Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Reflections from a Sellout

Thanks to the great conversation at Graphic Tales I've been thinking a lot about the language of images. What if I said this: Traditional gallery painting is like Latin- valuable, but dead.

No one can possibly argue that Painting (capital P) is not important, beautiful and full of meaning. But more and more, the people who care about it are not the general populace, but scholars who dedicate their minds to studying and practicing it. The salon has been removed from the street and into the ivory tower. Am I saying that "Art" has also been removed from the sphere of cultural relevance? No, but I'd like the world to have a broader view of what art can be.

The kind of art that circulates in our culture's veins, the kind of images people interface with every day, has increasingly become comics, illustration, animation and other kinds of narrative pictures. (This said as a person who makes these kind of images on a daily basis.) I'm not looking to justify our industry, but more to use history as a validation of its value. If people make (things) and these (things) are political satire or social commentary or a vehicle to depict beauty - isn't that art? Now replace (things) with the word of your choice: paintings, sculptures, plays, comics, etc. In the Paris of 1899, (it) was painting. What is (it) today?

Painting, Fine Art's High Priest, is no longer the barometer of cultural conversation. That is not something I would choose if it were up to me, per-say. But, I've found it is frustrating and logically inconsistent to view arts (of any kind!) on a vertical scale -with the purest and holy forms existing above and the schlocky-est commercial pap down below.

What if we viewed art on a horizontal scale? This is harder than you think. Consider this question: Do you view both Brittany Spears "Oops I did it again" and Handle's "Messiah" as equally valid forms of art?

More to follow...

Image: John Cuneo, "The Freelancer"


josh said...


DB Dowd said...

ALERT longwinded comment ALERT

"What if we viewed art on a horizontal scale? This is harder than you think. Consider this question: Do you view both Brittany Spears "Oops I did it again" and Handle's "Messiah" as equally valid forms of art?"

Herr Hendrix, you pose an interesting question. I think I'd argue that the modern philosophical conception of art and the way the word has come to be used, post Dada, are often irreconcilable.

Plus, the word [art] is used in many different applications: the "art of banana-picking" [a specialized, possibly rarefied, expertise]; "camera-ready art," or "here's the art" [a visual source for reproduction]; "late 20th century art," a time-specific branch of visual inquiry with associated practices and values. That scratches the surface. It's become something of a lazy word.

Meanwhile painting itself has shifting meanings. People who legitimately call themselves painters devote themselves to a cultural output which may well not include paintings. How is this possible? Because the term hooks up to a philosophical tradition in artmaking, once dominated by easel painting.

Most challenging of all the words you cite, John, is valid. Validity is a common subject in discussions like these, but golly, what a low threshhold. I'm valid you're valid. Alas, so what. Bottom line is, the institutional art culture could not care less about commercial images, unless they are being used to "critique consumer culture." Yeah yeah yeah. Validity and $2.50 will get you a cup of coffee.

I think the horizontal notion is useful, but from my pov I'd toss the comparisons between fine and applied art. They're different, because the matter of function (that is, an illustation operates in a functional context) introduces a new set of criteria.

I think we're better off defining commercial or functional images as a discrete territory and building theory and a literature to work with them. The art system is far too well-developed and preoccupied with its own peculiar concerns to suddenly absorb gigantic numbers of new (and philosophically alien) visual life forms. Plus I think the audience exists for such work.

Anyway, thanks for the provocative post, John, and sorry for the long comment!

John Hendrix said...

New Comment Length Record, DB!

I'm going to be posting a bit more about my horizontal idea in a few weeks. But you are so right about the difficulty of finding one vessel (language, canvas, etc) to hold fine and applied images.

I think what you are saying is: Lets load up the boat and start our own darn country. Pilgrims we shall be.

NJ Speks said...

i think your illustration as it were is too specific. i think it's more appropriate to ask, "do you view both contemporary pop and classical oratorio as equally valid forms of art?"