Monday, February 7, 2011

Getting out....

I received this email recently from an accomplished artist who has, of late, been concentrating on other things:

So, is it me, or does most of the art that is celebrated these days look exactly the same? As if it had all been done by the same artist. To me a lot of it looks like oversize candy wrappers leaning against a wall. Colorful. Disposable. Ultimately leaving no trace on my heart or imagination. Really gets me down.

Your talk of staying current and in touch with things momentarily sank my heart as the only thing I am current with is my son's happy success at potty training (and we are happy!). Reading about how you made work on zero time was a welcome relief. I look forward when I can find my way back to that part of myself again.....

If she’s indeed serious about reclaiming her artistic path, and wants my advice, it’s GET OUT OF THE HOUSE! Take little Javier and run to the big city, go to the museums, and check out the galleries (especially Christian Marclay’s video installation The Clock, now at Paula Cooper—for which you’ll probably need a babysitter, but it’s worth it).  Push his stroller through the slush in the East Village.

It’s a lot of work, but kids are portable. I have a friend who lives an hour and 45 minutes outside London, but when she wants to see something, she packs up her three-year-old and the world’s biggest one-year old and gets on the train—last summer toted them to an outdoor rock concert in London on her own. The only thing worse than having to trundle kids around is staying home.

Often what happens to people who have been out of the loop for a while, is that when they finally make the effort to go out and see art, they’re disappointed; they try it again a couple of times, conclude that what they’ve seen is representative, that it all looks the same—and don’t go back, after which, often, there’s no going back. If you’re not in the loop, it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking that your work is more interesting, more current, more of a discovery than it really is.

The fact is that it takes a LOT of looking at art to find ANYTHING that’s really great. You just have to keep going and going and going until it pays off. But even when it isn’t great, it’s the seeing and evaluating, seeing and evaluating, that keeps you sharp, in the moment, so when you do get started again, you won’t be a throwback but an extension of the conversation.

Really, it’s called professionalism, and I’m always surprised at the number of artists who feel they can do without it—yet it always shows up in their work. We cherish this romantic view of artists as loners who, if they will just dig deeply enough into their souls, can come up with gold. But the truth is, all those people who simply want to express themselves make work that all looks the same.  Maybe some people can just splat themselves out there and be interesting, but it’s rare.  Having the idea or the emotion is one thing; being able to successfully develop the language to put it over is another.

In an interview with Paul Klein, Michael Darling, Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago talks about the “idea of an artist being some kind of advanced visual or perceptual researcher… comparable to advanced researchers in, say, medicine or maybe mathematics or physics… [who can] uniquely contribute to [the] tradition and push it forward in a new way.”

In this, Darling is underscoring the seriousness of the pursuit. His emphasis on wanting to see something “new” may disgruntle some, but I don’t think he’s talking about new modes of art as much as new expressions.  If he were to substitute the unfashionable word “original,” it might go down more easily.  

It could be a form as traditional as landscape painting, a blob of bronze…or an earthwork, video or dance. Whatever it is, I want to see something I haven’t seen before, and I’ve seen a lot. I want to be surprised.


Note to students: While I’m emphasizing background here, don’t make the mistake of thinking that your work should look anything like what you see in the galleries. By the time it gets to Chelsea, it’s over. You’re doing the art of the future, and we don’t know what that looks like. Sorry, there are no guidelines; you have to figure it out on your own.

Aki wonders how some of that shit gets into the galleries; I'm mystified too.


Eva said...

I agree with you. Sometimes I can even tell when someone went to graduate school, found their thing and that was it. They stopped looking. And the work sort of stood still. Not long ago I interviewed an artist who said she hadn’t been out much – too busy – hadn’t seen any of the shows that happened right before hers, etc. I find that so wrong. She’s a part of a landscape – doesn’t she want to know what it looks like? It’s not about copying at all. It’s about a conversation.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to come off unkind, but doesn't the "conversation" become just as dull & repetitive like the art that gets shown that looks all the same? I found that once a catch phrase or comparison got going, every artist and art professor were parroting it over and over. It's maddening! And makes one want to take a break from the monotonous "conversation" as well as looking at the candy wrapper art.

martha miller said...

Great post, Carol. What do you make outsider art? (Is Aki your new grandbaby? So Beautiful!)

Carol Diehl said...

Good question!

I like much Outsider Art and, in fact, have been very influenced by it. What I'm talking about here, however, is work that uses the tropes of contemporary art without contributing anything new to it.

Yes, Aki is my new grandson. I was trying to sneak him in in context.

Carol Diehl said...

To "Anonymous" who finds conversations about art boring, I suggest you find new people to talk to. Or change fields.

Hey, wait a minute. You're reading this blog, which is a conversation about art. Do you find it boring? (I assume you're reading it of your own free will, as I've given my henchmen the weekend off.)

Anonymous said...

To be fair, I find your blog to be very interesting to read. Your conversations about art and the art world are not at all boring. This is why I like reading your blog. Your blog is one of the rare ones out there.

gonzales said...

Great post. I do think that it's a balance. Sometimes the art jargon and latest trends of the day need to be counteracted by stepping away and creating one's own problems to solve.

BTW, love your blog. Been a fan for quite some time.