Tagged insight

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.

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.

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.

Revel in the Epitome of Extroversion That Is Tom Wilson

I’ve always admiredTom Wilson’s bravura performance in the Back to the Future trilogy, he made a lot with his part and created a very real Biff out of a basic cartoonish part.

But here Tom—opposite Christopher Lloyd—seems to feed off the presence of the crowd, generously giving his seemingly boundless energy to an appreciative audience.

This sort of presence is something of a mystery to me as a confirmed introvert. I have to fake being calm and into the thing discussed. If I could be this guy when doing art-related speaking or activities, I’d try to do it more often.

Sometimes You Need to Go Slowly to Connect With Your Work

Social media is a huge element in the struggle to keep on top of your time. You only have so much in a day, and algorithms are very, very good at sucking it away in chunks. I’m certainly not excluding myself from the phenomenon.

Some things, many that are invigorating and fulfilling, take time to pay off. Regarding the internet, some of those things aren’t even particularly lengthy, at least in terms of a whole day’s worth of minutes.

I listened to a piece from This American Life that illustrates the point. It’s about how Teller—of (in)famous magic duo Penn & Teller—crafted and incorporated a brand new trick into his act from a very old source. I listened from a web page. I couldn’t speed up the sound, I couldn’t scan the transcript. I had to wait 28 minutes for the payoff, a little less than halfway through the segment. It was well worth the time, and I think we can say the same thing about art. Drawing, painting, writing, composing—they all take a lot of time to make, far more than it takes to consume. But when things do take so much longer than a tweet or a quick video to reach their peak, I think it’s insightful. It’s a window to the reasons we make things. It’s a new level of contentment, a moment of pleasure that measures up to happiness.

The Oldest Trick in the Book

Shelley on Invention

Mary Shelley wasn’t just brilliant, of course, she was also perceptive, and understood lots about creativity and art.

Every thing must have a beginning, to speak in Sanchean1 phrase; and that beginning must be linked to something that went before […] Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself. In all matters of discovery and invention, even of those that appertain to the imagination, we are continually reminded of the story of Columbus and his egg. Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject, and in the power of moulding and fashioning ideas suggested to it.

— Mary Shelley

Here’s the story of Columbus’s egg.

Why Art?

Just kidding! It’s a ridiculously complicated question, to which I’ve only ever seen educated guessing and speculation, and those explanations lack satisfying answers. Really, most of the articles claiming to tackle he question just lead to more questions within.

And why not? We don’t really understand why we do it, why it compels is, why so many of us want to defy the long odds of scarce audiences, fans, and followers to make it a centerpiece of life.

Maybe the questioning is the most important. Answers are necessary for science, explanatory power and evidence for claims and phenomena. They aren’t so important for art, essentially because it’s mysterious and strange.

So here’s a mere guess. What we know is that humans are driven to endlessly reinterpret the world outside our minds and present them to others. We keep returning to the mysterious power of it. And entertaining a mystery is not only fun, it’s rewarding.

It’s not that life on its own isn’t enough. It’s that art gives us the creative power we see around us all the time in nature. We’re the animal who questions, and art reaches questions only dreamed of in other fields.