Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Artist run amok (Response Carter Gilles)

I agree that some folks use the description 'artist' as a measure of prestige, but that usually has more to do with an art economy that thrives on the distinction between ordinary creativity and the 'special stuff' that apparently only 'real' artists produce. The notion of art as something prestigious is often a wedge used to divide the things this particular marketplace deems worthy from those that it doesn't, as if those things were categorically different rather than simply the historically contingent and often arbitrary choices of gatekeepers. And if you notice, the stuff these gatekeepers talk about as 'the real art' is only the stuff they can make the most money with. Why would we ever trust their self serving definitions?

It ends up being a means of oppression when its the difference between who gets to eat and who doesn't, where they get to sit at the table or even if they get to sit. Discriminating like this is just one more empowered establishment telling the undesirables to sit at the back of the bus. And maybe most potters have gotten so used to coming out on the losing end of the craft v art debate that they won't try to dispute the exclusionary interpretation of art, but that doesn't change that its a poor use of the word that doesn't include pots. If Duchamp made it possible that anything could be art how is it that pots have simply slipped through the crack? Isn't that an inconsistency worth noting?

I know what you are suggesting by pointing out the loss of meaning when it is said that "everyone is an artist", but do we lose meaning in the same way when we say that everyone speaks a language? "Everyone is a language user"? If you understand art as a capacity then it is exercised only occasionally, just as we only occasionally use language. But we know the difference between using it and not using it. Understanding what we do with language is an important tool for how we navigate the world. So I wouldn't say that the broad use of 'art' and 'artist' is either meaningless or unimportant. Perhaps it even helps define why humans are different from other species. Are cats artists? If aliens exist, would they have art? Could an artificial intelligence ever create art? If those are meaningful questions then the idea of humans being artists surely must mean something, even in its broadest interpretation.

Personally, I would say that perhaps not everyone is an artist, since obviously newborn babies, sleepers, and coma patients at least are not practicing art. And even if every normal conscious adult somehow were practicing artists they would not be making art full time every waking moment. So some things would still have to count as art and others as not art. Its a good question what makes things art, and we don't need the criteria to simply map out in a consistent way. Sometimes there will only be a family resemblance that makes two diverse things art. Sometimes no connection at all other than that they are the creative expression of two different human beings. Music and painting are as different as it gets, but they are both art, it seems..... Are pots less related to ceramic sculpture than painting is to music?

I don't think the 'rinse and repeat' idea of craft negates craft as an exploration of art. If repetition invalidated something as art then photography and printmaking might be in trouble as well. What about images of actual work? If we look at a book of Monet paintings are we looking at art? The reproduction is not the same thing as the original, but is it no longer art when it gets published? Wouldn't it be strange to say that you are only looking at art if you are face to face with the original? How would we ever know that Monet was an artists if we never saw one of his paintings in real life? So it seems that 'art' has to mean something different. And it obviously includes the idea that there can be more than one example and even an infinite generation of replicas.

It seems to me that sometimes art is the object, but at other times it can be looked at as the process, and the object itself is irrelevant. 'Art' can also be a verb. At other times the idea is what is important and not the product or the process by which it gets made. I think you have to understand the variability of ways that creativity gets manifest to appreciate that art is not one thing specifically but many. If the pots themselves are not specifically art, can we say that the process behind it was art, or the ideas that gave rise to it? That seems to require an answer.

Potters are a special branch of artist, just like musicians, sculptors, dancers, painters, etc are each different types of artists. Its a field specific designation for the kind of artist we are. And even within the broad field of pottery not everyone is doing the same thing. If not every piece is functional have we stopped being potters? Does wheel thrown or handbuilt make a difference? Does surface decoration or unvarnished form divide pots from non-pots? Wood fired or electric? Greenware or bisqued?

In the end it seems there is nothing simple about pottery and there is nothing simple about art. The more we understand their diversity the less we may be bullied by the chauvinists who use these words to punish the people making work they don't like, appreciate, or perhaps even understand adequately. If Duchamp was right in that anything can be art its up to us to learn to see different things that way. Its not just a lesson in making, but a lesson in curating. Its a lesson in how we look at the world and how we group the things we find.... What kind of gatekeeper are you willing to be? Generous or miserly? And why? What is being served by calling things one sort of thing or another? How do our biases and prejudices play out in that?

If I see a small kid drawing with crayons and finger paints I want to say that "art is happening there". If I see a kid making volcanoes with playdough I want to say that "art is happening there". Sure its not van Gogh or Voulkos, but the verb of 'arting' is definitely there. Why would I ever say that an adult sitting at the potter's wheel is not an artist? The lineage of creativity seems quite obvious, to me, at least....

Carter Gillies


John Britt said...

Hey Carter,

Long post! Duchamp may have shown that anything could be art but certainly not everything is art- all the time. Another urinal would have the same effect. Just like 1,000 cups are not art but more like manufacturing.

Because if he showed that everything is art we are in the same boat as calling everyone an artist or everyone a writer - the term is then meaningless.

I don't follow your "language" analogy. People want to be labeled "artist" because it is prestigious not because it is a capacity. Just because everyone shits doesn't mean we all want to be called shitters.

I agree that not everyone is an artist. The problem is if you want to be called an "artist" and can't even define it - we have a problem. Stop using the term.

You jumped the example with the repetition example. What if Monet made the same painting over and over and over and over and over like potters( with slight variations). It might be art the first time but the 1,000 time it isn't art. If you know the final outcome you are reproducing.

You ask a lot of questions that I can't answer but without defining Art or Artist or Craftsperson or Craftsman - that is the problem. And using an undefined term to apply to yourself to indicate prestige is weird. Why not just a potter?

Then to the idea of Artist and if there are Artist then there are good and bad Artists So why doesn't anyone want to be a bad Artist or even a mediocre Artist? They all want you to assume that they are Great Artists. That is why no one says "Hi, I John a really bad artist".

I can't wait for the movie- The Bad Artist.

carter gillies said...

I wouldn't get hung up on the idea that if you call yourself an artist it necessarily is a matter of prestige. That's a huge stretch. Maybe some do, but I call myself an artist, and its not a matter of prestige. Obviously you are speaking of a special circumstance that likely has more to do with professional status (and the marketplace issues I described in the post) than it does with any capacity for creativity or its exercise. If you wish to say that only professionals are true artists (I've heard that argument before) and that its like being a plummer or a doctor in that not everyone is a plummer or a doctor, then that is a limited definition that hinges on career rather than the art itself. And if all it took to be an artist was that we were paid for it that seems to be setting the bar both in the wrong place and extremely low.

Who says you can't define it: "An artist is someone who makes, engages in, or conceives art." Just like a plummer is someone who does pluming and a doctor is someone who does medicine related work. If you don't believe that is a definition of artist then maybe you want something more limited and exclusionary, but that doesn't change the fact that there is children's art, amateur painters, closet poets, people who sing in the shower, dance in the moonlight, and create culinary masterpieces all the time.... They are artists in my book, because they do this art thing.

Don't expect art to necessarily be a consistent thing. That's what I was suggesting by referring to the criteria as sometimes like 'family resemblances' or completely unrelated at times. Whatever Monet does as art has no necessary bearing on what other people do as art. You can't expect it to hold universally true throughout the entirety of art. Say an orchestra plays Beethoven's Fifth. Say they play it 1000 times. Was only the first performance art "but by the 1,000 time it isn't art"? Does that make sense?

I agree the difference between good and bad art is tough for most of us to make sense of, especially when the terms of the art itself are often unclear. Think of it like being good at different games. Quality depends on what rules are being followed. Its like saying you can be a good chess player but a poor poker player. If we know that the game is poker we have criteria to determine what the standards are.

Did any of that make sense?

John Britt said...

Carter, I see you are quite the writer and I am probably outclassed in that regard but I will try one more time.....

John Britt said...

Let me post separately but reply a bit here to your last post:

Playing a symphony 1000 isn't writing the same symphony 1000 times and acting like it is a separate Artistic achievement every time. You are going to have a hard time convincing me that repetition is creativity!

I think that saying "An artist is someone who makes, engages in, or conceives art" is a weak definition. I am looking for something a bit more rigorous:

X is a work of art if and only if (1) x is an artifact and (2) x is discussed in such a way that information concerning the history of production of x will direct the viewer’s attention to properties which are worth attending to.
(She then gets into Good and Bad Art.)

You see I was reading this book “Art and nonart: Reflections on an Orange Crate and a Moose Call” by Marcia Eaton , so we are probably talking about different things. I am talking about Art and you seem to be talking about art.

Anonymous said...

Being an artist is simply by declaration so there is nothing particularly special about being one.

I think you are confusing it with being a well known successful and respected artist.

That takes both talent, hard work and recognition and absolutely no one should be pompous enough to call themselves a well known successful and respected artist unless they are.