FEAR OF… WELL, EVERYTHING
Most people have come across the concept of fight or flight, that funky little chemical reaction humans have to stress. It is said to be rooted in our biology from when we were cave people and were confronted by a giant wild boar. The question that ran across our mind’s screen looked something like this: I could take this beast on, I have my trusty spear, he will make a yummy dinner so I will fight him, can definitely take his ugly ass. Or: OMG, this is a very large, very hairy and very angry specimen and I left my good spear in the garage. I think I’ll test out my MBT’s and make a run for it. Fight or flight.
In 2009, we tend to come across more bulls and bears, not so many boars, that make us want to either carry a tranquilizer gun or run for the hills, resorting to organic farming as a lifestyle. It comes as no shock that the economy has tanked and we are looking at a scary landscape. Especially for young artists. The last article I wrote, The Dumbing Down of Art, brought out some truly insightful comments for discussion but also a lot of loony lava. I am not at all averse to frothing-at-the-mouth anger, find it perfectly understandable in light of the current situation, but I see it as fear turned on its head. We get really scared, can’t deal with it, so we rage, attack anything that moves hoping it will give us some control, a feeling of importance.
Hey, whatever works. If staging an anonymous guerilla attack makes one feel more of a substantial thinker, as opposed to working things through with some intellectual athleticism, go for it.
When things are going well there is enough credit for everyone but when the elephant dung hits the fan there is nothing but blame. Whose fault is it that we are in this mess? It seems that the current favorites to be hit in the face with the blame pie are art schools. Are artists being served by taking classes? Can art really be taught or is real art a cry of existential angst and who cares whether one can draw a nose or a foot? Can art students be actually over educated, so well read that they can’t make relevant work but know how to mix the perfect shade of sunset on the computer? It means that they have technical agility but nothing new to say. Is the artistic freedom of the next generation curtailed by out of touch faculty? Does the teaching of art cost the faculty their own creativity? Is having a steady job detrimental to making angry art? Does being a self-taught Henry Darger-type present more authenticity when compared to the Columbia art-grad school crowd? Endless questions, all valid.
Part of the reason we may be at this juncture has to do with the grooming for success ideology that college-bound students were expected to incorporate into their psyche in the last decade. Not just the Ivy Leagues, but art schools that conferred degrees were given a standard to live up to, guaranteeing their grads a lucrative future – as artists. How weird is that?
But here we are now and we are questioning the new professionalism the schools worked hard at achieving. The new professionalism demands steady attendance, steady production, a verbal ability to defend the work and a seriousness of purpose that can be articulated in a PR memo. And the new professional artist should really be photogenic, clean and interesting looking without being threatening, got that? Now go make some “good” art that can be written about, that references at least five “isms” and that has the potential to be in a biennial soon.
This is why there is indeed a backlash but it is the messenger that is getting the pie in the face. Art schools are more college-like because that was what was expected, demanded and what kept them in business but it flies in the face of what scared, angry, inarticulate but talented young artists can deal with and therein lies the rub. We have a revolution, an uprising in the wings with furious outbursts and it is all good.
Time for the next phase, whatever that may be, but let it be constructive, make the most interesting art in whatever way available, forge a new everything, stop the victim noises. Other than one’s self, there is no one to blame for one’s own personal inaction.