Saturday, October 13, 2007

Toward a New Art

I am glad people are learning.

I will recount a story:

Michael Mazur is the most famous artist who has graduated from Amherst College, my alma mater.

I went to his lecture, where the audience was mostly PhD's. He proceeded to show the audience how he did "Air Drawings;" that is, he took a finger and drew circles and zig-zags in the air. Much like a child would play an "air guitar," that is, act like he is playing a real guitar, same gestures, etc., Mazur was drawing in the air. I looked about and all were completely serious, especially Mazur. No one questioned this, if it were art, not a snicker or a cough. At the end, applause all around.

Now for me, this story represents so much of the art world. We blindly follow anything or anyone under the rubric of art, or artist, without proof. If I told someone that their husband or wife were cheating, they would demand evidence. But if I tell you that this blank canvas or invisible object is art, or this color is the secret to impressionist painting, all blindly nod.

Art has replaced for many organized religions. It suffers from an even worse mysticism. Critics have become the high priests, and few question the current dogma for fear of being ostracized. No style is immune from it, although realism is, for the most part grounded in visual facts and a step toward critical thinking. But realism, as I have seen, has its own tendencies to be swayed by unreliable techniques and formulas. There are painting gurus who offer little in the way of clear explanations. Just paint what you see is the mantra. The present disregard of Munsell, a quite rational approach to color, is another example. Many prefer just to "feel" color instead. This is the "Jesus Take the Wheel" kind of thinking. Somehow, all will work out if the god of art is channeled.

The only way to begin to get out of the morass of 20th century art thinking is by logic. We need to ask why a Polka-Dot by Damien Hirst is any better than one by another painter when the results are interchangeable. We also need to ask why painting cannot be learned through reason. Every other discipline benefits from it, from medicine to music. (how was the musical scale invented in the first place.) We need to honestly appraise the art of the past and through out our idols if they don't measure up. No matter how you spin it, is Renoir that much of a better painter than Henri Martin or Le Sidaner? Why does he enjoy the art shrine and they don't? Should a Peter Doig sell for more than an Ingres? Not in a rational world.

Aristotle believed that we can indeed trust our senses. What we see is what we see. No amount of posturing, goading (or brain washing) should affect the mind of a person who trusts his senses, observes, thinks and concludes. Art will benefit and change for the better when we learn to question our assumptions, reject useless formulas, replace received ideas with up to date data, and, finally, have the courage to think for ourselves.


linesend said...

Interesting post, I've no idea who is the most important artist to come out of my alma mater, Swain, but its a pretty sure bet they aren't air painting! Are schools trying to bring basics back or not? From the little I hear, some yes but more are entrenched in the "I'm good, your good" mode. The comparisons to the work & discipline needed in other fields you mentioned are apt, so why is it that "art" is allowed so often to slip by on only emotion.

And who's? Are the Damien Hirsts just such better marketers and manipulators of the trends of others emotions? Maybe so, along with luck & "gobs of chutzpah"! Mainly, perhaps these types are the result of their times and as such, some do command more than an old master, warranted or not. (I happen to believe there doesn't exist a sports figure worth more than a teacher but...) Will they always? Who knows, except it is what we, now, live with. For me, and probably many others, it hasn't a huge impact on either my painting or my wallet!

The JTTW sort of painters I know are also pretty ADD, and while I am not opposed to things done quickly, these folks don't seem capable of sustaining an idea past the initial burst. We all have those times when the painting flys off the easel wonderfully. But even my limited discipline and basic knowledge helps so much in completing many works. The studies, the 2 hr etudes, I do help. I'm one who likes to work "grounded".

You've touched on so many areas. Art as religion, as mystical. The next big thing for small town economies! Ebay did in antiques malls (think of all the landfills those saved), lets turn it into a gallery! Its the flip side of Polka Dots.

Besides all that hoopla, I'm just looking to strengthen my abilities and craft and enjoy some discussion about the arts.

nystudios said...

Graydon we have talked before about a million dollar prize competition for the best realist art every year. While I still think that that is a great idea, I still don't think it would have quite the effect that we are looking for.

What I have come up with now is more of a painting challenge. Find some respectable gallery willing to host it. The finest realist take on the contemporary crap of the day. You, Jacob Collins, Tim Mensching, well anyone who can draw or paint worth a damn, create an exact copy of a piece by anyone whose work is lacking i.e. Hirst, condo, you name it. Then beside this tower of tampons you have one of your real works, a highly publicized challenge would be issued (purchased advertising space in magazines, billboards,...) and bring the idiocy to the public. Hey, the gorilla girls did it back in the 80's. I would contribute $100 or more to the advertising expense.

graydon said...

The press would find ways to dismiss such a competition. They derided Steven Assael for protesting the Whitney. He was blacklisted.

The three things that would change the art world.

1. A museum which specializes in new realist painting (institution endorsement)
2. a very large prize (public recognition)
3. a separate auction category for new realist paintings at Sotheby's and Christies. (an endorsement by the marketplace)

painterdog said...

Graydon's right, I remember Steven Assael's protest and he did not come off well in the media which made him look like it was just sour grapes.

I remember that they interviewed the
director of the Whitney last and he just dismissed him with the wave of his hand.

I remember thinking this was one brave person taking these people on but that he will be sorry for it.

I did not realize it affected his career so much.

The list sums it up.

I can't believe that story about Mazur, he came to my grad program,
had a nice lunch and said nothing interesting.

He stood on a stage and drew in the air and people took him seriously.

Sad that is very sad, this guy should have been laughed out of the school. So much contempt and ego.

graydon said...

4. There needs to also be transparency in the market. Critics need to be accountable. If they are painters, then they need to be good ones and show their work, and biases. If not, what are their credentials? And, by extension, why is the director of the Whitney qualified to dismiss Assael? Where is his life long body of paintings? What are his reasons?

painterdog said...

To be fair most directors of museums have degrees in art history. As do most curators.

I don't think one could be a good painter and a director of a major institution such as the Whitney and have any time to paint. Same is true of curators.

I think asking them to be accomplished painters is not fair really. I do not think Assael's protest should not have been dismissed the way it was.
That is to be expected from an institution that is based on modernism and steeped in that kind of mindset.

I don't remember his reasons, something to do with the biennial is put together by the curators and that the museum let them put the show together, that there are always artist who will feel left out, or something along those lines.

It's an up hill battle.

graydon said...

I think, I know, its completely fair to require that people who judge art be skilled at painting, drawing or sculpture. Its the only way to understand art on a profound level. If not, one makes the wrong assumptions and asks the wrong questions. Museums in the past were run by artists, as were competitions. In the past, trained artists lionized others who were trained. Today, untrained curators celebrate untrained artists.

I was reading a book on impressionist technique and the author was quoting Baxandall. He has written something on what he called "slant" shadows. This is something completely invented by Baxandall and nonsensical. Had he a bit of drawing he wouldn't try to complicate what ever beginner in drawing know: there are either form shadows or cast shadows; not, slant shadows.

Likewise, the curator from the Whitney would have changed his mind about art if he had any inkling how damn difficult it is to draw a head, much less an entire figure. He would empathize with the process greatly and not think that the drivel that the Whitney exhibits is in fact well made or well conceived. I have had too many students who, once they learned how to draw and paint, have changed their ideas about art. They look deeper and require a higher standard. One simply needs to be highly educated as painter to make informed judgments. Curators and art historians, for the most part, don't know what they don't know. Art history certainly assists artists. Likewise, curators and art historians should be trained as painters or sculptors.

Gunzorro said...

I don't want this taken as belligerent, because it is not, but most of the opening statement here is opinion and a personal interpretation. It's not "rational" or scientific approach. Same to the longer statement further down that begins with, "I think, I know, its completely fair to require that people who judge art be skilled at painting, drawing or sculpture."
I'm all for opening dialogs on opinions of painting methods and styles, but it shouldn't be done as a forum or blog purporting to be technical and beyond personal opinion. That needs to be addressed as opinion and style, and we can have discussion on those sort of points, outside of Munsell or other technical matters.
Just my two cents so we get started on the right foot and avoid misunderstandings later on.

painterdog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
painterdog said...

'm not disagreeing with you Graydon your preaching to the choir.

Museums are now run as big business, the amount of work needed to run a small one would be daunting. I do agree however that some of the education should be about drawing and painting if that is there area of concentration.

I agree the curators could be painters or sculptors, alas as you know the education system is not promoting this kind of thing.

I do think all critics should be able to paint or sculpt if that is what they are writing about.

I don't go to galleries much due to all the crap that is being shown here in Boston.

I have not been to the ICA, I can't go to these places, and yes this is my opinion, they make me angry, raise my blood pressure

graydon said...

You are right Jim, this should not degrade.

However, my point is that curators, and many art historians are naive. This has been my mantra with artists as well. Why not require a proficiency in drawing, painting or sculpture in the name of education? The art that was exhibited would surely be more diverse.

What I do know, not guess at, and this is why I stated it emphatically, is that education always assists decisions. Naivety is never the path to progress. Why would people spend countless dollars on books and advanced courses? Harvard would be pennies if education wasn't valued. This seems obvious in most professions, why not in art and art criticism? (the Whitney biennial, for example, begins with criticism)

So, back to color. As one gets better at color mixing, one simple has a refined vision that the novice doesn't have. One can be completely schooled at administrative work, speech making and accounting, yet not have a deep visual knowledge. The latter seems essential for those running museums, at least those who curate.

Gunzorro said...

If we did a study, we would probably find more MBA's in charge of these positions, than art-qualified people.
I wonder how much influence donors and fund raisers have on the postings of these directors?
I do agree, ideally, you would have people proficient in the fields acting as its authorities and overseers.
Same goes for any career or field of business. Sadly, this is not usually the case. ;)
Keep up the good work.
I'm very glad to see so many artists getting excited and having a place to come to discuss these topics.

graydon said...

Thank you Jim. And I appreciate the warning. I want to follow my own advice and keep focused.

Think about all of your research into color and how it has changed your perception about work in general. Now think about how important that is to your appreciation of others. What I wish is that such knowledge and skill, even in a reduced way, could be a part of the minds of curators and critics. Then, instead of pontificating, there could be reasoned explanation.

I heard a museum docent explain to a group at the Phil. museum that academic painting was bad and impressionist painting was good. Now, had she had a modicum of skill, training, etc. instead of a repertoire of the most tired art bromides, then she could have supported such a statement, or at least offered some variety.