Monday, February 12, 2018

What is an Artist?

This is the article that got me inspired to post a comment on Facebook about, just what is an artist? Basically putting up an item as in the photo below, is art?

Danh Vo, Theodore Kaczynski’s Smith Corona Portable Typewriter, 2011.
Artist Marvin Hayes took up the challenge and responded to my initial comments below. He is an incredible mind blowing artist. I can't show you all I've seen of his works over the years, you'll just have to take my word for it. And I've met some very, very good artists, by the way. But no one to the degree he has achieved. You can see some of his works on Redbubble. He has also done many of my book covers.

Here is what I initially had said:

I get that art is in the eye of the beholder, but it seems to me that to get paid for art, to be an "artist" one has to actually produce art, preferably from the ground up.

Which takes away from rappers and musicians who sample other's music and artists using other's art and mediums in their art. This is the same issue that caused such an uproar when musicians (though I wouldn't call some of the first rappers actual musicians if melody was not involved and only percussion and spoken word but, that's another issue), who started sampling other's music, even if out of homage or tribute. I do get that.

I'm just not sure what they should be called. Artist? Perhaps.

I just think there is a difference from the artist who produces art from the smallest denominator with a vast and qualitative skill set, to those who effectively "cheat" in quantitatively using the art of others.

And I don't use cheat in a necessarily derogatory way. I just see a difference between an artist with the skills to produced incredible art from nearly nothing, to one who borrows and actually has little or no technical skills but can conceive and produce.

I do see value in both. I just think we need to call a card a card.

Marvin Hayes:

Although I generally agree. Myself, I don't see it that way overall. I'd say coincidently one of my top pieces is the collage I did for you (see below).

Piece by artist Marvin Hayes
I put about as much work into it as any other pieces I have done (it is a mix of images from magazines and some painted enhancements). I do both from scratch and assembled works. I feel assembled works are made of medium similar as one would do from scratch (not always). In one I would paint or sculpt everything from scratch. In the assembled I'd use pre existing images as my paint medium. Or found objects.

Kris Kuksi
Two of my top 5 artists do or did assemblages. One only does assemblages (Kris Kuksi) the other did multiple mediums (Max Ernst). Although most of the assembled Max Ernst works are not what I like about his work. I like his from scratch work.

Max Ernst
Steampunk is mostly assembled works and one of my fave alltime art styles. Also Junk art I love, made from found objects.

Technical skill is only one part of art. Communicating emotion plays a big part. Some of the worst painters technically are some of the greatest artists. Hitler for instance was a great technical drawer but failed emotionally in his art. And he was a very outwardly emotional person.

As an artist one has to project emotion through the art medium. Hitler seemed to be able to do that not through his art but through his communicating to his hateful base (like Trump). A sort of performance artist. Although I hate even referring to either monster as artists.

So bottom line is technical skill matters but more so the artist's ability to project emotion by any means necessary, matters more. And a core skill set like perspective drawing and anatomy help the artist more easily project emotion. As would a solid knowledge of music theory would a musician. Similar in all arts. Best to have the core skills but not required.

Rarely are things black and white. Mostly things are shades in between.

mechanized metal sculpture by Marvin Hayes
But I do get a little unnerved by those that just throw something up as their art when they had little or no input. Andy Warhol and Chihuly I consider two of the most overrated "artists" in history. Being that they rarely touched their medium. Warhol just regurgitated, took credit for things he never did. Chihuly similarly.

My response:

I agree with what you're saying and you're surely more the expert on this than I am. As you indicated, I have problems with someone taking an old typewriter and calling it art. Effectively making labeling something, or pointing to something, an art form. It's confusing, and disconcerting. Because I do believe you can be an artist in something that does not seem art related but there is still deftness and artistry in your product or actions. And effort.

restoration by Mavin Hayes
My ex (an "artist" and she did make some interesting art pieces, one I even sent to Clive Barker because he liked the image of it I had sent to him, this was many years ago). But something like say, gluing things to a car and calling it art, is or isn't? Simply gluing crap to something is not (should not) be art, unless there is an underlying principle involved that requires one would think, an understanding or an education in art.

Because I can glue things to something and evoke an emotion, I'm not so sure is art. So often that "artist" merely stumbles into it being conceived as art, but not because of any real thought on their part. Art by guesswork, essentially. It has artistic tendencies to be sure. But is it art?  Or something merely to be considered as such, when the person lacks foreknowledge of what they are doing? Not art by erratic action, but shouldn't it be considered and informed thought as an artist?

I do believe it's of social benefit to say, "anyone can be an artist", or a creator (more likely). As it frees one to produce and could lead to an artist who hadn't previously existed until their attempts or efforts come to fruition. But does it do a disservice to an actual artist? I think of those "authors" on Amazon who self publish utter trash and poorly written books.

painting by Marvin Hayes
They have diluted the market and made it harder for actual, effective and talented authors to self publish. And the notion that the best will rise to the top like cream on milk, is mostly trash. There is too much to wade through without the money from the author to bring their works to the attention of the public, or at least the right influencers.

It is a kind of travesty and that is in part my concern on all this about artists.

There is the "artist" for me in different contexts. I'll just say I do not like art in galleries or museums that are actually "placements" or merely collections of random things the artist didn't build but put together in a theme. Though I do get they can be art.

pencil drawing by Marvin Hayes
I just think "art" should be elevated beyond that of mere "creation". I think there should be some competence, technical skill, knowledge and education involved. For the most part anyway. I did a phenomenological study at my university toward my psychology degree about, what is art and my conclusion was, it is creation, in a most base sense. Which, freed me to try artistic things, which refers back to what I had said above, earlier. I do get that.

I don't have a problem with an artist with no education, or learned technical skill. If you look at it and it just says art, and more so if they can explain it to some degree bordering beyond craft to art. Though craftsmanship (craftspersonship?) can certainly be elevated to art.

Dragonfly sculpture by Marvin Hayes
On the other hand I don't have a problem with Warhol or Chihuly. Though I do see there, a difference in what I'm trying to say. Still, they did start out competent and then turned more into managers of art. And as Warhol asked, I think, at what point does it go from art to product? Or product to art?

Seattle Installment of Chihuly glass
Anyway, my main complaint is with the faux artist who really isn't an artist (and may very well know it, some of those being confidence people "conman") but acts and produces as if they are one and worse, when others incorrectly label them as such.

Marvin's response:

I should have said "focussed emotion". Emotion driven by intent not just response. But purposeful response based on some sort of skill, emotional skill or technical skill set... a mix. Best to have an even mix of technical/emotional.

I agree Chihuly had the core benefit of actual skill and production, knowledge of his medium. Later being a supervisor over a crew with skills ( after he lost his eye ).

But Warhol on the other hand was what I call a spinolio. A rather hollow wooden person that others project skills onto. He had little skill, almost no talent and yet ended up being considered one of the greats ;-/ Mostly by misunderstanding. Projecting genius onto an idiot. He is referred to by some to be a sociopath. Not sure I agree with that but he was definitely a manipulator that took credit for things he had little or no part of.

painting by Marvin Hayes
That documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop is a good example of how an "artist" might manipulate or steal others work and pass it off as their own. There is a lot of BS in the art world. In fact most of the art scene is total BS. Mostly the art dealers, collectors. But also disingenuous "artists". Some on purpose, some not.

All artists do a certain amount of "stealing" from others. Not just artists, it:s how evolution of anything works. We build on what came before us. All art is derivative. All innovation is also. A chain of thought.

Myself I'm regretful I didn't take anatomy and perspective courses. I struggle through that because I didn't really think I needed it. I really avoided doing people or buildings, etc., for most of my life. Depended on models.

My advice to any artist is take anatomy and perspective first! Use it as a core.

painting by Marvin Hayes
My response:

You have done some brilliant art though. I know no other artist in your class, not personally.

Marvin's response:

Thanks ;-) This would be a good thing to bring up in an article. Artists struggle with these sorts of questions. It's always a shock when one realises that the questions, what is art and, what is an artist, is so elusive. Everyone wanting a simple explanation. To me it comes down to mostly expressing ideas through a medium.

Marvin then continued in a group where I had also posted the original article and my comments:

This one doesn't piss me off as much as the one with 3 basketballs placed in an aquarium. Like to punch the "artist" in the face! ;-/

One thing I noticed is people tend to align with crapier art because they feel that art generated by extreme skill is out of their reach, their comfort zone. They feel more akin with what they feel they could possibly achieve themselves.

There has been research to back this up. And PunkRock was given as an example. People generally feel Rap, Folk arts and what others might call outsider art or Low Brow art is closer to them. Rather than higher arts, classic music or the masters.

I can relate to that on some scale I guess.
sculpture by Marvin Hayes
My comments after all this to you:

As I say above, Marvin is the greatest artist I have ever met. If you haven't seen his works, you should.

So, how does one close up an article like this? Well, I love Tim Minchin. Let's end with one of his recent tweets:
painting by Marvin Hayes
From Tim Minchin - @timminchin

"An excellent [see video link] review. Really worth watching if you’re interested in the craft of arts criticism."

Uh, yeah, click on the link so you can watch the video to which he refers. Sheesh.

And now let's end with this....

When Artists Move From The Margins to the Center

Cheers! Sláinte!
sculpture by Marvin Hayes

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