Friday, August 24, 2012

State of the Art(?)

The bias that immediately degrades all arguments I may present here, is ... I don't know the name for it, but I suspect it is cousin to 'recency' bias. That is the last argument you heard carries most weight.

You see, I'd love to have a gripe about the 'art scene' except, when I think about it, the art scene is dominated by artists like me. It just doesn't feel that way. I use Google reader, of which I track about 5 friends blogs, only 2 of whom update on any semi-regular basis, and I would guesstimate in the order of 400 art blogs.

One art blog that pops out to me is in itself an agregator like google-reader. That is a blog that scours the internet looking for art and collates it into one RSS feed. This blog is Collossal and it is actually well worth checking out. You'll probably love it.

The thing is, this is but one blog of 400 art blogs I look at on a daily, and sometimes twice daily basis. Firstly, as an agregator, it is far more likely to update than the blog of somebody who like me, tends to go months producing nothing, then gangbusters for a month, then dissappear for months again. Secondly, it stands out because it is markedly different to the other 399 art blogs I follow.

Collossal's 'About' page doesn't really shed any light on it's selection criteria. Just the preferences of the editor. And it's fair to say, our preferences differ. And because of this difference, I feel like drawing the sweeping conclusion that the kind of art featured on Collossal defines the trends in the art scene. Combining this with the kind of art I am seeing being done in Melbourne, I have an impression of the art world that with conscious thought I can surpress.

You see there once was a VCE Studio Art student (not me) who sat in a chair and looked up and saw a fellow students work and remarked 'I like that.' and their teacher asked 'why?' and thereupon, the student could not really fashion an answer. Or so was told to me, another art student. And on the one hand, I don't think you need any reason whatsoever to ever validate the statement 'I like that.' but on the other hand it was a valuable lesson, because although the piece looked nice, it was completely vacuous just a reproduction of another image, because it looked nice. The piece of art in question bears no resemblance to what I probably feel unfairly is the stuff trending in the art 'world' at the moment.

The only similarity, is that for the exact opposite reasons, I think a lot of art that springs to mind when I think of the word 'art' is similarly vacuous.

But here is what I caught myself doing almost immediately. I discounted the other 399 blogs.

But first go check out wikipedia's page of 2010 in film. Not all of it, just the top 10 grossing films for 2010. You may note that 5 out of the top 10 were computer animated features, including Toy Story 3, the number one grossing film of the year. Then if you include movies that used 3D animation like Iron Man 2, Alice in Wonderland and harry potter and the Deathly Hallows, then 8 of the top 10 highest grossing movies of 2010 employed a lot of concept artists.

Concept artists make up probably 30% of the blogs I follow. Then a whole bunch are comic book artists, which I naturally discount because that's what I want to be, and it's easier to anticipate failure if you believe the industry is downtrodden. The rest are painters, illustrators and 2D artists.

Most of the 'art' world infact are gainfully employed artists for movie studios, doing concept, animation, storyboarding, character design, sculpting, set construction etc. or Game Developers (doing much the same) or comic book artists (many working on creator owned stuff, touring conventions and/or employed by DC, Marvel or Image). I mean sure, the aren't winning $200,000 prizes for portrait competitions, or selling works at Auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But so many I know are selling their daily warm up sketch for $120 a day plus shipping and handling. If I could make $120 clams from 20 minutes work a day, I probably wouldn't get round to doing anything else. I wouldn't need a $200,000 cash prize either. But for these artists it's kind of pocket change. I mean sure they are world class, but the fact is they are drawing a paycheck most of the time or getting preorders for their next graphic novel.

It's a word association error I make that I suspect I am not alone in. When you say the word 'art' I think of 'gallery' 'instalation' 'AV instalation' 'large scale reproduction of other image using interesting material' and particularly 'government grant' etc. etc. I don't think of the vast majority of practicing artists that are working on products that are commercially viable.

Furthermore, I'm acutely aware of my preferential bias, I like sentiment, I like narrative, I like accessibility. I am an animist first and classisist second. The artists I find it hardest to relate to are the 'iconoclasts' even though I don't know anybody who is a bigger deconstructionist than me. To me Marcel Ducamp's 'Fountain' is an all encompassing statement that Art cannot be defined. I love the piece, but most of what I see iconoclasts do I feel is simply an inferior reiteration of the same statement. Like I find most of iconoclast's works paradoxically, incredibly cliche. I get the originators, like Andy Kaufman, I'm a big fan of his body of work, but I feel no need for the world to have 'the next Andy Kaufman' in the same way as I see the need for 'the next Groucho Marx' or 'the next Mark Twain'. Same with the Sex Pistols, I loved the statement they made about music, but now that it has been made I don't feel any strong desire to get deep into punk culture. Although of all the forms of iconoclasts, punk musicians have probably produced the most stuff I actually appreciate, but I'm not sure if they are iconoclasts when you have bands like the Vandals producing one of the best drummers on the planet.

Anyway, I am at least aware of the trap I could fall into, that is, misconcieving that the art industry doesn't welcome an artist like me and feeling like it is out to get me. That's all in my head. But I feel the art 'scene' isn't aware of the same trap. The best argument I heard is that much of what I dislike about the scene is actually rationalised failure. Art cannot be defined, and it IS perfectly legitimate to produce stuff that almost nobody can relate to, that breaks all conventions of aesthetics, perhaps even mediums, and you can put it on display and if I or anybody else don't like it, that's okay. It's even okay if nobody likes it.

The success or failure boils down to intent. But if you intend to communicate something, and it doesn't get across, that is your failure. Communication is what the listener does. People who blame the listener for not hearing them I regard as, well to put it bluntly, fools. Success or failure isn't so bad in itself, as long as you are aware enough to learn from it. In fact one could even be encouraged to pursue failure, as you can be fairly certain about what doesn't work relative to figuring out what does.

But what I call 'blaming the audience' is just 'loser talk' and far less acceptable than 'well I came with nothing...' and 'I can say that I tried my best...' So whether you succeed or fail doesn't matter so long as you give credit where it is due. What kind of artist can ever succeed when a couple of people shuffle around their piece and shuffle right out again? How is it constructive to say 'well they just don't get it.'

I suspect the vast majority of artists actually do employ an approach of 'my purpose as an artist is to create an audience' and a significant chunk think 'my purpose as an artist is to create customers.' and find in these approaches very little compromise of artistic integrity.

Just as Islam is now dogged by the impression created by a small number of men on September 11th 2001, I think at least in my mind my impressions of the art world are dogged by the very small number of artists that exhibit in gallery space.

Anyway, I'm going to try and correct my word association so that 'artist' is associated with all the things I am into. Even gainful employment. I mean one has only to go to Italy and see that all the Renaissance Masters were essentially 'concept' artists for the Church and Wealthy families. And they are better remembered than their patrons.

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