Monday, March 28, 2016

emerging avant garde?

Having recently re-read my post stillness from January, it is truly wonderful to now read this commentary by Art Critic, Andrew Berardini.  Instinctually, I know that the Art-professionalism-trend is a horrific distraction from art making and living artfully.  Hence, struggling with pressure to become professional has always been...  a struggle. 
Perhaps there's more to think about regarding "professionalism" and taking oneself lightly? seriously? too seriously?
Once again, these rational terms compete with the abstract matter of art and with the often irrational nature of the working artist.  

Read on: 

By Andrew Berardini
March 23, 2016
No one likes being called an amateur, a dilettante, a dabbler.

“Unprofessional” is an easy insult.

The professional always makes the right moves, knows the right thing to say, the right name to check. Controlled and measured, the professional never fucks the wrong person or drinks too much at the party. They never weep at the opening, never lay in bed for days too depressed, sick, broken to move. They say about the professional, “so easy to work with” or “so exacting but brilliant.” The professional takes advantage from every encounter, employs every new acquaintance as a contact, always hits the deadline. When asked about their work, they know what to say, a few lines of explanation sprinkled with enough filigreed intrigue to allude to abysses of research, the mysteries of making. They answer emails in minutes. Their PowerPoints are super crisp. Look at their website, so clean, so modern, so very pro.

You don’t feel like any of these things.

You are hungry, tired, overworked. You drank too much at the party and then slept with the wrong person, and then the really wrong person. You missed the deadline, it just thrushed past with a whoosh. Hustlers around you disappear into wealth and fame. Your dealer tells you to make more with red, those red ones are really selling. Maybe, she says, you make only the red ones for a while? Your student skips class to go to an art fair. The most pressing collectors are the ones holding your student loans. They keep calling, you wish you could trade them a drawing. It can take days to answer the simplest email. Your website, if it exists, is in shambles.

You wander. You doubt. You change styles, media, cities. You experiment, you fail. Again. And again.

Unprofessional most literally means “below or contrary to the standards of a paid occupation.” Who makes the standards? Is everyone paid? Fairly? Is being an artist a job or something else? Who sets these standards? Do you wish to be standardized?

Art and success.

So easy to cocktail those two words together into “professionalism.” Pull up a famous artist’s CV and work from the beginning. Does success look like a sculpture plunked outside the Palace at Versaille? Is it a biennial, a prize, a blue-chip dealer? Is it the cover of a magazine, a thick, chunky retrospective catalogue? Even more evasive things just glanced, the luxury sedan like a bullet, shiny and hard, that the aging photographer bought after he dumped his smallish gallery and long-term partner, for a bigger dealer and a younger girlfriend, shiny and hard as his car; or perhaps, the off-hand mention of a domestic servant, a personal chef, the third nanny, the smallest chink in the opacity of wealth, so very far from the roaches scurrying in your kitchen sink and the fact that you’ve eaten nothing but mushed pumpkin and cigarettes for a month.

This did not feel professional, but it’s true. These things you experienced to be an artist.

Your body of work is a mark of your passages, the richest of your thoughts and the deepest of your emotions. Simply manifesting this into art is hard enough, but today you feel like you need to be professional. The pressure and penury makes you nervous and cautious. What can you make that will take the iron of poverty from your flesh, that will make this feel less like a terrible mistake?

Can’t you tell by my clothes I never made it
Can’t you hear that my songs just won’t sing
Can’t you see in my eyes that I hate it
Wasting twenty long years on a dream.

Lee Hazlewood, “The Performer” (1973)

Somehow making money makes us feel for real. Money we can trade for food and shelter, for time and space and materials to continue. These things are hard and pressing, but it’s not the money that makes us real. We are real already.

Everyone can be an artist, not because they have a degree or they sell, but because they live life artfully, with skill and imagination, freedom and awareness.

But artists trade promissory notes and subsume authority into institutions for some outside validation. Proof to your beloveds they weren’t crazy in supporting you financially, emotionally, spiritually. Later, broke, you exchange dreams for money, or even, later yet, make other people’s dreams and trade those instead.

Collectors, they are really responding to the red ones.

The path is clear for the professional. BFA, MFA, Commercial Gallery, Museum. 5 Things Every Artist Has to Know About Getting a Gallery. 10 Easy Tips for Killing Your Studio Visit. 3 Totally Simple Steps to Art Stardom. Mix in a teaching appointment perhaps, a grant here, a residency there.

For the unprofessional, it isn’t so narrowly defined. As Charles Bukowski wrote, the shortest distance between two points is often intolerable.

It’s not that artists shouldn’t be paid for their labor, but we ought to refuse the assignation of value and worth purely based on salability or the validation of institutions. Systems will always seek to swallow us. We must resist the efficiency of its gears with the softness of our humanity. Unprofessionalism is asserting our right to be human against this machine.

Fragile, weak, doubtful, bumbling, to be “unprofessional” is to simply be human. This does not mean acting without ethics, honesty, or basic kindness. These finer qualities can easily exist independent from how we trade our time for money.

Professionalism makes a person into a brand. The cynical think this has already happened: our slightest movement tracked for personalized advertisements, our declarations and photographs that we share with others all branded and branding, self-awareness as commerce. And though others can attempt to professionalize you, reduce your spirit to a slogan, a product, a logo, you do not have to do this to yourself.

For the time being we live under capitalism, but we don’t have to be broken down into its systematic alienations, divisions, inequalities, of all value to market-value.

In some ways, I was piqued to write this by Daniel S. Palmer’s recent essay on hyper-professionalization just published in Artnews, which ends on an inspiring note: “In a moment of monotony and conformity, artists must reclaim their freedom.”

He opens his essay with a young artist pitching a practised spiel, surrounded and over-handled by art pros. This fails miserably to impress Daniel Palmer. Obviously, being a professional in this sense doesn’t always work. It might have currency with those who are also hyper-professionalized like this particular emerging artist, churning through a system crafted for exactly such purposes. But it didn’t work with Daniel Palmer, and it wouldn’t work for me.

Such clear professionalism is crass, careerist, empty. Repulsive even. “Ambitious young artist” always sounded like an insult to me.

I see making art as the necessary expression of the human spirit. We all need to live, but when the acquisition of wealth becomes the primary endeavor, you are no longer an artist but a financier.

More than a gallerist or a manager, a dealer or an advisor, a critic or a curator, more than an army of assistants and a clutter of collectors, an artist needs the courage to act alone and a community that makes such acts more bearable. One that allows us to be vulnerable, inappropriate, to go rogue, go wild, act weird, and fail.

To be amateurs, dabblers, dilettantes.

An amateur is filled with love beyond compensation, the dabblers fearlessly go places they don’t belong, the dilettantes happily lack the hidebound pretensions of experts. When we step out of the imposed confines of professionalism, we can be as open as students, able to flirt with other modes, to seek knowledge, experience, and value in our lives without limits.

Stripped away of institutional validation and the pressures of the market, we are free to be human, to be artists, to be unprofessional.

Copyright © Momus 2015

Saturday, March 19, 2016


Did I mention that I suffered a dog-bite on my hand a few days before Christmas?  The purpose of pointing that out is that my hand was far less "on the team" then usual, and it was my right hand, so I began reading like I haven't read in years.  When your creative productivity goes down, the need for another point of focus grows.  The great thing is getting through to the blocked self-permit needed to allow myself the "luxury" of just sitting and reading!  I love reading, and I'm glad to be back in the swing of it.
The books have been novels by Sara Gruen, Wally Lamb, and non-fiction by Marion Woodman, Judith Duerk, C. G. Jung and poetry by Mary Oliver.

The strength and common thread through all of their writings has been the search for self and the attention to symbols for self knowing.  Little by little, I turn further toward the importance of symbols in dreams, journaling and relationships, and my art becomes a more overt conduit for depicting and understanding those symbols.  The critical thinking that takes shape through meditation (through art making) on a symbol or symbolic image is, what I'll now call (thanks Jung), alchemical.  As in meditation, this thinking is non linear, abstract and holistic, but instead of using the process to check out, it seems there is an opportunity to check in.  Over the years, my inability to intelligently express abstract ideas through verbal language played into a weakness of mine - fear of fraudulence and stupidity.  In lieu of depicting what is bizarre, raw, abstract or confusing from my creative mind, I have protected myself (checked out) through organizing my art within public comfort zones, thus avoiding putting tender vulnerability on the "chopping block."  To be honest, I think higher Ed for artists should specifically address and engage (check in) with this vulnerability, abstraction and confusion as much or MORE than it stresses professionalism and competitive, art-market stuff.

So, being that I don't currently participate in the art market, who's doing the "chopping?"  Inevitably, myself.  And I'll say, I don't believe that my work up until the recent past was shallow or less important.  There were courageous and bold efforts, personal expression and worthwhile risks to be applauded.  I am especially glad to have made artwork with and for a dance company, made large, site specific installations, and to have learned to take A LOT of time on projects instead of pressuring myself to be prolifically productive.  The difference then was that, even though the natural symbols and effects of myself came through in my projects, I wanted to express ideas that were related to life outside of me.  Perhaps that was the framework for my art that seemed necessary in order to talk about it and share it with people, relating to what is more conventionally understood.  I believe many of those works started as the more cryptic and personal visual language of my own ways and being.  Then, much of the project was steered by my impressions of public perception and acceptance, leaving the initial abstract vision to be reformed and polished (Errr...  chopped).

Depicting abstract symbols of my psyche felt awkward and exposed.   Does this relate to a college art critique wherein a peer student mocked my symbolic artwork (or so I thought he mocked my work)?  I think that moment indicated to me that not only was I "weird" outside of the art world, but even amongst peers I was weird, and that felt like a chopping block.  That moment did not end badly, my other peers and my professors weren't addressing my work that way, but, it did provoke a paranoia in me.  I have always picked up on the comments and critiques of "art professionals" and I have been hung in the balance of "is it too weird?"  "Is it weird enough?" and "Will they like it?"

In contrast, Nikki Giovanni teaches her students to ask a question more like, "Do I like it and is it good enough for me?"

The superego-boombox that I have long shouldered adopted that self-conscious and insecure perspective that tells you that others' impressions of your work come first and your personal journey is submissive to it.  If others saw my work as weird or confusing, then I had to make my work more understandable or just minimal in aesthetic so that there were few overt symbolic messages.  (I do love minimalism and my most minimal art has been a great relief and comfort to me.)  If someone whom I respected as an artist/art professional made a dismissive remark regarding some symbol or symbolic imagery that feels important to me, I would adopt that dismissive thinking and the superego would remark, "yes, now you know where to draw the line with your vulnerability."

An artist peer of mine once groaned, "Ugh!  Self portraits!" with a grossed out expression.  I have no idea why she would be dismissive and repulsed by self portraiture - perhaps it is too often a mode of self expression which is difficult to face?  At that time, I was courageously making more self portraits, including much symbolism otherwise, and I immediately felt I had to keep my current work "mum."  Thankfully, I did not keep mum beyond our conversation, but her words and expression goaded me, confirming my Superego's fearful message, "yes, keep it to yourself."
This was my first artwork after chaos time (see below), also a first effort at grandly portraying personal symbolism.  

Keeping it to oneself - a harsh contrast to the creative self, the artist.  So here's the thing that springs up in me as my new tour de force in life:  It's YOU, it's YOURs, it's BEING and it's HUMAN.  The social structure that was set up for you was not what you needed in order to make YOUR ART.

Chaotic events occurred in my life (yes, chaos, like murder and death), which brought me to the bottom and to the darkest place.  In that depth I realized, there's no time to lose, there's no other life to live, there's no need to succumb to any program for life other than my own intuitive and real desires. Making my artwork can and does reflect all of this.

Carl Jung points out that when we shine a light onto our shadow, we find darkness, and that is rightfully so.

Ever since (what I've usually called) the chaos time, there has been a slow, subversive energy and thought process that has recently become more the leader as I engage life and art.  I've learned to temper the superego with intuition and allow abstract thinking/feeling it's rightful role in my art making.  Symbolism, which has always been apparent to me, even when suppressed or confusing, now regains it's rightful role in my art-making and in my self-making.
A very recent watercolor/drawing, an effort to play into the stream of consciousness and allow whatever comes up.  Much like dream analysis, I can look at the image after the fact and see or follow clues from the subconscious mind.