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.
- 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.
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.
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.
When Warhol silkscreened Marilyn Monroe off-register onto a painted canvas and painted cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, (placing both on the platform of High Art) — he did two things: he called attention to the distance between the mythical and the real, the iconic and the ordinary, and, at the same time, with the same motion, he closed that very same distance.
Not only does he erase the platform of High Art itself, — but, ends up making the platform even larger in significance in order to grasp the meaning of his ‘act of doing this”. The gesture’s the thing with Warhol; his art found in the placing upon in the ironic erasing of.
This whole closing of space between high and low, iconic and ordinary we note in Western-rooted Greek Antiquity’s anthropomorphism. This is then re-echoed in the Renaissance’s distance-closing humanism where the artist’s introduction of man-made formulae applied to theories of perspective disavow the mystery of spatial differences between the heavenly and the earthly and shatter the mythical distance once again. Warhol’s Marilyn, his Jackie O. his Elvis fall from their pedestal as he places them (off-registered silkscreened-smudged in mass reproduction as the ink itself, runs its mechanically-printed course) simultaneously upon it.
The point to note is that there is a line there for Warhol to blur; the distinction existed; the fall from the distant and the sacred, real. This is what accounts for the disillusionment we, [as a generation living through it] experienced. We experience the tragic when he does this.
Today, though, is quite different.
Today, we are not given the distance needed to note any such fall. We are as close to our Beyoncé’s and Lady Gagas as we can be, just in terms of sheer mediated enumeration. There is no mythological goddess in the distance for us to worship – for, the form in image that they take, and, the one they took from the start – one of enumeration and accessibility makes this no longer applicable. Lady Gaga was never mythic, sacred. She was never that far away from us.
The use of the tally mark eventually morphs into numerals to signify ‘all of those many marks’. A threshold reached; the realizing of an amount unmanageable results in a change in form. Degree influences kind.
We are no longer a society of manageable quantities: _the Sears, Roebuck Catalogue, Life Magazine and The National Geographic M., only three broadcasting networks on our television sets, the tangible vinyl records of the music of the ‘70’s taking up only one aisle in a Caldor Dept. store, and, a handful of books found on high-school- requirement reading lists, and, these lists fairly standard: manageable, finite. We all read Animal Farm in 8th grade; Lord of the Flies in 9th; The Great Gatsby in 10th; Our Town in 11th, and The Grapes of Wrath in 12th.
Today – there is no end to the amount of books, musicians, writers, bloggers, magazines, publications, artists, news cycles, references, television entities [and, options for viewing], videos, movies, images, data, tweets, texts, opinions, information, margins, status, standards, trends, and, more importantly, those which we have access to: our access to it making all the difference.
“Google estimated in 2010 that there were 300 exabytes (that’s 300 followed by 18 zeros) of human-created information in the world, and that more information was created every two days than had existed in the entire world from the dawn of time to 2003.” 1
We are not only living in more of what we used to have, but, by this very fact, are experiencing it in a new way. This translates to a change in the way we read things; our act of reading influenced by the enumeration of the readable (sheer amount available) and the form in which the ‘enumerated readable’ takes.
Digital form offers both a reduction in distinguishable style (“An electronic version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark looks just like a Rowling’s Prisoner of Azkaban. They are treated in the same way. Calibri 11 pt. Arial Unicode MS 12 pt.) and, a far busier field of no longer static written language, but moving text and image. Our efforts to concentrate (engage in a gracious default reckoning of such change) becomes more and more like a Ray Bradbury metro-ride: “Consider the lilies of the field….”?: we try – but it is becoming more and more apparent to us that we cannot.
For those of us who grew up in an age when the amount of media access was limited in comparison; limited in amount of options far more than we are now, we were more assured of a knowledge base we could manage, and, given the limited sources, far more willing to trust without the built-in skepticism needed for today’s source-sifting. We took our time, because we had the opportunity to, and, because we were dealing with a fairly manageable amount. Most of what we knew was determined by what was within our own tangible reach. Library aisles were walked; book pages, turned. Screens were limited to one small box in the corner of one room in our house. This was our limited-in-perspective access to (a) much larger world.
For this generation, there was far more mythical due to limited access, not unlike
Plato’s cave where shadows served us far longer than maybe? they should have. (The Christopher Columbus we learned about in elementary school back in the 60’s — not quite the Christopher C. we’ve come to know today).
For this generation, the purchase of an LP record closed a sacred distance that truly existed, brought us nearer to the music artist we cherished as much as the poorly printed photographs we clipped from magazines and posted on our (real) walls. These were larger-than-life images held up by scotch-tape — significant in a way not quite possible today.
Today, iPods hold our music — but not in tangible “cherishable” form, (a record album cover’s physical wear relative to its degree of “cherishedness”), but in an un-felt invisible digital code. Even the act of purchasing a record album has lost its recollected significance. It would be difficult to do this, I think, with an electronic purchase download onto a replaceable-when-it-breaks device –: we probably won’t recall our favorite iPod, our favorite Kindle.
–The tactile objects of the past will remain just that, (becoming even more of a museum treasure) while the scanning and processing of our cultural products (literature & art) turns what used to be individual hand-held objects into a field of digital code. 2
Where does all of this technological advancement lead us?
Our re-losing of our sense of aura “in the age of digital reproduction” is our newest change, creating a whole new context with which to view things. For those of us who experienced the 1st loss of aura with mechanical reproduction of image, living with our so-called “luxury of loss” – we will view things quite differently than those who never knew of a slowed-down time of limited choice and access.
The way we seem to be viewing our present is in an overlapping of distance and myth, closeness and real; the experienced disillusionment now viewed as our “something cherished”.
The Warhol mass-reproduced image can now be read as our Marilyn Monroe before she was silkscreened; that very gesture in demystifying as our latest version of “hand-held treasure” — as we hold onto not the myth which was lost, but rather, the memory of our personal experience of losing that myth. In a sense, we cherish our ability to have had at least the opportunity to experience it. This is not unlike Keats in his choice to reject both nightingale and urn for “being too happy in thy happiness” –like those of us experiencing now (with our Star Wars reunion of Fisher and Ford) a charged sentimental nostalgia desired over the possibility of never having the experiencing of one.
At least, with our worn-out record collections and recollected awe—– [when Lucas first gave to us ‘special effects’ (BCGI), that, at the time, were thought to be the size of galaxies ]- we have something to weigh against the present – and, one quite different in kind – and, not merely, degree.
Our reliving of yet another loss of aura is worth the introspective reflecting, but that is as far as it will go. Today’s digital is the new linear perspective. Video Killed the Radio Star —– once again. The technology’s too good, too remarkable. We will gladly sacrifice the sacred for the access, the shadow for the indefinite pixels on our high-def screens.
As with our mythical bird’s song – a song that does not change, it “singest of summer in full-throated ease” – but, fortunately, [and, regardless of any lines blurred or distance lost], our listening does.
“In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far………..” 3
1 In the Age of Information, Specializing to Survive By J. PEDER ZANE MARCH 19, 2015
2 L. Szpak – “Some Thoughts On Language and Its Evolution in the Advancing of a Digital Technology” 2010
3 THE BUGGLES lyrics: “Video Killed The Radio Star” Copyright © 2000-2016 AZLyrics.com
Image: By L. Szpak -from Fine Art Handmade Edition Book – “A Theory of Human Nature” – 1988
“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.”
1967 from ”The Media is the Massage”
The way in which we both read and communicate is being altered by digital technology with its quantity, pace, immediacy, and accessibility. Information is transmitted and made available all of the time, and foremost, is generated in “real time”. Images, the same. This poses all sorts of changes made to how we write, read, interpret, and, ultimately, make changes to our existing language.
If the form of 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 leave 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 our 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.
In the field of Linguistics, Benjamin Whorf said 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 so, 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.
I would love to begin my blog discussing the latest Star Wars movie and tie this in with [a] recent Guerrilla Girls appearance on The Stephen Colbert Show, along with the SNL ‘Undercover Boss’ sketch with Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, and, how these entertainment incidentals (the grist of our Postmodernist mill) tie in with where we are in our society with regard to Art and Culture.
But… I think I need to first identify my angle of approach in Getting Art : Now = where I simply want to discuss contemporary art in a way so that we all can try and understand it (why are Warhol’s soup cans so important?) and participate in the discussion no matter our level or background in art. How I will do this will be by looking at contemporary art shows at galleries and writing about the work shown. The art on the walls tells us a lot about where we are, and, who we are.
If the culture of a people is reflected in the art of a people, what is the 21st century artist reflecting with the visual works it comes up with?
The piece of pottery we look at in a museum of collected artifact – [with its ornamental bands painted in circular pattern] gives to us a glimpse of the culture that created it. The ornamental bands read perhaps as elements mimicking an aquatic nature; a people surrounded by the always-moving bands of water that surround them. The art object reflects the culture that creates it.
“And then I was thinking, what would the worker murals of today be like? They say we are a service economy now – that there are more people selling us hamburgers then making us steel and things. So would the huge wall murals of today be of the people sitting at computer terminals and the people at Burger King handing you your fries? Is there any way to make that look heroic? “Andy Warhol’s “America”; 1985
How is the world of Contemporary Visual Art adding or subtracting anything from the social fabric and does Visual Art have a role, responsibility, or play even a small part in making successful connections with the very same society that sponsors it?
Are those sporadically surfacing visual presentations of the contemporary gallery space doing anything to make us more aware of our current society, or, even better — is that what the assignment is for art? ———has it been? has it always?
Has art and its making become a therapeutic necessity for both artist and viewer; the isolated studio bubble for the artist’s inner peace, and, the contemporary gallery shows and exhibition spaces fulfilling the spiritual-community need like a coffee shop with Wi-Fi or a Y membership?
My approach to Contemporary Visual Art would like to be one of discussing the work, the actual work on the wall, each piece individually, or, an artist’s direction granted to us by the whole. In doing this, maybe we can find some answers to some of the questions the art object raises.
The fact that so much is familiar to us about art and its making, and, the distance between artist and viewer lessening considerably over the past fifty years [with increased access to the whole idea of artists and making art], there’s a need for the Contemporary Art world to somehow blur the line between arcane language and elitist reading with that of a very savvy digitally-connected here-and-very-now society. This is our context.
With Modernism, we had the approach to painting (making a painting on a canvas in full regard to its tradition and history as a painting) tied to theoretical and practical advancement made within its own well-defined field. With Postmodernism, we no longer have the luxury of such a limited and tidy system of evolution. (Noted, BTW, only in retrospect.) We are no longer reducing painting until we reach the actual canvas material that’s painted on, in order to ‘end painting’, or, at least, to have tried to -Postmodernism -far more unmanageable in its scope. There’s so much here – and, we are swimming in it — our engagement now, (in Post-Postmodernism, Meta-Modernism or whatever term we are asked to apply) something that we have to use as our context for looking at any art object we now make.
The facet of contemporary art’s own tribal chanting of an Anti-Aestheticism attached to the visual art world’s response to Postmodernism makes for an interesting parallel with our conservative movement in our politics. This is what happens, socially, culturally, I guess. The larger we get (our virtually boundary-less Google-search space) the more tribal we seemingly become; the more protective of our past only in response to an unmanageable present.
The new Star Wars movie (the one everyone is complaining didn’t give us anything new) gives us a glimpse of the culture that created it. [The piece of pottery we look at in a museum of collected artifact – with its ornamental bands painted in circular pattern gives to us a glimpse of the culture that created it.]
The question we should be asking ourselves of Episode VII is not “why is it simply a remake of Episode IV?”- but, ……………what does remaking Episode IV actually say about us?
If all we did was add technological advancement to the original, is this not our art? Doesn’t this say a lot about our current culture? The fact that there is no new story-line, the fact that we are so eager to be reminded of the first Star Wars movie, to return to the mythical (we are all anxious to see Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher 40 years older) gives us a good indication of where we are culturally, and, where our next Star Wars installment might lead us.