Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Seven Days in the Art World.

Oh dear, dear readers! It's embarrassing to realize how long I have not written. So much has happened! The "news" section of my website kind of goes into all the stuff going on business-wise in my life, so I'll leave it at that.

But today I would like to write about an interesting quote I read. I am reading a book I picked up about a year ago in New York called "Seven Days in the Art World" by Sarah Thornton. So far it is both fascinating and totally annoying. The book is about Ms. Thornton researching, for one day, the following aspects that could vaguely be considered to make up the art world: a Christie's action, a student critique at CalArts, the uber-fair of Art Basel in Switzerland, a look into the finalists of the famed Turner Prize, the going-ons of the magazine ArtForum, a visit to artist  Takashi Murakami's studio, and lastly, she goes to the Venice Biennale.
So far I am at "day two", which is the end of the student critique. It's funny, but this chapter was all too familiar to me, but brought out some very weird emotions. I went to the Rhode Island School of Design for a year, until I could  no longer afford the extensive bills. The critiques we had were different than what she talks about in the book, mostly because she is sitting in on a graduate program class. I could not help being both nostalgic and disturbed by how these critiques play out in her book. The general sense in the room is that of arrogance it would seem, which I remember nearly 15 years ago being the case as well. At one point the author decides to ask the students, teachers, and general people she bumps into at the school what it is to be an artist. The vast majority get angry with her, and are clear about her question being vulgar. I guess this is the part that made me want to burn the book, and I may just as well have if I was not on the authors team for this one. It's a pretty innocent question, right?

Funnily, The first "day" of the book, the Christie's auction, has the quote that I want to discuss. At the end of the chapter, the author is walking out of the auction hall. She bumps into the artist Keith Tyson. She discusses what went on in the hall. The artist uses a line I like a lot. He calls it "an Elegant Darwinian system".  As he goes into the plusses of art as a means to money, he finishes with the quote I'm leading up to .

"It's unusual to meet a artist who has such confidence in the ultimate accuracy of the market's aesthetic judgments. Paradoxically, Tyson is also adamant that art is not reducible to a commodity. "Unlike gold and diamods, art has this other value, ad thats what makes it fascinating. Everything else is trying to sell you something else. Art is trying to sell you yourself. That's what is different about it. Art is what makes life worth living."

I'm not sure I agree with the last line completely, since I can think of a few things that also make life worth living. But as far as actual "things" are concerned, yes, art is one of the few objects that can make life worth living.  The moment of brilliance, I think, comes when he says art is trying to sell you yourself. How many times do we go shopping for something that will make us a better person than what we are.... more beautiful, more faithful, more eco-minded, more artsy, more hip, more intellectual, more handsome. Art is the only thing I can think of (and I could be wrong here... I am saying art as also including writing, music, culinary, theater...) that will make you face yourself, both good and bad. Sometimes I think I am drawn to both the ugly and beautiful because those things are both dwelling within me, and are my truths. There is something I see of myself, if I am honest, in the startling images of Jenny Saville and Lucien Freud. There is also a part of myself that I see, and sometimes push away, in the beautifully quiet landscapes of George Inness.
Hasn't this been what artists have sought after since the beginning? Have they not hunted this contradiction? When you go into a museum or gallery, or fair or wherever, when a piece "speaks" to you, does it not speak of something you already know, but have forgotten (or chosen to forget)? Sometimes wen I experience a piece, it is as if it is introducing me to myself and to my world.

I don't have the answers, that is for damn sure. But I do know that this line in this slightly miserable book (so far) has stuck with me during my walks, during my driving, during my painting.

I promise to not spend so much time away.

Happy findings!