Tuesday, September 23, 2014

High art

Anything can be art. So the mantra goes. And from the point of view of the average Joe, that might be a reasonable view if ones looks at a good sampling of exhibitions of contemporary art.

Then let's begin with idea that anything can be art. If art can have any meaning at all, some discriminating qualifiers could be selected. Fine art, serious art, museum quality art, etc. to distinguish from popular art, crafts, low art, naive art etc.

I've thought about this issue for a while and keep coming to tentative answers that I soon reject. Art as all-encompassing has appeal. It let's everyone in. Then what?

Then I guess it's each person's choice as to how to live with and in art. And this leads to the constructing of personal definitions. A personal definition becomes a device to seek out art. But the definition must be well thought out and fluid.

No personal definition of art that I've constructed has ever come close to Eugene Ionesco's:
Art is the collision of a man with the universe.

What this means for me is:
Challenging substance in the art
Hard, intense work to crack the puzzle
Willingness to risk destruction
Knowing I must pick up the pieces and remake the whole.

Monday, September 22, 2014


If you want to be an artist of substance, first be a human being of substance.


Conception is random.
Genetics is random.
Parenting is random.
Experience is random.
Education is random.
Relationships are random.
Justice is random.
Life traumas are random.
Death is random.
This is why integrity, love, generosity and compassion
must be result of personal intent.


Creativity is not magic, and it's not the exclusive possession of a talented few. Just watch children. But our educational system does not foster creativity as a priority, and the marketing machinery of capitalism is more than happy with a society of consuming sheep.

When creativity is valued and nurtured, it is a potent thing. Creativity is a very satisfying thing to grow. It feeds on risk, play, passion and critical analysis. It take over as a life principle to be harnessed. It can burn you up. It can open you up to worlds in worlds. It can make you obnoxious.

This is why it is the domain of artists. They can stand all this. It's their job. Business and government say they embrace creativity, but risk and passion are not typically part of their game.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

What's wrong with this picture?

People dressed to be seen pack the CAC, drinking and talking. How many really look at  the art? Go back the next day and the next day and the next day and you are about the only person in the place. What's wrong with this picture?

AAC  galleries. How long to patrons spend looking at the art compared to how long they spend eating and schmoozing? Then, who even bothers to go into the galleries? What's wrong with this picture?

People will listen to a piece of music over and over again. But looking at a piece of art once is generally enough. What's wrong with this picture?

People read less and less and get more and more of their information from visual sources, screens, packaging and marketing, but they are taught virtually about how to read or use the visual language.
What's wrong with this picture?

People are comfortable expecting to pay for concerts, plays, dance performances and such events. But they expect to wined and dined at art openings? What's wrong with this picture?

The food and drink at art openings is the very thing that distracts people from the actual purpose of the art openings, looking at the art. What's wrong with this picture?

The newspaper will deliver extensive coverage of music festivals and 20-something bands and critical and intelligent coverage of symphony and opera performances. But art venues are neglected and coverage is random and lifeless. What's wrong with this picture? 

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Joseph Campbell identifies ritual as an important binding element in a society. From the beginning of human culture, life transitions such as birth, puberty, manhood, womanhood and death have been celebrated with rituals. These rituals had meaning, solemnity and were reminders of the societal duties and responsibilities inherent in the rituals. Even if the individuals may not have understood this, the culture did. In recent human history, religion has been the keeper of these rituals.

As religious practice has eroded and religions have not been able to keep pace with contemporary culture, the role and meaning of rituals has eroded as well. Birth is accidental or undesired. Birth is celebrated with showers and gifts. Puberty is treated in hushed tones or studies and statistics or simply ignored because it's too uncomfortable. Manhood is alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. Marriage is about the big, expensive extravaganza or the bungy jump or the holy church of Disneyworld. Statistics demonstrate the consequences that result. Death is the drive-up viewing window and the solid mahogany casket.

I know my view seems traditional and many personal rituals have value. But I am troubled by the indicators I see of a world falling apart, and I wonder, as Campbell might, what ritual might play in the world coming to some stability.

Friday, September 5, 2014


The only guarantee we get from life is death. Even Jesus had to experience that.

Evolution doesn't give a damn about us. And most of us don't give a damn about most of us. So it is our job to make life mean something. Nobody else can do that for us.

Art and life. Art has only the meaning we give it. Life has only the meaning we give it. So art can teach life, and life can teach art.

Making meaning in life is the remedy to numbness.

Trying to find meaning in life is meaning.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A voice in the wilderness

I used to think that the Biblical phrase, "a voice in the wilderness," really was about the desert wilderness of the ancient Middle East. Perhaps it was. But, for me, it becomes a metaphorical wilderness.  I see a wilderness of crap mediocrity in popular culture, of mindless entertainment fueled by glitz and celebrity branding, of endless rows of snack food and diet soda, of facades of sound bites that hide the emptiness of persons behind them, of education that takes a back seat to politics, sports and reason.

In this wilderness, honesty, integrity, human dignity and compassion barely sprout before they wither and die.

Work habits

Every good worker in every profession needs good "work habits": for discipline, for focus, for productivity, for personal satisfaction on the job. This means artists, too.

But artists also need good "play habits": to stay fresh, to connect with imagination, to stay open to possibility, to be comfortable  taking risks, to be skeptical about "the rules," to not take oneself too seriously.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Making art? Remember this.

--The artist doesn't make the art. The art makes the artist.

--The monetary value of a work of art simply measures its value as a commodity. And that isn't always the same as the intellectual value, its human value, its substance and its ability to challenge over time.

--It doesn't matter whether you make this image or that image, this piece or that piece. What matters is how you choose ot respond to the call of art.