Becoming famous

I answered a comment on the Napkin post and then thought it might make an interesting discussion in itself which might get missed if readers were not into looking through all comments:
People have an innate ability to create which is crushed early in development by people who have equally have had their natural abilities repressed in their early stages of development. In the past (and even now with amateur teachers of art) we present rules of operation in the teaching of art that are too limiting.

When a child dares to represent a rabbit in the manner in which he is capable of drawing, using his own eyes to determine its form and shape, and an adult comes along and says, “Oh no! That’s not what a rabbit looks like”, and then draws two round circles one on top of another with two elongated triangles for ears, and then says “Here’s how you draw a rabbit,” the child is well on his way to knowing that anything he draws is wrong and he can’t do it. The child, however, knows full well that the two circle, two triangle version of the rabbit doesn’t look like a rabbit either. A far cry from it! How confusing! The poor child reverts to colouring books where he is no longer responsible for making the drawing. His only responsibility is for colouring within the lines.

Colouring within the lines is an excellent exercise for developing fine motor control in children’s hands, but it ain’t art. As a positive way to end this, one of my favourite diatribes, here is a good way to respond to children’s offerings:

“Isn’t that great! Tell me about your drawing.” An open ended question like this will elicit lots of detail and you will be surprised by some of the answers. Do not, please do not, tell the child that he’s wrong. The child will eventually work his way around to getting something more representative as he develops freely. Anyway, representational art isn’t the ultimate goal, necessarily. Lots of art and design is purely abstract and/or non-representational.

When I taught composition, I liked to tell about all of the rules that I knew about and then let the students determine which ones they thought suited them best. Once they had some basis to form their compositional ideas on, I then encouraged them to create their own rules of engagement.
All the artists that we honor today are ones that created their own rules and stepped away from the stultifying, stuffy confines of their era. Examples? Courbet, the realist (a breakaway from the previous movement where all successful artists were doing Greek and Roman mythological paintings; the Impressionists who challenged the chocolate box style Pompiers artists and eventually were considered miles better than those sugary sweet other painters; Gaugin and the Post Impressionist Fauve movements who decided that symbolism and feeling were more important than strict representation; Braque and Picasso with their Cubism movement who codified the world in geometric ways; Piet Mondrian and his Neo-Plasticist movement who simlified even more; et cetera.

Every generation, new ways of thinking emerge. It takes a long time for the population to catch up with the vision of free thinking artists.
Do you know the work of Christo, the artist who wraps whole buildings? he who made art with the landscape as his “canvas”? We had a hard time accepting his vision, and now we still snicker about it as if it were absurdly crazy. It maybe is, but it has been validated and accepted to the point that a major city allowed him (and paid all the costs) to have the Reichstag in Berlin covered in cloth and wrapped with ropes. He’s goofy but famous and his preparatory drawings are worth mega bucks. So it’s worth thinking outside of the norms. It takes vision.

As a person who was reviled and mocked for the ugliness of his work, there is van Gogh. Last time one of his paintings sold, how many millions did you say that went for?


6 Responses to “Becoming famous”

  1. forestrat Says:

    In the last couple of years I’ve been trying to learn a bit more about art (whatever that means). I read alot. I’m doing some reading now about aesthetics, especially aesthetics of the natural world since I’m into that sort of thing.

    One thing I haven’t got a feel for yet is where the art world is heading these days. It may just be my ignorance showing, but it seems to me that things are a bit stagnant right now and have been since the big Warhol soup can thing ran its course. I see individuals doing some neat stuff, but I can’t see any big general trends. Maybe big trends are dead in the internet age? Everything is so individually focused.

    Anyway – it reminds me of a Simpsons episode where Moe remodels his dank old bar into a hip new club. When the regulars show up and see live rabbits hanging from the ceiling and a giant TV with an eye on it, they are confused. Moe tells them that it is PoMo – no help. Then he says that it is Post Modern – still no help. Then he says with a sigh, “OK, it’s weird for the sake of weird” – suddenly everyone gets it.


  2. suburbanlife Says:

    Looking For Beauty – I am going to take you to task, good naturedly, of course, about your statement that Christo (and Jeanne Claude) “is goofy but famous”. Tiny Tim, if you recall his execrable mannerisms, high-pitched voice and mincing ways, could be called goofy but famous, even if only for his brief 15 minutes of (Warholian) fame. A contemporary artist who might also wear that label well, in my humble opinion, is Jeff Koons.
    Christo and Jeanne Claude develop concepts, approach the manufactury of their time-limited installations with solid business planning, technical trouble-shooting, human resource management skills plus a great dollop of added poetry and imagination. I have met artists who worked as paid labourers during the installation of “Running Fence”, which project required a massive amount of applications for permits as well. The organizational skills required to pull off projects of such magnitude don’t deserve to be blown off by an off-the-cuff or perhaps an unfortunate choice of words.

    Forestrat – I have been an observer of art for well over 40 years and it has been a wild ride and continues to be, for which I am very happy. You might find readings about artists who work with the natural environment and phenomena – Andy Goldsworthy is one who you might enjoy and find resonant with your particular reverent aesthetic. There are some good videos out showing his work in his environment. G

  3. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
    At this end of my career (I’ve retired early, but still am retired), I’m feeling quite passé about my artwork. I studied the classical way, learning to draw in a somewhat draftsman-like manner, with the available 19th C and 20th C rules of the road for some traditional ways of seeing things like pattern, shape, composition, tone, spatial relationships, etc.
    Already there are movements since the ‘Sixties that have come and gone that were more abstract than I could fathom. The installation movement (which is part of the Post Modern, I think) left me completely behind. I sometime understand an installation exhibition, but often just don’t get the point.

    I believe that art should have meaning to it. It could be just seeing the beauty in something and getting others to see and become equally cognizant of the beauty in what I’ve portrayed; or there might be a political or sociological message in it.
    I remember a wonderful exhibition in Vancouver of someone who was doing tankers in the port. His name is Terence Johnson and you can see examples of his work at
    He found the tankers beautiful and painted them in an unusual composition. Some of them are quite large. When you stand in front of them they feel as overwhelming as if you were in a small boat approaching the base of the bow of the tankers.
    The point of view he expressed in conveying the idea of tankers was unusual and therefore remarkable, for me.
    I think that there are lots of ways that artists can still express realism and make a statement that is “modern” or “new” and there will always be a Realism school in every generation.
    Every generation seems to have opposing forces. Art Nouveau was sinuous; Art Deco was hard edged and geometric. Both existed in the same period of time.
    As the Cubists explored geometric shapes in a new way, the more representational works of the period were emerging as Surrealism. Dali and de Chirico were prime movers of Surrealism.

    There have been many schools of art emerged since then – Expressionism, Pop, Minimalism and Optical Art are a few that developed in the ‘Fifties and ‘Sixties. I’m not familiar with all of them. Since then, I’ve lost track.
    Conceptual Art started in the ‘Fifties and was still strong even in the ‘Eighties and ‘Nineties. When the art students of that era became the professors of art for the next generation, a lot of classical training just went out the window in art schools. Concept became more important than execution of an idea.
    I sometimes look at artwork that is being shown in art galleries now and the drawings look like work done by youngsters in their early teens. I am losing my ability to see why the work is being shown. It has little meaning for me. In addition, there have been some works that have been created with the intention of shocking the public – dresses made of raw meat that deteriorates and begins to stink as it is on display; documentation of a person’s garbage collection over the period of a month are two examples.

    The statement that the artists profess to seem unworthy of consideration in public galleries. But if the galleries (who are now also staffed by the Post Modernist generation of artists) consider it to be art, and have been brought up with that aesthetic, then I suppose it is officially art. I just don’t consider it so. It doesn’t hold my interest more than three minutes – one minute max to read the intention (because the work doesn’t innately express that meaning for me) and then two minutes max to see if I can match the blurb with the work of “art”. Most often I find that it’s just artspeak.
    I’m missing the basic cognitive background to render it meaningful.
    I do respect technical ability as much as idea. I think it’s important to have craft and workmanship in what is produced.
    I find in my own work – painting and photography – that I’m hopelessly 20th Century. I still experiment with drawing and painting, but the basis of my formation in Art is mid-20th C and the resulting output reflects that. Most of my work is representational, although I look for new ways to express ideas. A small amount of my work seeks to go beyond what I’ve done so far, but it’s timid in comparison to what is being done by the younger generations. I find my work more and more decorative; not imbued with as much meaning as I would like.
    All that is to say that although I am aware of work that has been done in the last 50 years and some of the major trends, I can’t put my finger on any movements that I could point to as the up and coming ones.
    A final thought to this lengthy reply:
    With a big name artist like Picasso, the general public is not likely to hear of their new directions until after they have produced a big enough body of work to mount a flashy exhibition of it which will be heralded for major investors to feed on.
    With less known artists, they may have to die before someone discovers their output. Van Gogh is a good example of this. Only an artist with a particularly personal vision will be selected for after death stardom by the world of art markets. As the important galleries acclaim the new-found work, it’s the publicity and the stamp of the iconic gallery that will render that work important. Many excellent artists will never see the light of day for their work.
    I think that the Internet offers artists a wonderful opportunity now to post their work whether or not a gallery sanctions their work and their vision. It makes for a confusing mass of mediocre work; but it also allows superb artists to show their vision and be discovered by people who might otherwise never have had the opportunity to see it; and it allows an artist to communicate directly with the viewer through comments and e-mail.

    So who knows what is in the pot, boiling away and transforming into the next art movement. It may take another ten years to define a trend that spontaneously happened and took all that time to be discovered and defined by some Masters Program student looking for a thesis, or by a curator of a gallery hoping to make their mark on the Art community.
    The Vancouver Art Gallery had a show called Massive Change: The future of Global Design. If you google this Massive Change: the Future of Global Design and read on, you will see what some of the pundits think is the upcoming trend. It’s mind boggling, but very interesting.

  4. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Hi Suburbanlife,
    Thanks for your comment. Perhaps my choice of the word “goofy” was off the cuff. I am aware of the work and planning, the conceptual brilliance of Christo and Jeanne Claude’s work and didn’t mean in any way to minimize the value of their work.
    I hope you will agree though that the work is a mental leap. It’s not easy for amateurs to grasp what they are getting at. In that sense, the idea is goofy; odd; curious; brilliant but hard to understand.
    I like Andy Goldsworthy’s work. I wasn’t previously aware of it so thanks for mentioning his name. I Googled and saw some of it. It’s really beautiful.

  5. forestrat Says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful replies you guys. I’ll check out the links you’ve suggested soon.

    Although I have a predilection for the “old masters”, I’m pretty comfortable with just about anything so long as there is, as lookingfor beauty put it, some meaning behind it. Something beyond superficial shock value. Something that is well thought out and well executed. A work that, though possibly veiled, reveals to me some of the creative mind and force of the artist. If I can’t find that connection, then I lose interest.


  6. lookingforbeauty Says:

    That puts it pretty succinctly. I’d say you have a pretty good aesthetic and you are basically searching to define why you like (or dislike) things.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: