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This is the first time I've experienced this, but I'm happy it will happen. I applied for a grant with the Maine Arts Commission and I'll have my application, along with 20 other artists, publicly reviewed on May 22 in Augusta. If you're interested, feel free to attend this valuable learning opportunity.
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OK, that's a bit too poetic, but it is true. Today we hung the exhibit and tomorrow we open for the month of April at the Northeast Harbor Public Library on Mt. Desert Island, Maine. This will represent my US debut, and I'm excited. It's an excellent location for exposure to a great community. Galleries and museums are nice, but the location is often just as important, and in this town the library is probably just as valuable, maybe more so.
There's just a few more tweaks to do tomorrow afternoon before we officially open, but fingers are crossed that all goes well, and not just for tomorrow but for the whole month as well.
Here's a few pics of the opening from today. I'll post back later with an update on how the day went.
Yeah, the title is a bit deceptive, and I apologize for that. I just couldn't find a better way to say it, but this text from Shakespeare's Hamlet just kills me:
"Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love."
You see, one of my projects is about the gap between the media and the audience's understanding of the media's reality. In essence, my project is about doubting just about everything you hear and read. I know we have to trust something in our lives. Otherwise we'd be running around in paranoia, but we really need to be more critical of how information is passed on to us.
For example, this article by the Guardian covering the protests on Donald Trump's inauguration day talks about how several journalists were arrested during the proceedings. Now, journalists are unjustly arrested during these events all the time. They shouldn't be, but they are. But my problem with this article is that there's no reporting that shows if, in fact, these journalists were actually activists posing as journalists and engaging in riotous activity (thus making legit journalists look bad - and yes, this also happens all the time, especially in today's social media world). We don't know that they were or not. Of course, it's better to assume they weren't until proven otherwise. However, this article is complete crap and should be heavily criticized because it uses the emotion of those who merely state that journalists should not be arrested. It uses no evidence with regards to these specific journalists and what they might have done (which is probably nothing, but that's not the point!).
The point is that if I report that inflation was at 5% and then go out and ask people how inflation affects them, then I'm creating an emotional response - inappropriately so. Now, if the government or banks estimated that inflation should have been 5.5% then I've turned a potential good-news story into a negative story, very likely with the intent of politically motivating the reader. This is wrong, and that's what the Guardian article is doing. We may not know what the Guardian's agenda really is, but we can see that it is attempting to emotionally sway it's readers to be in favor or against something, probably something quite specific that probably has nothing to do with journalists. In fact, it may be quite anti-Trump. Whether you agree with the politics or not is completely irrelevant. If a newspaper wants credibility then it doesn't do this kind of reporting. Instead, it can have the same effect with a much better presentation of facts.
Now why does this Shakespeare quote kill me? I want to cut off the last line. I know it's contextual to the plot of the play, but the first three lines work wonderfully well in contemporary media criticism. Trust nothing. Go with what you think is right, but trust nothing.
"Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;"
I'll be doing an open studio starting Friday, Jan 27 at 7pm going until Sunday, Jan 29. All days will be until 10pm. The open studio will be held at Zaratan Arte Contemporanea and will be upstairs from the gallery in the residents' quarters. The work on display will be the studies that I created during the residency period that started on Jan 1, 2017. Also being shown will be the work-in-progress sculpture using beer cans and a collaborative video done with fellow resident Daniel Gawronski. Admission is free.
This video is of the artist talk I gave in January, 2017 at Zaratan Arte Contemporanea in Lisbon, Portugal. The discussion was Novo-Surrealism and the Media's Message versus the Audience's Understanding of Reality. About 10 people attended live and about 200 people attended on the live broadcast on FB Live.
The discussion lasts about an hour and covers the theory of the project, possible avenues the project can take going forward, and how open the idea can become.
I recently did a residency in Lisbon, Portugal, and while there I met the other artist-in-residence, Daniel Gawronski. Daniel is an Australian artist who works primarily with sound art. His method is very interesting in that he takes images from the natural environment and uses those to map musical compositions.
In this piece, Gawronski used a photograph of trees from a forest outside Lisbon, Portugal to create the scale. Trees that were close represented low notes and trees that were in the distance represented high notes. The distance between the trees represented the length of time the note would be carried.
He then took samples of Lisbon Fado singer Amalia Rodrigues' work and plugged these samples into the scale to create the actual sounds.
The video was created based on a reductivist approach and was filmed at the Zaratan Arte Contemporanea artist-run gallery in Lisbon, Portugal.
The three elements of approach to the video give it a simplistic description of the natural art scene in Lisbon, and is very local in nature.
This represents my first time doing a collaborative serious piece, and it was interesting how it all played out. I didn't sit down to work collaboratively with him. It just happened, and that's what happens when you spend time with other artists. Eventually simple conversation turns collaborative art.
Edit: See below in the third paragraph.
While some of my work may have a hint of Surrealism in it, I am not a Surrealist by definition. And yet I feel as if I am a Surrealist in spirit and maybe by nature as well. To start, I care nothing of dreams and the contradiction between them and real life. This, shown with great realism, is the definition of Surrealism. However, there is a deeper meaning to Surrealism, and if André Breton was right in that Surrealism was a revolutionary movement then I certainly fit in. I do so via approach as opposed to what the painting looks like after. What is surreal to me is how we live our lives, not how we contradict between real life and dreams. I believe there's a difference between how we live our lives and how we're "supposed to" live our lives.
I don't see the world in terms of the contradiction of dreams and reality. Instead, I see it in terms of perceived reality and reality. By "perceived reality" I specifically mean what the media and marketing organizations want us to believe is real, and then I contradict this with how we actually live our lives. To be blunt, let me use porn as an example. For those of us who grew up without online access to porn, there isn't, or shouldn't be, much of a disconnect between what porn is telling us is normal and what is normal. There may be unfortunate disillusionment among some, but we didn't grow up thinking that what porn shows is normal. But for those who have grown up with access to online porn their entire lives, there is a movement to eliminate porn from the Internet because of the distortion between porn's marketing and real life. In other words, they have grown up thinking that what porn shows is normal because marketing, through the influence of the media, has a huge effect on our behavior. Marketers collect so much data about us that they know more about what we want sometimes before we even know, so imagine a kid with little-to-no knowledge of real relationships learning from a porn site. When that kid enters into a real relationship at some point in his or her life, he or she will enter into a state of confusion because what he or she learned isn't how things really work. This is not a dream; this is a real phenomenon.
So there's a gap between what we're being told and what we actually see. However, I don't see this gap as black and white with grey in between. I see this gap as black and white with green trees, blue rivers, and white houses in between. In other words, the blend between what the powers that be, whoever that is, want us to believe and what we really believe is not as obvious as it once was. I don't see a blend. I see an actual gap, a chasm where something else exists that probably wasn't there before. The fact that there is a gap, and not a blend, is surreal to me because we're all supposed to be connected.
Edit: a perfect example of the gap that I am speaking of is brilliantly written out by David Miranda in The Intercept. The gap here is the Brazilian media's attempt to hide its bias when everyone knows that it is there. The gap is the difference between what the media is selling versus what is actually known to be true.
And that's what is even more surreal - this notion that we're also all connected. Being connected would suggest an unstoppable blend, and this blend really does exist because we are connected. But the gap also exists at the same time. Why? Because those who want us to be separate are trying hard to keep things separate, except they don't want us think that there's a gap between them and us. The gap is accidental. It's a mistake. There's black and there's white, and as long as the general populace thinks it can maneuver through the grey to achieve power, status, success, or whatever it is that they want then those with power, status, or success continue to maintain that level of power, status, or success. They maintain it because they know that moving through the grey is extremely difficult. It's designed to be that way, and the more they stretch the grey, the longer the grey becomes, thus making the journey longer. This grey line used to be quite short, but over time it has grown longer and it has done so deliberately. But they've managed to stretch the grey so much that the fabric has torn. And there it is - that gap that wasn't supposed to be there. That gap that everyone feels but can't put their finger on. That stress, chaos, anger, or love that people sense that is there that wasn't there before. That gap which really should be uncross-able. The grey was designed to be uncross-able, too, but there were still connections and some could make it through. There was hope, and that served those in power quite well. But now many people see that it's not possible to cross, and that's where the gap has become apparent.
When you put all of this together with politics, advertising, intellectual debate, getting your car fixed, picking your kids up from school, and buying groceries you get this idea that the fabric of society has ripped. And that leads us to the obvious question: what does that look like? What does that rip actually look like? That is surreal. That is what I work on, trying to discover what that gap looks like. At this stage in my career it is mostly abstract and reductive. I suspect that it will develop in time into more physical objects. But the important point here is why I consider myself a Novo-Surrealist: because of the idea that something else besides grey exists between black and white. That is surreal.
Conceptual Art is no doubt one of the most important movements in the history of art. It pushes the boundaries of what we perceive as art and creates a dialogue that is necessary to move art forward. This conversation is one of the most important elements in art in general. However, as we get more into conceptual art we get more into blurring the lines of what art is in contemporary terms. This is not an easy concept to understand because ultimately what is created as art today is, by definition, contemporary art. The problems isn´t that Conceptual Art isn´t doing its job, because it most definitely is pushing the boundaries and expanding the conversation. The problem is that the closer we get toward the blurred lines the farther we get away from what people understand as art. Whether or not Conceptualist artists agree that art has to be understood is irrelevant because art isn´t created just to prove that an idea exists; it´s created to prove that art exists. It´s this distinction that is important. Art is not something that can live in the future because the future is non-existent. It can push the present into the future, but it can´t live there. Therefore contemporary art must be relevant to contemporary viewers.
An example of this is the mistake that custodians made by throwing away an entire exhibit because they thought it was trash. The work by Goldschmied & Chiari, which was a slew of champagne bottles strewn across the floor along with party decor torn off the walls, was intended to criticize Italy´s consumerist years of the 1980s, which is a little odd in contemporary terms considering that was 30 years ago, but I digress. In fact, it was garbage; not in the sense that the exhibit was not good, but because it was literally pieces of garbage spread out across the room, thus very easily making it understandable as to why it would actually be mistaken as garbage.
Goldschmied & Chiari meant for this mean something. Unfortunately they may have a problem for two polar opposite reasons. First of all a tenant of Conceptual Art is that the artist creates and the museum finishes the piece (in that the idea extends from the mind to the exhibition). Their piece was a critique, so maybe the custodians were actually completing the art beyond the museum by agreeing with the artists that the 1980s were a decade to do away with. Except that the custodians might actually be the new artists in this case because their action goes beyond what the artists intended. Beyond authorship, which is always a problem with Conceptual Art (add into the fact that Damien Hirst is kind of a scumbag), their second problem, even though it was a criticism of something that happened 30 years ago, is that the work is so unrecognizable in today´s terms as being art that someone actually threw it away.
Now, with this latter issue, it isn´t the first time that this has happened. Paintings have been thrown away and sculptures dismantled, so this happens to more traditional pieces as well. But let´s just ask something about Conceptual Art here with regards to Conceptual Art pushing the boundaries: when does art become unrecognizable, and if it does so, does it remain art? Conceptualist artists will say that everything is art so the question is moot. But I say that isn´t true because we must live today and without today tomorrow is irrelevant. We can only push the boundary until the next nano-second, or whatever is comprehendible to the human mind. Therefore, if something doesn´t meet today´s standards of comprehension, even if it´s avant-garde, then it simply doesn´t meet today´s standards of comprehension. In other words, there is something that isn´t art, and this is the definition: something that pushes art so far forward that it isn´t recognizable by today´s standards. In the end, Goldschmied & Chiari can take this as a compliment in that their work is ahead of its time. But at the same time, what´s the point? If it is ahead of its time, and if it´s entirely possible that the piece might not make it until its time is due, then as a piece of art it is, in fact, a failure. Art must be relevant to contemporary standards and it must be understandable in context.
Finally, as with all avant-garde work, which strives to challenge the system that dominates the current art market, Conceptual Art is now the dominant art trend in museums and in many leading galleries. If there was ever a reason to get rid of it, it is this which goes against one of Conceptual Art´s basic tenants: that the gatekeepers of the art world are ill-suited to allowing art to push forward, mostly from the basis that if art is treated as a commodity then what is a commodity will be traded as such. Conceptual Art has become the contemporary art commodity and therefore cannot be trusted to push art forward. In other words, Conceptual Art has killed itself by being the thing it was created to abolish to begin with. And so the circle goes.
I can´t argue against this. Denis Dutton has a pretty convincing argument one way or another, but how true is it? His theory suggests that what we perceive as beauty is as evolved as our bodies are, that the shape of a diamond is eerily similar to that of a pre-historic stone spearhead, and that these stones weren´t just made to kill animals but to show off abilities for the purpose of mating. Think, a man makes a stone not to kill, but to show that he´s capable of creating such a stone, and therefore more likely to procreate.
He also suggests that a typical landscape painting is considered beautiful by all cultures regardless of whether that culture has this landscape or not. That´s because a particular landscape that´s considered beautiful across all cultures specifically resembles the Savannah, and has plenty of trees to climb out of danger, grasses for hiding, water for drinking, and animals for eating, etc.
Or how about the fact that cute animals are cute as a defense mechanism? One thing for sure, his theory is controversial, but if he´s right then it turns the whole art world on its head. If beauty is evolved then what´s the point of viewing it in monetary terms? What´s the point of criticizing art in terms of beauty or innovativeness if all it´s for is progressing humankind into the next generation. Are we talking about the right things in today´s world? Should we be talking about art as if it´s meant to move us from one advanced state to a more advanced state? If so, then what happens when we find "the answer" to Life, The Universe and Everything (RIP Mr. Adams)? Does applied art then start to look like a pyramid where only the best art that pushes us in the best / right answer becomes acceptable? Will we get to a point where a singular artist is capable of putting the final piece on top of the pyramid? Is that where we´re heading? If so, the conversation needs to change, and I think that´s something the auction houses may not embrace. After all, if art is a pyramid then so is oligarchy.
Again, it´s an interesting theory that has given me some ideas for future paintings. First research, but I´m looking forward to getting started. I´m curious to know what you think of this. Please comment below.
Nothing irks me more in art than criticism that uses modern fashion as a justification for it's existence. In fact, if a piece of art is being criticized because the piece fails to follow modern fashionable conventions then the piece is very likely by definition "art". I don't say this meaning that art must or even should break conventions (I don't believe that at all). But art that conforms to prevailing fashions intentionally is missing something, and that missing piece is truth.
Truth is nothing new in art, but what the truth is, unfortunately, is a topic that will be debated for more centuries in the future than it has been debated until today. However, in art, truth is what the artist says it is. This is an extremely delicate definition as it can never be known if an artist has deliberately conformed to the market or not (conforming to the market is one element that I use to define of art, and as a side note puts Community Art on a slippery slope due to the number of grants available to this genre). However, if a nude painting of a woman is criticized because the painted woman has arm pit hair then this is bad criticism. It may or may not be good art, whatever, but complaining about it is bad criticism. Body hair on women is fashionable or not depending on the culture of that community, but this was in London where female arm pit hair is generally frowned upon. I don't think it matters if a person likes it or not. I personally don't like it, but I'd rather see it in a painting than hear about some art critic whining about it. Why? Because if the model has arm pit hair then the painter has an obligation to decide if leaving the hair in or out is telling the truth. If it stays in the painting, then the artist is telling the truth (or a truth, if you want to look at it that way). That's the truth of the situation, and denying that truth is unproductive. Not putting the hair there while maintaining the truth would require another element to the art. In other words, not putting the hair there makes a statement. The critic needs to focus on if the statement is bad or good, and then secondarily if the piece of art needs to be beautiful in order to fulfill it's purpose. Saying that the arm pit hair makes the painting unbeautiful and therefore bad art is just dumb.
So what if the artist decides not to put the hair there, and what if that's a statement in of itself? OK, fine. In fact, the hair doesn't even need to be there. There's nothing wrong with that, unless the artist isn't telling the truth. The truth doesn't need to be what's actually there. The truth needs to be what the artist is saying the truth is. Not putting the hair there because it goes against fashion is not telling the truth because there's no statement there. The artist is merely conforming with the market, and that lacks artistic value.
There are many writers who have talked about the truth in their form of art. Stephen King in On Writing wrote that fiction is a lie, but that the truth is the foundation that gives that lie believability (I'm paraphrasing here because my copy of On Writing is in storage on another continent). He has been heavily criticized for saying (again, paraphrasing) that a character took a Coke out of the fridge instead of a "soda" or "pop". To him this is crazy because the character took a Coke out, not something else. That's what was in his head, that's what the character did, that's what the truth is. Criticizing him for using a brand name instead of a generic word is stylistic at best and doesn't get to the heart of the matter (if there is a heart, of which if there isn't really makes the critic look really bad because he or she is wasting time on something unimportant). It's not good criticism. Good criticism would talk about if he said something in a way that made the reader (or the viewer) believe that it was true. After all, art is a commentary on real life. If there's no substance to it then what's the point?
And yes, Stephen King is one of the most commercial writers out there. He won't be winning a Nobel Prize any time soon. My point here is that even commercial work has artistic value and deserves to be criticized in the same way. If King writes in a way that a few billion people like, then have it, as long as he's telling the truth. The truth doesn't need to be Gabriel Marquez just like Damien Hirst doesn't get to be an artist just because what he does is different (he doesn't even do all of his own work these days). In fact, I'd argue that Hirst tells the truth less than King does because King actually set the market whereas Hirst has had numerous copyright infringement cases agaisnt him. Would King leave the arm pit hair out? Would Hirst? Does it matter? Only if the art world ignores it if it's left in, because only then will the critic understand why it's there.
Greg Mason Burns is an American-born contemporary visual artist. These are his thoughts on life as an artist.