviated use of an existing alphabet.  I am trying to concentrate my own work in this direction, with the idea of writing and its grammatical form and physical translation of history losing itself in this same stream of advancing technology;  both out-running  society’s own comprehension of its quickly changing form.

 

2/2017

 

 

  1.  Marshall McLuhan/Quentin Fiore  “The Medium is the Massage”.  copyright 1967
  2. J. G. Herder – from “On the Origin of Language” – copyright 1966

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                          cropped-monop-bd-edit1 

Maybe the art on the walls in galleries should be distanced and removed from the real world in terms of its delivery, discussion, and deal with large open swaths of generalized concepts like spirit, balance, harmony and nature, allowing for the connections to be made by sense and feeling rather than study and cultural relevance —- for that is how we may have come to define art anyway.

<><>><><><><><><>

Artists were once our sole image-makers.  Their work, (whether political cartoon, lampoon, editorial illustration, architectural design, photograph, painting, sculpture, carving on clay) assumed a role of communication via a select few.  Artists of guilds, patron-hired painters of renown and reputation, professional orators and writers, critics and draftspersons were the ones who gave to our mass audience its cultural signifiers, its innovations within disciplines, and the communication of thoughts, information, and ideas.  The circle of influence was small and exclusive; its contributors, for better or worse, employed by patronage, power and privilege.

Today, with our media platforms allowing us a far wider range of respective contributors, we have universal image-making running alongside the artist’s.  In addition, we have Visual Art’s seemingly tenuous relationship to its once-inseparable theory; (Greenberg’s Modernist Theory which both promoted painting as it simultaneously, and, accordingly, penned its eulogy);  the artist working well within an established discipline pushing tenable Modernist’s boundaries.

Today’s Visual Art seemingly floats without a discipline, and its Modernist Theory, in retrospect, [a discipline criticized itself for its elitism and reduced scope during its time] seems now a welcomed breath of intellectual discourse sorely missed.

hals1
detail:  Berger/Hals 

A language without a discipline in which to speak it (advance it) is where we seem to find ourselves:  wanting our cake (the mooring of Visual Art to a valid language no longer found in theory and scholarship but by virtue of the exhibiting and marketing of the art itself) and, eating it, too – asserting that anything found in these spaces is art, regardless of its challenge to the form, its historical progression, (technical development or any advancement in form) made within the language itself.

(blog post update:  wanting our cake and eating it too = Art Basel Miami Beach_

 

 

So, we have a language that needs to be understood in order for the art to exist, and, the space for that language to exist needs to be open-ended and understood.  If either of these fail in communicating, what do we have?

For the most part, the contemporary art gallery exists in its own subset of isolationism by insisting that the language used here in this space is a mystery, is supposed to be one not quite understood, arcane, and, at its furthest, incommunicable.  It is a place to go to be inspired, awed, moved by the art objects we see before us.  We are there to look at and experience (almost meditatively) objects before us that are presented as art, no matter the success in translation of the language being used.

It is noted that Elizabethan audiences understood the language of pun and aside, nuanced allusion, political and religious satire.  They understood the role of theater, the language of the stage.  I’m not sure we can carry this over to today’s gallery-going experience.  The deck is stacked against the innocent viewer wanting to get something out of the work displayed.  In the open-armedness of the inclusive-minded 21st century society – we have an improved increased interest in Visual Art – but many of the museum-like cordons [prompting us to maintain an awed silence] remain firmly in place.

With Visual Art today- the language is not only arcane but, gratuitous and random.  It seems to consist of an ‘anything goes’ — as long as it “looks like art”; the kind of art that we’ve come to know and trust.  The Copernicuses of art-making have had to become Geo-centrists by market-success default.  Revolutions are for flipping paradigms on their heads, and the market-controlled Gallery-to-Gala-to-Big Art Fair wants nothing to do with this.

So, to look at this whole established system — to look at  “looking at art”with some sort of silver-lining – maybe where today’s art is to be found is in the gallery space — but in the gallery-goer’s own sentient experience of ‘going to a gallery and looking at art‘.  Maybe it is the activity that is the important thing, the social interaction and the community participation and not the “getting anything” from the art, or, what the artist has tried to say with the art object.  Maybe it is the diversion itself; the contemporary gallery space really well-designed in successfully generating the collective sigh, gasp, or reflex and, maybe this is what we truly need.

(blog update:  contemporary art gallery as an experience, an event – cite Amanda Hess – “American Dream” shopping malls for the experience_

 

 

Maybe our art today is to be found in the ‘experiencing of ‘ it —  in all of its intangible, abstract and ineffable nuanced state.

 

Nov.  2016

Subject: digital & the making of images

We live in a world where digital transmissions of images and ideas are only eclipsed in quickness by the changing of the very technology itself and its effects on our society.  We seem momentarily remiss of a cumulative history while we capture with a digital ferocity every current changing element of our own very-now life.  Thousands of digital photographs live and breathe on our tiny hand-held cameras. Thousands.  And thousands which will never see the form as “printed photograph” in which to record history.  It is all a digital blur which will change the next time we “load our cameras”. 

ben tree

<><><><><><><>

The quickness of a ten year old’s hand and mind as he moves the mouse to edit a photo that he took of a tree against the sky from his own backyard is the subject.  The photo, in origin, having the tree a bit out of focus, transforms itself from an “okay” photograph taken by a child to an exposition of technical facility by this very same child who downloads it and edits it and crops it and saves it to his file.  This action changes everything. 

All of a sudden the idea of a “good photo” precedes documentation of both tree and sky, trial and error, and the focus shifts to the child’s ability to use the computer skills he has mysteriously acquired in order to “technically adjust” his photo.  The photo then begins to talk about the incredible facility this ten year old has already assumed in his role as “photographer”, as seer, as observer, as “maker of images” , and most amazingly, as technician:  a child responding to the availability of a digital world before him.  

The actual (original) photo of the sky, or the tree, may never see the light of day again, but that’s okay.  The art is not in the printed photo, but in the observation of, and extension of this newfound facility. 

In looking at a child’s activity of photographing a tree against the sky — what is the significance of [our] attempts to capture something with our cameras and then somehow [given technology] be able to then ‘fix it’ later ?   The photo as documentation of the actual world becomes secondary to the activity of manipulating it to a preconceived liking. 

Where does this process of alteration come from, and where does the actual tree fall in all of this, and why, in the end, [upon reflection of both the ‘tangible’ digital picture and method of technical facility ] did we stop to take a photo of [a] tree to begin with?  Do we applaud the visual given us (in the form of a photo of a tree against a sky) or do we applaud the facility which got us there?  What is it that we are actually taking a picture of ?

April  2016