REASONS AND NEEDS

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The process of art seems to require a societal (external) affirmation as well as an individual (internal) drive to make doing it worth the effort. The would-be artist therefore has both rational reasons and emotional needs for art making and they don’t necessarily align. The reasons—the visible societal affirmations of salary or shows—for doing art can dominate the needs—the irrational drives that manifest as feelings and imaginings—allowing the artist a comfortable and proud, but empty—if he bothers to reflect on it—lifestyle. The needs can win too, but that could leave the artist possibly self-satisfied, but as likely alone, angry and poor.

Those are just the extremes, most artists are neither Jeff Koons nor this century’s yet to be discovered Vincent. But don’t think which is solely a matter of choice for the artist, society picks who to affirm and that often has little to do with any qualities of the artist’s work and a lot do do with being in the right place, at right time. And, of course, a talented—in art but not self-marketing—artist can be undiscovered by Artworld, or ignored as not monetizable.

Most folks who feel a need to make art, do so and if they get some recognition from society will keep at it. Some artists will get continue to get social affirmation for their efforts and some others will keep at it because their irrational needs are assuaged by the process. Some more will get some of both. But everything changes; society inevitably dials back its affirmations and looks elsewhere for shinier objects, and the meeting of still present needs becomes increasingly impossible and satisfaction becomes hopelessly out of reach.

. . .

The image above is not a self portrait, though the artist sitting on the model stand looks a bit like me. But I was never a sculptor, or a painter. In school I was an old-school print maker. I continued to do some thing like that in my a 40 year career in newspapers. And in a way I still make prints, digital media—my current hobby—has a lot in common with all that dead tree stuff.

All those print makings are similarly and strangely disjointed in a way sculpture and painting are not. Those latter techniques are immediate, hands-on, and one-off. While in printmaking are anything but, the art processes there are isolated in time and space from the art object. The creation part in printmaking is done in one place to one thing and the result appears much later, some other place as a completely different object. An example from newspapers: early on a given evening I’ll make a pencil sketch on a piece of cardboard and on sheets of plastic taped over it indicate where I want this or that color; all of that is photographed and chemically transferred to metal plates, then printed in colored ink on paper the next day—by the 1000s!

That disconnect is still there in these digital times. While I can now see instantly what’s going to be “printed” on a nearby screen as soon as I move a stylus on an electronic tablet, the workings “under the hood” of all the layers, filters, color modes and digital brushes—which I understand intellectually—are as alienating as they were with the now near-defunct chemical/physical ink on paper printing. The time and space gaps between what I did then and what you and I now see remain.

And as alienating, there is the other choice I made back in the day which was less a choice than a retreat from what I never felt right doing. The fine art game seemed so zero sum; to make a living in it seemed cutthroat, political and really iffy, so I stuck with my editorial cartoons and illustrations and continued to work in the technical and economic media they required and stopped doing anything fine-artsy. These days I no longer need to make anything to order, so I could give fine art another try, but as I never got inspired by the working from “life” thing, and I’ve always preferred to work by myself and only when I have an idea, not when a model was available or the light was right. I doubt if a reboot as a fine artist would work. And as art for art’s sake makes no more sense than it did in the 60s, I’ll still choose content over style and composition. Not that any of this matters much in these postmodern times.

Speaking of content: printmaking, either digital or old school, is paradoxically both social and not. It’s social in the sense that it is made to be made public either by printing multiple copies of one image and putting them “out there” cheap or free. Or posting the image on a social media platform. But it is solitary too, in that its content is well—perhaps over—cogitated metaphors assembled from a single person’s unique memories and imaginings and that would make that creator seem a little—in a harmless way, “we” hope—schitzy as he or she wouldn’t be drawing what is seen out there, but what the voices in his or her head tell him or her to.

. . .

OK, this post is kinda autobiographical, never mind that. Scroll back up to the image and try to guess what I mean by the suits taking away the sculpture. Hint: it’s about money. And what the naked, no longer nude as they’ve clocked out, folks are planning. Another hint: it’s not about art.

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