Saturday, March 31, 2012
ART IN A MARTIAL SOCIETY
Another warm day and another forecast for tomorrow. Everywhere I go remarks about how good the weather is make me shudder. I can't say anything, because it's not Pollyanna, and it's not like I'm on tv to say anything other than, "Isn't it great, 70 degrees every day in the winter. I love it." Of course, the word when you live in tv world is it's natural, it's a cycle, it happens all the time--it's my fault I don't remember it happening before. It's my fault if I'm depressed and can't appreciate a good day when I get one. Makes me want to say, about July I'll think it's wonderful when it's 135 every day for a month. No, it's not greenhouse gases, it's not the mass of plastic floating in the Sargasso Sea the size of two Texases, and one in the Pacific the same size, plus the Japanese tsunami debris off the coast of Oregon now. It's not the wanton disregard for life by the humans on the earth, killing for the sake of killing, everywhere around the globe. The pervasive disregard for life by the civilized sector of the human species, the species that commits genocide on any other species at will for any reason or no reason, is the foundation of the imbalance that has the earth shaking, rattling and rolling like a dog covered with fleas and ticks, parasites sucking its blood, its life.
American culture is a business, corporate culture with a vast military to protect its things. So focused on money and military, we as a culture, as a society, have become like the Comanche Indians of Texas, a society entirely about warfare. They had no arts or crafts in their culture. What crafts they made were artless. You get the art among the Navajo and the people like them who preferred peace to war. Art has little to no relevance in our American society. Yet, in the 20th Century, American artists have made a serious place for USA in the international art world of the modern and post-modern periods. Poets and writers have as little relevance in American life as artists of any kind do. Go to art school, learn to make art with computers, get a corporate job.
That's the path for the American with an art talent who wants to pursue it. Making art while having full time job, writing while having a full time job, making music on weekends when you have a full time job. That's the only way art can be made in America, and weekend artists are never respected in any field. We have tremendously huge cities full of people watching television. Very very few are doing anything having to do with art. Some are. When you get into the world of the people who are painting, making music, writing in their spare time, you find it is quite a lot, relatively. For the most part, however, I'd say at least 99.9% of the American people have never heard of Louise Nevelson. More than that. Same with Claes Oldenberg, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell, Larry Rivers, Robert Mangold, and all the rest of them. Americans don't even know Winslow Homer and Whistler.
Like Ezra Pound said in the early years of the 20th Century that he writes for six people. That has pretty much been the way of 20th Century art, making it for only a few able to see what the artist sees. Everybody else is busy making money and watching tv. To get a job teaching, one must have a certain number of hours of Education courses. Art is not even a consideration. Some schools have art classes, but they don't inspire any real interest in contemporary art, or even art of the past. In America now, it's all about self-expression. Like every once in awhile I hear somebody I know who doesn't read say, "I'm going to write a book." No they're not. How can you write when you can't read? I always say, "Do it." Our education, our money making, our television watching, our religions have no place for art. My mother, an ardent Baptist, when I gave her a book of pictures of paintings of Jesus from the earliest to present, she never looked at it, never even opened it. Art. What does she care about art? If I were to dismiss a present with equal absence of interest, there'd be hell to pay. I quit giving her anything after that. No matter what the gift, indifference was her response. I doubt she ever noticed I quit giving her gifts.
America in the places people live, towns, cities, suburbs, you can't find an interest in art anywhere without knowing where to look. Might be a gallery some place, but you have to know where. I don't know but a very few people who buy art, the ones who buy mine. A big co-op art gallery in Sparta and a small private one across the street, and middle class suburban people buying summer exurban homes in the mountain. What do they put on the walls? Whatever they put on the walls they don't buy here. And in the houses I've been in, there's no art. Sometimes I see something kind of on the verge of art, flowers and photographs of grandchildren. Americans have never had an interest in art. It's not like something that went away. It's something we never had. Art is about as American as black beans. At the same time, we have big universities all over the country with art departments that teach some really advanced, interesting information about art. Get an MA in art history, and get a job in the mail room of a corporate skyscraper. Teach art history to kids taking it for an easy credit. What does it matter in America if you know the real title for Whistler's Mother is Composition in Gray? What does it matter in Venezuela or China? The same here as everywhere. Like Beavis and Butthead, they'd rather listen to Anthrax.
The only friend I had I could talk about art WITH used it to play one-upmanship games with, which took ALL the fun out of it, rendering it a subject of conversation I never initiated. Said friend I think has dumped me for not bowing down to his opinions as natural law. I can't get concerned about it. If I question the authority of one of his opinions, his ego sends up walls all around with archers all around the top of the walls ready to launch an attack if I slight one of his opinions again. What he believed I should be painting, if I'm a real artist, is what some people were painting in New York in the latter half of the 1950s. He's not aware that anything has happened since Pollack, the apex of pure art. Ho-hum, I say. What if the apex of pure art is Eva Hesse? Jennie Holzer? Agnes Martin? Carl Andre? It's only people who know nothing about art that believe they have to tell me what and how to paint. Years ago someone moved into my part of the mountain. She had substitute taught an art class once in a Florida public school. She knew all about it. Like the spirit, art is not something you know all about, even know about. Edgar Allen Poe said it, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Some people think a hillside of Christmas trees is a beautiful sight: money. Other people see cancer in the ground water when they see a hillside of Christmas trees. In about a foot of snow I see a Robert Ryman pattern of white cones on a white field.