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.


danonymous said...

Serena says......most people can't answer the question--if I'm not making art to aggrandize my ego, what am I making it for?

I think this is one of those pivotal points but I think the situation is that I think most people don't even think to ask the question.....on a very CONSCIOUS level.
I think that an artist staement is first and foremost for the artist, not the press or the public. It is to get in touch with the why and what of what I do. I wrote one in 2000, then tried to rewrite it in 2002. It took till late 2005 to write the second statement. All my attempts were flat...and then a three line statement made my body shake.

danonymous said...

Serena said....this evening I put on some Gregorian chant and drew a mandala. Boring, I know. Predictable. Decorative.

Borrrrrring....Predictabbbble, plebian..... but those words have nothing to do with drawing the mandala. They are "critic" words whose place, rightly or wrongly, come after the work is completed.
The art process is usually (not always) bewtween the artist and the work exclusively. Then come the "critic" words...positive or negatice, expectations, etc.
When doing the is magical when everything outside of the work is mostly forgotten.....
By the way.....I do some very intricate and massively repetitive work sometimes. I love when people comment about how much patience it takes.
It made me realize that it does not require patience. If it required patience, I couldn't do it. I would shoot myself. It requires giving up.

serena said...

most people don't even think to ask the question.....on a very CONSCIOUS level.

You're exactly right, and what's more, they find it extremely disturbing when someone DOES ask the question. Which is understandable, since most of us are so unthinkingly identified with a separate ego-identity that we can't imagine anything beyond it.

But it is also true that it is about letting go, and letting the work be worked through you. When that happens, suddenly everything is easy and joyful, and criticism ceases to have meaning.

Chris Rywalt said...

What if I am making art to aggrandize my ego?

I sometimes wonder why I bother. Honestly, I think -- I read this quote somewhere, I can't place it, but it basically said that art is a biological function. And that's how it is for me: I have to do these things, the way I have to breathe.

I often think it would easier if I didn't have to do these things.

danonymous said...

Chris, there is nothing wrong with making art to aggrandize your ego. But then the function within that art would have to aggrandize your ego and not just point to you and say look at Chris...a one way arrow sign would do that effectively enough. Your art would have to EFFECTIVELY aggrandize your ego and I'm not sure that that is in any way bad. Good art/bad art depends on what you do with it and how far you can go.
as for the rest of your comment, I like that you feel that have to do it like breathing.
Your feelings are pretty much irrelevant. You have to do it.
Lucky lucky...I feel the same way....if I understood you correctly.
Like Serena mentioned in an earlier entry(?) doing all these things thrashing too...but i ALWAYS finally do work. I can mostly keep the thrashing to under two hours and then work. Took 30 years to get there. But hey....who's in a hurry?
Plastic replacement parts should be available for me just in time so I can finish my 80 year apprenticeship and kick in with some serious work for the next two hundred years.

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