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Sweatshop Challenge: assembly line fine-art painting

Originally posted on August, 18, 2007

"Dancing Tree", oil on canvas, 65cm x 50cm, August 2007.

In case you missed it, a couple of years ago attention was drawn to one of China’s most unique export businesses, fine-art painting (see link and also link). Or, more accurately put, cheap art. I am sincerely happy that tens of thousands of poor Chinese painters have found employment. I am not happy that they are doing this for near starvation wages. One painter estimated that he earns 18 cents U.S. for a painting that may sell for several hundred dollars in Europe or in the U.S. How’s that for sweatshop labour?

It is not known exactly how many paintings, or how many container loads of paintings are being exported. We do know that it is a big number. One community (Shenzhen) which is the largest paint factory town has an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 slave painters. They are part of organizations with the largest having 500 to 600 workers. Collectively they are exporting more than 5,000,000 paintings each year. Another community Xiamen, has about 7,000 working painters doing close to this amount. The paintings are sold to the art dealers by the container load and are shipped to Europe and the U.S.

I want to backtrack about 40 years to the end of the 60’s. Close to where I was living in the Pacific Northwest in the U.S., a new art gallery was being installed. It was well located, large, and smartly remodelled. I talked several times to the apparent owner. He took a liking in me and decided he wanted to recruit me to run the gallery. I declined the offer for many different raisons: one being that I could not determine if he was legitimate. I talked to people who believed he was a Mafioso or in the CIA or both. The reason I bring this up, he explained to me how his art gallery was going to generate a huge income. The paintings were imported from Europe: probably Italy. Where exactly they were painted, he did not say. They had an eastern European or Russian feeling to them. They were representational paintings done in a classical style. And they were costing this guy just a few dollars apiece, nicely framed. A money laundering business?

Apart for the obvious disadvantage in which the current honest artist finds himself is the blatant unfairness of the whole thing. It is one thing not to honour and respect creative effort. It is another thing that we have a system that does his best to sabotage it.

A last word about the Chinese imports: some of them appear not to be of bad quality. Considering the conditions under which they are done this is an amazing achievement. On the other hand they are not very good quality either. The message hear, if you are an artist or painter, you need to dig ever deeper for quality; sharpen the “message?.

Long life the artist painter.

Published in french as Défi des ateliers de la misère : chaîne de montage de la peinture artistique


Excellence vs. Not Cheating

Originally posted on July, 29, 2007

What do painting and sports have to do with each other you ask? Writers, or, at least people used to write about painting. Not much anymore. You can only beat dead horses for so long. Today, people do write tons about sports. Of course, there are plenty of problems in the sport world. There always has been. You have to ask the question: “How much the writers contribute to the proliferation of these problems?

Very serious questions of ethics are the rule rather than the exception. In the US, it is absolutely crazy. All of the major sports: football, baseball, and basketball are in trouble to the point of their survival being seriously questioned. Two days ago, in France, the news paper “Liberation” called for a moratorium of several years on the tour de France so that it could be cleaned up. We have problems in Formula F1 racing with the apparent stealing of technological secrets. And so it goes.

Read the rest of "Excellence vs. Not Cheating"


Recent Thoughts

Originally posted on June, 24, 2007

Hopefully, as we become more intelligent, our intellect leads us to more enjoyment. Asking questions is a process of refinement and simplification. In a natural way it leads to understanding that it is the process itself that is the important thing: direct experience with life. This implies that we have a direct experience with the natural world.

Artists and children have much in common: curiosity and the spontaneous joy of discoveries. I want you to do a little experiment. Please go get a piece of paper and pen or pencil. Now sign your name as you always do.

Okay, now I want you to sign your name alongside the original signature. This time do it carefully trying to make it exactly like the original.

We could go into the psychology of what took place. The main point, however, is when we become self-conscious our performance is not the same. I will leave you to your own conclusions.

In life and Art,

Published in french as Pensées Récentes


Big Answers

Originally posted on June, 15, 2007

I guess that I never was educated out of believing in answers. All of us, when we were little, did not become nervous when the teacher put a problem on the blackboard. We KNEW that she had the answer. Somewhere along the line most of us forget that life is like that. There could not be a problem, or a question, unless there was a pre-existing answer. It cannot be otherwise There are many complex explanations as to why we forget this. One often overlooked reason, is that much of what shapes and underlies modern reality is not sensible. Buckminster Fuller wrote about this. He talked about the changes in industry during the first-world war. The new technology became invisible. (And when the masters of technology reached the point where they no longer understand what was going on? Then what?) Another big reason why we devalue our innate intelligence is our poor understanding of what art is and how it functions.

A much used method of explaining modern culture is to class people into two groups: the literary/artist type and the scientific type. Then you oppose art and science and explain art on scientific terms. All that has been written based on this reasoning is nonsense. Point. Okay, I understand those who live in a glass house should not throw stones. But this is too important. I have read tons of art criticism. Most of it, particularly from the 20th century, is nonsense. Literary people are no longer seeing the forest for the trees. It must be the fault of our education system. Verbal expression is by its very nature dualistic. Visual imagery in the form of paintings or photographs is two dimensional. We can allude to the non-dualistic or to the third dimension but we cannot change the nature of the medium. When we try to do so, for me, it simply becomes nonsense.

Art is not technology. Art is measured in terms of EVERYTHING. Art is directly related to the world (all there is). A work of Art contains NO content. Confusion continues on this point because the literati continue as though it is possible to separate form and content. THERE IS NO CONTENT. Nothing is hidden. Art’s function is to nourish us; to expand our sensibilities and our consciousness. There are not any formulas to follow. None the less this is the big answer to the question of Art. What our modern and somewhat deprived world needs is a new and more open way of looking at the world. Hopefully, we will reaffirm our connection to the sensible.

“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” Oscar Wilde, in a letter.

Published in french as Grandes réponses


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