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Art Student Handbook Part I: General Definitions

Posted in Art Student Handbook with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 17 June, 2010 by endlessslug

This post is part I of my multi-part series of blog entries for the up-and-coming hopeful art student of any age.  I gear this towards folks interested in going to a university for a fine art degree and for the so-called “self taught” genre of artists that seem to be very popular (for some reason) these days.

Art Student Handbook

Part I: General Definitions

Every hear of a “trade secret”?  It means something that folks who practice a trade do not want the rest of the non-member public to know.  Trade secrets are present in the fine art world and stretch far beyond the tricks one learns as an artist.  Many of the great trade secrets are being lost, however, due to the popularity of concepts of process, spontaneity, anti-establishmentism, and forced originality that are cross-cutting all realms of art worlds.   This is unfortunate.  As I learned from my own university training, even the academies and universities who should be the champions of refined fine art and the science of art are falling away from practice of work and instead focus on gearing a student towards mass-production; readying them for a pro-consumerist world where most artists have to subsist on their minimum wage jobs and selling a painting once every half-decade, while the rest of their college mates move on to high-paying, so-called “real” jobs.  The world has few starving artists, it only has depressed ones in a sea of sameness.

Let us try and move forward.  Below are some definitions which all artists should know.  I want to be clear about the concept of definitions and the art world: It is, in fact, very possible to define what art is and is not.  The problem most people have is that they live in a world where the media has informed them that “art is everything!” But that is wrong.  Everything may have something aesthetically pleasing or something maybe artistic, but not everything is classified as art.  Further, art has many sub-classifications and functions.  A careful reader will notice how closely art definitions resemble definitions about language and science.  The definitions which follow are mostly from the discipline of Anthropology but merged with some very old sources on painting masters.

Art:  Complex communication, usually one-way, where words (or other forms of communication) no longer can adequately express a certain complex of thought or experiences. Art may be literal, symbolic, coded, or a mixture of these elements.

Fine Art: Complex communication demonstrated through symbolic representation which has been subsequently refined and modified as to make such communication as efficient and pleasing, at the same time, as possible.  The most successful Fine Art is that which says the most clearest idea to the largest number of people, over the longest span of time, in the most pleasing and efficient manner.

High Art: Refers to art of the wealthy, elite, or art considered of a quality suited to public or private display, removed from any original context.  High art is often opposed to “folk” art.  High art, as a concept and term, is often used interchangeably with fine art but these terms should be thought of as two separate things.  All cultures, for example, have elements of folk and refined fine art but only cultures assuming themselves dominant of another have a high art distinction.

Folk Art (general western public): Art of the people; unrefined, often said to carry deeply personal meaning to the artist.  Often, folk art taken out of context becomes a form of “high” art for westerners – westerners see folk art as anti-elitist, anti-establishment, and a ideal of the way ‘art ought to be’.

Folk Art (Anthropological): Temporary art constructed by one or more people of a community used exclusively for that community.  Folk art is further divided into sub-categories such as: Indigenous art, Ritual art, Trade/Gift art, Contract art (art which is exchanged as a symbolic bind to a contract such as marriages), and Animatistic art (art used to bind spirit energy or spirits directly for use in amulets and power devices).  Ritual and Animatistic art must often serve a dual-aesthetic purpose to please divine entities besides the common public.

2-D Disciplines or Conceptual Approaches of Fine Art (in general)

Note that I refer to the following as “conceptual approaches”.  Often, we find the the most confusing thing about artists is although an artist might define themselves as part of or not part of a category of artists, outsiders often view artists by what they see the artist do.  This is incorrect.  For the student of art, you must be aware that your medium of choice does not define you as much as your approach to the form.  For example, illustrators may use oil paint, painters may use pastel, watercolorists may use gouche and pencil.  It is how they communicate with their mediums that sets an artist’s identity in the art world, not the medium.

Illustration: Literal pictoral communication of a given narrative; illustrators draw or paint for a select audience.  Their work can sometimes last a long time in terms of meaning, if the illustration sufficiently and efficiently conveys a message which first must last.  Illustrators are often the most versatile of all artists as the need to illustrate narrative or image requires a wide grasp of medium knowledge.  The depth of meaning in illustration often suffers in favor of client-required imagery.  Illustration has many subfields such as: historical illustration (textbooks), scientific illustration (medical books), fantasy/sci-fi illustration, magazine illustration (see 2-D below), and caricature.

Painting: Pictoral communication of intersecting levels of meaning, knowledge, and experience; painters paint for you and me and all with an emphasis on human development over time.  A successful painting is one which has a variety of complex meaning over a very long period of time and across cultural boundaries. Painters are usually further divided into Portraitists, Still-Life painters, and Landscape artists although there are more.  In paintings, symbolism takes precedence over literal meaning. This symbolism may be represented through aspects of painting such as color, form, composition, value, or size but the public is best aware of the symbolism of subject matter when present.

Drawing: Pictoral communication of various levels of meaning, usually somewhat literal or shocking and involving social, political, or religious problems; drawers want to communicate an idea very directly to a wide audience although often these drawings take the form of personal or social therapy and are often short-lived in terms of functional meaning.  Drawings tend towards mixed-media, where an artist will use a number of juxtaposing mediums, such as wet and dry, to create a tension, ground, and texture to the work.  Graffiti and so-called “urban” art tends towards this category.

Watercolor/Wash art: A grey-area definition falling somewhere between Painting and Drawing, watercolor relies entirely on preservation and manipulation of light on the canvas paper.  Watercolor paint is rarely very opaque, requiring transparent glazes of color for light manipulation and the construction of very unique color systems.  Generally thought of as only a medium used by artists and not a distinct style or form of art.  Very rarely, and unfortunately, do contemporary artists consider watercolor a  legitimate painting medium, partly due to the limitations of watercolor in terms of longevity, portability, and depiction.  By depiction, we mean that watercolor is limited in what it can convey and is best suited for highly contrasting images with 70% or more light effect – usually outdoor scenes and landscapes.  Wash art, however, is often just the opposite.  Although relying on light still, wash art has much more successful darks.  Watercolor is often used in children’s book illustrations and magazines requiring a “lighter” feel than a painting or general illustration.

2-D Design  (Marketing): A pictoral representation of an “ultimate” experience as a means to sell a product.  The imagery here is distinct from illustration in that 2-D Design may mis-inform, mis-direct, or somehow deceive the viewer in an effort to sell the product or idea.  All religious art (not ritual art) tends to fall into this category as does most science fiction and fantasy art, although the latter overlaps with general illustrative approaches.  In other words, the best contract illustrator is the one who can illustrate what it is you are going to buy with a little help from general mis-information in order to make someone buy the product.  Note that we do not consider this form of art as ‘bad’ or ‘poor’ art, it is simply another approach to creating art.  All language can be deceptive and manipulative as a salient, amoral feature.

Contemporary Art (Movement): Devoid of any sense of thought or aesthetic; simple, direct meaning tied often to shock value.  Themes often include violence, size-alterations, or simple construction of a thing via parts from opposite things (building a 30′ vagina out of 24″ dildos and spray-painting them red, etc).  This form of art is very short lived; often the meaning passes the moment the work is first experienced.  Post-modernism thrives in this form of art.  A more pure definition of “contemporary art” would be: art made now by peers and colleagues, but our contemporary sense of a “historical now” has appropriated this concept into a definition of the movement as a whole.

Modern Art (Movement): Following modernist literature, art which although stems from the structuralist salon approaches of the previous century, decided to demonstrate “breaks” from the rules of previous art in order t construct something wholly new.  Modern art is art for artists and although is important in terms of demonstrating what you can do with art, is also important for demonstrating what should not be done with art or done only once and never again.

Outsider Art (Movement): A term used for art made by “unknown” artists by folks who consider this sort of art non-mainstream art and thus, it “must be fresh un-biased” art.  In actuality, outsider art is the most biased and worst art there is.  We know the term originates from the classification of insane asylum art (“outside of the culture” and social rules sense thus it must be beautiful without meaning), but outsider art, as a term, is developed and maintained by pseudo-elite art collectors attempting to land their hands on an unknown master, first.  Unfortunately, with a heavy decline in structure and meaning in contemporary art, most collectors are so removed from general aesthetic, they will collect anything, regardless of the quality.  Mostly, this is due to an intense mis-understanding and lack of education as to what aesthetically pleasing fine art is and is not.  Probably 95% of all online artists fall into this category.  The unknown attempt to be known in the most economical and socially advertised ways, especially in the contemporary age where basic social skills and education are increasingly lacking in development and quality (…so does the art which symbolizes the experiences of these people, and so on in an ever-declining cycle of terrible art).  For the student, outsider art is what you DO NOT WANT.  If somebody tells you your art is outsider art, they are either mistaken or you have done something wrong.  You should re-criticize yourself immediately to be sure.

Claude Monet. Haystack. End of the Summer. Morning. 1891. Oil on canvas. Louvre, Paris, France.

Afterword

There are numerous more definitions, but the set above should get your basic working vocabulary going.  The most important thing is to not read Wikipedia entries for definitions and try not to read any book definitions written after about 1975.  Another source you should avoid is artist statements.  I have no idea why people started letting artists talk about their work.  The work should speak for itself, that is the point.  If you require a short story to explain your process and meaning in the works you’re showing, you have failed, go work in a factory or in fast food.  However, this does not mean that the entire general public will understand any given painting.  Most of the public has not been taught how to look at a painting – this is fine – although, we ought to paint for everyone.  Should the public need to be taught? No, they don’t have to know, that’s a trade secret.  Just because someone reads a lot does not mean they know how to read.  We use our eyes every day, but only artists know how to see.  But a successful work of art is one which appeals to specialists and the public, even if on different levels of experiential meaning.  Don’t believe me? Go to your nearest art museum and sit near the Money Haystacks.  Watch the people come and go.  Listen to them.  Everyone “gets” the Haystacks, even if they do not know they do…because they stayed awhile.  The student artist must be aware of this, and must never blame the public for knowing too little, but may blame the specialist for knowing so much as to exclude the public entirely.

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Unintentional Plebeian Insults and “Free Time”

Posted in Anthropology, Art, Artists, Criticism, Games (other), Leisure, Pop-culture, Social Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 3 March, 2010 by endlessslug

The other day, a friend of mine asked me, rather innocently, “[Endless Slug], what do you do with all of your free time?”  This person believed, incorrectly, that the Slug does jack shit all day and lays around thinking the world owes him a favor – at least that’s how I began to interpret such questions from the plebeians a while back.  The question itself was immediately insulting and then was further hurtful when I discovered that my friend actually had a job lined up but he wouldn’t be starting the job for another couple months.  So until that time, he had nothing to do.  Well, Boo-Fucking-Hoo.  I did not and do not take the question as some sort of direct insult, as I said I believe it was very innocent a question, I don’t think he even expected an answer.  Many people are unaware of what the reactions of a person might be and responsible parties such as myself whom have dealt with questions like this many times before “roll with it” and move on.  I, and many like me, are the abnormal population and we deal accordingly – or flip out if the abnormal is also an asshole.  In other words, there’s no reason for an unemployed artist to be a dick to the stupid, it just makes them hurt and angry when they realize they’re stupid.

This event got me to thinking a little – resulting in this post you are reading.  What does the Slug do? How do people interpret the behavior and actions of the Slug? Why can’t the Slug seem to find a job anywhere? What’s wrong with the Slug?  In an attempt, then, to diffuse some misconceptions, I’ll tell you what the Slug does from day to day.  But first, we must make some distinctions:

Definition of “Free Time”

I’ve had to re-check my data about how people actually understand the concept of “free time”.  I believe now that the plebeians understand the concept as: Time out of [my] life which I freely give to pursuits which offer no return on investment. Optionally, it may also mean more simply: unprofitable frivolousness.  “Frivolousness” meaning inherently and intrinsic to the capitalistic understanding of “unprofitable” creating an automatic tautology within the phrase itself. Thus, one cannot exist without the other.  Frivolous = waste of time only because there is no profit.  If there were profit, this behavior becomes cognitively elevated to something like “competitive leisure activities we can discuss at work and are socially acceptable”.  For example, playing Halo 3 is not frivolous, nor a waste of time, while making a pastel drawing is.  Now when [you] one reads what I just wrote, you’ll think about it and probable argue automatically.  Probably because you’ve never thought about it before.  So I ask readers to not simply attack based on your personal experience but take what I said and see if it holds in terms of how people use the concept of free time and leisure in their daily activities and cognition.  What does it mean to a larger audience?  Then we come one step closer to understanding science, and therefore understanding the role of the artist.

“Free Time” as defined and understood by me is simply: Time when I have no worries and may rest.

“Hobby” Vs. “Professional Research and Development”

The general public has a very loose definition of the arts.  Even many contemporary artists, especially those in the postmodern currents, have this same “loose” sort of view.  Artists in all fields struggle daily with the public assaulting them with ignorant Protestant-Ethic/Capitalistic views on the arts, namely that the arts are nothing more than a hobby unless you’re a ‘genius’ or ‘lucky’.  In my experience, there is no such thing as a genius, all the masters were well-trained in what they were doing, not accidents or supernatural anomalies.  A hobby, as defined by the general public would be a purely self-interested, impractical endeavor resulting in no returns on investment, except personal fulfillment. We can’t blame the public for those views – most artists they probably know are fairly impractical and often broke.  I’ve been the direct subject of ridicule countless times as someone who seemingly ‘does nothing’ or ‘does impractical things’.  But people judge on surfaces.  What artists do, however, is not a hobby but professional research and development. We seek to better our understanding of the arts, the economy, history, politics, knowledge, the sciences, other cultures, and ourselves through our work with our mediums.   Artists are scientists.  We observe, develop hypotheses, and produce our art which acts as a living hypothesis which is tested with each reader, viewer, or participant.  Art is a lifetime commitment and an undertaking which cannot be stopped once it has begun.  Artists never stop thinking.  I spend countless hours thinking, stressing, going through scenarios of what to produce, what to communicate with another person – and we need experiences.  When you, Mr. General Public,  see an artist out at a bar, a pub, a restaurant, at a dance, or play, or just walking around the mall, they are not being lazy; we are researching, observing, thinking – constantly.  Or, at least we should be.  I have no respect for the ‘painting a day’ artists, for example.  These people are a waste of life, doing little but pissing out hobby-art directly for profit.  Sure, sometimes a day-painter has an eye and can make some nice stuff for a Midwest-suburban kitchen, but so what? An anomaly ultimately with no function but to fill a trash heap when the owners move.  I spent almost a decade as a Social Scientist in Anthropology and learned that anthropologists are often treated the same – as if they do nothing but eat, travel, and talk at the public about ‘things no one cares about,’ while sociologists and psychologists take jobs which should very rightfully be attributed to anthropologists only because the public has no idea what anthropologists do.  It’s a shame and an embarrassment to human knowledge.  The idea that literature specialists get the myth-analysis jobs is also in that same category of ridiculous.  Definitions are pointless without observations of meaning, behavior, and function.  There is a pattern.  It is not God, idiots.

The aggressive ignorance of the non-artist world is compounded by artists themselves; namely, those artists comprising post-modern contemporary art, music, dance, and literature.  The rise of the middle class has saturated the fine art world with shit, leading many amateurs and folks without advisement to think that this mess of individualistic art is the ‘right’ way to ‘do’ art, namely, ‘anyway you want – you can do anything, no one can critique you because it’s yours’.  And so on.  What a load of elephant steamer.  To be an artist of any sort requires an intense public responsibility.  We cannot make art which is only for artists – although many people will make a few works in this realm; we do it to learn not to do it too often.  We must make art which communicates complex experiences to a public which will also experience the same things but have no ability to express or exchange the emotional complexity of such experiences.  This is what making fine art is all about.  On top of that, the work should be aesthetically fit to the message; i.e., it should be beautiful, relative to what is being said.

With that aside, here is a typical day in the life of the Endless Slug:

1 )  Wake up terrified due to nightmares about money and police, often because my roommates make early breakfasts and bang stuff on the counters below my bed which in my dream sound like people banging on my door.

2 ) Check email.  Each day, I receive 1-6 job rejections, 20-40 spam emails (many with false job opportunities for work-at-home or cash-collections scams), 1-3 career-builder style job lists full of jobs I’m either not qualified or over-qualified for, and my daily horoscope.

3 ) Check hits on my business websites and see if anyone bought anything.  After 11 months ‘live’, I haven’t sold a thing.

4 ) Deal with creditor calls.  Since I have no money, I stopped paying my credit cards.  I’ve dealt with it before, but seriously – Why bother calling me 10 times a day, per card, when it is clear that if I haven’t had a job in a year that constantly asking for money will result in nothing.  I will call you, people, when I decide to send a payment.

5 ) Check out the career-site jobs and apply to 1-10 jobs (I do a minimum of 5 every morning, since June)

6 ) Then I play some Facebook games.  Even this act is not just frivolous.  Part of my ongoing research is on leisure and game play so when I play, I analyze and track how shittily these people actually make these games.  They’re all very limiting.  I wish someone would hire me as a game consultant.  Seriously, I’ll make ya rich.

7) Then I decide whether I will work on a painting or work on a book project for the new business.

7a ) If painting, I have to check my lighting, materials, ideas, and whether or not anyone is cooking.  The cooking smells are so terrible up here I cannot work if anyone cooks, even myself.  It’s not that any of the food is bad, but for whatever reason, the scents collect into a terrible gas cloud upstairs that does not seem to vent.  I have a very sensitive sense of smell so it generally cripples me for a couple hours every day, whenever anyone cooks.

7b ) If a book, not much is required other than motivation.  If there were too many creditors or I had to discuss finances with family, the motivation to create is basically toast.

7c ) If I cannot work, I read and think.  Currently I am reading: poetry from Byron and Shelley, Romances of Chretian de Troyes (untranslated), Interviews with Francis Bacon (the painter), once a week I read a single short story from Guy de Maupassant, Dying Earth by Jack Vance (research), the Lais of Marie de France, the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, books on setting up corporations and copyright laws, and methods of Maxfield Parrish.

8 ) around 6pm, I get some food and watch Attack of the Show.

9 ) Depending on the day, I might have a show to watch in prime time, it’s rare.

10 ) I work through AOTS and all shows, and continue to work until around 2-4am.

11) Around midnight, I get more food, usually something light.

12) I then make a decision of whether or not to stay at my place to go to the girlfriend’s place, or have her come by.  If I see the girlfriend, my production goes down to about 10% although her input on what I’m doing is valuable and important since I have few peer critics at the moment and I must always be careful – all artists must always be careful – that what they’re/I am producing is clear and understandable to the public and peers alike.  The g/f thus serves as a powerful grounding device. I urge everyone to get one or more.

<Optional Nights> Other nights are more social.  Two to three nights a week, I fence or teach fencing at the local University.  I usually go back to work after I come home.  One night a week, I run an AD&D game which I’ve done every Wednesday since 1995.  Even playing this game, as my players will undoubtedly support, I research, test, develop, and work, trying to make the game better and better – constant refinement.  To my players, the game is a hobby, to me it’s a professional work as well as continuation of oral tradition – it has meaning beyond simple personal fulfillment.   One night a week, I have a Tacos and Buffy night.  During this, I still analyze and lecture to my poor friends about theme, character, plot, story, myth, legend, tricksters, what have you.. and then go pass out, hopefully with a fit girl and a Cabernet by my side.

And that’s my day.  There is no free time.  I’m not even sure what free time even is for me.  I do many things, most professionally for a time.  I was a musician, a drafter, a roofer, a produce guy, a warehouseman, a demolition man, a painter -both fine and houses, a film critic, an illustrator, a publisher, a writer, a college teacher, a world-traveler, a critical reader (is there any other type?), a restaurant manager, a cultural anthropologist, a researcher of language and culture and space, and according to my Indonesian friends, a lover.  I learn things every day and can never learn too much or enough.  I spend all of my time trying to learn everything I can – not necessarily to be ‘better’ than anyone, even myself, but to know and to improve everyone else.  I don’t do this for me, I do it for you.  I like compiling data and figuring things out.  If anyone’s seen me teach, you’ll see what the result is.  I’ve actually been told that to attempt to improve those around me is an act of pretentiousness or arrogance.  Seriously?  When you force it upon somebody with a claim that you are somehow, without error, correct – yes this is pretentious and arrogant.  I, as well as most artists, want to interact with you though, we want you to give us some data. We are proposing hypotheses, not theories, and always a hypothesis backed up with much empirical data.  We hope to develop theory through experimentation which we can only do through human interaction and interaction with our work – so give it to us.  To make work which works for only a select group of people is limited and also pointless other than for learning experiences.  The best art in the world is functional for everyone within a cultural and era limitation, if not now, than later with age and experience.  We all read Hemingway in high school, but few ‘get it’ until they’re 24, 35, and 40 years old.  Go read it again.  See what’s changed.  I don’t expect my friends in Romania to understand Hemingway, however – at least in the same way.  With the arts, we must always think diachronically and culturally.  This means, from geographical culture to culture and over time.  Good fine art changes over time with you, it is not necessarily easily understood, it takes time, experience, and life to ‘get it’ sometimes.

So.  No, I don’t work in the traditional Americana sense.  It’s not that I don’t want to – I search for jobs every day, from McDonalds to the FBI, but nothing has come through, nothing has worked out.  I make no income, I owe lots of money, I have little to give back to anyone except a small game I run weekly and some nice art people are downloading for free.  But don’t ever think that I have any free time, or that any artist does.  I wish my mind could have free time, to not be stressed, to relax, to play a video game once in a while (I don’t even/can’t even do that), or to just generally enjoy any given minute of my day.  Instead, my brain is on constant overdrive.  From the moment I wake up until late at night when I cannot sleep, the brain doesn’t stop stressing, criticizing, wondering, worrying, thinking.   As I thought about writing this entry, I asked myself that same question which started all of this – Slug, what do you do with your free time?  My honest answer: I hope.  But unlike the American Spirit’s way of thinking, in my experience, when there is no free time, there is no hope.

Personally, I’ve always thought everyone else but me had immense free time and money, both of which they wasted.  I still think this.  I see people every day wasting money on pointless pursuits of personal fulfillment which accomplishes nothing except get you people to the next day.  This is partly why I get so insulted when someone accuses me of being, well, a slug.  It’s the people with the least money who could use it the most.  I give back, if allowed to.  This concept of hard work = financial success, is a complete lie.  Although, due to my cultural training, I struggle every day with thoughts such as, “today will be the day when all my work pays off…”  But I know it will not, and will never be.  Many of my friends and acquaintances repeat the mantra of “something will turn up…”  Well, friends, I’ve been looking for a professional job, every day, since May of 2000.  I was able to land a job teaching at a Community College, but damnit if that wasn’t a huge scam.  I’ve rarely seen a business rape it’s employees as much as that place.  And it does not help that every day I’d have to drive an hour to teach 70+ students about my chosen career that they care nothing about and will go off knowing nothing and getting way better jobs than I.  To Hell with that abuse and trauma.  Interestingly, I do have an open invite to return to teaching whenever I like – apparently I was one of their best instructors.  Sure, I cared about the institution, my field, and the students.  My bad.  I didn’t know I was supposed to not give a shit and just collect a paycheck before returning to my Wal-Mart day-job.  I quit that place – partly due to the above reasons, partly due to that I was supposed to have a new job but that fell through, very badly.  Some might say I just “play the game” poorly, but I feel like I was never invited to play at all.

Finally, if I didn’t offend enough yet:

Fuck Haiti, fuck Chile, fuck little poor kids somewhere in the so-called 3rd world that you don’t know, donate to the one you do know: The Endless Slug. Click here to send me some money so I can live. If you can’t donate, do me a favor and fail at something important today.

-The Endless Slug

Bejart Vs. Tori Amos: War of Postmodernisms

Posted in Contemorary Art, Criticism, Dance, Modernists, Pop-culture, Social Science, Technique, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 12 December, 2009 by endlessslug

Did you like what I did there?  I’m using a postmodern style of titling to set up a discourse on postmodernism in the contemporary arts.  I even used the word “discourse” in the previous sentence – very postmodern.  In fact, this manner of writing, whereby I talk directly to you, the reader, is exactly one of the many problems with the postmodern movement: a lack of consistency and structure, and a shift in attachment to works from a universal general detachment to a directly personal, seemingly identity-building attachment between artist and reader with the work forming only a momentary adhesive.  Some readers, you perhaps, will find the way I am writing right now to be invasive, irritating, and downright insulting.  Other readers, you perhaps (which you?), will find the way I am writing right now to be caring, direct, connecting, and unpretentious – a place where you too can speak with me, not against or under me.  Writers, painters, choreographers, dancers, actors, sculptors, and so on, work in this direct style now for a number of reasons, one of which we’ll highlight here:  Fear in a consumerist production society.

Tori Amos performed a live Facebook concert Friday afternoon.  It was amazing.  I am only going to discuss the postmodernisms within her work though, not the concert itself.  I was alerted to the finite differences between Tori’s older music, newer music, and newest music by a colleague of mine who is a much bigger fan of Tori’s ensemble than I.  But I agree – Tori’s music has always been exactly what postmodernism is supposed to be: a break from tradition (such as modernism), with a firm base of tradition (structure), with an attempt to create new things for a mass audience but at a personal level for individual audience members (postmodernism).  Postmodernism, then, is not simply a movement, but a dialogue still continuing from what the modernists were doing.  The postmodernist ought to struggle to discover new ways of doing old things in a way which is meaningful and not simply done to do it, or not in an anti-meaning sort of way (cf Beatniks).  In a contemporary, globalizing, mass-media, consumerist sort of world, we strive to find things which have lasting meaning to us, but we ought to find those things which could have meaning to others as well.  My grandmother’s freezer has been working fantastically since the 1940s.  It’s not really an antique, but people today would classify it as old or antique anyway.  Instead of taking the freezer one day, most of my family will probably just want to throw it out and get a new one or sell it.  This is unfortunate as the freezer is huge and works like a charm.  There’s no need to replace the thing and lots of people in my family have memories attached to it.  In fact, I would claim that if any family had a freezer like this (a huge trunk-type freezer you could fit a small cow in whole), you would also have memories and meaning instantly created.  This need to replace with the new is a salient cultural feature of suburban Americans, but where does this behavior lead?  An inability to ascribe meaning to things due to the fleeting feelings attached to purchased consumer goods.  Essentially, if the thing does not strike a personal chord with me, there’s no point in the thing’s existence.  We’ve reversed meaning!  We are our own Emperors and Empresses needing our decrees to be followed by the rest; self-made monarchies of absolutism.  It’s no wonder personal prosperity theologies are so dangerously dominant here…

I’ve been watching OVAT lately again.  This past week and all next week they’re doing a “Battle of the Nutcrackers” fan-choice contest.  The whole idea that contests allow fans to vote is ridiculous anyway.  Fans vote on what they’re given, and what they’re given dictates what the fans will enjoy, so having a fan-choice is simply a reaffirmation for the creators of the pop-culture non-sense.  Always remember, they care nothing for you, only your money.  Anyway, the week started off well with the Bolshoi Ballet classical production of the Nutcracker.  Critically speaking, there were some small faults that I blame on postmodern dancers, but all in all it was fantastic.  Last night was the Bejart Nutcracker.  I was excited for another rendition of the ballet, so I sat patiently and waited.  I was instantly punched in the nuts.  Apparently, Bejart used the Nutcracker (or selected aspects of it) to tell his own life story consisting of an estranged pseudo-sexual relationship with his mother, his own sex and gender identity problems, and his genius-ness of dance choreography.  Directly, this is utter bullshit.  This is what we tend to find as postmodernism today: entirely self-interested diarrhea of word and art, self-aggrandizing – making our personal monarchy public.  Bejart himself even appears in the ballet on a giant black and white monitor over the stage, narrating his life as the dancers dance parts of the Nutcracker.  Bejart has taken a classical work – which works quite well still, see the Bolshoi – and turned it into a tool and medium to talk about himself in a grandiose way.  What an asshole!  My criticism: Had this nutjob simply used some of his contemporary symbolism to add a modern depth or alteration to the ballet, it could be tolerated, possibly enjoyed.  Less is more!  Who was the audience for this? I can only guess 1,500 community college students believing that this is somehow fine art.  Did we forget what that “fine” part of fine art is for?  Refinement!  After a few millennia of dance, you would think this wouldn’t be a problem, but there it is.  When did we, as a world-wide culture, begin to care one bit about one person’s struggle of life?  That statement might make me sound heartless, but as an artist, I can say nothing else.  Mr. Bejart, art isn’t about you, no one cares.  You need to produce art that is about my experience, his experience, her experience – something which folks can relate to.  Having dance-sex with your mother, supported by two drag-queen Faustian angel-fairies on a public stage is art only as a criticism attacking other post-modern art which tries to do the same thing but less well.  If the point of Bejart’s work is to criticize postmodernism, then it is brilliant although needs to be more clear that this is the intent.  Thus, I believe the guy is serious and therefore fails.  I was ashamed for the dancers while watching this mess.  I can’t blame the dancers, they need jobs, but I’d like to know how many went home later and cried.

Due to my crap training in writing, I can’t help but to write also in a rant-style postmodern method.  Although I do know it when I see it.  Luckily, this blog was never designed as a completely professional publication so I can break my structure a bit and rant.  At least I know when I can and can not.  Tori, do a Nutcracker.

Bottom-feeders of the Art World

Posted in Anthropology, Art, Artists, Contemorary Art, Criticism, Film, Gallery Talk, Pop-culture, Social Science, Technology, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 17 November, 2009 by endlessslug

I often check ARTINFO‘s website for new gallery exhibition calls, jobs, and news.  It’s a hip site.  Today, I happened upon this:

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tactileBOSCH Gallery & Studio, Cardiff, Cardiff, United Kingdom

Call For Submissions – Reduplication of the Real
An exhibition of photographic Performance Art documentation
Deadline: 1st December 2009

During the last decade a curatorial style has arisen that gives greater significance to the soiled, worn, damaged and defaced props left at the conclusion of a Live Art performance. Often these objects are considered Art in its own right and have been showcased in various stand-alone exhibitions. Yet the other significant permanent Live Art by-product: photographic documentation is often simply understood as a prosaic method of documenting the act for future reference and so its strengths as a stand-alone Art form has yet to be fully tested.
However, the photographic documentation of a performance is often fascinating, poignant and even humorous in its own right. It is a montage of esoterically linked everyday objects juxtaposed with a performer, focused in their entirety on a single, ultimately pointless, action; all frozen in a single frame. The photographs, with their distorted quotidian actions and objects, can come across as a scene anywhere between an uncanny distortion of the everyday and a gross and disturbing dream-like sequence
Reduplication of the Real will showcase a diversity of photographs that document Live Art Actions by both established and emerging artists from both national and international backgrounds. Some images will stand-alone while others will form small sets covering an individual performance. The exhibition will highlight the strengths of performance Art documentation and will lead the way towards further dialogue about the images as standalone works.

The exhibition aims to showcase a broad and diverse selection of images and as such, will work on an open submission basis. The curator will review all submitted work and choose a selection of work based upon their strength as standalone images. In order to keep the exhibitions presentation clear and cohesive the curator will request an electronic copy of all selected images which will be printed in sizes to compliment the galleries layout and mounted in a uniform manner.

Images will be valued at a price that will be discussed with selected artists and sold at 30% commission. All unsold work can be brought by the person who submitted it at the price of its creation.

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Seriously?  I was reading this and asked myself, “where do I begin?”  Not only is Live Art a massive waste of anyone’s time (please learn from the DaDa movement), but to profit on and exhibit the leftovers from such performances as art itself?  Have we gone to such a pseudo-refined degree that what we produce from a pre-planned arts demonstrative performance is in itself some sort of communication?  What exactly is this particular form of trash telling an audience that the trash after my last Stop Making Sense party did not?  Yes, “something happened,” I get it, but who cares?

There is a sense of archaeology about such a processual art display.  I keep using the word “art,” by the by, but I hesitate greatly to use it.  I once created a 35 minute powerpoint mini-movie on the archaeology of trash receptacles around my college campus for a contemporary archaeology course – so I do know a few things about trash and leftovers and how people generally feel about it.  People care little for it.  There is no good art-style “shock” about “what remains”.  Few people really care at all.  As the exhibition description says above, these are wastes of time.  Folks that travel the Live Art scene may pick up something from the leftovers and sometimes can swap stories, but what we have here is something more pedantic and certainly post-modernly selfish.  We have forcibly created storytelling among a very small imagined community for the purpose, I believe, in maintaining the ties and ideology – namely the life – of that small group.  People who have been to the performances can see references to what they saw, what they didn’t see but what other’s must have seen, and things no one should see.  We don’t have art for art’s sake, not art for artist’s sake, but art for ‘this guy”s sake.  What have we become?

I read a number of published theses from the grad students of the Art Institute of Chicago.  A number of them claimed that painting was dead and film was the murderer.  I’d say, rather, that painting is sleeping, and waiting for the confusion of the contemporary western art state to kill itself so that we may move on to making beautiful, mass-meaningful things again, and not waste our high-interest lease on time.

Modigliani and iCarly (gets punched in the face)

Posted in Art, Artists, Pop-culture, Social Science, Studio Work with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 9 August, 2009 by endlessslug

Yesterday, I received my new Modigliani book in the mail.  You really cannot beat an 80 cent art book from Amazon.  For those of you reading along, the book is Modigliani: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculptures, edited by Werner Schmalenbach, Prestel Press 2005.  This is a little coffee-table sorta book but since I was lacking both finances and an in-house book on Modigliani, I could not pass it up for the price.  It is a cute little book though, full of good photos, good interviews – including a very entertaining appendix where a number of famous people explain their relationships with the artist.  The early portion of the book includes a number of essays on Modigliani and a number of photos of work by his influences – something I wish I would see more of in some of these books.  As a younger art student, it would have been very helpful to have some influential reference work right in the volume.  Now that I am professionally versed in many of the worlds artists over the last few thousand years, I no longer need references.  However, still always something is new.  Through this book I discovered a new favorite painter whose work will one day be another blog post – once I can afford one of his many $400 books…  Until then, he shall remain my secret.

Secrets.

I study many things – too many things according to most who know me.  One of my areas of concern is television and other media directed at certain demographics, namely young adults and children.  As I age, I get more and more concerned with the nature of this entertainment as people who used to make this sort of programming because they wanted to give way to people doing it because they’re paid to – and paid to fit certain requirements.  A quick example, since this all has little to do with my blog as it is, would be the Dora the Explorer show.  It recently came to my attention that this terrible disaster of children’s programming was in fact created after paying some show designers to make a new show.  There were no previous ideas, no preliminaries, nothing – just “here’s some money, make us a hit”.  Once I head this, I wanted to go huddle around Fred Rogers’ grave.  Point being, there are few very authentic-feeling shows that really know what kids need to learn these days replaced by what I see as mindless placating of behavior kids say they want.  Most of the quality and refined-ness of things in the world today are being slowly pecked away by the need to bring the consumer directly in line with the producer.  But what do consumers know? They consume anything.  Some of us consumers are more aware than others, but I still do not usually make my own clothes, kill my own cow when I’m hungry, or create my own livingroom dramas.  Actually, I have done a number all of those things, but not regularly.  We live in a society where we believe we have input on the things around us – which, to some degree we do.  I believe we have this extensive input at the sacrifice of developmental refinement and quality.  Where are our standards?  Dora just keeps looking at me and yelling things in other languages… it’s so weird.  What happened to my cigarette-smoking tom-cat and his trickster mouse?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about the ‘new’, I just wish it didn’t suck so much.

I constantly research.  There’s no point in criticizing something when you haven’t experienced it or have some sort of data that might suggest a certain idea about what you’re criticizing.  After complaining about kids’ TV lately, some folks suggested that I check out iCarly on Nickelodeon as it seems to have some sort of “pulse” of the youth.  I watched one episode and barely got through it.  On the plus side, the show is hip.  The use of internet publishing and video-streaming is very innovative and cutting-edge, while maintaining a certain connection to an occasionally viewing young adult audience.  The language is contemporary and seems like the dialog is actually written by folks that either are younger or have some kids in high school, or at least did some field research.  On the downside, the humor is lame, in the way Saved by the Bell was lame, although I’d prefer to watch iCarly still.  The show writers hint at, frequently, some very good lessons or ideas to get across to the upcoming youth population.  Upcoming meaning, soon-to-be-adults.  There does seem to be a certain sense of responsibility with this show, and that I commend as well – but again, it’s just stupid overall.  The show reflects a reality, I believe few kids can relate to, but I might be out of my element in that claim.  I did notice a high number of code-switched phrases and idioms.  For those of you unfamiliar with this phenomena of linguistics, a code-switch is simply the use of a word as a direct replacement for another word but unlike a metaphor or simile, the words switched have exactly the same implied meaning, not a relative one.  The code-switching, I believe is part of the show’s success.  The language sounds legit, and it is, but it’s spoken the same way that kids speak around or near their parents or other disapproving adults.  So, that illegal substance or sex reference you made as a kid is hidden in a reference to another word with no known symbolic shared reference except contextually in that moment.  “We are going to get naked tonight” encodes to “we are going to get silly tonight,” for example.  There is a sense of metaphor, but we really have a simple replacement.  From the couple episodes of iCarly I’ve now seen, it seems to excel at this behavior.

The point of everything: iCarly got punched in the face!

I will probably never watch this crap show again.  However, I did have to watch the episode last night where the leading character gets punched in the face, twice!  I was skimming through the post-modern essays in my Modigliani book when I heard the fight sounds from the episode.  I was put into an already delightful state of intellectual bliss with a couple of Modigliani’s nudes, when I look up to see Carly all hyper and happy, jumping with her friends in a mindlessly manga-style way, right before a fight she thinks is fake.  She gleefully hops into the ring, puts her little mouth-piece in, smiles, and then the handy-cam shot of a fist comes hurtling into her mouth.  Carly is wide-eyed and shocked, when BOOM, fist #2 impacts her face.  This event of Modigliani’s nudes coupled with a crap kids’ TV star’s face-punch was a moment of artistic catharsis pour moi.  Back to the studio I go.

Now, if only I could make Spongebob’s sun explode…