Is Capital A Art a Bloated Substance-less Slob?

part two of Jemima and the Grits...

Well, i knew i was in trouble yesterday when i got two comments, in pretty quick succession, right after i'd posted that post. Now, i've never met Kelly Love Johnson, but i do know Mary and, in my head, i could see her: making herself kinda small and fuzzy, her eyes all beady with glee, wickedly rubbing her hands together in excitement over whatever blasphemous thing i would eventually write on here. Like me, Mary loves a good conflict (and i'm willin' to bet so does KLJ). I'd made the mistake of creating an expectation.

I re-read my post and saw that, yes indeed, it promised some controversy. "stupid and dangerous opinion," i wrote. "something even i might regret saying." Them's some big words, and i can say some pretty drastic stuff. So what am i gonna do?

Maybe he'll claim that everyone in Charleston's art scene is havin' sex with animals!

Well, sorry to let you down, but that's not what i'm gonna say. Not even close...

After i posted yesterday i had to drive out to Mount Pleasant to Petsmart to get some pheromone stuff so Inky the cat'll quit spraying everything in our house. The drive gave me some good reflection time. On the drive I thought tommorrow maybe i'll talk high theory and explain why the avant-garde is really about the practice of humilty these days, or why post-modernist irony is giving way to the new paradigm of Commitment. Eventually, though, i discovered that what i really needed to do was examine...and get ready for some corny-ness...what it was that i felt in my heart. I feel that this is the right move, because instead of explaining the theoretical concepts above, i could actually live them--theory and process...aligned. *sigh*

First, let me tell you what set me off: In yesterday's Post and Courier, concerning a show at Ella Richardson Fine Art, Larissa Dozier, public relations consultant for the gallery, says "In 1947, Miro began his exploration with the challenging mediums of multicolor etchings and lithographs...Miro pushed the limits of his own creative genius through artistic concerns unique to the graphic arts....although the technique of printmaking and its various mediums are rooted in nearly 1000 years of experimentation and production, Miro approached each [print] with revolutionary concepts of imagery." The article goes on to explain, most importantly, that "Bryson Strauss, curator and oral historian at Timothy Yarger Fine Art of California...will offer his expertise on the graphic mediums," (and get this) "what it means to acquire an original artwork by Miro in today's art market."

Folks, i got nothing against Miro. In fact, i really like Miro. But, i'm here to tell ya, Miro was no genius. His pictures were not "revolutionary concepts of imagery." And neither were Pollock's , nor Warhol's nor Serra's. And neither were (insert a thousand other valid artist names here...)

See, if an artist has any validity, it's not gonna be found just in their pictures. That validity is gonna be found in the fact that they lived and breathed a life that ran counter to a current cultural dialogue.

Now it hurts me to write the above. It hurts because saying that is the act of summing up the center of a thought-onion--a thought-onion that's got a million layers and is a thousand miles across. The above is a wild generalization, and i love wild generalizations...until i start talking about something that really really matters to me (or something that i'm freshly out of a graduate education for) . The above generalization doesn't take into account the avant garde, it doesn't debunk that near-parenthetical phrase "a thousand years of experimentation and production," it doesn't address the cult of the new, and on and on and blah dee blah. For the sake of brevity, however, that's where i'm gonna leave it.

Alright. So, Bryson Strauss is gonna tell us how to invest in a Miro. That's crap. That ain't art. That's investment. And these days, if you're a person in the business of making a pretty picture or a three dimensional object for someone to invest in, then you're not an artist. To take a page from the post-modern handbook, i'd like to suggest a new name for the person that does that: f/artist.

Alright. That's awfully dogmatic. And marxist. (And funny, too). To be fair, i could also suggest the pretty-picture-person be called something i consider a compliment, but what they generally abhor: a craftsperson. But all of that is not what this post was about. That stuff is not really what my heart is telling me to say.

Without further delay, here's where my insides, and yesterdays post, and today's post, line up.

First of all: 99% of art really is a bloated substance-less slob dedicated solely to the consumptive pleasure of wealthy white people.

Then next:

I'm scared.

I'm gonna be 38 years old (!) in a few days. I'm just now getting out of school. I have student loans. I don't have a job. I have developed, due to my studies in art, an ethical manifesto that says privilege is fuckin' stuff up. It also tells me that if i make a living by exploiting that privilege, then i'm part of the problem. maybe i'm hopelessly naive, but i just think it's ridiculous to think that someone is gonna go into a gallery, right here in Charleston, and spend thousands--nay, tens of thousands i'm sure the gallery hopes--on a freakin' lithograph when five blocks up the street someone is hungry. Where realtionships between white and black people still smack of 1859. "yesSUH!," an elderly black gentleman addressed me yesterday.

I don't, for the life of me, want to be a part of that system. But...i'm afraid. I've desperately, and purposefully, held on all these years to the idealism of an 18 year old. I've been able to avoid, for most of my life, actually committing myself to any real process. Sure i've been a satellite member. I've used privilege and money and parents and my spouse, but that membership has always been kept, at least, at a distasteful distance. And now, dammit, i've got to get a job. I've got to shit or get off the pot. Every fiber of my being cries out at producing yet another museum worthy piece of crap that perpetuates elitism and power and whiteness. To produce beauty that only a few can afford...

But what am i gonna do?

If i rail against that system here on this blog , for all to see, then i'll identify myself as the enemy...or a liar. That's why i want to open my big fat mouth, here in this general store, and say that i don't want to join that club. I want to say that i intend to continue being that idealistic 18 year old, and tell you i'll have nothing to do with bronze casting and oil paints and medium specificity.

People have done this and managed to survive. To sight some success stories, I think Steve Whittlesey, my instuctor up at school, has managed it in a way. The artist Dan Peterman is doing it. I even think--although he's gotten really rich in the process--that Neil Young has done it. I even think Gridgey is doing it up there in Cookeville--hang in there Gridgey! I want to say, here, that i wanna do it too.

i'm gonna ride a bike to new orleans, dammit.


claire said...

The crosstown it is then -- recyled materials (you see you made me google Dan Peterman and that plastic economies thing is very cool, for want of a more arty term), community building, beauty that everyone driving by can see.

Walter said...

yeah! i know! how 'bout i pick up all the garbage on the edges of the crosstown for a year, and then compress all of it into cute little facimi...facilimi...into cute little lightpost-looking' thingies?


claire said...

how about a broken glass mosaic hanging from the special pedestrian bridge?

can you make something that would make sound when all the cars went whizzing by and then would respond when people started beeping and cursing.....

or what about an homage to all the burned out bldgs/new fast food enterprises combo

Or something with water! Have you been here yet when it floods -- a whole rising seas montage.....

Anonymous said...

The world needs art. The world needs your art. What you did with the murders and your wood working helped change the world. Maybe only a little bit, but you tried.

"To thine ownself be true." Follow your heart, show up to the plate, put one foot in front of the other.


mary said...

okay...I did not turn small & fuzzy. or beady eyed for that matter. I liked yer blog! actually, I've been liking them more lately for some reason. either I have been able to really actually read and understand what youv'e been saying or you changed how you write a bit. ..you are the only person who has ever said I turn small & fuzzy. I feel like a gremlin.

mary said...

oh yeah...one of our cats has been spraying...what did you get to make inky stop?

gridge said...

You know you're headed into politics...

I've been reading alot about "the reluctant/acciendtal business men" who don't want to sell out, spend all their "earnings" on bettering their goods instead of buying fancy things for their fingers, and end up making all those big bucks anyway. However, their attitude (close to the one you have) makes their newly found fortune help alot of people at the same time. I think it's ok to make alot of money if you can truly justify it by helping people (huge generalization).

Anyway...I think you should get envolved in some local government. City Council, planning commitees, etc...something that gives your big mouth a direct line to the people who can use your ideas.

Anonymous said...

So, Walter, how does having an MFA and a fulltime working wife make you all that substantively different from someone like Barbara Bush, who went to a nice finishing school while husband George improved the world? Other than living in a post-modern/structuralist less patriarchal world than the latter?

Are you justifying your position after managing to avoid entering the paid workforce for 20 yrs? Or do you see yourself making a difference?

b said...

I cannot imagine that the guy who used to sing "10 tiny turtles" and the song about John with the big nose (i might not be remembering that correctly) is EVER going to sell his soul to "the man," much less turn into the guy who spins his art in such a way as to wring the last drop of change from a buyer.

You make stuff you like...that others in the world are going to like, and if it's not something you want to keep for yourself or give as a gift, and someone wants it for themselves, there's nothin' wrong with takin' some type of compensation for it.

Because really...is it the end product to GET dollars you're *really* after, or is it the fun, the challenge, and the joy that comes from transforming the idea in your head into a piece of reality? THAT is where craftspeople find their zen, and as long as that's where you're most happy, then it will never be "all about the money."

Hope the pheremones worked for the monkeys. :)

daniel said...


Better to struggle with a difficult question than to posit a bullshit answer and hide behind it. I can't tell you what art IS, but I think we can talk about its role, its value, its pitfalls. Here's what I wrote on the subject in last summer's Manifesto:

1. People need art.
2. Art is in the hands of too few people.
3. The spirit of unlimited bandwidth encourages us to revitalize the spirit of art in literature, filmmaking, music, painting, dance -- in everything. But we must do it ourselves.
4. On the all-important subject of kitsch: Milan Kundera is to be taken as written. As this passage from Wikipedia explains:
Other theorists over time have also linked kitsch to totalitarianism. The Czech writer Milan Kundera, in his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), defined it as "the absolute denial of shit." His argument was that kitsch functions by excluding from view everything that humans find difficult to come to terms with, offering instead a sanitised view of the world in which "all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions."
In its desire to paper over the complexities and contradictions of real life, kitsch, Kundera suggested, is intimately linked with totalitarianism. In a healthy democracy, diverse interest groups compete and negotiate with one another to produce a generally acceptable consensus; by contrast, "everything that infringes on kitsch," including individualism, doubt, and irony, "must be banished for life" in order for kitsch to survive. Therefore, Kundera wrote, "Whenever a single political movement corners power we find ourselves in the realm of totalitarian kitsch."
For Kundera, "Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch."

5. When artists make art with the assumption that it is too good for regular people, regular people learn to reject the possibility of art in their lives. This leaves them with nothing but kitsch.
6. A diet of kitsch is like a diet of refined sugar: addictive, self-destructive and soul-killing.
7. Yes, "Art is whatever an artist can get away with," but that is the lowest possible common denominator of art, like saying that "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." Both are true, but neither is true in a limiting sense. They provide baselines for art and freedom, but they do not set their ceilings. One can be free, or an artist, and aspire only to these truths, but one should not confuse the LCD with the highest expression of a concept.
8. When what is on the canvas alone is not enough to make a judgment on its quality, then art has been replaced by theory.
9. When theory is less imporant than the theorist, then art has been replaced by fashion.
10. When only fashion determines success, then art has been replaced by conformity.

b said...

ps. when art sells for outrageous amounts of money, to me, it seems to be about bragging rights more often than not. i do recognize, however, that there are insanely wealthy people in the world who don't think any differently about dropping $10 mil on a piece of art versus dropping $10 on a new shower curtain.

if you ever find one of those insanely wealthy people who wants to give you $10 mil for that huge, honkin' pipe, LET THEM!! :) then do something totally wild and cool with that $$ - like asking all your friends if they want to ride to New Orleans on a bike WITH you - talk about a roaming hippie tribe - that'd be somethin'.

Anonymous said...

I would be wary of any 'broken glass' art not dealt with in a thoughtful manner... Its too close to the 'Broken Windows' theory espoused by some social ethnographers. Even though that idea originates in the 60's, some communities use it as the theory that not having a 'clean, homogenous urban environment' leads to crime, poverty, drugs, and the decline of the neighborhood. The idea is that people also act friendly and neighborly when all those things are not present. Among other things, it helps to promote housing segregation and reminds people of the 'untidy' dark side of the society we live in.

This can generally relate to the type of art produced. Most people want art and there seems to be a high demand for all unconventional art, but there is much less monetary demand [at least from bourgeoisie sources] for art like the mural you painted for neighborhood murder victims. Its one of those 'market failures' where the culture of capitalism and commodification conflict. For it to succeed monetarily may arguably imply that it becomes part of that cultural/structural system and moves from art to commodity.

Grandpappy Karl

Anonymous said...

Greetings Friends,

“The only constant in the universe is change and sometimes all we’re holdin’ is a few pennies.” –Jason Goldtrap 05.08.06

I was laid off today from Musical Destinations. Business is down this year.

I am going to take some time to consider my gifts, my resources and how I can best apply them to keep the wife on and the lights fed.

Ultimately, I am a wordsmith. There is a way out there in this vast universe, in which I can place letters in just the right order to make people think, slow down, grasp the infinite beauty of life and realize that God loves them.

I do not need money and I am not looking for further employment at the moment. As I make plans to attend my 20 year class reunion, on July 8th in Joelton, Tennessee, the thought of punching a time clock on another job is not too appealing. If that need arises in coming weeks then I will apply nose to grindstone, but in the immediate I will contemplate my delicate state and investigate how I might motivate those whose fate seems to be to irritate and devastate the proletariat.

I am committed to not allow discouragement to take up a single second of my time on this planet. To maintain this decision I do need some assistance from you. I need you to keep me in your prayers as I work out this transition. Furthermore, I need you to email me a few kind words. I need encouragement. Anything you can toss my way to make me smile would be most appreciated.

So to get the ball rolling, I will encourage you first. Please take a few moments to explore the website “Ashes and Snow” featuring the photography of Gregory Colbert. http://www.ashesandsnow.org/

Feel free to share this email with anyone.

Thank you for your time,

Jason Goldtrap

bellascribe said...

Maybe you will enjoy these:

(from gapingvoid's how to be creative);
maybe not, but how about that next post?