Saturday, May 31, 2008

quality and art legitimization: anonymous art

mare de deu amb el nen, anonymous artist (detail)
anonymous artist, mare de déu amb el nen

anonymous art is exempt from artist legitimization. it speaks for itself mostly in terms of what i would perceive as quality. [but see the previous posts on quality & pirsig]

as promised in the previous post, i see 2 obvious ways to prick through the excesses of art & artist legitimization which seem so abundant in the current art `scene'.

the first way is to take an artwork, and present it stripped of any additional information such as who made it, when was it made, what is the price etc. then let people take a shot at valuating the art work.

the second way is to forge a work, supposedly by a well-known `master' artist. and then again let people take a shot at valuating the work.

both ways have been done, with interesting results (works by chimpanzees hailed as profound, forgeries disputed until the forger gave demonstrations...)

i get the impression that modern artists are marketed like brand names. the artist's name comes first, then the work. this influences what type of art is being made. if art were to be presented anonymously, i believe we would get other art works. better art works? i don't know. what is better? it's an even more difficult question than `what is good?'.

but the purpose of this post is mostly to express why an artist need not worry about legitimization, if (s)he knows her/his `stuff'.

if you know your stuff, the inner qualities are bound to come out. it may take a while, a long while sometimes, but i do believe that the appreciation of inner quality is something sufficiently shared by people to allow recognition in the end.

what remains for the artist to be done? deepening inspiration, approach, technique, ambition maybe - ambition in the expressive sense i would say, but perhaps ambition in the social sense is a good motivator too. personally i get very tired of all the competition mechanisms that modern society seems to embrace with such abandon and without much reflection. but you reader will have guessed as much if you read more than one of these `quality & art' posts.

co ngo, untitled
co ngo, untitled

Thursday, May 29, 2008

quality & art: artist legitimization

so what can one do. sure, there are a lot of interested open motivated people out there in the art world. still, probably also because of the oversupply of artists wanting to claim their 15 square meters of exhibition space, there is an issue -to say the least- with what i call artist legitimization.

here we have all these important people in art, busy communicating their views, busy selecting important artists, busy buzzing or doing something worthwile (yes i know, terribly subjective, i know i know i really know...but still). and what on earth will induce any member of the art elite to spare time and attention to an artist?

`send me your resume please. i cannot begin to look at work of every artist wanting to show in my gallery. a good resume is essential.'

so i'm looking at artist legitimization from the opposite direction. does the artist know what (s)he is about? suppose so. then don't hide your light under the bushel. who knows how to paint? how to sculpt? how to draw? in such a way as to open doors and windows to the heart? don't let gpr-driven people put you down.

still, noblesse oblige, as they say. it may not be necessary to become as adept with art historical references, language, knowledge of (modern) art (hypes) as the people who claim to be able to judge an artist's work. but it certainly doesn't hurt to look beyond one's own work, it doesn't hurt to be able to put one's own work in some perspective. and it doesn't hurt to be able to prick a needle through the many balloons that are blown up around art.

what makes a rothko so valuable? mostly gpr (although i'm quite a fan myself). there are ways to expose much of this gpr-balloon. and this has been done, clearly, shockingly, more than once. artists can benefit from knowing these ways, i think. if they sense their legitimacy within, then they will be less easily subjected to gpr-legitimization blues. will address this in the next post.

mare de déu, anonymous artist (detail)
anonymous artist, mare de déu (detail)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

art, zen, inner compass & bioaesthetics

hakuin ekaku, mount fuji and eggplants
hakuin ekaku, mount fuji and eggplants

so what makes the above painting/drawing tick? i'm not sure it even ticks for me. must see it for real. these internet reproductions definitely fall short. am i strange to notice a large similarity with matisse?

somewhere, i think many famous `modern' artists (say past 1900) have been striving to attain some purification/simplification, the results of which have zenlike qualities (imnsho).

henri matisse, music
henri matisse, music

zen, experiencing of reality and quality before rationalization sets in. art...can also be experiencing of reality and quality before rationalization sets in.

but what does this have to do with bioaesthetics? i think it depends on points of view, definitions also (always the definitional problem which has to be dealt with if you are limited to words). but modulo that, there is much to be said for the idea that certain visual effects/images/colours/symbols/... work on our limbic system, pre-rationally or at least para-rationally.

but is this a static phenomenon? i'm convinced this is not so. developing visual sensitivity, developing visual libraries, developing visual both an ongoing cultural process as an ongoing individual process.

an insect reacting differently to different colours of flowers already shows us that bioaesthetics has a solid basis in biology. by solid i mean, verifiable and easily understandable. to skip to the human level, one only has to look at movie stars...they are invariably quite above average handsome/attractive/beautiful. well, according to what handsome/attractive/beautiful means i suppose. but bioaesthetically, there is quite some knowledge at what human beings consider to be handsome/attractive/beautiful. and again this knowledge is solid in the above sense. symmetrical face, good physical shape, good sexual shape. all is usually explained in terms of the current ideas of `offspring optimization' or `the selfish gene' and similar.

but you and i know that beauty is just skin deep...or is it? what about beauty of the heart, the mind, the soul? many artists appeal to the bioaesthetic kindergartenlevel. nice face, nice tits, nice ass & pussy, even the abundance of the naked female torso in art (headless! limbless! to me associating mostly with brutal crime) which can only -is there another explanation?- appeal to our reproductive sex bioaesthetical level. yet a stiff dick is taboo, and explicit sexual imagery is labeled pornographic and shunned.

one would not believe, i really mean this, how much an artist who addresses higher levels (although, what is higher, but see this in the light of higher mind functions, higher emotions etc) of bioaesthetics has to explain to `lay' people, in comparison to artists who produce yet the next mutilated female body.

so, inner compass? yes, of course. it is not in any sense objectifiably better (by its nature!) than generalized pagerank - outer compass, but the balance in modern society between inner and outer compass to me seems very much in need of restoration.

quality & art 7: bioaesthetics & neuroaesthetics

ok, i googled a bit on the theme of the previous post, and whaddayaknow, my thoughts fit in with an emerging branch of science called bioaesthetics. a quote from martin skov on :

Neuroaesthetics can be thought of as a part of a more general study of art and aesthetics as a biological phenomenon. I will follow other proponents of this view (such as Tecumseh Fitch) in calling this broader approach bioaesthetics. The overall goal of bioaesthetics is to answer the three basic biological questions – what?, how?, why? – in regard to aesthetic behaviour in humans: what is art and aesthetics?; how does art and aesthetics spring from the brain?; and why did this cognitive ability evolve in humans? Neuroaesthetics is predominantly concerned with question number 2. In the list that follows below I will also mention a number of books that discuss the other two questions.

martin skov's piece makes for good reading, and is relevant to the thought train here. please take the time to read the link!

but pirsig's thoughts on quality and art also merit more thinking. i'm still reading zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance and its views are surprisingly recognizable. in fact pirsigs defines art as a high-quality endeavor. (quality comes before rational thought, quality is zen-like, being the source of everything we experience, and more relevant remarks i would like to cite here but it really is better to read the book. still, the passage coming before some of these conclusions is a must:)

[zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, end of part ii:] know what it is, yet you don't know what it is. But that's self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There's nothing to talk about. But if you can't say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn't exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist. What else are the grades based on? Why else would people pay fortunes for some things and throw others in the trash pile? Obviously some things are better than others, but what's the "betterness"?...So round and round you go, spinning mental wheels and nowhere finding anyplace to get traction. What the hell is Quality? What is it?

i've been finding some traction -i believe- in the juxtaposition of generalized-pagerank quality vs. inner-compass quality.

[i also believe that many people who pay a fortune for certain art works do so more out of gpr-motivation then out of inner compass motivation. i believe many art `experts' wouldn't dare rely on their inner compass, waiting instead for enough gpr-buzz to base their valuations on. its a rembrandt, therefore it must be a wonderful painting!]

but pirsig's approach yields a more fundamental result: motorcycle maintenance can be art also. this at least goes a good way in explaining the difficulty for modern art to be sharply defined.

hakuin ekaku, mount fuji and eggplants
hakuin ekaku, mount fuji and eggplants

buddha, enlightenment, nature (frank waaldijk/joint work, 2006)
frank waaldijk & unknown artistbuddha, enlightenment, nature, 2006

Friday, May 23, 2008

quality & art 6: inner compass, art, music

still not done, but time nears for other thinking.

recap. an elusive quantity. to me, inner compass is preferable to outside gpr. but how does this inner compass function? [perhaps it would be better not to know?]

an interesting comparison to music has been keeping me occupied lately. music for the billions, it seems: music & movies & tv comprise the games in the modern version of old rome's `bread and games for the people'

pop star (own work, 1982)
pop star (own work, 1982)

there must be some explanation for the fact that music keeps so many people in thrall, whereas visual art seems to touch most people much less. look only at how pop stars are idolized...what visual artist is idolized? (not that idolization seems a desirable state of affairs, but it marks a very sharp difference in the appreciation of music vs. visual art). if we look in the visual realm for idolization, where do we end up? exactly, with movie stars.

i suspect it has something to do with the impact of music on our amygdala or `reptilian brain': the part of our brain which roughly equals the brain of a reptile and which scientists believe to have come first in our evolution. this reptilian brain of ours is responsible for our emotions and (primitive) basic feelings such as anxiety, joy, stress, relaxation, anger, agression etc [please bear with me as i'm not a neuroscientist].

perhaps along with the evolution of the human voice, much of our emotions seem to be capable of being communicated by and tied to certain sounds, musical lilts even. the soothing voice of father/mother but also the angry voice of father/mother...the roar of a lion vs the trickle of a clear stream with drinkable water...

therefore i (completely out of the blue, i know, i should probably check this first, and come back to you after some googling) suspect that music is capable of reaching the amygdala pretty directly, resulting in a profound emotional experience.

then what about art? --> next post

Sunday, May 18, 2008

quality & art 5: where to turn

ok. more positive now, as promised. cup half empty is cup half full etc.

somehow, art & quality cannot be about two completely different things. (will you grant me that feeling, then the following train of thought hopefuly will make sense.)

robert pirsig describes (in zen & the art of motorcycle maintenance) a meeting that phaedrus (his overintelligent former self) has with a visual artist. a very interesting meeting, because it breathes that art has an intrinsic, pre-logos quality. even the book title `...& the art...' makes clear that this intrinsic quality is what we're looking for. in art, yes, but in life perhaps even more.

the question then becomes: where to find this quality. phaedrus tried to find it by thinking. in what one could call a quantum leap, the post-electroshock phaedrus - pirsig himself- finds it (at least by my standards) in zen-like experiencing.

although not in one-one correspondence, it reminds me of the duality: look for quality by outside criteria (generalized page-rank, gpr, see previous posts) or look for quality by intrinsic criteria: what does my heart tell me.

for me it has been difficult to recognize this dilemma and the potential behind it. i wouldn't be surprised if this is similar to the dilemma that phaedrus was grappling with (i'm currently rereading the book but haven't gotten to that part yet, perhaps i will be seen to have been simply repeating it only less compelling...!)

let's have some positive yadiyada: i believe that -for me and many others- wonderful art develops when an artist chooses for intrinsic quality. when the heart and head are open, like a sensitive antennae/dish array, to many many signals, and where the inner compass of the artist then is given as much rein as possible. this inner compass, inner light, whatever...i think it is only confused by gpr.

obviously, this view of art is personal, although it is probably shared by many and also by many `experts'. this holds for probably any more or less coherent view on any subject, i only repeat this to emphasize that i do not believe in one view of art for all. i would like to share some of my thoughts on gpr and intrinsic quality, especially with artists who like myself struggle to find a sense of direction because they feel that the gpr-approach isn't what they want. this can be a lonesome struggle, because by gpr's nature, the gpr-aficionados drown out other approaches.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

kunstweek / art week (quality & art 4)

(this post is really a short postscript to the previous one, as illustration. new positivity follows right after this one!)

since about 5 yrs in the netherlands there is an initiative `kunstweek' (art week), which more or less out of the blue claims an election of `dutch artist of the year' (kunstenaar van het jaar).

of course, this has to be a joint effort from `public' (read internet) and `experts'. this year's expert panel contains some 100 names, with ... 0 visual artists among them. i am not joking, but it is al the more funny!

this is just to illustrate my point that artists have been manouvered to a secondary position when it comes to valuation of art. museum directors, journalists, curators, gallery owners, art historians...pull the strings.

can one expect alternative insights from such an election? or will it all be about artists already `discovered' getting some extra gpr...i leave to the reader to guess and smile.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

quality & art 3

imnsho a key issue with human (e)valuation of quality in art is that we lack `objective' and common (= sufficiently shared) criteria / perspectives / touchstones / communication handholds even.

is it so strange to say that art creates its own quality?

historically (if we stick to a societal definition of quality, meaning generalized page rank, see previous posts) this seems to be the case, YET -just like the situation where e.g. christ would come to modern society and proclaim himself, who would believe him today?- we seem to wish to judge art by existing gpr standards.

most people -including (yes terrible) art `experts'- even want this judgement to take at most a few seconds, preferably less, because... well i suppose because time is money or you might miss out on some other wonderful painting or something like that.

also interesting is that today the quality of art is often judged from the gpr-fueled perspective of what the role of art should be in society. therefore some moral-philosophical viewpoint of `art-derived experts / power brokers' co-determines the gpr-valuation of a given artwork / artist. there seems to be little (self-)reflection by these brokers on the situation. some art curators seem to hold beliefs -i'm serious- that one cannot leave art to the artists, since they lack overview and insight in the role of art. artists are useful for providing the building stones of a much grander artwork: the curators' collection / exhibition / statement.

so one can come across statements that modern art `should be' (i'm parafrasing but not off the mark) about the basic human struggle with life, like sex, death, misery, joy etc. or it `should be' to show / tell/ educate the viewer about some profound aspect of modern society which the viewer hadn't yet (couldn't of course) discover[ed] without this particular art work.

the new clothes of the emperor: who gains from saying they might be less than the gpr-buzz would have us believe?

i know i probably sound mighty negative here! but once again: honestly, do you hear this kind of sound often? or are you ususually drowned in the gpr-buzz? oh, this artist is so wonderful! this art is so profound! it shows the gallery visitor that a gallery can have a completely different meaning! the locked door symbolizes the difficulty one can experience with understanding modern art, and one's own heart. so one has to climb the stairs on the opposite building, to see -with a telescope!- the exhibited art works inside. the artist makes us feel the impossibility of communicating directly, the loneliness of the artistic existence, the longing to be with the ones we love but who stay out of close reach, so that we end up with just some peeks in their true treasures, etc etc etc.

so, let me end on a positive note with an artwork i really appreciate, `even' if it already has high gpr...! ;-)

panamarenko, scotch gambitpanamarenko, scotch gambit

i promise to make the next posts on a different and more positive note!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

quality and art 2: hype, fiction, pirsig & page rank continued

(ok where was i. my problem with a blog like this one is that i cannot begin to write as fast as what my thoughts should like for speed, and also i cannot write for any spells due to rsi. so i have to cut it up in pieces, but then the train of thought becomes one of those public transportation misadventures...)

so if i cannot determine quality (even restricted to art) consistently even for myself, how should i be able to communicate to others what i mean by it? does it even have some sort of meaning or ... are we all just fooling ourselves and each other? is quality just fiction? [just justifying the mystifying title of these blogposts explicitly]

i can however look at the mechanisms which cause some science, art, music, cars, bridges, food,... to be given the predicate `quality' by ... `experts' - and from the experts the general public soon follows / or by the general public - and from the general public the `experts' soon follow...

in the end what it boils down to, in my not so humble opinion (imnsho), is that we humans have not got a better `objective' concept of quality than what i would call generalized page rank. consider each human to be like a web page, having some page rank. consider some humans to be expert, these get a high generalized page rank (gpr). then see what kind of buzz (=gpr) a certain subject (for instance an art work, or an artist) generates to determine its `objective' quality.

[i apologize to those readers who do not know how google calculates page rank, but the web overflows with info on this]

obviously, there are many snags behind this way of determining quality. it yet is the current practice in almost all disciplines i know of. one obvious snag is that this gpr-business leads to hypes: things that create a buzz because they create a buzz because everyone is busy buzzing about it...until the hype moves on and people wonder: why was anybody ever truly interested in this for longer than five days?

and this is where i believe pirsigs approach is valuable, on the personal level. because if i drop the prerequisite that i should be able to communicate objectively what quality is, then i can explore quality on the personal, probably non-verbal level.

as an artist, i feel this is what i should do - disregarding gpr- mechanisms and especially hype-like buzzing. to be continued.

Monday, May 5, 2008

quality and art: hype, fiction, pirsig & page rank

many things. many things i've been thinking, about quality. quality being half of my current life motto, the other half being love. (is there any real difference between the two? spiritual love can be seen as quality in human relations, quality can be seen as love of what is good. but what is good? what is spiritual love?)

this weekend i visited the rijksmuseum in amsterdam. took my children there to see some art treasures, only to find...that even on a personal level i cannot consistently experience let alone define quality.

the paintings that i was especially looking forward to enjoy: rembrandt's de staalmeesters and the jewish bride and the milkmaid by johannes vermeer. in de staalmeesters i was happy to find once more my admiration for the red tablecloth: a true and wonderful abstract painting hidden in a group portrait. but the jewish bride left me less thrilled than on earlier visits. and the milkmaid didn't hardly touch me at all.

rembrandt, de staalmeestersrembrandt, de staalmeesters

a self-portrait by rembrandt on the other hand i enjoyed for something perhaps strange; it gave me the following feeling: a man looks at me, knowing i will look at him-on-canvas when he is long gone and also knowing that he is a master far ahead of his contemporaries - not per se in skill alone, but especially in vision, in artistic feeling and experiencing reality, and therefore also in rendering reality - and knowing that i will appreciate this where most of his contemporaries lack the necessary depth of development of visual/philosophical issues.

rembrandt, self-portrait as the apostle paulrembrandt, self-portrait as the apostle paul

ok, i've hardly begun touching on what i want to say, but this post is long enough, will be continued.