Archive for the The Thousandth Word Category

Yesterday I posted, on the slowly failing group arts blog The Thousandth Word, a review called “Falling Man.” It’s about four recent documentary films that deal, somewhat indirectly, with the subject of artistic failure (though one of the films, “Man on Wire,” is actually, much to its own failure, about artistic success).

Here’s an excerpt from my review:

It would be easy to find oneself depressed after seeing all of this thwarted ambition and all of these shattered dreams. But I actually love these three films, mainly because they are real. They reveal personal stories that gibe with what we all see experience every day in this unfair world. After all, this is a country in which rich bankers reward themselves billions after extorting money from taxpayers, while good and honest and talented people can’t find decent enough jobs to support their families. These films show the truth: That the vast majority of us will come to the end of our lives having failed, over and over, to achieve our dreams. But then, that’s okay. This story about our inability to achieve our dreams is a beautiful, if sad, part of the human condition.

Hope, that all too scarce commodity of late, made a brief, mild resurgence earlier this month, only to suffer setbacks to late-November fear and panic. (November is just that way, or so I surmise in my latest piece on the Thousandth Word.)

But hope, as we all know, even if it often gets beaten down and left for dead never goes away. (I remarked on this tendency too, in two recent pieces on the local arts, again for the Thousandth Word.)

But you don’t have to take my word about hope. One of my favorite recent arts commentaries—a piece from the Art Newspaper earlier this month called “Tough Times Will Provide Opportunities“—suggests too that hope springs eternal, even in a collapsed economy, even in a bottomed-out market, even in the dismal contemporary art world. “So what’s next? Is the future of the art market that bleak?” the article asks.

No, this will be a market for new opportunities. Major collectors are waiting for prices to come down 30% to 40% from their peak, a correction that was already evident in the latest round of auctions in London in October… Further pressure on prices is expected, and it will take some time before the market has reached equilibrium… Now the question is: which artists will survive the adjustment? We all know what the last crash in 1991 did to hotshot artists such as David Salle, Julian Schnabel, Eric Fischl, Francisco Clemente and Sandro Chia. Their markets took 15 years to recover, and in real terms (adjusted for inflation) are still considerably below their peak, but at least their markets survived… The primary market is also likely to regain the balance of power compared with the auctions. The auction houses have dented their credibility as money-making machines, and would-be sellers are realising that the liquidity is quickly evaporating. In a falling market, the focus will again be directed towards the galleries that have proved their commitment to their artists… In the end, a correction is healthy for the sustainability of the future art market. The interest in art will not disappear, art and artists will not disappear—if anything, a tougher environment will be more conducive to artistic creativity, and hopefully the market will go back to focusing on what constitutes the real value of art, as art history is rarely made in the auction rooms.

Here’s a review of a recent failed art exhibition that I wrote for The Thousandth Word blog: “Bang a Drum for the Losers.”

Be forewarned: My take on the show at hand, “Millions of Innocent Accidents” by the artists collective Hardland/Heartland at the Minnesota Artists Gallery (at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts), is a tad harsh. But I had a point to express, related to the cause of so much artistic failure across the land of late, which was this:

Shrill gestures like breaking windows, destroying property, and flouting the rules of civilized society do not make compelling symbolism. Instead, acts of a hopeful, imaginative, empathetic, or out-reaching nature are what’s needed to attract and capture the attention and support of others….

….As soon as I walked into this gallery and saw the poorly conceived, dolefully hopeless work that this well-meaning group of artists purported to consider compelling visual art—all their random and indistinct trash and burnt paraphernalia and jumbles and piles of detritus and tossed off dreck and doodles and goats’ heads and black tar corner accretions—my spirit fell. The show was a disaster, off-putting and uninspiring, and it was clear at a glance that this loudly shouting, in-your-face visual group had failed to reach out to others in any meaningfuly to get their righteous points across….

The chief problem is that, while it’s clear that Hardland/Heartland’s hearts are in the right place and they have the energy to make a lot of work (and I mean a lot of work), they just don’t know how to make much that is compelling and symbolically relevant or that embodies and expounds on their frustrations, fears, and angst in a way that someone else would care to look at. There’s no hope here, no imagination, and certainly nothing to empathize with.

On one of my other art-blogging projects yesterday, a guest poster published a fantastic piece, called “The Nester,” on the relationship between shitting and art-making, and how sometimes the most disgusting and deviant acts can inspire non-comformist, creative thinking. This is a particularly appropriate rallying-cry, I think, in this age of constantly diminishing returns in the culture. You’ve just gotta read this story; trust me, you won’t be disappointed (repulsed, maybe, or horrified–but not disappointed).

Here’s a sampling:

Artists have done themselves a great disservice in needlessly construing creative expression into the larger-than-life mythologies, brainwashing doctrines and pseudo-political advertisements that comprise the clusterfuck that art is today. We’ve created a framework for art that warps our hearts and minds into believing that art requires authority (galleries, museums, academia); precepts (formal aesthetics, airtight intellectualism); and high culture (icons, award ceremonies, magazines). We’ve convinced ourselves that art is an austere discipline and not the boundless, soul-searching siphon that can dredge out our deepest and most authentic creative desires. Unfortunately, art is just as much about popularity, ego, money, class, idolatry and condescending intellectualism as it is about using modes of creativity to purely and earnestly explore ourselves and our relationship to the universe….

Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that people go clog some toilets to proclaim their creativity. Rather, I am suggesting that we draw from the Nester’s example the conviction that we can and must treat our own creativity with the dignity it deserves. We need to stop making art that relies upon a toxic art world, to stop making art that tries to find a way into Artforum, and instead finds a way into the deeply transformative creative passion that burns in each of us.

On my Minneapolis-based arts blog, The Thousandth Word, I recently collaborated with Minneapolis artist-warrior, Gabe Combs, on a piece called  “Dried Blood and Dandelion Wine.”  It reveals, in the artist’s own words, much about the raw details of his present life (as an artist recently made homeless); here’s a sample:

Being an artist is not a fashion statement that passes with the season; it’s not something that hinges on gas prices. Art is something that combines with the culture to establish roots that intertwine with and break up the cement of society so the wildflowers can grow.Art breaks up a false foundation and replaces it with dirt. I wonder if it’s really possible to make dandelion wine…

Regular readers of CAFA will recognize that I have been following Gabe’s story, as best I can, since just before he was made homeless in March. You can read about the early stages of this artist’s self-destruction here, here, and here.

Also, here’s an informational post that tells you what’s up with this new Thousandth Word blog on Rakemag.com. I suggest you visit this site often (perhaps nearly as often as you visit the Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America) to read more such stories by me and five other capable and informed local arts writers.

I’m just back from a whirlwind trip to Pittsburgh to check out the 2008 Carnegie International, and I’ve also been scrambling to get a few projects done this week, so I’ve been unable to post to CAFA for the past week. To make up for this recent blog-lull (blull?), below are a few quick Bullet Points of Failure for June–this miserable month of miserably (so far) gloomy weather.

  • Last night, at a dreary-wet, underattended Art Happy Hour (my side-project designed to counterbalance the constant depressive pull of failure from this site), I got to speaking with a local artist named Jim. He’d just come back to live in Minneapolis, where he is from, after spending five years teaching at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He is, it seems, a regular reader of CAFA (the first I’ve ever met, actually), so we got to talking about failure and local art, and he said something brilliantly perceptive: “Here’s what I think about Minneapolis now that I’ve been away and come back: I’ve never been in a place filled with so many brilliant, capable, and creative people who are going nowhere.”
  • I didn’t realize this at the time, but back in November, 2007–about the time I was starting up this blog on artistic failure–a Carnegie Mellon University art professor started The Museum of Modern Failure, as a project for a class called “Art in Context.” The idea was to celebrate people’s personal failures, and the “museum” was a black wall on which people post a wide range of “failures”: whether technological (the Hindenburg, the Titanic), unpopular inventions (Segway, Firestone tires, Comanche helicopters, the DeLorean), cultural flops (Milli Vanilli, Ebonics, the mullet), or so on. The concept was suggested by student Rachael Brown, a 22-year-old creative-writing major. She noticed that the store that would come to house the museum, located at 2628 E. Carson St., had a “history of failure… The most recent failure was Bookends, a used computer store operated by the adjacent Goodwill, where old Epsons and educational CD-ROMs had failed to keep the business afloat. ‘I just find it really humorous that blunders aren’t what we celebrate in museums, just big successes,’ Brown explain[ed].” In a perfect coda to the project, the temporary museum close just shortly after it opened, in December of last year.
  • My review of the Carnegie International, as well as a long Q&A-style interview with its curator Douglas Fogle, went live on another new side-project of mine–a blog of visual arts writing on the Rakemag.com site called The Thousandth Word. I didn’t realize it until later, but my take on this big blockbuster international survey exhibition reflected something about the clouds of failure that hang over these times:
  • The best work in the 2008 Carnegie International reflects intimate, eccentric, often uncertain moments even as it hints at deeper and vast problems in the society. This is art of the resigned, pitiful shoulder-shrug variety, not of the noisy (and perhaps useless) hammer-thud variety–such as what was on display in such blustery recent shows as, say, the 2006 Whitney Biennial. Many of the personal and intimate gestures of these artists are designed, in fact, to spill out over from the private mind into a public realm, perhaps like pond ripples or a zen butterfly’s wings flapping or other suitable metaphor.

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Warning: What follows is a bit on the self-serving side. Not that blogs in general aren’t all in some way an exercise in solipsism, but I just thought you should know, in case you were shill-sensitive, that this post is wholly intended to tout a new project I am involved in: A Twin Cities-based blog of art criticism and arts writing called “The Thousandth Word.” It’s being published by Rakemag.com, and involves the effort of a group of six sharp-tongued and perceptive critics calling themselves “The Vicious Circle.”

Since you’re all religious readers of CAFA, you will likely recall that I reported here back in March that the Rake Magazine, for several years a chief supporter of quality coverage on the local visual arts, ceased print publication. Well, as it turns out, I was surprised to learn that Rakemag’s existence did not entirely blink out after that announcement. While there were drastic layoffs, and while the remaining staff were moved to a smaller, more humble location, Rakemag regrouped itself, retooled its business-model (in keeping with these virtual times), and began to expand its online-only list of offerings: namely, a growing roster of blogs on sundry topics.

“The Thousandth Word” is the result of weeks of discussion, negotiation, and planning. The first post of “The Thousandth Word” explains the process a bit, and lists the professional biographies of the six writers of this blog. The plan is for the Vicious Circle to fan out across the city and region, take a looksee at what’s being made and exhibited artistically in town, and write two monthly posts apiece on what we each discover. The result will be twelve or more critical posts on art for an information-starved community of local artists.

So, what we’ve got here, gentle art readers, is a bit of lemonade squeezed from the rock-hard old lemons of these current times of (artistic failure).