Monday, February 23, 2009

Crit 1 Response

Critical Theory I Response

The artist is the man who makes life more interesting and
beautiful, more understandable or mysterious, or, probably
in the best sense more wonderful. His trade is to deal in
illimitable experience. It is therefore only of importance that
the artist discover whether he be an artist, and it is up to society
to discover what return it can make to its artists.
George Bellows (Protter 206)

What is the role of the artist? Is he a mad genius, blessed with a gift beyond his own control? Or is he a skilled worker, perfecting technique with years of study? As one begins to look at modern and contemporary art even more questions arise. What are the models of authorship and how to they apply to contemporary art? This concept kept reoccurring in the Critical Theory One reading and I believe it is an important one to discuss and apply to my own work.

Staniszewski discusses the first major shift in thinking of the role of the artist in her book Believing is Seeing. She sees the shift from monarchial rule to democratic rule as having an major effect on the role of the artist;
In modernity, visual culture does not embody the mysteries
of myth and ritual conjured by powers beyond humanity. It
is not produced upon command of church or crown…
Traditionally great modern Art is made by one creator,
who is inspired to produce it. This kind of inspiration has been
understood as the rare gift of genius!

This idea of ‘artist as genius of self expression’ is quite different from artist as craftsman or as a ’servant’ creating works of art for a king or pope. Staniszewski goes as far as to say that such artists were not creating “Art” in the sense that we regard it today because their work was basically controlled by those who commissioned it.
While I can definitely see this shift (to free will)of which the author speaks I disagree with her on one point. She seems to discount any art that was commissioned. Just because Michelangelo created the Sistine Chapel to glorify the Church and God does not mean that he did not utilize his own elements of self expression. I particularly look to his use of anatomy. The figures are larger than life because of the emphasis on the musculature and form. He used his own visual language to create power and expression in his figures. This creation of a visual language, specific to his own work, seems to me to be a very direct expression of the free will and genius we associate with modern artists.
The artist as genius subject is discussed by several authors through out the reading material for critical theory one. Linda Nochlin’s “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” states “On this basis, women’s lack of major achievement in art may be formulated as a syllogism; If women had the
golden nugget of artistic genius, it would reveal itself. but it has never revealed itself QED women do not have the golden nugget of artistic genius. “(198) Why would people buy into the idea of genius when there are so many factors that make more sense? We could compare the income of their parents, or as Nochlin suggests, the profession of their fathers (199).

One point that came up in our class discussion was Foucalt’s idea that it is not the artist himself but rather his discursive function; his importance as a commodity and a myth. There is a reason that Pollock and Warhol are the most remembered modern artists; people know who they are in an almost characterized way. Warhol, with his shock of white hair and Pollock as the brooding lone ranger are easily digestible figures. They became famous. Warhol particularly played with the idea of fame and authorship. He challenged the idea that the artist had to physically create his masterpiece. Factory production and the use of ‘low art’ were groundbreaking ideas. Warhol ushered in the age of artist as brand, as conductor, as idea maker.
The acts and personality of modern artists often became as much of a myth as the art work himself. “In The Greatest Homosexual“, Larry River’s escapades seem to overshadow his work.
In becoming an artist, Rivers performs a further act
of self-othering through his identification with the queer
artistic community of which he also became a part. This
is to view him in the late 1940’s and 1950’s as a kind of
queer-acting, or at least queer-identified, straight artist”
( 111)
Rivers purposely made himself into the ‘other’ as a way to create a niche for his work. Although Rivers was a painter, he was about much more than putting paint on a canvas. His social scene, which includes the innuendoes in his paintings, is just as important as his work.

The major shift we discussed from modern to postmodern art is the shift from the artist to the viewer. The works of art become less about the artists feeling and experience and more about what the viewer experiences. The works of art are not complete until the viewer “fills them in”. Where does this leave the artist? I would say this makes the Post Modern artist more of a conductor. He is conducting the production of his pieces (or performances) and also attempting to manipulate his viewers to make his concepts available. We discussed this with Damien Hirst, whose work is more about the art system (auctions, money exchanges, valuation) than the actual pieces produces.

These ruminations on the role of the artist inevitably lead me to question my own role as an artist. I started off, as many artists do, with a more craftsman-like approach to art. I had to learn about mediums, grounds, and ways to apply paint. There was a lot of trial and error before I could even begin to make paintings that looked like what I envisioned. Despite the fact that some believe that “the still image is dead” I still find paint and pastel compelling mediums in which to work. Perhaps because our society is bombarded with moving images, on our phones, our computers, our televisions there will be a longing for the still images. Having an idea, an emotion, an entire story captivated in a still image is, to me, still a relevant form of communication. Painters at this point in time are able to look past the conventional modes of distributing their work because of the internet and computers. Look at the portrait of Obama by street artist Shepard Fairey. This is a image that has become iconic in a Warhol-like way, except it was never in a gallery (although the original eventually ended up in the National Portrait Gallery). It was disseminated through the internet and political campaigning and now thousands of people imitate it with the help of a website that allows you to plug in your own photograph.
The above example is just one way the artists are using creativity and technology in the Post Post modern world. The role of the artist is ever changing. Every artist needs to decide why, and for whom, she is creating her art. I see myself as an artist in the George Bellows quote at the beginning of this paper, as someone who deals in a boundless experience. This experience is what I bring to my paintings and hope to share with viewer.

Comments by Stuart Steck:

1) I find it interesting that you refer to the Artist by using a masculine pronoun (see your first three sentences). This is especially true given your discussion of authorship. It seems ingrained in our cultural consciousness that we think of the "artist/author" as a masculine subject. In this respect, I would argue that we need to employ different semantic structures in order to recast how we think of the "author" (this is certainly a point made by feminists).

2) While Michelangelo certainly developed his own visual language, I think Stanizewski would argue that people in the early 16th century did not possess a sense of "individual" consciousness. That is to say, they did not see themselves as autonomous beings, and thus did not approach the task of picture-making in terms of "self-expression." In other words, their work was not a deliberate expression of "selfhood." For Stanizewski, the idea of "ART" (as we know it) only begins to surface when artists see their work as a conscious act of self-expression (rather than as a means of visual communication or propaganda). After all, a clear sense of selfhood must precede the act of self-expression.

Of course, as I suggested in Critical Theory I, I think Stanizewski made a strategic mistake in choosing Michelangelo as an example. Historically speaking, Michelangelo seems to have been a transitional figure -- one who began to perceive his own autonomy as a creative agent. That said, I would still argue that the notions of "artistic genius" and "selfhood" are culturally determined/mediated (rather than natural or innate).

3) I agree with your suggestion that all artists function as "discursive subjects" (i.e., they fulfill certain roles and personae). And I think this is true for unknown artists ... as well as Pollock and Warhol. In fact, I would say that we all fulfill some kind of "discursive function" in our culture (i.e. we all perform prescribed roles and functions). After all, we exist within a cultural framework that dictates the parameters of our individual behavior. Even our attempts to transgress social norms are determined by the very society we seek to subvert.

4) I would agree that the postmodern artist functions as a "conductor" -- one who manipulates cultural images, objects, and meanings to achieve certain results. Indeed, I would contend that the most important medium for artists is culture itself! In this regard, I certainly agree with you: The artist must have a clear sense of purpose when she create her work!

Reference and Reading Material

Butt, Gavin “The Greatest Homosexual? Camp Pleasure and the Performative Body of Larry Rivers.” in Performing the Body/Performing the Text, by Jones, Amelia; Stephenson, Andrew: Routledge, Chapman, and Hall, 1999.

Nochlin, Linda “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” in Women, Art and Power, and Other Essays, Westview Press/Perseus, 1989.

Protter, Eric. Painter on Painting. New York: Dover Publications, 1997.

Staniszewski, Mary Anne. Believing is Seeing. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.

Residency 1 Response

Group 1
Residency Response

The learning process of residency one began for me the minute I opened my portfolio and contemplated hanging my work on the wall. Although I have presented my work before, I had not really thought about how the order and grouping of my work affected the viewer. I also had not seen all of my work laid out before my eyes. Therefore, I would say that the first critique I faced was my own. My work looked smaller on the wall then it did in my mind.
Before I began the residency I was nervous what kind of work my fellow students would be presenting. Because I come from a traditional painting background, I feared that I would not connect to the other students in the program. I was happy that my fear was quickly eradicated. Walking through the student galleries was an exciting and intriguing. I was most struck by the wide range of work. I enjoyed that the content of each room was greatly varied. This mixing of ideas and styles was one of the best aspects of the program that I experienced.
The first official critique for me was with Jan Avgikos. Her very first questions of my work were based on my palette. She remarked that there was an overwhelming amount of brown in my work. My knee jerk reaction to that was “What’s wrong with brown?” Of course there is nothing, in theory, wrong with brown. However, I had not seen how strong the thread of brown ties together my work. Jan challenged me to think beyond the comfort of the colors with which I am used to working. Admittedly, I have worked with a limited palette for the past five years. I think getting away from the “brown” may be a matter of getting out of the studio, throwing open the curtains, and looking at some new things. Most of my work has been done in the same room with natural light and similar backdrops. Even in this first critique I realized that I need to question why; why am I setting things up this way, why am I choosing my subjects, and why am I painting in the style I paint?
Truthfully, these questions came at me in an overwhelming way. My next critique with Andreas Fogarsi added to the whirlwind. His first statement about my work was
“ This reminds me of what we still have on our walls. We have them but we don’t like them.
They are old and dusty.”
This statement stands out as one of the most memorable things I was told. I cannot say that I agree with Mr. Fogarsi; but I know there is a kernel of truth there. My paintings have an “old” feeling to them. Thinking about this comment has lead me to one of the biggest questions I will face as an artist; how do I make representational and figurative painting relative in the 21st century?
The first answer to that question was made clear early on; look at modern painters. Every critique was filled with suggestions of painters for me to explore. It was almost as if I had been living in a bubble prior to the residency. I looked at many books, but most of them were from the 19th century. Contemporary painting, to me, represented the deskilling of art. However I have come to realize that I cannot be ignorant of what is going on today. Therefore, I will look in to contemporary paintings. I also will make it a point in the future to go to galleries and see paintings, because photographs often do not do them justice. I am grateful for teachers (and students) who give me plenty of names to look up, because that gives me a starting point.
Another idea that I found to be helpful was to take a lot of pictures. I have a complicated relationship with photographs. I have only recently begun to use them a reference for paintings, and even then I only used them after observing and painting from life. I have never wanted my paintings to look like photographs. In fact, my favorite paintings are usually more sketchy and lively, not labored over to look photographic. So when using photographs was suggested to me I immediately balked. Then I realized that I could use the photographs not as reference, but as a kind of ‘visual bookmark’. They could give me ideas compositionally or they could capture things that I could never observe to paint. I have decided to just go crazy with the camera and see what happens.
One of the biggest impressions that I came away with from Residency One is that people really want to see me “come out of my comfort zone”. The idea of stepping out of the rules I have set for myself as a painter is slightly terrifying. The freedom to play is not something I have allowed myself in my painting, although I have always enjoyed drawing and doodling in a more relaxed, fun way. Painting has always been a very serious endeavor. One very enlightening thing for me to see was the graduate talk by Ms. Swearington. This talk resonated with me because she showed her “journey” in the graduate program. It was fascinating to see how she really took a leap and worked in a way that was almost totally opposite from where she started out. I enjoyed seeing how other artists tackled the idea of stepping out of their comfort zone.
Overall, the residency was exhilarating, overwhelming, and incredibly informational. I feel like I have the freedom to pretty much do anything. I have these “traditional” painting skills, which is what my work coming into the program represents. Now I have to take these skills and find out why I am painting and what I want to say. I also have to give myself the freedom to let the journey happen, even if that means lightening up a bit.

Comments by Stuart

1) Remember, the "de-skilling" of art doesn't necessarily involve a rejection of skills per se. It simply involves the development and employment of a new/different skill-set. In fact, the process of making conceptual art requires a highly refined set of intellectual skills! In the end, however, one set of skills is not inherently "better" than another. Nor does one set of skills necessarily preclude another. Each problem that an artist faces will not only demand a specific solution, but it will also require a specific set of skills.

2) Brown is not simply a color. It is also a "signifier" that conveys certain associations and meanings. When Jan commented that you make "brown paintings," she was referring to the fact that your palette is dominated by earth tones. But she was also suggesting that your paintings evoke a very particular set of meanings that we associate with the past (hence, Andreas's comment that your work seems "dusty"). Remember, style communicates meaning independently of content or subject matter.

3) I am thrilled that you have made peace with photography. I love the idea of using photographs as a means of both developing your visual sensibilities and exploring compositional possibilities. This is great!

4) Finally, I want to encourage you to try new things ... and to work outside of your comfort zone. Now is the time to explore and experiment. Don't be afraid to fail ... or to make some truly awful work. We only expect one thing: That you produce, produce, produce. You have total freedom to follow your whims -- no matter how wacky they are.