Archive for the ‘X-tra Articles’ Category

Critical Notes and Articles

Posted: January 13, 2012 in X-tra Articles

Art should be ‘human’

Early work by T.L. MANN

Concerning the Interface Paintings—the discourse on this subject may all sound a little strange, but this is only because we have gotten so far away from what art should be: ‘human’. And the issues expressed here, as well as the art of the Interface paintings, are expressly meant to be fundamentally human ones. Standards to go by in this respect are Monet, Cézanne, Picasso, and someone like Rothko in the abstract department—not to mention all the classic examples such as Michelangelo and his Piéta. The early painting by T.L. MANN, shown at left, shows his desire, from the beginning, to make humanistic art. It also shows an early appreciation, from the beginning, of the importance of mass or material—what he considers to be more than an image, that is to say, something real—a block from the frame has been gouged out and pasted onto the painting as the man’s nose.

The “one-song-wonder” syndrome

At the outset of the Interface Painting work, I wanted to discover all the visual ideas that lend themselves to the Interface concept, which is part of the means of ensuring yourself that you do not fall prey to the “one-song-wonder” syndrome—the syndrome that the young artists so often fall prey to, notably in music, where they are capable of doing one admirable thing, hearing one catchy melody, after which, they are incapable of doing anything else new in the way of an attractive composition. Along with this in-depth research, I strived to make the paintings as complete—as worthy—as possible. The theme/theory of the Interface Painting is perfectly suited to this rigor, any ‘excuses’ in opposition to rigeur by others is, of course, to be avoided. To better understand this, see the enumerated points at the bottom of the “Loophole” article.

The ‘manufacturing’ look

In that which concerns my work, the choice of a typical wood structure-frame is due to several things: firstly, and all too simply, wood is a material that I can exploit myself in my studio. Also: wood is a simple material, a most common sort found in nature—this natural simplicity being a fundamental goal sought after by the interface. And by such means I aim to evoke a more genuine, human feeling, imperative in my work, and especially so in the face of the manufacturing look of all the artificial art on the market today in the form of molded plastic rabbits, polished painted-metal carnival balloons (and this, by the most famous of artists), etc. Indeed, beware of the ‘art makers’ today who, devoid of anything really professional (read meaningful) to say, resort to a « manufacturing » look, as a sort of professionalism, to make up for their work’s shortcomings. Lastly, concerning the wood material: it is the most massive thing one can reasonably hang on the wall as a painting without the thing falling down. If not for this consideration, I would use the heaviest, densist, most massive material imaginable to represent the solidity I am looking for…I think a painting, or image of something is a secondary reality. It is not the thing itself, which is more what I’m trying to capture.

To Note: the value of art work in today’s bling-bling culture is being associated with its price tag. The higher the price tag, the better the work. To justify the exorbitant price, artwork displaying flashy manufacturing technicity is often enough—no research/work on the part of the artist into truly original forms, concepts, or any other aesthetic concerns are realized. Once the incredibly high price is established, by someone buying it (a collector often in league with the art merchant), the artist is famous—because of the high price paid for his work. And fame, in today’s hyper media environment seals the deal when it comes to proof as to whether or not an artwork is to be considered important. If the artist is famous, he is somebody, important, and his art, however truly vacuous, is, in the vacuum-like mind of the vulnerable masses, truly valued. In fact, those investing in art in today’s hyper mediatized world often do so on the basis of how promising an artist looks in the way of mediatizing him or herself; read, how promising the artist looks in the way of making a spectacle of him or herself.

Insider Trading

As with the artist, it is as important today for the art merchant to be famous. This is particularly true where the phenomena of “insider trading” in art is the case. As mentioned above, collectors are in league with certain art merchants who, together, create an artificial market of ‘fine’ art: The art merchant becomes famous for incredibly expensive art. Artists are artificially established by such merchants to furnish the product. The collector gets a life, as it were, and makes a safe pecuniary bet at the same time. Such, then is the artificial market of art. The work that is bought and sold, though, has no true human value, only some extraordinary monetary value, which, along with the sheen on some giant carnival balloon of painted metal, the buyer is very well satisfied with. This, in fact is a form of insider trading, which is outlawed on the financial markets of course. In the world of bling-bling art, it represents a seemingly sure fire alternative for saavy, however uncultured, investors. Also, see “The Manufacturing Look” above.

Removing the veil of Mother Nature

Painting, executing a painting with the necessary harmony, composition and such is an acquired talent, which is fine but what is more important is discovering something meaningfully new with this talent. A newly meaningful discovery must be considered more important than the demonstration of technique or acquired talent, even if the newly meaningful discovery is not accompanied by any masterly technique. In short, merely demonstrating technique, acquired talent, is not on the same level as realizing an intellectual find or discovery with your talent. (It would be the same with accounting by the way: being good with numbers is a natural talent and learning the intricacies of this business is acquired talent, or technique, but hashing this stuff out according to conventional practices in the field of accounting is not the same, is not as admirable, is someone who, with the force of his mind and imagination discovers a simpler, more profitable, even ‘elegant’ way to “balance the books”, if you will.) This is why I am particularly interested in visual concepts—ones outside the normal, typical scope of those aesthetic considerations that are standard in any art student’s learning process. It makes me think of that painting proclivity whereby one moves the paint around on the canvas until he gets something that works harmoniously. This in fact is easy for anyone involved in painting but coming up with powerful, well defined visual concepts and ‘calculating’ them in such a way that they all work together while respecting the theme behind the work at the same time is much more difficult and interesting to me. When I think of this I am reminded of the poetic commentary often expressed when considering the work of a scientist whose discovery has helped remove the veil of Mother Nature so to speak.

One final comment, or rather impression, comes to mind. Even though my work, art, is meaningless in the sense that it serves no practical purpose as does science, it seems that when I look into the frame delimiting one of my works—whatever else is going on anywhere else, anywhere else anywhere in the whole entire universe, I don’t care—and whatever it is about the rules governing it—I don’t care about any of it, am not responsible for it. Inside the frame however, this part of the universe is mine, occupied by the rules seen therein.

The Fine Art Network, Confirming the Definition of Decadence

Work by Claire-Jeanne Jézéquel

Many people would say that if there is one thing certain to say about decadence, it is that it is certain, a part of an unavoidable birth-life-death-rebirth cycle. Socio-economically speaking, decadence is primarily attributed to the great wealth of a society, which makes things too easy for its people. Commonly put, the people are spoiled, with all its negative consequences: being lazy, apathy, etc. Another factor which must be considered though, is the length of time that has been behind your society to make it this way. This length of time may bring about the simple matter-of-fact situation whereby everything seems already to have been done, thereby leaving you with a situation where only the crappy stuff—that no one would do otherwise—is the only thing left to be done.

In the arts, painting and sculpture is particularly accused of being in this unfortunate state today. Indeed, it seems to be anything and everything. And because of this, all the different players, the so-called ‘experts’, in the field of art count on each other to justify there decision as to whether something is to be considered ‘fine’ art, and promoted as such. An artist most always needs a bachelor of fine arts degree to be accepted by a gallery whose business is to promote the important artists of the future, “avant-garde” artists whose originality is worthy of particular attention by the public. A gallery promoting such artists needs the art he promotes purchased by museums, or famous collectors, to testify to the fact that his artists are indeed ‘real,’ important artists. But the art curator of a museum needs the prestigious gallery just as much—to ‘testify’ to the fact that such or such a purchase by the museum is the work of a bona fide ‘real,’ important artist. The journalist-art critic also has a fundamental role to play in the network. Whether his critique is good or bad seems to make no difference—perhaps a bad one is even better in view of the exceptional interest that people place on controversy, and in view of the state of decadence we currently find ourselves in, if indeed this is the state we’re in. One thing for sure, the fact that the art work is being “documented” makes all the more difference in today’s hyper mediatized society.

So, with all the outrageous work seen and contested by the people today, it is imperative that these different actors cover their ass when making a decision on what is or is not to be considered ‘fine’ art, that is to say, art worthy of being pushed onto a general public and into their museums. And this interdependence is often such that, to make certain crap art fly, they’re all in league together from the very beginning.

But would this situation be any better—and I am not looking for an excuse—if painting/sculpture (unique-pieces type art) were judged in the same way as the other arts (mass produced art) such as literature, music, cinema…? Here it would be the sales figures that decide: the number of books or albums sold, the number of concert or movie goers rung up at the cash registers. Here, we have the likes of Lady Gaga and Gangnam Style.

In conclusion: as we know, the popular masses are harbingers of certain atrocities, but the network of ‘experts,’ who we would expect to be better, are faring no better, are nothing less than dismal and unfair. Now that is—in view of the fact that ‘unavoidable’ seems to be a primary attribute of it—a sure-fire sign of decadence.
Note: According to many important art critics, the commercial end of the art network is so strong that museum curators, who are supposed to be the people’s guarantee of quality art, are often sidestepped, that is to say, the money and hype created by the other actors is sufficient to decide what is ‘fine art’, and what winds up in museums, without the curators being able to do anything effectively about it. See “The Manufacturing Look” and “Insider Trading” above.

What is art?

To answer this question, whose response seems so elusive, we need to start from the beginning, dig a little deeper, to our roots if you will. Let us then, refer to man’s fundamental characteristics, in terms of his biological needs: The most important is to provide for his safety, to assure he is free of predatory dangers. Next comes food and shelter from the elements. Once these primary human needs are provided for, man can think about sex and so on. These human needs are all commonly agreed upon and spoken of as instincts in the field of biology, and more generally, in the human sciences field.
However, to answer our question: What is art ?, we must introduce another less spoken of human characteristic to this list, one that is less spoken of though just as fundamental: a human being’s identity. By identity, I mean in the psycho-biological sense. We must not forget that our identity is as much a part of our being as one of our arms or legs. The mind may be more abstract in a certain sense, but its essence, one’s identity, is just as real and necessary in one’s development as one of his physical appendages.

So, once man is out of bodily danger and has ensured his food requirements, he may think of other things, and as I have said, his identity is of primary importance and art is an expression of this. You may even say that the expression of it is the true realization and reassurance of it, in the same reassuring, physical way that an arm or leg is there, visible, easy to see—god forbid our exclamation if they weren’t. With this in ‘mind’, as it were, it is clear that art is more than a superficial or spurious human need. Indeed, it is obvious that people, given all the attention they show towards it—art—can’t live without it.

To conclude, and to answer our question: What is art?, I would say that art is a fundamental human need, as is food and shelter. And in the same way that the human being, his body, his physical survival, has need for food and shelter; the mind, or the person hosting the mind, has need for an identity, the sustenance of which, is ensured and realized through spiritual reflection, translated into physical form, through artistic expression.

Gangnam style, a case study in stupidity

Should one want to understand such a fascination for such crapola, as that which can be seen in the gangnam style song and dance craze, one would have to draw from a minimum of formal psychological instruction at the least—would have to consider, for example, the basic fact that our mind is made up of two levels of awareness: the conscious and subconscious levels. Gangnam style, obviously an unabashed manifestation of a simpleton’s mind for all to see, does make one wonder: why indeed do they unveil themselves as such?

Well, a certain psychological analysis should lead us to the following realization: if the people acting out such silliness were asked to consider what they were doing, this call to seriousness of sorts would destroy the silly act’s very interest. This perhaps, is where our mind’s dual nature comes into play. Sometimes, if not most of the time, people just want to act without reflection, subconsciously as it were. They want to act out primal impulses, call attention to themselves, however vainly, avoid the logical, however silly the result—not to mention to just plain get stupid. Nonetheless, we must not not consider the fact that a lot of people such as these gangnam style types are just plain stupid to begin with, through and through, and may actually see something creative, something intellectually rewarding in the act.

Be what it may, I think that the case with popular art such as this cited above may be forgiven to the extent that no one is taking it seriously to the point of considering it ‘art’, and certainly not ‘fine art’. What may be troubling on the other hand is the official ‘fine art’ that is cluttering up our museums (that one has to pay for against his or her will), and how supposedly learned, cultured people (officials/professionals in the world of art) are either deluded into thinking this work is ‘fine’ or else they in fact know better but couldn’t care less because they are nothing more than vulgar merchants in nothing more than a vulgar flea market.

Too Good to Be Taken for What it Is?


An excellent piece by Geneviève Boschel that went unsold at her 2013 exhibition in Paris. Too good to be taken for what it is: good?

Sometimes when viewing a pleasing work of art, the viewer may reject it. Most curiously, this may occur for the viewer even upon discerning the reasons for its success. Or perhaps it is due to the very reason that he has discerned the reasons for its success. As one would expect, due to the curious nature of the phenomena, there are seemingly limitless, boundless, qualifying points that need to be considered in the way of explanations, but before you can even begin to explore these explanations you first have to recognize the above fact in its  brute matter-of-fact form. Again, upon seeing what appears to be a successful work of art, and even if discerning the reasons explaining its success, you may reject it, be let down, or turned off, at this point.
This may be the antipodal phenomena to that situation wherein, upon seeing a piece of art work with no apparent quality/value, the mind elects not to reject it outright, but instead, invites itself to understand the reason(s) behind its success (explain why it’s on display to the public), often going on to invent them when in fact absolutely none exists—all the more true in the general scheme of things, that is to say, in view of the general ontological precept whereby the existence of something, anything, any one thing, may require an interplay of its opposite.
I want to focus however on the strong implications of the idea at the outset:upon seeing what appears to be a successful work of art—even the visual proof of it, the aesthetic concepts that explain its success—you may be let down, or turned off, at this point—so much so that this reaction seems to have more to do with hard-wired neurophysiology than any free thinking spirit or thought process on your part.
To the extent that this phenomena does exist—and given the curious nature of man, one should not be surprised that it does—a certain understanding of it would seem interesting, if not flat-out important, considering the importance that society places on art in general, and considering the great controversial nature that contemporary art has come to take on in our lives: What is art? What is this crap doing in my museum? Why can’t we have more of this instead?
However, in the end it may be that it is too complicated when communicating with another person on this subject, so the impossibility of any truly satisfactory truth between parties leaves no other solution other than for each other to defend his own personal truth. This having been said, I would nonetheless venture a guess, or propose certain postulates in the form of extreme reference points, within which, a certain truth, some truth, may or must lie. These postulates are the following:

  • There’s a facet of a person’s personality which doesn’t like himself, or at least, doesn’t trust himself. This is typically portrayed in our culture as the little devil sitting on one’s shoulder trying to influence one’s better judgment.
  • As an individual, even if you benefit from better judgment, you may be distracted by the opinions of the masses, of the collective consciousness, the society to which you belong and depend, by the mediatization of the shit that rules and abounds because, all too simply, this shit is simple enough to communicate—and shocks the normal sensibilities of the individuals who are looking for anything in support of their dismay—anything against the constraints placed on them as individuals in the society to which, and by which, they are bound. Ironically, they are in league with one vulgar, negative aspect of society in order to vindicate their loss attributed to another negative effect of society. But what is above all important for our understanding of the situation at hand is the realization that the only thing that matters for these people is whether or not something is famous. If it is famous, it’s worth it. If it is not famous, it’s worthless. Period.
Gao Brothers_Naked Idiot with Workers

The ‘famous’ Gao brothers.

Take a look at this Facebook culture crap, this mass media masochist’ s trap. No technique: the brainless effort of taking a picture and having it printed for you—and taking one’s clothes off, what an astute device to impress upon people the importance of the idea you have to express!

  • Perhaps a few factors have to come together to explain the issue at hand: one) you detect reason for a successful work, two) the natural reaction of your mind to find a reference point is triggered producing an opposing viewpoint, three) you don’t trust yourself anyway, or at least tend to think that any great work has to be above your normal comprehension and that the fact that a work is not readily understandable qualifies it, for you, as such. Result: you don’t really appreciate the work in question in any real sensorial way, but are taken in by it nonetheless—down some obscure hall of some abstract thought process as it were.
  • I, the writer of this text, the one proposing this so-called phenomena, some self-proclaimed ayatolah of art, may have come to complicate things too much and have all too simply invented it all; though I insist, something ‘twisted’ has to be proposed to explain such twisted selections that are commonly found in the greater public domain, that is to say, in prestigious art galleries, or worse, in our museums.

For further postulates explaining crap art, see list at the bottom of the “Loophole article”.