- Tom- Tom
Picasso described his paintings as “notes” – evidences of his thought process. His life work demonstrates that he thought about life and art imaginatively and he represented his thought process in many inventive forms. Much of his pondering was experimental. His genius was that he dared get out of his box many times to invent new ways of making art.
In our culture, many artists are essentially “logo” artists. They invent a form – a brand image – and stick with it – not daring to move on from what has brought them whatever attention earlier work gained them. Myriad artists essentially make the same picture in the same style over and over – sometimes ad nauseum. They are supported by a dealer / collector market who want the “brand.”
Fortunately for the restlessly curious among us, art history has a special regard for the innovators – those who extend the definition of art and the ways it can be made. It takes time for some innovation to be accepted as art – as Duchamp infamously demonstrated when he hanged a urinal on the wall. But imagine the loss had Frank Stella stopped with his pinstripe paintings. You see below the huge leap Stella made from his pinstripe paintings, and the reflections he made on them more recently.
In a recent review at amazon.com of my newest book, FINE ART SEX, one writer, Felixpath, took issue with the photos I shot during Skype conversations. He found them a “tad too experimental” and more than a “tad pretentious.” To his credit, he suggested that perhaps the work might grow on him, so I offer a reason to better understand what is going on in my mind these days.
The construction of my early books reveals my strategy. The public has fixed ideas about what is art. The classically composed nude makes the “cut.” I demonstrated my understanding of that taste in classic black and white compositions in the 1990s – and pushed the envelope with higher levels of erotic information than were common in those days.
In the On The Couch series, I upped the heat factor in the images made on our sofa – an unpretentious stage for more explicit work that often referenced classical painting in form and color. That work shook a number of people who thought I’d lost my way. They told my dealers they thought I was making porn and wished I’d stuck with the classic black and white pool pictures. My dealers told me they saw the ON THE COUCH work as about 20 years ahead of the art market. Over time, seeing them gorgeously printed life sized has helped change perceptions about them. Presentation can have that effect.
In the recent Skype pictures I depart from my prior formats again – this time to embrace the new technologies we use to communicate with one another – often intimately. Felixpath finds them “pretentious” and for various reasons thinks they don’t deserve the claim I make for them as fine art. His opinion is not an unexpected response to the new. Some people just don’t like change.
Innovations by artists have often been initially criticized for using subjects or techniques not previously found or used in fine art. Rauschenberg incorporated junk he found on the street in his early paintings – Warhol used commercial mechanical means to document American culture with newspaper photos – and we’ve all heard – “My five year old kid” could produce Jackson Pollack’s drip and dribble paintings made often with common house paint.
If art is judged by “product” standards – we learn little about life and see less about art. The world is awash with perfectly polished imagery devoid of emotion, invention or meaning. It’s art as commodity. For me, the issues are: what am I’m seeing – have I seen it before – does it surprise me – does it charm me – confuse me – make me wonder – annoy me – cause me to look at something in a new way – see a potential I hadn’t thought of before – does it, for whatever reason, stick in my mind? Does it expand my imagination?
Felixpath disliked the “grainy, blurry, over-saturated screencaps” as he described them. (Actually, they are not screen captures; they are photos of the computer screen where I’d posted images shot earlier next to a live Skype screen as explained in my text.) For readers interested in how art is created, the images are worked up in post-production Photoshop to achieve their final form, color and texture. I love the screen created vignettes in the pictures I shot of my computer screen. And I love the classic beauty of the man shot this way.
These images, I hoped, would signal two things. One: They are emotionally authentic descriptions of moments made to maintain intimacy – a bridge to cross the distance of geography. My texts in FINE ART SEX reveal that. I see them as 21st Century love letters. Two: I love their grainy, blurry over-saturated color. They came to me that way and I enhanced them to preserve the qualities I liked. I see an authenticity in them that slick photos might lack.
I appreciate, to name but a few examples, the qualities of Toulouse – Lautrec’s color and composition, the silk screen figure studies by Warhol, and the sexy Saytr in the studio etchings by Picasso. If a viewer / reader of my work also appreciates what these artists’ experiments produced and taught – the Skype pictures may well be seen as their often sexy progeny. In fact, I know that is the case because they’ve told me so.
This morning, as I’ve been writing this blog, a friend who has had a distinguished art world career as a museum director and art foundation director, wrote: . . . “I’m stunned by how different your work has become! Congratulations. You evolve. I recall leaving the Barnett Newman retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art a few years ago. It may have been one of the sadder moments of my museum-going life. Once Newman discovered his “zip” he stayed with it for the rest of his career. Zip after zip after zip. To see the vitality in your work, the energetic pushing forward and moving on in different ways is exhilarating.”
We can argue about who is right or wrong in their opinions or who has the better credentials to express them. But I prefer the discussion to be about how much more we see when the dialog is open and informed. Felixpath has paid many compliments to my work in general and I appreciate that he took the care to analyze my new book. I expect others may well have been puzzled, as he was, by this new body of work. But new directions must provoke questions – excite controversy and criticism – or they fail as art.
It may be that other artists see my innovation and build on it. My intention is to build on it myself and present it in new ways – life sized – with video – in light boxes that project the luminosity of a computer screen. No eight inch photo in a book can project the quality of a work when writ large in person. When I first saw David Hockney’s iPad drawings printed the size of the tablet – I thought – “how sweet.” When I saw them projected eight foot tall in all black space – I thought – “ OMG – how wonderful is this.”
These Amazon reviews raise a number of additional issues I hoped would be raised by FINE ART SEX. That was my intention. I will address more of Felixpath’s issues in future blogs. I love the discussion. I’m grateful to those who prompt it.
Other posts in this series: