Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Obsession Phenomenon

You know you're at a New York Art World schmooze-a-thon when every person you meet tells you what they're obsessed with. "Hi, my name is Tanya, and I'm obsessed with pink." "I'm Gordon; currently I'm obsessing upon the interaction of architectural structures with the interlay of the multi-ethnic psyche." "Edmund Fecund. You've heard of my father, the Famous Painter, Louis Fecund. I'm obsessed with painting. And sculpture. Both."

This sort of thing has become my new definition of "poseur." True obsessives are not at art parties; they're at home, rolling in pink paint, or writing unreadable treatises on the interaction of architectural structures with the multi-ethnic psyche. We all know this. Art world people tell you their 'obsessions' because they're desperately trying to be taken seriously as artists. A total lack of balance, perspective and sanity has now become the required state of consciousness for anyone who hopes to catch the eye of a Big-ass Dealer, let alone get a write-up in Art in America.

This is tragic. What does it say about our society and culture, when anyone who wants to make a name as an artist feels compelled to lay claim to mental illness?

The Van Gogh syndrome has gotten completely out of hand. Poor old Vince himself was a model of wisdom and psychological equilibrium, compared to what is expected of artists these days. We are driven to stake out an obscure aesthetic/conceptual niche and pursue it to ridiculous extremes, at the expense of nearly everything else, except art parties.

Is this helpful? Is it worthwhile? Is it even interesting?

As you may have noticed, I have been drawing some mandalas, lately. I would not go so far as to say that I am obsessed with them; I am, however, doing a lot of them, for no other reason than that I feel compelled to do so. As I work, I notice myself re-learning some principles of classical design, even of architecture; the balance between geometric and organic form, between symmetry and torsion, tension and harmony.

Mainly, though, I would call this a meditative process. Meditation is different from obsession in that it is a process of emptying, not filling; expansion, not narrowing. In all other respects it appears to be the same--a single-minded pursuit of one specific thing. The result, however, tends to be peace of mind, rather than madness.

I have no idea what I am going to do with all of these mandalas, but they look sort of nice pinned up in my studio. They create a nice tension with the big, sloppy, non-symmetrical canvases stacked everywhere.

This one is called, I think, "Crater." I'm not sure what I think of it. Actually, that's not true--I think it is beautiful, but I am not confident that anybody else will see its beauty but me. It's difficult, and perhaps just appears foolish.


Chris Rywalt said...

I'm not sure if I'd call it beautiful, but "Crater" looks cool.

I'm having trouble finding the right words for things. The word "cool" keeps coming up, even though I'm starting to feel like using it makes me old. I want to sort of say nice, and neat, and interesting, and well done, all at once, and I end up with "cool."

I could also say "groovy," but, um, that may be worse than "cool."

I like it. How's that?

danonymous said...

First off, I like seeing the progression in the mandalas. I am sold on repetitive work that has incremental change. Think Philip Glass and even more so Steve Reich.
I mean "guts" to go there....and time to look and pick up on other rythms than boom-boom. I think that kind of work takes a lot of self-control not to jump to conclusions and to be able to wait....and wait....and wait...until you see the light turn green....
I like crater, although ascreen image and the real work may be quite different....but looks like you are on the edge of something for yourself, between the mandalas and the luck ( i.e. may your focus not waiver)

serena said...

Thanks, guys! I'll accept "I like it," particularly as I now have some idea of the kind of stuff you DON'T like, Chris. Even though the three Big No-No's in poetry crit class were, "I like it. It's nice. It flows."

I do not think this painting flows, at all, at all.

Interesting that you should mention Philip Glass, Dano. His music used to leave me cold, but now I can't get enough of it. The incremental changes are incredibly exciting to me, for some reason.

This 'Crater' painting is the first time in a long time that I'm attempting to deal with creating tension between a large, chunky color/light/energy field and a small, finicky, detailed form. I have always known that this could be taken to nearly infinite extremes; it's the sort of thing I'm going to have to do about 100 of before coming to any conclusions.

danonymous said...

P.S. On the link to the
Thomas Hirschhorn show at Barbara Gladstone....
I love nails imbedded in sculpture...but I have to say I have never seen them used as nearly as effectively as in "primitive Congolese art" where the sense of oppression, domination
(both by white imperialist opportunists or local chieftans)and submission is so much better dealt with. No screw guns, no fresh
packages of Home Depot 12 penny nails, just old rusty and flat-cut flooring nails probably fromthe time of the Belgium domination of the area and the ensuing cultural transformation that led to a nation of servants and dictators like Mobutu, not unlike the Bush-Cheney administration.

danonymous said...

Serena, about a hundred is a good goal to shoot for....and there should be a road lined with a few hundred conclusions discarded, and not along the way. Have fun.
And if you perchance come full circle to where you begun...well...
only Alice knows what she went through

Chris Rywalt said...

Serena sez:
Even though the three Big No-No's in poetry crit class were, "I like it. It's nice. It flows."

The trouble I have -- Jim Wolanin said to me that he thought the good reviews are easy to write, and the bad ones hard, but for me it's the opposite. If I don't like something I can pull out the thesaurus and go to town, calling the artist's ancestry into question, comparing it to bodily fluids, the whole thing. If I like it, all I can really do is say, yeah, I liked this. Go see it for yourself!

Saying something is "nice" is often thought an insult -- who wants to be nice? But, really, it covers so much of how I feel about things. If I don't love a painting, but there's nothing to hate about it, I think it's nice. It's pretty. It's good to look at. It'd make a good poster. I wouldn't mind owning it. These aren't bad things.

But everyone wants to ROCK YOUR WORLD, right? So if my world isn't rocked, then the work hasn't achieved its purpose. Right?

I don't know. Not everything can be the most awesome painting in the world. There's room under there.

I honestly would love it if people looked at my paintings and said "HOLY CRAP!" That's my ideal reaction: HOLY CRAP! But they don't. So they don't, no big deal.

danonymous said...

Hey CHris...nice post. How'd you stumble on being so sensible?
I love what I do but the art is less important in my world than my making it.
I met this guy, Jef Bourgeau in Detroit. He's been an incredible innovator of alt space for artists. Had The Museum of New Art put together pretty much singlehandedly, and is on his feet ALL THE TIME.
He was talking about what if each person was regarded as a museum instead of a building with a bunch of individual pieces.
WHat I ended up taking from that over a period of that I am the central ingredient in all the art I produce. Any individual piece is just a miniscule fragment of this museum called "me".
This also ties into the gallery as bodega concept. They sell what they can get their hands for and can also sell. Which is fine. BUt the museum is each individual artist.

Chris Rywalt said...

Danonymous asks:
How'd you stumble on being so sensible?

The Internet makes it easy. In real life I'm much more annoying.

painterdog said...

I have been checking out your blog.
I see that you went SFAI,
what year?
I like the rant on the MFA.
I went back to school later in life to get one, a state school, and it was a waste of time. Your right about the teaching thing. I have been tring for years, and the most you can make as an adjunct is about 28k a year and that's teaching over 4 classes a semester.

Don't get me started on the politics, this place was out of control with it.

The MFA thing only works if you go to "hot schools" like Yale or Colombia, at least you get a shot.

I sometime think that a third o the art schools in this country could close down and it would be a good thing.

I like the blog its interesting to and funny and sad and you express some things I guess a lot of people think about.

In the end its only art, it does nothing for anyone except the collectors and the posers who are REAL HUNGRY to MAKE IT...

I know an person like this, he's real desprate to make "it" getting older over 40...

He is a very sad person and well his work is not very good, but that's not the point, it not how good you are its how much crap you want to put up with.

painterdog said...

sorry for the typos, its late...

serena said...

Hey painterdog!

If you want the lowdown on my era at SFAI, try this. I still get the occasional email from some poor sod of a former SFAI student who says, "Yes, it was EXACTLY like that, thank you."

Thanks, I should do a sidebar link to the MFA rant, it seems to strike a chord with a lot of people. Community colleges are where it's at! Technique without bullshit!

painterdog said...

Did you know a photographer named Jacobs?

God that discription sounded like my program in so many ways.

It was bad if you were not in the click.

I was not...

I hated it an almost droped out by the end of the first semester.

By then it was clear that I would never get any letters of recommendations from any of the professors. I was older so my BS meter was a bit more turned on.
I guess they kind of were aware of that or I projected it, so it was strange right away. They ran this thing like some kind of frat house, the women in the program hated that part, but if they wanted anything they played the "game".
Oh and how about the 3 to 4 spaces out of 10 to 12 that they reserved for their friends students from other institutions... that was nice, seeing how nepitisim played out...

enough ranting. it was interesting though. and that was a state school!
at least i didn't have to pay a lot for the abuse. hehe...

I have a friend who teaches full time and she hates it. It's a lot of stress and if you don't get tenure your finished.
That is, you can't teach anymore, your done. Career over...

That was one thing that other person left out about her husbands job. No tenure no job, nada, forever.


danonymous said...

unfortunately, Chris, I understand.......that little gap between bytes allows one to sound saner than one is. Good, allows us to fool people.

Lisa Hunter said...

I love your observation about obsessives. My dad says that whenever he's in New York at lunch time, no matter which restaurant he goes to, the conversation at the next table is always about an incompetent work supervisor who doesn't deserve his/her job. At dinner it's about a relationship with someone who won't commit. Thanks for filling in the missing link of cocktail party standard fare.