Ctrl Alt Del: Why Contemporary Visual Artists Need To Reboot

 

I know I have been considering for my own work

,reboot

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

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 precedence, 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

modernist technique as a way to self?

 

Maybe another question we might ask would be – “Why are we artists painting in a manner (loosely termed abstraction) which seems to say ‘I’m abstract’ more than it advances any other sort of dialogue or reading?  Why are we still choosing a language that is more subjective than objective in an age of where the issues we face in our current politics, (those that rely upon objective fact and science to discuss ) are now requiring a social-activism of sorts, a championing of, serving as topics of social justice and taking to the political streets in protest?  In an age where we are having to defend science and truth and facts (an inversion of Renaissance thinking) how does painting something that looks like yet another abstract painting relate to our demand for objective analysis at such a dire point in our political landscape?  There must be something that this approach is providing us with in the face of our current reality.

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Looking at the history of abstraction in Western Art painting, we see the approach tackled in its infancy with an Arthur Dove foghorn through the Josef Albers square to the eulogizing canvases of Ryman and Martin.  Painting moved from objects recognizable to those no longer until we met our final fringe of the material canvas itself.   

 

And, now, here we are, in the 21st century still tackling the canvas but with our intentions very different.  We’re no longer advancing a theory, but are engaged in the act of painting in an emotive sense, as therapeutic release, where the artist chooses “inner journey” over outer reality.  The common theme is one’s interest in taking that ‘inner journey’ in a self-conscious remove from the outside world, away from the fragmented commercial CMYK landscape and indulge in a “meditative, intimate, individual, excavating of self.”   

 

With our current surroundings being filled 24/7 with images on screens, fashion and advertising in HD, moving billboards as we drive, television screens everywhere and in every direction we look, abbreviated symbols, emojis, and thumbs up or thumbs down, the fact that artists working today are choosing to use a non-image approach, a nonobjective one in order to ‘say something’ with their paintings is symptomatic maybe, of the current flux mentioned by one of the artists here —- and that is, in an effort to survive it.   

Maybe we are still painting in the abstract manner to comment upon our current world of image-saturation.  Maybe making and then looking at nonobjective swirls of paint are what we need to survive as our current image-making landscape becomes sharper and sharper and more inclined to dictate our behavior (lead us away from our meditative self) rather than supply us with something supplementary to look at on any given day.

 

 

May  2017