Art Takes Times Square 2012

I’m participating again in an Artists Wanted open call. This time it’s for a presentation of my art on a large scale in New York City in Art Takes Times Square 2012. I’m presenting some entirely new pieces from ‘The Verge’, as well as some of the best from ‘We don’t have to think like that anymore’. You can participate in the judging of the competition by clicking the “Browse and Judge” button on the Art Takes Times Square main page. Make sure to collect my portfolio to help me onto this massive stage. Additionally, if you collect the winner you have a chance of winning “a $5,000 dream weekend in NYC.”

(Art Takes Times Square 2012 homepage)

Why not

I often have this preconception that in order to make a blog post I must have a fully formed idea ready to present. This keeps me from posting with any kind of regularity. On a weekly, and often daily, basis I have ideas I’d like to share with my world. Inevitably, these thoughts are in their infancy. This kind of setup almost demands that I have some kind of authority on subjects; I somehow shouldn’t present an idea unless it’s relatively definitive and complete. This defeats the purpose of dialogue, though. (Good dialectic requires a fluidity of thought that negates a conclusive authority.) So how am I to structure my thinking about blog posts? As an open forum, of course. That’s the nature of the beast, and rightfully so. I’m a self-taught artist, and an autodidact in most of the areas in which I have any amount of knowledge. In addition to the skills associated with artistry itself, I am also responsible for my own education in art theory, history, and philosophy. I’ve certainly come a long way, but not nearly far enough.

The Stride

After two months of lulls, minimal inspiration and no direction, I finally hit my stride again. I’m working on a new series unlike anything I’ve done before. I expect that many of these will be on display later this month through November at two locations on The Square here in my hometown, Denton, Texas. Follow me on twitter, @SkewUp, to see photos of works in progress.

The Gift


“A work of art is a gift, not a commodity. . . . Every modern artist who has chosen to labor with a gift must sooner or later wonder how he or she is to survive in a society dominated by market exchange. And if the fruits of a gift are gifts themselves, how is the artist to nourish himself, spiritually as well as materially, in an age whose values are market values and whose commerce consists almost exclusively in the purchase and sale of commodities?”

~Lewis Hyde, “The Gift”

Hunter Wild at Art Takes London

The submission deadlines for Art Takes London are closed, and I’m in. Swing by to visit my profile, and make an honest vote. It counts toward a people’s choice award and does not affect the judging. Chocolate frogs for everyone who votes! It was a little beastly trying to write the optional text part of the submission. The restriction was 2,500 characters…CHARACTERS. The first round of writing, for the initial submission deadline of June 1, took six hours of trying to distill my bio and, more importantly, my statement of my overall project into as few words as possible, which still turned out to be way more than would fit in the text box. By the time I finished, I realized that it sounded way too dry and clinical. Fortunately, they extended the final deadline to the 7th, so I reworked the whole thing yesterday and made my final submission. Swing on by and vote what you think about it.

I Don’t Paint What I Discover; I Discover What I Paint.

I sometimes approach a new series with an intention of what it’s going to express or achieve or even look like, but the paintings never ever turn out consistent with that intention. What I discover after I’ve painted is usually something profound, something that changes my thoughts and identity in some way. There’s usually a quality in the series’ that is an expression of a current element of my identity, or an exploration of a problem or issue with which I’m dealing at the moment, but that comes through regardless of my intellectualized intention of what the painting or series is going to BE. There’s a great feedback loop, where what’s painted is certainly coming FROM me and is strongly connected to who I am, but I discover some part of myself in the painting, something that wasn’t intended and something I didn’t even know was present. My own art gives me a lens through which to view myself and the world in a way that is otherwise impossible. And beyond that, it seems to push through new ideas and WAYS of viewing myself and the world. In this way, I don’t paint what I discover; I discover what I paint.

The Existential Artist

I’m going to start with an incredibly bold statement: the existential artist is the only true artist of our times. I’ll preface my explanation by saying that I’m not ridiculing people who aren’t familiar with existentialism as a philosophy, or who’ve never read Sartre or Camus. I’m not saying, “Well, then yer not a real artist.” What I’m talking about is a genuine personal genesis, the defining of one’s own values, the creation of one’s own world. That is exactly, and perfectly, the genuine artist of our day. Let me elaborate.

We are coming out of a period of art where rejection and destruction was the name of the game. (You might not agree with me, but I’m not here to change your mind about that. My purpose lies elsewhere.) The result is that there’s nothing left to hold on to; nothing that hasn’t proven to be a sham by the most brilliant artists of the last century. This is not in any way to discount the art that came before them, because all of that was appropriate if not genius for its time. But we don’t belong to any of those epochs. Rather, I’m saying that we, as a generation, are on the verge of a new dawn in Art, and it requires the existential artist.

At each stage in humanity’s progression we have felt like we brought our A-game. We ask, “What more can be done?” Like Ozymandias, we say, “Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!” But, also like Ozymandias, all of our greatness is left in ruins by the same flawed zeal that invented and built it all in the first place.

I contend, though, that humanity is maturing. We don’t need to destroy what came before, nor do we need to embrace it. I think we are finding that, while destruction may leave space and fertile ground for creation, to destroy is not at all to create. In truth, it is only through destruction that we prove we are not mature as a conscious species. Our place is not one that has been handed to us by virtue of simply showing up at a certain point in history. It’s not earned by either staying true to or rejecting what’s been given. What’s more, we’re at a vital and pivotal point in the evolution of art.

The last few centuries have seen humanity getting bolder and bolder in the destruction of what came before in order to make way for a newer version of the “same shit, different day.” However, the last several decades (even back to DuChamp and Dada) have seen an explosion of attempts at renewal, novelty, and challenges in art by increasingly rejective and destructive means. In my opinion, these were entirely necessary to get us past the stricture of our conceptual and artistic heritage. They were brilliant, and they succeeded. Through these challenges to the assumed, the given, the status quo, we have realized what was unnecessary, frivolous, and flawed in art. On the other hand, as I mentioned above, it doesn’t leave us with anything to work toward; only something from which to distance ourselves.

To get to the heart of the matter I’m addressing, I’ll paraphrase a quote from Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke:

I fought against everything, but more and more I worry that I was never for anything. Oh, I can criticize and complain and judge everything, but what does that get me? Griping isn’t the same as creating something. Rebelling isn’t rebuilding. Ridiculing isn’t replacing. We’ve taken the world apart, but we have no idea what to do with the pieces. My generation, all of our making fun of things isn’t making the world any better. We’ve spent so much time judging what other people created that we’ve created very, very little of our own. I used rebellion as a way to hide out. We use criticism as a fake participation.

The greatest gift of all this destruction is the opening of a space for us, for our generation. Born from Modernism, these giants and gods of the Postmodern and Contemporary, our brilliant forbearers, threw themselves on the pyre just to ask, “Is this art?” They left us no suicide note, no will and testament, no clue as to what we should do with the empty gap that remains. It seems like we’re struggling so hard to find what’s been left unchallenged so that we may challenge it, to find what hasn’t already been set ablaze so that we can put a torch to it, that we’re entirely failing to recognize our own freedom to create something, to truly innovate.

You might disagree with me and say, “Everything is still to be challenged! They simply started the process.” Even if this were true, to continue in that tradition actually requires a rejection of its own fundamental values. How could you say that everything is to be challenged while not challenging this very same movement in art? We cannot move forward by clinging to the past, especially if it is all we know.

It is our duty, established by our new freedom, to actually generate something that belongs to us, something that is us. Our lives are truly, for the first time in history, ours to choose. And art is life. Sure, you’re still going to have your job, taxes, rent, etc., but your art is you. You don’t own it, you don’t just make it; your art is you in the world. Every mark, every content choice and value with which you imbue your media transcends “extension” and embodies the “existential” when it is truly yours. Don’t waste this perfect opportunity to – not change the world, but – create the world. Otherwise, you may just be a puppet doing the bidding of history.

“You are free, therefore choose…”
~Jean-Paul Sartre

A Matter of Taste

“Good taste” for art carries with it the seed of its own befoulment; better to have “bad taste” and find happiness in art than the opposite.

The above is a thought I had after reading a chapter from Giorgio Agamben’s The Man Without Content. A friend and I discussed the matter, and the following was roughly my conclusion.

There’s definitely a strong element of cultural influence, if not dictum, in “good” and “bad” taste, especially in regard to art. “Taste,” in terms of “preference,” is a subjective thing. My liking some piece of art for any number of reasons, or just liking it at all, is a matter of this type of taste and is irrefutable in the same way that my taste in food is simply what I like, whether someone else thinks the same food is good or not. But there’s another element of tasteful evaluation that is more formal and less subjective.

I imagine that most of us can appreciate considerable skill and beauty on a level that’s more intersubjective, at the least, and possibly something akin to Kant’s universal subjective (where it’s not out-in-the-world objective but tends to be something almost everyone is in agreement upon). Think of natural wonders, outer space, classical/ancient Western and Asian art, and magnificent architecture; you’d have to be nuts to not think the paintings in the Sistine Chapel are beautiful, even if you don’t agree with the content or the color choice or whatever else. Everyone would find it easy to tell someone that they had bad taste if they thought it wasn’t beautiful or that it was valueless. I think what is meant with this sense of “taste” is partly a matter of some mental organ associated with this intersubjective or universal subjective discernment and also a matter of culture, as in, “you are uncultured if you fail to find this beautiful.” Both of these are sort of judgmental; we’d be saying that their minds are somehow flawed if they didn’t agree with us about this beauty.

But is it not possible that we’re actually right? Some of our considerations on human rights and morals are rationally based, but most of them are very natural and universal (but are also rationally defended). Murder is wrong; lying is often bad; stealing is punishable; cheating should get you kicked out of a game. It’s definitely possible but rare to find a culture in which any of these are acceptable (see the side note at the end of the post for a clarification of the issue of murder). Is it not possible that beauty and an appreciation of art can arise in the same way, universally?

Another element of valuation that can be appreciated universally regards effort. I’m thinking, in my own experience and opinion, of this one massive and quite ugly painting that an artist constructed over many years (I believe it was a constant project over at least one decade). It weighs in at over a ton and it’s just layers upon layers of gray paints that vaguely resemble a flower. There’s the question of “is it art,” but that’s for another time. Looking at this painting I couldn’t possibly say that it is aesthetically pleasing, but there’s an important context that makes it highly valuable to me and is similar to one of these elements of taste, and that is effort. To me, this ranks up there with skill, content, composition, color and form, and all that good stuff. I can appreciate it because of the effort and force of will alone that it took to complete this work. And, yeah, I would say that if you can’t appreciate that then yer doin’ it wrong, which is to say, “you have bad taste.” I think I would be right about it, too.

Here’s the clincher, though. Having “good taste,” or recognizing to a greater degree what is more or less valuable, does not exclude liking things that don’t fit into the higher end of that spectrum. My partner can easily tell you the difference between a good book and a bad book with a variety of criteria, but that doesn’t stop her from liking bad books. She’ll say, “I know it’s awful, but I like it.” Most of us do this same thing, with movies, music, books, and visual art. We all internally distinguish the difference between something of quality and something we like. A problem only arises when you let the quality completely dictate the appreciation, and that’s where the negative judgment comes in.

Maintaining the two spectrums of taste and preference is a good thing, in my opinion, if neither dictates a reassessment of the other. I’m totally comfortable seeing a famous painting and calling it valuable and good while not liking it, and liking some Nickelback while agreeing that it’s crap, musically. It’s true; don’t judge me!

(Clarification of murder) In the case of murder, we certainly find a variety of acts that are considered murder by some cultures and not by others; consider the death penalty, abortion, genocide, and human sacrifice. Nonetheless, all of the societies in which these are not murder nonetheless have a sense of murder being wrong, but exclude certain actions from the consideration of murder. The point is that we still find a ‘universal wrongness’ of murder among the other moral considerations.

Who determines successful public art?

Article – Art Efforts Brighten Cities’ Economic Pictures :

This article regards a specific contest and general attempts to reinvigorate neighborhoods and areas of town as well as revitalize (local) economies through art. At the bottom of the article there’s a concern addressed about letting a public vote determine the award for the contest. Someone said something like, “if you let children vote on a culinary contest, they’ll vote for ice cream and candy.” Of course they will, but if the contest is oriented around what children think tastes better then contest will succeed. The association of an artistically uninformed audience to children is problematic to begin with, but if the contest is essentially for public art works then it doesn’t necessarily seem inappropriate to have the public be the determining factor in decision making.

Is it a good thing to have critics dictate what the public should appreciate? It seems like the best situation would be to have a hybrid, where certain pieces are selected by the public alone and others by critics, or (less likely to succeed) the selection of pieces where the most overlap is had among the public and critics together.

I imagine that it would be a negative driver to allow either group total control over the decision of which art is good and which is not, in terms of this contest but more importantly in terms of the general acceptance of art works. To allow critics, alone, the decisive power would create an ivory tower sort of dilemma, while granting the public that power would primarily promote aesthetic decorative appeal in art (which might eventually degrade art to the point of kitsch alone).

I don’t mean to sound elitist or its polar opposite. Critics are human and the public isn’t composed of wallowing pigs. Like Kuhn noted about scientific camps and criteria being subjective “all the way down,” so, too, are art camps. The public has members on a continuum of education, understanding, and interest in art, and critics are on a continuum of culture to ‘pure’ theory. Neither are best for the success and evolution of Art.