Artist, especially those of us dedicated to freedom, stand strong in the wind of criticism of our creativity. We create because we are driven to create. Nothing should or can stop us from being the creators we are. Complaints are shouted into the wind of current culture and are useless and banal. Yet understanding the state of art today is essential to the commitment we have to creation and to freedom itself.
We live in a post apocalyptic world of immediate gratification. Using this term carefully, it indicates the advance of the predator into every part of our lives. Our current culture does not so much create as it barfs out entertainments and distractions. When once a work of art was created and appreciated for years, the topic of conversation and enduring ideals, works are too often created today with speed and flash that echoes off the back of our visual cortex and is gone as soon as we look at it. Sometimes we are left with a nagging urge to understand the work, but it fades into the background of the media blur that we are constantly being assaulted.
The skills, the actual practice, the craft which an artist develops over a lifetime has been replaced by new tools and tricks that make creating images simple. Thus the life-long commitment to creation is replaced by the short term shallow gain of a few dollars moving through the coffers of our lives. No one today would or even could create the Sistine Chapel Ceiling. Certainly not the way it was created at the time. The craft itself, the experimentation, the striving for the soul and spirit of what was being communicated included a 4 year long journey for the artist and his patron. Today such relationships are few and far between.
We have replaced the essence of the warrior/artist/hero with Disney caricatures, mirrors of the impossible and unrealistic in our lives so we can escape the unendurable. Recently watching an old movie, by old — the 1950s, the art included a story line in which the actors actually acted and responded to each other. It was a stage play on the big screen. The culmination of the story left tears in eyes and tunes hummed for days. The pace and method of these artists within the work was brilliant. Shortly thereafter we watched an action thriller from last year’s trail of tears from the theater. At no time did the main actor’s facial expression actually change, act or even look like he was responding to the world around him. Most of the supporting actors were just as 2 dimensional. Taking out the over-done chase scenes and pathetic screaming from the female characters and the whole movie was a series of still life drawings of blockheads running into each other. While this is a bold criticism of a single movie, it is the rare movie today that is not just the same plot ad infinatum. I would gladly watch Lion in Winter over and over again to most current movies in the theater… and don’t get me started on Tommy Cruise boy….
Here is the problem… true artists are beings of incredible awareness and passion. That passion has been shaped and kneaded into lives of exquisite beauty. Artists become, even if they are not actually warriors, people who must fight to endure through much in the pursuit of their art. They must dump the common culture to see through to their own vision clearly. Recapitulation at its best! Artists practice to become who they are, skilled with materials, and the magic of the messages they put out into the world. Art is communication. It requires a conversation….a quality conversation. When an artist is asked, “how long did it take to do a that painting?” as if we should be paid by the hour, we should either laugh or proudly declare our current age, for it takes a lifetime to create even the simplest thing with beauty and wonder.
We are lost as a culture in consumables. Our food is fast, our cars are fast, our internet must be fast and our memories and engagement lasts only as long as the last donut we ate. How many people find an image on the computer and rave at how much they love it, copy it, distribute it on Facebook, and add it to the ever growing data banks of our cultural garbage. We have become duplicators of the originals we think we are connecting to… and rarely look at the image again, lost pages back on our social media. In Rennaissance England it was said, “a sensation lasts nine days.” Today it last less than nine hours. It is too easy today to collect, copy and distribute images we think is art… Then when we actually go to a gallery and look at the work, we have no real appreciation for them. We can store and recall it again at a moment’s notice… or worse we think that the digital picture is enough to really enjoy it. Even the giclee print, the desolation of art today, has taken us into a realm of fast food art consumption. But all in all we are not actually participating in a conversation.
If we look closely, spend real time with original artworks, something within us changes. Something opens up within and around us that is not possible in a print, photo or the computer screen blip. The painting has dimension no photo can capture. I hated Monet, could not stand his work. I studied it along with every other artist in history that I had to memorize. I could write my way to an A+ paper about his work, but still could not stand his work. I had only ever seen photos and even then from books or slides (remember them?). Monet’s work traveled the country and arrived in my city. So I went. I stood before Lillies. The work is massive, larger than me in scale. Standing close I saw each individual brush stroke, it touched my soul. Standing far away, the image revealed itself as light played on the canvas. I got it, I get it, I teared up, I laughed… I brought others to see this amazing work. I had to say, look, just keep looking at it, it changes, it moves. Nothing like this happens when I viewed this on a screen, in a book never in the digital world.
Art is a conversation. It is a conversation with our souls, the artist, the materials, the world. When we throw images at each other on FB, steal images and/or become part of the fast food nation of art, we are creating a severe liability in our souls. We are stripping the heart from the mediums we are looking at. It is true that we share as artists images to invite people to own our work. But that’s the just the start of the conversation. To really own art, then get work from the artist or from the gallery and be in relationship with it. It will change over time, it will grow… we will prosper as a culture when we participate in and with real art. The same can be said for a good book. We keep reading it, over and over. The layers unfold and enfold with us as we do.
Artists are warriors of materials, awareness and their craft. They are at the cutting edge of our culture. They are the canary in the coal mine. As we continue to disrespect their work, skills and talents we cheapen every aspect of our culture and our lives. We lose something of ourselves each time we copy and paste images with no respect for the origin of the work. When we choose to live with art, real art, we chose a journey through a lifetime of conversation and communication. We are choosing to be more and relate more and discover more than even the artist originally intended.
It is more than a puff of electrons… it is the deep and abiding breath and depth of in world of beauty and wonder.