Friday, May 4, 2018

Too much art, not enough humanity

I think John Ruskin had it right. Art is solely about humane development. Art is about rising as an individual and a society. Why is this a good definition of art? Because nothing else that art might be matters.

So if this is a good, working definition of art, every artist creating art should be rising toward a higher level of being - toward kindness, tolerance, compassion, brotherhood, equality, mercy...all the positive, pro-social things we should all be shooting for. 

We can all find ourselves to be flawed but the least we owe each other is to examine our flaws and always aspire toward becoming more humane. We'll fail and fail a lot, but we need to keep striving. Art is about this striving. 

This is a good, working definition of art. You look at a guy like Balthus, who enjoyed painting female children in panties. Not art. That's something different. Throughout the history of art you've had a lot of dirty (rich, white) guys working out their demons on canvases. Putting anything on a canvas does not make you an artist. A chimp who creates a work of abstraction that fools an art critic is not an artist.

Gombrich once said, "There is no such thing as art, only artists." He was echoing Ruskin. It's easier to think putting anything on a canvas is art, it's easy to think there are a lot of different types of artists, but Ruskin and Gombrich knew otherwise. There is one and only one type of artist, and his/her art is an off-shoot of that person's desire for something more than our world expects of us.

In my dealings with folks in the art community, there have been some wonderful people. Really amazing people. Yet, I have seen raw greed, unmitigated ambition, pettiness, corruption. Indeed, lately I have been thinking that art, as it is in the USA, breeds corruption.

Let's be honest, we're getting too much art and not enough humanity. We are getting too much sizzle and not enough sausage.

If every artist were actually aspiring toward a greater sense of humanity, we would have so many amazing influencers in the world naturally and organically bringing about change. The folks who seem to run the art world, however, often invite an artist to become a member of an upper social class, instead of making it possible for a person to always look for ways to become more humane and challenge what's wrong around us.  Art is a form of integrating those who might initiate change into an economic system as harmless producers for higher members of that economic system.

We've got people fighting for gallery shows, fighting for representation, fighting for money, fighting for fame. Those creating and writing about art should be fighting for impact, struggling for a meaningful way to engage others so that we can participate in each other's humane development. Let's face it, the goal of the contemporary American artist is, ultimately, FAME and MONEY not the amount of humanity he/she can bring into the world. Many artists settle into a niche as producers within a system driven by wealthy gallery owners, wealthy buyers and hapless lap-dog museums. They begin producing a mere husk of art, and not the real pith which can truly engage and change.

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