An incredibly inspiring look at the career of entertainment mogul David Geffen.
Making art work is like any other job, which means that intrinsically it has the possibility to be a real drag or the only way for some to live. Or both at once. The connections and parallels between artists and entrepreneurial business people are shocking despite the outside differences. Both take a risk to gamble on themselves and to show others that the work they do not only is important and can affect their lives but that it has value; either a dollar value and a cultural value and with luck both.
You have a take on the world that others do not have the guts to and try to make opportunities that others in your field have not seen yet. How you execute those insights and the quality and number of people who see what you made will bring to you and the things you have made both respect and a comfortable life.
That’s a lot; but that’s just what you want others to feel. As important as those things are you have other things to deal with. The work itself is trying to kill you sometimes. It wants to break you and the details of the daily grind can bring about boredom and a feeling of pointlessness. In the worst cases a loss of self-esteem or drive due to the sheer impossibility of the ordeal can take you to dark places, especially when the investment is not performing.
Mark Rothko in the studio. Click here for an excellent short doc on Rothko and where his painting took him.
I guess you could say that being involved in this life doesn’t make me believe in the milquetoast ideal of the lazy artist hanging in coffee shops and talking about “expression”. Those types are out there no doubt but the most successful are strategic, highly competitive (at least with themselves), and extremely intelligent and knowledgeable about their field.
Which is why the wealthy and the established “get” art. Education and the option of being able to afford luxury items is a factor, as is bragging rights and the want to show culture and your taste to your friends and competitors. The real appeal though is in the mindset of the artist and being around those who have balls, arrogance or at least confidence and an ability to see the world differently than the rest; there is a kinship between the extremely successful and the artist.
They both pursue different goals but chase after them with a fury and single-mindedness that can include extreme narcisism and fierce self-determination. The extremes vary, but I’ve known artists that would be just as suited in a boardroom as they would in a gallery if they were chasing after a different thing.
We could say the business man and the artist have a kinship and a certain co-dependency. One can live without the other, but maybe not as well or not as completely. I’ve been in beautiful homes with bad, cheap art and it just hurts. It hurts me and the owner; they are filling space and showing nothing more than a desire to do what’s expected to the least degree. At a certain point the Sub Zero and the Eames chair become a sort of standard as does real art by serious artists. You know what I’m talking about but when you see the opposite glaring. I’ve also been in small homes and apartments with great collections built on meager budgets and more than unread books on philosophy or Sun Tsu, they breathe class and true richness.
Artists can continue to make work that piles up in their space, respected and admired work that is talked about and adored. But the final proof is the acceptance of this work by others – be that of the museum or collector. The financial aspect of being paid for work solidifies the commitment of a buyers adoration. For the artist, the sale is their start-up taking off and the breathing of fuel back in the tank. It’s confidence and energy replenished and rent and bills paid. It’s the start of the next venture with the emotional and financial capital in place. It’s hard to admit that the financial and peer or societal approval means this much for some of us, and for others the opposite could be true. But it’s a complex thing letting go of a piece.
We’ve talked about seeing art, about going to galleries and asking questions to acquire some of the necessary tools to make good decisions. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be interviewing a few people on both sides of the fence; collectors, patrons, and artists. I want to talk about how they first came to buy work and why, what they got out of the exchange and their relationship with the artists they support, and how these things are perceived or accepted from the artist’s point of view.
Joseph Staples – Office Supplies Incorporated
I really hate the word culture sometimes. It means a lot of different things to different people and seems to be applied to many things that to me don’t qualify but to others are valid. One person’s culture is anothers knitting club.
How you define culture is up to you and like we talked about in art, you are an expert. That said, the level of your expertise is defined in your experience in the field; what you have seen, created and been a direct not passive part of. I believe that this participation is the active contributor in your experience and a depth of knowledge is your guide in what you consider “good”.
Thankfully, we don’t have to go and find these experiences all on our own. We have curators, event organizers and venues that offer us options in how we want to create our experience. We trust in them to tell us what is of value; to act as guides through the amateurs and direct us to brilliant or the brave.
Graham Landin, Me and You, 2012
The difference between taste and conformity is a willingness to accept something you don’t understand as having possibility. Putting yourself in new experiences outside of your realm of understanding becomes a prerequisite for a fuller understanding of yourself and the world you are in. This in turn opens you up to new ways of thinking about your own field and your return on the investment of leaving the house becomes greater than the energy to get off the couch.
Appropriation – separating something from where it came to give it another purpose – has been with us for a while and seems hard for someone to understand how it works in art making today.
The idea that somethings are art and others are not isn’t the easiest thing to understand. It’s subjective and personal. The basic idea is that if it’s put into the context of art, it can or should be accepted as such. The question remains; is it any good?
Clint Roenisch has made a reputation in Toronto as a gallerist willing to support what too often are called “avant-garde” artists. However his own approach and the approach of those he represents is refreshingly traditional: well thought out, well executed work presented in a respectful way. It’s further proof an educated personal taste and confidence combined with professional standards are still valid ethics in the business and art worlds concurrently.
Christo and Jean-Claude are known for producing some of the largest public art in the world over the last 50 years. The scale, vision and determination of the couple are exceptional in today’s art world; there is truly no one else doing what they do the way they do it. And all on their own dime.
Macaulay & Co. has been taking shape over the last 7 years into an important view of Vancouver’s contemporary art scene outside of the usual suspects. The focus ranges between both newly established conceptualists from the grad classes of the early 2000′s (Mark Soo, Jeremy Shaw, and Elizabeth Znovar) and contemporary natives traditions (Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptin, and Beau Dick) is a rare diversification for the city. And it’s working.
Sarah Macaulay spoke with us about the balance of trust in her artists, risk and relocation.
Yes, this is art. I apologize. I’ll explain.
I get why people have a hard time with art in general, the above piece doesn’t make it easier if you are new to trying to “get” art. And it’s a shame. I went to the Ken Lum show at the Vancouver Art Gallery with my dad and look at pieces like the one above. He hated it. He doesn’t know anything about art but he knows what he likes and this was not it. In fact, it made him angry.
After I thought about it for a a few days afterward, I realized that he was angry because like most people he doesn’t like being hustled. Standing in front of Ken Lum’s work without any background on what he is doing and why can give people the feeling of being scammed. No one likes to feel like they aren’t cultured and modern art can be a tough pill.
What’s Ken Lum trying to talk about with these pieces? In a really brief way, the work he is making is about peoples public lives and their private lives and what we show to each other. With the piece above, Lum may want us to look at why Amir is moving back home to Eritrea. And why he can’t make life in Canada work despite offering everything from shoe repair to thrift goods or cheap watches. It’s one imagined immigrant’s life summed up in one object and tries to encourage us to imagine how he experiences this country. Pretty heavy subject matter when you get into it.
How do we find out these things? How do we get a deeper understanding of what we see?
Variant I by Brian Jungen, 2002 via www.catrionajeffries.com/
1. Get out and see some stuff.
Placing your self in front of art is the first place to start. As I mentioned before, you can’t get into an artwork without standing in front of the thing. I could write a whole post on how good going to a museum or large art gallery is for first or second date. Or any relationship for that matter. Taking someone along gives you someone to bounce thoughts off, ask for their opinions and check them against your own and slows you down. In a good way.
2. Slow down.
You need to slow down. Average visitors to a museum spend less than 10 seconds looking at the work. The person who made what you are looking could have spent months on it and years to get to the point where they could get it to where it is; put in front of you by people who understand what they have done. At the end of the day, it’s your opinion that matters most to you.
Taking a moment to look closely at it is worth your time. Get up close, look at the details. Back away and see the whole thing at once. What does it make you think about? If you are still not interested, it isn’t working for you. But it is worth a minute to check out. Having a second go around is also a good idea. If something interested you, go back and see if you can figure out why. Knowing what you like helps build your taste.
Like a Great Black Fire (detail) by Rebecca Chaperon via www.thechaperon.ca
3. Ask questions.
“Excuse me, can you tell me what the hell is going on here?” or something maybe a bit less direct is a good place to start. In a commercial gallery space, there will be someone at a desk working at a computer and besides the initial greeting they may ignore you. Most places will give people a chance to look at the work in private. Some will simply be lazy. It’s their job to explain the work to visitors and try to get your business. But it is usually your responsibility to ask questions.
A good way to start is something like, “Excuse me, I’m interested in this work. Do you have a moment to tell me about the work and the artist?” If you are too shy or intimidated, and honestly there is no reason to be, take a look around for any literature in the gallery for more info. If you were looking at a new car, you wouldn’t mind grabbing a sales person and picking their brain, this is no different.
4. Get a posse and do the opening circuit.
Get out there and hit some shows. Go with a crew of friends who may also may be into seeing some work. Get dressed up. You can plan a route based on your local galleries openings. Most galleries will have openings on a certain night, in Vancouver it’s Thursdays, in your city it may be another. Check out one of the big galleries in your town, the Vancouver Art Gallery or the AGO in Toronto. Worst case: you drink some bad wine, see nothing you like and can head on to a club if it’s not working. Best case: you see some great work, drink some good free booze, and maybe meet someone you may not have met before. There is no easier way to make friends than asking, “So what do you think?”
And just so you know, they may not understand what’s going on either. So enjoy yourself.
Any comments on experiences getting to know art and artworks are welcome below.
Caravaggio is an art history student’s dream. Finally a painter who is a bad ass. An arrogant bar brawler and slummer who changed painting and died under mysterious circumstances with the Pope having put a price on his head.
He carried a sword to defend his style from his many imitators and to settle petty bar brawls he mostly caused himself. He used peasants and slum dwellers to depict biblical characters and had no problem showing the sickly and dark parts of life in paintings made for the finest cathedrals of his time.