Jan. 2012: Donald Sultan’s juror’s statement for the Katonah Museum Tri-State Juried Exhibition gave me pause. “Today there are too many crutches for people (sic: artists) to hide behind,” says Sultan. “That includes- ideologies, pasting junk together, random installations words, craft, and so on.” Other mediums can be used in this show if they adhere to the juror’s desire for clarity of expression in the simplest medium. Ok I find this confusing.
Crutch? Hide? I’m not thin enough to hide behind one anyway, but…painting, drawing or sculpting, the “ok to use media” in the Sultan statement involve the use of crutches, aka tools, to create a work of art. The brush, pencil or the stick our fore-artists used is a crutch. And speaking of innovation in tools, some art historians think paint may have been blown onto cave walls by mouth to create some of the great wall paintings. (“no mouth blown paint allowed.” I can see the prospectus now! What we would have missed…)
Clearly some visionary artists, past and present, have used those nasty crutches: installations-Christo , pasting junk together - Red Grooms, Picasso, Richard Chamberlain, ideology- Leonardo-Christianity, , Monet-Impressionism, words -Barbara Kruger, Warhol, Braque , craft -Peter Voulkos, appropriation – read NYT Apropos Appropriation 1,1/12 . Let your own mind play with the possibilities…
Limiting a show to three mediums is interesting/fair/ fine/juror’s prerogative; the part that isn’t fine is denigration of the art and artists who have chosen the so–called crutches. Artists who step over the accepted lines have historically been barred from the art club establishment, and been looked down upon. Some pretty fine artists. Let’s learn from that art historical pile of mistakes to avoid that attitude. Been there, stepped in that.
(For the sake of self disclosure I’d prefer to let the museum door wide open and see who wanders in from the tri-state with their crutches, motorized vehicles, strange flying machines, or on their own two feet.)
Every new use of art media, each line crossed by artists, has accompanied a new way of seeing, whether it’s the inclusion of a cigarette wrapper in a painting, the use of a camera obscura, or spray cans on a railroad car. Photography and video were once viewed as not really acceptable fine art forms. Today we “see” Weegee as a brilliant photographer, when once he was perceived as simply a crime photographer.
Artists take chances with subject matter, and media. They use it to redefine the meaning of art. This is no guarantee that great art results, but neither is the use of more traditional approaches, for that matter. Those among us who abide by rules, rules, rules, and narrow definitions may get in the Academy doors, but restrictive media categories and high standards of craft don’t make the artist a creator of great art. The final result does. Holding the door closed on artistic expression based on the media category, disdaining work because it contains words or “junk” seems shortsighted, and has traditionally backfired.
And no ideology? Why uphold this ivory tower approach? Ideology is a major motivator for art. It’s a point of view. It’s what gives a piece content. (One of many, just like Sultan’s that art should not be about ideology, craft, or pasting junk together!)
Why should artists be rewarded for belly button gazing as opposed to looking around at the world outside the studio and responding to what they see? When the planet is frying, governments are being bought and sold, and the concept of 1% makes sense to a large number of people living in a democratic society, how literally short-sighted to think that art should be a place to hide away from the challenge of political, spiritual or whatever point of view you may have as a result. We live in it. It’s literally the air we breathe. So instead, why not bring it on, and then see if it qualifies as art.
We do understand-don’t we?-what Picasso knew, that untrammeled children’s art is the greatest art. That is if we don’t try to censor it, or insist the artist stay away from certain things, and if we don’t try to make them make it nice, safe, or created according to conventional rules. Instead, if we are true to what art is at heart, we encourage not only our children but everyone else on the planet to drop those superficial and restrictive barriers, and just make that art effort as best they can, and make it from the heart.
That said, I’m looking forward to seeing what’s up on the walls at the Katonah’s upcoming show.
Enjoy your art!