Friday, February 26, 2010

Spiritual Necessity

It's about freakin' time.
What’s missing is art that seems made by one person out of intense personal necessity, often by hand. A lot but not all of this kind of work is painting, which seems to be becoming the art medium that dare not speak its name where museums are concerned.
It's sad, really, how over the top was the reaction to Roberta's editorial. Jerry Saltz's Facebook page exploded with expressions of gratitude from hundreds of artists.  The Brooklyn Rail posted a remarkably militant expression of solidarity:
We would go a step further and state unequivocally that many of these individuals have not only shirked their public responsibility, they have turned the museums into playgrounds for an elitist group of trustees and globetrotting art fair devotees, stocking their exhibitions primarily from “powerful galleries.”
Parallels to the financial institution debacle did not go unnoticed:
Sometimes the art world actually lags behind society, and the bursting of its preachy-self-indulgence bubble follows rather than leads the collapse of the economy's credit bubble by a couple of years. In the money world, anybody could borrow any amount for practically anything. In art, anyone could claim to be addressing any social issue with just about any work, and curators believed it.
So the question remains, why should we care? 

In my opinion, Roberta's much-quoted phrase 'intense personal necessity' does not go far enough.  It conjures up a vision of the obsessive, solipsistic artist working alone in the studio, churning out quirky, useless objects for purchase by wealthy people.  Given the dire economic conditions in which we find ourselves, fighting a battle to bring more painting into museums seems a little quixotic, and I say this as a painter myself.

Artists, as a whole, are pretty good at dealing with poverty.  We have to be. To look at the 'art' in museums, you'd never know that artists today have meaningful responses to real-world problems; you'd think we were a bunch of useless, smarmy man-children.

What is truly disgusting about the museum playgrounds is the way in which they siphon energy, resources and attention from artists who are working not only out of personal necessity, but out of spiritual necessity--responding to the world in ways that expand our ideas of what is possible.  Artists like the members of Urban Farm Syndicate:
Our goal is to turn Central Brooklyn’s biggest problem into its greatest resource by working with landowners instead of against them. 13% of the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood, for example, is vacant land. This vacant land creates opportunities for crime, vermin and dumping, and drives down property values. We believe this land also has the capacity to give rise to the very things that grow a community: dignified living wage jobs; a thriving local economy based on delicious, healthy food and an enduring educational resource for local schoolchildren and academia alike.
Or artists doing what we always do, going into neighborhoods that might as well be war zones and revitalizing them:
Artists are being pushed out left and right, publications folding, galleries closing, all while more and more MFAs continue to be churned out than can possibly be hired on by Manhattan’s service industry. Space is at a premium. Do we continue to go even further east into the cramped, treeless, concrete, PCB infested jungle of Bushwick, eventually reaching East New York’s hour-long commute for valuable studio and exhibition space? Or do we begin to explore other venues west of the Hudson? In the wide-open (*gasp*) NEW JERSEY!? In our case, we're going with Jersey.
Contrary to the apparent beliefs of the curatorial set, 'meaning' does not reside in facile, arcane references within a pile of visual koans.  It does not reside in unintelligible wall text.  It most certainly does not reside in the cynical manipulation of political and economic systems to grab a share of money and attention that is totally disproportionate to the quality of one's contributions.

Spiritual necessity is about a lot more than making objects.  It is about allowing the world to change us, as much as we change the world.  Most artists don't plan to become community organizers, entrepreneurs, healers or activists; it's what happens to us when we the irresistable force of our creativity meets the immovable object of the physical world.


Spatula said...

Er, but I do make art out of intense personal (and spiritual) necessity. Is that... still... good? Ish?

*slinks away to garret*

LXV said...

Well, I made my escape to New Jersey 25 years ago when the real estate bubble in the mid-'80s kicked me out of NYC. And, after building a studio from scratch in the middle of the ghetto, I have enjoyed the personal freedom it afforded. I got off the obscene rent treadmill and have been painting all those years. Maybe it was dumb luck and timing, but I'm also old now and I haven't even "emerged" yet, and probably never will.

The past year has been torture because of reading too many blogs telling me painting is untenable (not dead, merely untenable, which is infinitely worse) given that the world as we know it is on the brink of dissolution. PL: you are so articulate and intelligently opinionated and I admire almost everything you write, but I can't stop making paintings because it is what I do better than anything else. And yes, I am cluttering up the world with more objects that no one (not even a rich person) is buying. But, painting is my way of learning about the universe. I am even guilty of "borrowing" my 4-yr old neighbor for afternoons to paint with me. I am wary of politics and not an activist and feel somewhat remiss for being so insular. But I look forward to reading others' responses because you've opened up a can o'worms here.

Anonymous said...

Well.....the first thing that comes to mind.....actually, for me.....the only thing (all the other things pale by comparison) It cracks me up that something touted to be so innovative ( has vultures and magpies and crows flying round the world declaring "rules" of art.
Cavemen had no dealers and did not sell their art for high prices ( did they get some meat off a bone?) but did their thing because.... well, we don't know, do we? But we can guess and guess we do.....and rules we make.... and the rules and the critique have become more important than the art, haven't they?????? I often think that we should throw the art down the toilet and put the artists in the museum. Aren't they what really counts? Over and over, they can create out of nothing and produce infinite variation ( and often garbage as well...but that's ok).
My excorciser is coming over to make me stop. The devil is making me say all of these things, I'm sure.
Once in a while (every 5-10 years) I need to experience a personal rant. Thanks. It's over.

Pretty Lady said...

Whoa, people! I'm not knocking painting or painters. Didn't I make it clear that I'm a painter, too?

What I've noticed, though, is that 'needing to paint' has created a whole host of other circumstances in my life which are valuable and can potentially be shared. It's taught me how to live on almost nothing, how to transform ugly places into beautiful ones, and how to heal myself and others.

It caused me to move to another country for a few years, and the lessons I learned from that are priceless. It's both the cause and (some of) the substance of my blogging.

I think my overarching point is that it's not just the absence of any kind of meaningful *art* experience that the world loses when museums become playgrounds for the rich and moronic; it's the distillation of all kinds of substantive experience and wisdom that is marginalized.

Pretty Lady said...

And Danny, I think that's what I said--put the artists in the museums.

LXV said...

"'s not just the absence of any kind of meaningful *art* experience that the world loses's the distillation of all kinds of substantive experience and wisdom that is marginalized."

Truer words were never written. Of course you are right, and I am just a bit touchy these days when the institutions (including the schools) to which I ought to feel allegiance as an artist are so polluted by fashion, branding, cult of the personality (and I'm talking curators & directors here) and commerce, that I am left with no place to go. But as you have suggested here and in your previous post, there are alternative communities where that "substantive experience" will thrive. It's so easy to become depressed by the influence of those who populate the "playgrounds for the rich and moronic" . Thanks PL

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately an artists work often does not have meaning to the jet set until a big price tag is involved. You get clowns, including that pretentious Winkie, who try to masturbate the idea of the value of art having worth, but at heart those like him still only honor artists who can make them a cold hard buck. Or replace the b with an f if the artist is pretty and young enough.

At any set time you have only around 100 living artists who are allowed any stock in in contemporary dialogue on art. You can't tell me that out of millions of artists there are only a hundred or so that speak well visually and deserve the wealth those few have earned.

I swear there should be tax breaks for galleries that represent at least a handful of "discovered" artists a year instead of showcasing the same tired art. On the same note public funded art spaces and art museums should have to show works by those outside of the mainstream at least a few times a year.

I know artists who say so much about our times through their work and sadly that vision will never be shared outside of random posts online because the powers that be are so scared of the public choosing the next great artists over them.

The art world has never really been good at focusing on the hear and now. It is a stubborn mess and it is all about people with delusions of power keeping that grip over a culture that they think only they have the ability to define.

I honestly think artists need to start protesting outside of galleries and museums so that finally their work can be seen.

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