Friday, June 18, 2010

Map 06.18.10


Chris Rywalt said...

I love the little curlicues coming out of Father's Breath. They're entirely out of character for a fantasy map, and yet they're so pretty.

I think what I like about this project of yours is your total commitment to something entirely quixotic. When a performance-type artist, say, decides to do a drawing entirely of tiny circles, one per day, or whatever, at least they fit in with the dominant paradigm of the art world today. What you're doing here is at least as crazy in terms of pure OCD detail -- there you sit, day after day, tirelessly inking in mountain after mountain, tree after tree -- but the final finished piece has absolutely no place in the contemporary art scene. I see you adding to it day after day and I think, what's he hoping will happen with this? Where does he expect it to go?

I understand you're not doing it and thinking of that. You're not calculating your location in the art world, angling for a position or anything. You're doing what you feel like doing.

That's what I like about this. It's completely deranged. You may find a place for it -- I could be completely wrong and i hope I am -- but it's a crazy endeavor.

You should connect your blog to your Facebook account so more people can keep up with this and your other drawings as they progress.

beebe said...

Drawing is something I’ve done since I was a kid. It’s my main instrument, so to speak, my main way of processing experience. So to NOT draw would be to chuck out a life-long consistency--I honestly wouldn’t know what to do with my time if I didn’t draw. So I keep showing up and drawing.

I fully understand that what I’m doing is completely ignorable in the eyes of the art world. I understand it every time I visit galleries in Chelsea or exhibitions like Greater NY. My out-of-step-ness was something that I learned very quickly in grad school when teacher after teacher seemed to be perplexed by my insistence on drawing--they were constantly saying things like “you’ve mastered drawing, move on to something else” or “what if you made a video of this scenario instead of drawing it.” I feel like the only way I can get to this material inside of me, record these experiences is drawing.

Perhaps I’m being hopelessly myopic about my drawing-only approach. But I feel like the contemporary art-world’s dominant pan-media focus is why so little of it resonates with people. (Well, me.) I’m not against any kind of medium per se--I don’t automatically think painting is more legit than video or installation or performance (though I certainly care more for painting (and drawing) since it speaks directly to my own work.) I AM against the lack of commitment these kinds of pan-media works engender--most of the time, I don’t really believe the artist is sincerely invested in the work they’re making. The artist put together a few ideas on art--how it’s made, what constitutes “art”--insert a few semiotic paradigms, fold in a few art-historical references to the Conceptualists/Minimalists, and then put it in a room somewhere with an impervious text (written either by the artist or the curator who arranged the exhibition) that supposedly explains the relevance of the work. And this language/routine has become so thoroughly ingrained--both in cultural institutions like museums and educational institutions like undergrad/graduate schools--that it is utterly inescapable. But back to my main point: I don’t believe many of today’s artists are making anything out of need or desire or belief. They’re making work that uses this systemic institutional language which is designed to flatter/entice the people who run the venues in which this work is show--museums and galleries. It’s a closed loop between the artist and curator--the viewer isn’t really necessary.

Perhaps I just have an antiquated idea of what an artist is supposed to be: someone who pursues their own interests to an almost obsessive degree in order to gain some vague understand of life, both interior/exterior. Few artists seem to be willing to connect with people through a single medium these days. Perhaps it’s because these artist want to keep themselves flexible as to how they communicate and idea. And I guess I don’t disagree with the approach . . . It’s just that I almost NEVER experience someone using this multiple media effectively.

Maybe contemporary artists are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing--manipulating the entrenched systems and nodes of power in a manner that allows them exposure, recognition and remuneration? Who knows? Not me. The approach I mentioned above strikes me as shallow and lazy and proudly, provocatively dilettantish--a way of jumping across the idiomatic fence at it’s lowest point. Of course, a lot of these artists have careers in motion and shows on the horizon while I just show up to the studio on evenings, weekends and holidays and give myself carpel tunnel syndrome.

I don’t render these things tirelessly, incidentally. I get very burned out. I’ve been working on this map--the other other big 4’x8’ drawing, Copper Palanquin--since March 1. I’d say I average 25-30 hours a week on them and that’s in addition working full-time and whatever meager social life I can cobble together. I’m really burned out right now, in fact. I would like to take a few weeks off . . . But how will these drawings get done if I do that?

beebe said...

Also, updating blogposts on Facebook makes about zero difference in how many visits I get. Facebook is where real people can be fake friends. I don't have high expectations for any of that stuff.

Chris Rywalt said...

"Tirelessly" is like "brave": Bravery doesn't mean not being scared, and being tireless doesn't mean not wearing down. But you keep going. That's the thing.

I completely agree and disagree with your comment here. That's a good sign, right? I agree that "pan-media works" (I like the sound of that) often lack commitment. They lack a lot of things, if you ask me, and commitment is certainly one of them. I happen to think that painting and drawing is more legitimate than video or installation or any of that pan-media crap, but that's just me.

I'm not sure art is better when pursued obsessively and single-mindedly. I don't think that hurts, necessarily. I certainly like that better than blase video. But art that's meant intensely can be bad, too. Not long ago Roberta Smith argued in favor of art that was handmade and made out of necessity, and all the art she used to illustrate her point was really, really bad.

More and more what I think is needed for the best art is self-awareness: An ability to look at your own work, figure out what's good and bad about it, and act accordingly.

I think it's great that you're sticking to drawing, and not just drawing, but drawing well outside what "sells". (I should add that very little sells anyway -- you know that.) It's quixotic, but good. I think ultimately you'll be more successful being sincere, even if that success isn't financial. But it could be that, too.

beebe said...

I appreciated the Roberta Smith article in a huge way. My biggest disappointment was that she sited a long list of artists who are--for the most part--already established (if, perhaps, under-recognized in some cases.) As if Chris Ofili or Peter Doig somehow struggle with recognition at this point, right? Which introduces the long-standing (and entirely off-topic) question of how you get anyone to pay attention to your work when the critics spend most of their time talking about artists you already know? How do you step into that loop? How do you become part of the dialogue?

(Sidenote: while I wasn’t a big fan of some of the artists Smith sited, I love the shit out of two or them: Dana Schutz and Nicole Eisenman. They’re two of my favorite painters working today and they both make intense, beautiful work (even when it’s ugly.)

I think painting and drawing were the movies/visual novels of their times. And I still think there is an infinite amount of potency possessed by both painting and drawing and other kinds of by-hand image making. But, you know, new stuff has come along in the last century that are equally as potent--photography, film, the electronic recording, production and dissemination of music--and I’m willing to cede that work created using relatively new formats (video, installation, performance) can have the kind of impact that “great” paintings (whatever that means) had during their primacy. But I rarely sense the kind of commitment to making great video, installation, etc.

beebe said...

Actually, I was having a discussion (of sorts, more of a one-sided rant on my end) with a friend of mine who occasionally writes for the Brooklyn Rail. She mostly covers performance art and has a much better overall understanding of that kind of work than I ever will. Even with that understanding, she still acknowledges there is a decent amount of bullshit going on. That discussion kind of bumps up against what we are (or I am, at this point) discussing:

“But I also feel like the words ‘process’ and ‘experimental’ are signifiers for (and justifiers of) work that is ‘unfinished’ and ‘incoherent.’ And--critics and curators and higher-end art consumers--rather than just going ‘this work is unfinished and incoherent’ ended up nodding their heads and approving of this kind of work. I’d say mostly because they’re afraid of not ‘getting’ the work in question and God forbid that should happen--who wants to look like (let alone admit) that they don’t get it when it comes to oblique contemporary art? It’s laughable that this idea that being process-based and experimental is somehow a reaction against structured, 19th c. marble-handed academia that threatens to bury us all--as if the idea of being process-based and experimental weren’t the reigning academic aesthetic just about everywhere at this point. This idea that somehow this process-y work is more ‘real’ or raw and truth-telling than other kinds of work . . . I mean, making work is a process no matter what. And--if you’re a decent artist--you’re constantly experimenting with form, imagery, materials, technique, approach, etc. So why this exhausted focus on artistic shorthand, the idea that putting out only 65% of what you want to say in an intentionally unstructured way is more valid than putting out 100% of what you want to say in a most articulate way you can? Most art fails anyway. (If an artist is telling you they really nailed a piece (dance, painting, song, doesn’t matter) they’re probably lying to you.) So why is it considered better (institutionally and academically, mind you) to fail in a sloppier way than a more articulate way? It absolves both the artist and the viewer of responsibility and craps up the relationship between the two. But anything to jump across the idiomatic fence at it’s lowest point, I suppose.”

(I would love to take credit for the “idiomatic fence” line but I got it the liner notes of a Miles Davis album about two decades ago. I wish I could remember the name of the writer so I could credit him.)


Chris Rywalt said...

Up front I want to say that I really, really dislike both Dana Schutz's and Nicole Eisenman's work. I think they're both absolutely irredeemably terrible.

I also don't think photography or recorded music are as potent as painting or drawing. They're both secondhand, like reproductions of paintings. Film is its own thing -- I think it's powerful in its own way. But of course it's not painting or drawing. Painting, live music, poetry (preferably read aloud), these are true art.

I always say that, intellectually, I understand that great art can be made from anything. A video, a performance, dog crap, sea water, all theoretically can used to make great art. But in practical terms, some media are better suited for conveying whatever-it-is that makes great art than others. And at some point you have to admit, theory be damned, no one's making great art from video. Or dog crap.

I get criticism here and there when I take apart this or that artist -- I get told my art is bad, I should try some style that isn't old and dusty. This is because there's far too much emphasis these days on novelty. New new new! Video is new, installation is new, performance art is new! They're all novel and original and hip! Of course they're not, and anyway who cares if something is new or not? I care if it's good, not new.

You're absolutely right about "process" and "experimental" being euphemisms for "unfinished". I've been seeing links for Raphael Rubinstein's article in Art in America "Provisional Painting" a lot lately, and people are making positive noises about it. Rubinstein is simply championing the same unfinished work -- only in painting -- that's been so underwhelming (in all ways but sheer volume) in installation and conceptual art. Personally I'd rather see -- as I think you're saying -- an unfinished series of experiments where each work is finished, but a step in a direction, than a pile of half-finished work.

I think it's considered better to be sloppy because it's easier. It's easier for everyone. No one has to work too hard that way. I say this to artists who complain about my harsh reviews: Be better. That's all. Work harder. Be better. But people don't want to work hard.

As for how one breaks into the loop: I hope -- I really do hope -- that by being tireless and working hard and being sincere and honest, one can break through the echoes. I hope.

beebe said...

Nah, you're wrong. Eisenman and Schutz are good image makers and great painters. Admittedly, they're not producing Ingres-quality images . . . but that's not where they're pulling their language. You can't accurately say they're engaged in provisional painting--there is a serious degree of effort and commitment to what they're doing. I'd say they've both got a pretty comprehensive understanding of the language of painting from about 1850 on (and quite possibly from before that time . . . but I'm seeing the evidence of paint application from, say, Manet on up.) They're consistently inventive, working representationally while using paint as a plastic, textural medium--something I could never get the hang of. I get the sense they're both working autobiographically as opposed to making art about art or slinging around stupefying critical theory. Literally or metaphorically, they're creating images from their own experiences. So I'm all for that. Humor, irony and sincerity are all in the work as well, all attributes I deeply respect and seek out.

All of this stuff makes their work valuable to me. As an artist, I'm mostly interested in work I can steal ideas/images from. Both Schutz and Eisenman are theft-worthy as far as I'm concerned. And I'm a 14th level thief and my picking pockets roll is 98%. So.

I would argue that music blows the shit out of visual art. It's invisible, abstract and temporal and you can bring to--or pull out of it--just about anything you can imagine. I can only hope that my drawing can be half as affecting as some of my favorite music.

I read the Rubinstein article. I understand what he's saying about this kind of provisional painting. I just don't BELIEVE it. If you (the artist, the painter) are confronted with some kind of existential dread regarding the meaning of painting . . . well, just go kiss an asp or wrestle a carnivorous ape or something. Go sit in a cafe somewhere and be disaffected. Just stop painting.

Chris Rywalt said...

I wouldn't call Eisenman or Schutz provisional painters at all. I might call them Feeble Painters, but they're not really bad in quite that way. Marlene Dumas is a Feeblist, for example.

I don't think they're terrible because they're not Ingres. People doing Ingres-style painting these days aren't very good anyway. I mean, technically today's academic realists are superb, but most of the ones I've seen lack soul. I love technical facility but it's not enough.

And that's not what I have against either of the painters. I simply think they're terrible. They have poor visual sense. Both of them seem actively angry at their paint and often seem to be trying to make it as ugly as possible. Eisenman's subjects are childish and brutish and her paint handling often the same. I mean look at Whatever Guy. It's so hopelessly bad, painted in some faux Fauvist manner, and she's so clearly insincere. She's not invested in this at all. Her paintings all veer between slapdash and insincere and deeply personal, larded with cynical attempts to shock. Check out her muddy, stupid Sunday Night Dinner: Hairy twat! Pig man! Subversion of suburban Sunday night dinner ritual! Along with the oh-so-fashionable disdain for actual painting ability. It's crap from one end to the other.

The only reason painting like this looks good is because painting itself has been denatured and denigrated for so long. Art dealers realize painting isn't dead -- people still like paintings -- so they allowed it back so long as it's larded with plenty of irony and doesn't get uppity.

In a sense they are making art about art: It's art about how far art has fallen, and it's perfectly tuned to fit right in with the tenor of the times.

I don't think music blows the shit out of visual art, either. It affects people differently. It's its own thing. Visual art can be truly wonderful -- it's just very rare. Music seems to have become ubiquitous, but of course that's all recording, the same way illustration has become ubiquitous. Hearing live music is almost as rare as seeing paintings. Music reproduction is probably closer to the real thing than art reproduction, though, which I guess is its advantage.

beebe said...

Admittedly, I'm not that crazy about Whatever Guy but I don't sense insincerity--I think she's just goofing on the paint, on the ideas, etc. And I don't really see any attempt to shock in Sunday Night Etc. I think she's just working extemporaneously and the pussy just came out because she thought it was funny. It doesn't bother me. I like the contrast of the realistic-ish rendering of the tablecloth contrasting with the fucked out use of paint on the rest of the canvas. I see references (in terms of paint handling) to all kinds of painters--Beckmann, Van Gogh, Munch and, yes, the Fauves (and I'm sure other, more contemporary painters I can't think of)--and I love the shit out of that snobby, chinless little wine-snob prick at the front of the picture plane. It's scathing, funny, mean-spirited in a good way.

Ugh. These are the kinds of conversations I swore off after grad school.

So what contemporary artists do you like? I need some kind of reference here. ARE there any artists working today that you like?