Bringing Art Making Into Your Life
I sometimes think the main difference between artists and other people is the artists ability to see things differently. Artists, like scientists seem to notice more details about what is going on. But unlike those sensible scientists, we artists don’t need to prove any of our hypothesis and are free to explore whatever wild and in-depth notion we come up with. We can make order of our universe in what ever way we like. We can rewrite it, skew it, pervert it and beautify it. We can pay attention to the largest or smallest details, making them the focus of our work.
This leads me into the notion of what you think of as art. I tend to be very inclusive basically thinking that if someone wants to call it art I’m happy to go along with it. [ It doesn’t necessarily mean I think its good art]. Fairly wild conceptual art is fine by me, as is the simplest of drawings.
Above: ‘En el aire’ [In the Air] 2003 by Mexican artists Teresa Margolles. In this piece bubbles made with the water from the washing of bodies, killed in the Mexican drug wars, for autopsy, are pumped into the space. When this piece was first shown, the bubbles were pumped into the room full of guests, THEN they were told what the bubbles were made of… EEEw. The juxtaposition of the partying crowd and an artwork pointing out the numbers of people who die in the money-making drug trade create a really interesting and meaningful piece of art, but not one you want to take home with you. [photo from artnet.com]
At the moment there is a lot of conceptual art being made where there is no kind of end object. Or not a work of art that you could actually buy unless you were a gallery or had an installation space. Almost in the category of performance art or the old 1960’s notion of the happening. Some kind of thought-provoking event or piece. I know a lot of people are challenged by the notion that this is art. For me I have more of a problem at the other end. Even though a simple drawing can be art for sure there is a kind of space where someone re-creates what they saw to the degree, where I wasn’t sure of the point of it. There didn’t seem to be any thing added by the artist, except time and skill and it’s a bit Blah. A bit sort of so what.
This is not to say every art work should be a wild version of life . Some artists manage to make something fabulous out of the very Blah that I was talking about. Someone like Ed Ruscha. He would take a series of quite repetitive images and somehow they add up to something meaningful. Like a comment on society. Or maybe just seeing how his mind works: knowing what Ruscha sees. Before Ruscha started capturing these type of images, most of us would have not noticed the things he takes photos of as images worth capturing. One of the most important parts of his works was the titles. The titles made us pay attention to what he was seeing. These works are on the borderline of super boring, but somehow the titles just make them a crack up instead. Ruscha showed us the fun you could have titling your work. [ If you want to think more about this please read my post; Naming your art -throw ’em a bone]
Above: top ‘Nine Swimming Pools’ by Ed Ruscha from his art book ‘Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass’ 1968 . Middle image, one of the pages of the book. Bottom image, the cover of the book. The book included images of nine swimming pools, and one of a broken glass. Nothing very interesting in themselves but the title of the work makes you give each image worth.
Above: top a page from the work ‘Various small fires and milk’ 1964 by Ed Ruscha. This art book included an image of burning matches, stove top flame, etc and one single image of a glass of milk. For some reason this one really cracks me up. Bottom image, the title page of the book. [Images from http://www.popartbooks.co.uk]
Maybe those new to Ed Ruscha won’t find him very thrilling but that’s because his work has been much copied and therefore lost some of its impact. But its the ability of artists to show you something in a new way that makes them special. It doesn’t have to be mind-blowing, just showing you something you hadn’t noticed yourself or even capturing a scene that maybe your subconscious had logged but your conscious mind had ignored. Or showing you a new version.
Around Xmas time 2011 I grabbed a book from the library called Painting and Drawing People, a Fresh Approach, by Emily Ball. This book is a one of a kind and it really is a fresh approach. Ball doesn’t believe that when you create an image, even if it’s a portrait, that you should be trying to re-create exactly what’s in front of you. Why would you? It already exists. Ball uses a variety of exercises to get you looking at your subject and your work differently. Ball encourages us to put into our paintings what we know and think and feel rather than exactly what we see. I know this can be tricky for beginner artists who are mostly encouraged to try to replicate what they see, but if you can bring more of yourself to your work you can go past the static image phase and into a place where your work holds more interest.
No matter how dark or kooky or weird you worry others will think you are, you must let your art reveal what you are really trying to explore, trying to understand or trying to enjoy. It doesn’t matter if you can’t explain with words what it is you are trying to do.
For us artists the joy is in letting ourselves see things how we want to see them. And making work that reflects it.