Monday, June 05, 2006
This weekend I finally got around to seeing "Art School Confidential," which was a bit of a disappointment. I felt like they could have taken the satire much farther, and developed the characters a lot more, without resorting to the extremism of a murder plot. There is no shortage of absurd dialogue to be copped in the halls of an art school, and the movie only scratched the surface.
The movie made me think, again and still, about the problem of egotism--the HUGE problem of egotism--in the Art World. A large part of the problem is that most people can't answer the question--if I'm not making art to aggrandize my ego, what am I making it for?
Many artists take refuge in some sort of political or social Message, but I believe that's a red herring. If we're honest with ourselves, we know that people don't change their political beliefs because of an art exhibit, no matter how compelling. Political art is more about the artist's conscience than the effect it has on the external world.
Quite awhile ago, I admitted to myself that for me, art is explicitly a spiritual practice, with an emphasis on the word practice. Not only is the content of my work spiritual, but the actual process of making it is the point. It is about engaging, about being present; when I am truly engaged, I find inner peace. Hopefully this peace will then extend itself to the viewer of the work, although I have little control over that. Truly spiritual art has no agenda--I can't force other people to be peaceful if I'm not there myself.
When I forget why I'm making art, I immediately become miserable and can't work at all. If I get caught up in some Statement that I'm trying to convey, some Original Thing I'm trying to Do, like the Art World expects us to, I'm toast. This is why I frequently get derailed right after getting inspired, by, say, a visit to the Jennifer Coates exhibit or the Rufino Tamayo Museum.
Because largely, I believe, every born artist does what they do. You can study technique, develop your talent and your insight, do your best to live consciously, and work like a dog. But you can't fundamentally decide to be a certain type of artist just because you want to be. You have to figure out what comes naturally, and enhance it.
This is why debates on "should this artist be doing this? Is this Original?" drive me bananas. For me, this is the wrong question. For me, the question is, "Is this Ego, or is it Real?"
That's why, after a week of futzing around with Dr. Seuss paintings, and doing a lot of yoga, secretarial work, and vacuuming, this evening I put on some Gregorian chant and drew a mandala. Boring, I know. Predictable. Decorative.
But working with a rigid, decorative, symmetrical form can be paradoxically freeing. The totally open field of the modern art world can be paralyzing; it's rather like being a miner. 'You're given complete freedom to do anything you like, provided you get hold of two tons of coal every day.'
I've got a curator making a studio visit in a week and a half; this is probably also why I'm stressing. Two tons of mandalas might not be such a bad idea.