Recently I wrote about the urge to be original, observing that young artists are especially concerned with making something absolutely “new”. I believe that research and study is an integral part of art-making. When artists have done thourough research, they almost always find artists who have made work similar to what they are making.
Indeed the point of research is to find the other artists, either historical or contemporary, whose work shares qualities with our own work. There are several reasons why this matters:
Most importantly, other artists will inspire us. We call this inspiration “influence”. We will see how other artists approached issues, materials, and expression and learn from their progress.
We are required to know who our influences are. Our first influences are usually our teachers, parents, or peers. As we develop the practice of research, our influences will grow and change. This is a valuable, even critical, part of artistic identity. We are all members of a continuum, it is important to remember that.
Also, from other artists with whom we share certain qualities, we will find out where our markets might be, who our audience is, and which galleries may like our work.
Ideally, when we connect with these artists we will find friendship and camaraderie. Trade secrets will be shared. We will know what to call our style or movement. Importantly, we will be able to put our practice into context.
Just as a singer needs to have musical knowledge, an artist must study art. Knowledge should be both broad and specific. A broad art historical education includes at least a basic knowledge of all major art movements in human history. Ideally this would include art from all continents and cultures on earth. Along the way, specific movements and genres intrugue us more than others and we naturally develop a deeper knowledge and affinity for those.
Regardless of our personal preference, it is also important to be aware of art hierarchies even if we choose to disregard them, which many contemporary practitioners do. We must familiarize ourselves with the arguments surrounding Art versus Craft, for instance. It is valuable to be able to differentiate between High Art and Popular Art, for example. These distinctions are becoming less and less relevant to artists, but the philosophies that form the basis of those arguments still effect us.
Fortunately there are many channels through which we can acquire this knowledge if we are motivated. While Art History courses at a college or university may be useful and enjoyable, they can be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. With a little effort we can educate ourself with books and essays easily obtainable through libraries and reputable internet sources.
I took the theme of Eyes literally for the exhibition, Through the Eyes of an Artist, on view at The Studio Door Gallery until June 29th, 2016. As it happens, my most recent sculpture and painting feature an abundance of oddly placed human eyes. The human eye, in absence of the face and body, appears throughout art history in a variety movements and traditions. Here are a few.
The eye is ubiquitous in Surrealism, an art movement of the 20th century that concerns itself with depicting dream states, desire, nightmares, and the bizarre world of the human imagination and subconscious. False Mirror (1928),above, one of the most famous paintings by Rene Magritte, seems to imply that human vision is limited, a mirror of our subconscious and a symbol of selective and subjective personal view. The eye in this painting has multiple functions, looking, looked at, looked through.
Contemporary Lowbrow or Pop-Surrealist painter Mark Ryden’s The Apology (2006) features a human eye in the center of a cut tree trunk. With themes borrowed from surrealism and painted in old masters style, Ryden’s paintings both defy and define the categorization of lowbrow art.
Eye imagery proliferates in the work of contemporary international art star Tony Oursler. Here in Obscura, a multimedia installation 2014, video of human eyes are projected onto sculptural orbs suspended in the darkened gallery. Eerily subverting the art experience of looking at art in a gallery, Oursler’s installation is looking at you.
There are artists, especially young artists, who tend to focus on originality. These artists try to do things that “haven’t been done before” or something “entirely new”. This is a waste of time. I’d like to say that originality doesn’t exist, that it is a notion based on a failure of research, which I do believe to be true, but with technology moving so quickly I have to allow that there will be new, utterly original ideas, tools and objects.
So I guess my argument is, so what? SO you were the first to use a material or technique? Who cares? Other people will do it; some will even do it better than you. After a while it won’t matter who did it first. Quality works of art that resonate will stand the test of time and be examples of their form and style.
Young students, especially those who have not had much exposure to art and design history, often think that because they have never seen something like what they have just made, that it is something entirely new.
I tell them newness is irrelevant. Not good or bad, just not relevant. The more research we do, the more real looking, the more we are able to recognize elements of other artworks in our own. This is a good thing. Acknowledging these influences and investigating them is deepens our engagement to the work and the rest of humanity.
Humans have been around for a long time. All along we have been making things. We are all connected by those objects and images.
Originality doesn’t matter, quality does. For an original object there has to be no other before it, the only one of its kind, never been done before. As soon as something is invented in the world, artists begin to adopt the new material, style, equipment or technique to use in their own way.
The point is to do what you do in your own way. Do not be too concerned about whether or not is has been done before. If you are working on making your most authentic work, you will be creating a unique artwork, even if it may share some qualities with an existing artwork.
Join Art Produce for a 2-month celebration of the past 15 years of exhibits and the launch of new cultural activities and engagement opportunities for the neighborhood of North Park in San Diego, CA. Looking Back/Forward is a retrospective group exhibition of 25 artists who have previously had solo exhibits at Art Produce. This rotating exhibit will include site-specifici nstallations, and performance based/participatory interactive pieces in the Art Produce Gallery, the Community Room and the Art Produce Garden. Additional weekend activities in May and June include all ages art workshops, artist talks/salons, pop-up dinners, social dance in the beer garden, and the community wide North Park Festival of Arts on Saturday, May21 st 10am-10pm.
The Exhibition is open to the public from May 14th through July 3, 2016
Opening Reception: Saturday, June 11 th 6-9pm
Gallery Hours: 11am-6pm, daily. Entry through Tostadas and by appointment. Art Produce 3139 University Ave. 619.584.4448 San Diego, CA 92104 www.artproduce.org
Did you know El Cajon, California had its own museum? I didn’t either until I was asked to participate in this exhibition, West/East: Established Artists Stand Together, curated by Carlos Castrejon.
The Olaf Wieghorst Museum and Western Heritage Center is pretty special place. The museum is dedicated to the art of Olaf Wieghorst, who is “known for his magnificent portrayals of the nineteenth century American West, exhibited a remarkable affinity for the cowboys, the Native American Indians, and the settlers who helped shape this country’s Western landscape.”But it’s not just that. The grounds of the museum occupy an entire city block in downtown El Cajon, a diverse neighborhood with lots of funky shops and hip resaurants that feels like it’s just about to become the hippest-little-best-kept-secret in San Diego county.
The The Olaf Wieghorst Museum and Western Heritage Center campus is a charming exmple of original western architecture and has a beautiful enclosed outdoor cactus garden. Inside the museum you will find many western genre artworks by Olaf and his buddies, as well as historical artifacts. The museum hosts exhibitions by local and contemporary artists and photographers, as well as educational and social programs for the community.
This month I will be exhibiting a suite of small paintings at the The Olaf Wieghorst Museum and Western Heritage Center. The opening is Thursday, April 28th at 5:30PM. Hope to see you there.
Do not avoid conversations about your artwork. When you are asked to explain your work to others it helps you to clarify and distill your ideas. you benefit from these interactions, especially when the people asking are truly interested in the work. When you are asked to defend your ideas, you define them, hone them, and invest in them. You may state your thoughts and opinions, but you wont truly know where you stand until you are asked to defend your position. This is why presidential debates, and debates in general are important. It’s great exercise to defend oneself. It makes you stronger. In art you will be asked to explain your choices, be it material, subject matter, or style. Embrace the opportunity to have conversations where you are asked to defend your position, or to justify your choices. See this not as criticism or evidence that your choices are wrong or invalid, but as an opportunity to be pushed further into your certainty.
In its most basic definition, Contemporary Art means art that is made today, by living artists. It may suffice to stop there because although there are many more detailed and specific definitions, there are often contradictory definitions as well. If contemporary art is distinguished by any one factor, it would be that it defies definition. Contemporary art can be made in any material or media. Contemporary art encompasses all current practices, cultures, methods, and technologies.
There are some common threads that run through most contemporary art practice. Contemporary art usually references culture. This can happen in a variety of ways. It can engage with its culture of origin, or offer commentary on world events. Sometimes the artwork will reference history. Sometimes popular culture is a latent or overt theme.
Contemporary artists are keenly versed in art history and the artwork reflects this through subtle references or direct quotations either in method or image.
Contemporary art practice is not necessarily materials based. Artists are free to use any media and technique and often use multiple media. The use of new technologies, or at least and awareness of new technologies is essential. There are as many ways of working as there are artists. Art materials vary widely from the traditional (paint, clay) to things not usually identified as art materials such as found objects and the human body. It’s the artists utilization of the media that makes it art.
The unifying factor, if there is one, in contemporary art, is the artist’s concern for meaning. To take it one step further, I would say that art, for the artist, is a way of interacting with the world that makes life more meaningful for the artist and uncovers meaningful truths about the human experience for both the artist and the viewer. While meaningful experience has always been the result of interaction with a successful artwork, the notion of meaning being primary to the artwork is a contemporary idea.
This a very exciting time to be an artist as there are no limitations to what or how art can be. While some artists find this liberating, the lack of parameters can seem overwhelming to others. Artists must decide what methods and materials to use to say what they need to say with their art.