Archive for April, 2011

“For the Encouragement and Strengthening of the Arts……”

April 28, 2011

“For the Encouragement and Strengthening of the Arts……”  from Maurice Greenia, Jr.  Autumn 2005

 Two Dreams:

1.Detroit (this city, this area) could be the “launching site” for a newly energized and exciting approach to art.  I take our old name seriously: the “Renaissance City” (or “Renaissance Center).”  Could the spark of revival and “rebirth” of the arts emerge and flower?

Can something very special happen here, in Detroit?  Can works and doings in this city attract attention and “turn the nation’s eyes toward us?”  The talent and the perseverance (never say die) seem to be here.  How can we “connect the dots” and spark a real surge in quality? I don’t think I’m the only one who believes that this is possible (in this place, in this time).

On the other hand…..

2.  For a long time, I’ve had this strong sense that if only the artist were allowed to play their true and proper part in this worlduniversallythen things would be very different. 

I’ve taken this idea to another “extreme.”  Are the artists to blame?  Is it partly our fault that things are going from bad to worse?  If we did what we should be doing, would life change?  Would the world change?  How can we struggle to play this “ideal part” when it’s made so difficult to do so?  What does playing this part entail?  What do we need to do?

In 1992, I wrote a manifesto (in my Dreamers Versus Dangers series) called “The Failures of Art.”  Around the same time, I did a flyer (encouraging Detroit artists) called RENAISSANCE NOW!  In this statement, the two will meet and mingle, get specific and “talk it out.”

“I believe firmly in the possibility of an immense renaissance of art.  Whoever believes in this new art will have the tropics for a home.”   Vincent Van Gogh

If both the “fine arts” and the “popular arts” were able to produce powerful, magical, thought-provoking and true art, it could have a real effect on people.  It could even inspire them, transform them or (at least) change their minds.  In art, works and moments of magic, surprise and transcendence are always a possibility.

The idea that art can enliven and awaken us is not new.  It can even be taken further than this.  Art can change things by giving people off-center, surprising and expansive insights into what it really means to be a human being in this world.

Maybe, if more people were exposed to authentic art, they would behave differently and look at life differently.  Even “people in power” could find themselves changed by art’s mysterious forces. 

Art isn’t always a “cure-all.”  But it’s been ages (if ever) that it was truly given a fair chance.  We ask “Faith in art?” and answer “Yes.  Every faith!”

Some of us do still believe.  Art can heal.  Art can be a force for truly positive change.

If one is absolutely committed to the artist’s life, one can become part of the medicine.

Yet, in ways, the more one believes, the easier it is to get hurt or get in trouble.  The “ill-treatment” (even discrimination) that the artist can suffer is a milder form.  Others get hit far harder.  It does add to the total burden though (more obstacles, more weight).

Some artists never even feel these blues (or if they do, they don’t recognize them for what they are).  To be an authentic artist (prepared to follow your path through to the very end) is often a haunted, painful thing. 

Yet if we do so, soon we’re spinning these blues into gold.  Not merely the “fool’s gold” of financial success but the gold of pure art (solid yet fluid, magical yet rooted in the deepest sort of reality). 

Most of us will never reach these strange “heights.”  Yet, in a Renaissance, more artists would be informed by these possibilities.  There would sometimes be a taste of them, at least.  Quality can be a fugitive thing—yet ever we strive, the attempts are made.

DISCLAIMER: This  manifesto will not be concerned with finance.  We’ll leave that path to other voices.  Sure, it’s good to sell a painting or book or have a good crowd at your performance.  These words follow other paths, other directions.  At the idea of money: it’s not uncommon to shrug my shoulders, scratch my head or shed a tear.  We need to survive. 

The Environment

The Sky: Look up.  To rise above (literally, our “better natures” realized, at least in part) that is “the path.” In other words (clouds) dreams, imagination, love and thought (simmer or stew).  Then, through hands or body’s sweat, various art arrives.  Creativity is enacted.  Art is made concrete. Life is lived creatively.  From the sky we get sunlight yet also rain, storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, lightning, rainbows, fog, mist….

The Earth: Grounded, sometimes with roots (or at least in love with earth, soil, rock, muck and all their relations).  For humans, some lead simple lives.  Some are simple and joyous.  Others “simple” yet full of poverty, hunger, pain and sorrow.  For many of us things get more complex, stretched too thin.

Some are swamped by work alone.  Yet many of us also find ourselves swamped by work (and by combinations of) love, all life, dreams, adventure, suffering, mediocrity.   This is a saturation point.

The Ocean:  A wet watery wash (a splash) whereby the lakes, rivers and seas connect with the water that is us or in us.  Though tied to water and to humanity, we’re all separate and alone (some more than others).  This gives way to the ruse and unavoidable ego.  We go on both alone and in conflict.  Sometimes this gives way to interactive works, collaborative.  “Me, me, me” and “mine, mine, mine” are both good and bad.  As unavoidable as moisture, ego will not be denied.  Sometimes it is forgotten or transcended.

Portrait of the Saturation Point: distractions from being young, distractions from being old or growing older (i.e. surviving awhile).  Then there’s the circle (family, friends, peers, colleagues, relationships and so on).  Then houseworkdishes, laundry, sweeping, mopping, shopping (essential and non-essential).  Then transportation—our daily travels, either on foot or by bus or car.  Then work, the “full time job” (for some, our daily travails). Besides transports and fatigue, work can overflow in other ways.  You take more of your work home with you then you really want to.  Then things like raising a family (and/or being a serious artist) can be like a second full-time job.  The effort in trying to be aware can take up time.  We study the “news” in search of truth.

Some of us try to help out through “charity.”  Some try to help through political-social involvement and action.  Some work at ignoring or forgetting.  The list goes on and on. 

One can find oneself living in a whirl (dizzy), on thin ice or caught in an endless impossible balancing act.  There’s this idea of just so much stuff (things, events, jobs, duties) and then too people.  Even the recluse and the hermit have to deal with others. 

I’ve told myself that if I’m worried I’m “stretching myself too thin” well then just “stretch myself thinner.”  I’m a pretty typical case.  I work full-time and bus and walk to work.  I’m a serious visual artist and writer.  I play and sing in two musical groups.  Then, for the straw that broke the camel’s back, I help run a grassroots-artist run art gallery.  Quiet spaces and “quality time” are always foundyet at a price.

I’m sure other artists, arts writers-critics and members of the audience all find themselves in a similar space (sometimes or all the time).  You push too hard, yet the effort is often invisible to others.  They only see some of its fruit.  Life overflows.

The Failures of Art

If artists are solely to blame for the failures of art, well so be it.  What can art do but that which artists can do?  Yet some would share the blame for these failures with the public, our “audience” and with our chroniclers, the arts writers and critics.  Then too, some galleries and art spaces are more supportive and encouraging than others.

Our audience includes our peers, our fellows.  Our fellow artists and art gallery staffs are generally supportive.  Yet some stick to their own gallery and circle and rarely get out to see what the others are doing. 

Too often, the basic audience attends only the opening (with free entertainment, a lively social scene and/or refreshments).  For the rest of the exhibit’s stand, few to zero attend.  It ends up somehow deserted. 

As for the “press” it would seem that you usually have to be doing something extraordinary (and/or persevere for years) in order to get noticed.  I’m reminded of the Daffy Duck cartoon where he does this elaborate routine and finishes by blowing himself up!  He’s a huge hit but at the requests for an encore he says “It’s a great trick but I can only do it once!”

Or as Franz Kafka said “People beg to give themselves away.  But who can give one’s self away in a world that no longer knows how to receive?”

Then there’s the syndrome wherein one gets a big “article” and in the days that followno one comesor very few.  You can see where this points back to.  If you have a great show and it’s not neglected by the media and few attend: the problem is not with the artwork, the gallery or the “media.”  The problem is often with the audience.

They too have their “saturation points.”  The distractions of “entertainment” and unfamiliarity with painting, drawing, sculpture etc. play a big part.

You can go full circle and put all the “blame” onto the artist.  Yet there’s the old saw that great art needs a great audience (and great art criticism).  Then too, great art (and enough truly good art) should help encourage better audiences and better criticism.  Can we all play our parts better than we have been?  Can art help set loose a spirit of contagious health? 

Renaissance Now!

Art can be a distraction or a mere “pain killer.”  It can be relief from real suffering.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with this.

It can retain elements of this effect yet go beyond them.  Art can be a window or door opening to more awareness.  There’s a connection between be aware and beware.  It can also be a healing path.  It can be a strong force toward a better world (a less bitter world).

Here’s a preliminary prescription (specific). 

Artists, keep working.  Try to do the best work you can.  Whether schooled or self-taught, never stop learning and working.  Read and go to museums and galleries.  Talk to other artists and the “public” about art.  Try to keep growing.  If you draw enough and keep your eyes open, things may happen.

Galleries and museums, try to support the artists around you.  It’s fine to show art from other cities or countries.  Yet you also need to encourage the local scene. Search out new and unknown artists as well as the “tried and true.”  It’s good to have standards, have a vision.  If you have faith in the work, then the audience should respond to it.  Keep your space neat, organized and clean.  Hang your exhibits well. 

The galleries need to come together and support each other.  If we don’t, it just ends up hurting everybody.  It’s good to have special events where many galleries are open at the same time and encourage the public to visit.  On the other hand, it’s better to avoid having ten openings the same night (and nothing the next week).  The special character of the opening or closing events versus “regular hours” should be considered.

Critics and arts writers, try to get out and see as many shows as you can.

Time and time again, I’ve seen an art exhibit that blew me away, that I loved.  Then this same show meets with total silence from allDetroit’s media and press.  These include shows that I had nothing to do with myself (except being there to see them).

It’s very difficult to cover every show.  Yet even brief capsule reviews (a paragraph or two) would be better than nothing.  All most artists (and galleries) want is some “fair attention.”  Then, whether you pan the show, praise it, or give it a middling reviewwe’re glad you took the time to see it and put forth a response.  We appreciate your efforts in these regards. 

Most artists are also interested in: opinions on what art is and is not, the national and international scene, art-historical remembrances and so on.

If critics and galleries seem to let us down sometimes, do we let them down too?  How strong, amazing, solid, moving, ugly or beautiful does our artwork need to be?  Who won’t let us down?  We try not to let ourselves down.  The world seems to let us down yet we struggle to “rise above it.”

Audience, we thank you.  We know that the “public” is the most important piece of the puzzle.

I found this quotation from the estimable T-Bone Slim:  “A man is only great as a writer if his readers are great.  Never was, is, or will be a writer greater than his readers.”  If the relationship with the artist and their audience improves, so will that with galleries, museums and critics.

We hope for the audience, the “people at large” to come see our work.

It’s good to give us some feedback (talk to us, your true responses).  If you like what you see, please support it.  Give us some encouragement.  Tell others about our exhibits and/or come back yourself.  Understand that it’s discouraging for the artists to use their precious time “gallery sitting” only to have no one show up.  Then yes, despite my “disclaimer,” if galleries rarely or never sell art, they will end up closing (gone for good).

Word of mouth does wonders.  Art isn’t really that difficult.  It’s natural, as easy as water or air.  If more people would take the visual arts seriously and give artists real support, the strength of the artwork should increase.  The percentage of good work (as compared to bad, mediocre or indifferent work) should rise.  Renaissance Now!

This is For the Encouragement and Strengthening of the Arts:

October 20 started/ November 12 finished (finis) 2005

From Maurice Greenia, Jr. (Maugre)  Thank you for reading this.

Aftermath:

How can we transcend the general trend toward the “marginalization” of the plastic arts?  Despite all my “positive statements” above, I know that (in many ways) the truth is very ugly, pretty rough.

To me, it seems obvious that in “the arts,” the visual artist is something of an “outcast.”

We’re the “lowest of the low” (all downtrodden and beset upon).  Our compatriots get it just as bad.  These include people in any art form who try to “push the envelope” or try something new (certain poets, experimental film, theatre, music or “literature” etc.)

Yet in those arts which we see (hang on a wall or place on a pedestal) it seems nearly everyone gets a raw deal.   The exceptions (stars??) are doing well not always due to the quality of their work.  As for the rest of us, the good, the great and the largely mediocre all get swept up by the same wave.

Some artists spend thousands of hours reading, studying, sketching and painting.  The training period can be nearly as intense as a doctor or lawyer—yet without the “better times ahead.”  Yet many of us continue on both determined and full of life.

Then there’s the “double edged sword.”   The money behind the “popular arts” makes them much more powerful.   T.V., pop music and movies take away much of our potential audience.  When the work is of quality, it’s pretty easy to take.  We check it out ourselves.  Yet much of it is just so horrible (new ways to waste your life, the “time killers.”)  A steady diet of sugar candy steers one away from a better balanced “diet.”

On the other hand, the current system of galleries, museums and mass media seems to hurt us as well as help us.  Most of the problems have already been mentioned.  We hope to make changes here, to improve things.  Yet it might not be as easy as it should be.

There’s a sense of “elitism” partially tied in with $$$$.  There’s a tradition where if you can’t get “real money” out to look at your work, no one takes you seriously.  The work isn’t looked at for the quality of the work.  The attempt is made to transform all art into “product” yet this is disguised and veiled.

Real change in this world often arrives from unexpected sources.  It starts at a “low point” and spreads.  We can transcend the special problems inherent in the visual arts and in this city, Detroit.  There could be a sort of partnership between artists, the media, the venues and the audience.  This would be to the benefit of us all.  It would be a start.