Last week I had the opportunity to interview Charlie Lucas, an artist from Selma, Alabama, who is exhibiting at MINT Gallery here in Atlanta. (The interview airs on WABE Monday, March 2, at about 10:44 a.m., because of course you want to hear it.)
The contrast between talking to him and with other artists over the years was pretty dramatic. He talked mostly about his family, and love, and responsibility, and having an effect. Academically trained artists, in my experience (and including myself), often seem to reach for a reason why they make work by making art historical references and using five-dollar words. Talking with Charlie was refreshing.
I don’t mean to imply that art and discussions of it should be dumbed down. I do think that the way we talk about art often makes it difficult to approach. We exclude those outside our special group that sees things in a way normals just can’t comprehend. Artists can easily other-ize themselves, creating the exclusivity and then complaining that no one understands.
That’s why writing is critical. Art without intention is just rectangles on a wall. Pretty pictures. Checkout art. Matches-my-couch art. (Last week I was asked if I was interested in doing an interview with an artist whose exhibition press release touted “bold colors” and “expressive brush strokes”. I passed.)
Artists need to be able to talk about their work. I am terrible at this, and it’s part of why I’m practicing writing this year.
Here’s what I think art is: disruptive and transcendent. It makes a person who experiences it stop and think, and carry the experience with them. It lasts. And it goes beyond or outside an everyday experience. Yes, I think anything can BE art, but it’s not “Art” until we say it is, and why. A ready-made is just an upside down urinal, but it disrupts and transcends itself, and Duchamp said it was art.
Can I admit this and still do my work? I don’t often read academic or critical reviews. Maybe I’m just too selfish and only care about how a piece affects me. Or maybe I had enough of that in school. Or maybe I just don’t get it and feel inadequate. Or it’s irrelevant.
What I do like is talking with artists, and asking them why they made whatever they made. I particularly like to ask, “What do you want people to get out of seeing your work?” or less politely, “Why are you showing this to me?”
I keep asking myself that, and often can’t answer. Maybe I just make things for me, to amuse myself. If people like it, great, if not, meh. I do have the luxury of not having to depend on making art for a living.
I don’t think art is something to look at, but to experience. Like science, it’s not about answers, but questions. One question leads to another. It’s about pursuit, or the journey. Getting there. It’s a way we try to explain the world.
One kind of work I really love is the ephemeral ($5 word! I can’t help it!). It’s part of what I was going for in my own “Amazing Stranger” billboard project finishing grad school, and that I’m still pursuing (really, one day). This was way better and more meaningful than my gallery show. And a LOT more people saw the work.
I wanted to interrupt the constant flow of varicose vein surgery, DUI lawyers, and plumbing ads that endlessly confront us when getting from one place to another with out-of-place images that didn’t ask anything of the viewer but gave something back with a “Please“, “Thank You“, “You Are Welcome“, or “Yes“.
Look at Gyun Hur and her cut up flowers. It’s so deep, and rich, and impermanent. It almost makes me cry just to think about it. Many hands are involved, and the materials are significant. It’s got process, and significance. It is disruptive (imagine seeing this at the mall) and transcendent.
I had the privilege of talking with Gyun about her work back when she won the first Hudgens Prize in 2011. (She’s done great work since then, just the flower work really touched me.)
In photography, I can’t get enough of Mr. Toledano. It’s photography, but not “a picture of…” His work is cinematic and deep. It’s interesting concepts and outstanding execution.
Have a look at “The Louniverse“, about his young daughter’s introduction to, and relationship with, technology. Read the artist statement. Just beautiful.
Even his family photos are art. I’ve made many of the same photos myself, and they’re nice to look at, but not art. It’s in not only what I’m looking at, but how the artist wants me to feel about it. And the artist has to draw the connection between works. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of baby pictures (which are great!).
So, art is concept AND execution. It’s not enough to make it pretty. An artist has to tell the audience why, or else it’s just pictures, and this is not a pipe.
[P.S. I just realized this could be an exercise in identifying and catering to audience. Everything is marketing.]