Hours of Idleness-A Photographer's Journey in St. Louis

World Artists’ Network

Posted in art by Jason Gray on December 27, 2009

I used to be a member of the MySpace arts group, W.A.N. (World Artists’ Network), which was, at the time, the largest group on MySpace, with over 200,000 members. A small group of artists within the larger collective launched a monthly online magazine, a non-profit website, and even opened a physical gallery in Baltimore, MD, which staged several group shows. However, the MySpace iteration of the group was hacked at the height of its popularity, and this lengthy disruption caused many of the most active members to move on. Five artists and myself started the D’ArteBoard blog as a means of getting back to the nature of what was really great about the original group (that blog just celebrated its one year anniversary and it’s still going strong).  Discussion in the original W.A.N. group was often characterized by heady proselytizing on art and so on.  Here is one of those conversations.  In this one, someone asked: Are artists really messengers for the rest of the world or do they just think they are? From here on, I am in bold.

The interesting truth is that we, as artists, are devoted to something implicitly devoid of reality, therefore expecting artists to have a unified impact on society, politics or whatever is arguable at best and absurd at worst. For instance, test anyone to define what differentiates the artist from the child coloring in a book with crayons (sure the artist is originating most of his/her imagery, but so is the child to a degree). I am not meaning to insinuate that all artists are glorified children in what they do, but in a way, the analogy is unavoidable. Throughout history, the impact of art on society has been nominal. The course of western civilization does not change when a Pollock or Picasso comes along. In fact, I have met several PhD’d antropologists whom all concur that artifacts have a much greater significance on culture than great artworks. Even in Mensa (to which I belong), “artist” was listed low on a recent poll of professions that impact humanity (below teaching, the scourge of art professions). So what is art exactly, and what is its significance? In truth, that is hard to say exactly, but it is primarily an intellectual organism (which explains its elevation from a handicraft to the status of music, literature and poetry beginning sometime around 1800). The fact is that art calls for proselytizing by artists. Arrogance, self-effacement, posturing, discipline, rebellion, and sacrifice all contribute to making our profession relevent. We have to hold in our minds that art matters or else we lose it. Art is about the experience of life, not the life of experiencing. We do not cause the world to do what it does; we convey it. It is important to remember these things, for without the agrandizing of art into the realm of the intellectual, all that we perform is for decoration. This is not to say that all artists should be egotistical assholes; rather we should be self-assured, yet receptive, and be also holding onto the fantasy of something greater just a little bit. As to the relevance of aggitative or revolutionist art, it is all without poignance beyond a few years of its creation, and as fine art, it rarely stands the test of time. Further proof that artists aren’t socio/political antagonists by definition.

FrankWrote: artists are in a difficult place. they are essentially functioning as society’s shaman and yet the society that benefits from the inward journeys that creatives make, do not (collectively) ackowledge that debt. in primitive societies, the shaman would be revered and supported and the message they returned with would be ackowledged as a thing of value. today the only value being ackowledged on the creative act is the money spent on the particular piece of art. it is no wonder that there are some artists who have lost thier balance. artists aren’t full of themselves. they are surrounded by themselves. and that is the armor that allows them to step into such a personal and vunerable place and then back out of the fire to share what they found – knowing full well that most people will not fathom what they have just risked.

I agree with you, Frank, except that, to most of the world, religion fulfills the internal search for answers that the shaman once provided. You see, artists are in a difficult place because art is similar to religion. The difference lies in the intention. Whereas, religion seeks to answer the mysteries behind life, artists seek to explain life itself. Certainly, there have been instances wherein artists express esoteric notions in their work, but largely we are expressing experiences and not changing them. This is why anthropologists look toward artisans for the “why” and to artists for the “how”.

ps. How you end your statement is brilliantly worded, by the way, and it really sums up a lot in a very expressive method.

FreeWrote: Could an artist… someone who makes a painting.. be an artisan.. someone who sells limited prints of said painting?

Sure. Some movements have even exploited this, and in many ways, much of art up until the Romantic Period is artisanal.

FreeWrote: Don’t you think there has been a resurgence of this in the past decade?

Yes, and in many ways it is quite unfortunate. As art speeds toward a crossroads with design, it increasingly loses its significance as an intellectual development. This is not to say that functional art should be run from the hallowed ground, because both can co-exist as they always have. In the past three decades, we have seen a resurgence of interest in functional art and a parallel, general decline of interest in the purely “intellectual” art. Decoration has nearly achieved its prescience as king of collected art and very little has been done to reverse it. Not that I am trying to be a naysayer here, but if all of the wolves are not fed, they do look for food elsewhere.

FreeWrote: Do you think the resurgence of functional art is related to our economics?

No, not at all. In fact, functional art is fast approaching the level of “market value” formerly attributed to other types of art. For instance, many major galleries all over the world have noticed its rising popularity and started showcasing furniture and such alongside the paintings in their spaces. I believe that it is relative to the neo-utilitarian notion of our current technology-influenced society where everything achieves value through its function (ie. cell phones with cameras, dual processors, flat screen high-definition televisions, etc.).

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  1. […] World Artists’ Network: A Conversation […]


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