I’m still ahead of my budget money. This is good. I’m almost $1,000 ahead of baseline, which means I could possibly extend my year of art to 14 months. However, tomorrow I have to do the dreaded Laos visa run, which includes two overnight bus trips, and costs overall about $230, which is nearly half my monthly budget. On top of that I need to get more pages for my passport. Guess what it costs to get a dozen more pages in your American passport. $85. That’s $7 per page. Of course, one sheet equals two pages, so those tiny sheets in the passport are $14 each. I probably don’t need to point out how ridiculous that is. Then, on top of that I am moving, so there’s the cost of moving, and down-payments. Next month I will definitely be well over-budget, though my monthly rent will be about 20% less.
I should succeed in lasting a year without working. That is one objective, and only requires that I be careful with money. But the real objective is that when that time is up I don’t have to go back to working for the proverbial man, and if I do hopefully the seeds I planted in the year will help me one day get back off of the work treadmill, before it’s too late. Any progress in that direction is invisible at this point, because there are no tangible results. In other words, I’m not making any money off of art, and not getting much support at all. It’s a very difficult thing to do without a gallery to promote one, some sort of authority to say one’s work is worthwhile, and if one isn’t doing something like taking wedding pictures (in which case people will automatically buy images), or something that everyone loves like cat or dog paintings. I think I’d prefer working a regular 9-5 job than painting cat paintings. Actually, I know what would happen. I’d find a way of making cat paintings interesting, at which point people would stop liking them. I did enter a contest yesterday, and am otherwise looking into ways of getting real exposure.
Some reflections on who doesn’t like my art:
A lot of people don’t like my art. The main reason is it’s insufficiently conventional. I know, it sounds a bit delusional to blame the audience for not liking ones creations, rather than oneself. But I have some evidence. One of my most popular pieces was something I made to mock the really cheese-ball, cliché-ridden type of work that is supremely popular on Deviantart. So, when I deliberately make something that sucks, people love it. If I make something that requires skill, thought, and some innovation, it falls flat, even if it’s beautiful.
Below is a steaming pile of shit I made to mock popular, lowest common denominator art. It became very popular, until I felt I couldn’t mislead people, and I let on that it was a) a manipulation, and b) a joke.
These sort of silhouette + sunrise/set photos are hugely popular. But they are also extremely easy to fake, because the foreground is just an outline. Many of them ARE faked. This one is faked. I took a picture of a ballerina, made a nice cut-out of the figure, and placed it in the foreground. Same with the pelican. I further Photoshopped the living shit out of the sunrise. But it wouldn’t be complete without some frou-frou, over-sized signature. After a few hours I’d generously created the kind of dreck I really can’t stand. But the tour de force and raison d’être of the piece are the several pieces of Pelican shit on a collision course with girl’s upturned face. People didn’t even see that. The content is mindless drivel that only serves to substantiate half-baked, vague, New Age presumptions.
I could probably make the kind of art that’s popular. Often it’s not that hard, but just a matter of going through the established motions. There are books and tutorials telling you how to do it. If you can incorporate giant moons, put wings on people, have them wear gas masks, and involve dragons, unicorns, or otherwise sweeten your saccharine morsels, it’s a bonus. But what would be the point? I am at the far end of the spectrum from the artist who thinks about what would look good framed above the couch, though that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t hang my own work framed above my couch. Making art for the living room is like making music for the elevator. If I’m going to do that, I might rather go into making door mats.
Artists, if they are to be considered good and worthy, are expected to find a formula, perfect it reasonably well, and then replicate it enough times to constitute a marketable body of work for consumers. This is like being a chef – and imagine you are a good one… You are a chef and then you come up with your own recipe for pancakes. From now on, now that you’ve found and honed your gimmick, you will only make pancakes and related breakfast dishes. French toast might be too far off the mark. You will no longer try to find new recipes or cook with new ingredients. Pancakes are your thing. Finito.
When I was still in art school, my “New Genre” teacher, Paul McCarthy (he pronounced “genre” wrong, with a hard j sound) once raised the question of whether or not Jackson Pollock needed to do more than ten or twelve drip paintings. It wouldn’t be fair to Pollock to say if you’ve seen one drip painting you’ve seen ’em all. But, even staunch fans of Pollock, such as myself, might wonder if it was really unfair to say, “If you’ve seen a dozen drip paintings you’ve seen ’em all”. Paul had a point. He was a conceptual, performance artist, so his angle was that once Pollock had established the style and what it had to convey, why bother repeating himself? It’s the same concept and action over and over. You could try to say that about Van Gogh, or Francis Bacon, but there’s more range for variety in those artists’ styles. For example, they can change the subject matter, whereas in a Pollock painting there is no subject matter at all. So the point here is that even high modernist artists are and were expected to work in one style, even if it killed them.
Back to the main point: my art is not conventional enough. This is because I don’t want it to be. If something has already been done, and done well, than I don’t really see the point in doing it again. For example, there’s no point in making drip paintings like Pollock. I tend to think other people make art for similar reasons as I do, but am surprised to find out that’s often not the case. For me it’s a kind of search, like research, a treasure hunt, panning for gold, or boldly going where no human has gone before (to quote Star Trek). I want to discover something new, not make a variation on something that’s already established. Others try to prove themselves by excelling in an extant style, to demonstrate their worth in an established code as someone who has a place in civilization. I don’t do that. I try to say something valid from my own perspective, and in my own way. What is the use in raising your hand to speak, if you are just going to echo what everyone has already heard, no matter how eloquently your recital is?
Let’s have a look at the 2 pieces I finished in March, and I’ll try to explain why they are not very popular, which is also why they are a bit original, and authentic. Here, people in the know about contemporary art theory will chuckle or bristle. Originality?! Authenticity?! These are “modernist” words, and any contemporary artist worth her or his salt knows these concepts are myths. So let me take just a half minute to dismantle that Postmodern bit of self-defeating, pseudo-intellectual nonsense. Unless the great art, literature, music, and architecture of the past were all copies of originals made by space aliens, the human species has always been capable of originality and authenticity. If you want to go the Postmodernist route, you have to say that Van Gogh wasn’t at all original, and neither was Michelangelo or da Vinci, or anyone or anything that influenced them. It’s almost like a behaviorist model, in which people have no real will or independence. Bullocks! Humans have fantastically succeeded at innovating new art. It is not impossible, but rather intrinsic to our being. We are creative creatures who strive to see what’s around the next corner. If one dryly claims that only the artists of prior centuries could do anything new, and modern man is only capable of making ironic comments on what has been done before or on popular culture (see Andy Warhol), then I want to ask them when the cut off point was, and why. Nobody can answer that question, because there was no cut-off point. Further, something doesn’t need to be cataclysmically ground-breaking in order to be genuine or new.
I admit I am disappointed my recent work isn’t more popular, because I think it’s quite good. But I make art for myself – if I don’t like it how can I expect anyone else to like it – and if I succeed in making something I like, than it’s inevitable that I like it. And if I like it, it’s probably a bit weird and experimental, and not fodder for hotel rooms.
I say the piece above is unpopular because it has only 7 likes here on WordPress, and one of the likes is from a close friend. Consider that I have 1,123 ostensible “followers”. Only 1 out of every 160 followers, and untold thousands of viewers who don’t happen to be followers, actually liked it enough to click “like”. If you take my friend out it’s 1 out of 187. That’s about 0.5% of the supposed audience that “follows” me. That’s not a standing ovation. [Incidentally, the best way to get likes is by liking other people’s work religiously, in which case you can gain a lot of misleading “tit for tat” likes.] On Deviantart the piece has a mere 17 favorites. It has also been rejected by several digital art groups on Deviantart, including ones specifically for digital painting. The reason they reject my work is because it looks too much like a painting, and they haven’t figured out how to do that, but they follow already established trends and criterion, which I do not. In other words, I didn’t do it their way, and even if it’s more convincing as a physical painting, I still didn’t do it their way. It’s like winning a Karate competition without using Karate, then being disqualified as not good enough to fight because you used some other method of fighting.
What is wrong with the picture is actually what is right with it. It doesn’t follow a preconceived idea or execution (such as steam-punk and its particular rules of aesthetics), but nevertheless succeeds on its own terms. The robot would be much more popular if people knew which robot it is. Then they could say, “Look, it’s Robby the Robot in a fight with Godzilla”. They can’t, because I made up my own 50’s style robot. I made up the monster as well. This is like a movie with actors, but no stars. More problems are that it’s gruesome, violent, and bleak, while also being nostalgic, and comic. It’s too violent to be pleasantly nostalgic for 50’s sci-fi art, and too funny to be your standard Alien/Predator brand of sci-fi horror. If you can’t compartmentalize it, it’s not a good thing. There’s no set way to think about it. You have to use your brain. It might help one to know that I’m strongly opposed to violence, even in revolutions, unless it is absolutely necessary. But when it comes to Mixed Martial Arts, I’m drawn to it. One way to look at this image is as an illustration of “mutually assured destruction”.
Also, subtly, it’s fine art. Looks a bit like a comic, but has painterly touches and compositional devices as well as enough ambiguity and symbolism to be within the tradition of fine art. That makes it less desirable as illustration, and vice versa.
Below is another piece that is easy to misunderstand, and also got a markedly, even insultingly disappointing reception. Though, that is in it’s own way, a compliment. Some of the absolute best art I’ve found on Deviantart, for example, is critically unpopular.
The title of the piece is a double-entendre, and that should let you know that it can be looked at from at least two perspectives. Hint: “swell” has a few meanings here, all of which are appropriate.
I really thought this one would be popular with all the people out there who just like T&A. It’s not at all. Something is ruining it, and whatever that is is a good thing. This image challenges assumptions, interpretation, and perspective. At first glimpse one might think it’s a painting of a photo of a bikini contest, if a rather extreme variety of one, and thus about mere titillation. I wouldn’t be surprised if many people were offended, and launched into tirades about the objectification of women and the ubiquitous “male gaze”. However, if they were sophisticated enough to think that, they’d notice little things like the hand on the right reaching out towards the woman’s back (to warn her or try to take off her top?), that the center girl has her hand out in a gesture that says “stop” or “Seig Heil”, that the first woman’s hand in the forefront is clawing the air, or even that there’s an ENORMOUS WAVE looming ominously in the background.
Folks, this is on one level a parody of Youtube culture, such as using anything with a girl’s breasts or ass as the thumbnail for any video one can, in order to get lots of clicks. This is particularly true of “fail” compilations. This is a “fail” because a giant wave is going to probably kill everyone. But it’s not just a joke. It is a critique of what it represents, while also reveling in it. It’s also a very carefully composed image, with beautiful details, such as in the geometry of the yellow and black stripes, and the three shadows of the girls in front. It was additionally a very difficult piece to make. I took the images from Youtube videos, but the girls were not in the same picture together, and the stage was only really big enough for one person to dance on at a time. In my tableaux I expanded it to fit three, and placed them all within it, created an audience, and put a Tsunami behind it. I made up the wave completely from scratch. Same with the clouds. It’s also a beautiful, sunny day, and the Tsunami itself is rather gorgeous. It’s a very large work, and when one looks at the details at actual pixels, you can appreciate the painterly strokes I used (and no, I don’t use a filter for that, but make each stroke individually by hand with a drawing tablet).
Further, as concerns the “male gaze”, that gaze is implicitly in the forefront at stage level. Uh, he has one girl’s butt in his face. The explicit male viewer has the choice of ogling the girls, or fleeing for his life. There’s still more to it, such as why there might be a Tsunami, and that people are going on oblivious to its threat. It’s a metaphor for the human condition at a time when we are past the tipping point of unleashing global warming on ourselves, but we still do business as usual, and that business is mindless frivolity.
As with the other piece, this one has been rejected by digital art groups as not even worthy of being in their amateur collections, and is generally unpopular. I forgot to mention I changed all the colors of the bikinis, and even some of the poses…
Oh well. When a lot of people start liking my art it’s time to worry that I’ve gotten too soft and served up treacle.
The second half
I’ve got 6 more months to make art. In the first 6 months I did a lot of writing about the (Postmodern/Conceptual) big name, big money art I don’t like. That’s partly because I haven’t had a chance since college, until I took time off, to really delve into the world of contemporary art, and I probably needed to wrangle with the dominant art and paradigm of the era. I can’t help it if the main art of our times is Postmodernist exultation in mundanity, with or without irony. I ask you, isn’t it a bit of a stretch to assume that the best art is both shocking AND boring? I’ve got a little unfinished business in dismantling some of the theory or philosophy underpinning that kind of work (stay tuned for my article on “What’s wrong with Postmodernism”), but I’d like to focus now more on the art that I like.
As for my own work, I need to be more productive. I tend to do different sorts of works: major works, minor works, experiments, practice pieces, and stuff that’s just for fun. I think that’s a healthy approach. It’s kind of like the strategy of a baseball team. You don’t just go and try to hit a home run with every swing. Those different sorts of pieces also, uh, cross-fertilize each other, and both the pieces above are hybrids. But I need to be a bit more focused and disciplined to insure I complete a substantial enough body of work to be taken seriously.
I have more to say, but tomorrow I have to go to Laos, so, it’s time to crash.
Forgot to mention that I’m in the middle of three new pieces. So, there will be new work soonish. After I go to another country and back, and move.