The best way to navigate a world overcome by hype and branding is to be honest and open, willfully and brilliantly so. John Yau does this.
This is good for the broader art dialogue, and it is especially good for the individual artist. So much that we do runs counter to prevailing issues of theory and of expectation and of success. Personal fortitude can wear down over time. Yau's essays remind us of the marvel that is artistic exploration. It's very reassuring to have someone presenting such a meaningful dialogue about art.
His two most recent articles at the Hyperallergic blog:
A Truly Subversive Artist Is Not Necessarily Someone Who Is Theatrical or Gimmicky
I've coined this notion as "innovation within convention", and thought of it fairly narrowly in terms of style, and more recently in terms of medium (traditional vs. new media). It's very frustrating that art is categorized according to a few signifiers of identity, rather than by actual experience. Yau reviews Thomas Nozkowski is this article. Can it get better?
"At the heart of Nozkowski’s practice is improvisation, a willingness to take something (anything) and do something else to it. He seems to have been one of the few of his generation to understand Jasper Johns’s declaration: “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it. Do something else to it, etc.”
" This is what subversive artists working in our postmodern epoch share. They don’t have a style, which is, in the end, both a brand and a judgment. How can you produce a brand and be subversive? (It’s like selling torn jeans made by Armani!) Subversive artists always try to undermine conventions, including those that might influence their practice."
"We have yet to consider Nozkowski’s work, and all its formal compressions, in a broader context, preferring instead to isolate him. The reasons for this withholding seem obvious—a deeper analysis of his work would go a long way toward subverting the art world’s elevation of all those other artists who possess an abundance of style and opinions, but, in the end, have very little else to offer us."
The Daily Practice of the Impossible
I thought it was brave for Dana Schutz to move away from the gorgeous color and application in her previous works. Even her most peculiar imagery was rendered with a certain painterly elegance. These newer works have harsh color and flattened spaces. They are not appealing to the eye. Yau's article offers insight into Schutz' conceptual positioning, which I hadn't really considered at all, because, you know, her paintings are so interesting as images.
He opens with a pretty funny paragraph outlining a (what is still prevailing in the hinterlands) typical 'scum of the earth' attitude towards painters:
"Dana Schutz, who is in her mid-30s, belongs to the generation of artists who grew up in an epoch where painting was routinely thought of as a dead practice. One couldn’t just be a painter, because doing so would be to enter a dusty domain crammed with empty signifiers. It would mean you were doing something that was obsolete (and reviled) — like speaking Latin to the drugstore cashier. The lines were pretty clear: dumb people became painters; smart people became conceptual artists who painted only when and if the subject called for it. This viewpoint might have started out as speculation, but now it’s a stupid and persistent prejudice."
John Yau at Hyperallergic. Bookmark it, baby.