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Has Art Become a Spectator Sport?

If the past fifteen years have revealed anything, it is that I am “not in Kansas anymore.” Between the ageist view that art is the “deterrent to dementia,” and the proposal that legitimate art must be raised to a Ph.D. level, older artists are caught in the middle.  Suddenly upended with new expectations, we must evolve, while struggling with the fear of marginalization, lost potential and artistic irrelevance.

As an artist who did not begin the practice until the age of fifty, I find this idea challenging.  Some academics suggest that, with age, the artist becomes more contemplative and less competitive.  I have not found this to be true.  Perhaps I am not old enough.  Perhaps you are not old enough either, and that in itself is a good thing.  But it is also unsettling, the “not in Kansas” thing.  Traditional pathways for upward mobility have disappeared, replaced by something else entirely.  Where there used to be collaborative gate keepers, we are now considering the role of advertising and juried exhibitions in the struggle for visibility.  And the public perception - as Robert Storr says, colleges have for decades promoted the idea that art plays an “accessory role” to the “higher realms of mathematics and science.” Forget centuries of history, theory or abstract narratives.  Can you produce a video, or entertain the public?  One weekend, dozens of artists, all furiously turning out artwork – who couldn’t love that?  And this brings us back to the idea of Art as a Spectator Sport.

I have nothing against plein air events or videos of any kind. In fact the resurgence of Plein Air Painting as a legitimate genre has been a boon for some artists and the collector base supporting them.  I’m talking about those who paint part time because they have to work and worry about fading away on the fringes of the “relevant” art world.  But change, you will recall, is the only thing that stays the same.  The sudden abandonment of the French Academies following the immense popularity of Impressionism destroyed more than one artistic life.  Look at the millions of visual images with the capacity to catch and hold your attention.  Art still holds power, but that’s not the problem.  The problem is more akin to access.  Over the centuries, access was controlled, the way water is controlled through dams and culverts, pipes and faucets in kitchens.  There was always someone who regulated the flow, and those who received it valued the consistency and appreciated the benefits. No bad water in the glass.  When you wanted a drink you knew what to do: turn on the faucet, fill the glass.

Now take away the control.  Visual artifacts are like rain, falling everywhere, millions of drops that vary by size and velocity but, well, essentially are the same thing and free for the taking.  There is no way to describe the feeling of being invisible while compelled to be a visual communicator, which is exactly where the “Art as Spectator Sport” mindset puts you.  Are you falling for that?  Is it any different than the research that proves “doing art” puts off the onset of dementia for about ten years, essentially diminishing the work of thousands of artists over the age of sixty to the equivalent of doing cross word puzzles?  No, if you accepted the offer to become an artist then you accepted the rules.  You don’t do it for recognition.  You don’t do it for money.  Only you know what – or who – you do it for. 

Along with mindset, there are a few other things of importance.

Training can take years, but that is normal and in fact training never ends.

Teachers can’t often teach what you want to know, or even what you need to know, but that does not mean you don’t need a teacher now and then.

The act of creating is more than meditation, but only if you are also filled with awareness of the unpredictability of insight.  If it is only meditation, then it is self-occupation.

No matter how much practice, without knowledge of formal training and informed self-critique, then practice is just meditation, also known as self-occupation.

And this quote from Ann Lauterbach:

You cannot plan for the new, since by definition it arrives out of the conditions that give rise to it. Now, on the other hand, also arrives out of the conditions that give rise to it, but instead of these conditions being akin to the prow of a ship (the Great Ship New), they are more akin to the buoyant waters that hold the ship up, in which horizontal surface (space) and vertical depth (time) are in a mutable, ambient relation—the relation, we might say, of scale. Where your particular ship is on the waters of Now is what you need to discover when you are making a work of art.

 

Where the Lauterbach quote originated, and what I am reading:  Art School (Propositions for the 21st Century), edited and with an introduction by Steven Henry Madoff.  

There is no way to avoid controversy if seeking enlightenment. 

 

 

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