Sunday, September 16, 2007

Final Chapter, Kinda

Alright, so here is where I tell you what I've been thinking about lately. This is the part that I'd really like feedback on cause these ideas are new to me and partially unfounded, but here it goes.

So far we have been talking about makes up art, the differences between art and "craft" but we haven't been talking about why we make it, or why we should should. It's good and all to trumpet ideas of communication and really, this is a very important part of the equation, but from a creator's point of view, it still leaves uncertainty as to what direction to take art.

Let's go back to Michelangelo, cause I always seem to go back to him. After seeing the Pieta, I have become obsessed. How is it that he was able to create such amazing art? So I researched him, and all the obvious things came out, early training, innate ability, etc etc. Yet, plenty of people have this sort of innate ability. The idea that he was somehow so amazing in his skill to outstrip every artist since him seems highly unlikely. So, though his skill is undoubtedly an essential ingredient in his ability to make such genre defining art, art that feels alive, not some hunk of stone, there must be some other source for his success.

I believe this was his belief in God; or more specifically, his belief that God was working through him to reveal the sort of ideal beauty that was believed to exist in the past, stemming from the Greeks. What this created in him was a drive, a reason, for seeking perfection. I think this was what made him different, perhaps he was delusional, thinking that God was working through him, but regardless, I think this is the critical element that sets him above so many and so many today seem to also lack.

So I began to think, how can any artist today who is a thinking person be so driven? The environment that Michelangelo lived in is drastically different from today's environment. Personally, I cannot accept the idea that I should be trying to reveal some sort of Arete, or divine perfection or whatever you wanna call it. We know today, whether true or not, that there is no perfect source, no perfect divine order or at least that's our unspoken model. Artists, unlike in the past, are not revealers of the divine. That sort of commandment, to reveal God through your art, would be a real motivating factor for an artist, if they could swallow it. I doubt anyone but the psychotic can swallow that today.

Well, I thought, thats depressing. How can I ever aspire to be the best that I can be if I can't even find something that would motivate me to be that? What is the point? For a long while I didn't know.

Then something happened that helped me pull many different, disparate, things together. Things that I had no idea were connected, turned out to be part of each other. The first element was my dislike of certain art, of which Thomas Kinkade is a poster child for.
Next was what one of my instructors, Billy, and the company he used to work for was always talking about. That is to stay true to your material. Have things fit together naturally, be true to your characters.
Last was animation by Bill Tytla, especially his stuff in Dumbo. This work was very emotionaly strong, it didn't feel forced, it felt natural, real. Allot like the Pieta, exactly like the Pieta. These pieces are real. This is in contrast to some artwork which is fake, and as we all know, I hate anything that feels fake.

Then I stumbled across a word, and I wish I could remember where I read it or how it was phrased because it hinted at a greater meaning than I knew. That word was Kitsch. I would encourage you to look this word up on wikipedia, because it had far more significance in the past than we give credit to it today. This seems good too.

Now, I'm going to try and explain why this is so important, but it's going to be hard, because the idea is so simple, and is a part of everything I've said so far, really it's nothing new, it's just pulling everything together into a framework for judging art, and a reason/drive to create it.

Basically, Kitsch refers to a sort of fake art. Art that is pacifying, overly-sentimental.... It's hard to explain; in short, it's art that is boring. Art isn't boring, it is interesting. More specifically, it should be interesting because it reveals truth. That means it presents the good with the bad, it doesn't take real things and make them into sentimentalities. It creates real creations, not imitations.

Let's try and step back for a moment, because I'm afraid that this isn't clear enough. There are two thing that "artists" create.
Either, Kitsch, or Art.

What Michelangelo was doing, was trying to reveal truth, to create artwork that was real, not just an imitation, but something that was itself. The idea of being a divine instrument was just a model that he used, but he was doing what I am proposing here. In other words, we can do the same thing. This is our way in. To reveal the truth and to create something real is the goal of art.

Kitsch is sort of the polar opposite of this. It's not enlightening, interesting or true. It doesn't show the dark side, and it bastardizes the light into some sort of sanitized, commodified version of truth. Kitsch is all about placating the viewer, just making them feel good, or okay. It plays by the rules, it doesn't try anything new, it doesn't try to push art forward or blaze any paths.

So there it is, I hope the pay off was as revealing as it was to me. Kitsch vs. Art is a model that covers all of art and gives you a model to talk about what you intuitively feel. You know when you see Art, it's alive, it's engaging, it's interesting. You also know when you see kitsch. But without these words, or this framework, it's very hard to be specific about things. It's very hard to really trust what your feeling because you have no framework.

And if you are an artist, as we all are in our own way, then you know what you need to shoot for, your standards have been set. They are not so specific to be constraining, kitsch vs. art is very much open to personal interpretation. Yet, at the same time, it's not so free that you are lost without any direction with nothing to build on. This is what artists and viewers of art need to create, judge and understand art.



Friday, September 14, 2007

Part 3

Alright, so, I think I've fully given what was my opinions on what art is, what art isn't etc. These next parts probably won't be quite as lengthy, but I think they are far more interesting.

After having come to the conclusions that I mentioned below, I felt I had a strong standing for what I thought. It was arguable, it was logically sound, and I had not met anyone or run across any writing etc that seemed to directly contradict it. However, when I think about it, it really does contradict my overall opinions on the way the world works, but that's tangential.

Ultimately what brought me out of this sort of thinking was one of my instructors here at Ringling as well as various stuff I've read, eastern religions that I had read about, and the non-violence class I've been watching. None of these sources were directly attacking what I thought, but what underpinned it was being changed. That is, the idea that through logic and reason one can find truth and have some level of certainty on it. Of course this all sounds good and fine, and to a certain extant it is true. However, something that took me a while to learn is that logic and reason often can be used, unconsciously, to fool yourself.

This is particularly important in art because whether or not you can logically argue that your drawing works and is good is inconsequential if no one understands it and finds it ugly. Furthermore, while making appealing art that connects with an audience can be enhanced by learned skill, it is your intuition that is what will tell you whether or not it is working. This, I believe, is because when a person looks at your art, their initial response is automatic, emotional and intuitive, if you can't grab them then, all the concepts in the world don't matter. Not only that, but if you have a piece that is appealing, the viewer will be immediately attracted, then, if the concepts are strong they will be further drawn in, and then they will further notice more aesthetics, and go back and forth like this over and over, depending on how well done the piece is.

Now, I'd like to highlight this point, I tend to be a very logical person, arguments are fun for me, reason is what I use. So, to switch over to relying on intuition and emotion to find truth, truth that cannot be found by logic or argument, is a fairly large shift. This isn't to say that I have thrown logic or reason out, quite the opposite, instead I believe that they support each other, keeping each other in balance. It's not so much that focusing on one or the other is bad as much as together they are so much better. In the past, I might unconsciously push out of my thinking things that I intuitively felt because I couldn't immediately think of some sort of logical explanation. This doesn't mean that they are not true, it simply means that I can feel something that my logical mind does not yet have enough information to categorize and explain in detail. With this, you can pursue topics and "stuff" that you wouldn't if you hadn't used intuition, and in the reverse, you can use logic to both. keep emotion in check, and to infuse emotion with substantial meaning. This is all probably obvious to everyone, but this stuff is new to me.

But, how did this shift my views one what is art? Without getting tedious with the logic of it, it meant, to me, that the viewing of art was very subjective. This pulled in allot of ideas and memes that I had been absorbing over the years. Namely ideas of ethnocentrism and people's viewpoints being shaped by the world they live in and the world they come from. Furthermore, this meant that the reading of a piece of art was highly dependent on the culture, time period etc. of the viewer. Ultimately, what this meant was that whether or not a person thought something was good or not was completely subjective, and would most likely change throughout they're own lifetime. This, augmented by the idea that visual art is much like writing, only the words and vocabulary were visual and not as regimented meant that:
1. Art is a way for people to communicate.
2. How that message was received was highly dependent on the viewer.

With this realization, the concept of artistic intent felt very non-relevant and brittle. If art was a way to communicate, then who cares about artistic intent? Either it works, or it doesn't. That doesn't mean that if a thousand people think that a piece of art doesn't work it isn't art. Because, there might be one person who it connected with, in that case, the piece was a success. It succeeded in bridging a seemingly insurpasible bridge, the space between two people. Those people were communicating, and that's what it was all about.

Not only that, but it started to be obvious the reasons why people were repelled by art. This construction of artistic intent was the problem. It allowed those who were educated to erect a wall around what they liked and protect it from any criticisms by the commoners while simultaneously being able to pelt common culture as not being art. As Daniel knows, because we spent half the night talking about this, if we were able to get rid of artistic intent paradigm then what would matter would be a personal interpretation of a piece. Because the question of whether or not X is art or not has been removed there is no war to be made between people. Instead, there is simply a discussion of what that piece means to them and why.

Growing out of this is a discussion of who they are as a person, after all it is because of their history that they liked that piece in the first place. And so I imagine that art, instead of stirring up debate over whether or not X is more worthy than Y people would instead be learning about each other. Art would be a reference point, a way for people to bridge the gap between each other and learn more about each other.

Now, I would like to make a few notes here, because I have feeling that you may be thinking things that I believe are faulty :-)

1. I don't think that the result of this would be chaos. Or that we would lose standards. On the contrary, I think that if people were better in tune with their gut level intuition, they would be able to better develop a personal opinion on what they like. Instead of "liking" something just because you are supposed to, it would be okay to dislike, say, the mona lisa. I think that it's this personal style/viewpoint that is often underdeveloped or completely lacking in many people.

2. Just because you get rid of artistic intent, and switch over to personal experience, doesn't mean that you are really changing anything fundamentally. What you are really doing is taking the shackles off art and letting it be what it was all along. These judgments based on artistic intent, merit and art vs craft are constructs that only take away from the true purpose of art.

3. Furthermore, I think that this would actually broaden peoples appreciation of art. Why? because being coerced into liking something just because your supposed to, doesn't work. But when you see someone else having a totally different experience with the same artowrk then you want to know how this is. This may lead to you learning about the period it was created, the artist, and ultimately the visual language they were using, which may be different from the language used today.

Alright, I think that pretty much covers it. Some of this is sorta vague, so, if any questions come up, feel free to ask. This is not the end by the way, I have one one more element that I want to put in, and I think it's the most interesting. So far we have just been talking about the nuts and bolts, next I want to talk about what will bring this all together and really start to give it meaning, in my opinion.

P.S. I want to apologize for the scatter shot nature of these posts. They are written at night, first drafts, and it would take me a couple drafts to shrink things down to more concise readable form. Unfortunately, I wouldn't write them if I had to do that, I just have too much work :-/

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

part 2!

So, I thought Mario 64 was art. I thought games were art. They were the movies of the new century. Beyond this, I believed that there are things which are art and things that are not. This division was objective and could be argued using logic, and discussing said artwork. This developed in my mind over the years into what seems to be the common frame of criticism today, that is, artistic intent. If the intention of the creator of the piece was to create art, then it is art, and only then. If it is instead simply a craft, making something useful like a chair or a quilt, then it is no longer art, it is "simply" a craft. Obviously this is derogatory, even though when you are talking about it you don't mean it your language reveals your prejudice.

Now, this is directly related to the list below. Abstract art gains it's legitimacy because the artist intends to create art, therefor it is art. Then the discussion surrounds whether or not it is good art. The chair never enters this discussion, using this model, because it is not art, it is merely craft, it is not seeking to create something timeless, something mentally stimulating. And this really is the crux, because then you get art installations that feature nothing but text, that focus purely on concept and nothing on craft.

They can be viewed two ways, either they view the essence of what art is as being the concept and that the craft is simply window dressing or, they can be viewed from a context of art that is asking, "what is art"? Putting out a purely conceptual piece of art and asking, "is this art"? Obviously, using the model of intent, the answer is yes. And it seems to be the purest (read bestest) kind of art, art that is completely devoid of any practical use, and totally self-contained. It is art that talks about what art is in a totally conceptual way. There is no hint of dirty craft, nor any hint of common practicality. This leads to 1, 4 and 6 below.

(I hope this makes sense, it makes sense to me but I'm afraid that it may be too brief to be cohesive. This is stuff that developed slowly in my head over years of reading people's opinions and developing my own, so, taken out of that context it may be confusing.)

Why? because this sort of art requires allot of specialized education. You have to know your stuff, and be open, to be able to view one of these conceptual pieces and actually get anything out of it. People walk out confused at what they saw and they generally seem to have two reactions. It's over their head so, either they raise it on a pedestal and extol it's virtues in an attempt to look smart or they say it's useless and these "artists" have no skill and are charlatans. They're 8 year old kid could have done that. I don't blame them, you either have to be an artist, and therefore make it your business to know what's going on in the art world, or have more free time than the average working class person does and be able to educate yourself on something as "impractical" as art. This, I believe, is where allot of people's dislike of "art" and "artists" stems.

My opinion is that this sort of art is often a puzzle for the rich and affluent. Something they can do on weekends to show off they're knowledge in front of their friends. Of course, I think there is real art in it as well. I just think that it's sold to these people because they are the patrons, they pay the bills. It's a funny dynamic that the people making the art often hate the people paying for it.

So, to sum up this post, art is viewed as being based on artistic intent. This is an objective thing that can be judged based on what the artist says, their body of work, they're personal biography and what is happening in the art world at the time. This can very easily be argued and argued, factions are set up in defense of particular artistic intents. It's all a big game that people can play. They know the games of the past, they know the players and their stats, they know the grudges and the best players and they are excited to see who will come out on top tomorrow.

But art is not a sport. More to come.


Okay, short post.

Okay boys and girls, I'm gonna try and start a series on my recent line of thinking on what makes art, art. And how one can define it. This is going to be hard cause it's not a straight line that I've gone down and I wasn't smart enough to write things down as I went down that line so allot of it is smashed and mushed together. But let's start at the beginging, again, this will be a short post and I will hopefully keep adding if I ever have time to do so.

Anyways, enough preamble, let's start with what I think todays climate is amongst regualur joes. (this applies to visual art)
1. Art is useless
2. Art is something that hangs on a wall in a gallery.
3. Real art is something that is hard to make and technically strong. Shows the artist's ability to render real life, as if it was a photo.
4. Abstract art is a sham
5. Many think that movies aren't art, as well as music, books, pretty much anything they consume.
6. Art is boring, connected to number 1.
7. "Artist" is both the title of a useless member of society as well as the title of a magician who has some sort of innate skill that one is only born with, and there only a few are born with it.

Now, as much as I'd like to just shout out what I think the answer is, and why things are the way they are and how we can improve them, I think we should first talk a bit about how I came to this still forming conclusion.

First. I have always thought that art was important, I didn't really know why, I knew it made me feel....connected. I knew I liked it. I also knew that some art I liked and some I didn't. Some felt flat, lacked life. It was the stuff that felt alive that I liked. Early on, it was stuff like fantasia, animation, paintings, music and books! Books were probably one of my first loves. Nature as well was always there, this is not a flippant addition either, as we shall, hopefully, see later.

||Sidenote, the reason this jumps all over and isn't completely clear is that it's ||even fuzzier in my head. Hopefully by the end things will make sense and connect.

Interesting thing I think, about art, is that the things that I felt were important were often the things that I felt like I wanted to do. For instance, I always liked games. They were allot of fun. But I never considered making them. Again, they were fun, but they were too closed in, to much of a game. They weren't like animation, they weren't other worlds, they weren't alive. That was, until Mario 64. This game was revelation, they had made another world. I could see the possibilities, games were art. You could make other worlds in them and explore these other worlds and explore them in ways that you couldn't in real life.

There is allot more that I want to say on that subject, because it is very closely related to this whole discussion. But, it is late and I need to get to sleep so, I will leave it here. Some may already know where I am going with this, there are enough hints I think that you may be able to figure it out but, yeah, I will see all your smiling faces later.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007