Ctrl Alt Del: Why Contemporary Visual Artists Need To Reboot

 

I know I have been considering for my own work

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the teaching of art in today’s art schools and its necessary adopting of the computer/Internet as communication as a means of creating not only relevant work, (commenting upon this technology and its impact on social change) but work which simultaneously commands an almost green existence by its primarily ? electronic existence.  The immediacy of a social media post far outweighs in successful communication the making of an arcane art object to struggle on a wall or gallery floor – trying to say something.  The material waste runoff and using of new resources to create objects for social commentary is also, part of the debate.

Also, at its heart, is the issue of relevance and with regard to real-life issues, that of economic diversity.  I would like to think that the barriers between the real world out there and the artist’s “secret-language” studio have lessened, become weakened by mass accessibility and familiarity with the art world through the digital age conveyor belt of images, and, the artist’s very own participation in it, and, that art instruction at higher levels of academic learning are addressing this phenomenon.  If our entire political debate structure has discovered the power of the Internet and its immediacy, the power of the ability to tap into the very-present and utilize the medium to its advantage and, by doing so, connect with people on a much broader level, why not have our teaching venues (galleries/undergraduate art classes) teach visual art (the making of images, objects) through the lens of media influence and its relevance?

The idea that the one area in a visual artist’s life which can be completely controlled, [that is, in one’s very own art-making] lies in contrast with that of the graphic designer, or, maker of images for commercial use.  In order to succeed in the commercial field, one must follow conventions and, in order to succeed, compromise in order to remain a vital player.

Does the artist working quietly in his studio trump the designer who must exist within convention and forgo that sanctioned state of true freedom, complete control?  If so, what is the result of this arrangement?  How effective is the designer’s art in constituting societal enrichment (making us see something) and change as opposed to the studio artist?

It is here, ironically, in the design world (and, not in the artist’s studio) where the artist needs to be in control.  The visual artist needs to take control somehow, here, where it matters.  The world of design and fashion and style is where the cultural images [we] create affect how our society operates.  Advertising imagery gives us our template of cultural prescription.  The images created for mass media advertising are those which have brought us to where we are now; one of embracing corporate enterprise, making conspicuous consumption a virtue, and promoting wastefulness as a staple of our supposed spiritual-societal needs with the resulting influence leaving us a consumer-based spirit whose only lasting ritual is that of commodity-gathering to feed-the-family status.  Community, truth, change are not marketable products for a successful capitalism.

We artists, those in our studios closed out and in complete control of things end up commenting upon this in our art…..maybe?  We make these tangible works of art to show the very same society how out-of-control it truly is.  But to what effect?  Implement for change?  Not really.  The system’s too closed-looped.  Economic and social diversity end at the high-priced art-showing door.

In order to really affect change, comment upon society, make our art objects matter, one must seemingly have to work from within.  Break the paradigm.  Push the studio clock to “present” and consider where the past decades have left us.

This is the one role we artists should assume, in attempting to work from within.  And, the only way to do this with any success is to have the artist, [the thinker, the seer, the one who does not play by the rules of conformity and allegiance] apply them to the real world teaching available to us out there, maybe in the direct field of graphic design, advertising, the opening up of the contemporary gallery space for real-life discussion and debate, or, in newly-formed academic study.

[We] should be the ones  sacrificing our freedom (in the quiet calm of our cozy well-lit studios) for the chance to upend the entire structure.

 

March  2019

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 in the face of true 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

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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 – we have an improved increased interest in Visual Art – but many of the museum-like cordons [prompting us to maintain a performance of awed silence] remain firmly in place.

For Visual Art today- the language is not only arcane and mysterious, 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.  It cannot, for its own survival.

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.

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

From Mail Order Catalog to Amazon Prime or, the loss of aura (all over again)

 

blog era 2

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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

Made in America: Gratefully, another Coen Brothers movie

We may not make things anymore in America — but there is one group that still does –  artists.  Artists are the ones still making things.

And, what is it that makes [something] art?  Mix irony with a reflection of the times, reference the past while pushing a progression of form and ….hold the mirror …..steadily.  Cervantes accomplishes with his Don Quixote, our Jon Stewart with social satire, and the Coen Brothers with their latest film “Hail, Caesar!”

[And, leave it to the Coen Bros. to give us a film with a mirroring tale of a search for human redemption by posing it in the light of Corporate Production Image-Making Hollywood and extolling [its] sincerest virtues while admitting its ultimate power over us.]

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The film has irony play lead – it’s all over the place, and, so too, is the very fabric of our American culture.  The film’s subtitle (A Tale of the Christ) alludes to every other Hollywood production regarding the story of Christ and the lasting power of its image-making.  To depict Christ through a Hollywood lens is the ironic task which is, in itself, impossible, unless we allow the Coen Bros. to give it a try.  From George Clooney’s  Caesar-like Roman centurion to Scarlett Johansson’s Mary Magdalene to Channing Tatum’s Judas Iscariot, the Coen Bros. end up presenting us a full cast of redemptive characters.  Alluding to the power and production of Hollywood filmmaking and flipping everything on its head, the film ends up portraying not only the perfect Christ figure in the lead role played by Josh Brolin, but the glorious high craft to be found in a Hollywood production itself, [capitalist money-making machine and all] – in the most wonderful (so-grateful-for) movie-making light.
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As for the film’s topical stance, free-market capitalism has been second-guessed lately in our politics, and, religion, as always, is in constant battle to maintain a palatable image in spite of itself.  We have a more socialist agenda offered our political conversation, an ongoing iconoclasm with religious ideology and an ever-growing understanding of differing faiths due to such media depictions, and, the current economic crisis of inequality and whisperings of a re-distribution of wealth.  Socio-economics, politics of religion, and the power of Hollywood image-making (our American culture) all end up as grist for the film’s mirror-holding mill.

“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Luke: 20:24

As history admits, there are no things of Caesar apart from God –; it is always economics that determines the path taken, and, this film unfolds as giant parable with Clooney (as film star Baird Whitlock) giving us both a Roman officer with heartfelt compassion for the dying Christ and an unlikely prospect for preaching Marxist theory.

Allusions and irony continue with Josh Brolin as our Christ figure, taking the lead role not by faith alone, but by deed. Brolin’s Eddie Mannix, in his search for his own redemption – ends up revealing that he is our true redeemer, all in the sacrifice of self [missing hours of sleep, spending time with his wife, watching his son play ball], and the saving (actor’s job, star’s reputation) of others.  It is the action taken (the deed so often left out in the practicing Christian; we love to quote the New Testament but we rarely follow in deed) and not simply the words “in the script” given us that matters.  (Only when Clooney acts on the lines given him do we become moved, awed, and rendered [as with all great art] speechless.)

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And the Coen Brothers don’t miss anything with their N. T. allusions: Mannix’s 40 days in the wilderness temptation played out in a Chinese restaurant with the devil as Lockheed representative waving an employment contract; (a Scriptural three times) – ( the choice to create or destroy mankind – yet another layer of irony with the Hollywood film industry always taking a hit for “destroying culture” by its making); his agony in Gethsemane unfolding in the confessional – unveiling doubts and seeking help from the Father.  And, Mannix , (again, our Christ) calling in a board of experts from all religious angles to see if his depiction will stand up to the pillars of all the faiths.   And what do the Coen Bros. give us when asked if there is any problem with the film’s portrayal of Christ?  Orthodox Christianity ends up questioning the technical magic of the editing in the film’s chariot scene in asking “how can he jump from one to the other so quickly?” — [and, this, from one who believes that Jesus walked on water?] and, our  Hebrew scholar, after countering with his own belief structure ends up with the apt and comically delivered “I’ve no opinion”.

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“Hail, Caesar!” is a brilliant work of art – for it does what all art is capable of doing – allowing us to see ourselves in it, in the sharpest light, with irony as one of its strongest tools.

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As with all of the Coen Brothers’s films, the angles used to approach are always comic-tragic.  In “H., C.!” the dark passage in our history of the blacklisting of Hollywood writers is, too, twisted sharply : – an injustice shown not with due sympathy, but rather, in double-edged irony with a roomful of bickering self-interested writers [standing in for the pillars of Marxist –Socialist ideal] extolling communism’s virtues of brotherhood and looking out for the little guy while seemingly not even able to tolerate each other in the same room.  At the same time, such socialist virtues of camaraderie and loyalty are shown to us in the character of the Hollywood Industry instead.  “I’ll do whatever it takes to say that line right, Mr. Lau-rentz” – says Hobey Doyle. “I want to do it for the picture.” The picture is what matters. We’re all in this together.

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Our human flaws, failed theories, all our faults lie not in the stars, but in our inability to see them in ourselves.

Nothing is ever clear-cut, black and white –no theory good on paper (just the lines written on a page (script or Scripture) can do much until it is put into practice — until acted upon – in deed.  Then we can see if the picture works, the words come alive, the economic theory applies, the illusion succeeds.

And, as for artists being the only ones making things these days while our economic portrait gets painted elsewhere, “Hail, Caesar!” pays homage not only to our Hollywood Pictures, but ensures us that any other country taking on the once-Made-in-the-USA manufacturing of goods will not be able to make for us our creative culture.  We’re stuck with it –our Hollywood, and according to the lens the Coen Bros. give us, it’s not a bad deal:  the art that we get in return is more than worth it.

Feb. 8, 2016