Sunday, February 08, 2009

Beyond Work

We have no use for things that don't work. That's understood. Cars, lamps, plumbing, and yes, even paintings, they have to work or we have no use for them. They are just wasting space. Garbage. 

There are a lot of people who only talk about whether or how paintings work, however, and I find this at the very least, distasteful. I can't help it, it's just something you don't talk about as far as I'm concerned. Again, I don't know how else to say it; it is in bad taste. I heard about someone who on their blind date couldn't accept a gift of chocolates because it gave them, you know, I'm sorry, I can't even spell the word. It isn't squeamishness, we all get it, know about it, but you don't talk about it, especially in the same sentence with chocolate! These are plumbing issues! You just see that they are taken care of. Things have to work. It is understood.  Beyond that we have to be... beyond that. Needless to say the blind date didn't get to first base.

The same is true in painting. These people who talk about whether and how something works don't get to first base. The critics, and teachers, and students, and artists who talk about this stuff never understand why they never get asked out again.

Painting, even when it is about nature, is the language of the unseen. It is what people need to be talking about but never do. It is like love. No one, except maybe the French, ha ha, talk about it. You have these people who meet, apparently fall in love, shack up, get married, move to the burbs, and the subject never comes up again. It is why they are together in the first place, but it never comes up again and they wonder why they go insane. Just yesterday I heard about a person who makes her children play an instrument. They have to take lessons and practice. No talk about love. Loving the music. Loving the instrument. Loving the sound, the way it makes them feel. It's like they want them to be able to do it without love in the first place, so that when they let the love die, they won't miss it. Again, needless to say, the kids quit their instruments and music as soon as they could.

This was another asshole moment, number 489, that I had with my mentor, the artist Richard Tuttle, when I was a very young painter.  He had the same protestant hang-up work ethic thing. He hated these people who loved art and loved making it. Of course I was one, and he hated that about me and tried to grind it out of me. 

If this guy on his blind date had spoken the language of love, he would be shacked up right now with a do not disturb sign on his door. Art is like the language of love. You have to be there, or you're just crazy in the burbs.

Nobody talks about this stuff though. They just talk about whether things work. Dry basements. That sort of shit. Sorry.  That's the thing, no one ever talks about what's on the inside. They act like THAT is in bad taste. Fine to talk about plumbing, but dont' talk love. That is the messy thing. 

Everybody is just talking about the wrapping on the package. You meet people, and you can see that they have maybe taken care of their exterior. It is painted. Pretty front door. Maybe some nice plants or flowers, but what women don't understand about men is that men are going to have to go inside at some point.  When men grow up, smarten up, they start getting hunches about what it is like in there before they rush inside. Young men and fools rush in. What is it like in there? Who is home? Is it warm and sweet and smart and comfortable, or is it icy, is there a cold draft, is it dark and scary, is it toxic? Is there screaming coming from the basement. The same is true for men, of course, and the complaint is that usually the door is rusted shut and the lights are out. Better to just sit on the porch.

The really tough thing about painting is that for all the talk about good art, and good painting, when mercifully you get past the part about whether it works or not, it is really subjective. It is about whether you like it or not. It is. You can't get around this. Nobody wants to admit it but it is true. It comes down to whether or not someone likes it, and who those people are. Are they people in high places with power? That's all. Are there enough people in high places with power that like it? Lots? This is hard for people to accept. It is just the way it is. Now there are lots of reasons why people like things, and it is a little like the sausage metaphor, you are happier not knowing. 

That's the thing. People don't want to know. They want to get in the car and have it drive. They want to turn on the light and read. They want to flush the toilet and have that bad stuff gone(except the French, ironically. They interpret their shit because it tells them what is going on with their health and well-being)! People want to have a painting sit there and work!( The fact that the French can talk about love and art might explain why they are so smart, dammit,  and why everyone, even Republicans, love Paris.)

You make paintings and either people go or they don't go. They like them or they don't. The other stuff is politics and power. Everyone likes a winner. If you are a winner, they like you no matter what. They want you around. They want it to rub off. But painting is not a race. It is not a contest. You can't cross the finish line first. When it is all said and done it is just whether what you've done is appreciated by the people looking at it. And then of course, who are the people looking at it. If you're making sushi for people who want pizza you're going to have a lot of rotting food on your hands. Either make pizza, or move to somewhere where people love sushi, OR, just make enough sushi for yourself because you're the only one whose going to be eating it. Makes sense, right. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. You can make the best sushi in the world but if they want pizza you're out of luck. You can't force people to eat anything. 

So don't think you're going to win people over to your sushi if you make enough of it. I know artists with warehouses filled with sushi hoping everybody is going to start appreciating it; and then of course they will be ready. Hey, I make sushi because I like it, and I make enough for me and my family and friends.  I don't expect to have anyone else like it. I don't suffer because no one else likes it. I only suffer if people I care about who I think care about me are unkind. I don't care if they don't like my sushi and would rather have pizza. I figure they aren't going to starve. You can get pizza anywhere. 

Just for the record, if people want pizza, then pizza it is, no ifs, ands, or buts. Love that pizza. I would never suggest in a million years that they shouldn't want that pizza and want sushi instead. Also, and just as important, artists want people to eat up what ever they are making whether it is pizza or sushi. They want people to eat it up, love it, rub their tummies and beg for more and tell their friends! Of course this is true! Never believe otherwise.

There are other questions of course. Like the questions of the day. What's in the air. What's on our plates. But in the end we do what we do. Morandi painted jars through two world wars and I think there was a shift in hue. James Joyce's wife asked him why he didn't write books people wanted to read. Well, the answer is simple. He had bigger fish to fry. He was writing for literature and for history(if you look back you'll see that a lot of that kind had to self-publish to get their work in print) , and that is a whole other blog.

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