Tag Archives: art is intimidating

Who The *$&% Is An Art Expert?

I’ve had one art DVD on my wishlist for years now, but I hadn’t given it much priority until today.

Who the *$&% Is Jackson Pollock? is the 2006 documentary about 73-year-old former long-haul truck driver Teri Horton, who purchased a $5 painting from a thrift shop. The painting was supposed to be a gag gift for a friend — but now Horton believes that the painting is an original Jackson Pollock.

If the painting is by the famous abstract expressionist, it would be worth millions. What the documentary does is show the lengths this woman has gone through to try to prove the painting is a Pollock work, including fingerprint identification. But the road is not easy, as Randy Kennedy explains:

The filmmakers were initially fascinated by the science-versus-art angle of Ms. Horton’s story, about how forensics may be starting to nudge the entrenched tradition of connoisseurship from its perch in the world of art authentication. But as they spent more time with her, they began to see the movie as being about something more important than whether the painting was a real Pollock, a question left very much for the viewer to decide.

“It became, really, a story about class in America,” [director Harry Moses] said. “It’s a story of the art world looking down its collective nose at this woman with an eighth-grade education.”

The story obviously catches my attention, but it wasn’t until I read Frank Messina’s article, Nicolas Carone: Jazz, Poetry, And Jackson Pollock, in which Nicolas Carone, an expert on Pollock discusses his role in the saga of Horton’s painting, that I became motivated to move the film to the top of my wishlist:

In the film, Carone is brought in to physically inspect the painting. In a pivotal scene, Carone is asked by the film’s director, Harry Moses, whether or not the painting is authentic. Carone said he could not determine one way or the other. And with those few words, the painting remained in a cloud of mystery. After all, if Nicolas Carone couldn’t tell if it was authentic, then who could?

Relaxed in his favorite armchair in his studio, Carone spoke at length about the movie, and admitted being less than forthcoming when Harry Moses asked him about Teri Horton’s painting. “I was worried. I worried. I was advised not to tell that it is or it isn’t.” When I asked who had advised him, he ran his fingers across his lips as if closing a zipper. He then referred to a particular scene in the film when the Horton painting is compared side-by-side with an undisputed Pollock, “No. 5, 1948”, once owned by art collector Si Newhouse, chairman and CEO of Advance Publications and Conde Nast, (New Yorker Magazine, Vanity Fair), and more recently, record producer David Geffen. “The thing is, when they spliced the painting from Geffen, and they showed it with hers and they put it together like that. It looked exactly the same. That made me worry,” Carone said. I asked in what way. “In a way that it could’ve been a spliced painting. What she had, I looked at the canvas in the back. You know how you turn the painting, like this, the canvas, you turn it around,” Carone said, shaping his arms into a square. “All this on the side is still a continuation of the painting, and it’s cut there. This part is cut. I think that that painting was cut from another painting. It’s cut,” Carone said. “As if Pollock cut it?” I asked. “Yes,” he said.

And while Carone wouldn’t outright tell me whether the painting was authentic or not, he did offer a cryptic assessment when asked about the recent offer of $9,000,000 Horton received and refused for the painting. “I think if she holds out a little more—I think the Teri painting will go for more than nine million,” Carone said.

Despite this, there’s no news that Horton has received the $50 million she’s been holding out for; or that she’s even sold it at all. However, knowing Carone’s thoughts certainly adds a new layer to the story and makes me want need to see this film. In part because the story simply will not die.

There Is Only Art!

In Memo to budding art collectors, art collector Paulino Que gives three tips for beginner art collectors — but the best part of the article or interview is this part:

[I]n the course of merely listening to him, you will realize that what you have been doing since the day you were born has been a big mistake. From the start, there was no need for psychoanalysis, higher education or your vaunted profession, even if you happen to be a mind reader. In fact, going to college or chasing after your career goals were red herrings if they did not lead you to life’s biggest bonanza which Que spoke of with much zeal: the pursuit of Juan Lunas and F.R. Hidalgos, the chasing-after of Fernando Zobels. If there’s one thing that explains itself, it’s “You should have been collecting art in the first place!” No need for repetition or explanation. There’s no golden pot somewhere over the rainbow. There’s only art, art, art!


Photo of Paulino Que posing before Imagining Identity, a selection of a hundred self-portraits by Filipino artists in Que’s private collection from the Business Mirror article.

Fear Of The Blank Paper

Staring down the pristine, stark-white surface of a blank page can be soooo intimidating… This phenomenon occurs with writers too. So what can you do when you’ve got your supplies all set, but that blank white page just stares back at you, taunting you, teasing you, bullying you…

Well, if you’re like Steve Thompson, maybe you carve your Crayolas into Star Wars characters.

If pencils are your tools, Dalton Ghetti‘s carved graphite works may be more inspiring to you.

If words are (supposed to be) your weapons of choice in the creative fight against the blank page, how about carving those pencil tips into letters? (Also by Dalton Ghetti.)

Take that, blank paper! We’re still getting our art on!

Alien Reporter Advice On Creating Comics

I’m no comic expert, but ever since I saw both Ghost World and American Splendor (pretty much back to back), I’ve wanted to create a comic. I bought a basic black sketchbook to draft my ideas… And that’s about it. The crisp white pages were too intimidating. But when I came across this post at Bungy Notes , I had a fabulous Ah-ha! moment:

I am about twelve strips into a weekly comic I publish over at Black Magpie Theory called, “Klexmur, Alien Reporter.”  It’s been a life-long fantasy of mine to create and publish a regular comicstrip.  If you’ve paid attention here, you know I have more than a passing interest in comics.  I also approach my work from a performance studies background, which holds (at least in some versions) that the best way to understand something is by doing it.

It’s that last line there, the “I also approach my work from a performance studies background, which holds (at least in some versions) that the best way to understand something is by doing it,” that’s the kicker.

I may just have to view the process as performance art — if only for an audience of one.

No Excuses!

So, how does the average or budding zine scribbler get through one of these fests in one piece? How do you guarantee that a vibrant day out with your creative peers doesn’t descend into an adrenaline-soaked nightmare of knotted pulp? Well, here’s some advice that I’ve found quite useful – hopefully it might help you too.

In How To Survive A Zine Fest, Martin offers some pretty good advice for any nervous newbie who enters a creative (and perhaps collaborative) community.

Check it out for tips on what to bring, why you should buy a thing or two, and how to navigate the types of tables and attendees at the event.

Hopefully it makes you feel better about jumping in at anything from one of those scrapbooking weekends to a new art class.

Image credits: Photo by Rob Block / Houston Independent Media, at Zine Fest Houston, May 16, 2009, via The Rag Blog.

Is Art In Your DNA?

Over at The Emerging Times, Michael Ferrare has written The ‘Picture Painting’ Gene, an article on Thomas Harrison’s book, Instinct:

In the book Instinct, Thomas Harrison describes many ways to leverage who you are (using your DNA) to promote success in business and in life. Of the many natural genes he mentions, one gene that may be hidden inside of you is the “Picture Painting” gene—a natural desire or way to create an evolving picture of yourself.

While Harrison, a corporate CEO, has written the book to explore the connections between DNA and entrepreneurial success, the author’s message is that “no matter who you are, there are learned success secrets you can put in place to compensate for what you inherited in ‘your’ genetic lottery.” According to the author, it’s a matter of “inborn traits that have to be ‘switched on’ to create the personalized winning scenario that’s right for you.”

Simply put, it’s a matter of visualization; the old sports dealio, where you see the basketball going in the hoop. Or, for those who fear they are talentless but wish for greater ability to create, you unlock the talent within your DNA by seeing your future as a more creative type or a successful artist (which surely is entrepreneurial).

Surely most of us could use a little more faith in our creative abilities. And if entrepreneurialism is an art, or some sort of talent, certainly other arts and talents can be so unlocked.

Ferrare, in his post, uses an example of a friend who uses the “picture painting” to leave a corporate ad agency for a more creative career in writing — and sums up the trickiest part of the process, post visualization techniques:

When you share your picture with a friend, get ready for a comment like “Hold on, don’t get ahead of yourself.” Don’t let their comments, or cynicism diminish your vision. Instead, remember that that’s the point—getting ahead of yourself.

I’m imagining that perhaps it’s best to paint a picture of your friends and family being supportive of your picture-painted-perfect future before you share it.

Image Credits: via Amazon.

Is Focusing Your Creativity Important?

At first glance, this cartoon by Emily Flake (originally published in The New Yorker) provides amusing, yet sage, advice:

Maybe if your creativity had fewer outlets, it would come out of you with more force.

But when I think about it, I don’t find such sentiments amusing or wise…

Many people, following the old adage of “practice makes perfect,” think that specializing in one medium or artistic pursuit will make for a greater proficiency. But creativity and art are not necessarily like surgery.

Art does not require perfection. So-called mistakes, even those acknowledged by the artist, do not hurt anyone. But more importantly, creativity is about expression — and the joy of creating.

And joy, like big wet kisses, can be sloppy. (Some people even prefer their art — and kisses — sloppy.)

I think one of the problems people have creating things is this fear of not being perfect. It holds us back, keeps us from expressing ourselves, keeps us from the joy of making.

So does thinking that if we’d only focus on one medium or form of art that we’d get better — because when we do and the “creativity doesn’t come out with better force,” we feel inadequate, talentless.

This expectation of perfection doesn’t inspire us to try another medium, form, or style; it leaves us saying, “Forget it.” But we shouldn’t forget it, we shouldn’t give up on art. We should forget about the expectations of perfection in creating, of any notions of pleasing others with our art.

Even though we know we’d never get past Simon Cowell if we auditioned on Idol, we still enjoy singing in the car or with friends — so why do we limit ourselves when it comes to art?

To answer the titular question of this post, “Is focusing your creativity important?” I say, “Not really.”

At least not the way most folks mean to focus.

I think you should focus on being creative, not so much on the end result — or it’s meeting the standards of others. Just focus on the expression and the joy of making something.

John Waters Says, “Contemporary Art Hates You …And Your Family Too”

I subscribe to Modern Painters, but just now got around to reading the September ’09 issue — despite the fabulous John Waters on the cover.

Mr. Waters need not take it personally; I just have a plethora of magazines to get through, and if they aren’t in the magazine rack in the bathroom, well, it just takes that much longer.

Such reading habits, and the fact that my family refer to the bathroom as “the library,” won’t upset Waters either. If you don’t know that, you don’t know Waters. And you certainly haven’t read the magazine feature, which discusses his contemporary art collection, including:

Over the toilet in the bathroom is a Mike Kelley piece that “really pisses people off,” but Waters asks me not to say why, since he writes about it in his book. Also in the bathroom are a funny “Queer Batman” watercolor by Mark Chamberlain and “a Brigid Berlin tit painting; she painted with her tits.”

In Baltimore, he says, “I have the Michael Jackson print by Gary Hume looking through a glory hole right in my hall, which is really scary. Plus, you can see it in the mirror, which is even worse.”

But more interesting, to me, than the art John Waters collects is the art John Waters makes.

Waters calls his art conceptual and says it’s about writing and editing. “Hardly am I Ansel Adams. Or sitting around with a pottery wheel, like in Ghost. The craft is not the issue here. The idea is. And the presentation.”

And I love the ideas and the presentation. Like this piece, part of his Rear Projection series which combines parts of four film-title stills to spell out: contemporary art hates you.

The work’s title amusing title is …And Your Family Too.

In the article, Lawrence Levi describes Waters’ work this way: “Much of his work pokes fun at the art and film worlds he inhabits, allowing him to be at once an insider and a heckler.”

And if you think Levi or I are reading into the art, here’s what the artist himself has to say about it:

The art world “is a secret club,” Waters says. “It is a language; you have to learn everything. You have to learn how to dress, you have to learn how to see it, you have to learn how to talk about it, you have to learn how to read about it. All of it is impenetrable to a newcomer, and it was to me too.”

So let the art of John Waters speak to you, your insecurity over the intimidating impenetrability of the art world — go ahead and laugh, even. But don’t forget to just open your eyes too:

In his 1998 film Pecker, when the laundromat worker played by Christina Ricci tells her photographer boyfriend, played by Edward Furlong, “I don’t understand any of that art crap,” he replies sincerely, “You could if you just open your eyes.” But as his feelings about impenetrability suggest, Waters has no problem with elitism.

PS The book mentioned — which will contain the story of a Mike Kelley artwork above the toilet that “really pisses people off” — is Role Models; it’s to be published in May, 2010.

PPS I’d just like to say, that when discussing anything John Waters, you’re bound to mention bathroom artwork that piss-es people off, as well as “glory holes,” penetration issues, and the word “pecker.”  And I loved it.

What’s Kitsch?

In order to discuss the meaning of kitsch, you first need to know it’s definition. So I grabbed my copy of Kitsch, The World of Bad Taste, by Gillo Dorfles (with contributions by John McHale, Karl Pawek, Ludwig Giesz, Lotte H. Eisner, Ugo Volli, Vittorio Gregotti, and Aleksa Celebonovic; and essays by Hermann Broch and Clement Greenberg). In the book kitsch is defined as follows:

The word kitsch could derive etymologically from the English ‘sketch’ or, according to the other opinions, from the German verb ‘verkitschen (‘to make cheap’). According to Giesz (Ludwig Giesz: ‘Phanomenologie des Kitsches’ …1960) which is without doubt the most complete work on the subject, the word kitsch could approximately be said to mean ‘artistic rubbish.’

However, “artistic rubbish” is as “I know it when I see it” as porn is. To simply define something as “bad” without considering the pure subjectivity involved is nearly nonsensical.

While Dorfles et all go on at great length about how they arrive at the wrinkling of their noses, the definitions are less than satisfactory — especially as they point to a real case of monetary snobbery.

For example, posters of the great art classics are considered to be kitsch. Translation: Unless you can afford an actual Rembrandt or other Master, your taste, however classy, will be defined as bad and kitsch by virtue of simply having a thin wallet.

In fact, Dorfles really, really, not only dislikes copies or reproductions of any sort, but is not exactly happy with any sort of consumerism (he would hate today’s art museum gift shops). Nor does he limit himself only to the visual arts; along with film literature and music are judged, their medium and means of consumer acts equally under attack.

Dorfles is not an complete idiot, however; he senses the reader’s potential ire:

If anyone is not satisfied with our choice and finds some of the images artistic which we will present as pseudo-artistic, un-artistic, too bad! To us at least it will mean that our reader is really a ‘kitsch-man’ of the first water; and that the psychological test has worked properly.

What Dorfles (and anyone else who uses insulting as a judgmental intimidation tactic) fails to recognize here in such a confirmed stance of absolutes, is that a kitsch-woman of the first water (me!) will find his awareness of discord and dispute wins him no favor intellectually. The gloves are now off. Any potential shield of ignorance leaves him standing naked before me, facing a battle to the inevitable intellectual death.

If all this seems to imply that Kitsch, The World of Bad Taste is a book to avoid, please do not misunderstand. I love a good book I can sink my teeth into — even if that means I’m growling when I do it. (And I’ll likely visit this book often for argumental posts.)

But if Dorfles brings us closer to a true understanding of what kitsch really is, it is purely by accident.

This book was published in 1969 — and contains essays written up to three decades earlier. Viewed with the benefit of time, or hindsight, I find a great contextual definition of kitsch. Or maybe I should say, a definition of kitsch as a defensive reaction to the preservation of Art.

Some love this book for opening “your eyes to the avalanche of junk that makes up popular culture” and others loath it for failing to recognize the “the signifigance of the narrowing gap between high and low art,” but both sides miss the real point. Defining art as high-brow or low-brow, dismissing popular culture and ourselves as collectively low-brow, isn’t just an over-simplification; it’s a poor assessment.

Art as a form of human expression is not a static thing. It changes. Like everything else. Even removing the individual voices and processes of the creators, artworks are offered to a public which changes. Not only did we once love Rubenesque women, but Ruben himself; now, meh, not-so-much for either of them. What we value, and how we value it, changes. The conversations we have, the issues we explore, change. And, perhaps most dramatically, the ability to produce, show, and critique art has changed.

If low-barrier equals low-entry equals low-brow is the math being used, people need to reconsider. The converse certainly does not hold true. And those who, like Dorfles does with machines, blame technology for the copious amounts of kitsch ought to remember the battles for freedom of access for all. And the remarkable artworks we’ve had, strides taken, as a result.

I don’t want to be equally guilty of passing judgment on those who are quick to condemn popular culture, kitsch, etc., but the very people who “feel overwhelmed by the tasteless tides of popular culture” are not only, as they whine, so afflicted by it, but they are employing it. It’s obvious they are digging such pop culture adventures as publishing sans gatekeeper with a big spoon. Self-publishing their high-brow opinions is a low-brow, kitsch activity.

But back to the book.

Contextually, this book of essays stands as a defense against Modernism and those art movements after it which reject tradition. It’s the defensive posturing of an establishment wishing to retain authority, to rally the museums, galleys, and wealthy who must guard the integrity of Art. It’s not that these people have better taste with which to form the definitions and standards of Art, or even the right to do so; but they do have a reason to try. For you see, what they truly hope to guard so zealously are their investments in it.

But you can’t insulate your investments in art. Art is part of a living, breathing, culture which, as stated, changes. As the cultural values change, so do the monetary values of art. Not always in the art investor’s favor.

And no desperate debates designed to keep the established art status quo can thwart it.

So, the definition of kitsch…

On one hand, kitsch is purely subjective in the sense that each of us knows it when we see it and we ascribe different attributes to it. “Bad,” “atrocious,” “so bad it’s grand,” “funny,” “too funny,” “cheap,” etc. Which is why kitsch rather defies a classification. (What pleases or amuses one, insults another).

But kitsch, as it is often used in the art world, often has quite a different distinction. I see it as more than a slur, but an actual means to limit and control the art market, if not the art world.

Image credits: As all images are scanned from Kitsch, The World of Bad Taste, by Gillo Dorfles. Presented in order placed in the post, with author comments, if any.

Vintage ad, found on page 177: “An example of facile and grotesque copyfitting in this attempt to identify the inimitable blue of a painting by Cezanne with the blue of a man’s sportshirt.”

Film still, found on page 195: “The depiction of a famous painter on the screen is painful even in the hands of a director with taste. Vincente Minnelli’s film about van Gogh, Lust For Life (1956).”

Mona Lisa “kitsch,” found on page 21: “10. The Mona Lisa myth appears once more against the tiles of a shower. 11. A spectacles-case”

“Instead Of ‘It Sucks’ You Could Say, ‘It Doesn’t Speak To Me.'”

I found this cartoon by Mike Twohy inside the January 2010 issue of Good Housekeeping, and it reminded me that now is as good a time as any to address the issue of aesthetics and “artistic response.”

mike-twohy-art-cartoon

Art experts and educators such as Sally Hagaman have rather specific definitions of aesthetics:

There still is confusion between understanding aesthetics as an adjective (as in “aesthetic scanning”) and aesthetics as a noun (as in the philosophy of art), a distinction made clear years ago by Sharer (1983) and others. Aesthetic scanning clearly is a method of art criticism, of responding to a specific work or body of work. Aesthetics historically is a branch of philosophy with its own substantive content. This content deals with general questions about art such as “What is art?”, “What’s the difference between a work of art and a copy?”, “Are there criteria that can be used in evaluating all works of art?”, and “Is the concept of originality in art a meaningful one?”

I refer, more simply, to aesthetics as the process of recognizing and articulating the emotional and/or psychological response(s) to works of art.

You have to first recognize or identify the responses that you as an individual have to artworks before you can talk about them and use them to exemplify, define, defend, or otherwise discuss art (works) and Art (in general) in terms of “good,” “bad,” or the bigger questions Hagaman stated.

Most of us, sadly, have not been taught how to do this.

Schools, with their ever-threatened budgets for the arts, may teach us how to mold clay, encourage us to express ourselves creatively by drawing, give us plenty of time to master the techniques of plastering tempera well enough for cheerleaders to make those banners on brown craft paper, but they typically fail to give us insight into how we react to art.

hunter-makes-sculpture-the-butt-of-a-joke This is why I like to take my kids to art museums, one at a time, giving them my undivided attention and helping teach them to how to think about and talk about what they like and don’t like. (Always illuminating!)

It’s not good enough to say, “It sucks,” or even, “It doesn’t speak to me.” Or to even feel that way. I want them to know why they feel it sucks, why it doesn’t speak to them.

Knowing why you feel the way you do about art is the only way you really know your own opinion — and feel comfortable discussing, buying, viewing art.

If Art Is Intimidating, What About The Supplies?

When I was about to turn 10, my mother took me out — just her and I — to go shopping for my own gifts. It may sound silly, but at the time it was the coolest thing ever. A few blissful hours in which I was the only kid and had the sole attention and direction of my mother. And her wallet. We even stopped for sundaes too.

The only thing that topped it was the actual gifts I chose.

horse-running-in-gold-field-by-hosslass-artThere was the Louis Marx Comanche horse, the bay with black mane and tail with articulated head and legs; sure to make my sister pea-green with envy. And there was a boxed set of colored pencils — not just any colored pencils, but water color pencils.

Comanche was lovingly played with, surviving far better than most plastic horses, and was eventually given to a younger horse-loving cousin. But the pencils are another story.

I’d had colored pencils for years in school, of course; but these were different. They were water color pencils. They even had a permanent plastic case which stated their magnificence and superiority above the usual temporary cardboard box. These pencils were so prized, so grown-up, so filled with the colors and promise of real art, that they intimidated me. I rarely used them. In fact, 30-odd years later, they sit, looking nearly untouched.

I won’t lie and say that Comanche wasn’t loved; he really was. But I was willing to put him to use as the manufacturer intended. The water color pencils, however, were so loved I didn’t dare use them.

prancing-horse-watercolor-pencil-artWithout getting overly sentimental (and risking sounding like a cliche), it’s really sad to acknowledge that somehow I’ve thought the world needs more loved-into-being-tailless horses more than whatever art I might have made. The world, and I, can survive both.

Memo to self: One of the New Year’s Resolutions is to get out the water color pencils and make something. Maybe even some horses.

Art Credits: Horse Running in Gold Field and Prancing Horse by Hosslass Art.