Authenticity and authorship are two very interesting concepts within art history and art practice. We currently live in an era where authenticity is highly valued and deeply tied to the idea of one stand-alone creator. The “artist” is viewed as an individual who works alone to create a piece of art that was conceived and produced in solitude, only influenced by the ideas and techniques of predecessors and peers. Artist “factories” or studios that employ creative assistants, conceptual art where the artist only concerns him/herself with the idea and not the implementation, and appropriated art (brushing uncomfortably close to plagiarism) are looked down upon by many and not even considered art by some.
“What is art” is a question that I hear a lot, especially with the direction that a lot of contemporary and post-modern artists have taken. Artwork that looks so simple a child could do it, happenings that have no physical trace beyond the act, and concepts so abstract that they can’t even be clearly defined in critique are ambiguous, transient, and vague. They are difficult to call “art” because there is nothing concrete and obviously requiring talent to point to and label as “the work of art.” However, I don’t believe “what is art” is the correct question, at least, not for the answer most people are looking for (or it is nothing more than a trick question meant to “stump” art professionals and “reveal” their supposedly flimsy constructs of art, a sort of emperor’s new clothes objective). The point I am trying to make is that the question “what is art” is better broken down into two questions: “what makes an artist” and “what makes art good.” These are not questions I plan on tackling right now in this blog post. Not only are they way too big for a blog post to cover, but they are inherently subjective. Suffice to say, what I look for in a good work of art is creative and conceptual talent that has led to something that provokes new thought in the viewer and a charismatic (“sticky”), personal aura that reflects the humanity of the artist and asks the viewer to actively look outside of themselves and their own experiences and situation (whew, run-on sentence!). I know that is terribly broad and I further hold the right to contradict myself in the future as my opinions evolve and change.
All of this brings me back to my original point about authenticity and authorship, which is: their definitions and level of importance are constantly shifting throughout the history of art and of course into the present. What we hold in such high regard today – individual artistic vision, singular authorship of a finished work of art, unique ideas – were not always in vogue. For example, artist’s studios where several apprentices assisted in the creation of a finished work of art and the master artist only took part in the conception and finer details were quite common throughout the Renaissance and beyond. Raphael, Rembrandt, Titian: all of these masters of the past created their masterpieces in what we would currently call factories, much like Warhol, Hirst, and Murakami do today. Some contemporary scholars spend their entire careers trying to determine which Rembrandts were actually painted by the master and which were just signed by him. This realm of academia, however, is only relevant in today’s society, it just wasn’t such an issue when the works were first created, it definitely wasn’t a secret. Then, conceptually speaking, most works before the late 1800s were commissioned and the subject provided by the client instead of the artist. Artists only began basing their main oeuvre on a personal, creative conceptualization of both subject and technique fairly recently. Finally, if you look throughout the history of art, mediums and techniques have consistently evolved and shifted, and entirely new mediums have been regularly invented since cave painting; conceptual art and performance art are just two new methods and mediums in a steady stream of innovation and invention.
So, this long preamble is really just leading up to what I really wanted to write about today – as well as explaining why I think it’s acceptable to be included on a blog that is mostly about art writing. Below, I have listed several ideas and thoughts I have had…basically things I would love to see created by an artist and transmuted through their own personal lens. So, if I may:
THINGS I WISH MY ARTIST FRIENDS WOULD CREATE
- Performance (though it would be tricky in real time) or Video Art:
A life-size ballerina is being spun on a gigantic potter’s wheel. In my mind, the potter’s wheel should be sized so that the ballerina will scale to the size of a medium/medium-large vase (but s/he is in fact life-size). As s/he spins, s/he slowly (minutely, really) ages from about 5 or 6 years old to old age (think mid 80’s). As she spins and ages, her poses very slowly change (or evolve) every 10 seconds or so. The changes should occur slowly but distinctly so that it is obvious she has shifted and her position/pose has changed, but you cannot pinpoint exactly when this change occurred.
Lighting, costume, gender, positions, music, colors, etc. are left to the discretion of the artist.
Depict a hand pulling the sting bit from a clementine (between the skin and the meat…those annoying little bits that are left behind and look a bit like veins). It will be manipulated to strongly resemble someone pulling a thong string out of a butt crack, but the sizing of the hand to the clementine will be to scale for real life.
A modern day version of da Vinci’s body studies based on contemporary body builders. Heavily drawing from old master anatomy studies, but fully including the tanning and speedo choices…if possible, set it in Venice Beach in the same way etchings in 16th – 18th Century medical atlases placed the figures in idealized landscapes.
Baudelaire’s description of love: “For my part, if I were asked to represent Love, I think I should paint him in the form of a maddened horse devouring its master, or perhaps a demon with eyes ringed by debauch and insomnia, dragging noisy chains at its ankles, like a ghost or a galley-slave, shaking a phial of poison in one hand, and in the other a dagger dripping with the blood of its crime.”
A Bob Ross series, following his directions exactly as they are given on the show.
- Performance Art Piece (a warning, this is dark and personal and includes self-harm…so take caution):
Sit in a chair naked for 8-10 hrs. Chain smoke and continuously drink all day: coffee for the first third, water for the second third, red wine for the last third. Do not get up for any reason, pee in the chair. Every cigarette gets put out in an ash tray positioned next to you except the second to last one, a few min before the end. Ideally, within the last 30 minutes of the performance the room will be at its most full and people will be a little bored, not expecting anything new or drastic…maybe a little grossed out by the smell. The second to last cigarette you will put out on your arm (really…like actually burning your arm). Hopefully there will be a collective gasp, feel free to wince, but try not to flinch. Then the room goes entirely black and silent (hopefully). In the silence you light one more cigarette. The only light at this point is the flame, followed by the smoldering tip of the cigarette as you take a drag. Take a deep drag on the cigarette. At this point, a spot light abruptly illuminates you from behind at about a 50° angle from the ground (kind of like that scene in Flashdance, with the water) so that you are nothing more than a silhouette. Exhale the smoke (it should glow around you in the light, creating a halo effect). At this point, you will signal to a male helper (or whatever gender you are sexually attracted to) and as he walks on the lights turn on full and glaring, as if everything is done (nothin’ to see here, folks). He covers you in a blanket/towel/robe (ideally in a single, unobtrusive color and a very simple, not so nice fabric) and says, clearly, “let’s get you cleaned up.” As he helps you stand, say in almost a whisper, “do you think they liked it?” Walk off.
The room will be designed so that all your sounds are magnified but surrounding noise is dimmed. You want the audience to hear every sign, every match lit or lighter struck. When you almost whisper your line it should come across loud and clear, as if you are whispering into the ear of each member of the audience. The lights will be comfortable, dim, and warm (like twilight in the summer) until they are turned off, then the halo of light should be piercing, then they will be turned harshly back on full, bright, and glaring like in a doctor’s office.