As I was wandering down 10th Avenue a couple of days ago, camera in hand, marveling at the amazing variety of shapes, colors and play of light I thought this is an artist’s guilty pleasure. I felt terribly lazy. I know I have a talented eye, but it is so easy to capture compositions and brilliant visuals in a matter of minutes compared to many 20th and 21st Century painters who struggled amd struggle for hours, days and even months to capture on canvas what an observant photographer can capture in a second.
Is time a factor in great art? And if not, why not? Picasso spit out paintings like a fecund rodent. Van Gogh produced something like 40 paintings in the last five minutes of his life–well–something like that. Other artists labor and struggle for months over one painting. The photographer is almost the Henry Ford Model T production line of work, especially with digital photography. Click. Click. Click. Delete. Click. Delete. Click, I actually find myself feeling guilty. I shouldn’t enjoy it so much and it should take much longer. This morning I was paid $1,000 plus a percentage for agreeing to post an online gallery with narration of 12 of my photographs in the Queer New York at Night series. Easiest and fastest $1,000 I’ve ever made. Guilt. And Jewish guilt which is the most refined vintage and vineyard of guilt, like a Vosne Romanee of guilt.
As I explored the leaks, rust, cracks and crumbling walls of urban decay along 10th Avenue, I imagined a leisurely afternoon in MOMA or the Guggenheim. On the street (without having to pay an admission fee or worry about closing hours or annoying kids) I found magnificent art made by erosion and decay in the walls, broken windows and fragments of otherwise dilapidated and abandoned and neglected warehouses, garages and factories. And of course wondrous grafitti left by “annoying kids” who are my foe in museums and my artists of the street. Context is everything.
Sadly, from an artist’s point of view, this is just another part of Manhattan undergoing gentrification. The warehouses and factories of the Chelsea stretch of 10th Avenue are being converted into homes, clubs, bars, shops, art galleries and restaurants. In a certain way–as I considered this inevitable transformation–I was filled with horror. My God, how much art was being destroyed? How much art was being defaced? It was as if a cleaning crew stormed MOMA and washed the paint off each canvas as if it were dirt rather than paint. I thought that one man’s urban decay is another man’s art gallery.
I was glad I had my camera and glad to be saving atleast some visual memory of what the restorers, renovators and developers were quickly destroying. And why wasn’t I thrilled to see urban decay swept away? Shouldn’t we all love a fresh coat of paint? Life and time leave a trail of beauty. Restorers, renovators, developers, cosmetic surgeons and cosmeticians are Philistines.