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The Artist as Degenerate Outcast

December 16th, 2009

These days, in fact for a long time now you need a thick skin if you are to follow an artistic painter path. Since being relegated to the status of worker only as a producer he or she been valued. That is, up until just recently. Of course, there are still the selected few always hungry to enjoy these fruits.

Okay, I begin to rant. I know that things in general are much as they have always been. Since Plato the artist/painter has played a marginal role. But, at least he had a role of sorts. Even as a worker he had a role of sorts, may be in many respects a healthier one.

A few days ago I found an English translation of the important speech of Aude de Kerros, pronounced (march 09) at the French “Académie des Beaux-Arts”. It looks at word games played with Art since the Second World War. I highly recommend that you read this. Then I would hope that you can understand that this sort of chicanery has been going on at least since the time of Plato. Recently, Courbet was imprisoned and then run out of France. Cezanne was stoned by village children and so on. Not to speak of unknown artists who starved to death in their garrets.

The thing interesting about this article is the suggestion that a big change in the business of art is taking place. It seems that the financial bubble burst has disturbed the connections between the good old boys who manipulated artistic matters on a global scale. There is the suggestion that art and the world of art is about to become more democratic. Imagine, then if you are an artist you will no longer be a degenerate outcast.

Published in french as L’artiste est un exclu

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Slave to Paint Part II

October 31st, 2009

"Modern Houses", oil on linen, 46cm x 36cm, 2009
"Modern Houses", oil on linen, 46cm x 36cm, 2009

The other day my wife read on FriendFeed that “a society without a stable arts base is a parking lot”. I do not know who it was that said that but they nailed it. I began writing this blog (first article posted originally in April 2007) with this essential core thought. I mean what in the hell are we thinking of. Art is today exactly whatever you want it to be from a pile of rocks, a dead cat, to you name it, n’importe quoi.

Many art pundits tell us that Marcel Duchamp is responsible for this state of affairs. They imply that exhibiting a urinal and signing it “R. Mutt” started this slide to nothingness. What utterly simplistic bullshit. Having said that, understanding what has gone on over the last couple of hundred years with European Culture is not easy. I do not by any means consider myself an intellectual but I am a thinker with good intuitive instincts. It has literally taken me at least 50 years of continual reading and pondering to just begin getting my mental teeth on the problem. This blog is an attempt at clarification. For these fifty years I have been a slave to this pursuit: paint is the symbolic medium and writing an exercise in understanding.

Interestingly, the interest as measured by traffic to this site is significantly weighted to French readership. The English visits are very low. Reading anything from this is difficult at best. (For one thing I live in France). However, I am very thankful to have a strong French following. Having said that, my purpose in writing is not strong reader following. I am attempting to learn how to talk about things I am beginning to recognize as important. Understanding seems to be the name of the game. Making money and fame have never been the goal of honest painters.

Published in french as Esclave de la peinture Partie II

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Slave to Paint Part I

September 30th, 2009

A good many years ago I read Estelle Jussim’s excellent book about F. Holland Day: « Slave to Beauty ». I recommend it if you can manage to get your hands on a copy. (It has evidently been reprinted link). It is an excellent account of a prevalent frame of mind that is divisive in the world of art. Most artists, I think, would deny this influence, but it is implicit in the “decadence dialog” that dominates most contemporary commentary on art. More will be said about this in a future article.

I believe we need to get past it and move on to more important issues. Otherwise, art has the risk of becoming irrelevant. It clearly already is for all but a very small number of people. And I’m not at all sure this is a healthy sustainable situation. But, then again, progress in art is not a straight line. It has often moved in reverse.

Published in french as Esclave de la peinture Partie I

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Poetic integrity

Originally posted on March, 13, 2009

It has never failed to amaze me how we become stuck in our ruts. Most of us change slowly if ever. I’ve done a fair amount of travelling. And at one time I was inclined to talk to many people. Numerous times I’ve found people living close to a scenic wonder they have never seen. When I say close that could be Montana where people are found who have not been to Glacier National Park. I kid you not. I found several people in Montana who had not been to this mind blowing natural splendor.

The point I want to make requires a strong qualification. I lived in the US most of my life. I’ve been living in France 15 years. One of the first things I observed in French people was a natural or genetic interest in art and painting. I was flabbergasted. Here there is much more apparent interest in painting than in the US, much more. Notice that I said apparent! The interest I fear is somewhat superficial. I have found many who knew very little about the history of art in France. Many were not familiar with the names of major French painters of the recent past. And these individuals are actively engaged in the arts.

Let us take a glance back to before the First World War. The integrity of the French painters was intact. You have innovation along with a tradition. After the war the School of Paris managed to install itself as the only paradigm. It becomes the only game in town. Today, this spirit continues in France although there are cracks in the façade. Its influence on art in the world at large outside France is near zero. Quite a radical turn of events when you think about it! What could have possibly happened to bring this about?

The questions from this point quickly multiply. Answers are in short supply. The balance, in any case, between poetic and literal expression was lost.

A painting does not begin with an idea. If it does I believed the artist has lost his way. If a painting is to be successful it becomes an object: a work of art that create experience. Ideas come into play as a result or a by product of that experience.

If a painting conveys immediate experience there is a huge hole in the modernist theory that form is content. I have written on these pages that there is NO content. Just experience! And after that initial experience we have ideas as to its meaning which may or may not have occurred to the artist.

So what happened? I think that in the aftermath of the horror of the war we find pundits establishing the modern day equivalent of the Academy. Along with that we have the professionalization of the art, with that the ideal that the creative person was an active moral force in society was lost. Before this there was a certain respect for someone dedicating their life to artistic production. What followed was a withdrawal of that respect. Degrees and “official” recognition become necessary for survival. Respect is no longer possible.

Coming back to what I said. I said that this apparent interest was superficial. I believe that along with the professionalization of the arts you also lose something in society. Most in our society become twice removed from the reading and the experiencing of poetic expression. It is somewhat ironic that in the US this professionalization took place only within the last 30 or 40 years. How this will play out is anyone’s guess. I’m encouraged by the vitality I see in some young painters. Can they keep it up? It is not easy in today’s social climate.

What is my point? I guess I’m being my provocative self. The artist today is entering a precarious economic situation if he or she is not an established artist. Along with this challenge is a big, big caveat. There is unprecedented potential for real creative change at both the aesthetic and as a consequence the social level.

Published in french as Integrité poétique

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