From September 2018

There Should Be Less Division Between Artist and Worker

Mierle Laderman Ukeles made the above piece in 1976, but we still haven’t applied the concepts she boldly displayed widely enough, yet.

It’s very easy to get caught up in rock start aesthetic, superstar mythos, where we dream of rich hedonism and a life above the humdrum, creating at will and to great acclaim. This is America.

But that vision isn’t real, and the humdrum is just life in general. It’s where we are most of the time, and it feeds and sustains our practice. Ukeles asked maintenance workers to consider part of their work during the day as art, and complied her worker-artist subjects in a grid of fellow creators, not merely portrait sitters. These are lessons we should pass on and ponder. Everyone can make art, it’s for us all.

Stuff Acquired by the Whitney in the Past Year (It’s Rather a Lot)

Why the Whitney? There are plenty of other museums that bought stuff. Well, that’s certainly true, but it’s on my radar in general for a few particular qualities: 

  • It’s focused on American art (and as an American, that’s germane to my existence here)
  • It’s focused on contemporary art, with some attention given to the 20th century, but much on the 21st
  • It’s focused on exhibiting and exposing new and lesser known artists

Those are good reasons to keep an eye on what kind of work they’re interested in, and here’s a list of the 417 things they bought in the last year, with a photo for nearly every piece.

Looking through this will take some time, but I think it’s valuable for artists to have some idea of what the Whitney thinks is worth keeping.

Hang One or Two of the Favorite of Your Own Work to See Its Best and Worst

If you’re a painter or calligrapher, say, this is an easy one to practice. If you’re a musician or dancer, it’s harder. But there are ways to keep looking at your stuff, even if it’s a song or a performance.

You’re not doing this to leave a work in place forever. You’re doing a little study. It’s a personal gallery visit, and the assignment is to analyze this one work. It just happens to be yours, this time.

What you’re looking for is anything that keeps the work from being perfect and anything that helps it along the way. That’s a little hyperbolic–nothing is perfect—but perfection should be striven for, not achieved. And it’s nebulous: the main thing is how closely it came to the vision in your head. But you need some perspective, a little objectivity, a little time for it to breathe and live before you can see the little things.

You already probably see the mistakes you made and other choices you thought about but didn’t implement. Next time you’ll know they could have helped improve it, and some things to keep that went well.

This approach works better if you have just a little difficulty or a slight embarrassment when examining your own work than if you either want to puke from thinking it’s terrible or you think it’s brilliant, but I think those cases are rare.

More often, the art you made took a long time and you’ve spent hours, days, or weeks getting it honed, chopping it into shape. You know it well. You also can overlook the obvious.

So as you make more things, keep a fresh one handy to listen to or look at to see it as plainly as you can, to learn one more lesson from a finished thing.

The Weighty, Considered, Symbolic, and Evocative Work of Alicja Kwade

via Louisiana Channel

Polish artist Kwade is making lovely and ambitious work with her sculpture. It calls to mind the compulsive appeal of orreries. The work incorporates planetary physics, time, geology, and movement in unexpected but immediate and accessible ways.

It brings to my mind my love of science, of science fiction, and also of our very human need to understand our place in the universe.

Thinking About How We Approach Thinking About Art

I know, it sounds convoluted to me, too. What I’m pondering is how the mindset we have when we encounter something, “an art,” affects how we experience it.

From personal anecdata, pushing aside as much as I can any preconceptions about it. I’d like to think we experience an elevated state from accepting and examining a work, in other words giving it a chance to be its best.

This probably deserves fleshing out further, later.

The Lesson Learned Isn’t Always the Lesson Expected

It isn’t even the lesson being taught. Whether by yourself or someone playing the role of your teacher, what we learn to do and to be can be unexpected and surprising.

The important thing is to be open to it. To watch for change and insight. Understanding is often simple and incremental. Very little in our creative lives is sudden or obvious.

Dark, Lovely, Deep Woods Have Considerable Power to Renew

We went up to Bridal Veil Falls this afternoon, a small waterfall, practically a miniature. But the sense I had of invigoration during that short walk reminded me again how much inspirational power the forest has, especially one so staggeringly alive as those in the Pacific Northwest.

There’s moss all over the place, testament to how much rain falls, keeping it all a bit damp most of the year. The creek below the falls, though, was even more interesting to me. It’s full of columnar basalt, mostly in broken bits, but you can see a few long pieces that show their original shapes. 

It was a short trip for a pretty big jolt of feeling connected and, for lack of a less buzzworthy term, empowered just by being around it all. 10/10, would woods again.

Defying One’s Musical Expectations for Fun and (Non-Monetary) Profit With Strange Genres

That’s what I was listening to earlier this evening, after sampling tracks across the massive Merzbow catalog. I’m not very familiar with the noise music genre, but it’s pretty antagonistic. Not really what I would call music, really, but something like difficult listening? Or kind of terrifying listening. It’s what evil alien robots would put on for entertainment. There are ghosts of melody, and of rhythm, but the tracks keep frustrating attempts to pick stable patterns out. It’s overwhelming, but after a while, I got into it.

The other parts aren’t so confrontational, they seem more akin to the work of a musician I really like: Mick Harris, particularly his Lull moniker. Well, I like Lull and some other isolationist stuff a lot. But that moves glacially and is minimalist. This, especially the first track of Achromatic, is like chaos itself through a few distortion pedals.

But, again, I got into it. It’s a little like reverse meditation. Your discomfort becomes focus, because it pushes everything else out of its path.

If this were your “thing,” if this was what you purport to listen to casually and regularly, I’d raise an eyebrow. I’d miss too much of what I enjoy music for—melody, rhythm, repetition.

Defying your expectations and assumption is a way to break out of stagnation of any kind. Exploring insanely different things than you know is good, even if it’s uncomfortable at first. Everything worth experiencing has a non-zero amount of effort to acquire it.

Good Art, Bad Art, It’s Hard to Tell the Difference If Your Definition Is Broad Enough

And I think it should be very broad, indeed. As in, not restricting it to things you admire or even like, beyond to what you find chaotic or obvious.

Because creativity is vast, and the things humans make are sometimes unexpected, and sometimes they look like a mess, framed.

But it’s hard to tell when someone is sincere and when they just have no idea what they’re doing. We praise a child’s exuberant stick figures, but disparage them when they come from an adult. Unless they’re funny! I’m that case, we can’t get enough of them (XKCD, Cyanide and Happiness).

Looking at Paul Klee’s work, there’s a childlike energy to it, and it’s still dismissed at a glance for being too simple or cartoonish. But there’s a deep symbolism within, sometimes invented, sometimes referenced to real world things. You can certainly dislike it, but it helps to look beyond the labels “good” and “bad.” Even in things you find gross or dumb, there’s often a lot of hard work that went into making it the way it is. Sometimes, even the fast sketches and drips contain years’ or decades’ worth of study and practice behind them.

It’s not that you can’t call a thing bad. Opinions are had by us all. But consider leaving it at the cursory or joke level, and always give a shit about looking deeper. It feeds and informs your work to be charitable and open to the stuff you encouter.