Archive for the Giving up on art Category

Gerald Prokop blogged yesterday, in response to my previous post on These Regressive Times (for the arts), about something I’ve often thought about. I’m talking about the ironies of a city growing drastically poorer while having to support big and greedy art institutions–like the Guthrie Theater, MacPhail Center, and Walker Art Center–which have recklessly built multimillion dollar new buildings in recent years even as artists and average American workers and families and wide swaths of the community are left to suffer and decline and disappear in silence.

As he put it: “In these dark times, why are these places growing and getting better?”

Well, not to fear GP, according to a recent Associated Press article, big arts institutions are also beginning to feel the pinch of failed economic policies, poor public policy decisions, and just plain bad government.

Like homeowners and stockholders, museums, concert halls, dance companies and other arts organizations are feeling the pinch from the faltering economy.

Museums and symphony halls that financed renovations with seemingly safe municipal bonds saw interest rates spike in recent weeks; other arts institutions are suffering from low returns on investments; and some arts executives are worried that recession fears could take a bite out of donations and ticket sales.

“What turns my stomach every time I turn on the news is the current perception of what’s happening in our economy and whether people will get nervous and cut back on their charitable contributions,” said Charles Thurow, executive director of the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago, which used a $5 million fundraising campaign to renovate in 2006 an old Army warehouse into its first permanent home since opening in 1939. “That would affect our annual operating budget.”

CAFA occasionally receives a particular and peculiar response to the strange and distressing features of contemporary artistic failure that we point out week after week. It is this: “Well, yeah, things are fucked up in the arts. But that’s always been true. Things are no different now than they’ve ever been.”

Well, actually, I would argue things are much worse now for artists and the arts than they’ve ever been. In fact, it is a key part of the mission of CAFA to document exactly how they are worse.

As a case in point, consider these two stories, which reveal how human attitudes about art and cultural treasures have worsened over the past two hundred-odd years.

First, in 2004, just a bit more than four years ago, on the first anniversary of the war in Iraq, I wrote an essay about why, despite having every reason to be gloomy, I still loved art. I had been to Paris a year earlier, soaking up the arts ambiance of the place just as our national brain trust was making its ill-fated decision to open up the bomb works on Iraq. Here was the crux of my argument (for still loving art despite the dispicableness of humanity):

Toward the end of the trip I took a train out to Chartres to see the famous cathedral. Once there, I latched onto a tour with local British historian Malcolm Miller. He pointed out the stories in the cathedral’s stained glass, which windows had been restored at what cost, and so on. He… took us outside to look at the Gothic sculpture that adorned the exterior of the building. We examined the flying buttresses, learned how many steps were in each tower (and when each tower was built), and came to a part of the cathedral accessible to a small town square. Here, he pointed out sculptural figures that were armless, occasionally headless, chipped in leg and foot, and asked us if we knew what had happened. One person guessed that was the ravages of time, but Miller shook his head.

“In 1793,” he said, “revolutionaries converged on the cathedral to remove the sculpture and rededicate the building as a palace of enlightenment, or some such.” Such fanatics had knocked many of Paris’s cathedrals to the ground in the early 1790s, and some wanted to do the same in Chartres. They began hacking at its statuary, Miller explained, only to be stopped by a local official. “They had already done some damage, as you can see, knocking off heads and other elements that they could reach. The official stopped them by simply saying in one hundred years people will want to come see the cathedral.”

Here I was, more than two hundred years later, thankful to the nameless official for his insight. The simple answer to why I love art, why I continue to seek it out despite all the distressing and depressing things of the world, is that it is in art then that we rise above it all… In the long run, art outlasts all the tiresome and anxiety-inducing aspects of living; it outlasts the arguments, the blood feuds, and the sectarian squabbles. Art is the way we reveal ourselves as somehow more than ordinary.

Now, compare Story 1 with Story 2, which recently appeared in the L.A. Times, about all the priceless and irreplaceable antiquities and ancient artistic treasures that were taken, damaged, or destroyed from Iraq’s National Museum at the onset of the Iraq war. “Five years ago this week,” the story by Johanna Neuman begins,

looters ransacked the Iraqi National Museum, stealing centuries-old artifacts that celebrated Iraq’s role as the cradle of civilization… Today, investigators say that about 15,000 pieces were either stolen in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 or went unaccounted for in the months and years before the conflict began. About half have been recovered. But the impact of the thefts — amulets, Assyrian ivories, sculpture heads, ritual vessels and cylinder seals — is still being felt in art circles and black markets throughout the world.

“The numbers can’t tell the whole story,” said U.S. Marine Reserve Col. Matthew Bogdanos, a New York assistant district attorney who has made the hunt for antiquities his specialty. “These things remind us of our common beginnings.”

Plus ça change, plus d’art échoue…

According to United Press International, the English artist Angus Fairhurst—a founding member of the Young British Artists group—committed suicide yesterday. There is no indication of his reasons for doing so.

Artist Angus Fairhurst dead at 41

LONDON, April 1 (UPI) — Angus Fairhurst, one of the founding members of the Young British Artists group of conceptual artists, has hanged himself from a tree, police said.

He was 41.

Fairhurst’s representative told The Daily Telegraph newspaper the artist committed suicide Saturday on the last day of his third solo show at a London gallery.

Strathclyde Police said there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding Fairhurst’s death.

His body was found in a remote Highland woods near the Bridge of Orchy, the newspaper said.

“He always supported me, in fair weather and foul,” Fairhurst’s fellow artist Damien Hirst said. “He shone like the moon and as an artist he had just the right amount of ’slightly round the bend.’ I loved him.”

Fairhurst’s latest solo exhibition of sculptures and large-scale paintings was at Sadie Coles HQ in London.

“Angus was funny, ridiculously charming, a wonderful cook and great host, a crazy dancer, a radical gardener, a nature lover and an intensely intelligent artist,” Coles and her fellow director Pauline Daly said in a joint statement.

Fairhurst is survived by his mother, Sally, and brother, Charles.

This is a personal story.

I had a drink with an artist friend (let’s call her Esme) the other evening. I don’t do this very often, because A) These days I work too many freggin’ hours during the week and spend all weekend trying to catch up on things; B) I don’t often get friendly enough with artists (in an effort to keep my arts writing as “unbiased” as possible) to have drinks with them; and C) In my experience having drinks with artist-types proves unrewarding, because they often stiff you on the bill.

None of these rules applied with this artist. Not only did I have a rare chunk of time and felt safe from being stiffed by Esme, but she had become a somewhat friendly and respectful acquaintance even after I wrote a somewhat complete story about all the good, bad, and ugly aspects of work several years ago. She said she wanted to talk about whether she should take a job as a gallery coordinator at a Minneapolis outsider art gallery. I told her yes, she should, and people who dismiss outsider art are deluding themselves that the art they espouse (contemporary or historical, their own or their friends’, real or imaginary) is any more crucial or worthy (or likely to succeed) than outsider art. The art scene is fueled by rivalry and contention. After awhile, it seemed likely she’d accept the job, and we moved onto the crux of our conversation.

That was this: Should either of us continue participating in the local (sometimes national) art scenes?

Now, I say this with no bias–having written about Esme’s work before I came to know her, and not having written about her work after I came to know her–Esme is a pretty kick-ass artist. She’s petite and blond and pretty, which is unusual enough for a sculptor, and she has the plainly foul mouth of a coal worker. Having hung in the cultural scene here in Minnesota for years, she is friends with local luminaries like Chris Mars and Steve Foley (both of the drummers of The Replacements, who were actually such good friends that they both, at one point or another, tutored her son on the drums), Grant Hart, and Mason Jennings. She is also mother to grown children very close to her own age (having married a man somewhat older than her), as well as children she bore herself.

But Esme’s sculpture is the thing that’s truly impressive. I won’t say much about it, lest I give away her true identity too readily, but it is installational and very in-touch and in-tune with the world, even as it presents visions that are quite visionary and magical to behold.

As we talked about our careers, we discovered that we had both coincidentally reached a cross roads. I had been feeling less and less inclination to hustle to write significant numbers of art reviews about Minneapolis artists of late, and had let my production of such dwindle from highs during my peak of 30 articles per year down to about 5-6 pieces over the past year. I won’t go into my reasons for this decline, except to say it wasn’t out of lack of demand.  Meanwhile, she revealed that, although she had tons of ideas for work and a standing offer for a solo show at a prominent local gallery, she had not really thrown herself into making anything for the past two years or so–ever since she became disillusioned by the bullshit she saw and heard while serving on a prominent local artist panel.

By the end of the evening, we both bemoaned the loss of each other’s work. She said, “I wish you wouldn’t stop writing; the community needs a voice like yours to keep writing about the work that’s being made.” And I said, “I wish you wouldn’t stop making art; the community needs to see the fabulous work you still have left to make.”

Still, neither of these statements was the most remarkable thing spoken this evening. Instead, that was this: At one point, after I asked how her son was doing (last time I saw her two years before he had just begun his drum lessons and was writing movie reviews online) she paused and said, “He’s doing photography now.” Photography? I asked. “Yes, and when he told me that’s what he wanted to do I swear I started crying. I went into art because I didn’t have any choice. It’s what I simply had to do. But I never wanted this for him…”

Another round of drinks came, and we were both silent. “And the thing about it?” She continued, “He’s actually really good. I mean really good. So I don’t know what to do….”

“For my generation, artistic self-expression was high on the list of things that would make life worth living. But generally most of us failed to do that. I know so many people who feel they have failed. We are a massively deluded generation. We all wanted to be pop stars, indie film-makers, poets, painters, conceptual artists. Out of 300 people I know, who I have grown up with, there are four who have managed to do that. It seems crazy that that means there are 276 people who are living a life of resentment. We have a set of unrealistic expectations about sustaining a creative life in the midst of a consumer culture.”

-Scottish author Ewan Morrison, who  describes himself as “very much a part of the Gen X mindset that art and culture can liberate you from the mundanity of your all too predictable life. “