Posted by Rex Crockett
Karl kindly invited me to post on his blog, and within moments of receiving his invitation, I had an idea, and here I am with it. Except after writing what’s below, I went, “Well, this is more of an article than a post. I’m not really asking questions; I’m making statements. I don’t see how this really invites a return response.”
But after writing it, I couldn’t see how to turn it into something more interactive and less assertive without turning it into something it wasn’t and thus losing the whole flavor, and I don’t really want to mess with this post because it’s from the heart.
Karl had a comment regarding one of mine on The Fall of the Art World. He said, “But I do hope some more critical comments come in. We don’t want to get into some silly artist group-think here, do we?”
I agree with that; moreover, it got me thinking about that whole group-think thing.
I was reminded of a comment of Claude Monet’s regarding his development as an artist. He said that at a certain point his career, rather early actually, he found it counter productive to hang about in cafés talking endlessly over absinthe or coffee under clouds of pipe smoke with the various artists and hangers on in the Parisian art scene. He decided he needed to spend more time painting, and painting in his way at that — outside, in the fresh air, with nature as his teacher.
I’m neither an anthropologist nor a psychologist, but I do enjoy people and am endlessly fascinated by their social dynamics. As a perpetual student of said, it is fairly obvious that there is a certain liability to only talking about things, whatever the subject, with only a certain group. Groups evolve their own agreements, but those agreements may not accord with widely held perceptions. At times such cohesions may be inspired and elevating, at other times merely serve to make for inclusions and exclusions of memberships, and at other times can serve to render the group completely out of touch with reality.
You see that kind of thing in all the arts. In jazz, if you use any chords that have less than four notes, you’re “not doing jazz,” so you hear (in bad jazz) only a lot of weird chords. Musicians will make jokes about the “jazz police.” In certain art circles if you do any recognizable representations of anything, you’re being “literal.” “Kitsch” takes on a special meaning. Among certain groups of computer programmers, the hostility to ordinary computer users is palpable; e.g., non programers are called “lusers” — a variation on “nuser” for “new user.”
On and on. Group think. The deadliness of this is that it can knock you out of touch with your audience. The jazz policing ends up costing you any audience but some real creepy cats. Fear of literality and kitsch makes for paintings that are indecipherable without a book that explains them — an irony lucidly and humorously put in Tom Wolfe’s _The Painted Word_. Contempt for ordinary users makes for programs that no one can figure out how to use and documentation that is so technically nomenclatured as to be useless, and so, no work.
Now here is another irony. It so happens that I did that Monet thing. I actually traveled around the mountains of California for several years, living on the road, doing these brush and ink paintings specifically calculated to be do-able from a backpack. It was a rejuvenating and enlightening experience. It was very good for my work. I would not trade that time for anything I’ve ever done in life. It was not a lonely time. I still sold my work in lot of ways, on the street, craft fairs, various personal contacts, and so on. I met all kinds of interesting people. There is a whole nomadic culture in the Western US. The lifestyle worked. I made money. Not a lot, but I didn’t need much. Yet at a certain point, only about eight months ago, I started to yearn for the kind of patter I’d grown accustomed to at other times of my life when I had other artists
to talk with.
So on the one hand, while I see Monet’s take on things as a very wise move on the part of an intrepid explorer, I think I’ve gotten to some stage in my life where I feel a certain responsibility to other artists as well as students. I could not fulfill my social responsibility with the nomadic life. I know Monet had a hard time of it too, and he eventually settled down. To see the guest lists for his mature era parties is to see the who’s who of French culture and politics of the time. So he evidently reached the same conclusion. Certainly he managed to find a way to “keep his vision pure,” as he liked to say, and still be a social person.
With other artists, it’s possible to explore really new ideas before you take action on them. Other artists are likely to be more willing to experience edgy work. They can see through the rough edges to the inner jewel. A little (or a lot) of wackiness is tolerated or amusing. The strong passions that artists feel are well understood by others with such feelings. When I’m doing a show or speaking to an audience of collectors, buyers, or customers, I’m definitely putting on a show. I’m acting, and I’m acting more conservatively than I really am, but around other artists? Well, I remember this one group show I was in. I was looking at the other exhibitors all laughing and yucking it up, and I thought, “These are my kind of birds. They’re all crazy, and I love them.”