Everyone is an artist, and anything and everything is art (except painters and paintings)!
Words have come to mean, if not their precise opposite, something quite different from what is or was in the dictionary.
- Literally now means figuratively (ex., “It was literally raining cats and dogs!”).
- Random means all sorts of things, like cool, surprising, new, unusual, and unexpected, or a stranger, but it doesn’t mean at random or randomly (ex., “I saw some random person coming out of a random building” and “It’s so random!”).
- Privilege now means poor and white.
- Inclusivity means excluding one group of people with a vengeance.
- Artist now means anti-aritst, and any kind of creative enterprise with the exception of competent drawing and painting.
It all strikes me as a kind of 19-year old mentality. You are just out of high-school and rebelling, as young adults do, against your parent’s generation and whatever they believed in. America is no longer the greatest country in the world, it’s the WORST! Cowboys aren’t the good guys, they are evil incarnate, and the Indians are angelic vegetarians living in harmony with nature. Heterosexuality is an eons-old-plot crafted by toxic masculinity to oppress women. In short, whatever is the norm or accepted or considered basically decent is now rejected as anathema. The founding fathers are all racist scum! Christianity is the Devil! Science is a subjective tool of oppression! [Update: The above are NOT my opinions, they are examples of young-adult, rebellious, oppositional stances against whatever is accepted, represents authority, or is what their parents believed in.]
Yeah, and then as the decades of life accrue you might grow out of just flipping things around and declaring yourself woke. You might remember that some Indians scalped people, and, well, that must kinda’ suck for the victim, even more than a bad hair day. You might travel to another country and be shocked by the actual patriarchy, shocking working conditions, and ostentatious displays of governmental corruption. You can’t just flip the coin and say, “No, THIS is the absolute truth”. The coin is revealed as perpetually spinning, and on its third side.
If you think you are woke, well, then you must have just woken up. When you are awake for a while things get much more complicated, and easy answers become grotesque reductions. If someone is absolutely sure about something and ready to kill or die for it, they probably just haven’t looked at the other side at all. Who, in their 50’s, thinks they had it all figured out in their twenties? Not someone who kept learning and evolving.
I’m an artist (or was) in my 50’s, and I’m presently doing a bunch of training and leveling up my skills. I’ve been doing it for around a couple months. I almost always work on my skills, but right now I’m making a really concerted effort. Someone half my age who writes woke text on a sticky note and smacks it on a wall is a realized artist, and I’m still a work in progress. Similarly, they’ve unveiled the mysteries of the universe and know what’s really wrong with the world, and they have the solution. I’m still revising my working conclusions.
Congratulations if you made it through that preamble. So, recently I watched another video from PBS’s Art Assignment. Those videos mostly piss me off, and yet they are so seemingly upbeat, generous, inclusive, and all around nice. The general problem I have is that the host, Sarah Urist Green, subordinates art to a sociopolitical agenda. That is totally normal in this millennium, and was what I was taught in grad school as well.
Green is, for example, “dubious about beauty” but gung-ho for identity politics. When in history would we prefer that beauty in art was completely subservient to contemporaneous politics? Do you give a shit what Beethoven’s politics were? Well, let’s all be dubious about music sounding good, and let’s focus on viewing music through a contemporary moral lens. If you subordinate art to politics, or economics, or religion, your art criticism is going to suffer really a lot. You will think things like that skill and beauty are less important in art than is the artist’s race, gender, and opinions about political topics. You will conclude that everyone is born an artist, everyone is an artist, and anything and everything is art.
Their latest video convinced me that I am no longer an artist. The new definition doesn’t fit, and is kinda’ the opposite of me. I might even be a bit ashamed to be an “artist” now.
Let’s find out what an artist is today, and more importantly, what an artist isn’t. Here’s the host’s definition.
You are an artist as long as you are making things you or anyone else might consider art, and I draw my art boundaries really widely.
That sounds fantastic. I’m just going to point out here that THAT does not apply to any other discipline. Obviously you aren’t a scientist just because you have your arguments for why the Earth is flat. But, let’s go for something much more close to art, but which would sound equal parts cringy and ludicrous.
You are a dancer if you or anyone else thinks what you do is dancing.
If that still doesn’t strike you as ridiculous, perhaps you’ve seen some of the auditions for American Idol.
You are a singer if you or anyone else thinks what you do is singing.
Essentially, art is so subjective that no matter how bad you suck at it, if you think you are the real deal, than it’s true. Any objective sorts of standards (other than rabid political preconceptions) be damned!
But let’s continue with her examples:
Art doesn’t need to be one of the major disciplines like painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, ceramics, or the like. Those things are certainly art and I like them, too.
Uh huh. This sounds a bit sensible, but, what else could she say, that those things aren’t art? I consider meat, vegetables, fruit, and dairy all to be food, too. But what I’m really interested in is paint chips, library paste, insect larvae, algae, cockroach milk, and dung. It’s what she considers relevant art that we are really discussing. What is the art that matters?
But for me art is also a bicycle wheel
She threw down the gauntlet right there and showed the other half of her ideological package. Contemporary art theory is about equal parts concentualism and radical politics. She’s talking about Duchamp’s bicycle wheel on a stool, and it’s her first example. Note that Duchamp famously stated that he wanted to kill art as religion had been killed. He wanted to replace imagery and the artist’s visual imagination with an inert, aesthetically uninteresting, crushingly banal thing. This somehow isn’t really clear to people. His “readymades” are to visual art what a stack of paper is to the novel. It’s not a language and communicates nothing. He is the anti-art, snake-oil salesman extraordinaire. I’d like him more if he didn’t bore the living crap out of me. Point is, she started her list off symbolically with anti-art.
plants growing on a form
I have one rule about music: if it literally (and I’m using the word correctly here) hurts my ears, I’m not going to give it a chance. Well, when it comes to visual art, if it hurts my eyes to look at it — and I can’t stand looking at a naked bulb — than I’m not going to look at it. Yes, I’ve seen Dan Flavin’s arranged fluorescent bulb “sculptures”, they hurt my eyes, and I walked out of the room in a huff.
If your music is so crappy nobody will listen to it, rebrand it “sound art” and it may be so important that people write about it (even if nobody will actually listen to it, especialy more than once).
Even or especially if it’s condescending condensation (her pic was of water droplets accumulating inside a glass cube on a pedestal). Hey, man, my shrimp tank is way the F more interesting than THAT! I’ll share it in a future post.
Who needs a rock concert when you can just have the colored smoke!
Someone tell Dick Cheney!
a giant crater
I got dibs on underwater volcanoes. I know that’s a James Turrell piece, folks. Yeah, yeah, Earth art, the Spiral Jetty, the boulder at LACMA (I think it’s called “Levitating Mass” even though it’s sitting on something).
an arrangement of hanging panels
Or hanging anything, really. You hang anything in a row from the ceiling and it’s automatically art, I don’t care what it is. The more trivial or offensive thing you try to think of, the more seriously it will be taken. Remember, we are trying to go against everything that you would instinctively think was good. I’m going for used jock straps after a football game because, well, I have no desire to see or otherwise partake of such an installation. The worse it is, the better it is.
and a bench that moves when you sit on it.
Well then we really need to include every roller-coaster or amusement park ride that’s ever been made.
Art can be a crack in the floor.
You just need a placard that says it is.
spray paint on a train.
Crude jokes scrawled on the toilet stall.
Or the back of a billboard.
pantyhose filled with sand
Or Depends with gummy bears.
A multi-storied slide in an art museum
Or a swing in an art museum, or, well, anything and everything in an art museum.
It can be a sunburn
Respect if it’s got those big blisters and peels.
a video game
Hey, a video game can be art, but art can’t be a video game. Seems unfair.
All food is good to go. Just arrange it into words in accordance with the accepted political agenda of the day.
a meat suit
a baloney beanie!
I could do this all day
You forgot “a can of shit”. Manzoni’s canned artist’s shit is, honestly, one of my favorite conceptual pieces, because it’s at least funny. I didn’t think so, though, until I saw the French version, and “Merde d’Artiste” just stroke me as funnier. I’m kinda’ a connoisseur of foreign languages.
There are so many working and successful artists that make things and experiences that fall outside of the traditional categories of art.
This was true before I was born, and it is the dominant, institutional, and official art narrative. You don’t need to fight up against drawing and painting. The reality is that in the contemporary art world people are taking huge shits on visual artists proper while pretending they are fighting against some hegemony. I can think of zero artists in my undergrad or graduate art education who made serious attempts at drawing or painting semi-realistic imagery who were taken at all seriously (unless it was anti-painting painting, deconstructing the patriarchal history of painting, etc….),
Contrary to popular belief you do not have to know how to draw well, or at all to be an artist.
You don’t need to play an instrument or sing well, or at all, to be a musician. You can just write something like “a pan falling on sandy dirt” on a sticky note, and affix it to a wall in an auditorium.
OK, enough of that video. You get the idea. Let me just point out something a little weird here, which is that, for starters, you can’t be a photographer even if you take a bunch of selfies with your I-phone and think they are the shit when you upload them to Instagram. Let’s have respect for professional photographers. There’s a little more that goes into it than just doing the equivalent of enjoying your own farts.
You can’t be a scientist, athlete, acrobat (or even a juggler), hair stylist, chef, engineer, architect, musician, poet, philosopher, physicist, comedian, or anything else virtually instantaneously. If you just go around wearing a black belt, someone might take you up on it, particularly if you don’t look the part by a long shot. The only thing anyone and everyone can be is an artist, and that’s because anything and everything can be art.
Oops, I forgot to share her example of someone who draws or paints [mind, you I’ve done performance art, installation, and mostly these days do digital art].
Some of the artists featured in the book are very good at drawing, like Toyin Ojih Odutola, who makes astounding and elaborately detailed drawings at large scale. Portraits of herself, others, and recently two fictional Nigerian families.
It’s OK to draw or paint if you are empowering a margianalized group or protected class. The ends justify the (otherwise antiquated and irrelevant) means.
Molly Springfield, who gave us a window into her meticulous and laborious process of making graphic drawings of photocopied text.
THAT is NOT really drawing, folks. I mean, sure, it’s making marks with a pencil, or “graphite” if you wanna’ be pretentious. But you don’t need to know how to draw to do it. You can either project the image on paper and simply trace over it, or use a simple grid system (which I could teach you how to do in ten minutes).
OK, okay, you’re thinking Molly had the brilliant IDEA of meticulously copying text AS art imagery, and the process itself is somehow a bit transformative.
A quick Google search reveals that in 2009 she made drawings of Xeroxed pages from Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. This was heralded by critic, Kenneth Baker, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, as an “irresistible [work] of rare conceptual elegance”. It’s got lots of accolades.
The drawing above, which is 8 feet wide, on two intersecting panels, and consists of images and text from a pulp true crime paperback, meticulously drawn in graphite, was executed around 15-20 years earlier than hers by yours truly. I did that after completing my undergrad and before going to grad school, where I was excommunicated as a necessarily, by virtue of my anatomy, ass-backwards, white male cretin. But, uuuh, yeah, Springfield’s stuff is the real deal and an original conceptual breakthrough.
I’m just saying that when I did it, it wasn’t drawing. I didn’t consider it radical then. Ed Ruscha had already done paintings of text, such as his “The End” paintings, which were of those words when they appear at the end of movies. I just thought it would be interesting to contrast drawing text and drawing images, in mirrored panels, with mirrored stories. If you don’t know this already, no matter how many times someone regurgitates the same tired old conceptual art, it’s perpetually radical. Also, I’m pretty sure this piece is presently in landfill.
Sarcasm and hyperbole aside, really, you can’t just lump everything under the sun as art, as if it is the same thing, or even roughly in the same category as competent drawing and painting. Much of Green’s examples of art have as much in common with drawing/painting as they do with literature or music. They are “art” in the most broad sense that includes not just drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, and the like, but also theater, film, dance, literature, architecture, cooking, basket weaving, and any creative endeavor. Significantly, all alternative creative enterprises replace drawing/painting and ONLY drawing/painting. Even sound sculpture, text art, performance, and video are lumped in with, and replace painting, but not the much more logical music, literature, theater, and film.
How do you replace an entire art form — a language of its own — with anything and everything else, not realize you’re doing it, and congratulate yourself for it? Images have been replaced with physical things. This is quite a lot like music being replaced by unplayable records. It still has something tangentially to do with the history of music, but can’t be listened to.
Consider for a moment an image can be looked into. Pretty much all art, no matter how radical, can be SEEN or looked AT, because it’s not invisible, but it can’t be looked into. Those of us more familiar with Modernist art history know that it’s a big deal that “art is no longer a window”, but means you can no longer look into it, which means it is no longer an image, which means it is no longer a language. That’s why when it comes to so much conceptual art, what is important is what you say about it. It is itself mute. What it lacks in visual language is taken up by verbal language. Art becomes a prop for everyday speech, and is itself mute.
Nevertheless, no matter how many times I point this obvious truth out, people revert to a can of shit somehow being the same as an image. Folks, an image is immaterial. It’s a language. I know that it was a big revolutionary thing to flatten the picture plane, but that need not be an irreversible evolution of art rather than just the invention of another kind of hybrid art. You can’t replace a language with physical stuff.
Green’s equation of her list of art practices with drawing/painting is similar to comparing making noises and sounds to telling a story in English. You could make all those sounds without knowing how to speak English (just as you can be an artist without knowing how to draw), and you could communicate some rudimentary things with those sounds, but nothing approaching what you can do with a language. Here, any and all things merely placed in a gallery and contextualized as art are equivalent to the most elaborate canvases of the old master of your choice.
This is probably getting a bit redundant, but I keep coming at it from slightly different angles.
Here, I would like to make a distinction between art that is an image, and a language, versus art that is an object, and mute, or communicates in some other language, like text art, or the placard on the wall, or the elaborate artist’s statement, etc. Right now it’s as if music is the same as stacking up broken records, and if you throw records like frisbees off the top of buildings, you are a considered a musician. True, you can’t listen to such radical new pieces, but they do something much more important! They challenge your beliefs about music and ask the question, “What is music?” So, there’s language, it’s just in English, and not musical language. The answer, as with art, is always going to be that music isn’t music. Of course, composers who write symphonies are also musicians, at least if they are women of color and we care about what they have to say because of WHO they are.
It’s something to consider when confronted with a piecs of art. Can it be looked into? Most the time the answer, if it is contemporary art, is going to be “no”. I see the image as the core of art, and yet it is now sidelined as irrelevant. The core of art now is an idea, and increasingly one that is in the service of a political agenda.
[An astute reader might point out that even classical sculptures couldn’t be looked into. True. That has all sorts of implications I can’t get into here, but it makes the flattening of the picture plane and art “no longer being a window” non-starters. Often sculpture would give us an image, but just no background. And while most of modern and contemporary art is an offshoot of sculpture, it still presumes to compete with, and triumph over, painting of the past and not prior sculptures. Thus, Duchamp’s urinal, “The Fountain”, was supposed to be a reaction to the aural excesses of Impressionism, and a check-mate on painting, but could much more readily be received as an offshoot of sculpture, or even more accurately, a witty curatorial practice (as chamber pots had probably already been exhibited in museums).]
You got it. OK. Cool. Sorry about repeating myself.
Further, to really get good at drawing and painting (particularly if you can work from your imagination, which requires you understand the underlying fundamentals, and can’t just copy what you see) is at least as difficult as say, learning to play an instrument really well. There is a lot to learn, and a ton of actual practice necessary. I’m still working on it.
Not long ago I wrote a post about What Isn’t Art, and in it I asked if taking a crap on the floor of a gallery is art. I gave myself 5 minutes to write a defense of why it is art, and another 5 to denounce it as not art. I let people vote in a poll. 46% of people voted that a pile of shit on the floor is art. That’s how F-ing brainwashed we are.
How many of you think a fart is music? None? I bet nobody is THAT stupid. But people who argue that a crap on the floor is art see themselves as pretty damned clever. They’ve mastered a whole range of conceptual theory and revolutionized the way they think about art. Art, they will say, is all about provoking thought and starting conversations.
In other words, art is a conversation piece, and a picture is worth not a thousand words, but a one-liner in linguistics.
Now, to be fair, Sarah Urist Green never said that I am not an artist, and she’d probably agree that I am one. She might think I’m hopelessly misguided or am stunted because of my race and gender, or something along those lines. But she certainly would, with caveats, agree that I’m a real, if insignificant, and perhaps pernicious, artist of sorts.
And if someone wants to take a crap on the floor of a gallery, stick a candle in it, light it, and dance around it, I’m fine with them calling it art anymore. My problem is identifying myself with that.
I’m getting a divorce from the contemporary art world and the title of “artist”. Anyone and everyone else can be an artist and make art.
It would be more accurate and less misleading, these days, to say that I “do illustrations” or “make pictures” or “do digital paintings”. Relative to an “artist” this demotes me to being an “artisan”: someone with skills, but lacking real vision or originality of any sort. [Of course I don’t believe that, as I know that making imagery is wholly viable and the sky’s the limit on originality or what vision you might share. But, I’m aware others will see me as a mere crafts-person. No matter.]
I’d rather be perceived as a subordinate crafts-person than as someone who thinks he’s made art history by crumpling a piece of A-4 paper and putting it on a pedestal (that would be Martin Creed, if you don’t know, and I think there’s an edition of around a dozen if you are super rich and stupid).
There is no word for people who make imagery using visual language, visual intelligence, and the visual imagination. “Artist” has become meaningless — if everyone is an artist, no one is an artist — and within the institutional understanding of the word, painters and their ilk are considered vestigial members which evolution will eventually do away with entirely. Artist has come to mean anti-artist, and among other things, truth be told, Bullshit-artist. This is somewhat similar, by the way, to people who’ve been liberals their whole lives now abandoning the label, as it has come to signify an illiberal, radical, take-no-prisoners, reductionist paradigm and agenda (ex., today’s liberals are for censorship, including of art). I also am no longer a liberal. [I’m probably still a “humanist” and a guy who believes in actual justice, fairness, equality, generosity, morality, and so on.] I don’t even wanna’ be a liberal or an artist or a liberal artist anymore. YUCK!
I’m not an artist anymore. I’m just someone who makes pictures and illustrations and shit like that.