Social and Political writings

These are my thoughts on the social and political areas of art

Being an MFA candidate does not mean that you are simply a student.

As artist we are always learning something. Whether it is new ways to do something, new materials to use, or new ways to promote and market our work, we are always on a journey to find something new in our art. This has been part of being an artist for as long as we have had fine art.

There was a time in art, when emerging and established artists were not just required to improve, but also expected to study beyond just what they have learned before. During the Enlightenment artist like Diego Velazquez would take time to travel to other countries and study new forms of making art. During their journeys while they were studying they were still considered to be well-established or master artists. This tradition of the artists going back to or even continuing their professional study would continue until the 1920’s were we start to see a change in the idea of the MFA or studying of art in a formal setting from being a furthering for artists to simply a institutional program for people to learn art.

In this day of mass media and the internet it is more important for artists to explore new venues to go with their work, new medias and materials to try and even new styles of work to combine with their style or creating work. But for many there is this stigma that going back to school to learn a new skill or to expand your understanding of an idea will reduce you as an artist.

More people are required to expand not just their minds but their ability to understand more, this can come in many forms, but none so strong as continuing their education. For some it is a means to learn a new skill, for others they are trying to advance their carriers as art educators, and yet for others it is simply a means to be able to teach at the university level. But if we continue to put stigmas that further development makes you less, than how can we expect the art world to grow?

As an emerging international artist who has had exhibits in China, Korea, New York, Paris, Zurich, Madrid, and London but is also going back for his MFA to learn a new skill and with hopes of teaching at a university I face these stigmas all the time. When people hear that I am working on an MFA they tend to look past the fact that I have had solo and group shows not just in galleries but also museums around the world, that my works are in permanent collections of galleries, hotels, libraries and universities around Asia and in New York, that I belong to professional artists associations, and have won awards for my art, and that I have been featured in newspapers, magazines and on television in China and New York. To them all of that does not matter because I am going for my MFA.

If a businessman goes back to school to learn a new form of accounting or management he is sharpening his skills. If a doctor goes back to school to learn a new technique or equipment he is being on the cutting edge. But if an artist goes back to school to learn a new technique, equipment or style he is a student? Being that academies of art were some of the first universities in the world, it is sad that we place them on such a low plane in this day and age of advancement.

Why do I do the art I do…

As an artist we hear many of the same questions over and over again. Why do you create the art that you do? Have you ever thought of doing a different kind of art? Do you make your art for sale? What keeps you motivated?

What people who are not artists don’t understand is that for artists it is not something that we can simply answer. Art is not something that is planned, at least not in the sense of the kind of art that we do. For a true artist finds the art inside them, they are inspired by the world around them, and can no more pick the kind of art that drives them than anyone else can choose the color of their skin.

I am always looking to try new ideas, and explore new art, but the kind of art that I do has nothing to do with trying new things but with do I like those new things. Do I feel that they fit into my art, and what I am doing.

As for making my art for sale, I don’t know many artists who don’t want to sell their work, but if we make work for sale and not for the love of it than we are not making art, we are making items to sell.

As for what keeps me motivated, just making art makes me motivated, there is nothing better than spending the day in my studio creating art. Just like a writer must write and a lawyer loves practicing the law, I must do my art.

 

10 steps for emerging artist to follow to get into galleries.

There are a couple of ways to go about it, but it all depends on the strength of your work.
1.you could cold call galleries (I don’t recommend this). You send your portfolio to galleries hoping someone likes your work. The problem is many galleries get hundreds if not thousands of these a year. They rarely look at them and if they do it is rarely the curator unless one of the assistants like what they see.
2. Go to artist friends openings and hope that they will introduce you to the gallery owner. If an artist friend thinks your work is a fit they will, but you have to let them want to introduce you, asking them may turn them off from ever introducing you again.
3. Check out local art associations. It won’t do a lot, but joining them will give you 1-2 shows a year. And sometimes gallery people go to these events to find local talent.
4. Enter art contest. The trick here is to know what ones to join, you don’t want to join the ones that require large fees to enter that is just a ripoff, but there are some good ones and those will build a small resume and get your work out there.
5. Once you are introduced to gallery people don’t just ask them to look at your work, go to openings of other artist they have, get to know them, talk about the work in their gallery in an intellectual way, and respectfully invite them to events, they probably won’t come, but seeing that you are having events of your own might get them interesting in seeing what kind of work you have.
6. Look at local places to give workshops on your art. It is a little tricky to find, but you never know who might come out to see what you are about, gallery owners can tell a lot about you by how you handle a room.
7. If there are events that you can show your work for free, like live painting events that are local to you, go out to them and get to know local artists. Artists are the best resource for local places that will show your work.
8. Build a solid web site, it does not have to start big, but even a WordPress and Facebook page where people can see your art, hear about your activities.
9. Building a mailing list and following of your art. Galleries respond to artist who have a following more than someone that has no one looking at their work, beyond your parents and close friends.
10. This is the most important, have a strong artist statement and be able to talk about your work. This might seem like the same thing but it is not, I have seen many artists who have a strong artist statement, but could not talk about their work, anyone can get help with the artist statement, but a good artist understands their work where it comes from and is able to talk about it.

Where is the future of art?

No this is not my manifesto, but does contain parts of the ideas of the manifesto to explain what I am talking about….

Our great visionaries have gone away… Our leaders are leading us to stray… We lost our past, and cant find our future. Our teachers are leading us to the edge of nothingness… inviting us to view what is new, but yet already done… our art is designed for us by those that have come before, but have yet to be known to the world… the mass media of today is so great that it is easy to miss what has come before and think of it as new and different. Copy machine artists who cut and paste their ideas in Photoshop fill our galleries, our walls, and our books with nothing new, just merely rearranged thoughts of our past with no vision for the future.

Our history books have been reduced to google searches on web sites built by those who have less understanding of the world of art than they do of the marriage problems of celebrities and rock stars. Their information is gathered by those that cut and paste parts of writings changing their meaning without understanding what they are reading, merely using them because they sound good….

Those that are part of the evolution are on the outside of the mainstream, in the small venues of the art world, making their own success as the galleries, museums, and institutions are afraid to take a chance on change and are not willing to be in the front running for the future of art. It is no longer the galleries and museums tell us what to buy, but the collectors telling the galleries what to show. For this our future is on hold and the visionaries of the art of tomorrow will have to wait..

Don’t tell me what art to make…

I hate it when people tell me what kind of art to make. I do not expect to make art that is to everyones liking, nor do I expect to make art that will always sell, but that is my business. It seems that people think that it is okay to tell me that I am making the wrong kind of art, but it can’t be wrong if it is my art, it can’t be wrong if it is what I love doing. Maybe it is not me who has the problem but those that don’t agree with what I am doing. When I think about it, I say okay, well maybe they just don’t understand what I am doing.. or maybe they are jealous that they could not create something that is all their own.

Currently I make 4 kinds of art, painting, sculptures, paper cutting and now ceramics. Each of these are various works around the same theme. Consistency is important in art, and that is what I am doing. There are those that think I should stay to one kind of art, but that is not me, I do not think that artists should restrict themselves to a  singular form of art, as long as they are consistent in their work.

If you don’t like my art that is fine, but please do not attempt to tell me what I should be doing..

No more Bikini Lines

Sadly, the Bikini Lines Project has not received enough support. It makes one wonder about the state of art in the world today. Projects like this are important not only for the art in which it produces, but for the human spirit as well. The idea behind the project besides bringing notice to a forgotten place and time in our history, was to also give support to orphans in Japan from the 2011 disaster. It is really depressing that people can not get behind the idea of this kind of project.

A critical view of the life and work of 艾未未 (Ai WeiWei)

When talking about the work of artists such as 艾未未 (Ai WeiWei) it is not enough to talk about the work we can see in photos, galleries, museums and magazines. Ai is also an activist artist, one that uses action and non-traditional forms of art to express his ideas, this is also considered his art. While there are very little formal art critic articles of this kind of work we can find political and social writings and even artistic articles that talk about Ai’s work as an activist. This paper will look at the three aspects of Ai and his work in an attempt to see if his success is that of great art, or if his art is being considered of greater value simply because he is a strong activist artist in China.

It is possible that Ai’s art activism started because what happened to his family when he was young. Ai was born in Beijing, to Ai Qing, his father and Chinese poet, and Gao Ying, his mother.  Ai’s father who was denounced during the Cultural Revolution for his writings was sent off to a labor camp in Xinjiang with his wife and Ai who also spent five years there. (“798 District”)

Many museums, galleries and even art magazines in the West call Ai as a key figure at the forefront of contemporary art in China. That would not be the case of most newspapers and magazines in China, which are controlled by the government; they usually refer to Ai as a criminal or dissident against the government. When “Art Review magazine named Ai number one in their annual Power 100 list. The decision was criticized by the Chinese authorities. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin responded, “China has many artists who have sufficient ability. We feel that a selection that is based purely on a political bias and perspective has violated the objectives of the magazine”. (Ai) So what is it about this artist work that causes enough controversy to make him an international figure? Is his work really that good or is his work given more value because the media simply focus on him due to his arrest surrounding his protest of events in China? To answer these questions we have to look at Ai’s work beyond the social, political and cultural criticism and look at his sculpture, installation, architecture, curating, and photography.

Many newspapers, like the New York Times, and art magazines as well as critics call Ai the leading figure of contemporary art in China, but Ai’s work while his own style which is new, is influenced by and compatible to artists of the Dada, surrealist and modernist movements. We have a tendency to call anything being done today as contemporary art, but the fact is that China, while it has contemporary artists, has not gone through its own modernist movement, it would be more realistic to refer to Ai as one of the leading figures of Eastern Modernism in China.

Some of Ai’s most memorable works include breaking and painting Neolithic and Han vases, Reconstructing ancient furniture, sunflower seeds and flipping the bird at national monuments and symbols of government, it is these works that I will focus on in an attempt to show that Ai’s work is not overstated simply because of his disputes with the Chinese government.

Ai’s most memorable early works of art activism, which is his breaking and painting valuable Chinese vases, was a statement about the countries care and respect for its history and culture before the Cultural Revolution. There are critics and newspapers that call the work a social statement about the political miss-care of the countries history, others that state that Ai is fearless artist speaking against injustice. (“ArtAsiaPacific Magazine Blog”) All this may be true and than again it may not, the truth is that no one really knows if the vases are real or just great replicas which can be found all over China. What makes the work not only powerful but also successful is the Chinese governments little care or uproar of this relics being destroyed in the name of art. It speaks the laissez-faire way in which the Chinese government holds its historical culture. Had the government been outraged or even stopped him during this point would the work have been as powerful? It is only for the viewer to decide.

Ai’s flipping the bird at historical places of importance has had less talk about it as it is seem merely by many to be a political statement and less of his art. This may be so, and maybe the least known of his works, but holds as much a statement of Ai as his other works do. The only work of Ai’s talked about as little as his flipping the bird, is his work on the Birds Nest for the 2008 Olympics. This is not due to it being less important than his other works, but to the Chinese government not willing to give Ai credit for his work due to his speaking out about events surrounding free speech and equal treatment in China.

The work that Ai is most known for is his sunflower seeds. There are varied positions on the reason for the success in this work. The problem with understanding the work is the same with understanding any of Ai’s work; you also have to understand the culture. When you are looking from the outside it is easy to be judgmental of a work of art, but without understanding the story or the purpose behind a work of art can we truly understand it? There are those that believe that art should be ambiguous and speak for itself, but not all art should be so easily understood, instead sometimes art needs to be explored and examined for more than the visual aspects but for what it represents.

Some reviews like the Huff Post, the London Times and some art magazines have looked at the idea of the sunflower seeds as not only successful, but a the biggest year for the artist. Though the reviews were positive they lacked any real critic of the work as they focused on the events surrounding Ai’s arrest more than they did the work itself. Which is where the problem with reading the reviews come in, many of them have become more about the arrest and release of Ai than focusing on if the work itself has any merit.

There are others like Time Out New York that has had a less than a favorable review of Ai’s work. While the article does focus on the ideas that it has become hard to distinguish the difference between Ai the artist and Ai the activist, it also has a hard time believing that his work with sunflowers is more than a gimmick. They state that “Ai’s work is also afflicted with the symptoms of what you might call global art-star disease: a scale and level of fabrication that is designed to impress viewers rather than transport them.” This is a harsh statement considering that first of all the reviewer, Howard Halle, never saw the exhibit at the Tate, and second he seems to not understand the purpose behind the way the work was created.

This goes back to it is hard to understand this work without understanding the culture. Halle compares Ai to that of an art dictator, stating “In truth, he holds real power over them, and in this respect he isn’t simply someone speaking out against injustice: He’s offering himself as an alternative to the existing order. No wonder the authorities are freaked out by the guy.”  The fact is that Ai has been providing jobs for many of those people in the town with his projects because of the tradition of the town itself. Jingdezhen has been the center of porcelain production for many generations. Creating some of the finest works in porcelain for some of the greatest empires in China. After the Cultural Revolution the town had been all but forgotten by the government as many other similar towns have been. Ai’s role in the film was nothing more than any artist for a project like this, ensuring that the project was being done not only in the same style as original porcelain production, but also to try and share his appreciation for the people and their work.

Part of the disappointment in the exhibition may come from the fact that the exhibit had to be closed due to dangerous dust being produced by people walking and rolling in the sunflower seeds. There are those who questioned why Ai did not warn the locals of the dangers to making this kind of work, or for not informing the gallery that this could happen. First the people of this village have been doing this work for generations and fully understand the dangers in producing the work in this way, also as Ai is an activist artist, who is not to say that this was not a statement from the artist on the dangerous work conditions in China?

The use of sunflower seeds themselves have been discussed in different ways from critics, some who believe that Ai used sunflower seeds because they where the favorite food of Chairman Mao, but the fact is that while Mao did enjoy sunflower seeds, their presence in the paintings and works surrounding Mao where meant to represent the people of China and not Mao or the government. While Ai never comes out and states it directly his use of sunflower seeds being made by a forgotten people speak more to representing the people of China than anything else.

While I have tried in this paper to judge Ai’s work for what it is and not simply as an extension of his activism it is difficult to do so. Some of it may be from the fact that there is so many questions surrounding Ai since his arrest in 2011, but for me it is due to the fact that it is hard not to find the activism in Ai’s work. When you have been to China and seen what it is like there, it is easy to find the meaning behind the work, more so than those that have not been. This is not to say that Ai’s work is not successful and if it does suffer from the all-star disease it is not due to his failure in trying to tell the story, but our inability to not be able to look at the work for more than another attempt in contemporary art. As stated by many art is subjective, and the failure or success of the work will vary, but one thing that can not be denied is that whether he means to or not Ai is getting people to not only talk about his work, but to cloud it in mystery when it comes to the meaning and symbolism in his art.

Bibliography

. “Biography of Ai WeiWei.” 798 District. 798, 2012. Web. 21 Apr 2012. <http://www.798district.com/798/en/artists/a/aiweiwei/01_bioexh/&gt;.

Ai, WeiWei. “Biography of AiWeiWei.” Wikipedia on Ai’s Facebook Page. N.p., 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ai_Weiwei&gt;.

“DROPPING THE URN (CERAMIC WORKS, 5000 BCE – 2010CE) AI WEIWEI.” ArtAsiaPacific Magazine Blog. ArtAsiaPacific Magazine, 09 2010. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <http://artasiapacific.com/Magazine/70/AiWeiweiDroppingTheUrnCeramicWorks5000BCE2010CE&gt;.

Halle, Howard. “Review: Ai Weiwei, “Sunflower Seeds”.” Time Out New York [New York] 18 01 2012, n. pag. Web. 30 Apr. 2012. <http://www.timeout.com/newyork/art/review-ai-weiwei-sunflower-seeds&gt;.

 

The problem with Critics today

In doing research for a book I am working on about my art. I have been reading reviews of art exhibits surrounding some of the artists I have included in my manifesto. It is one thing for a critic to write about an exhibit that they have been to and seen first hand, but I was surprised to find several reviews of exhibits in which the critic did not even go to the exhibit, but wrote about the success or failure of the exhibit just the same. How can we trust what is being said about the exhibit if this is what’s going on? As an artist this concerns me because a review could help or hurt your carrier. There are those that will say that it doesn’t matter if the reviews are good or bad, but simply that people are writing about you, I do not buy into this way of thinking. I am not saying that you can always get good reviews from everyone, but there is a difference between getting a bad review and getting mixed reviews. As we all know art is subjective. It is concerning though to know that you could do everything right and still get a bad review from a critic who never even saw your work, like artists don’t have enough to worry about.

The life of a disabled artist, part II

Having not been born disabled, but becoming disabled later in life I have had to adjust in some of the ways that I create my art. While I am not totally disabled, I do have my restrictions, and besides some of the physical restrictions that have been placed on me, I also spend a great deal of time in the hospital. This has caused me not only to think of the way that I do my art, but also changed some of the forms of art that I do.

While I still do sculptures, paper cuttings and paintings, I have given up some of my Luddite ways of art and started to embrace new media forms of art. While I have taken on new media in my art I still try to hold on to some of the ideas of craft art by not mass-producing everything I do. I do have to say that I do find some interesting ideas in working with new media. I have been taking iPhoneography, making small paintings on paper, and creating videos. Right now I am making a video of the day in the life of a disabled artist.

There are those that ask me why I would be so open about being a disabled artist, and the answer is simple. I would like to show those out there that even when there are challenges in our lives we are able to continue to be successful in our lives. I can only hope that my writings, videos and art will encourage those in similar situations to have hope and maybe strive to do more.

What is art of today trying to say?

Someone asked what art was trying to say today. This is the question that is hardest for new art to answer today. There are those that believe that all that can be done in art has been done, and others who believe that artists today lack the ability to understand what their art should say. It will vary from person to person, but in general it has to be something more than merely making art for arts sake. For me my art talks about going back to more traditional techniques of art, bringing these traditional forms together with modern ideas to talk about the lost of traditionalism in art by the oversimplifying POP culture that is thrust upon us. For more check out my manifesto on https://davesstudio.wordpress.com/about-daves-studio/daves-manifesto/