Arrowhead with damselfly

Yesterday I went to walk the boardwalk at Volo Bog, the last open-water bog in Illinois.  It is a very cool place, and has inspired a number of my paintings such as this one.  I love to gaze into the black pools of water that wends its way between mats of plant growth.  It looks so deep and mysterious.

Recently I’ve been reading, “33 Artists in 3 Acts” by Sarah Thornton.  It makes me uncomfortable, which is why I’m making myself read it.  I’m a little disappointed by the author.  She wants to know what artists are like, so she has chosen a handful from the ART WORLD.  Like the guy who bought a shark, stuck it in a tank, called it art and sold it for millions.  humph.  These are people who went to art school with the intention of making the connections that would vault them to fame and fortune.  They consider themselves to be art, and anything they create is incidental.  In fact they mostly don’t create anything, but delegate their ideas to craftsmen.  They are openly contemptuous of those of us out in the trenches, making our own art, striving to create beauty and perhaps share a message of hope and love.

I mention all of this because it takes me so by surprise and I don’t really know how to process it.  While I didn’t attend college for art (I have a BS in biology), I did look into it.  I had the impression that the point of attending art school was to learn how to make art. It never occurred to me that they were, in fact, grooming the next artist personalities, not the next artists.  So now we have a population of super-stars whose idea of art is dreaming up the obscene and making other people construct it.  Odd.  And the sad thing is, as you read what they have to say for themselves, you get the sense that they are lost.  They have been taught that they must participate in the conversation where it was when they came on the scene.  They must not paint, because painting is dead.  Had they all been born a few decades sooner, they would have been able to join the conversation at an earlier point. Say, before painting had been declared dead.  According to this line of thought, all painting that happens today is derivative.  Hmmm.

This isn’t the only area where I come across this.  Back in the early 80’s when I got involved with nature restoration, the field was wide open.  People were excited and hopeful and creative ideas were sought after, not squashed.  Nowadays, just try to suggest that another method of restraining exotics like buckthorn might work better than an escalation of herbicides and watch people blow their tops.

What do you think of this?  Is it valid to say that in any given endeavor, say art, or nature conservation, that there is such a thing as an ongoing conversation?  Are there a small group of “leaders” who get to decide what is right?  It seems rampant, to me. In so many areas of human thought and endeavor things gallop along into a blind alley.  Then, instead of pausing for reflection, the ones pushing for this line of thought harden it into dogma that must not be questioned.

Or is it necessary for the conversation to be interrupted from time to time…  I hope next time Sarah Thornton wants to know what an artist is she goes out and talks to painters and ceramicists and photographers and all of the other creative souls who call themselves artists.

Published by melissabluefineart

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30 thoughts on “Perspective

  1. You bring up a lot of good points. I don’t see a shark in a tank as art. But…there will be a small number of people who think ‘Wow…cool man’. Their number is very small, I hope.

    ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ can be applied, I guess. I am glad there are large numbers of people who recognize the art that seems to meet high standards of quality and expression. Your paintings, the quilts my dear Melanie creates, pottery her brother makes, folk art by many, the writings by many bloggers, and on and on…they have qualities that touch many people deeply. They move people to a higher and better place. It takes hard work to carry out such things. Plopping a shark in a tank doesn’t make it in my art book.

    Are there ongoing conversations? I think so. I see it all the time in science. That is the basis of progress. There are hard-headed people who don’t want to give up on their ideas they’ve invested much time and thought into. But, better ideas and progress usually rise to the top. I am glad to say the process still happens in spite of the growing distrust for science today. Sad. 😦

  2. Great response, Jim. You have expressed well some of the half-formed thoughts floating around in my head. I am happy to report that Damien Hurst (the guy with the shark) has decided to take up a paintbrush and teach himself to paint. Maybe this has all been a very silly stage the art world needed to go through. But I agree with you, and if I must think of myself as a folk artist, then so be it.

  3. Thank you for another beautiful painting evocative of the pleasures of plants, animals and wild spaces :-). Spider webs are such lovely death traps!

    I don’t think art needs to be beautiful. But I tend to prefer beautiful art. I recently read a book by Noah Strycker called The Magic & Mystery of Birds. He has a chapter on bowerbirds – the males create ornate bowers to seduce the females. He considers whether the birds are artists, whether art is of benefit to survival (bird or human) and he also tries to define art. In his definition, the attribute of art which stuck out the most was creativity. He says: “Philosophically speaking, any single definition of art may be pointless or even harmful, as any box, no matter how big, could limit creativity.” Other attributes of art which stuck out for me were skill of execution and communication. To me, skill of execution does not necessarily mean creating a beautiful work. If the purpose of the art piece is to create beauty and it captivates viewers with its beauty then it has been well executed. However, some art is meant to shock or make viewers feel something that is not beauty. Personally, I would not pay millions of dollars to put a preserved shark in my living room, but in some other space, the preserved shark might create the right mood. I’d get someone else to make a reproduction for the cost of time and materials.

    I think high art prices are a bit due to the folly of the rich and some popular art movements are just politics and hype.

    I remember in my one semester in art school, I learned about an artist selling his poo in cans and another fellow who put a toilet bowl in a gallery. Sometimes art is a commentary on itself… people will buy shit if it is original and they think it is a good investment. In 2008, one of those cans sold for £97,250. Canned shit, the original, preserved for posterity. I guess people are buying the idea? The moment in time? Why can’t they just let the can of shit go?

    1. I am delighted that you liked my post, andI thoroughly enjoyed your response. I read that book about birds, too. You make some very good points. I remember the cans of shit, too~what a stunt! And, actually, I guess the shark did communicate an idea that was pretty interesting. I’m just glad I didn’t go to art school so I didn’t have to hear anybody tell me painting is dead and beauty is passe, so I’ve gone blythely on my merry way. Thank you for sharing your delightful thoughts.

  4. If we look in the dictionary or encyclopedia there are definitions of art. But how accurately can they be applied to human endeavors. I have never understood performance art, to which the shark could loosely be related. Someone once put forth the proposition that every thing humans do is art. In that case then the shark is art. But I think that is too simplistic and making art too easy. Art is work…or it should be. We create to express our vision, whether painted or written, of daily experiences accumulated over a lifetime. There is nothing simple about that. Jeez…it was frustrating enough for one guy to cut off his ear.
    Our society has now become a bundle of trends and easily digested presentations that requires very little thought…although if you’ve ever stood next to someone gazing at a shark in a tank, it sure does sound like they are doing a lot of thinking…probably over-thinking. The folks who create that stuff are in it for the quick buck, I am sure…at least most. So cynical, in a P.T. Barnum sort of way.
    Sorry about my rambling.
    Personally, I’d rather have a Melissa Blue on my wall than a shark. 🙂

    1. I was hoping for rambles to match my own, Steve, so thank you for your thoughts. I console myself that they may have all the quick bucks, but I have joy. And I’m honored that you would rather have a Melissa Blue than a shark 🙂

  5. Talking heads, that’s all. Take it with a grain of salt. Every one must make their own path and it doesn’t matter what some “expert” says. Your heart is the only one you should pay any attention to, IMO. 🙂

  6. I have long been baffled that Damien Hirst (shark man) and Tracey Emin have been made superstars in the art world. I am sure they start as a cult (I’m an artist, not in it for the money), become collectable in a small circle, which seduces them to believe what they produce is good. The cult grows bigger and in its extreme becomes something like Apple. Value is what anybody will pay for something – vide Andreas Gursky!! That does not in my mind make it art. But perhaps I’m just an old fuddy-duddy. I hope so. Love your painting. Every city should have a wild space with board walks.

  7. Yes, I think you are right. I think the Art World has become terribly ingrown and jaundiced to the point they don’t even know what it is they are pursuing anymore.

    Thank you~I agree, board walks are essential.

  8. I enjoyed reading your post. The Art World of fame and big money has always been a mystery to me. I know people who make things such as pottery, painting, fabrics, etc these people might be called folk artists, but I find their work beautiful and useful.

    1. I agree. No matter how much I study their work I don’t see where they are coming from and I suspect they don’t either, not really. I’m with you, folk artists make wonderful things that I enjoy and that is the world I will choose to be a part of.

  9. Hi Melissa, I love your artistic style. Your work is more profound. Being a passionate fly fisherman,I observe in your river painting, a Dragon-fly resting on green foliage with a typical flower adding a sense of color.The shimmering, flowing, river underneath the foliage is a reminder that Summer will return soon & all, including aquatic life will return & burst forth once again.The spiders web is evident there there was a calmness on the water, and gives this a sense of melancholy.I will be watching out for more of your talented masterful creations. Blessings.Kind regards.Happy Easter holiday. Joseph.

    1. Hi Joseph, I really appreciate you stopping by and leaving a comment. Thank you so much for your kind thoughts~I loved how you described a moment on the water. Sounds like we share a love of that!
      Blessings to you as well.

  10. If I can follow you in my mathematical way, allow me to say humph squared or humph to the nth power. For decades it’s bothered me when I go to a museum and see something like an irregular heap of bricks in a corner that I know the museum must have paid tens of thousands of dollars for. Give me the tens of thousands of dollars and I’ll at least stack the bricks neatly.

    I like your verdant view of Volo Bog, which my mind jumped to read as Volo Blog—or maybe I should say my mind flew to it, because volo is the Latin word for “I fly.” I did a little looking online but got bogged down in my quest to find out where the name Volo came from for this place. Do you happen to know?

    1. 🙂 Humph squared, I love that! Good question about the name. The bog is located in the township of Volo, so I’ve always thought it was a person’s name. I’ll see if I can find out for you.

  11. I hear you…but I went to art school and it was a wonderful experience. This was the 70’s in NYC, and yes, painting was pretty much done, though there was still great respect for certain painters. The few people who made paintings in our class were marginalized. On the other hand, so much fresh air was blowing in – performance, conceptual art, environmental art – and vital questions were being asked. Yes, it does solidify into dogma, which should be torn apart from time to time.
    I struggled with my own impulses towards art that is representative and derived from nature, but for me, at the time, it was terrific to delve into totally new territory. Much later, I got a Botanical Illustration certificate from New York Botanical Garden and enjoyed the process very much; later still, I started taking pictures in earnest – pictures that typically are taken outdoors, in nature, and would be considered boring by my 70’s contemporaries. But I also do work that is influenced by what I did back at art school.
    I think the emptiness in the current self-and-personality-dominated art landscape reflects the society outside of art, too.
    There will always be people who are not looking to break rules or to find or be the next big thing, but are sincerely exploring other questions with their art. You just can’t expect the media culture to pay much attention to them. You’ve got to get satisfaction somewhere else.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective on this. It is very interesting to hear an insider’s point of view. That must have been a very exciting time for you! And as I read about the major artists, it does seem that after a number of years pushing boundaries they often do turn back to their earlier impulses.
    As for myself, I knew I could not be a part of the art world. I am a hermit by nature, far preferring to explore my own corner of the world. It gives me satisfaction and joy.
    Ha! Not part of the conversation, then. I’m the loony lady muttering in the corner 🙂

  13. Interesting. It’s all in the eye of the beholder. Sounds like schools are focusing on how to market a brand (the art). It makes sense that an artist tries to profit while he/she is alive instead of a distant family member or agency way down the line when the artist has passed away. As always your art is soothing; just love it.

  14. I have not read Sarah Thornton’s book, but it seems to me to about the emperor’s new cloth – if you know the H.C. Andersen tale. And I think it’s very symptomatic about the postmodern art discourse. The craft is abandoned and it’s all about yourself and speaking in tongues in such a way that nobody but the congregation understands. I think it’s possible for an artist to make somebody else actually make the art work, but that surely does’t make the craft dead for that matter. I think a discussion about what is art and how it can develop is healthy and valuable, but we don’t need anyone to tell us what is right or wrong. I am completely in agreement with you about the madness you describe here.

  15. Hello Otto,
    I am sorry I missed your comment until this morning. You really strike a chord with me on this~it reminds me of the emperor’s new cloth as well. Ah well~ they will be busy telling each other what to do and believe and the rest of us will enjoy what delights us 🙂

    1. I am so honored that you referenced me in your thoughts about What is Art?. You bring such careful thought to the subject.

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