Sunday, May 31, 2009

Art Vs. Academic Art II

For this post I am going to respond to a comment regarding an earlier post dealing with art and academic art. The commenter suggested my criticism of Thomas Kinkade ( and that of Robert Smithson, as I was comparing both artists' work) was based on his (Kinkade) popularity, and not his style.

Popularity has little to do with weather or not an artist is creating what I call academic art. There are many artists whose work is quite popular with art scholars and the public alike. One example: Andy Warhol. He was practically a pop icon himself with legions of fans from all walks of life, and I would definitely categorize his work as academic art. The term academic art refers more to how the artist is working, and how the end result of his/her work reflects the idea the artist is exploring. That aside, I believe there is a much wider issue here: that of the polarization of the art world.

Look at the following examples:

The images in the top row can be found here.

The bottom cluster can be found here.

As we look at these images we notice that the works by Smithson (Shown on the top) are all distinctly different. Each work represents an exploration of the artist into an idea or an issue (I am not going to go into the ideas behind each work here. If you want to know more about these works click the links and read directly from the artists.). Conversely the work of Kinkade is all very similar. Smithson does not claim to be the artist of anything. He moves from idea to idea, and creates work based on how he best feels he can communicate that idea with his viewers. Kinkade says he is the "painter of light." However, if that were so, he would consider all aspects of light i.e. particle vs. wave theory, the fact that all color is derived from white light, the way a single candle light can hold back the dark light etc. This doesn't appear to have happened. As a result, all of his works explore the same idea, from the same point of view leaving the viewer with a collection of images that are nearly identical. The subject matter has changed, but the overall idea of the work has not.

This is not to say one work (or artist) is any better than the other. That is a judgment that is left up to each individual viewer. What it suggests from my point of view, is that given these two examples; Smithson creates academic art while Kinkade does not. For me, these artists serve as examples to the greater issue: the polarization of the art world.

In my opinion there is far too much academic art being made. This has clouded the definition of art, and alienated those who lack a background in the visual arts. The end result has been a backlash, and created an environment for an equal abundance of simplistic art to proliferate. I am not suggesting that these types of art (academic or simplistic) should not be made. I believe an artist should create works in the manner that he/she best feels expresses his/her ideas. Simultaneously viewers should respond to artists they most identify with. However, I think artists need to spend more time thinking about how they can reach a broader audience that brings these two camps together, and viewers need to reflect more on how artists are communicating with them.

As a final note if you live in or around St. Louis, Mo there is an excellent art event taking place next Friday June 5th. "Art D Tour" takes patrons around the city for an evening of art, food, and socialization. Ten museums and galleries, representing all types of art will be visited. Details can be found here. See you next week.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Book Review

Rooney, K. (2008) Live Nude Girl: My life as an object Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press.

For this weeks entry I am going to review a book. The book is by Kathleen Rooney, and is titled Live Nude Girl: My life as an object.
This book is the first person account of being a nude model for artists. The book is divided into six chapters. Each chapter examines the authors experiences beginning with why she chose to model nude. Chapter two reflects on the sexuality issues associated with posing nude, both historically, and through her own time spent on the model stand. The third chapter examines issues of mortality, and how figurative work extends an individuals presence on earth. Chapter four is devoted specifically to modeling for photographers. Chapter five discusses gender issues, and chapter six offers the authors concluding thoughts. The book was very well organized and the author was succinct in her thoughts. I enjoyed reading this book, and have gained even more respect for the men and women who aid artists in their artistic endeavors by posing.

One of the things that most surprised me was the variety of artists Ms. Rooney worked with. In her reflections she talks about working with everyone from college professors in classroom situations, well established artists in their studios, to those who are experimenting with art making. As I define myself as an artist it is interesting to see how others are doing the same, but in a different way. This was not a part of the narrative of the book, but it was something extra that I gathered as I read through each chapter.

I would recommend this book to any developing or established artist. Apart from the relevant topics Ms. Rooney addresses, their are a number of other issues present, such as the one I identified. The artist/model relationship is important to the continued development of the visual arts, and this book does much to further these relationships.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Art Vs. Academic Art

This weeks post is going to address the question that invariably comes up: What is art? I'm not going to give a definition of art, and explain how works, and/or artists fall into this definition. I think that the definition of art is constantly changing and always in motion. I also believe that this is as it should be. I have often said that art is a tool for communication, and one of the great things about this concept is that art is an adaptable tool that changes with each artist that uses it. In that context, what I am going to talk about is the current state of "Art," and how that relates to what I refer to as "Academic Art."

In my art appreciation classes I reinforce the idea of art as tool for communication multiple times. One of the initial ways I do this is by telling students that anytime they come upon a work of art there are two essential things they should keep in mind when observing that work. The first is that they need to consider why the artist did what he/she created. In other words, what was the idea behind the work? The second consideration I tell my students, is to find out what other observers think about that specific piece if art. Art is a two person operation. One person makes the art, the other observers it, and without this dynamic, art is just a series of useless objects.

The first consideration address the artists intention in making the art. Typically, in the professional art world, an artist makes a work of art because he or she is exploring a concept, philosophy, or idea. This is key in my art-as-a-tool-for-communication definition of art. Using art in this context assumes that the artist is considering an idea over what the final work will look like, and ultimately what the final piece is used for. In addition, the body of works created over an artists lifetime will vary as the artist moves form idea to idea.

The second consideration address what the viewer thinks about what he/she is observing. When each individual looks at a work of art he/she brings with this observation references to things experienced, and things remembered. Therefore, the interpretation the viewer perceives may not be exactly what the artist intended. In this regard a sort of conversation has taken place, started by the artist, and completed by the observer.

Look at the following images:

The one on the left is from the Robert Smithson Gallery and can be found here . The one on the right is form the Thomas Kinkade gallery and can be found here.

Both of these works are distinctly different, and both will elicit a different response depending on who you ask to comment. Robert Smithson is a professionally recognized artist worldwide. The work of Thomas Kinkade however, is regarded with more suspicion by art professionals. One of the reasons for this goes back to the artists intention. The work of Smithson in this case is examining the flow of lava from volcanoes, and is trying to emulate nature similarly to the way landscape painters emulate the terrain they paint. He is exploring an idea, and illustrating his findings from his explorations. Kinkade states that he is the "Painter of light" however, the fact that his images are placed on mugs, mousepads, collectors plates and other items suggests that this artist has an entirely different motivator for making art. One that seems less like an exploration of ideas, and more like a desire to make money.

I am not trying to suggest one work of art is more legitimate over the other. I believe that is something best left up to each individual observer. What I am trying to explain is the way that I perceive why some works of art (and artists) achieve a level of professionalism in the "Art World," and others do not. Which brings me to the term I have coined: "academic art."

It is my opinion that the current "Art World" is fractured. In my perceptions of contemporary art most professional artists create works that explore an idea but the artists themselves, and possibly a few other individuals with art backgrounds, are the only people who truly recognize the artistic merits. Because one needs an academic background in art to appreciate these types of art, I refer to them as academic art. People with a less academic understanding of art are going to understandably turn away form these types of work. I think this has opened up an opportunity for some artists to create works that focus less on an idea, and instead focus more on meeting the needs of this alienated group of viewers.

Since I have stated again and again that I believe art is a tool for communication, I think artists need to reflect upon they way people communicate. When I was in grade school I was taught to write in a way to reach a broad audience. I think contemporary artists should consider this. In my opinion, they are not reaching out to a broad audience, and the image of artists, and art professionals is suffering as a result. What do you think? Please leave your comments in the comment section, and I will begin another discussion next week.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Artists' Statements

Recently, I was discussing artists' statements with a friend. My friend stated that artists' statements were completely unnecessary. As an artist I will say I do not like writing artist statements, either for individual works or for my work as a whole. That said, I would not go so far as to say they are completely unnecessary. As I have said before, and will probably state in the future, I firmly believe art is a tool for communication. Artist statements just add another layer to the conversation. When a viewer examines a work, he/she is going to bring his/her own interpretation to that viewing. This interpretation may be entirely different from what the artist intended. By including an artist statement, the artist has the opportunity to set the mood/stage for what the work is about. In this regard the viewer and the artist can relate to one another in a way they may not otherwise be able. I'm sorry I have no images this week. I am traveling, and am away from my computer files. As always, please leave your comments for me to respond to. See you next week.