What Is It All About? Art Dilemmas
Art diary ramblings ahead:
I’m afraid I as an artist (and like many artists I know) am a bit of a contrarian. The purpose of promoting your work in the art world is presumably to sell or at least to be seen; I find that the efforts to be seen and recognized create a bit of reluctance in me, possibly even queasiness.
But art should be seen, and my reluctance to subject myself to the rigors of doing art shows, marketing them, advertising them, promoting the art, schmoozing and all that is something that should be gotten over somehow.
But that question of what it’s all FOR does tend to get in the way of all that schmoozing.
Making Art To Sell, Selling Art To Live
For me personally, creating work specifically to sell goes wrong very quickly. The creation of the work with commerce in mind leads (in my own personal case) to an enormous amount of second-guessing. And in a lot of cases, over-reliance on process-based work rather than ideas.
Having a process is a good thing. Where would Pollock go if he didn’t have a familiar set of practices to rely on? Warhol had his assistants and his polaroid camera to generate his silkscreen portraits, but the “Andy Warhol magic” in those works had much to do with color choices, size, and compositional details. The creativity in the portraits was tied up in the Warholian approach to bucking convention and expectation.
My own work veers off in to multiple camps. One is more representational and inspired by zines, ephemeral media, indie culture, etc. The other branch has a lot to do with the monochrome work of Ad Reinhardt, similarly color-based work by Mark Rothko, abstract expressionism in general, the 50s New York artists…
Looking At Representational Art, Brian Eno, And…Ambient Art?
Representational work is easier to parse and digest-even when it’s fairly surreal and abstract. But the pieces I’ve done that are more firmly abstract are a lot like the Brian Eno’s 1978 definition of ambient music compared to the background music of the day, known as Muzak or “elevator music”:
“Whereas conventional background music is produced by stripping away all sense of doubt and uncertainty (and thus all genuine interest) from the music, Ambient Music retains these qualities. And whereas their intention is to `brighten’ the environment by adding stimulus to it (thus supposedly alleviating the tedium of routine tasks and levelling out the natural ups and downs of the body rhythms) Ambient Music is intended to induce calm and a space to think.”
That was written in the 20th century and long before the madness of social media, the noise of the Internet and even cable television. Back in 1978, Eno added, “Ambient Music must be able to accomodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”
(Thanks to Hyperreal.org for the online version of these Eno quotes from the liner notes of Eno’s Music For Airports album.)
And that is basically exactly how I feel about abstract art in general and my own work in particular. The paintings should be enough to allow casual scanning, deep thought, or just a focal point to encourage thinking, especially about things that have no basis in concrete reality.
The more daydream-like the thinking in front of my work, the better.
The Yantra, The Mandala, Looking At Art & Daydreaming
I’m not the first to want this. There is a tradition of visual art specifically designed to promote different states of mind including the yantra and/or mandala, which are ritual diagrams used as worship aids in certain types of Hinduism, among other practices. (I’m not an expert on yantras or mandalas so my definition here is likely barely adequate and likely in dire need of a more informed examination.)
So in terms of what my art is FOR (I am guessing most artists wrestle with this question in varying degrees over the course of a lifetime, so why not beat the notion into the ground here?) the first and primary goal of my work isn’t the finished product, but the state of mind I get into when creating it.
Secondary to that is the state of mind people go into while viewing the work, but it’s definitely the second highest priority in my mind.
I suppose that if influencing someone’s state of mind is the key to the success of the work (my own state of mind or someone else’s) it would stand to follow that creating a work of art that inspires someone to spend much more time with it buy purchasing it and having it installed in their office or home is not such a terrible idea.
Art That Makes A Safe Mental Space?
The work that I have sold has gone out the door for a variety of reasons, but as of yet I am not convinced that I’ve inspired someone specifically to use the work in the same way that Eno wants his ambient music to be used-the idea that one is creating something designed to have a variety of attention spans accommodated in a “safe space” created by the work and that it’s purchased with that intent specifically in mind.
Back to Warhol for a moment-if you go to the Art Institute of Chicago and find the Andy Warhol Mao painting in the contemporary wing, you will have a major experience in total immersion of art that mirrors (a bit) what I would like to do with my own work.
Andy Warhol And The Immersive Art Experience
The Warhol Mao is a towering epic that defies expectation. Some people object to the image of Mao on a philosophical or political basis; but if you can look beyond what the image represents in the most literal sense and get into the sheer experience of viewing a work so large and enveloping, you start to approach (I personally believe) the point of abstract art in general.
And that point seems to be that the viewing experience is the main attraction rather than what the painting is SAYING specifically.
That the experience of viewing is the chief interest of the painter (in my own personal case) and of those who have thought through their interest in ab-ex in general (I hope).
Even when they aren’t really able to put into words why they are interested just then. I certainly know how long it took ME to figure out why I love viewing and making abstract art.
Special thanks to the Art Institute of Chicago for providing the image above and for showing the work at all.