Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What Exactly IS Art?

Here’s a question for you to think about: What exactly is ART? OK, maybe you shouldn’t think about it but just answer as off-the-fly as you can by what shapes your opinion of art. Many moons ago, I could tell you what I considered art and that was shaped looking at something pretty and well-put-together. You know, something that didn’t make you guess what was on the canvas or paper. To me, the REAL artists were M.C. Escher, Norman Rockwell and Bob Ross. Cats who were literal (well, for the most part. Escher was out there but at least I could appreciate his detail and style). Easy to figure out, right? These days, I still dig Rockwell, Escher and Ross but I also groove to Alex Ross (the other really incredible Ross-with-a-brush), Rowland Salley (bassist for Chris Isaak’s band, Silvertone) and Richard T. Slone, as well as artists you might not have heard of (but should!) like my great friends Chris Guzman and Milena Matic. All solid painters. All sharp work ethics. All sharp work. ALL artists who inspire me to dig out my gear and give them all a run for their money. 

And that’s friendly competition. I’d never think of trying to unseat or steal business from Chris and Milena. In fact, I enjoy promoting them as much as possible. More on that in my next entry…

If you look at the work from any of my favorites, you’ll notice gorgeous colors and defined subjects. Stuff that just pops from artists that don’t make you work for what goes into your melon. They don’t ask you, “What do you think this is?” because they’ve already told you. No pretentious bullsh*t; just the facts, ma’am. 

For the longest time, I thought artists who made observers interpret the art were simply being lazy or took too many of the little breaks rock stars would. You know when you go to a Bon Jovi show and Jon’s singing “You Give Love a Bad Name” and, right before the chorus, he aims the mike at the crowd and yells, “SING IT!”? That’s what I’m talking about. Don’t get me wrong, most of my favorite musical artists have done the same thing but why I should do all the hard work when I’m paying you $75 to do it? It ain’t just the high cost of tickets that are tanking concert events these days, kids. It’s the extra f**kin’ work we have to do once we get there. And if the singer is extra sh**ty live- like Axl Rose- even worse.

I didn’t get the Jackson Pollocks of the world, namely Jackson Pollock. British artist and artist Craig Brown has was, in reference to Pollock’s work, "astonished that decorative 'wallpaper', essentially brainless, could gain such a position in art history alongside Giotto, Titian and Velazquez." Honestly, I still agree with that sentiment. Kind of (and I’ll get to that later). Art critic Clement Greenburg regarded of the likes of Pollock’s work (according to Wikipedia.org) “as simply the best painting of its day and the culmination of an art tradition going back via Cubism and Cezanne to Monet, in which painting became ever 'purer' and more concentrated in what was 'essential' to it, the making of marks on a flat surface.” 

I don’t agree. Kind of (and I’ll get to that later).

See, to me (emphasis on “to me”), Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne and Claude Monet didn’t make one think. What you saw is what you got. I look at Pollock’s offerings with a cocked-head-of-a-puppy-staring-into-a-box-fan-style “What the fuck?!”

But at the end of the day, I’m wrong for thinking that. At least I think I am, to be fair (This here is that “I’ll get to that later” moment I mentioned).

On Christmas Day, we were at my folks’ pad and my sister, Courtney (who I affectionately call “Cookie”), was checking out the very website you’re visiting now. As she was looking at my latest acrylic painting of the Road Warriors, I lamented about wondering if people thought what I did was “real” art because I didn’t go too far outside my comfort zone. It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s just my habit of not going outside of what I consider my “literal,” “what you see is what you get” style. I like rendering people (a lot of ‘em dead, it seems), specifically recognizable people. Then I proposed that other artists, those who fling a turd at a wall and frame it, would likely sell more than I do because of how subjective art, as a whole, is. I explained further about how the visual recipient view the piece and wondered to myself, “Is this what makes art?” The participation of the viewer? I think Cookie got the gist of what I was laying down and I’m sure my dad wanted to fall asleep right then and there. 

It all led me to believe my hard work will remain sub-par in the eyes of critics if I don’t take those “artsy-fartsy” risks. But what am I supposed to do, fake it, even if I don’t like it, for the sake of making a sale or getting a favorable review from the avant-garde art snob community?

It hasn’t been that long but I’ve been mostly more accepting of art in general. I find my criticisms much like my like or dislike for certain musical acts or songs. I listen to almost every genre but I admit, I love adult contemporary and (what’s broadly known, commercially as) alternative. Train, Linkin Park, Bruno Mars, and the like. But I can’t get into, nor have I ever been able to get into, bands like Radiohead or Arcade Fire. Why should I if they don’t sound right to me? And why should I fake it to sound like some avant-garde tune snob?

However, those bands are critically acclaimed and, apparently, those critics dig them. I get that. It wasn’t that long ago when I looked at music like I did art. Some guy: “Hey, whaddya think of that Talking Heads song?” Me: “It sucks and so do they. You actually like that sh*t?” These days, my answer is, “It’s not my bag, man,” or “Nah, don’t like it.” 

Why the change in approach? Because the Talking Heads, Radiohead and Arcade Fire don’t suck to someone else. Cancer, childhood starvation/abuse suck and Spencer and Heidi Pratt suck and the Third Reich sucked (and I think the whole world can agree with me on these). But I think I’d be wrong if I say Far East Movement’s “Like a G6” sucks when the truth is I just don’t like that song. On the other hand, 2,000,000 bought-and-paid-for downloads and a number one on Billboard can’t be wrong, can they?

One’s trash is certainly another treasure but that’s relative. Peep this:

As some of you know, I’m the Managing Editor of Maxboxing.com, a top-rated boxing news website. I occasionally like popping in the message board section to see what’s shakin’ and enjoy the landscape. Lots of great stuff getting laid down and I laugh my ass off. A real honest-to-goodness time-killer, if there ever was one. Well, I posted a thread in the boxing forum, asking advice on whether or not I should do a painting commemorating next year’s Manny Pacquiao vs. Shane Mosley fight, and a regular, who goes by the username “Jeet,” posted his rendition:

What does it all mean; you ask? It’s Jeet’s rendering of the catalyst behind such a fight, including the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs and a whole slew of money. Did I think it sucked? Hell-to-the-no. I laughed my ass off. Sure, there were a few things I didn’t quite understand but Jeet, an artist after my own heart, “earned his concert money” and explained to everyone what we couldn’t quite figure out. It all made sense.

In a thread Jeet created in the “Talk About Anything” forum (“Jeet Mindsessions”), he offered some new art:

At the start of his post, Jeet admitted he might have been a little f**ked up but after he posted his art, he capped it all off with this sentiment:

“Remember, we are here to broadcast our thoughts, thinking and mindset. We are here to help one another. If we cannot let out our yawps, then we cannot learn; we cannot live; we cannot love.”

Were we forced to think? Well, take a look at the art…maybe a little. But maybe, Jeet’s also trying to tell us his mind is roiling with concepts, desires and worries.

Or maybe I’m just full of sh*t and am coming off like some avant-garde art snob. 

Whatever the case, I don’t think Jeet’s art sucks at all. Not one little bit. He and I are just different. And THAT, my dear Howlers, makes it OK for me to not change a thing. But you still can’t convince me to dig Pollock.

Questions? Comments? Complaints? Contact Coyote at artofthepaw@yahoo.com.

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