#778, and Judging Value in Ones Own Work

#778 follows the text. 22″ x 26″ Acrylic on stretched canvas.

Subjectivity in judging art. How does one judge one’s own work?

I see ‘the viewer,’ not as singular, but as a collective–a whole cultural constellation filtered through each individual, so while each sees as an individual, we also see through the eyes and mind lent to us by their culture, in a particular historical moment.

Subjectivity is complex and inclusive, which means it’s possible to develop our capacity to make judgements, which, while not being “objective,’ are much larger than what one usually means by “subjective.” Such judgements are not fixed verdicts–as they change (or rather, what they point to changes), as culture changes, but good critics–rare as they are–know this.

John Berger. Hubert Damisch.

My question speaks to this. In assessing the value of one’s work, doesn’t there cling to our judgement, a remnant of belief (trust, would be a better word)… that we are able to discern a value that is not so limited, that is not chopped and diced into disconnected individual ‘subjectivities,’ the way we are taught to see ourselves in late capitalism, value and meaning that is inclusive, an emergent vision of some part of what it means to be human in the world?

#778.JPGView more work at SaatchieArt,
on ArtFinder, and
on my web portfolio here ART BY WILLARD
For photos on this blog, click MY ART on the right panel and scroll down.


Gustav Landauer: Art and Revolution

“In our times, an artist is defined as someone who has a vision: someone with visions and rhythms that form a separate inner world: someone who can manifest this world on the outside; someone who can create a new, an exemplary, their own world through imagination and creative force; someone whose ideas leave their inner being like Pallas Athena left Jupiter’s head; someone who then, like an Italian trader of plaster figures, packs the result in a basket and hawks it in the “the other world,” ordinary reality, where they sell the figures of their dreams and sacred desires to the goblins and caricatures of their artistic mind, all the while advertising, calculating, haggling, arguing, cheating. This is the contemporary artist’s mixture of detachment and participation.
But mine is another: I want to use reality to create; I want art to be the process of imaginative and communal social transformation, rather than the expression of individual yearning.”

Gustav Landauer, REVOLUTION and Other Writings: A Political Reader. Edited and translated by Gabriel Kuhn. PM Press.

I changed the masculine, personal pronouns.

I was probably 22 or 23 when I read the essay on Landauer, in Martin Buber’s Paths in Utopia; it would be hard to imagine how any, indirect meeting with any thinker, could have a more powerful, influence, than the ideas in that essay had for me—over the course of whole life. Three years later, I was living in a commune—where expenses were covered, each according our means. Though it would be 45 years before, my involvement with Occupy Philly, led to the next experiment in communal living, I never gave up my search for a means to realize my ideas on communal living, and this time—I’m sure there was something of Landaur’s ideas of art and revolution, what freed me, to return to what I had been doing when I read that essay: making art.
I only last week bought a copy of this book, and in reading it, began to discover how much—from such minimal acquaintance–the seeds Landauer had planted, have meant to me over the years. The perplexity I feel, and have expressed in posts on this blog and elsewhere, on how survive as an artist in this capitalist wilderness–and as a revolutionary–without losing one’s freedom to create, or submitting to slavery of the market–I didn’t learn from Landauer, but, as in the above quote, I find, this too, I share with him—if from another side, as an artist.

Revolution is an act of imagination

Revolution is action.

Revolution takes place in the present. Now, and now, and now, or never. There can be no waiting

for the “right conditions.”
Revolution is an ever present necessity.

Revolution is every act of the imagination, made real in every present moment.

Solidarity, Love, Imagination, RESISTANCE!

One more on Artfinder

… and this, probly my last.

Reading posts in the forums on Artfinder, one mentioned a million dollars in sales, another, that there are 10,000 artists on Artfinder… ok, that comes to $10 an artist. Even if those figures were for a day–no one gonna live on ten dollars a day. And I think it was for a month, or a year.

AF is no better for artists, it seems, than any of the other rigged systems in capitalism.

There is no way to manipulate the capitalist machine to have it do other than what it’s built to do: make a very few people rich and powerful, and impoverishing and exploiting millions of others.

Artists need to get on board for revolution, and replace capitalism. It’s not just bad for artists, it’s going to destroy human life on this planet.


oops… should be $100 per artist. Which for a month or year, same point. oops…

Artfinder (cont.)

Artfinder is a lot of work. I got up this morning at 6–was at work by 7, and uploaded my 20th photo around 8 PM. Pretty much working on setting up those 13 hours.
Have to stay off the forum… insufferable wanna be capitalists, who have no interest in understanding anything about ‘markets’ and ‘name-branding’, and the role those things play in shaping, and destroying any hope of a humanly habitable world–it’s all what they get out of it.
I got banned the first time I tried to use Artfinder... for “life” … I guess I rose from the dead, or they haven’t connected my new email address with my first intrusion.
I can put up what I make, with no pressure to conform to anyone’s taste, and can list a price with an “accept offers” button.
This is not a market geared to investors, and that’s a good thing. It’s more, home decoration oriented. I ain’t posting any photos of my art over an expensive sofa with carefully arranged cushions.
I wish I lived in the Ox now… I could post ‘context’ photos in the wastelands!
I’m getting lots of ‘likes’ for my art. And 4 got put in ‘carts.’ If I sell one or two a month, I’ll be happy. I’d like to post a few of my more outrageous political pieces–with outrageous prices. Just so peeps paging through the affordable stuff which I do want to sell, would see them.
Better than gathering dust in the basement…. though… they still are. Gathering dust. But not unseen.

Art & Capitalism: the problem won’t go away.

The interface between making art, and making a living, is the most politically charged area in the life of any artist. This is where the artist engages most directly with the monster of capitalism and Empire, both as a maker of art, and as a citizen of the human community. I don’t understand why so many artists are so reluctant to seriously engage with the problems we face in this arena. This is something I’ve been thinking about — for years, and yet, the most typical response I get from working artists: on commodification of our work, on how to live by our art, of the corrupting influence of investor driven gallery gatekeepers–is a curt dismissal, as though I were an impertinent 12 year old. “I need to make a living–what am I supposed to do?” But of course, never asked as a serious question.
And of course, I have no answer. No one person does, because it’s not the kind of question that any individual can answer alone. —

  Artists have to figure out–together–how to control the outcome of our work–or we will be controlled and used to the ends which the Empire of Money and Death sees fit.

First–acknowledge the problem. Then, pledge to work together to applying ourselves to find cracks in the walls where we can expand and live. We cannot continue to be artists under capitalism. Because, under capitalism, we will only be permitted to do what supports capitalism–that is, no longer artists, but technicians of the machine, and entertainers, distracting the masses.

A Revolutionary Artist Collective

I have this dream… of a collective of artists, who don’t “sell” their work, but … sort of… ‘rent’ it. That is, Someone who makes a contribution (sliding scale) has right to the work in perpetuity… but not ‘ownership.’ the collective, legally, retains ownership. What that means, is the one who takes the work, agrees never to sell for profit. They can exchange for another work, or accept an exchange at current value, if they want to offer it to someone else–ok…but wherever the work goes, the collective retains “ownership” rights.
The idea being, to prevent a work from becoming a commodity, an item of exchange value taken in expectation of profit by future increase in monetary value.

A network of such exchanges–drawing in more artists, removes more and more art from the fucked up , utterly corrupt gallery to investor gatekeeper system we have now.
The idea–however this might actually work out, is that artists take control of the distribution of our work, withdrawing our work from the market system, but creating together ( I envision networks of these collectives), a system outside the capitalist system.
No artist has any hope of bucking the system alone. This can only happen if enough artists come together, and work out a system of distribution, and sustainability–by consensus. By USING OUR CREATIVE IMAGINATION for how we LIVE IN THE WORLD, and not exclusively in devotion to our work.


Abstraction as a political choice

Once you understand the history of this country–whole shelves of American fiction, and great collections of American painting, become unbearable.
I think about this when I try to understand my almost exclusive turn to abstraction, and my resistance to representative art–even though that’s what my education prepared me to do.
It’s not my call to portray the lives of black people, or “first nations’ ( I like the Canadian term), and I don’t see any crying need to paint white people! Abstraction for me embodies a voice of resistance, of protest. Both a choice, and an act of self denial: a rejection of the world I see around me. A turn to landscape, or nature painting is no better–simply another kind of denial… unless I painted toxic dumps, industrial wastelands. I lean in that direction with my Recyclations (trash assemblages).

Oracular Vision

I’ve been reading John Berger’s Understanding a Photograph. He writes in the essay, Appearances: that …

In every act of looking there is an expectation of meaning. This expectation should be distinguished from a desire for an explanation. The one who looks may explain afterward: but, prior to any explanation, there is the expectation of what appearances themselves may be about to reveal.
Revelations do not come easily. Appearances are so complex that only the search which is inherent in the act of looking can draw a reading out of the underlying coherence If, for the sake of a temporary clarification, one artificially separates appearances from vision (and we have seen that in fact this is impossible), one might say that in appearances everything that can be read is already there but undifferentiated. It is the search, with its choices which differentiates. And the seen, the revealed, is the child of both appearances and the search.
Another way of making this relation clearer would be to say that appearances in themselves are oracular. Like oracles they go beyond, they insinuate further than the discrete phenomena they present, and yet their insinuations are rarely sufficient to make any more comprehensive reading indisputable. The precise meaning of an oracular statement depends upon the quest or need of the one who listens to it. Everyone listens to an oracle alone, even when in company.

“Everyone listens to an oracle alone, even when in company” When I read that, I asked myself, “isn’t this precisely how one sees… a painting?

My calling… my vocation, as a poet and artist, began at a moment like that—an oracular vision–11 or 12 years old. Forsythia blossoms after rain, when the sun came out from clouds and turned the drops of water on the petals into prisms. Everything I’ve done since, has in some way, been connected to the effort to understand that moment.

“The modality of the visible” … the expectation of meaning in what is seen – is this what I look for as I work on an abstract piece – the expectation of meaning, but one disconnected from any narrative or ideological sense–a meaning that hovers above explanation, and untouched by it?

My novel, Ari Figue’s Cat… https://www.amazon.com/Ari-Figues-Cat-Jacob-Russell/dp/1940830060 the motive for writing it; this is its central theme.

What I look for as I work—as I arrange pieces of trash, draw lines on a page, brush color on a canvas. Why I prefer abstract work. Representative art, when it seizes me, is always like this. Rousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy. The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897 by Henri Rousseau
The enigma. The expectation of meaning—that defies explanation. Iconography, represented figures… are a distraction. Though a master can so charge the most meticulously rendered images with that oracular sense, that all our efforts to explain are exhausted… and we are left with what we see, and that alone. Jan Van Eyke’s Arnolfi wedding portrait. Image result

I work on a piece until I have that sense… in looking at it, in seeing it: the feeling that it means something. I have no idea what, or how to explain it. It’s enough, if I capture that feeling, an enigma. Beyond words.

We long for a vision … a way out of this fucking capitalist hell.

We don’t know what it is… but if, in seeing this, we can believe that it exists…beyond words, beyond explanation.. but there for us to find and create… I will have done my part.

Open Casket:

I keep thinking, that had Dana Shutz kept that specific association to herself–the photograph of Emmett Till in his casket–that there would have been no problem. But then, it probably wouldn’t have been accepted into the Whitney Biennial, and there is its failure, both aesthetic and ethical. That it has to draw on the title for its power is a sign of it’s weakness, of it’s failure as a purely visual work.

I think that the power of any work of art–of any medium or form, lies in the veer from direct association, even if that reference is specific and representational. She chose an abstract and ambiguous rendering of her idea: so far so good–but then, maybe because she thought that’s what would get her into the show, she had to give in to the urge to Name it.

A public image as charged, and as specific to the people involved, as that photograph, is all but beyond the possibility of direct representation. The public caste is so strong, so loud, so opaque, that it defies penetration. What we might hope for in a work that comes out of an artist’s desire to respond to such events–is that it take us deeper, that it illuminate what we did not, could not see in the public image. That it strips away the title, the naming, from the received associations, and takes us to a place we had not, could not have imagined without it.
Sensational, news-laden titles are inexcusable shortcuts, evasions of the harder work of the imagination. Whatever merit or power this painting has, is erased by misplaced ambition, by the surrender to the utterly corrupted ideas of artistic “success” in a capitalist world