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Be Reasonable

Monday, 13. June 2016 1:19

Worst. Advice. Ever. At least for an artist. Synonyms for reasonable are sensible, rational, judicious, practical, realistic, sound, evenhanded, equitable. None of those sound like any artist I ever heard of.

We are talking about artist behavior; people who are reasonable or any of those other words do not produce masterpieces. But reasonable can be applied to the work as well as the artist. Reasonable art is safe art, and safe art is boring, unlikely to engage an audience beyond the superficial.

So the task is to produce art that is unreasonable, either in subject matter, form, or treatment. People who create that sort of art, art that speaks to people, art that grabs the attention of the public and critic alike are cannot be reasonable. To produce that kind of work takes obsession that laughs in the face of evenhandedness or well-roundedness. To produce that kind of work takes a selfishness and dedication that borders on fanatical.

And that selfishness and dedication result in behavior that is the stuff of stories. There are many stories about what actors will do to prepare for roles, and there are stories about acting methodologies that are considered unreasonable by others in the business. Interestingly, these actors produce some of the best work out there.

It’s not just actors. Bob Fosse is notorious for bad behavior toward nearly everyone because of his single-minded approach to directing and choreography. Stories abound about writers who hide themselves away to write without being disturbed. Picasso and Dali certainly behaved in ways that many people would consider unreasonable. If you were to ask them why they behaved the way they did, they would answer simply that they were being themselves—and most of their beings was tied up in creating. The real artist’s life is not about balance; it’s about spending every waking minute on art.

So the question arises, does being creative give a person license to behave any way he/she wants? It’s the other way round: the creativity does not give rise to the lack of reasonable behavior, rather to exercise one’s creativity to the fullest—to write the great novel, or play, or poem, to paint a masterpiece, to produce an amazing film, to create a great photograph, to choreograph like no one ever has before, to compose a symphony, to act beyond human limits, to transcend in performance—requires such will, dedication, and single-mindedness that all the rest falls to the wayside. Normalcy is not an option because in order to be Tennessee Williams or Bob Fosse or Georgia O’Keefe or Weegee or Picasso or Beethoven or Baryshnikov or Olivier or requires every ounce of focus that a human being can muster. This leaves little room for traditional sensibility or rationality.

This is not to say that if your behavior is unreasonable or not very realistic you will be a great artist. There is no license. Rather, if you are a great artist, or even a good artist, your behavior will likely not be reasonable.

It’s because of the attention that the work requires. It’s because the personality that can spend four years painting the Sistine Chapel, paying attention to every tiny detail and every color and even the smallest bit of the composition spends so much time on the work that he has nothing left for a “normal” relationship or family or any of the thousands of other things that “normal” people deal with.

We are not Michelangelo. Most of us are not even close. However, if we are to do good work, if we are to create art that is important and that lasts, we may find that our art as well as our behavior—at least from the viewpoint of others—may have to be completely unreasonable.

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Addicted to the Creative Process

Monday, 5. October 2015 0:13

Theatre, I often tell students, is a drug. Once you’re addicted, the only choices you have are to keep feeding your habit or go through a very painful and complex withdrawal. Those who succumb often embrace the drug and obsess over it.

This was brought home to me over the last couple of weeks in talking to two different actors about addiction-related matters. One, a method actor, was concerned about a role that he had taken might lead him to a negative mental place. So we spent a couple of hours devising ways to deal with that likelihood, arriving at what I think will be a successful procedure. His vacating the role because it might be unpleasant or even dangerous never occurred to either one of us. One does not simply say “no” to one’s addictions.

The second actor was concerned about how his artistic career decisions, i.e. which roles to go for, which graduate schools to consider might impact his partner, another actor. He said, “I know how I am. Once I start, I won’t stop.” Although momentarily in remission, he’s addicted, and while he might toy with the idea of giving it up, he’s not really serious about it. The relationship will have to accommodate his artistic needs or fail.

There are, of course, other addictions in theatre. There is the fame addiction, which, so far as I can determine has very little to do with anything artistic. There is the “applause addiction.” This is literally the need to hear applause regularly. It has caused some very talented people to break off their formal education and work in the (low or non-paying) semi-professional world instead of forgoing the applause for a time to move into the professional world with a much wider and more discerning audience.

These are not the addictions from which the two actors mentioned are suffering. These actors are addicted to the creative process. They are far less concerned with applause than they are with creating full characters out of a few words in a script and a little direction. Fame is nowhere on their radar. These are people that must do shows to satisfy their creative cravings.

Addiction to the creative process is not unique to actors. All artists seem to have it. Painters have to paint; they will paint with any kind of paint on any surface available. Writers have to write and will scribble on any sort of paper that is about. Photographers will shoot anything any time when the creative fever is on them. Dancers are always moving to whatever music can be heard and sometimes to music that no one else can hear. They’re addicted.

Some will find other things in life to be more important and will go through withdrawal to secure those things. The rest of us, however, will acknowledge our addiction to creativity, recognize that we really have no choice in the matter, and go forward. For many of us that going forward means not only acknowledging our addiction but embracing it. And that means, for some anyway, converting the addiction to an obsession (written about earlier, here and here).

Like most other addictions and obsessions, the need for the creative process will not bring happiness or satisfaction or ease. It will not bring peace of mind. Instead, it will bring a wide range of ever-changing emotions, a constant, sometimes manic, striving, and a sense of purpose. And that’s worth having.

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The Cup Exercise

Sunday, 11. August 2013 23:09

Like many people, I have a coffee cup collection—rather had a coffee cup collection. It was not a conscious collection; I didn’t scour shops for the correct cup to add to my assortment. Instead, it sort of built itself over time: a gift here, a souvenir there, a gimme at a conference. Probably it was much like your collection. But recently, I decided I really needed the cabinet space other uses. Since cups hardly ever lose their utility, I decided to give them away, and as I pulled them off the shelf I tried to think about who, if anyone, might find a particular cup interesting or engaging.

Most of the cups were dated or lacking in potential appeal to my target group of recipients. As I took down one cup, however, I immediately thought, “This belongs to Freddie.” The cup is white porcelain with an enameled rainbow wrapped around it. The rainbow ends in cup-colored bricks with no fill colors. Beside the unfinished structure is a little sign that says “Under Construction.” Why the immediate connection? Freddie (not her real name, of course) is a young, very talented, multi-disciplined artist, who day-by-day is building her future in art—and who also happens to be transsexual. The cup, over 30 years old, was originally an idealistic statement about building a beautiful future. It still is, but because the rainbow now has additional connotations, it has acquired an overlay that both enlarges and modifies that meaning.

The larger thought that came from this exercise is about how art stands up through time, or doesn’t, or, as in the case of this cup, takes on different meaning. It’s worth thinking about, because art, good art, lasts. Good art, while it decidedly speaks to its immediate audience, continues to speak through time.

This is the reason that we make pilgrimages to see the Pietà, or Starry Night, or any number of other works. It’s why we marvel at the photography of Alfred Stieglitz, not because he was able to do such excellent work with such primitive equipment (although that too), but because his images still speak to us. It’s the reason that we keep coming back to stare at The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

Ongoing appeal is certainly not limited to visual and plastic arts; we find it in performing arts as well.  It’s the reason that Jean Anouilh was able to make the story of Antigone have a special significance for the people of occupied France in 1944. (Why the Nazis didn’t pick up on it is completely beyond me—it’s not all that subtle.) And it’s why theatre companies continue to produce the plays of Shakespeare—in a variety of settings, time periods, and styles. Aside from amazing language, the stories and characters speak to people of all times.

There is no guarantee, of course, that the appeal of any of these will continue, but I suspect that it will. And that is because these works exemplify the epitome of artistry and because they continue to touch on issues important to humans and the human condition. Whether an artist can set out to create art that does that and be successful at it is open to discussion, but I doubt it. Those attempts usually come off as abstract and not very engaging. Instead of trying to make “art for the ages,” we should, like all of the artists mentioned above, focus on making the best art we can, very specific art that will speak to our own time and culture.

Some of it may live on.

Category:Aesthetics, Communication, Creativity | Comment (0) | Autor:

Artistic Benchmarks: What Are They Really Good For?

Sunday, 7. July 2013 23:01

Last week, I got into a discussion with the manager of a frame shop about nude photography. It soon became apparent that this man considered nude photography the holy grail of image-making. He may be right. Nude photography is definitely a photographic benchmark. The artistic nude is a difficult assignment, some would say the most difficult type of portrait to pull off. Others, particularly those who work in other photographic specializations, might differ. However, few would argue that while the nude might not be the benchmark, it is certainly one of the big ones.

In the world of theatre, for male actors there are a number of benchmark roles, the title characters in Shakespeare’s tragedies and histories for example. There may be others, but most actors are pretty sure that if they can master the complexity of a Shakespearean tragic hero, they have achieved a recognized level of competence. There may be other roles, but few are as challenging in as many different ways as these very well-known members of royalty.

If both photography and theatre have benchmark activities, I wondered about other arts as well. This week I was out with a couple and asked what they would consider to be the test of ability in their respective disciplines that would be challenging enough to be attempted by only a few and mastered by even fewer. (She is a painter and he is a light tenor; both are professionals.) Without hesitation, she answered, “Nudes,” then went on to say that many artists consider nudes to be “so difficult they won’t even attempt them.” He named a couple of pieces, and explained that for each vocal range and each subdivision within the range (and they are quite numerous) the benchmarks would be different.

A cousin of mine who is equally phenomenal on piano or organ, named several “milestone” pieces for each instrument, some of which were difficult and respected for different reasons.

That’s the thing about benchmarks. There is rarely only one within a discipline. There may be several, one or more for each branch within a discipline. But most artists within that branch would probably agree on the two or three or however many there might be. It’s always material that demands great respect.

Still, artists in all disciplines hunger to perform the difficult pieces, make images of difficult subject matter, attempt the techniques that are the most challenging around. Is it because artists are competitive, even though they may be competing against themselves? Are they driven by the need to join the handful of predecessors who have mastered the nearly-impossible? Why would they waste their time to perform that which is so demanding, rather than that which might bring them income? Why bother?

Luis Galindo, currently performing the title role in Macbeth speaks very eloquently to this issue in a recent article for KCET’s “Artbound.” He talks about the issues that come with preparing for such a role, about his doubts and fears. Ultimately, for him, the work comes to be about artistic growth: “. . . the press will opine, and our fans will cheer or not. Through all of this, one thing is certain: I will have grown in every way as an actor because of this opportunity. An opportunity to mine the caves of darkness for the good stuff.”

In preparing for a benchmark performance, or photograph, or painting, or song, we have to bring our best game, we have to confront our self-doubt, we have to dig deep; more importantly, we have to grow. Otherwise, we will never achieve. And even if we fail, we will have benefited from the exploration and development that preparation for such a project entails.

Once again, it’s all about process.

Category:Creativity, Photography, Theatre | Comment (0) | Autor:

Stepping Into the Unknown

Monday, 24. June 2013 0:37

A recent Brain Pickings article by Maria Popova quotes a number of writers, including Rainer Maria Rilke, John Keats, Debbie Millman, and Anaïs Nin who encourage their readers to embrace the unknown, with Nin proclaiming “the vital importance of allowing for not-knowing in order to truly know the world in its fullest dimension, of using the unknown as a gateway to deeper presence and greater awareness.”

Whether stepping into the unknown is enriching or not, for many artists it is a necessary part of creativity. It’s an area we don’t much discuss. We often think about artists as working from an idea, from a preconception, of from a plan. And certainly some artists do that, but others don’t. Others just take the materials that they have and start fitting the pieces together, start playing, start improvising, and art happens. This is not to say that these artists are working blindly. Rather they are using their materials according to their training and aesthetic to make pieces that satisfy in some way; then they show them to the world, believing that someone will grasp some part of what is going on.

For example, Juri Koll had an opportunity to watch Herb Alpert (musician, painter, sculptor) work. Writing for Huffington Post Arts & Culture, Koll said “The beauty in watching him do it was the fact of allowing things to play out as the materials, surfaces and motions dictate. Nothing preconceived. ‘When I paint or sculpt,’ he [Alpert] says, ‘I don’t have anything in mind. I don’t have a goal in mind other than form. I’m looking for that form that touches me and when I find it I stop.’”

Alpert summarizes his approach on his web site: “Painting and sculpture is very much like music, in the sense that I’m looking for composition, I’m looking for harmony, I’m looking for transpositions. I want the canvas to swing.” His sculptures swing as well;” The Los Angeles Times says they are “like visual jazz.”

Many artists adopt a methodology similar to Alpert’s, although perhaps not so consciously. For some there is planning, and a preconceived notion. For instance, dancers work out the demands of the choreographer. But the choreographers work from a score—the product of a completely different discipline, which provides almost no guidance. Actors work at the suggestions of the director. And the directors work from a script, the equivalent to the choreographer’s score, but the interpretation of that script is unknown territory.

Even the actor, who we normally think of as doing directed work, has to face the unknown. He/she is given the words to say and perhaps some direction as to how to say them, but the real work of the actor, creating a complete human being in front of a camera or on the stage is really a step into the void. The script and the director provide hints, but the movement from self to character requires moving into uncharted space, into areas that are not only unknown but frightening.

No less frightening is sitting down at a computer to fill a blank page with words or create imagery, or leaning over a canvas, beginning a sculpture. And each shift in materials, subject matter, or methodology represents a step into the new and unfamiliar. But we all have to do it. If we are to be really creative and really make art, we must not “grasp for the security of our comfort zones, the affirmation of our areas of expertise, the assurance of our familiar patterns.” We must take a deep breath and step into the unknown.

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Let the Work Take Over

Sunday, 27. January 2013 23:51

It is very common to hear fiction writers talk about characters taking over the novel, play, or short story. Characters, it seems, sometimes go their own way, taking the plot along with them instead of performing in the way that the author envisioned. The writer becomes almost a spectator. For those who don’t write, this may sound a bit silly. After all, who is the one whose fingers are on the keyboard? What is really happening is that the story is taking on a life of its own. It’s just a convenience to blame it on the characters—since that’s often what starts the story moving in a certain direction—perhaps one unforeseen by the author.

Creations do that—take on a life of their own, and it doesn’t matter what kind of creation it is. The same phenomenon occurs in almost all arts. An actor’s performance can rise above expectations on certain nights, reaching emotions and insights never before (and sometimes never after) touched. Even the actor him/herself has no idea how or why it happened. They just treasure the experience, and, if they try to explain it at all, write it off to “inspiration.”

It involves creating in flow (discussed here and in several other posts), which almost removes consciousness from the creative process. But more than that, it involves letting the work take over. It’s almost as if the painting or the collage or the poem or characters start telling you what to do next and how to do it, guiding the artist in the creation.  In extreme cases, the artist is unconscious of what is going on. He/she becomes a tool by which the creation realizes itself.

This process may not be as mystical as it’s beginning to sound. There are, of course, psychological explanations. If you read flow theory, you find that what I am talking about here is perhaps a subset of that or an enhanced version of that. This state certainly shares many of the characteristics of flow, but the “sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity” is missing. The creator seems not only to not be in control, but seems almost to be missing. And the creator is certainly not directing the work on any kind of conscious level.

Jackson Pollock put it this way:

When I am in a painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It is only after a sort of “get acquainted” period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc, because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.

Pollock is not the only artist to have to wait to see what he has been about. An acquaintance, an accomplished sculptor and painter, commented about his own just-finished painting the other day, “Perhaps in a day or two I’ll figure out what I was trying to say.”

This is certainly not to say that all we have to do is sit down at the keyboard, or easel, or wherever we work and art will happen. We all know better than that. Of course we have to learn and practice and investigate and imagine and apply experience. But once we begin a project, we can, with sufficient concentration, move into flow, and then, if conditions are right and we are willing to take a risk and release a little control, we can perhaps move one step beyond to that place where the work takes over. And then we can, like Pollock, achieve that pure harmony that lets the life of the work come through.

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Context Matters

Sunday, 20. May 2012 23:09

Just as mise-en-scène informs the characters and their story in a film, the context in which we view art influences what we think of it. When we view a painting, for example, we not only get input from the work itself, but from the color and texture of the walls, the temperature of the room, the ongoing conversations. We become aware of the adjacent works and note how the juxtaposition of nearby pieces impacts the one upon which we are focused.

If you are one who tries to see a great deal of art, you already know that where you see the art can be almost as important as the art you see. There is a tendency to make certain assumptions about the art based on the viewing space and situation. Different venues generate different expectations and different art experiences. Consider the difference in viewing art at an auction, in a formal gallery, in a casual gallery, in a paint-spattered artist’s studio, in a tent at an art fair, in a friend’s apartment.

Consider too the other aspects of the situation. Is wine being served? In glass or plastic? Is there a crowd? Is there music? Is there lively conversation? Is there conversation at all? Are you alone or with friends? Does the lighting enhance the art? Is it daytime or evening? The list of contextual variables is almost endless.

Environmental factors are not limited to situations in which you might purchase art. There are also museums, each of which provides its own context. Sometimes that context can vary room-to-room or show-to-show. Some shows provide a great deal of solitude which allows you to really contemplate the work. This is very different from viewing art in an environment of timed entry and a docent in every doorway.

Each gallery and museum has its own unique ambiance and thus provides a different context for any piece of art under consideration. The purpose, of course, is to establish a context that will allow you to see the work under what the gallery managers and museum directors perceive to be the best possible circumstances so that you will have a greater appreciation for the work. If you have visited many galleries and museums, you have certainly noticed that some do a much better job at this than others.

Simply put, the environment, the context impacts meaning, impacts perception, impacts attraction. I know a person who saw the Michelangelo’s Pietà before it was put behind bullet-proof glass. He is very pleased to have had that opportunity, since, for him at least, the protecting acrylic diminishes the work considerably. Can anyone really believe that viewing the unprotected Mona Lisa would be the same experience as seeing the painting in its climate-controlled glass case?

Sometimes the context can be more powerful than the art. In those cases we remember the surroundings more than the work itself. Not long ago, a friend and I walked through a gallery that is rented on a per-show basis and can be modified by the tenant. The show that was opening was a photography exhibit that seemed to be very personal to the photographer.  Affixed to the walls above the photographs were somewhat clichéd quotations. The tiredness of the quotes was not the problem; the fact that all but one were crooked was.

After we left, we spent a long time discussing whether the slanting of the words was purposeful or simply careless application. In either case, it framed the environment of that particular show. That this verbal presentation became the topic of discussion rather than the art illustrates again the power of context.

The ambiance surrounding works of art, seeps into the work, and fuses with it. It impacts the work and cannot do otherwise. It’s part of the art transaction that cannot be avoided. The trick then is to be able to mentally decontextualize the work, so that you can be sure that you are actually appreciating the piece, not the context in which you find it.

[This post was originally published in the Gazette that was distributed as part of The Salon Show (February 18- March 24, 2012) at Pop Up Art House in Henderson, NV]

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What’s Important – the Image or the Artifact?

Monday, 23. April 2012 1:28

An acquaintance of mine recently declared that he was going to hang no more prints in his home; from now on it was to be only originals. To me this means that there will be no more lithographically printed images on his walls, but only things created by the artist. It also means that those pieces hanging on his wall will be one-of-a-kind. But I wondered what this person would do with regard to photographs. What constitutes an “original” in photography is open to discussion, if not debate.

Photographic prints do not have the uniqueness that hand-drawn or painted pieces have. This is particularly true of digital prints, which can be reproduced infinitely, with each print being just as good as the previous one. What then constitutes an “original” photograph?

There are several responses to this question. The first is to issue prints in limited editions, a procedure used by many fine art photographers. The number of prints in an issue is fixed, but different series of different sizes or formats may exist. Generally the purchasing public relies on the photographer’s integrity to guarantee the originality and scarcity of limited edition prints they might buy. Some US states have laws that regulate photography editions; some do not.

This procedure is not without its difficulties. One of these came to the fore recently when a collector sued renowned photographer William Eggleston after Eggleston created a new issue of images that had previously been printed and sold as limited editions. The new images were of a different size and printed using a different process. At stake, according to the lawsuit, is the value of the original collector’s images; he maintains that the new issue has devalued the prints he owns.

The problem gets a little cloudier with open editions, that is, editions that are essentially infinite. Then whether it is an original or not usually depends on some rules of thumb, such as whether the photographer actually printed or directed the printing of the image, or whether was it done by someone else or after the fact.

The second response to the problem of original photography is to somehow create a unique artifact. There have been two articles in photography trade magazines in recent months on making encaustic photographs, one about a photographer who uses the process and one how-to article. Even though each piece is based on the same digital print, each is unique because of the manual encaustic process used. Thus each is an original, and some would say much more than a photograph.

There are other solutions. Some photographers, like Gregori Maiofis, make prints using archaic and complicated chemical process which induce small differences print to print. This guarantees that each image in a limited edition is original.

Also recently I had a conversation with an instructor of print-making who had spent an entire semester working with a graduate student developing a process by which photographs could be used as a basis for creating plates for intaglio printing. Since each print is hand pulled and because of the unavoidable variations in every printing, each image would essentially be an original.

On the other end of the spectrum are photographers who celebrate the infinite reproducibility of the digital image.  Counted among the reproducibility advocates are those who appreciate the giclée, a reproduction of a hand-drawn or painted image. Digital files are made from the originals; then reproductions are produced using a giclée printer. Some are accepting of giclées because of their quality; some consider them mere copies. The advantage of any digital reproduction is, of course, that the image can be duplicated in an affordable format.

Money and quality are always issues, but the question really is are you interested in image only, regardless of how it was created, or do you want to own an “original” artifact?

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To Create Brilliant Art, Push Your Imagination to Extremes

Sunday, 11. March 2012 23:51

A friend of mine recently went to see a show in which there was an actor with only five lines. But, she said, his performance was so intense and interesting that she bought another ticket and came back to another performance just to watch him. She described his work as “brilliant.” Some who heard her description of the actor’s performance thought that he had gone to extremes. The same week, I attended a performance which was essentially an exercise in missed opportunities, both in terms of acting and directing. No one connected with the production had gone to extremes.

What compelled my friend’s interest and was lacking in the performance I attended was not just the interpretation of the characters, but the originality and imagination that the actors brought to the roles they were playing. It’s the difference between being competent and being amazing.

This is not so much about a lack of creativity, but rather about an unwillingness or inability on the part of artists to allow themselves to venture into the risky areas of imagination. And this is not just an issue in theatre. In all the arts we find a sort of “this is enough” mentality with regard to creativity. The art reaches an “acceptable” level of imagination and inventiveness and we call it finished.  The result is that much art looks and sounds alike, whether it is acting, directing, painting, photography, or writing.

We have a tendency to work in our creative comfort zone, producing art that will please, and maybe even delight, our respective audiences. Within our comfortable framework we generate work that is clever and innovative. Photographer David LaChapelle says, however, “There’s always clever art being made and there’s always something novel being made and I don’t think that’s enough anymore.

If we are, in fact, artists and not merely artifact production units, we must agree with LaChapelle. Competency, cleverness, and novelty are not enough. We must always be reaching for the metaphor, the image, the idea, the detail, the technique that will move our work from good to outstanding. We must not be satisfied with just producing work that our audience will like and perhaps appreciate; we need to think about taking those extra steps, those risks, that will allow us to create art that is, like the actor’s work mentioned in the first paragraph, so intense and interesting and compelling that our audience wants to experience it again and again.

We must create art that is not just attractive or poignant or meaningful but is strikingly so. Those of us who work in the arts cannot allow ourselves to become complacent, doing what we know works. No matter how uncomfortable it may be, we must be willing to stretch our imaginations to discover new possibilities.  Those of us who teach in the arts must challenge our students to reach for more, to explore their imaginations to the fullest and apply that exploration to their creations.

To be brilliant, we must dare to go to extremes with our imaginations. This striving to expand the limits of our imaginations is not just something that we aspire to, it is a requirement.

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A New Set of Criteria for Contemporary Art?

Monday, 23. January 2012 2:13

How I Became 100 Artists, a TED talk by Shea Hembry, has proved to be very creative, very funny, and, if one considers the comments attached to the video, very controversial.  In his talk, Hembry proposed two criteria for contemporary art:

  1. The Mimaw test. This involves explaining a work to his grandmother in five minutes. If he couldn’t explain it in that length of time, the work would be considered “too obtuse or not well-enough refined.”
  2. The Three H’s: Head, Heart, Hand: the work should have “interesting intellectual ideas and concepts.” It should have “passion, heart, and soul.” And it should be “greatly crafted.”

Although in explaining these criteria, Hembry uses himself as an example, he states that these are the criteria for contemporary art, not necessarily his contemporary art. One wonders then if they apply to contemporary art, wouldn’t they also apply to all other art as well?

Many before have tried to establish criteria for art, and the only theories that could be called successful have been so vague as to be nearly useless or so complex as to almost defy understanding.  The alternative, of course, is to say that art is anything the maker says that it is. I am already on record as being absolutely opposed to this view. Hembry’s criteria are fairly clear and decidedly lacking in complexity, and, on the surface, seem quite reasonable, so maybe they occupy that elusive middle ground in the world of artistic criteria.

The Mimaw Test: If it can’t be explained in five minutes to a grandmother, it’s too obtuse or not-sufficiently refined. Setting aside the issue of what a grandmother might or might not know about art, might not the reason that it can’t be explained in five minutes be that it’s just too complex. I recently saw a video of a person explaining a painting by Picasso. In five minutes, the person managed to discuss all the parts of the painting, but had not yet begun to talk about how all of those parts work together to produce the effect they produce. Another question would be, of course, one that was mentioned last week. Why does the work need an explanation at all? Can’t Grandma decide what she thinks of the work herself without an explanation? What Picasso said about painting can certainly apply to any art: “As far as I am concerned, a painting speaks for itself. What is the use of giving explanations, when all is said and done? A painter has only one language.”

The Three H’s: Head: The work should have interesting intellectual ideas and concepts. The immediate response to this notion is “well, of course.” But there are some artists who are not so much interested in communicating intellectual concepts as they are in communicating emotion or beauty. Fortunately, that is an idea that is still alive and well and far more prevalent than you may think. Even the most cutting-edge artists may be moving into this camp. Consider this recent tweet from Hazel Dooney: “I used to be most interested in art for the ideas behind it. Now I only want to see art that makes me feel something.”

Heart: The work should have passion, heart, and soul. This is a criterion with which I have no argument. Interestingly, this aspect does seem to be absent in some contemporary work embraced by the art establishment. There exist a number of pieces which are merely clever or which are strictly intellectual. These, in my opinion, are lacking.

Hand: The work should be greatly crafted. Again, no argument.  Technical quality is, in my opinion, a requisite for art. The artist’s skill certainly does not need to call attention to itself, but it must be there.

Hembry’s criteria for contemporary art seem to be an oversimplification of a very complex subject. In fact, while they may work for the pieces that make up his biennial, they certainly do not work for the whole project, which is quite intricate. After all, his TED talk, which is delightful but does not explain the entire project in full detail, took over sixteen minutes.

Category:Aesthetics, Creativity, Criticism | Comments (4) | Autor:

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