Saturday, April 07, 2007

Outsiders and Art.

My mind is still completely centered on the arts scene, so I'm going to have to ask for your patience in bearing up under the onslaught of this latest rash of posts. With my closing tonight, I've found myself spending a lot of the afternoon calling people to invite them to the reception. I've mostly focused on those who weren't able (or chose not) to make the opening. It ended up being a good excuse to touch base with folks I don't get to talk to often. That opportunity is welcome, because it refocuses my attentions on what I really enjoyed about showing my art in the first place- making connections with people. When I concentrate on that worthy goal it's easier to stem the tide of hyper self-analysis that gets so grating (and probably annoys the hell out of readers of this blog).

This type of contact also reminds me just how different the art world is viewed from the outside. More and more lately I have found myself spending much of my time with people involved directly with the arts, in one way or another. I interact with artists at drawing sessions, at gallery exhibitions, and at the bar. Like any other subgroup, we sit and pontificate upon our perspectives of our particular sphere of activity. Don't try and tell me this doesn't happen whenever like-minded individuals meet to discuss investments, relationships, fashion, sports or the workplace. Artists often get labeled as pretentious, but their talk mirrors that of any other segment of society. There's just as much grandstanding elsewhere. It's likely inevitable that we also devote a lot of our conversation to the reception we get from outside of our circle. But that kind of talk has more to do with defining our own identities as it does with trying to attain any measure of real objectivity.

So it's always interesting to hear the assessments of others. Recently a friend left a comment on a post that basically amounted to "Who really cares?" When I talked with her later she was worried that I would take offense at her opinion. She pointed out that it is egotistical of me to even keep a blog, and to write the kind of stuff included in that post. While I pointed out that I write plenty about subjects as diverse as politics, literature and film, her reaction was (basically) to laugh at me. Somehow I appreciated that feedback. I guess I need someone to tell me to "keep it real" once in awhile. It's too easy to build an insulatory bubble and lose one's broader view.

I like to tell the story of the Christmas that I decided to give my photos out as gifts to my family. There's a widespread canard about how much more personally gratifying handmade presents are to receive. Maybe this was true in the pioneer days, when settlers needed blankets and tallow candles to brighten their homesteads. But nowadays a gift certificate from Bed, Bath and Beyond is likely to be better appreciated. My belief that my artwork would be valued turned out to be too often mistaken. I carefully chose pieces that each family member would enjoy, and sent them out by post. It turns out that several of them changed hands quite quickly. My dearly departed grandmother's reaction was pricelessly endearing. I selected for her a conservative shot of a goldfish swimming outside at the zoo. I learned from secondhand sources that that she was confused by the gift. Apparently she asked, "Who the hell would want to take a picture of half a goldfish?!" I found that to be fairly constructive criticism.

I find myself regularly getting too caught up in the opinions of other artists. It's invaluable to balance that out with the perspectives of non-artists. Many of us are aware of the fact that there is an awful lot of foolishness going on in the world of modern art. I'm reminded of the tale of the performance artist that got liposuction, and then served up the extracted fat (in a blender) to patrons at his opening. Self-referential and masturbatory works dominate the scene. While there is certainly nothing wrong with engaging in an informed dialogue through your work, it's also beneficial to remember that there's a whole separate world looking in from time to time.


Anonymous jefg said...

Found this post extremely interesting (in a good way). I think you have a good handle on how much of the "everyone else group" views some of the art one sees in galleries.

My only "criticism" of your post is your reference to your grandmother using the word "hell". While I imagine you chose the phrase to make a point...Ummm...that's far too much literary license, referring to someone who likely never used a single curse word in her life, and particularly when you use it to refer to something she would have said about anything regarding one of her grandchildren. She hung your photo in the living room of her house, a house pretty old-fashion in decor, proud that you had sent it to her. True, she didn't appreciate it as art in the way other might, but she was truly happy that you thought about her by sending her something you had made (as she appreciated everything she ever received from everyone). People have pieces in their
homes for different reasons, and they are all good. Happily, the photo now hangs in the home of one her sons (the fisherman).

9:46 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Thanks for the compliment.

Yeah, it's quite likely that she omitted the word "hell", but I disagree that it's too much literary license. If the reader knew her, it defangs her rejection of the work and adds an element of humor. If the reader had not ever met her, then it is simply comic to imagine their own grandmother reacting in a similar way. I wouldn't have wrote it that way if I hadn't imagined her saying it in my head

10:22 AM  
Blogger Susan Constanse said...

Fat served by a performance artist?
One more time -- EEEEWWWWW!!!

No wonder people are confused by performance art.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

without the expression and immagination of artists, work and talk.........their would be no example of a "new " road to walk, and wonder........most everything is so common and predictable.
Its so incuraging that some dare to turn the table over or on its side, even if all you find is balled up and mabee even wet gum.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Additional note to Jefg:

But I understand your feeling of disconnection with the portrayal of the real person. my empathetic faculties suggest that it doesn't strike you as accurately representative, and maybe you feel it's unfair of me to put my own mark on her words. But in my world fiction and non-fiction are not easily delineated. I have to ask for your indulgence in this case.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


Nice imagery!

But it makes me a bit sad that you believe that "most everything is so common and predictable."

I don't feel that way. I may see alot of phenomena as reprehensible, depressing and bleak... but I am constantly surprised (and often amusedly so) by the sheer inconstancy and unpredictability of life.

3:15 PM  
Anonymous jefg said...

Repeat...I thought the post was a good one. I guess I'm being overly sensitive (or bored on this snowy Easter day), but when you put quotes around something you're attributing to another person, I'm taking that as what the person actually said. For those who know her, of course we would know she wouldn't say that, which is exactly why the portrayal is slightly disturbing. For those who didn't know her, it becomes the only thing they can attribute to her demeanor. Will you admit, at least, that if you were misquoted in a way that would not be in character for you, you may not let it pass? OK, I'm done now. Smiling.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


Truly my comments were meant to demostrate that I am sensitive to your reaction to the device used.

This may sound like quibbling to you, but I think it's important here that we are talking about an anonymous portrayal of a grandmother of a persona I use to represent myself. The point of writing under a pseudonym is to eliminate a lot of the supression I would impose on my own writings if I had to put my actual name to every thought expressed on the blog. The intention was to expand my own freedom and creativity.

Having said that, I do appreciate and respect your feelings about this. I believe this thread of comments is probably enough to set the record straight for anyone that might be sensitive to my portrayal. But if you feel it's not sufficient I will remove the offending word from the original post. I would do so with ambivalence though, because it originally felt like a minor liberty to assume for a bit of extra color. In this case I guess it's hard to find the detachment to attribute the "quote" to an archetypal grandmother.

5:38 PM  

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