Archive for the Making art for the sake of it Category

Alas, good gentle souls who still read CAFA, my humble apologies for not posting in many, many months. Please be assured it is through no fault of yours. It is merely the result of my own changing life circumstances.

To report on said circumstances and the reasons why CAFA languishes, here’s what I’ve been up to over the past year or so:

  • After a six-month layoff from meaningful daytime employment, I have found work enough to sustain myself for the time-being, and it’s completely outside the art world (phew!); though, of course, adjusting to new employment, new expectations, a new work environment and culture, etc. means less time for things like blogging about artistic failure.
  • Baby CAFA — a.k.a., the light of my life — now 17-months of age, continues to grow and develop and slowly gain some independence for herself; yet, it will be some years until she can be expected to blog alongside me instead of her current habit of inserting madcap and unreadable keystrokes and spaces anytime she comes near a keyboard I happen to be working on. Again, not a great support for free and unfettered blogging.
  • That does not mean I’ve given up blogging (nor art) altogether — since October I have written regularly for the venerable Utne Reader at their online Arts portal.

[Please note: You can, in fact, keep tabs on what writing I still manage to do by checking out the one area of this blog that remains active: The Writer’s Archive for Michael Fallon.]

[Also note: If you want less-fettered access to me than you get from the Artistic Failure blog, you can always Facebook-friend me at my other, somewhat inactive identity, ArtHappyHour.]

[And final note: If you have ideas for art stories, want to take (respectful) issue with something I’ve written, have questions, or need to reach out, please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email. I’d love to know what you’re thinking!]

[Viva la Failure!]

 

The New York Times today reports on the goings-on at Governors Island, a 172-acre cultural refuge just 800 yards off the shore of a larger island of somewhat more cultural renown, Manhattan. The article describes how, over the past four years, as the Manhattan boom reached a peak and then turned quickly to bust, artists have begun a daytime habitation of the non-residential island. (Governors Island is described a quirky amalgam of empty Victorians, a high school, forts, parade grounds, ball fields, an artificial beach, and an “encircling promenade.”) It describes the happenings today as “ingrown and wildly experimental,” akin to an Art Wonderland.

 

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Governors Island was originally, before the 20th century, a military base. It has been managed through the years by the State of New York, the U.S. Army, and the Coast Guard, until it was finally was shuttered by the federal government in 1997. Thanks to the efforts of Leslie Koch, who runs the Trust for Governors Island, the island now is replete with such ongoing cultural whimsies at “artsy miniature golf, avant-garde theater and whimsical sculpture.” Its participants include “trapeze artists, bicyclists, conceptual artists, D.J.’s, musicians, dancers and dramatists,” and its attractions range from “a free miniature-golf course designed by an arts group, where fanciful stations allow players to take metaphorical potshots at a national missile defense shield or putt a ball in support of carbon-neutral footprints” to “outdoor dance performances in one of the island’s forts, a mock archaeological dig meant to play with ideas of the island’s past, an African film festival, outdoor Shakespeare,” an Art Fair, “and Civil War re-enactments.” So far, this season the island has attracted 250,000 curious gawkers, a sharp uptick from only a year ago.

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As you and I know, artists are like this. They’re opportunistic like bacteria (the good kind, you know, that helps you digest food and so on). When the economy, or political factors, or the standards of society blocks to them and many of the rest of us from doing what we most want to do, artists are among the only ones of us who will not rest until they find a place to rest. In the gutted sections of a gutted city, in the blown-out industrial areas of a postmodern city, even on an abandoned island — you can bet that artists will be among the first to begin looking for creative and sustainable ways to rebuild, reconfigure, restore, and recover.

Course, I don’t have to remind you what usually happens next; once the artists have brought a place back to life, once the culture of the formerly dead and dilapidated and all-but-destroyed parts of our society is restored, then come the moneyed interests, the developers, the scammer, skimmers, and other scabs who would never do the hard, dirty work and who capitalize on those who do. The article notes a “master plan” that outlines  “development zones,” phases of construction, and so on. And Ms. Koch herself makes no bones about using artists as a launching point for creating an “island culture,” even as her $12.5 million budget includes no money to pay artists or for programming. She talks, without apparent irony, about the island’s “brand” being “summer vacation with irony.”

Still, as this is the new feel-good CAFA, we’ll not be our usual cynical selves and just try to enjoy the whimsical, populist, free-ranging and free-spirited Art Wonderland that currently inhabits Governors Island. Then, when island development inevitably takes off, and the artists are shuffled off in the usual unceremonious fashion, we’ll go find the next Art Wonderland that artists create.

(Photos are courtesy the Figment Project)

This NYT quotation of the day caught my eye (for obvious reasons):

“Nobody wants me to do anything, so I’m just doing what I want.”
Liz Fallon [no relation], visual artist, Portland, Me.

It’s from an article on how the recession is affecting artists called “Tight Times Loosen Artists’ Creativity.”

Here’s another quote:

“This too shall pass. Artists must continue to create no matter what happens around them.”
–Diane Leon-Ferdico, painter, Elmhurst, Queens

Artists seem more and more inclined, these days, to shrug and toss in their art rags — giving up all hope that there’s anything left for them to strive for. And I, for one, can hardly blame them (so intent have I been this past year-plus documenting the constant trials and disappointments of a fast-fading art market).

This artistic fatalism is a pity of course, on one hand, as without something to strive for you lose a large portion of the potential pool of artists seeking to make it. And, as a result, logically the quality of art declines for the foreseeable future…

On the other hand, as I pointed out the other day, once all the hoohah and art-world striving has gone away, we end up with a lot of idealism about the purity of the practice of art.

Still further, on the third hand, as Jeanne Finley astutely alerted me recently by sending a link to an upcoming show at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary of Art called “It’s Not Us, It’s You,” artistic fatalism also means also we end up with a number of artists who embrace the current age of artistic failure and employ it as an art-making strategy.

From the show’s description:

It’s Not Us, It’s You is an exhibition that explores the inevitability of rejection in our lives – a timely topic in today’s woeful economic climate. Through a tragic and sometimes heartbreaking lens, the artists in this exhibition respond to the reality of rejection with subversion, self-reflection, humor and brutal honesty. The show is guest curated by artist Ray Beldner and includes paintings, sculpture, video, and multi-media work from artists Anthony Discenza, Stephanie Syjuco, Michael Arcega, Kara Maria, Steve Lambert, Jonn Herschend, Dee Hibbert-Jones, Nomi Talisman, Desiree Holman, Orly Cogan, Kate Gilmore, Robert Eads and Arthur Gonzalez.

As part of It’s Not Us, It’s You, Beldner is compiling a book of artist rejection letters. Artists are invited to send their rejection letters via email to info@sjica.org with “FOR REJECTION SHOW” in the subject by March 28. The ICA promises that no entries will be rejected for this project.

That said, you all should stay tuned to CAFA, because coming up this week — as previously announced — we will be posting student project descriptions from Professor Jeanne Finley’s graduate level seminar on Failure, a course that is currently running at the prestigious California College of the Arts.

These are a fascinating look at the expectations and assumptions of young artists coming of age in this very age of artistic failure!

The Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America was recently contacted by Jeanne C. Finley, a professor of art at the California College of the Arts, with the idea that we here at Art-Failure HQ should collaborate with her students in a class she is teaching called Failure.

Failure is, according to the course prospectus, “a graduate critique seminar [that] celebrates work that fails. Despite the overwhelming pressure to publicly present works that are highly successful, much of the work completed in graduate school falls short of that ambition…. We take as our premise that there is no such thing as a mistake and that all failures lead to innovation. Students in this seminar will work to create artworks that succeed, but will present their work from the vantage point of its failures, thus shifting the focus of the critique from defense of the work, to the celebration of the process of creation.”

Finley presents a series of questions for students to focus on in the course: “What can these failed works teach the artists that create them? How do these failures lead to the creation of the unexpected and the delightful? Is it possible for the artist and their community to approach the failed work with excitement and desire for more? Why is it that some of the most interesting artists create the most seriously flawed, yet utterly brilliant work that defies categorization?”

Over the course of the semester, students will read weekly selections and show their works. At the end of the semester, each student will be involved in a public presentation of works that “fail.” Also—of particular interest to readers of CAFA—students will each write an analysis of these works, and these writings will appear here, on this website, before the end of the semester.

I can’t wait to see what these students have to say!

In the meantime, we will be posting bits and snippets from the various reading selections that Professor Finley has assigned to her students through the semester. To start, below is a bit of a poem that was included in the course syllabus.

To Those Who’ve Fail’d

By Walt Whitman

1819-1892

To those who’ve fail’d, in aspiration vast,
To unnam’d soldiers fallen in front on the lead,
To calm, devoted engineers–to over-ardent travelers–to pilots on
their ships,
To many a lofty song and picture without recognition–I’d rear
laurel-cover’d monument,
High, high above the rest–To all cut off before their time,
Possess’d by some strange spirit of fire,
Quench’d by an early death.

Have Paintbrush, Will Travel

A picture is worth more than a thousand words to the Canadian artist Katherine Dolgy Ludwig, who trades her watercolors for lodging at the homes of professors on sabbaticals.

Through the rental matchmaking service SabbaticalHomes.com, Ms. Ludwig has house-sat for academics in New York, London, Los Angeles, Paris, and Wales over the past seven years. Instead of paying them money, she gives them one of her vibrant artworks.

“Hosts can choose any of my paintings,” she says, “but often they’ll pick one I’ve done while living in their home. They say, ‘Wow, that’s my rug,’ or ‘That’s my kitchen in the background,’ or ‘There’s my pet,’ so there’s a personal connection with the painting.”

Ms. Ludwig trained as an architect but switched to painting and taught at the Ontario College of Art & Design. In 2006 she decided to paint full time. That has resulted in a series of fellowships in the United States and Europe, during which she cares for professors’ homes and, occasionally, their pets for weeks or months at a time while she paints and exhibits her artworks.

“It’s a very old tradition for artists to trade their work for necessities,” says Ms. Ludwig, who during one memorable house-sit three years ago “paint jammed” with the jazz musician Ornette Coleman, putting him and his band on canvas while they played on Manhattan’s Lower West Side.

As an artist on the rise, Ms. Ludwig has seen her paintings, bartered and otherwise, appreciate in value over the years.

“One of the first I traded was worth about $2,000 then,” she says. “Today it would be valued around $10,000.”

The management team of The Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America has been undertaking a bit of soul-searching over the past two-and-a-half months, trying to decide if/how to carry on the work of chronicling all that dooms art to failure in this country (and world) of ours.

Considering that we’ve been at this task, on top of day jobs and other extracurricular writing projects, for seventeen months (i.e., ever since September, 2007), and considering how much worse things have gotten—in the economy and in the arts—since the time that we began this chronicle, we now find ourselves at several crossroads. First, while it’s been fascinating to look at all angles and facets of artistic failure, and while our audience has grown steadily (now averaging 1,500-2,000 visitors a month), we now realize, pretty clearly, that nothing we write, nothing we selflessly point out to artists, curators, critics, or the audience for art, is going to change the conditions that make art such a difficult pursuit in our culture. Second, in the process of dwelling on all the bad cards that’ve been dealt to the creative, the artistic, and the art-sympathetic, we ourselves have been growing increasingly more cynical and glum about the prospects for a more arts-friendly world. And finally, owing mostly to the first two points, we find ourselves simply burning out on failure, and, more importantly, we’re burning out on, and no longer particularly enjoying, art.

That’s not to say we are giving up this endeavor—at least not yet. It’s just that, at this point in history, with so much going wrong and so many artists and regular people anxious, overwhelmed, or cast at sea, we want to take a different tack with failure. We want to ruminate, occasionally at least, on more lofty things. So, having searched our souls, we here at CAFA are shifting our focus away from (except in the most crucial cases) a simple, dry chronicle of failure that dwells, depressingly, on all the things that are going wrong, and we are moving toward (hopefully) more poetic, literary, theoretical ruminations on what it is in the human condition and character that dooms so many of our most well-meaning endeavors to fail. What is in our make-up—spiritual, psychological, genetic—that leads us to (poignantly, doggedly) continue practicing something (like art) even though we know it is futile? And what does the abiding need for art say about the exquisiteness and beauty that lies at the core of humanness? This means instead of continuing to aggregate the latest bad economic news in the arts or to list the policy changes around the country that have a negative bearing on art, we will strive to tell the human story of (the doomed-to-fail endeavor of) art-making.

And so to start, we quote below a poem somewhat about this human predisposition to failure, heard last night in Minneapolis at a reading by Dobby Gibson. It is from his new book of poems, Skirmish, published by the small independent Graywolf Press.

Why I’m Afraid of Heaven

by Dobby Gibson

If you stood on Venus,
where the atmospheric haze
is so thick that it bends light,
it theoretically would be possible
to stare at the back of your own head.
Which would mean you’d never
again have the pleasure
of helping a beautiful woman
fasten the clasp on her necklace.
On Jupiter, a beautiful woman
might weight 400 pounds,
but so would you,
and you’d be far more worried
about suffocating to death
on planetary gas.
We’ve all desired what we can’t find here.
We’ve all left our gum beneath the seat.
In a bright department store,
a plastic egg gives birth to pantyhose.
In a dark dorm room,
a lonely freshman finally gets his wish.
The dog tries, and fails, to run across the ice.
After spending a lifetime
conscious of being alive,
why would anyone
want to spend an eternity
conscious of being dead?
In this bar, one of the world’s last remaining pay phones
hangs heavy in the corner.
Most days it waits in silence.
Once in a while, it just rings and rings.

This just in, from the St. Paul artist Walter Albertson (in response to my query regarding what about art are you thankful for):

Back when I was trying to get a discussion going on the MN artists forum, I posted a reply to an art pundit (not you) with who I was trying to spar with about topics involving being a better art businessman.
I said artists must be true to a feeling, an inner directive I called “verve” and if you depart from this for whatever reasons including practicality or business, you may loose your way. 

Then later, when reading an essay by Curtis White, (who I highly recommend) he expressed a similar concept although with more clarity and directness. I can’t quote directly here now but it was something like:

The value, or one of the values in art is awareness of the difference between feeling alive and feeling dead.

And that is what I’m thankful for in art.  That’s what I respond to in art by others and that is what keeps me going in my own art making.  Not always easy in a world seemingly at the mercy of mechanical thinking.

To follow up on my previous post, about what we are (despite it all) thankful about in art, I’ve posted an homage to Grizzled Art Warriors on the Thousandth Word blog.

Here’s a bit of the crux:

…make no bones, the range of committed and long-suffering arts denizens in this hardscrabble metro area of ours—without whom there’d be scant art worth celebrating today—while not terribly broad, is very deep. Just sit down and make a list, and you will see. My own list of local artistic heroes, whose grizzled tales I have often found myself drawn to, is split in two. It starts with dozens of artists who, while I don’t always love every work they make, are to be admired for surviving through thick and thin and continuing the battle. Then it moves on to those few purveyors and supporters of art—gallerians mostly—who’ve survived the wars from their front-line positions, under constant assault (mostly from needy artists) and with terribly unreliable supply lines to sustain them.

Once again, I invite anyone with thoughts or memories to share–about parts of the art world that you are thankful for, or grizzled arts figures that you appreciate and love–to do so. You can comment here on this blog, email me at admin@artisticfailure.com, or comment on the Thousandth Word blog.

It’s a marshmallow world in the winter,
When the snow comes to cover the ground.
It’s the time for play, it’s a whipped cream day,
I wait for it the whole year round!…

It’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts,
Take a walk with your favorite girl.
It’s a sugar date, so what if spring is late,
In winter it’s a marshmallow world!

By now, you art lovers all know the story: the local (MN) visual arts infrastructure (and the national one too, including the museum where I cut my young, art-grad school teeth) is quickly crumbling. As endowments shrink and paying customers stay away, drying up the support money like so much Cobalt drier-spiked oil paint, staffs are being hacked at big arts institutions, longtime professionals are heading for the hills, museums are shutting down, and galleries are going dark.

But fuck it. It’s Christmastime, the most self-delusional time of year, when we turn up the lights against the shorter days, put aside every realistic expectation, and demand that people give us the things we aren’t willing to buy during the rest of the year. Ah, Christmas. So full of false promise, marshmallow wishes, and yum-yummy whipped cream exhortations of love! Now is when we lovingly proclaim how much we appreciate all the people and things in our lives—smugly satisfied that now we’ve done our yearly duty we can forget them until this time next year. In this spirit of Christmas, I thought it might be appropriate now to ruminate on all the things we appreciate about art. In a few days, I’ll post one thing I’m truly thankful about, in that Christmas-sort-of-way, as we approach the hinge of the year (meaning I’ll probably promptly forget about it, as is our way in this culture, soon as January 2 arrives).

If you’re thankful about something that has to do with art, you can post your holiday thankful wishes below (in the comments box). Or else you send them to me at: admin@artisticfailure.com.