*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
The classic work of art is a form of life with its own bizarre consciousness. In the performing arts – theater, dance, music – this consciousness is not reducible to the minds of the performers onstage. The participants are parts of a spiritual organism that includes and transcends them. In our modern materialist mindset we naturally attribute the impression that a work speaks in its own voice to the intention of the author, who used it as a vehicle for her own ideas. But… works of art express much that their authors never intended to say: they exceed the limited views of those who bring them into being.
J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice: A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action
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A: As a New York artist I am very fortunate to live in a city with a vibrant, exciting cultural scene. Simply put, art is in the air here and I take inspiration from everything I see and experience: painting, photography, sculpture, installation, performance art, public art, dance, theater, film, opera, jazz, etc. This city itself is an endlessly fascinating place. Visually it is always thrilling! I never know what I am going to see – good and bad – whenever I leave my apartment.
I have been living here since April 1997. The city provides a heady mix to ponder and this mix mysteriously enriches, influences, and somehow finds its way into the work. I have been an artist for nearly thirty years and I continue to be intrigued with watching the intricacies of how my creative process evolves and grows.
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Q: What’s the point of all of this? Shouldn’t we be discussing how to end poverty or promote world peace? What can art do?
A: I happen to recently have read an inspiring book by Anne Bogart, the theater director. It’s called, “and then you act: making art in an unpredictable world” and she talks about such issues. I’ll quote her wise words below:
“Rather than the experience of life as a shard, art can unite and connect the strands of the universe. When you are in touch with art, borders vanish and the world opens up. Art can expand the definition of what it means to be human. So if we agree to hold ourselves to higher standards and make more rigorous demands on ourselves, then we can say in our work, ‘We have asked ourselves these questions and we are trying to answer them, and that effort earns us the right to ask you, the audience, to face these issues, too.’ Art demands action from the midst of the living and makes a space where growth can happen.
One day, particularly discouraged about the global environment, I asked my friend the playwright Charles L. Mee, Jr., ‘How are we supposed to function in these difficult times? How can we contribute anything useful in this climate?’ ‘Well,’ he answered, ‘You have a choice of two possible directions. Either you convince yourself that these are terrible times and things will never get better and so you decide to give up, or, you choose to believe that there will be a better time in the future. If that is the case, your job in these dark political and social times is to gather together everything you value and become a transport bridge. Pack up what you cherish and carry it on your back to the future.'”
“… In the United States, we are the targets of mass distraction. We are the objects of constant flattery and manufactured desire. I believe that the only possible resistance to a culture of banality is quality. To me, the world often feels unjust, vicious, and even unbearable. And yet, I know that my development as a person is directly proportional to my capacity for discomfort. I see pain, destructive behavior and blindness of the political sphere. I watch wars declared, social injustices that inhabit the streets of my hometown, and a planet in danger of pollution and genocide. I have to do something. My chosen field of action is the theater.”
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* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
If, indeed, for any given time only a certain sort of work resonates with life, then that is the work you need to be doing in that moment. If you try to do some other work, you will miss your moment. Indeed, our own work is so inextricably tied to time and place that we cannot recapture even our own aesthetic ground of past times. Try, if you can, to reoccupy your own aesthetic space of a few years back, or even a few months. There is no way. You can only plunge ahead, even when that carries with it the bittersweet realization that you have already done your best work.
This heightened self-consciousness was rarely an issue in earlier times when it seemed self-evident that the artist (and everyone else, for that matter) had roots deeply intertwining their culture. Meanings and distinctions embodied within artworks were part of the fabric of everyday life, and the distance from art issues to all other issues was small. The whole population counted as audience when artists’ work encompassed everything from icons for the Church to utensils for the home. In the Greek amphitheater twenty-two hundred years ago, the plays of Euripides were performed as contemporary theater before an audience of fourteen thousand. Not so today.
Today art issues have for the most part become solely the concern of artists, divorced from – and ignored by – the larger community. Today artists often back away from engaging the times and places of their life, choosing instead the largely intellectual challenge of engaging the times and places of Art. But it’s an artificial construct that begins and ends at the gallery door. Apart from the readership of Artforum, remarkably few people lose sleep trying to incorporate gender-neutral biomorphic deconstructivism into their personal lives. As Adam Gopnik remarked in The New Yorker, “Post-modernist art is, above all, post-audience art.”
David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards)of Artmaking
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