Monday, March 11, 2013

While Rome Burns

I spent a good portion of the 1990s justifying my work as an artist, especially as a painter, to myself. It was a moral dilemma; a question of validity and purpose. How can I indulge something with such intangible meaning and value? Once I finally acknowledged the value of making art, it became one of the few absolutes in my life. Afterward, I rarely questioned the value/virtue in making paintings, even as cultural dictates changed. Human existence matters and so making art matters.

The continuation of human existence is quickly becoming less of a given. The most recent climate measurements and projections are dire beyond belief. And the worst-case scenarios are looking less and less speculative.

Making art is once again a dilemma. A Dr. Zhivago-like engagement in painting seems ridiculous in the face of world-wide environmental calamity. I won't make environmental art, because that's rarely an effective vehicle for change. And while making non-purposed art is no longer a personal moral uncertainty, it's impossible to do so without making some acknowledgment of broader concerns. All I really know is to acknowledge the situation.

While Rome Burns - I think I've used this post title before. I know it's in a notebook somewhere. I may begin adding an “acknowledgment” of these broader concerns to my paintings - a narrative or emblematic aside that sidecars the primary subject. Artist Randy Wyatt had his “Yellow Man” that appeared in most of his paintings. I want to make a Lane Marker scene, with a sustainable garden silhouette in the distance. Or a Shelter House image with a distant indication of a burnt forest. How would these quietly suggested addenda read in the painting? And in the broader sense? Can I do it without pandering, and does that even matter? It's an acknowledgement that does not solve anything. Again, it's all I really know to do.


Richard Emery Nickolson said...

Carla, many excellent points and observations throughout your most recent post. And, your personal solutions, subtle silhouettes to act as markers, are a great way to begin.

Although in the past, the only artist who made anything with an outright statement that I could even stand was Edward Keinholtz! And maybe the graffiti artist Richard Hambleton! However... the book Conversations Before the End of Time by Suzi Kablik she travels around the world interviewing artists, writers, educators and philosophers in anticipation of the millennium. She of course, has a particular agenda, pushing only an art or artist who improves the condition of the world, especially creating sculpture from detritus collected along the shores of various rivers and beaches.

In the end, several of her interviewees offered a warning, or a reminder, if you will. They all went along these lines: so what is wrong for an artist to take his/her sketchbook and sit on a rock, next to a mountain or stream, and just be quiet and draw for several hours? To slow down and to pay attention to the world? So what is wrong for an artist or any tourist for that matter, to visit a gallery or museum and sit for a while? Being quiet, contemplating a painting or a sculpture. Slowing down for a bit and regaining a sense of one's self?

These are also extremely important functions of art, they do not have to serve or illustrate anything outside of themselves, in order to refresh one's eyes and mind!

We are so caught up in this post-post-modern era that we may be on the verge of loosing our human ability to meditate, or even to think. So, even a painting of a great mid-western landscape, fictional as that might be at times, has an important part to play, if we can just see it!

Thank you for listening.

Richard Emery Nickolson,

Carla said...

Thanks for the references Richard. I've held out against the prevailing cultural bullies, who want to dictate my relevancy, based on the type of art I do. I still value the making, very much so...But it's starting to seem like we're doom to true shit-ville.

Art is art though, and whatever I do in that arena has its own priorities. Again, which is why most environmental/political art is not effective.

Carla said...

"Cultural bullies" being those who dismiss art that only exists for artistic reasons (usually once they gain the position to make decisions over others [via show or grant jury, etc]).

I almost added another sub-bracketed quote.