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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Conundrums of art

In between graduation parties and company and weeding the riot of summer and tidying the hovel and hanging out with the godly (the ones we now call Puritans), I've noticed a few things that seem good for those attracted by the arts.

Creative economy podcast

A lot of this tends toward the usual depressing stuff about the inability of the arts in our day to feed and clothe 99% of its practitioners. But it does sum up a lot of issues. I don't know.... Being a medieval (male) artisan with a lot of family luck in the realm of health and longevity seems more and more attractive.

William Deresiewicz talks about art in our day: the transformation of makers of art from artisans to artist to professional to entrepreneur; the creative economy; online lives and art; digitization; everybody wanting to be an artist; multi-platform creators; craft and creators; the new mode of "creativity."

Seizing ephemera

Jacoba Urist, How Do You Conserve Art Made of Bologna, or Bubble Gum, or Soap?As contemporary artists get more ambitious with their materials, conservators have to find creative ways to preserve the works.

Can we preserve a mayfly as easily as we can a statue carved from basalt? Is the word bologna still applicable to nonsense? Has this bologna risen to the level of art? Should artists who use disposable materials be endlessly curated at high cost? Purchased at high cost? If a work has to be remade every few years, is it not reproduction rather than original work? What happens when the artist dies and somebody else does the reproduction in order to retain the museum or collector's investment? Or are the artist's assistants already doing the work? (If so, can they just continue the artist's work after his/her death, rather as novels are sometimes printed under the name of a dead writer?) Should there be a foundation to do that in perpetuity? Or should the museum get into the manufacturing business? Does common sense suggest that the impossibly ephemeral (bubble gum painting, chocolate sculpture, bologna portraits, styrofoam) should be treated differently from marble, ivory, gold, paint, and "gilded monuments of princes?"

This article fascinates, though it does not address the basic questions that a reasonably intelligent person who had long loved art might have in response to the subject matter.

Psychology of creativity podcast

Exploring the Psychology of Creativity is a conversation between Marc Mayer, Director of the National Gallery of Canada, and Jordan B. Peterson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. March 9, 2017 at the National Gallery of Canada.

Creativity, openness, interest in ideas, art, liberalism and conservatism and temperaments, personality traits and the arts, risk, foolishness, the game of art, tests that select for creativity; employers, systems, and creative people; structures and artists; life as an artist; artistic distribution; winner-takes-all mode in creative domains; aesthetic joy; Jung, archetypes, and artists; deep biological needs to make art; monetizing your art; entrepreneurs; creative children; the genii; art as solving difficult problems; artists as teachers of seeing; the miracle of dreams; mediation between order and chaos; visionaries; art as vanguard; beauty of Europe as infinitely valuable; Canadians, zebras, and standing out.

Ida Nettleship John

I love this review of The Good Bohemian: The Letters of Ida John edited by Rebecca John and Michael Holroyd, though it breaks my heart. The reviewer is clear-eyed and sympathetic to Ida Nettleship John and to her mother. The sketch of her is by Augustus John, c. 1900. Poor Ida, an artist barred at every turn but still amusing and touching in her letters. It's too bad she couldn't climb "outside over there" like Sendak's Ida.

The 2017 Frederick Buechner Workshops, FYI

Fuller Seminary has cancelled the September conference, so I won't be doing talks and workshops there in September. It is a shame because the three annual Buechner Workshop weeks at Princeton have done well, and it would be good to have one on the West Coast. But I understand the reasons and wish Fuller well.

One good thing: The day I found out, I also got a request to publish a version of the talk, so that's something salvaged from the work. Should be out within the year.


  1. I appreciate so much that you posted this thoughtful and timely article, Marly. It's always been a huge irritant for me to see so many of us artists, who have committed our entire lives to making art that is both aesthetically rich/risk taking, and visionary - only to see our contributions overlooked. Or, whenever art is not overlooked, it is exploited by those of lesser creative powers (i.e. what happened to me during my last solo exhibit in Binghamton, NY when the gallery dealer deliberately lured opening night quests to the back of the gallery where his studio was so that he could sell his work!)

    Continuing with my ramblings.... I think of my visit to this year's Whitney Biennial. I couldn't stand most of the stuff that was installed in that extravaganza event. In the recessed caverns of my mind I carried certain destinct impressions that some of the exhibit participants had sold their souls to Lucifer in order to get in this show. Fortunately, I found one oasis of gallery space within the exhibit. This space presented work from a painter who still cared about painting, innovative design, combined uses new acrylic high-flow mediums, and (shudder!) Beauty! I stayed in that space for a very long time.

    It was a pleasant and personal vindication to learn that this painter was from Detroit.

    1. Rah, Detroit!

      You probably would find the National Gallery discussion (2nd podcast on psychology of artists) of interest because it touches on some of the issues in your first paragraph. Peterson's comments on the difficulty of monetizing art and the rewards of art, particularly match up with what you say...

      I think that our era of the arts will be especially hard to sort through in coming times because there is a Niagara of work to view / read / experience. But what it is of worth often does not seem to be clear to either collectors or curators.

  2. Would it not be useful if living artists got to reap the five and six figure reward, rather than wait until the artist dies?

    1. Well, there are some new proposals for visual artists, that they receive a percentage of resales, for example. That would be interesting.

  3. I think there's great promise in the so-called "creative economy," although the two years I spent doing PR for a big art center made its fatal flaw clear to me. I'm no doubt repeating myself by now, but: more people than ever now have an opportunity to write, create, speak, and make, but nobody has focused on building a corresponding audience of viewers, buyers, promoters, and supporters.

    I've managed to turn my ten-year-old niece into a museum-goer, but for most adults today it takes nothing short of the equivalent of a conversion experience to become an "art person"--that is, to become the sort of person who says, "Hey, look, a sign for the local pottery collective; let's stop and replace some mass-produced piece of junk we own with something handmade and beautiful instead." That sort of thinking has to be a conscious, persistent effort not unlike regular church-going. Dana Gioia's sly retooling of the NEA to promote poetry recitals and educational programs for students and rural communities may someday pay long-term dividends, but I increasingly feel like those of us who want to see the demand for art and writing rise to meet its supply are going to have be as patient and as relentless as Mormon missionaries. Like religion itself, art is a hard sell when young people and adults see nearly all of their peers lured off in other, easier directions.

    1. Good comment, Jeff. Your PR years no doubt have proved useful in thinking about such issues.

      My little village is an odd place. We do have a lot of cultural events, particularly in the summer (Glimmerglass Opera, chamber music, Ommegang concerts, national juried shows at the Art Association, two galleries, etc.) But I think there's a lot of innocence about what's good vs. pedestrian work (as, pieces by the Sunday painter vs. serious painter), and sometimes I see a kind of self-congratulatory attitude. Maybe that's because we're surrounded by very different sorts of villages... I don't know.

    2. Oh, I understand. I think innocence and self-congratulation are to be found in every hyper-local art scene, but it's a foundation on which to build.

      What my PR-blogging for the art center also taught me is that, as is the case with writers, some artists aren't cut out for self-promotion. The deeply introverted painter who made angry art about the politics of the moment simply couldn't sell her work, while the charismatic sculptor of colorful glass installations could earn a bundle by selling to trendy restaurants and by setting up a booth at huge house-and-home expos. On the other hand, those two artists were never going to be in competition for the same fans, not in million years. Competing with each other would be so much easier! Instead, we're competing with larger cultural enticements. For many people, art or books without easy commercial context is virtually unknown—so I figure we peel 'em off, one inquisitive mind at a time...

    3. I suppose one should be glad for any sort of foundation.... Yes, it's always hard to go up against the huge marketing programs that push the minute number of people chosen to be featured.

  4. What shall it profit a man that he should talk about art as if it were necessary to categorise it? Or extrapolate it into non-art?

    More briefly: was Goering right?

    Individual works of art, yes. I see that. Provided the vocabulary is rationed according to rules which are immutable and have been laid down by me. With conciseness a guiding principle. Commenters must remind themselves that in this field short-windedness is praiseworthy and for this reason: whereas few may create a masterpiece anyone may comment and it is preferable to see this as a beneficial restriction, not a liberation. Our homage towards great art is best served by the continuous observance of multum in parvo.

    Thus if a third paragraph has just been completed and a fourth is envisaged the commenter should pause and ensure he or she is not "just doiting*".

    * Courtesy my Mum some of whose poems were published in long-defunct "small" magazines.

    1. Two categories? Art that is alive enough to last through time and art that is not. And kiss from Lady Luck doesn't hurt either.

      Goering's Carinhall: that's a curious problem. Perhaps he would say there are two categories, "degenerate art" and art worth hanging at Carinhall. And then there's the problem of why such a person allies himself with masterpieces. And why beauty is of no moral use to his mind and soul.

    2. Doiting as in being impaired mentally or being childish? I've never heard anyone use that good word. You ought to do a post of your Mum's poems. Or maybe you have?

  5. Amazing. I thought the meaning of "doiting" was limited to 45 Leylands Lane, Bradford, Yorks. Thought my mother had invented it. But no, it has international coinage unless, of course, you read minds. Which I wouldn't put it past you.

    Not Goering's state-sponsored kleptomania, rather his brief term as philosophical pragmatist. "When I hear someone mention culture I reach for my gun." Not to be embraced wholeheartedly but there are occasions...

    I have posted about my Mum's poetry but possibly in another life, yclept Barrett Bonden, techno-boss of Works Well. I'll check and see whether the post is worth linking.

    1. Yes, I'd like to see that! Where you came from...

      I wonder if my life would be easier if I read minds? My children used to think that I was magic because I knew what they were about to do or had done. But that was a long time ago.

      "Culture" had a rather different meaning in his day, I believe.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.