Wednesday, July 27, 2005

this art business is serious stuff

Andy and Chitty have both given me food for thought that could so easily apply across the arts to music, theatre, literature, etc. Hell, it could apply to almost any discipline that requires both inspiration and perspiration. It's the question of serious art vs. popular art.

The avant garde art world can be a very cold place, so no wonder it doesn't appeal to the general public and makes the sensitive layperson feel like a clueless moron. It's like this exclusive club where you have to produce a passport stamped with items such as "intellectual but inscrutably eccentric" or "mainstream is just another word for the devil". I've struggled with my place in that world for a couple of years now. I want to be able to produce work that is accessible but does not compromise. I want to respect craftsmanship without allowing it to control my own brand of creativity. Everyone has been a child with a box of Crayolas. Why do artists feel the need to dissociate themselves from the child we all were once and elevate art to something that appeals only to the Converted?

Maybe it's that very reason. When I was a teacher I discovered that every yahoo who had ever been a child in a classroom thought they had an insider's view on the profession and could therefore comment at length on its failings. Visual art has the same direct experience factor: we've all enjoyed the moment when we first dipped our fingers into those juicy primary colours to produce something our parents could proudly hang in the family art gallery (the fridge). That access to the child in oneself can make it hard to be taken seriously by the “uninitiated”. Every time I’m asked what I do I find myself unconsciously slipping into a defensive/reactive mode. Sometimes I avoid the question altogether and just say "I'm on LOA from my teaching job." Now that I've finally been forced to abandon my school district contract, it gets harder. Even one of my closest friends, after a couple of years, can't seem to get used to the fact that I'm working harder now than I ever did when I was job sharing with her husband. She thinks that being at home means I'm watching Oprah and eating bonbons because painting is not really work. OK, I'll admit that the paycheque sucks and I spend a lot of time analysing my bank balance, but if work stress is an indicator, then I'm right up there with the residents of office veal-fattening pens.

But back to the childhood connection. As a teacher who has taught all age groups (5 to 65) I have learned that the freshest, most creative art by far is produced by those with no concept of what art is "supposed" to look like. It follows that the more knowledgeable and sophisticated one becomes, the farther the artist gets from the true source of creativity. Maybe that's why the conceptual art movement happened 3/4 of a century ago. With the knowledge that experience hobbles inspiration, those with a clear vision realised it was the only place where true creativity could happen.

One of my ways to deal with this conundrum is to steal from my kids. OK, "borrow". A couple of years ago I started a series based on my boys' drawings and never saw it through completely, though it takes up a lot of space on my mental backburner. #2 son did a bunch of these step-by-step drawings that are an amazing peek into the mind of a child with a pencil and an idea (see above). To me, trying to capture that pure essence is one of my driving creative forces. Retaining its clarity is an ongoing challenge.

But for now, back to the drawing board...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've also found that if a psuedo-intellectual enters a gallery with a pre-conceived notion as to what art "looks" like, then the history of art is reduced to "if you like it then it's art... if you don't like it, then it ain't." Where one painting might allow the viewer to "hear" the sparrow, another viewer may "sense" the Autumn air surrounding that sparrow. What you put into your observation is what you get out of it. If you look at a painting and see nothing then you've cheated yourself out of the thrill of the arts. An opinion is worth nothing if it's based on nothing.

27/7/05 11:49 a.m.  
Blogger andy said...

This is just a quick aside; I’ll return later when I’ve slowed down a bit!

Did you ever see the movie "The Rebel", made in 1961 and starring the British comedian Tony Hancock? I couldn’t help but think of it as I read your post.

If you don’t know it, here’s a quote from a viewer’s review of the movie;
“Hancock, in the film, is an office drudge who harbours artistic ambitions way beyond his hopelessly limited technical skills. However, he jettisons his boring day-job to share an artistic garret in Paris (only 200 or so miles from London) with a frustrated, but genuinely talented, young artist (Paul Massie). Hancock's infantile daubs are hailed as works of genius in the pretentious circles he inhabits. Galton and Simpson's screenplay wastes no opportunity to satirise the credulity of the modern-art world, and its unfailing capacity to court lucrative charlatans”

Not that I’m making any comparisons between what the scriptwriters were saying and what you’re saying! What brought it instantly to mind is just that both raise the “What is art?” question and both use children’s (or child-like or child-inspired) art to make the point.

More later; great post!

27/7/05 2:37 p.m.  
Blogger kyknoord said...

Art is a bit like wine. Pretending to like something sour and nasty, simply because the 'experts' tell you it's good, is an exercise in self-delusion. I believe it is far more gratifying to experience something you like honestly than pretend for someone else's sake.
For what it’s worth, I find your paintings appealing on many levels and I hope your open house is a resounding success.

27/7/05 11:00 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back when I was at Uni,I belonged to the "book society". We were a bunch of pseudo intellectual student snobs who elevated ourselves to almost god-like status when it came to the fine art of literature. We would analyze, dissect and revel in our knowledge of books/literature to the extent that we forgot how to enjoy them. We fed our misplaced intellectual crap and ideals to one another. We judged other ppl by how much they know of the classics and other written works. We used a language set that made it impossible for the ‘ordinary student” to join. How wrong we were and how miserably we failed at being human beings. Thank God I took a good look at myself and got out of there in time.
Thanks for a thought provoking post… made me think back to days gone by and laugh at who I used to be back then.

28/7/05 12:19 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Uncle Johann: Thanks for answering my cry of help.

Andy: I looked at the movie's description at IMDB and am dying to see it now. Being British would make it hard to find here, though. Hey -- I hope you're not comparing me to Hancock! (he sounds suspiciously similar to me... :o)

Kyknoord and Chitty: I've had my fair share of exposure to the aesthetic snob. Been guilty of it myself, even (she said shamefacedly). Now I have no qualms about leaving behind Balzac and Tolstoy to delve into Dick Francis or Nick Hornby when the mood suits (oops -- my secret's out...).

28/7/05 3:42 p.m.  
Blogger andy said...

Galton and Simpson - the writers of that movie - were clever guys. I was about to say how the film was about the fact that Hancock couldn't paint, but the art world (as depicted, that is!) had its head so far up its own backside that it couldn't see that. But then it struck me - here I am, making serious intellectual assessments of a comedy film - just like those serious art assessments of Hancock's "infantile daubs".

As I say, they were clever guys... the lines separating serious, pretentious, absurd, comic may not be as clear as we'd like to think...

Oh, and I don't think I'm likely to mistake you for Hancock ;-)

29/7/05 2:48 p.m.  

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