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It Took an External Nudge

Sunday, 1. November 2015 23:36

Many of us have multiple to-do lists. Mine consist of day-job lists, theatre lists, photography lists, household chores lists, shopping lists, and others. Needless to say, many of the tasks fail to get done in a timely manner and continue to occupy a place on the list—sometimes for weeks or months. Periodic reviews always result in the same “Oh yeah, that.” And “I need to get to that.” And they continue to occupy a place on the list while newer, more pressing matters get take precedence.

Then something happens and that item soars to the top of the list. Recently I had such an incident. One item on my list was “finish web site.” The project was a complete makeover of my photography site, which, as the to-do item indicated, had not been finished. The major changes were complete and what was left was tedious and time-consuming and not very interesting. So it got put off.

Then early last week I got a text from a friend telling me that she had shown some of my work to a person who came with an impressive set of credentials and who had indicated sufficient interest that she was planning to look at the website later and that she might get in touch with me. Photography inquires had been slow, so this lifted my spirits considerably. Then I remembered that item on my photography list. Quickly I grabbed the nearest device, my iPhone, to check the site—I wasn’t sure exactly where I was in the process of updating. The first thing I saw on the opening page of the mobile version of the site was an error that I had not known was there.

As soon as I could, I sat down at my desktop and began to find and fix first errors and then obvious unfinished work. In just a few hours, I had the site looking pretty good. The errors that had shocked me were repaired in all versions of the site. A couple of galleries had been activated, and some images had been resized. It no longer looked broken or incomplete.

But it wasn’t finished. As I had worked to fix things, I discovered other things that I wanted to tweak—and I will, but at a less urgent pace. The item is still on the list, but it’s priority has shifted because I became aware of what I should have known already—that the web site is all some people know of my work, and, more importantly, I never know who might be looking at it at any time, so it needs to look as good as possible—all the time.

The larger lesson is that an artist should not have to wait for an external nudge to do what needs doing. We teach and are taught that we must learn to create without external validation, that we must be able to evaluate the quality of our own work without waiting for outside praise or criticism. The same thing applies to putting our work out there. Another friend of mine holds that art demands an audience. Given that, we must motivate ourselves to let our potential audience see our best work presented in the best possible way. And we must keep current; we must make it a practice to nudge ourselves.

Category:Audience, Marketing, Presentation | Comment (0) | Author:

Art in Motion, Part 3

Monday, 21. September 2015 0:52

Moving art is not really a new thing. Even moving electronic art is not really a new thing. If you look back into the archives, you will find that there are at least two previous posts about moving art: “Want Art? The Gallery Will Come to You” and “The Medium is Not the Message…But It’s a Big Chunk of the Experience.” These articles discuss installation art, the Cinemagraph, a term which has now been trademarked, s[edition], an on-line gallery of high-profile artists that will “sell” you limited edition moving electronic art, and some others as well.

Most online moving art is in GIF format, although some, notably the pieces on s[edition], are in MP4 format. Within these two formats we find that the moving art world divides into genres, or types, based on visual treatment. The range is amazing; it includes the Cinemagraph, a still photograph with subtle motion in certain specific areas of the images to full animations lasting up to a minute. All of these images are looped so they run continuously and seamlessly.

Among the animated genres, one of the most innovative is the Cinemagraph (described above) but there are many others. There are geometrics that morph into other geometrics; there is animation of Escher images and Escher-like images; there are images that change colors; there are short cartoons. Whether subtle, isolated movement or full motion, there are levels of sophistication. Some are very sophisticated; others are not. And some artists manage to combine simplicity and sophistication and produce works that are elegant (in all of the meanings of that word).

Some moving art tells a story, sometimes “in [only] one second;” other pieces are attempts to convey a feeling or a way of seeing. For example, legally blind artist George Redhawk, whose work has become so influential that there is now a technique of GIF animation called “the Redhawk effect” says that he was, at first, attempting to communicate the confusion he experiences with his vision loss: “not enough data getting sent to the brain, and it tries to fill in the blanks with false information, so you can’t trust what your eyes or brain are telling you.” Some make a statement or provide commentary, such as Michael Green’s “Balloon Dog Deflated” based on Jeff Koons’ “Balloon Dog.”

In the last couple of years, moving electronic art in all types and formats has seen a huge surge in popularity. There are now numerous web sites devoted exclusively to moving electronic art. Some embrace all sorts of animated art; others specialize in one genre or another. A Google search for “gif art” or “cinemagraph” will result in millions of hits and allow the searcher to discover the range and depth of this blossoming area of digital arts. Not only are there numerous web sides, there are even contests for animated art, such as the recent Motion Photography Prize co-sponsored by Google and Saatchi Gallery.

Also in the last couple of years, new tools have been developed making it easier for artists to create moving art. Some of them specific to types of moving art, for example there is software designed specifically to create Cinemagraphs. Some are improved GIF editors, both in web-based versions and stand-alone programs. Some are MP4 editors. And some designed for other uses have been repurposed. George Redhawk uses software designed to morph one image into another both for morphing and for adding unusual motion to his surreal and fantasy images.

The inevitable next step, attempting to monetize moving art, has already begun.

Why should we be concerned about this new art form? Just for that reason: it’s a new art form, and from what I’ve seen it is definitely worth knowing about. The big reason, of course, is now that we know about it, some of us—particularly those already working digitally—may want to try out some of the newer software and bring our own ideas to this new means of expression.

Category:Creativity, Originality, Presentation | Comment (0) | Author:

Honing Your Edgy

Monday, 10. August 2015 0:12

Edgy, in terms of art, is one of those words that fall into the I-can’t-define-it-but-I-know-it-when-I-see-it categories. Since the term has come up in conversation recently, I thought I would seek some definitions. Here are a few: “new and unusual in a way that is likely to make some people uncomfortable;” “Applied to books, music, or even haircuts which tend to challenge societal norms and reveal the dark side. Cutting edge;” “things, behaviors or trends which are provocative or avant-garde.Edgy seems to have connotations that go further than those associated with cutting edge, generally defined as “forefront; lead.”

Both Charles Bukowski and Edward Albee have been called edgy, and both have earned that label. Albee has always exceeded contemporary norms for playwriting. When Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? hit the stage in 1962, much of the talk was about how edgy it was; when it was released as a film in 1966, it was considered to be “pushing the envelope both in terms of language and content.” When the play was revived on Broadway in 2005, some of the language was updated, e.g. “Screw you!” changed to “Fuck you!”—probably to reflect the times and keep the play as edgy as it could be 43 years after it was initially performed.

Bukowski, so far as I can determine, did nothing that was not edgy. In fact, edginess seems to have informed almost everything he thought or said publicly. For example:

When you flip the pages, nothing but butterflies, near bloodless butterflies. I am actually shocked when I go through this magazine because nothing is happening. And I guess that’s what they think a poem is. Say, something not happening. A neat lined something, so subtle you can’t even feel it. This makes the whole thing intelligent art. Balls! The only thing intelligent about a good art is if it shakes you alive, otherwise it’s hokum.

Bukowski was talking about poetry in a magazine he had run across, but he could have been talking about any form of art. While Albee is much more reserved in the advice he offers, Bukowski encourages, almost demands that artists be edgy: “Let’s allow ourselves space and error, hysteria and grief. Let’s not round the edge until we have a ball that rolls neatly away like a trick…We must let the candle burn—pour gasoline on it if necessary.”

So what, if anything, does that mean to the individual artist? An artist certainly does not have to produce edgy work. An artist can produce work with very round edges if he/she wants. Some would say that Thomas Kinkade did exactly that and made a great deal of money in the process. Again, such an approach is not limited to painting or poetry or any particular medium; it rather is a philosophy of what art is really about and what it should do.

If an artist decides that he/she agrees with Bukowski and really wants to produce work that will be avant-garde, provocative and perhaps dark, it is certainly his/her prerogative. The trouble is that when the artist steps completely out of the safe zone and goes too far, he/she can lose any potential audience. And that is a risk some artists are willing to take. But if an artist wants to produce edgy work and still have an audience, then he/she will have to produce work that goes almost too far.

Deciding how far to go and still produce honest work can be challenging, but worthwhile. For example, in the past my photographic work has tended toward the subtle; recently I have begun to experiment with edgy. Whether these experiments will alter my overall body of work remains to be seen, but I have certainly found the experience valuable. Based on that, I would encourage you to give  a try, or at least think about giving it a try. Of course, the most difficult part will be deciding how far to go and exactly where the line is between too far and not far enough.edgy

Good luck.

Category:Audience, Creativity, Photography, Presentation | Comment (0) | Author:

Art Must Be Important

Sunday, 14. June 2015 23:46

Tennessee Williams, in an interview with James Grissom, said “Of course art should be about something big. Something terribly big must be at stake. I don’t see this anymore. Our art is becoming terribly polite and apologetic, much like us. It slinks away like a sagging breast, empty of milk or promise or comfort.”

If you have read or seen the plays of Williams, you know that “something big” does not necessarily mean big in the sense of news or nations. He really means big in terms of the human condition, or big to the playwright himself or his audience. We might substitute the word important and be closer to what Williams really meant. Something really important must be at stake. Art should be about something important. Absolutely.

If something is important, it generally means that the artist feels strongly about it. And if the artist feels strongly he/she may create art that has sufficiently strength to offend someone. Sadly, society has, at least in the US, come to believe that not being offended is a right. Williams did the interview in 1982; if anything, it’s worse today—at least in some parts of the country.

If you haven’t run across this issue, you only have to look as far as your local collegiate theatre department. Those of us in educational theatre deal with this every day; for example, we worry about how the plays we select will be received, not in terms of message or in terms of artistry, but in terms of offense to certain segments of the audience. You may find that silly, but when funding relies on public monies and when administration is sensitive to community complaints, it becomes a real concern.

This also happens in the commercial sector. I recall several discussions with independent producers who are constantly self-censoring their selection of material because of concern with offending sponsors and potential donors.

And it happens in arts other than theatre, both in educational and commercial sectors. A friend who is a photographer recently had two pieces rejected by two different galleries (which had previously shown his work) as “too controversial.” There are many artists, visual and otherwise, who would love to hear that their work was too controversial; it would be validation that they were doing the right thing with their art, that their art said something, that their art was important. The downside, of course, is that the work doesn’t get shown, at least in those venues who eschew controversial work, which is the majority of venues.

So we self-censor; a multimedia artist told me recently that she modifies her content based on whether she is making the work to sell or for herself. Williams would not have approved; he railed against self-censorship in the same interview: “When did we become so small and so apologetic? Why do we apologize for our humanity? Love what you love, and make no apologies. This is your identity. The most horrendous suspensions of freedom are self-imposed. We imprison ourselves daily, hourly.”

Admittedly, it’s much safer to make trivial, non-controversial art, but perhaps safe is not the best choice, at least if we think even a little like Williams. We need to quit making polite, apologetic art and instead have the courage make our art about something important.

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Where is the Line?

Monday, 9. February 2015 1:10

Some artists have been told in school that their work is “too commercial.” Some have been told their work is “not sufficiently polished,” which is another way of saying that it is “not commercial enough.” Ultimately, most artists do what they want to do and try to express their inner vision. But somewhere down the road, they decide that selling to an audience wider than friends and family seems desirable, and unless they have already established a practice that produces salable artifacts, they may be faced with the decision on which direction to take their work. Advice is always forthcoming—often from many directions and with zero consistency.

The questions confronting an artist in that situation are always which direction, if any, to go and how far. And exactly where is that line that indicates that he/she has gone too far?

These are questions that producers of both film and the theatre know well, as do other theatre and film artists. Playwrights, actors, and directors all want to do edgy work. If the work is too bland, it won’t be appealing to the artists. On the other hand, general audiences want material with which they are comfortable, and that usually means less edge. If the audience gets too much edge, they close their pocketbooks.

One might think that the solution is to find a niche audience, and that does help for some artists, but regardless of the size or specificity of the interests of the audience, these questions must still be answered.

These questions are just the beginning; others follow: how much, if any, am I willing to change what I’m doing? Will the potential change still allow me to say what I need to say? Will it allow me to better say what I have to say? Will a change really benefit me as an artist? Am I selling out?

Of course “selling out” is not really selling out. What it really means is “trying to reach a wider audience.” This sometimes means the artist modifies what he/she does in order to do that. This happens often with bands. The band signs with a label and suddenly are faced with the prospect of a larger audience. They play larger venues. They record in a different studio with a different producer. They may develop different concerns. Somehow their work is no longer “pure” in the eyes of their old audience. The band probably thinks it is just trying to reach more people with its music.

And the ultimate question, of course, is “where is the line?” and that is a question with many dimensions: where is the line that separates “real” art and “commercial” art? Where is the line between “real” art and self-indulgence? Where is the line between staying true to oneself and “selling out?” Where is the line between “just enough” and “too much?”

Like film and theatre producers, the individual artist who is interested in selling art must try to determine where that line is, or if the line even exists. And then, of course, comes the question of whether that artist wants to approach the line or just stay where he/she is. Maybe that depends on why the artist is making art in the first place and how widely he/she wants that art distributed.

Only the individual artist can answer. Where are your lines?

Category:Audience, Presentation | Comments (1) | Author:

The Art of Transition

Monday, 1. December 2014 0:32

As I was listening near the end of an older Stephen King novel (Yes, I am addicted to audio books), I realized that King is, among other things, a master of the transition. He knows when and where to put them and, more importantly, how to make them work so that the reader is moved from one place/time/idea to another seamlessly and unnoticeably. As I think about it, it is one of the things that makes King so very readable (or in my case, listenable).

Whether he/she works in fiction, non-fiction, essay, or poetry, every writer is (hopefully) aware of the transition and the attendant difficulties. The good writer does exactly what King does, move the reader smoothly and effortlessly from one place/time/idea to another. And if those transitions can be made invisible, or at least transparent, so much the better. Anyone who writes seriously knows how difficult that is.

Mulling over King’s ability, it occurred to me that all artists have to deal with transitions. Certainly composers do; they must move the listener from one section of their music to another. Likewise the instrumentalists and vocalists who interpret that music must make those transitions as well. Similarly, all theatre artists (playwrights, directors, actors, set designers, lighting designers) must do the same thing in moving from one scene to another, one stage picture to another, one look to another. And certainly filmmakers (directors, editors) must master transition: not only must the dramatic units transition, but the camera shots must transition as well, and on a much more frequent basis

All this talk of transitions make sense in arts that take place, at least from an audience perspective, in a time sequence, but what of other arts? At first I thought that transition was a function of story or argument, then I realized that it exists in non-narrative art as well.

My own photographic work is an example: most of my recent work is gridded abstract collage. Even though these pieces fall into the category of meditation rather than story images, there must be transition between the pieces in the grid or the overall piece will absolutely fail. Likewise there must be transition between the parts of any visual or plastic composition. While each part may be interesting in itself, those parts must relate to each other and to the composition as a whole to tell the story or complete the meditation. Thus the transitions can make or break any piece art.

Given their importance, a reasonable expectation would be that transitioning would be taught in arts schools of all varieties. My experiences is that it isn’t. And when I read about art technique, I seldom find it mentioned. The single exception is film editing/directing, where it is not only taught, but the methods have names. It is as if once those of us who are not film editors or directors get out of those freshman composition classes, it is presumed that we know all that we need to know about transitions.

And that is not the case. Sometimes we find the piece that we are working on isn’t coming together the way that we want it to, and are not sure where to look to correct the situation. We would do well to look at the transitions, particularly if the work seems inappropriately fragmented or lacking in cohesiveness. In more cases than you’d think, that’s where the problems are, and so that’s the place to start repairs. Perhaps we should even take a little time out to study and learn how to transition better. After all, anything that results in better work is time well spent.

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Brain Clutter and Ambiguity in Art

Monday, 17. November 2014 0:52

In his book Making Sense of Movies, Robert Henry Stanley says that Americans don’t like ambiguous endings on their movies. And he’s right. A number of Americans (and probably people of other nationalities as well) dislike ambiguity, particularly at the end of movies. Talk to any three people about the ending of the movie Inception. Indeed, if you plug “Inception ending” into Google, you get 36,000,000 hits, so something must be of interest there.

This is one of the reasons that many audience members are troubled by the endings of Edward Albee’s plays or what are perhaps the most ambiguous of the arts, abstract painting, sculpture, photography.

None of this is new and interesting; we all know that some people don’t like ambiguity, and some people don’t like abstract art, and many of us have formed opinions as to why that is, often citing lack of sufficient education. However, there is a new and interesting development in this area; it is two related studies done by Antonio Chirumbolo, Ambra Brizi, Stefano Mastandrea, and Lucia Mannetti. This psychological research team reports that that “people with a strong need for cognitive closure—that is to have quick, definitive answers to vexing questions—are less likely to appreciate abstract art.”

Even more interesting is that one of the studies suggested that the “desire for certainty is a constant for some people, it can be induced in others,” which means that “if environmental cues are unwittingly prompting this mindset, they are effectively making people less open to abstract art.”

And what does all that mean to us? If we are artists who produce abstract art or who produce art that leans ambiguous, we need to be worried about how that art is presented to our audiences. We can probably do nothing about those who have an inherent need for closure, but we need to be concerned about the state of mind of everyone else in our potential audience, and that means the environment in which our art is shown.

The study showed that if and when there are too many distractions, tolerance for ambiguity is reduced, so ambiguous art becomes “unpleasant and displeasing.” Pacific Standard Magazine reports “’Curators of exhibitions of modern and abstract art should take into account environmental factors which may induce greater need for closure in visitors, and thus negatively affect viewers’ implicit evaluation of the artworks,’ the researchers write. Anything that reduces viewers’ cognitive load, from simple-to-navigate galleries to clear, understandable explanatory labels accompanying the works, will help.”

Except for the in-gallery or lobby bar dispensing alcoholic calmness, there is little to be done if audience brings their distractions with them in the form of long to-do lists, or emotional turmoil. But if our ambiguous, abstract work is to appeal, it would be well to find a way to reduce those internal distractions.

Practically speaking, if we are in the business of trying to have our work seen and perhaps purchased, in the business of tribe-building, then this information is invaluable; potential patrons may not be able to like our work simply because of the environment. Solutions may not be readily apparent or easy to implement, but just knowing what is going on in the minds of some of our potential audience can lead us to explore new paths and find new venues for our work.

Category:Presentation | Comments (1) | Author:

New Wine

Sunday, 19. October 2014 23:04

It may be that you have never even thought about photographic formats, and you probably did not expect to be reading about them today, but a recent experience caused me to think that there may be something valuable to be learned from them.

Those who know my photographic work know that I do abstract work, much of which is sort of a photographic collage that assembles separate images of parts of a subject into a new image wherein the relationships between the parts are changed. In order to present these ideas I often arrange the images in a variety of gridded structures which allow me to examine and modify those relationships.

Let me hasten to say that I do not believe that there is anything wrong with the single-image square or rectangle (in any number of length-width ratios). Many photographers would never consider using anything else. I use them myself, but for this recent work, more complex formats provide a better structure.

This gridded structure was what I had in mind as I began work on my latest project. The photo shoot was challenging and quite lengthy, and I recall thinking at one time that the subject matter was unlike anything I had ever done before. I did not realize how different until I looked at the images in LightRoom.™ As with almost all of my shoots, there are a few images that I want to print just as they are, with no collage, no restructuring. And in this shoot, there were those. However, among the other images the potential relationships that I am used to seeing and restructuring were not there.

My first response was something close to panic. I had no idea what to do. Once the panic subsided, I realized that I would have to find new ways to deal with this material. This subject matter and the formats I had thought to use were simply not a fit; existing structures, at least those in my repertoire, would not support this imagery. What to do?

Take a flying leap into the unknown: create  new structures. Find new ways to talk about the relationships of the parts. Think not just out of the box, but out of the warehouse.

This could have been devastating. Instead it was exhilarating. The old structures were comfortable and provided a known framework on which to hang images and ideas. But this material demanded otherwise. New forms were necessary to allow the communication of the ideas and emotions I was going for.

So I set out to develop new structures, new ways to present the material, and I am still developing. It is definitely a work in progress, and currently I am at the stage where I don’t like much of anything that is “completed.” So I have decided to let images sit for a time before I go back to them for editing or reconfiguring or trashing and starting over. But since I can’t quite let go of the project, I am using that “dead time” to write about it.

The lesson? Regardless of our medium (it is not such a big jump from photography to other arts), we must not confine ourselves. Yes, sometimes it is both comfortable and exciting to work within the confines of a given form, to find the limits or to find variants of those forms that might work better for certain subject matter. But sometimes even a complete reworking of old forms won’t do the job. Sometimes, the structure of the containers themselves must be different in order to reflect the uniqueness of the subject matter. Perhaps we may even want to consider new forms and structures every time we do a new project. New wine requires new bottles.

Category:Aesthetics, Creativity, Presentation | Comment (0) | Author:

Art or Masturbation?

Monday, 22. September 2014 0:54

If one is to believe Susie Hodge and Jackie Higgins, authors of Why Your Five-Year-Old Could Not Have Done That: Modern Art Explained and Why It Does Not Have to Be in Focus: Modern Photography Explained, respectively, a significant portion of “modern” art is little more than artistic masturbation. These writers certainly do not say that; what they do say on page after page is that much recent art has been produced for the entertainment and pleasure of the artists and those few who are knowledgeable enough to get the joke. Additionally, that art which is not meant to be an inside joke, does little more than make an obscure comment on the contemporary art world, or the medium, or the audience. Such comments are just another form self-referencing self-pleasure.

And the comments can be mean-spirited. One artist is said to create work “to satirize…the inflated esteem for traditional materials…to mock viewers for their acceptance without questioning…to ridicule artistic conventions and snobbery.” Now all of that may need doing, but when one reads it over and over and over again, it’s not just a single artist attacking the current state of art, it’s a trend. And on top of that, many times the artist’s intent is so inwardly-directed that it has to be explained.

The artistic inside joke, and art produced for the entertainment and pleasure of the artist and a close circle of like-minded friends is not new. Remember Marcel Duchamp? However, Jed Perl in his review of Jeff Koons: A Retrospective makes the point that Duchamp, the “inventor” of the readymade, meant Fountain as personal and private joke—a comment on the art world certainly, but probably not intended for exhibition. That is a very different sort of thing from the gaggle of artists producing and showing work simply to be able to pleasure themselves with a sly giggle.

And what gives them pleasure is the self-reflexive, the inside-inside joke or comment: “photography that is about photography;” paintings and sculptures which are comments on the art world wherein they exist and nothing else; plays about doing plays; movies about making movies; books about writing books.

There is certainly nothing wrong with writing or painting or photographing material that is self-reflexive. There is, however, at least in my mind, a problem when the work of art does not reflect or comment on its world in a way that a potential audience of non-insiders might understand, when it serves merely to entertain the maker and those three people who “get it.”

Certainly there are artists who are commenting on things outside the art business, but sometimes it seems that the ones who are making the money are the ones who are participating in the inside jokes. Perhaps because those who support the arts with their dollars want to be in on the joke, so whether they get it or not, they buy a couple of tickets, or a painting, or a piece of sculpture, thereby proving that they’re “in the know.”

Wanting to be in on the joke is a very different thing from actually appreciating or understanding a piece of art. As Perl points out, those who hail Koons as “the high-gloss reincarnation of anti-art” likely do not “know what anti-art is all about.”

It seems to me that while inside-joke art is interesting, and even apropos of the current situation of the arts, it’s cheap. It’s masturbation. It enables the maker and his/her inner circle to be privately funny and sly and ironic at the expense of everyone else. And more often than not, it is the obvious joke, the easy joke that allows the artist to avoid dealing with a broader world, doing real work, using real imagination, making real art.

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The Illusion of Simplicity

Monday, 8. September 2014 0:47

This post started with the thesis that good art is complex, which often means has many layers or many interactive parts. Some who agree with this position will talk about how much they enjoy discovering the intricacies of a piece, which increases their appreciation of the work.

Then two things happened: (1) during a conversation with an actor about the difficulties of producing the musical, The Fantasticks, the actor said, “But it has to look simple.” I said, “Yes it does.” What I thought was, “It always should; it should look effortless.” (2) At a juried art show reception that same week, I found myself looking at a stunning black-and-white land/seascape of the Galveston estuary. Another photographer was telling me, “He [the photographer who made the image on the wall] has been moving toward minimalism for a couple of years now.” Minimalism had not figured into my theory concerning complexity as a necessary characteristic of quality art. These incidents taken together caused me to rethink the whole idea, resulting in a new question: If complexity is one of the marks of quality art, then how does one explain Minimalism and similar sorts of work?

The answer came with the realization that the word complexity can have two applications in reference to art. (1) It can be apparent complexity, as in a work with many facets and/or layers and parts that interact on many different levels. This is the sort of complexity you might find in the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, Salvador Dali, or Jackson Pollock. (2) Complex can also be used to describe the process by which art is produced. American filmmakers, for example expend great effort to hide the artifice by which their work is created, opting instead—at least in most cases—for a story that is easily digested by the audience, allowing that audience to concentrate on the characters and the plot without having to be concerned with how difficult it was to create that seamless narrative.

And this second meaning of complex applies to some things we have already mentioned. We will work very hard to make not only The Fantasticks but any play, no matter how complex, look effortless, for much the same reason as the filmmakers. This is true of nearly any performing art; all seek to hide the difficulty of the task by employing the highest levels of expertise. Both performers and those behind the scenes do what they do with an apparent ease that belies the unending planning, training, preparation, and rehearsal.

Even though we think of them differently, visual and plastic arts are much the same. The photographer who made the piece mentioned above did not do so by simply setting up his camera in the grasslands and snapping the picture. If you are familiar with photography, you realize that this image was the result of a great deal of planning, better-than-competent execution, skilled post-processing, and expert printing, all so the result would be precise, clean, and minimal.

Whether it is a Buddhist raked rock garden or Donald Judd’s 100 untitled works in mill aluminum, the creation of such apparently simple things requires enormous imagination, planning, and expertise. But, just as in Hollywood films, the artifice is hidden.

So it turns out that good minimalist art, or any art that appears effortless or visually simple may not be simple at all; nor was it produced easily. The complexity and the effort are just hidden. If you’ve ever tried to this kind of work, you already know: simplicity is an illusion.

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