Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The I In Art

I have been questioning the role of art in my life: not making art or being an artist – I'm entirely committed to both – but what other people's art means to me. I'm troubled that, for a while now, it hasn't meant that much.
I used to be deeply touched by my experience of art. I've been moved to tears in front of certain works, because of everything from the subject matter to the way the paint had been applied. I've traced sculptures with my fingers, not so much studying as absorbing their forms. I used to travel 18 hour by bus or train to see exhibitions in other states. I didn't know much about the artists who made the works – my education in art history didn't really begin until a few years ago – but I didn't really care. The experience of art was enough.
It isn't anymore.
During the worst of my recent times I wanted to lose myself in other people's works. I scanned websites for descriptions of upcoming exhibitions but lost interest before I could drag myself out the door. And when I tried to recall art that had affected me but I could only think of two; a large abstract by Anselm Kiefer and a disturbing study by Francis Bacon of Velsaquez's Pope Innocent X.
It bothered me that the thing around which I'd built my life meant so little to me.
Even when it came to my own work, I sensed the intensity of my commitment had faded. I asked myself why art as a whole had less meaning to me? Had I become jaded – or simply more discerning? Athough I can more clearly identify the influence of one artist over another and the occasionally rote-like repetition of ideas, art doesn't have to be great or even original to be effective.
I began to doubt the value of any art, despite seeing other people's response to my own. I began to doubt myself.
The world has changed a lot in the last fifteen years, most noticeably in the last five. The internet has connected everybody to each other and to vast amounts of information about everything. For a while, I thought that art wasn't keeping up, that the changes in the way we respond to visual material had made art as we used to know it obsolete.
The 'net has certainly changed our expectations of art: reproduction of images is not just accepted but expected. We – I – want to be able to view an artwork when I want, where I want, which is to say I want art to be something I can experience within the context I define for it rather than the context someone or something else (such as a gallery) defines. But the medium is not just the 'message': what the medium has done is shift the message – from the art to the artist.
And suddenly I can't look at an individual artwork the same way again.
I've written before about the inexorable shift in value from the individual artwork to the artist. I've understood – and embraced – this on an intellectual level but the more I've thought about it – and the more I've looked for art that has real meaning for me – the more I've realised that meaning, like value, has also shifted to the artist.
My experience of art is no longer satisfied just by being able to see artworks. I want to know more about the artist and understand at a deeper level the development not just of their ideas but of their self. I want to be able to watch in real time how they evolve within a rapidly changing world and how they interact with it – even better, how they interact with me. An individual artwork will always be related to the time and context in which it was made, and I am still interested in that too, but as a part of the artist as a whole.
In other words, in a time when everything is commoditized, I want to know the artists are more (or less) than what they make and why. Maybe a truly contemporary artist is one who 'gets' this and engages openly and directly with our radically revised expectations of them.

14 comments:

Wendy Olsen said...

I had been questioning wether it was of any interest to others to know about me and my inner mind and the stories behind my art, or some of it.
I have been treating the internet like a private diary that only I can see... I have had mixed reactions, positive mainly.
Thanks for sharing again... it seems that most things you write resonate with me on various levels, and reasure me.
Thankyou.

Anonymous said...

I find that Being fully comitted to my own art, trying to realize my artistic visions, function and navigate my way through the commercial side, a whole other ball game altogether. One that takes again, vision, patience, and time. Such relentless ambition can be all consuming and often at the end of the day I'm like the little every ready bunny, that has simply run out of batteries, so it's inevitable as expectations, and pressures rise I have less time to simply enjoy the thing thing that motivated me to be an artist in the first place. A great love and appreciation for art. Life ebbs and flows though....same with inspiration and engagement with the world around us.
I'm in total agreeance with you about Francis Bancon. He is one of the greatest and most original artists to have left his mark.
Wishing you all the best

Jo-Ann Sanborn said...

I think you're saying that with the vast amount of over exposure to both art and people you are looking deeper, to learn more, to define a portion of the river of information in an attempt to merge the artist with the originality of their work, and validate your choices.

Authenticity, once recognized, comes as a delightful surprise. It's still out there.

William said...

Hi There!

I always enjoy reading your posts.

"in a time when everything is commoditized"
It concerns me that there is a trend to commoditize the artist/creator as well as the creation.

Whatever the source of creation is (divine or some other place), I like the idea that it is a private communication/process. For myself, I think I require it to be a private communication - maybe that's just me. I'm sure many artists want to be a part of the package....I'm not sure it's healthy. For the consumer of the art (not necessarily purchaser), the art itself or the artist.

And yet, in the same breath, I follow your blog.....hypocritical?

Thanks for your so very raw and open discussions about your life.

heather noye said...

polls not working. either that or my votes not allowed.

alec said...

Isn't two great works of art enough for you? How many art works do you need to consume before you feel full? You are sounding like a Mac-burger artist with Francis Bacon on top. This is way beneath you. Reflect on how great Francis is that his smears of paint on a strip of canvas got through to such a stubbon, strong-willed fighter as you. Put up a photo of his studio. It looks like shit doesn't. Not a nice neat place is it- not neat package like the computer that kids you that information is everything. And stop generalising: the Internet has not connected everybody to each other. There a millions of humans who cannot afford a computer let alone thier next meal. I cannot believe you are falling for the trap our comfortable Australian consumer society loves to sell to itself - that technology is going to create a brand new brave new world without problems -its all sold to us by bright shinny advertising which is a billion dollar industry. The one thing technology cannot feel is pain. You have a lot of guts in the way you are facing the tough time in your life. I admire that and I think you are a fine artist - right now I know you are in a confused place and vulnerable - but, don't waste it by generalising, be the artist you know you are. You were born with a gift to communicate that which the machine cannot. One Frances Bacon is worth a billion shit adverts selling us the tired old dream of endless comfort. Art is as old as human kind. Serve it and be true to it - no matter how painful - you will endure - out of this pain and crisis you will create really original, stunning shocking work - remember what our society lacks is not information, the shit pile of information is piling higher every day as our planet sinks.What our society lacks is imagination. Advertising is only about selling something. But what is art? Great ideas will always meet violent opposition from mediocre minds. You will tell if your art is having an impact by the enemies you make.The war still rages. Fight the battle. That is why you have the gift. As one great artist said 'Draw Antonio draw and do not waste time.'

Mandy Muse said...

To take something very simple from this - I've always been frustrated with art, particularly contemporary art - that takes no responsibility for the viewer's experience. Great, a black panel, and if I knew a lot about the contemporary art world and boned up on art history, I would understand why that black panel is so significant and moving. But I'm in a gallery or a museum, and I'm not there to spend hours learning about the history and context of a piece, I'm there to experience it now.

One way for me, as a layperson, to have a greater experience with a work of art, is to follow one or two artists and get their context. And connecting with their work, not just their works, as an artist is a very easy door in.

Daphne Lang said...

You say; "I want to know more about the artist and understand at a deeper level the development not just of their ideas but of their self."

Comment: The problem arrives when the person is more interesting than the art they make. Sometimes an artist can try too hard to push themselves as the focal point and their art suffers.
There are two types of art:
Art that sells itself or Artists that try to sell themself as the art (If you "buy" me, you will buy my art). I prefer the first; the latter is too often a fake reproduction of somebody else.

Anonymous said...

Well, Hazel. Are you up for it? Are you ready to begin. On that work of art which all your life you have been preparing for. Why? Because. In the future, there will be a young woman who lives in a small town, or the suburb of a city, where people's eyes are hazed by television and 3D and multiplexes and the endless promised dreams of advertising and technology. One day she will leave her work and get on a bus and ride 18 hours. She will be full of confusion and intense feelings and wonderness and a deep love that she cannot articulate even to herself let along those people she tried to tell it to who looked at her like she was some strange creature. She will get off at a place where there are works of art and she will walk among them, unmoved. Then she will stand in front of one she cannot move from and she begins to cry. Because for the first time in her life all those strange mysteries have been validated. She gets on the bus and leaves her job and her home and begins to create her own life and she will share it with others. That painting was yours, Hazel, and you will never know her name and you will never know her story. But the moment you begin that work, you will know that all the pain and confusion and struggle and all the wonderment and deeper love of your past year has not been in vain, it has been preparation for this moment. That is the extraordinary gift you carry,Hazel, with so much courage.

alec said...

Like I said, Hazel, you only take the favoured works of two masters into the cave. That is all you need. Then, even those you will behind. Because out of the darkness, a third master will emerge. But, this is in the future. Not right now. There are other very difficult human needs to take care of in the present. And if, after the cave, in the future, you might feel the need for other masters to guide you, you only need seek them. The gift you carry asks of you long periods of solitude and deep love and longing and pain. But, you are never, ever alone. You never ever will be.

alec said...

Once upon a time, in an land near here. Islands, actually. Of incredible intensity and beauty. A natural paradise. But, instead of looking in awe at the beauty, the inhabitants spent their time mowing the neat lawns they grew around their neat houses. A young woman, still a child and a bit overweight, used to write these fantastic stories inspired by the beauty. She was a bit strange so they put her in a psychiatric hospital and treated her with all the latest horrors of modern medicine you could imagine to cure her. But she never stopped writing. And one day she got her novel published. And after they gave up trying to cure her, she left and became the islands greatest writer. Then, one day, many years later, a young woman, a filmmaker full of wit and energy too big for the island, made her first feature about this writer. The writer was Janet Frame and the filmmaker was Jane Campion. Once I drove to where Janet lived in a small rural town. In a suburban street, in an ordinary house. She wasn't home. I knew it was her place because all around it the houses were neat and people were moving the lawns. Her lawn grew wild and green and untamed, just like the wonderful paradise she grew up in. I could only smile and silently thank her for being herself.

Jess said...

Alec, your intentions might be good but you're coming over like a stalker.

alec said...

Apologies to Jess. That was not my intention. I had arranged to see Janet Frame about a film we were making. I later had a great conversation with her on the phone. My point is, perhaps in a long-winded way, yes I am now starting to understand, too long for the world of quick Internet bites, is that you never know who your art will inspire and how. Like Janet's. She inspired me no end through her writing. I have tried to carry that on in my films. I grew up on those islands always drawing and writing stories and was prevented from going to art school and spent years believing I was going insane. Until one day a friend kept at me by saying, 'it is a crime against nature that you do not practice your art' and since then, although it got more painful at times, i never stopped. And my work got richer. Just last week, a films I made twenty seven years ago got shown in a number of place across Australia. During NAIDOC week. I get invited to talk about it all the time, and give talks to indigenous organisations too. When I made that film, young and very insecure, I was full of anger and rage, yet, I get messages and meet people over the years telling me how it has inspired and touched their lives. Last week a lecturer told me he shows the film to his students and it is still opens their eyes to the country we live in. Many times I ask myself -why does that work endure, who was that fucked-up guy who made so many mistakes making it? Even at the time of making it I was attacked and criticised not only by the blind status quo (who you would expect to do that anyway) but many people I thought were friends. The person I am most thankful to now is my partner who after I lay under the blankets, scared of going on, she walked into the room and said. 'well, are you up for it - or you just going to lie there?' I got up and I never looked back. And many people were moved and touched and changed by the resulting film. Another film, also made in anger, a government minister tried to ban. He had never even seen the film. I called him on it and he backed down. It was screened on the ABC four times and twice on the BBC and around the world. My last film which i wrote and directed and did the storyboards for, Lots of people in the industry said it could not be made. It won the AFI visual effects award plus seven other major ones. It has 280 special effects and had top genius FX people Mike Seymour and Rose Draper who developed a world first digital pipeline to make it work and the best producer in Australia, the wonderful supporter, Sue Maslin. Me? I can still hardly turn on my computer and I can never get back into face book most days. When I do, I get overwhelmed by the flood of images and messages, its like a lot of electric trains all flying in different directions, so i switch it off, hoping the entire system breaks down. And I' m still shit scared of the next film I'm making. But I can draw a picture on a piece of paper and write a story on the note pad. And I still thank that wonderful lover and courageous friend who , even when I wouldn't listen, kept saying to my face: 'it is a crime against nature that you don't practice your art.' She gave me my life back.

alec said...

Apologies to Jess. That was not my intention. I had arranged to see Janet Frame about a film we were making. I later had a great conversation with her on the phone. My point is that you never know who your art will inspire. Like Janet's. She inspired me no end through her writing.I grew up on those islands always drawing and writing stories and was prevented from going to art school and spent years believing I was going insane. Until one day a friend kept at me by saying, 'it is a crime against nature that you do not practice your art' and since then, although it got more painful at times, i never stopped. And my work got richer. Just last week, a films I made twenty seven years ago got shown in a number of place across Australia. During NAIDOC week. I get invited to talk about it all the time, and give talks to indigenous organisations too. When I made that film, young and very insecure, I was full of anger and rage, yet, I meet people over the years telling me how it has inspired and touched their lives. Last week a lecturer told me he shows the film to his students and it is still opens their eye. Many times I ask, why does that work endure ? Even at the time of making it I was attacked and criticised not only by the blind status quo but many people I thought were friends. The person I am most thankful to now is my partner who after I lay under the blankets, scared of going on, she walked into the room and said. 'well, are you up for it - or you just going to lie there?' I got up and I never looked back. Another film, also made in anger, a government minister tried to ban. He had never even seen the film. I called him on it and he backed down. It was screened on the ABC four times and twice on the BBC and around the world. My last film which i wrote and directed, Lots of people in the industry said it could not be made. It won the AFI visual effects award plus seven other major ones. It has 280 special effects and had top genius FX people Mike Seymour and Rose Draper who developed a world first digital pipeline to make it work and the best producer in Australia, Sue Maslin. Me? I can still hardly turn on my computer and I can never get back into face book most days. When I do, I get overwhelmed by the flood of images and messages, its like a lot of electric trains all flying in different directions, so i switch it off. And I' m still shit scared of the next film I'm making. But I can draw a picture on a piece of paper and write a story on the note pad. And I still thank that wonderful lover and friend who, even when I wouldn't listen, kept saying to my face: 'it is a crime against nature that you don't practice your art.' She gave me my life back.