Sunday, June 15, 2008

Who is John Galt?


My friend, Nicole, recently travelled to her local art supply store to find that it no longer carried art supplies, but had become a framing store and gallery.  To celebrate this changeover, the owners were having a mural contest in order to decorate the side of the gallery.  The only catch: Artists were not allowed to participate.

This put me in mind of a discussion Graydon Parrish had posted on his painting forum, Rational Painting, and the current art movement described by Steve Diamant, owner and president of Arcadia Gallery, in his Spring 2008 newsletter.  It seems that the new "ism" is "deskilled art," in which traditional skills and disciplined training are devalued, in favor of poorly executed art.  That's right, the "avant garde" galleries out there want you to buy the worst stuff a person can create and hang it on your wall or throw it in some corner of your house.  Na├»ve art and primitive art are even too masterfully done for this new genre.  (I am happy there are galleries out there like Arcadia, which do not subscribe to this new movement, and value representational art instead).

Deskilling is not a new term.  In sociology, it is used to describe the change in our industry's manufacturing process.  Through deskilling, the job of building something is broken down into it's smallest component parts, so that people with no skills and no training can be hired to do each individual task.  (ie. carving a Hepplewhite chair is difficult;  being on an assembly line squeezing wood glue into a pre-drilled hole is easy).  The end result is a workforce you can pay less, but which also has no skills, and takes no pride in its work.

In the past, artists like Andy Warhol took advantage of deskilling, in a sense, by not creating his own work, but just by conceiving it, and outsourcing the production of the art to his anonymous factory worker-followers.

When did the general populace begin to fall for this sort of thing, and how?  Discordant, random notes do not make up a song, or otherwise, the public would listen to that on the radio.  Although modern dance succeeded in in bringing some unskilled and unattractive choreography to the main, it didn't last as a genre either, because no one wanted to watch it, and the very nature of our human bodies and that of physics fought against it.  Why in the visual arts then do people accept the very inability to do art as a form of art?  When art is used to measure the success of all of our previous societies in history, then why did we in the last century learn to devalue it so much?

In part, we made everything art, which meant that anyone could do it equally well, and conversely, none of it was to be exalted or valued since it was so abundantly found (Warhol's Campbell's soup cans, for instance).  When I watch DIY shows on cable, however, the designers never ask the participants to paint a copy of the Sistine Chapel on the ceiling;  instead they are given some paint and told to make a piece of abstract art.  

One way that we began as a society to learn to devalue skilled art, feels Fred Ross, chairman of the Art Renewal Center, was based on the economic wants of galleries and art representatives.  Artists like William Adolphe Bouguereau had waiting lists for their art, often eighty clients deep.  Unfortunately, the galleries only made their percentage when a painting was sold, and Bouguereau couldn't produce at a rate equivalent to the demand for his paintings.  The galleries needed artists who could produce more quickly, but whose work was still in want by collectors.  In the end, galleries had to learn more about promoting and advertising their artists, and learn to convince the public that what they saw on the walls were "so good as to be beyond the public's understanding," and that as the vanguard of artistic taste, they had to add it to their collection.  The artist meant little, as long as he was quick, because the galleries (and the critics they fostered) did the work of "selling" the work, in every way that word connotes.   This system of salesmanship got out of control when people started believing what they were saying.

I mentioned in an earlier post that their were quotes in John Collier's book that I found amusing.  One such quote from his 1889 treatise which reminds me of this latest movement is:

Who knows?  some day the art of painting may be become progressive; but I am convinced that that day will not come until painters learn to study their business with the same devotion and the same intelligence with which men of science study theirs.

Little did he know that the art world would "progress" to the point where study and devotion to training would become anathema to "good" art.

Ah, well;  Who is John Galt?

1 comment:

Kristy Gordon said...

Wow, what an interesting post!! and I like how yu linked to the who is John Galt thing, cuz yeah,I was beginning to wonder;)