The Audience, the Artist and Points Inbetween

ART STATEMENT February 2007   from Maurice Greenia, Jr.  

Prelude: 

To me, the quality of art is tied directly to its human content.  It should say something about (or lead us toward) what it means to be a human being in this world, in all its depths and complexities.

This doesn’t have to be direct or obvious.  It can also be subtle and poetic.  Yet it should be there, or the work will leave me cold.

Much of the creative work around us seems to take the opposite track.  There’s a place for “time killers” and distractions from life.  “Dumb fun” can be a harmless diversion for some, at times.

Yet a steady diet of sweets, white flour and alcohol will injure you, eventually, no matter how good it seemed at the time.

Far too much art and entertainments arts seem to reduce life, to make it seem far simpler, stupid, cruel, mediocre, bland, foul and base than it really is. This is not to say that pessimism or bleak outlooks have no place.  They can be of interest if done in the right spirit and in an interesting way.

Yet hope for a better future can also be of interest.  A perversely passionate, even defiant optimism can have a part to play.

The following arguments are based upon the possibility and the reality of the serious artist.  The serious artist lives their work often living for their work.  The serious artist usually has a sense of humor.  The serious artist may well be in danger of extinction, or, at least, extreme marginalization.   The serious artist is the tip of an iceberg composed of true artists. 

“Fine art” can fail.  Entertainment can become art, even great art thorough luck or hard work or “accidentally.”  Here’s to increasing both the quality and quantity of art that’s very good, great and even truly amazing. 

FIRST: 

It’s important for the artists to be in some sort of conversation with the press, the critics and with their audience.

This should be centered on the meanings of value.  What art are people most hungry for?   What works and what doesn’t?  Do we know why?

If we are denied (cut off from) this dialogue, then all these groups will suffer.  Great art is rarely created in a vacuum.

Everything tends to fall back on the artist.  It’s all up to them.  They have to make the work or provide a “template” for a collaborative and interactive effort with a larger group.  They have to raise funds, if needed.  They have to struggle to get some of their work seen.  If not, it all piles up in desk drawers, in closets and on the walls of the artist’s home.

A venue for display or performance must be found.  These theatres, museums and galleries can take on a variety of forms.  Many are artist-friendly, even artist-run.  This is often one more set of tasks and duties which one takes on.  If one wants a quality space in which good art can be displayed, sometimes you have to help run it yourself.

In a better world, all venues would be fair to artists, helpful and passionately promoting art.  This is often the case but not always.  Some hurt as much as they help or more so.  This isn’t common, but it happens.

These venues should try to communicate and even cooperate with each other.  One example is that sometimes there are too many art openings going on the same night.  If there more than anyone can get to, it tends to discourage seeing some of the exhibits.  Let’s support each other.

The situation between the artist and their audiences can also vary.  It’s been said that great art needs great audiences.

This brings us to a need for promotion and publicity.  The audience will never arrive if they don’t know what’s being presented.  The artists and the venues can print postcards, posters and flyers.  They can distribute and mail these.  They can throw lavish opening or closing events with refreshments and live entertainment.  They can try to be listed in local events listings.

They can send out huge amounts of email and improve their websites.

The artist’s relationship toward “the money part” is often problematic.  Only a few artists really seem to have art-making as their sole job, their primary “bread winner.”  Many of us would like to do this eventually yet it seems always “just out of reach” like “pie in the sky.”  To those who successfully do so, that’s great.  More power to them!

I’m one of those who consider art my first job.  I think I average 40 hours a week on that.  Then I work a “day job” as a second job with yet another 40 hours.  Others live within similar situations.

People don’t understand that many artists don’t do it for the money or the glory.  They do it for the art, for the joy of creating and sharing. 

There’s a whole esthetic of well schooled artists versus outsider artists.  Then, there are professional musicians versus people who play music on their front porches and living rooms (just because they love to play music).  Sometimes both sides, and those in between, can appreciate each other and even work together. 

From here, we move into the relationship between artists and “the media.”

The relations between art, publicity and money come to the forefront here. 

There is a relation between what stories are covered and how they are connected with money.  Music, cinema and entertainment have more money behind them.  This connects with how much visibility they have.

I’m not even sure how much of this is conscious-deliberate versus how much of it is unconscious-unintentional.  Yet there must be a connection between how much “guaranteed positive attention” something has, and how much attention it is given.  If you’re sure that a good portion of the audience will respond well, it’s easier to give the subject more ink or air time.

Sometimes it leans toward one side or another.  Some media are extremely “money-driven.”  Some are more driven by attempts at quality and innovation.  Others fall in-between.   To their audience, sometimes it’s evident which way they lean toward.  Other times, it’s a mystery.

Yet, if the press and the radio-video airwaves consider themselves to be part of the community they should give something back to it in turn.   This includes reporting on and reviewing edgier and more offbeat work, not just that which is close to some sort of mainstream.  The Internet can be a good source of arts reporting.  It has its own sets of issues.

Of course, some media are less concerned with “community” than others.

Then there’s the fact that most are also some sort of businesses.  Their profits are tied to circulation, ratings and selling ads.

It’s just that there needs to be a middle ground.  In my life, here in Detroit, I’ve seen times in which it got so bad that it actually seemed to come close to being a form of censorship.  For years, most of the attention always seemed to be within the same narrow focus.  We hungered for the exceptions.  

Reporting rarely moved beyond the “blinders.”

Some of this seemed tied to “what is already popular?” or “what will sell?”  Some of it was tied to personal tastes of writers and editors which seemed far removed from a majority of readers.

In listening to music, we talk of having “big ears” or “small ears.”  This means that some people have extremely narrow tastes in which kind of music that they listen to. Others cast a wide net.

Some media focus on rock or jazz or world music.  Most “general publications” should cast a wider net in their coverage.  It’s rare that they review films but decide to never review documentaries or foreign films or comedies.  It should be the same for local visual arts, poetry, theatre etc.

It would be great if every show could be reviewed.  They could send out “stringers” and exhibits and performances could be given short “capsule reviews.”  When something stronger comes around, it could be given more extensive considerations.  Actual articles and feature articles can be important to the artists and to the audience.

Creative people could start their own publications and do it their own way.  If people are unsatisfied, there are options.  If worse comes to worse, there’s always the possibility of protests and boycotts.

Sometimes it’s better to hope for the best.  If the audience, artists, venues and audience were better attuned, it would be to the benefit of all!

The artist is also part of the audience.  They experience each other’s work and that of the world at large.  It’s important to be rooted in a strong knowledge of art history and to be aware of some of the best of the present day.  Artists need to communicate, to talk to each other.  We need to speak up.  Then, we need to find ways to get people to listen. 

We need to break through the overload of “useless information.”  Sometimes, digging out the most useful information feels like panning for gold.  Artists, wake up!  Come out of your caves and into the world. 

SECOND 

This last section makes no sense unless you have some faith that art can make a difference.  I believe that one thing wrong with life today is that art is not allowed to play its proper part.  Arts programs in schools are cancelled as “unnecessary.”  Art and artists have a power and a possibility that few of them realize.

Artists, (yes true artists, serious artists) are among the last “minority groups” not to seriously start to struggle and fight for their rights, for their fair place in society, in life and its world.

I always think of the poor people.  It’s rare that they find time to fight for their rights because they’re usually too busy surviving.  They need people who are not poor to join with them.

In a vastly milder inconvenience, artists are often too busy being artists to fight for their rights.  Most of them are working fulltime jobs.  If they’re dedicated enough, it’s often like working two fulltime jobs.  Some are raising families as well.  We’re all trying to live our lives (which can be strange and complicated enough, in and of itself).   

Among serious artists, true artists, many are members of one or more other “minorities” as well.  These are often tied to gender, race, nationality, religion, financial status and so on.  For them, artist is just one more to add to the list.  Often, these are things that they are proud of or comfortable with.  It’s the people around them who see them as liabilities.

Only poverty, being poor or homeless is a “minority” or categorization which those in its embrace would love to change.

The tensions and interactions between those categorizations (and those who live them) is a subject for further research.

Is the extremely successful artist still in a “minority group?”  Perhaps only in as much as being wealthy is a minority.   Technically, it may be, but it’s a dominant “minority.”  Maybe, the successful artist can still be tied to the “minority status” of the true artist if they work with others and show signs of solidarity.

Those who have really “made it” are rarely supportive of those who haven’t.  When they do, it’s usually only within their own circle.  This is good in that it’s better than nothing.  Yet for things to really change, they need to support art and artists in a wider sense.

One of the problems is that the successful artists/entertainers don’t do much extra to help those who are unsuccessful but “deserving.”  There are many people whose work is just as solid and amazing as those who get recognition.  There’s plenty of room for improvement here.

Are some of them jealous or afraid of the competition?  More likely they’re just too busy with their own work or “careers” or activities or even “anti-careers.”

Some of them insist upon seeing the forest for the trees and the trees for the forest both.  That is, the wider, fuller picture becomes the urgent one.

In “fighting for our rights” we fight for art itself as well.  For many of us, this is first and foremost. 

Sure, it’s important to have other people see your own work, to get it out there.  It’s important to promote the cultural life of your city, your community. 

In this, you attempt to work and play with your fellow artists.  You try to be a presence, to be visible within the spaces in which you live and move.

It’s also good to get some of that work, that “scene” out to a wider area outside of the local galleries and venues.

Try to foster good contacts with the print media, the Internet sources, radio and television.

Explore the whole meaning and possibilities of the word audience.  Who might be most interested in what you are doing and how can you find them?

How can one best engage and interact with the audience?

Can art flower into a wild possible future while still holding its tangled roots of history?  Can art explode into a new Renaissance?

It all comes back to art.  What does art mean?  How to keep it most alive?  What is it now?  What will it be?

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2 Responses to “The Audience, the Artist and Points Inbetween”

  1. Rick Lieder Says:

    Great Maurice. Keep making art & asking questions.

  2. From 2007, Artist’s Statements and Exhibits | for art and artists Says:

    […] https://artremedy20.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/the-audience-the-artist-and-points-inbetween-2007/ […]

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