Friday, January 6, 2012

Rules Are More Than Lines On Paper


The Fountain,
Marcel Duchamp

Mat Gleason, art critic at Coagula Art Journal, recently wrote an excellent essay titled, “12 Art World Habits to Ditch in 2012.” It is great reading with liberal sprinkles of humorous wisdom. My art boy hackles were raised by two of his habits and I felt compelled to respond.

Mr. Gleason writes:

Rules. There are too many of them. You do whatever you want. You can even be so great that you actually achieve a complete and total failure. Then you can make art. But you never have to follow any of the rules and anyone who says you do... well he or she just hasn't failed enough to realize this.

Experts. Art is subjective. There inherently cannot be experts.

Marcel Duchamp, hero of many post-modernists, and famous for the statement,Art is whatever the artist says is art, not what critics say art is.” It was, in Duchamp’s case, a true statement, since no one denied he was already a bona-fide artist.

His words have since been turned upside down and taken by would-be artists to mean, “If I say it is art, then I am an artist.” There is a huge difference in the two statements, which is the years and years of labor it takes until one has the training and confidence to call themselves an artist.

People today seek to and are even encouraged to bypass education and experience as unnecessary. Just jump right in and express yourself. Your art is just as valid as any other artist’s work. This is magical thinking of the na├»ve and also a disturbing trend of those who deride art as being intellectual elitism. As Mr. Gleason correctly points out, art is sensual and visual, not intellectual.

This is where experts and rules come together. From the viewpoint of the artist, creative rules are like riding a bicycle. You ride that bike and then crash. You ride and crash again. Pretty soon, one learns what to do and what not to do and masters riding a bicycle. After that, bike riders internalize the rules and can ‘forget’ them and enjoy the ride.

Making art is the same thing. You go to school or learn on your own. You try something and inevitably make mistakes. Along the way, after much trial and error, you realize there are rules. There are rules of color, line, composition, and technique. The art student internalizes those rules until they too can ‘forget’. The challenge then becomes how to break the rules and stay true to one’s vision.

Considering artists, learning art is first an objective experience. Making art, however, is subjective. If artists stick to it and are lucky, they will become experts of their own personal vision.

When looking at art, viewers tend to fall back on their own personal likes and dislikes. They may not be aware of technique or artistic intention, but if they look long enough, they become experts of their own feelings.

People who spend their lives around art may become expert at art’s objective nature. They recognize color, composition, technique and know if it works or not. When viewing content and speaking of an artist’s intention, their expertise is almost always colored by subjective preference.

It could be said that the artist, the viewer and the art critic are all, in their own way, experts. As it is in life, trouble comes when any one of them try to impose their rules and expertise on the others.