exploring art and writing

The Art Monster.

In Fine Arts on November 11, 2009 at 4:42 pm

My mind is overpowered at the moment with thoughts concerning art; with pieces of art and with artists themselves (sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish which is which), with art institutions and with art assessments, with bad art and good art and how it doesn’t actually matter whether art is bad or good. We were asked last year to draw a diagram illustrating how we believed our personal art practice functions, how it is developed; mine was a series of multiple, overlaying loops consisting of processes and philosophies, tactics and drawbacks, as well as a set of sharp, shiny teeth and sly eyes: my art monster. It haunts me to this day.

Being dissatisfied with your own practice is one thing, but being dissatisfied with an entire movements’ is another. I use the word ‘movement’ for want of a more appropriate word; I get the impression that a movement is the post-invention of what it contains rather than a present event or occurrence. Don’t get me wrong: there is a lot of wonderful, thought-provoking, thoroughly researched and masterfully constructed art standing its ground out there; there are paintings, sculptures, performances, videos, films, plus everything else in-between that I want to get to know. And I attempt to try very hard with every piece of art that I come across; a lot of the time, however, I find myself standing there with an aching back whilst I grind my jaw. In fact, I think some of the only times when I am not thinking about art is when I am actually looking at it.

What concerns me most are people’s expectations, from both ends of the spectrum. When I say this I am not just referring to attitudes but also to artist and audience and the expectations that one puts on the other. Sometimes I get this mental image of people lining up with their heads back, mouths agape, whilst some faceless person is shoveling in pile after pile of stuff with a trowel as their bellies continue to expand. Stuff is exactly what I mean; it’s nondescript and it is just bulk, it fills a gap.

The catalyst for these thoughts was last Tuesday when myself and around 30 other people watched a 10 minute video. The majority of it consisted of a journey and towards the end a destination was reached; the protagonist got out of her car, briefly investigated her new environment and then turned back to proceed, I assume, home again. Here was skill and experimentation in the documentation of a journey, and in the same way people genuinely enjoy the slow, seemingly real beauty of a Gus Van Sant film it was genuinely enjoyable, and also intriguing, to watch this woman embark on such a small journey in such a familiar way. In Sans Soleil it is said: “banality only interests me”; whilst banality isn’t my only interest and I appreciate pieces of art and film that indulge the audience in thrills, there was something satisfying about the artists disinterest towards a need for a dramatic climax; instead we were offered a build-up through unprovoked tension and an ending that, whilst being a climax, was in no way forced or artificial. This definitely defied people’s expectations – and people definitely weren’t pleased about that.

So why are people so offended by lack of incident, by silence and absence? In extreme cases – if, say, an empty room was presented as an artwork – then I would expect doubt, incredulity and debate, as I’m sure the artist of such a piece would intend. In reference to a film that doesn’t crescendo into a climatic frenzy or simply have an incident at the end to make the preceding footage ‘worth it’: why is this such a negative approach for a filmmaker to use? Reality does not consist of an ever-developing impending climax; it can be great and it can be shit, and though we do hear of people whose lives resemble something like a stereotypical Hollywood film (a source, for some reason, of much envy and in many cases the reason for celebrity) most of us can’t empathize. Films following this vein are escapism, which will always be valid. Films made for arts sake as well as – or in place of – entertainments sake are precisely that: art, and as many artists would I’m sure wholeheartedly shout about, they are not made to entertain in the same way, if at all. They are a commentary on an aspect of life that interests the artist that some people will relate to and some won’t; and if a member of the audience so wishes, they can always just walk out.

I understand that an artists expectations can sometimes be too assuming towards their viewers, whether artistically orientated or not. But when a viewer asks why a piece didn’t do This Thing at the end, or when they ask why it was constructed and shown in such a way, why, why do they then make specific suggestions and assume these would be better? If an artist constructs and exhibits a piece of art well, everything will be considered and serve a particular purpose or reason, whether it pleases people or not. If this was considered more then the artworld might make a little more sense and be a bit less like a monster.

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  1. […] Davidson 2004:1) is a claim that not only slots neatly in with ideas discussed in my blog ‘The Art Monster‘, it also reinforces a film/artworks potential to possess no meaning and yet thousands of […]

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