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).
Walking thoughts… ideas come to mind, walking here and there and back: to the el, the wine store, to the Fresh Grocer. Sometimes they kick off something that comes back to me. A couple days ago, I was thinking about artists—not ART, artists. About making a living (or at least, paying for art materials), in a capitalist system, when one is a confirmed, convicted, solidarity-convinced anti-capitalist. And it occurred to me, that one could look at the problems through the lens of class—that the structures and machinery of class reproduce themselves on particular strata, and this seemed particularly helpful to me in understanding what artists deal with.
The connecting point in these thoughts, was meritocracy—how, because class is not like castes, frozen across generations for all time, but somewhat permeable, it’s easy to ignore how class, in itself, is as unchanging as an South Asian caste system. That individuals are able to climb the ladder, does nothing to overthrow the range of beliefs that justify class inequalities for those who benefit from them, or to offer serious challenge to the ideologies that use those beliefs.
What beliefs? The ‘natural’ superiority of men… (white men), is way up there at the top: patriarchy and Euro-Anglo-American racism–used to excuse, what otherwise would make what capitalism, colonialism, slavery, have done, and continue to do, to the mass humanity, intolerable. What does that have to do with, meritocracy? With art? With the capitalist class system?
Capitalism creates, maintains, and perpetuates inequality. All the way back to the Adam Smith, this has been acknowledged, and because it so flies in the face of the most minimally developed sense of justice, is addressed in all the ideological variants that would defend and promote capitalism. For Adam Smith—it was the Invisible Hand, which, (grossly misused since) would correct the worst abuses, and prevent capitalism from becoming what it has, in face, become. But nothing has been more useful, or done greater violence, the social Darwinism and eugenics. Here was the perfect foil, the perfect answer, to justify belief in the inferiority of the masses, and if an individual here and there, rose up and proved themselves superior to their birth—the genetic mythology perfectly accounted for it, and supported those who would protect the superior races and individuals, while justifying their suppression, and attempts to control, or better, if they proved less than useful and docile–eradicate the untermenchen.
How perfectly the Art World recapitulates this! With its gallery to investor pipeline, a gatekeeper system, meant to identify the Elite, and (hopefully) erase from memory, if not from life itself all the outsiders! Women! Blacks! Colonials! A Patriarchal system (where are the women from how many generations past?) Where are non-Euro artists and their work, but as appropriated by the (even if late-acknowledged) Masters? There is such thing, as ART, let alone, an “Art WORLD!” … if it is not as varied and multiple as there are worlds and peoples! If it doesn’t crash through and DESTROY the gatekeepers and their system!
Those were my walking thoughts… how, I asked myself. .how is it possible, for anyone who calls THEMSELVES an artist—to accept this system? To define their idea of ‘success’ by it’s terms? To not throw themselves into the struggle to create—to IMAGINE… as artists do.. a new and better world?
I sat outside A-Space for almost 4 hours. Maybe three people stopped to more than glance at my art. I thought about that post on the time one needs to see, to actually see, a work of art.
More specifically, I was thinking about Joyce’s “ineluctable modality of the visible.”
Who cares, right? but there I was, sitting in the sun, what else did I have to waste my time on?
The visible became words for Joyce. What I was thinking about, was the visible in art that remains in the ‘modality of the visible.”
This is what I do, what I seek out, what I work for in my art–the power of the visible to grasp the attention of the eye, to guide and to reward exploration that has no need to become symbol, message, exhortation or story. Useless.
There I was, useless. Old man trembling in my own private thoughts and anxieties. With my useless art, refusing to allow any meaning beyond the visible to be pried lose from the visible. A vision quest, of no use to the world.
So sad at the loss of John Berger. I would so love to have been able to meet, and talk and… just spend time, mull shit over with him. So few… like, almost none… of those who write about art, or even those who DO it… when it comes to thinking, and talking about it… who I feel like… get it.
Capitalism–and who got this better? –fucks up our minds–as artists. There is no model for what constitutes ‘success’ for an artist in this capitalist world, no collective model, but … like our art, that which we make for ourselves.
One less now… who did get it.
More alone than ever.
Yesterday I went to Penn Book Center and bought a copy of Landscapes… opened it on the El on the way home… pages flipped to chapter 3. The Basis of All Painting and Sculpture is Drawing.
In March of 2015 I wrote THIS POST
I sat there the rest of the way home… and felt like John Berger was there beside me… holding my hand.
This is a comment to the post below–rebloged from Alien Ecologies.
The ‘realism’ of the artist was never that of the scientist, even when their work drew on geometrical perspective, was colored by optics, and anatomically rendered. The pictorial plane never truly “represented.” What was suggested there has always been both more and other than the named subject, even when following conventional rules and stripped of other worldly intentions (see Hubert Damisch: A Theory of /Cloud/ for a case study of development of internal resistance to pictorial realism from Correggio to Cezanne).
The moment an artist accepts what they know to be true–and let’s that realization influence what they do (even more so when meticulously following realist conventions, because the contradiction between the claim to representation, and the dependence on these conventions is all the more disturbing), there will be a desire to deal with the fact of that contradiction–in the work itself. This is not a flight from reality–material or otherwise, but commitment to it. There is no art without the “meta.’ Naive realism simply chooses to let illusion stand for the real, without calling attention to it. I would go so far as to suggest that this contradiction, the failure of representation, is the generative engine that drives change. I think that can be said for abstract, ‘non-representational’ art as well, with the fault lying, not between the claim to a ‘subject’ that exists in the material world and the pure fabrication that is the art, in the failure to entirely reduce the aesthetic object to the picture plane, or surface form and matter of 3 dimensional works. There is just no way to exclude the viewer, who is no mere observer, but actively participates–enters the work and moves through it–creating something like a virtual reality that changes with every viewer, across cultures and spans of time.
Street sketching is a new thing for me. I love how it brings my vision into focus–how I can lose myself for an hour or two in utter concentration. While I don’t think about more than what I’m doing while I work, I find that it stimulates so many questions, provokes my mind–no small part of what fascinates me, though some of those questions are troubling.
This is drawing from life. Being there. One of the things I’ve been thinking about, is how demanding this is, developing and perfecting skills, and yet, it’s not that alone. Like with figure drawing–there are comic artists who are superbly skilled at rendering human figure from imagination–think of the forshortened points of view of those superheros. Or illustrators… was looking at the cover of a book, a street of Philly row houses drawn from an acute angle, all with ariel bays in perfect perspective. You learn that well, and you can do it from imagination–maybe with the aide of photo references. I both respect and admire the skill, knowledge and facility of these artists, but that isn’t where I want to go, or what I find most interesting. There comes a point, a level of skill and knowledge, when one can draw on what has absorbed without further encounter of the kind of immediacy I want when I’m working from life. Robert Beverly Hale, the great teacher of anatomy and figure drawing summed up the learning process like this: “first you draw what you see, then you learn to know what you see, then you draw what you know.” But that leaves out the last, and most important step: returning to the subject you’ve learned, and seeing more. Beginning again that process of discovery–seeing ever more fully, more deeply. It’s possible for illustrators and cartoonists, to get to a point where they can coast on what they know–but they don’t have to. I look at the illustrations of Charles Dana Gibson, or cartoonists like Walt Kelley or Bill Watterson, who, even when using basic templates, never surrender to mere tracing of what they’ve done before. I’m not trying to distinguish between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art; I’m trying to understand something about process.
In street sketching, it’s not their technical mastery of perspective or penship–it’s that going back to the beginning that’s the life of those drawings– of those who do it well. There’s a freshness that I love, like coming across a scene for the first time–it’s a way of seeing… but this is where I begin to question what it is I’m doing. What else is going on here.
There’s a blog, Urbansketchers. org. You’ll find there work by many of the best. But you will also see another pattern… these are world travelers, who go to cities around the world, and draw… rather than taking snap shots… to see the world, one drawing at a time, I think is their phrase. While I love these drawings… I’m uncomfortable with them–with the conceptual framework that binds them. I can’t help but think of dogs… marking territories.
Vision… as a kind of ownership. A foreclosure, more than an opening. What we see–is territory, the ‘normal’ world of the capitalist tourist: this is beautiful … and ours. This is fascinating… and ours. Not the possession of the artists, but of those they unconsciously, or at least, uncritically, serve. A theme-park world for the enjoyment of the power elite, and their upper echelon servants.
Court artists of the capitalist leisure elite.
I don’t like that–that I can’t escape this thought. I really do love this body of works. I aspire to it! To render such life in my drawings, my art!
But so much else about my art –about where I want to take it–is about escape–escaping the Master’s Hand and Voice, escaping the “Art System,” the capitalist gallery to investor universe of gatekeepers and Owners–finding my way to a revolutionary, ‘anti-art,’ in as much as so much of what we–what art history–defines as ‘Art,’ is but a captive of Euro-Patriarchal art making, colonizing the traditions of other cultures–serving the Masters.
Street sketchers stand on a border… I love that there is no pretense here of “higher art,” I love the individualism, the freedom expressed by these artists.. but I despair at what I see as ideological captivity. And I don’t know what to do… or what I would like these artists I admire, to do.
I only know that it’s a problem. And that you can’t solve any problem, without first seeing it, recognizing it, defining it for what it is.
Where is my community of believing dissenters?
I want to post a second comment I left on CLCLARK’s blog on Luhmann’s system theory, Systems Serve only Themselves. This has been a concern of mine for some time, expressed in several previous posts.
I see several problems with art as an autopoitec system. The first being, that ‘art’ is an artificial construct. For this, it might be enough if it were more narrowly defined, say… “Euro/Anglo Art.” It’s been a project of art history to treat art as a universal—even while concentrating almost exclusively on European traditions until the assimilating of Japanese, Chinese, African and “primitive” styles by European artists forced the door open to the rest of the world. This greater inclusiveness, however, was more in the nature of colonizing the European idea of art as a universal, drawing on products, which, in their own cultures, served a wide range of activities, and were in no way part of something, neither their makers nor those who these objects served, thought of as belonging to an autonomous system analogous to a Western idea of ‘art,’ a process not unlike the transformation imposed on European religious objects in the development of the idea (or system) of art in the West.
Also, as autopoitic systems are differentiated from their environment, but subject and responsive to outside perturbations, these responses can be absorbed in their development. With organisms, other forms can be physically absorbed and incorporated: viruses, mitochondria. The point I’d make here, is that what we mean by ‘art,’ is not just a system responding to other systems, but one—perhaps even more than any other—that has incorporated them into its DNA. The Western ‘art system’ co-evolved with capitalism, patriarchal institutions, hierarchical value coding, in such a way that these are more than external systems that use or perturb it, but are embedded in its generative structures. This is what informs my question about finding a place as an artist—outside that system. Escape from the controlling subject: “Art.” Deteritorializaion from the master subject and its self-cloning powers. Thinking of Deleuze… escape from the root, to the rhizome!
It’s increasingly clear to me that the way museums display works of art (and most galleries), alters them as surely as if the curators took brush and paint and wrote messages of ownership across them. What we see in a museum is filtered propaganda, honoring the structures of power, wealth, and those who control it, drawing life from the art and using it like a drug to induce a state of awe and subservience, not for the art, but the invisible powers that assembled the display. How grateful we must be, that all this was gathered for us in the marble halls of these mausoleums–a gesture of largess from the wealthy investors for us to view. Where would we be without them! As though the artists (who in their lifetimes, would have been lucky if they could afford entrance), were mere labor, expendable, like the workers who tunneled under the Hudson… 14 of whom died in its construction…and not a one of them named, ‘Holland.’
As though this art would not exist, certainly not for us, but for these glorious prisons.
What is wrong with this picture, is not the fault of the museums and it’s keepers… they are merely playing the roles assigned to them–cleaner and less bloodstained, but comparable, nonetheless, to the police and soldiers, prison guards and executioners of this Empire of Money and Death.
Impossible to imagine in these cathedrals of art, that there might be an other way–where people don’t surrender their creative lives for adulthood, and art flows from the lives of the people, present everywhere and in everything we do and make. Where artists don’t have to compete for the one spot in ten thousand where they can live by their art, and everyone can have works of art beside them, not just the wealthy.
Capitalism controls our very imagination–that we cannot believe anything else can exist. How then, as artists, can we let ourselves serve these robotic masters!
No Revolution without Art! No Art without Revolution!
If you listen, not to what artists do, but those who devote themselves to talking about what artists do (and not all who engage in this are Gatekeepers—though criticism lends itself– all too seductively– to Gatgekeeping), it sounds like a search for—an almost religious quest—for just that: a master signifier.
Who or what then is the master?
But what artists (and I use this in its most inclusive sense, in terms of the media employed: visual, performance, literary, musical… and fusions of all these.. )–what artists do, again and again over time, is defy and abrogate and replace the reigning master. Those who don’t, in time, are left behind, left out. Artists who no longer live and create in their own time, in the communal time they inhabit, are they still artists?
And where is the master?
Is this contradiction, this incommensurate desire, the search for that which does not and cannot exist, and its value… its authority, authenticity, embedded in the negative—in the power to hold together the impossible wish with its acknowledged failure?
Such that, the artist ask, not for belief, but the capacity to entertain the contradiction—to maintain the tension between belief and … not credulity… not reality.. but whatever that reality might be which stands outside the illusion…nothing less, than the capacity to hold the tension… drawn and quartered, the draft horses chained right foot and arm, to left foot and arm, and the Master Signifiers lashing the whip!
Will the work… as you enter its aura… hold?
Hold the tension?
… that they cannot rip you apart… sunder your body.
That’s all I ever hope for from any work of art.
Such a small thing in a difficult world… to be an artist.
Read article here –> Artsy Editorial
“When artists operate outside the gallery space, whether because their work functions best there, or because they are forced to, they are both creating valuable art and making the limitations of traditional art institutions visible—physically, historically, and conceptually. Perhaps such work can even change those institutions, those structures of looking. Perhaps it can change society at large. And that’s unceasingly relevant.”