Thursday, February 10, 2011

Trojan Horse

Works of art fall into one of two categories: Commercial or Personal. Regardless of the stereotypes that are perpetuated by the elite or by the working class within the arts, commercial work isn't by default without a personal point of view and Personal work is not categorically created without a bias towards the commercial.

This dispute is always argued with so much conviction as to be presented as fact, when it is, after all, conjecture and perception.

The argument bottlenecks in and around the theme of money, which is emblematic of one of our most primal and essential emotions, greed.

I will begin there. Money corrupts. It is a metaphorical carrot that hangs from a silken string. American currency is the largest pyramid scheme ever conceived. It can be traced back to the silver certificate- a time when each dollar was literally backed by a reserve of silver held by the United States Treasury. Considering that you can grow the ingredients to make dollar bills and there is a finite amount of our naturally occurring elements such as silver and we already know that the dollar is emblematic of the insatiabiltiy of greed, this plan was fatally flawed from its inception. Now our dollars are not backed by anything, save the perpetuation of a belief system that it has physical value.

However; money has also served as a constant catalyst for innovation, growth, advancement of our civilization, and so on. This linen, silk, pulp, cotton, paper substrate is strong enough to keep a roof over our heads and food in our mouths. It's hard to imagine a more convincing physical manifestation of faith.

If the foundation upon which the initial argument is based is so unstable, how then can a decisive argument ever be derived about the value of one approach to art over another?

The reason that I bother to state something so transparent is to initiate a dialogue by which Commercial artists (wether they be illustrators or fine artists) can retain the integrity in their work as a reflection of the artist, not as one of the patron.

But my work is for myself. False. This is an arrogant and insular statement that has been perpetuated to allow for egos to be monetized. If the work is for yourself, then why show it? Why put a price tag next to it? Why would you ever sell it at all? The audience is necessary to activate the work. The nature of art is communication. It has always been, and it always will be. This communication may be direct, emotional, subversive, individual or any other adjective that choose to interject here, but it is communication nonetheless.

The Trojan Horse

Evaluating an individual piece of by an artist is an exercise in understanding how the elements within the defined picture plane relate to one another. Those combined elements are a collection ofstatements. You can learn a great deal about a painting by studying the sum of it's individual parts.

To truly understand the artist and the life that defined them, it is necessary to compare a body of their work. In that body of work we become aware of questions that lived outside of the canvases that were the catalyst for the statements made within the picture plane. A body of work is a collection of decisions.

If the impetus for an assignment is the commission, then an artist is given some clearly defined parameters. General content, size, width, timeframe, budget are generally established by the client. It is now the artist's responsibility to solve the problem as presented- that is to clearly articulate the statement. If a client is permitted to dictate the aesthetic, as well as the specific content and message, then the result is a product that is utilitarian in function. There is a great deal of commercial work that falls within this category.

The solution lies in defining the problem that you are trying to solve. An artist must have a global view of what they are trying to accomplish within their body of work. The first step is understanding Why you produce work. From this, a mission statement can be extracted as an answer to that question. From the mission statement, you specify intended outcomes; goals, tasks, methods, and ideas that will govern work that you create over an indefinite period of time. Finally, the clients problem are neatly tucked within yours. The result is a body of work with a definitive overriding theme that not only solves the needs of the patron, but also allows for a degree of insulation for your artistic soul.

There are two models that I present as an example of the heirarchy. If this model is altered, the result will invariably be owned by the external inspiration.

General: Why? >What?> How?

Professional: Internal Mission> Internal Message> External Catalyst (parton's Problem; general content, dimensions, timeline, etc.) > Internal Method

"It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key." -Winston Churchill


Charles Valsechi III said...
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Charles Valsechi III said...

Well said Sterling. I am really enjoying these recent posts. Please, keep them coming! It has inspired me to muse about art on my blog as well.

Jess said...

I'm glad someone is broaching this subject matter -- it's important. I agree with a lot of what you're saying, but do you really believe there is no one out there creating work only for his/herself? What about the little old lady in the country making watercolor landscapes that no one will ever see? I realize that this is a stereotype, but she exists nonetheless.

I agree with the notion of art as communication... now if I could only remember who it was that wrote at length about "art and audience"...

Eli said...

You sound like a commercial artist that's forgotten why you create. If not for money or recognition where does that leave you? I have stacks of sketchbooks with beautiful paintings and lines that I never plan to sell and may never be seen by others unless others ask to see the work. The work I do is not born of arrogance or ego. Simply stated, communication through visual language can be a product of everyday happenings without a price tag. Do we expect a verbal conversation among friends to be monetary, or the internal thoughts we have just before we fall asleep to garner recognition within certain social circles?

Pardon my devil's advocacy but I thought I'd continue the conversation with a little Socratic methodology. Cheers Sterling, I hope all is well!

James Dale said...

"But my work is for myself. False. This is an arrogant and insular statement that has been perpetuated to allow for egos to be monetized. If the work is for yourself, then why show it? Why put a price tag next to it? Why would you ever sell it at all? The audience is necessary to activate the work. The nature of art is communication. It has always been, and it always will be. This communication may be direct, emotional, subversive, individual or any other adjective that choose to interject here, but it is communication nonetheless."

I think it's something of a side track to the main point but I find this a rather disappointing & distractingly pointless interjection into an otherwise thoughtful & interesting essay (by which I mean, try re-reading the whole post, excepting the above-quoted passage. Personally I cannot discern anything lost, save pettiness.) Aside from the obvious-that as humans we daily undertake communication with ourselves about ourselves, and that even the most self-obsessed artist can use dollars to eat, and turn that food into more art-this sentiment seems to be founded on a pair of false statements; first that all art exists in the context of the audience, and second that communication is somehow separated from self-interest.

In the first case even the earliest and most rudimentary artistic endeavours of our species show this to be an obvious falsehood. Wherever we discover cave art the images continue on away from the light and the cave mouth into near-inaccessible nooks and crannies, until it is clearly in areas that would seldom, if ever, be visited by anyone but the artist themselves. Did these exist merely as lines, only becoming art when archaeologists examined it? Were all cavemen insufferably arrogant? Sterling's sweeping Nature of Art statement here certainly can't explain them, just as anthropologists have failed to contribute more than guesses.

Can any artist really say that every beautiful or worthwhile thing they have created has been vetted and approved by the eyes of an audience, or pricetagged and put before the market? I find it a somewhat doubtful claim. 'Art is communication' is certainly one of the more useful and popular potted definitions of that most weird and mysterious human activity for the lay- and craftsperson to ponder, but to trot it out uncritically when discussing the nature & use of human creativity is at best dull, and at worst positively dis-elightening, further muddying the waters of an already murky area of discussion.

James Dale said...

As to the second it seems to me that this is a patent logical error, simply since we communicate for and because of ourselves, to validate and confirm our existence. One might as well claim that we don't eat for ourselves since food is a part of the outside world. As Barnett Newman said "It is our function as artists to make the spectator see the world our way not his way."--i.e., an artist's function IS egoism. If an artist thinks their work is not for themselves then it seems to me that they are being either deeply obtuse or deliberately self-deceptive.

That essentially all economic systems have encouraged people to turn their talents to the service of others is a truism, and a convenient one for anyone whose talent & interest lie in similar directions. Just as a prostitute and a labourer variously rent the use of their bodies, the artist sells a unique perspective and experience, a unique ego, to the world for the supremely practical reason that the world is where money is. If you are a creative worker and have not successfully monetised your ego the only possible explanation is that you are not making any money.

That extended divergence aside, I suspect the only earnest way to broach this topic is a more utilitarian one, sidestepping somewhat the disingenuous debate between differing creeds of art salesmen. First we must accept that the flow of money, whether secured or not, is in essence a codified exchange in perceived human time and effort (of finding and smelting the rare silver, of years of art education) and having formulated a clear understanding of the situation to say more precisely this
"In any environment governed by economics all works of art are commercial, and fall into one of two categories: On Spec, or On Commission."

RogerCfromSD said...

Enjoyed reading this. The truth is ego plays a dominant part of art creation.

What is art but the manifestation of the impulse to communicate something?

And, why deny that affixing a monetary value to art is what all artists seek? After all, what better way to know you have successfully communicated something of value, than by receiving something of value (money) in return, as a token of their appreciation for your art?

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