Making art is exploration. It is the act of becoming. We take what we have inside and bear witness to its messy beginnings, the warp and woof of it’s threads and momentums, and weave it together to make the most beautiful vision we can – the most precious thing – of the art which is ours. And even that which is “ugly” can still be the most beautiful if done with love. It all leads back to that.
All of life is art. The act of life is art. Whatever is the thing which makes your soul sing, that is your art and when you do it well – when you preform your art – you feel alive. This is what art-making is. It is to be alive. It is practicing our own ever-becoming selves of this ever-becoming now.
Here are some words from Kurt Vonnegut to an elementary school that invited him to speak, as he was their favorite author. (Note: he is one of my own favorite authors as well.)
“Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:
I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.
What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience BECOMING, to find out what’s inside you, TO MAKE YOUR SOUL GROW.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.
Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but RHYMED. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?
Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.
God bless you all!
– Kurt Vonnegut”
PS: Kurt Vonnegut was awesome. :)
Human beings are essentially social creatures. For the most part, we enjoy hearing music, seeing movies, and looking at art with others as is evident by our copious clubs, theaters, galleries, and museums. The collective participation greatly enhances the experience. Often, we hear musicians speak about their love of the live show and riding the energy of the crowd. It’s a symbiotic relationship – this giving and receiving. A positive relationship develops between artist and observer (or in the case of musicians – the listener) when the desire for connection with others and with ourselves is fulfilled. This recognition and mirroring of emotions, desires, joys and fears – sharing a deeper part of our human experience that is beyond words or facts: that is the place where ‘art’ resides. It seems to me that this is an integral part of the human experience and the conversation we have with each other.
But what happens when the art stops partaking in that conversation? What happens when that connection is lost? We’ve all been to art exhibitions where we feel like running around screaming ‘The Emperor has no clothes!’ The art feels vapid and senseless – like a discussion not with the viewer but instead an insular conversation between art critics, curators, collectors, and the artists themselves. Values are conflated to obscene prices for works that seem so obtuse, so far removed from and devoid of human emotion and experience, that we wonder why they exist at all. And then we’re told that’s the point! And we feel conned all the more.
I’ve heard plenty of people walk out of such exhibitions saying “well, I don’t understand art.” Or “this must have some meaning that I don’t get (or I’m not educated enough about art to get it).” And the inner circles of the artistic elite can pat themselves on the back with self-reverential nods of smugness for being ‘in the know’.
The history of art that we read today is the history as told by the critics, the collectors, and the Contemporary Art institutions. Those people and institutions have a vested interest in propping up their own ideology so that they look to be the absolute next obvious iteration of a long and storied past. It is easy to believe it. Afterall, with works of some of the more well-known contemporary artists commanding prices in the millions as well as showing up in some of the most prestigious museums in the world, one could be forgiven for assuming it to be ‘great art’. One could also see how this art requires stories to continue to prop itself up and validate the price it commands. The Koons and Hirsts of the world are the tip of the iceberg of modern contemporary art and it’s intellectualized post-modern view. Most Art History books place this modernist tip – this intellectualized view – as the period on the end of the sentence of the lineage of art.
“In the beginning we got rid of nineteenth-century storybook realism. Then we got rid of representational objects. Then we got rid of the third dimension altogether and got really flat (Abstract Expressionism). Then we got rid of airiness, brushstrokes, most of the paint, and the last viruses of drawing and complicated designs… [And[ there, at last, it was! No more realism, no more representation objects, no more lines, colors, forms, and contours, no more pigments, no more brushstrokes. …Art made its final flight, climbed higher and higher in an ever-decreasing tighter-turning spiral until… it disappeared up its own fundamental aperture… and came out the other side as Art Theory!… Art Theory pure and simple, words on a page, literature undefiled by vision… late twentieth-century Modern Art was about to fulfill its destiny, which was: to become nothing less than Literature pure and simple”.
– Tomas Wolfe, The Painted Word
Where did the art of the human experience go? Where is the art that reflects, acknowledges, and transcendes joy, sadness, pain, and the inevitable mystical edges that come along with the pushing of those boundaries?
Study for ‘The Battle of Tetuan’
This little painting – it’s about 7″ x 9″ – resides in the Dali Museum in Figueras, Spain, in an over-packed room filled with art and oddities, almost disappearing into the surrealist melange. You would be excused were you to overlook it.
It stopped me however because, in it’s miniature stature, there is no room for muddling about. The paint looks like it was just laid on – in drips and dabs – in a beautiful effortlessness. That the final layer of just laying the paint on (whatever layer that is I don’t know – it just happens at some point or another) is this lovely and beautiful thing. When others see it, it feels exactly like that: effortless.
A wash. A glaze. Dab dab dab of paint. Ease.
Dali’s mastery is at work here is in the layering of the paint on the brush, the dip and swirl of the strokes with little to no thought, the casually graceful ease that it exhibits. It is like a perfectly zen little painting (for all of it’s horseback dust-stormy chaos).
In my head I often go back to this little painting as a point of reference for my own work: a great painting should feel effortless. There shouldn’t be a sense of muddling about and, if muddling about is required, that should look effortless too.
“The true painter must be able to patiently copy a pear while surrounded by rapine and upheaval.”
– Dali from ’50 Secrets of Master Craftsmanship’
We were in a gallery in Lahaina on Maui. The gallery had an interesting cross section of work – lithographs and etchings from Chagall, Rembrandt, Dali, Picasso, even Albrecht Drurer (etchings not lithos!). Amongst these pieces was a smattering of work by other artists who I have never heard of. Paintings of elephants, polar bears, Hawaiian sunsets, modern impasto kind of figurative works. Gallery stuff.
In one room – where the walls were painted charcoal instead of cream and above these large paintings of faces – messy sloppy things looking like they were done with tempera and fingers – Anthony Hopkins’ name was emblazoned in silver.
A salesperson was exclaiming to the couple that seemed interested in the art, “Anthony Hopkins has moved out of the realm of ‘celebrity artist’ and into a whole new category of artist. Purchasing one of his pieces is like purchasing a piece from Dali in his own lifetime – while he was alive and making art!” The salesperson was so EXCITED about this – comparing Anthony Hopkins the actor-turned-artist to Dali. Or was he just in on the joke…
This is what the masses – this hapless couple who don’t know a Drurer etching from one by Rembrandt – are sold as ART. They look around for something they can afford – something to take home with them. They want to buy some ART. So they ask the salesperson. The salesperson convinces them of the INVESTMENT potential. This is something truly of value. The couple doesn’t know why they feel uncomfortable. They don’t get why they feel empty inside. Perhaps that’s what art is supposed to make you feel…
This is what people are fed to buy mediocre art. It’s a money game – this con game – and it made me once again think, “God, I hate art.”
Don’t get me wrong, in the same gallery there were some lovely pieces from modern creators – sculptors, painters, etc – but Anthony Hopkins and the pedestal upon which he’d been placed… Now you might like this piece. That’s totally ok! However, when the selling point is the name of the creator and not the creation itself, then the work loses any semblance of real meaning and turns into commodity, just more stuff to pass between each other.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps his work really does stand there next to Dali. Perhaps someday I will have to eat my words. With some fava beans. And a nice chianti.
The other night we – Liana, Violet, myself, and a few others – attended the art show/party for Juxtapoz’s Psychedelic Art book. Other than Alex Grey, there wasn’t much that was impressive in any way, shape, or form. Juxtapoz Magazine, once a small outsider magazine, was there presenting to the world – and LA – their watered down version of ‘psychedelic art’ which really seemed to exclude artwork that actually might be interesting, psychedelic, and/or visually challenging. In any case, I received this rather scathing review from a friend. I don’t think he intended to share it widely but it sums it all up so succinctly, I can’t NOT share it. We’ll just say it was written by ‘The Wizard’.
I am rarely openly critical, but on my last night in Los Angeles, I attended the single most disappointing art show I’ve ever witnessed: the foppishly academic cultural misfire known as the Juxtapoz Magazine Psychedelic Book Release Party & Art Exhibition – a coked-up marketer’s hipsterfied version of psychedelic where psychedelic is another design scheme to be commoditized and exploited.
This misguided curation of bad collage, chromatic color swatches, second rate tattoo art, high school carnival level installations and random trip-doodles was only lent credibility by the inclusion of Alex & Allyson Grey, who were near last billing on the ‘brochure’ that included none of their work.
There were indeed a few nice pieces. The venue was cool and the show was put on the walls well. But the complete ignorance to the large international (and local) community of professional and genuinely psychedelic artists, the loud sweaty-vagina hip hop, the free flowing liquor, and the ridiculous hipster dress-up scene shown as proof the curator and, indeed Juxtapoz Magazine itself, have so little association with the subject, they may very well have created the least authentic & least significant publication & exhibition on the subject of psychedelic art to date.
This is what happens when you take an observational (and outdated) academic view of a subculture: you miss the mark completely. It was indeed so bad we began to suspect: “Did the Illuminati put this show together to make psychedelic art look dumb?”
I hope you will attend and see & judge for yourself, as this show is up for 3 more weeks, but for God’s sake don’t take psychedelics when you do!
There you have it. When the ‘outsider’ movement turns into one more institution, you know it’s time to change things up. I’ll leave you with this quote, from the book Psychedelic Art by Robert Masters and Jean Houston, published in 1969.
“Particularly, psychedelic art tends to be naive in its metaphysical outlook and in its religious and mystical awareness. These are generally shallow and rather primitive… Much psychedelic art is presently limited by some degree of adherence to these pseudo-theologies and neo-primitive concepts. There is no reason why it must remain so. When circumstances are more favorable, a profoundly spiritual art should be able to emerge.”
[Hint: this is not it – M]
Why do we value art?
Art: it’s this visual record of who we are, how we imagine ourselves, where we’re going, where we’ve come from at some particular time. It’s the visual record of out psycho-spiritual states – as a human organism. If you were to take all the varied pieces of art from all the different art movements in some brief span of time, you’d find a wide spectrum of emotions, perspectives, and inspirations. Yet, it all came from the same place – this Earth, these humans – and happened at the same time and, ultimately, lies within a particular, though broad, spectrum.
The things we consider valuable on this planet – the things which have attained a greater sense of value than, say, food or water – are valued simply because they of their own perceived valuable. For instance, a gold bar is perceived to have a certain value. One gold bar can be melted down and turned into another. Cast it as a sculpture by Dali and it now has a greater perceived value. It has been turned into Art. It is that expression which creates new value.
Paintings, of course, are far more plentiful than gold sculptures by Dali and paint and canvas themselves far less valuable. These days, painting materials are easy to come by: paints, brushes, canvas. Give them to anyone and each person will make something different. And if we melt all those finished paintings, we can never create another that is the same.
And so, over time, art becomes valuable to more than just its creator. It captures a moment that passes and we are left with images, intimations, reflections and echoes of an experience. A great artist can tap a chord in another human that resonates in a way that feels, more than anything, entirely and viscerally human and capturing some sliver along the broad spectrum that is basic humanity. That is the key to great art. It feels, at its core, distinctly real because it is a reflection of ourselves.
When we look back through time, we see this song played out through the arts, a visual expression of this thing called ‘being human.’ We see the echoes of ourselves creating religious structures and retelling myths as we seek to understand the archetypal characters of our beings. We see ourselves discovering perspective and learning our place in the cosmos. We see ourselves exploring that… and becoming disenchanted when our belief systems don’t match up with our perceptions. We see ourselves seeking new ways of seeing, being, exploring. We see new explorations of minds, of archetypes, of the mystical experience…
Throughout the history of art, we can witness ourselves touching upon an inner light that is reflected in our portrayal of the world as we perceive it. It is a very beautiful dance, a very beautiful thing.
Near. Far. High. Low. Sunrise. Sunset. All’s relative. The sense of perspective and point of reference. Most of all: the limits that define us: the breadth of our breath and the width of our brow. All our stories and all our beliefs. Our laws, our traditions, our ideas of love, of economics, of mine, of yours. We create systems and structures that define us and tell us how to live in community with others. All of those systems: imagined ideas, dependent on each other and, most of all, on the belief in the solidity and actuality of this ‘I’. I am this. I am not that. I have this. I do not have that. Where am I in this picture? Where do I fit? And am I getting what I deserve? Am I giving what I should be? And does it translate to YOU?
Every image has a perspective and offers a glimpse of what-i-see-from-here. There can be so much to a little sky scape on a little canvas. And, then again, nothing at all. Paint, arranged in a specific array, that evokes a sensation. And a flurry of ideas.
If even it is a moment of sweetness, of non-linear, non-denominational, non-theoretical thought in the course of your day… A dash of color, a reminder… We are all here on earth, under the same sun, the same sky… There is no real reason to not love each other.
5″ x 7″
Under a big tent, sitting on the edge of a stage on the Sunday afternoon of Rootwire, I participated in a panel discussion of artists. Panel is a loose term. About a dozen of us – some of whom spoke, some who didn’t – sat on the edge of a stage fielding various questions in our various manners.
Michael Garfield moderated. He had on his nifty Google Glasses. At one point I was starting to get a bit bored and there’s all these people watching us and I couldn’t just get up and leave so he offered them to me to wear. What a trip! There’s a screen! You can see it! Interact with it! This must be the future! It did take a moment to get it but goddamn! It’s for real and super cool and utterly distracting. I tilted my head back and forth in weird directions, watched the little screen and tried to focus on other things, screwed up the recording stuff, got back on track, and eventually gave them back because I think I was completely not paying attention anymore.
At one point tho, before or after the glasses I’m not sure but I know I wasn’t wearing them, someone asked (to the group):
“It’s nice that you make this art but what are you really doing? People talk about changing the world, about making a difference… how does this help the mother on welfare, or this or that… What difference do you think you are really making?”
Truth be told: I ponder this question all the time. I think about it while I’m driving around running errands and then going home and back to painting. What the hell am I doing anyways?
And here’s what I’ve come up with…
First and foremost – I paint because I love to paint. Period. It is what I love to do – it brings me great joy, this mode of expression that I’ve found, and I’m stoked to do it. So, regardless of how it might or might not be changing the world or whatever, I do it because I love it. When I wake up in the morning, I know that is my path. And if I’m at least one person in the world who is doing what they love, then that alone, I think, is a good thing just by it’s very nature.
So there’s that.
But then I go share it – afterall, I can make all the art I want but it’s really nice to share that dialogue with others – engaging them in their minds, hearts, sprits… having the reflection… To take that vision that I pulled from some deep place within myself and watch it converse with that deep place – that wordless formless space – in others is magical. And for others: to see that form has been given to this mystical experience – color and movement as well – it seems to bring people joy. It seems to make them happy and open something up in them.
There’s not a lot of imagery in our world that does that. Advertising and TVs and all this stuff: it’s just vying for our dollars more than anything else. But it seems sometimes that this thing people call Visionary Art is unique in it’s expression of the mystical experience. But that is another discussion…
So I make art and it touches something in people – it tickles a sense… See, the artwork I create comes from living life a certain way: freely, openly, lovingly, with compassion, with gusto, with joy, with health, with happiness – and learning to do so more fully, on all accounts. So I hope to stir in people a bit of that and inspire others towards a happier and healthier life.
But it’s a mostly insular world that this art is shown in – galleries, festivals, events – things that seem to stay within cloistered social circles. We welcome any and all… but there’s only a few who make it.
Those few who do tho – they have jobs they go back to, worlds they exist in that touch upon all the other icebergs of our society. They plug into all sorts of spots in society. They are social workers, cashiers, teachers, laborers, business owners, all sorts of things… And if they can take a bit of that experience back with them – that sense of openness, health, happiness, joy – if it plants a little seed, if it’s a new synaptic pathway and leads towards being a bit more loving – whatever it is that they might have felt in my work – and they take that and share it with others however subconsciously – the people they interact with, customers, clients, co-workers, students, mothers, fathers – then I think that the art I make does have an effect, however subtle.
It’s one more pass of the proverbial bird over the proverbial mountain with that proverbial silk scarf… and the scarf wears down the mountain ever so slowly… ever so slowly…
Most importantly – my work comes from a place where there is a deep sense of freedom, of openness, of love – and it comes from a place of doing what I love – and I hope that that sense echoes through the brushstrokes. I hope that it reaches others. I hope so much that it inspires others to consider: how can I be more free, more open, more loving… and how can I do more of what I love?
Because, as always, in the end – that’s what it’s about. The love. it’s just love… just love. That’s what I hope to inspire. Take it home with you. Take it into the world with you. Share it. Love – it’s endless. You will always have enough. The more you give, the more you will have to give.
And I hope that answers that question.
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