Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Aesthetic Value

Does aesthetic value require a master signifier? If you listen, not to what artists do, but those who devote themselves to talking about what artists do (and not all who engage in this are Gatekeepers—though criticism lends itself-- all too seductively-- to Gatgekeeping), it sounds like a search for—an almost religious quest—for just that: a master signifier. Who or what then is the master? But what artists (and I use this this its most inclusive sense, in terms of the media employed: visual, performance, literary, musical… and fusions of all these.. )--what artists do, again and again over time, is defy and abrogate and replace the reigning master, and those who don’t, in time, are left behind, left out. Artists who no longer live and create in their own time, in the communal time they inhabit, are they still artists? And where is the master? Is aesthetic value founded on the search for a non-existent master? Is this contradiction, this incommensurate desire, the search for that which does not and cannot exist, and its value… its authority, authenticity, embedded in the negative—in the power to hold together the impossible wish with its acknowledged failure.. Falsehood? . Such that, aesthetic value never asks for belief, but the capacity to entertain the contradiction—to maintain the tension between belief and … not credulity… not reality.. but whatever that reality might be that stands outside the illusion. The aesthetic value is nothing else, or should I say, nothing less, than the capacity to hold the tension… drawn and quartered, the draft horses chained right foot and arm, to left foot and arm, and the Master Signifiers lash the whip! And the work… as you enter its aura… holds. The impossible dream? Holds the tension. They cannot rip you apart… sunder your body. That’s all I ever hope for from any work of art. Such a small thing in a difficult world… to be an artist.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Learning to Draw

If you keep drawing. Keep working. You get better at it. Amazing! This is -- don't know how to put it. Like having found a secret door, there all the time but somehow couldn't see it. Not like I was without skill, but there was a level something in me believed was closed to me. "You can't do this." A voice said to me. I wasn't even clear on what it was I couldn't do--what it was I wanted to be able to do. Only that it was important, and I was running out of time. Drawing the human figure, yes... but not about anatomical perfection, definitely not about realist representational work. Now that I'm beginning... getting close, I see the other part of it. I can recognize my 'handwriting,' the signature that tells me, "I did this." This is not commercial art--not drawing class excellence. This is my work, and no one else's This exhilarating tension between getting the figuration right without erasing, what before, was the awkward, amateurish 'imperfections.' The balance ... getting that balance right, is so rewarding. A kind of magic to this process. And all the more exciting, learning these new skills so late in my life. It keeps taking me back--I could have been doing this 50 years ago. It's what a young artist learns, coming into their own. Exploration, discovery. "Without challenge, " Tennesee Williams wrote, in that wonderful little piece you find in the introduction to many of the edition of Street Car Named Desire... "without challenge, a man is a sword cutting daisies." Maybe that's the lesson.. have multiple ambitions, but save some of them up. As you master one, don't keep doing the same thing... take out a new one, one that you've put away. And have enough to serve you even in old age. I love my life!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Making Art Outside the Machines of Power

Given that art has human value (without-- or suspending definition of what that is), it follows that the labor of the artist merits support. This entails meeting basic human needs for the artist, seeing that tools, supplies and space for making art are available. How that support is offered, where and by what means it's obtained is not a matter of indifference for art or artist, but will have the power to affect and control both art and artist. There is an unavoidable entanglement of the production of art and artist with the economic, social, political, and cultural, machines (thank you Levi Paul Bryant ), through which support is procured. The gallery investment collector museum gentrification reward machines will select that which maintains and enhances their operations, and reject what threatens them. The flow of money is the mother's milk that fuels these machines, and those who control the flow of money will not abide anything that challenges their territorial power. If you are an artist, and court what passes for 'success' in this system, you will, no matter how firmly you believe in your aesthetic purity, or how hard you work to compartmentalize your creative work to shield it from the machinery you have made yourself dependent on, you will be making art that serves that system. You will be a useful servant of the Empire of Money and Death. There was no need to define the value of art and the artists labor, because it will be defined by the machines that distribute the reward and how they make use of it. Artistic freedom will be the reward of the parasites, the rebels, thieves and refusers. When you see one of those great, expensive, powerful works of public art, those magnificent museum worth pieces, only made possible by grants and awards, by the flow of money--tell yourself, that is not what artists who value their freedom do. That is not what a free creative soul aspires to do--it's a temptation, a seduction to join the stable of the pimps who run the machines... the machines that build the prisons and make the drones and turn everything human into a means of profit. Why am I not hearing this conversation from artists everywhere? How do we survive without supporting the machinery of slavery and death? What kind of art can we make--how does that change what we are given to do, how does that shape our creative vision? Why am I not hearing this conversation from artists everywhere?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Number our Days

 I’ve been imagining myself 50 years ago. I was 23. Majoring in art. Had taken courses in figure drawing, printmaking, drawing and design, ceramics, art history… and many years from childhood-- classes from the Chicago Art Institute, Kansas City Art Institute, Nelson-Atkins Gallery in KCMO.

I wanted to … be an artist? Make art? And there was a fire in the Wichita St. Art building…put an end to that…and I came to Philadelphia on a motor scooter

. I go back to that point in time in imagination, asking myself—what if I’d had the assurance, the focus I feel now.. that I think I have now. Maybe?

And had kept it up?

Skip the interruptions. The 8 or 9 years making pottery, which was both an interruption and a deflected way of keeping the faith… so to speak.

The question on my mind is – can I do it? Am I in any better or worse position than I would have been 50 years ago? What are my disadvantages? Advantages (are there any?... cause in a dreamy sort of way, I keep going back, asking myself… why didn’t I stay with it? What if I had? Now that I know … that this is all I have ever really wanted. Yes there were other things I wanted. But that was the deepest, fishhook in my gut.

Age 23. Imagine I’ve transferred to an alternative universe. I don’t have to deal with what I’ve done since… let it all stand. Let it all exist. In a universe I’ve slipped out of. The alternative is stark—uncluttered: would I choose to be 23—with my present sense of commitment ( I can’t assume what I’ve learned since), so just that, and how would that compare with my prospects now? Age 72 going on 73?

Age 23: Main advantage… I could reasonably anticipate 40 or 50 years to live and develop my work. (Yes, one never knows what may strike one down, and even at 23 I was hyper aware of that.) I would have more energy… though I’m not so sure of that, the vigor of youth and all that. Really can’t think of much else, by way of advantage.

I would have had to figure out a way to make a living… however minimal, and to have the means to buy art supplies. I figure that would easily rob me of ten or 15 years. So the advantage is cut to 30 to 40 years.

And sex. I can comfortably content myself with a daily self-inflicted orgasm—for health, though I might wish for more, but no longer would a great part of my waking life be hi-jacked with –not with desire for sex alone (that would have been so much more simple), but confounded with romantic confusions, the wish for a soul mate, such that I spent so much time and mental anguish pursuing love in all the wrong ways for all the wrong reasons in all the wrong places.

There’s another five years, minimum (WAY conservative, given the emotional energy that consumed) . Down now to 25 to 35 years, advantage to the youthful start.
And I know—pretty much really know where I’m heading. I mean, I can’t see it, visualize it, but I know it, feel it. Know with every mark I make on a page, every piece of scrap I pick up on the street what belongs to the way, and what doesn’t. How long would it have taken me to find that? To shed the need for the approval and confirmation of others? Another 5 years? And working through the marketing shit—giving that up?

All that… leaves me about what I foresee for myself now. Another 20, 22 or 3 years.

And I’m so much smarter… I mean, really. And experience… such an amorphous word, I know—but I mean… the art I’ve seen, ideas I’ve encountered—all that to my advantage, now, not then.

So where is this going? That I have a sense … a compulsion… a need… a drive… to do something. To make something of my art. Fifty years ago, I would have spent, probably years, sorting out what I wanted to do from what the market or critics or whatever wanted. I’m pretty much free of that now. Though I have this inextinguishable sense of … what I need to do … um, how else to put it?

… Justify my existence.

I don’t like that way of putting it. The theological background noise. But can’t think of how else to describe what it feels like. Yes—I do what I do cause it’s fun. Cause it gives pleasure. And maybe, someday, that will be sufficient. Feel sufficient. But not now. Not yet. There is something here I’m after, working for. Some of it certainly psychological… this thing about mastering the skills of drawing (how can I call myself an ‘artist’ if I can’t fucking DRAW… like any run of the mill Renaissance master ?”) But it goes deeper. I can’t explain it. All I can say, is… it matters.

So I have my 20 some years before me. If I were 23, I might have a body of work to measure up to my expectations by the time I would be … mid 40’s. Why not for me now? Another 20 or so years. So that I can look back, as death or incapacity approaches… and feel that… this was what I lived for.

So I go to the figure drawing sessions, one part of me, a 73 year old man, one part – 50 years younger, but in another alternative universe. My ambition has nothing to do with market, or recognition in any terms that exist now—but it isn’t small, that ambition. however defined. 

It feels like a new beginning. Something has happened, changed, reset my course. But can I do it? I mean, can I keep at it… and let others decide whether I succeed or no?