Saturday, May 31, 2008

Why Care About Art?

Two nights ago on my friend's roof the question came up: why care
about making art? And last night, sitting at a table in another
friend's backyard, the conversation picked up again.

My friend said that the best reason he's heard yet for making art, or
music, is that it's a messy, crowded world, and the only way to live
in it, to coexist, is to practice an understanding for what is foreign
and uncomfortable to you. Art asks for that understanding. I think
what he was saying is that to practice making art or to practice
looking at it is a kind of learning that asks you to exist in what is
uncomfortable, to be able to stand on ground that is unfamiliar, or to
be able to exist without any ground to stand on at all. This kind of
learning practices floating.

Or, learning at all practices floating. This makes sense to me as a
reason to learn, and as a reason to care about art in that it's one
way of learning. At some point in addressing the question of why I
should care about making art there has to be, it seems to me, a moment
where I ascribe a value to making art. That's a tricky moment, though,
and underlies the difficulty of the question. Each justification slips
away when I go to claim it, leaving me with the tautology, it's
important because it's important. My friend's reason to care about art
is nice in one way because it ascribes value not necessarily to art
but to learning, which by its definition is something that is moving,
growing, changing.

It's important because it's important betrays what I really want to
say, though, and what I feel, however much it seems to dodge the
question. It seems to me that I call art important and it has to be
important or else it is nothing. I've heard people say, "I think
making art is important," or "I think painting matters," as though
these were the reasons why it's important or why it matters. This
feels like a moral to me, and I've accepted it that way recently. It
matters and so it matters to do it well, to do it a lot, to practice
at it.


Sunday, May 18, 2008


This morning everybody's paintings were taken out of the racks for the End
of the Year Show. Luke Jansen submitted his entire senior show. Carlos's
big black and gold painting was surprisingly tacky on the sides; I had to
scrub really hard to get it off my left index finger and thumb. Some
little crappo abandoned paintings were stepped on and no-one cares. Is
Tom's long painting even finished? It is the longest painting. Some oil
paint bled through to the back; this once pleased me, to see a doomed
painting, but it seems a little sad now. Three typical crude paintings on
metal sheets with chicken wire were sharp and heavy. There were a few good
paintings that I liked, but they were by girls.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Narrative Review of Sentimental Photographs of Canada

Thomas Gardiner's photographs of rural Canada were pleasant. As I
followed them around the room the theme of New replacing Old was gently
shown with dirty construction covering lush landscapes, fresh buildings
near worn ones. There was a subtle but perceptible preference for the
old, though the new wasn't too evil, and both were always well composed.
People appeared as I strolled, mostly inconsequential and fairly
typical. I settled in near the end of the line with an old man by his
ham radio. Obviously clinging to the past, with pictures of old jets and
Air Command memorabilia covering his walls – this was a melancholy
portrait of a generation nearly gone. There were two or three photos
after the old man, but I only remember the first, immediately following
him. A boy lying on some sort of couch outside, a girl sitting on him in
a bathing suit, another boy (young man?) standing, shirtless. Each
fellow grasped each of the girl's breasts with one hand, one per boy.
All were smiling ecstatic, drunken, exhibiting smiles. I hated these
kids. The old man and I hated these kids. We sat in his living room,
turned the radio dial, lamented the state of the world, and hated these

These photographs were sentimental, unexciting, and none too
spectacular. The portraits of the old man and the fondlers were, on
their own, compelling, but too standard in their method. Gardiner's
journalistic skill was revealed in the curation, the lead-up with
humdrum treetops and forlorn gazes; the sudden and singular shot of
those terrible children, the rapid denouement. In a very traditional way
the photographs were emotionally stirring, and I cannot denounce them
for that.

Will Schneider-White

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A handful of thoughts from the studio: maxims, mess-ups

Something I didn't realize about Milo Carney until recently, even though it was right in front of my face, is that he collects and invents maxims all the time. I was eating a green curry lunch on the sixth floor near his studio a few weeks ago when he came up with, "It's still foam core to me." He wrote that line in sharpie on a nearby wall, underlined "me," then decided it was better without the underline and tried smudging it out. For Milo, anything is a potential proverb, even, or especially, seemingly inane sentences. 

My interest in maxims began to develop just before realizing what Milo's project is. One saying that can be read as a maxim is the sentence Herman Melville had pinned next to his desk, "Keep true to thy dreams of youth." Or what Will has written in his studio, "If not a thought does your mind elicit/ make not your speech too explicit." Which, as he pointed out to me, is a variation of Lincoln's, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."  Or the simple mantra I have nailed above my studio, "Be stronger! Be stronger! Be stronger!"

Maxims have to do with rules for how one should live. This is in part why I find Milo's sense of humor so sharp. It's funny to me to be constantly picking up little sentences and claiming them as rules for how one should live and it's funny exactly because it's simply a more exaggerated version of what I actually do in life, and what most people probably do too.

This idea of moral art making has been rolling around my head this year as I become more and more of a "moral" artist. This can go off now in a different direction, and maybe I'll take it there sometime soon, as this blog begins to transition into summer time. But I do want to talk about one other statement with a moral, which is the clich├ęd or platitudinous version of what Alexis was telling me the other day, which I collected, and which I'll pin up here. Failure is a good teacher. Alexis was telling me that it doesn't matter if my work is no good because I'm only a sophomore. And while I don't agree with the sentiment that it doesn't matter—it matters to me, of course— I think the meat of what she was saying is that if you aren't willing to make a lot of ultimately weak art, you're not getting a very good education. That's right, I think, but it doesn't stop at being a sophomore or a student in school. It seems to me that you always have to be willing to make bad work and that's just one of the potential obstacles when you make art for a living.



Saturday, May 10, 2008

Paint Drips Pictures

Tuesday night on the seventh floor I flipped through a big binder of
funny pictures, many of them vintage advertisements. I don't really know
why they were all funny, but they sure were old! On one wall there was a
big collage of kitschy images like the binder but with paint drips all
over. It looked really cool! There were other paintings too, hung on top
of the collage, full of art-historical and pop-culture jokes. Stonehenge
stenciled teal on a maroon background, for instance. I thought it would
make a nice t-shirt. Featured as well were some appropriated snapshots
of art made into kitsch. A papier-mâché Campbell's soup can with
matching Jif jar (Warhol's lost masterpiece?), Matisse's La Danse
re-done with aliens. An admirable effort all around. There was also a
cute photo of kittens, but there were those paint drips in the way and I
couldn't see the fuzzy wuzzy kitten-coos. I like kittens and there were
many in this show. Near the binder was a computer playing a Youtube
video of a painting in the show. I mean it was just a movie of the
painting, like, just filming the painting. Get it? I've always had that
idea too, but I thought someone had done it already. I guess not! It was
about a minute long and nothing happened. After that I went and stared
at the real painting for about a minute. It wasn't the same. While
waiting for the elevator going to the second floor for those sweet
sandwiches I looked at the big collage. Everyone agreed it was awesome.
I saw some guy looking at it and frowning. I don't know what his problem

In conclusion, I thought the show was super sarcastic and really funny.
It was just like I'm gonna drip paint all over famous art! Yeah! And
like, it really showed how funny anachronisms can be. Did you see that
picture of the old guy with the beard? It was so good. Some of the more
serious seeming paintings made me look harder, which I liked. They were
more like I'm gonna paint in these certain styles and mock them with
context! Like the shape ones. Altogether really good and I look forward
to seeing what this young artist produces in the future.

Oh yeah, and there was pizza!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

"Paint Drips Pictures"- 7th floor lobby

The first thought I had when I saw Erin Ikeler's "Paint Drips Pictures" on the 7th floor lobby was that she's turned paintings into discreet objects that can so easily be dispersed in an infinite number of directions. I'm beginning with this first thought because Erin's show invites the viewer's attention span to flit from place to place and I thought it might be appropriate to begin with the first place mine alighted.


The paintings in the show are mainly spread across the larger wall of the 7th floor lobby against a ground of magazine cuttings and pictures splattered with paint. I don't see a strong path my eyes are meant to take between the paintings and that's perfectly fine; I like the extraordinary number of narratives and relationships I can build between the paintings and the elements present in the ground they're sitting on. This reading lends itself to the understanding, also, that Erin's paintings are completely autonomous objects to be shuffled and re-shuffled, split up and spread throughout the world in whatever order and direction they (or Erin) please.


In fact, if I had to pick a theme of the show it would, indeed, be the flexible and (sometimes) subversive means Erin can use to turn a viewer's attention to a painting.


Take, for example, the two potted plants and the single splattered canvas sitting in one of the windows of the 7th floor lobby: in some ways the drips running down the face of the canvas are non-specific, leading one to simply register its materials as paint and canvas and then take the piece itself as a painting of painting; a stand-in for an artistic tradition sitting innocuously next to two innocuous houseplants. How easy it is for this piece to slip into one's periphery along with these common objects, but how subversive a place for it to be as well!


Many of the paintings in the show, like this one, want to be broadly recognized as paintings about painting (most obviously the pieces which feature diagrammatic palettes which each also include references to brushstrokes as well as meditations on color theory and on figuration) but there are also some broad gestures in the direction of life outside of painting. I sometimes think of this as a question of the artist's engagement with art history set opposed to engagement with the world, but I recognize that this is a somewhat lazy reading of the dichotomy present (for which I apologize). The one thing I'm certain of is that a shift in subject-matter away from painting is a welcome one in that it stops the show's themes from being completely homogenous. My favorite thing about the show was not the themes and subjects of each individual canvas, but the demonstrations and illustrations of how many ways paintings can seep into one's perception.


The most interesting example of these was only on view in the lobby on the show's opening night, but you can see it for yourself from the comfort of your own home: Erin created a one-minute video of one of her paintings (present at the show hanging above her show cards and visitor book) and uploaded it to youtube. Though there are some unidentifiable slapping sounds in the background and the image shakes indicating that it is video from a handheld camera, this is, otherwise, not a narrative video. You look at the painting, see it and keep watching to 'see what happens,' but nothing does. Perhaps you are disappointed or annoyed that nothing happened or perhaps you are disappointed and annoyed because you weren't done looking yet and your gaze has been interrupted. You're just going to have to play it again. Either way, Erin's piece finds a way to make you look longer than six seconds and she finds a place for her painting that you wouldn't ordinarily expect to look at paintings in.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Original New Addition, 6th floor lobby

Here are a few thoughts I wrote down about The Original New Addition while sitting on that comfortable purple lawn chair in front of the Super Mario Bros piece.

-The larger than life cut out of a soccer player celebrating a goal
captures the tone of the show. Or the balloons do.

-I think this is what Andrew Francis meant when he told me that people
didn't want senior shows to be engaged critically, they wanted senior
shows to be a celebration, a sort of last hurrah. That's not to take the
work in the show lightly, or to see the exhibition negatively, but it just
seems like the celebratory and collective mood of the show sort of escapes
intense scrutiny. (Or maybe someone will counter with a more in depth

-Is this the authentic "integrated curriculum"? The 6th floor lobby is
juggling video game art, painting, books, drawings, sculptures, made
paper, prints, a Nietzsche quote.

-(SPOILER ALERT!) The plaster blocks in black cloth spells out "My hands
evoke sight and sound out of feeling." This kind of work really connects to video games,
which are full of little secrets like this.

-Which makes me think, this is a very, very interactive show.

-This is the only show I can think of that credits the writing center.
Which is a good contribution—Max's artist statement fits in nicely. And
he's right, infinity is a really weird idea.



I want to begin my critique of "Transcendentalisme" with a word on art that wasn't hung by any of the individuals who contributed to the show:


Though not a fan of Louise Nevelson's work, I have often seen other, very similar examples of it sitting more comfortably in spaces than that piece of hers normally does in its home on the seventh floor. It's not difficult to help make Nevelson's work feel more at home in its surroundings; the key is just giving it some company. Either put it with other big ugly pieces of hers or make something else in the room look remotely similar to the piece in question. Here is where "Transcendentalisme" comes into play.

Welcome to seventh floor as it is now: a pitch-black claustrophobic dungeon where Louise Nevelson's work holds court over a small cast of misfit-toy art pieces that know current art world trends backwards and forwards and who, in general, don't particularly like the viewer or, at least, don't readily want to be seen by the viewer. These pieces are pouty graduate-student gutter punks playing hard-to-get.

As I understand it, the in-joke title loosely tying the show's work together refers to two tiers of transcendentalism(e): the work of ascendancy and the thrill of emergence/revelation within the sublime experience of viewing art. With this in mind, the show's organizer Allie Miller has arranged for heavy objects in the space (a derelict photocopier, paint cans, cinder blocks, etc.) to be outfitted with an array of small flashlights attached to them by bungee cords: if viewers want to see the pieces on display in this darkened room with any clarity, they may do this with the provided flashlights, dragging the heavy objects they're attached to behind them as they peruse the show. When one attempts a transcendent state by struggling to rise above one's self one also, in so doing one would hope, eventually appears elsewhere and, by using these weights and flashlights, the viewer performs a struggle to ascend (by dragging the weights) and a supposed emergence into the sublime following that (revealing pieces of art with the beam of a flashlight).

The conceit is funny in its mechanics though one strongly suspects that the system of transcendentalism described is being described with tongue held firmly in cheek. Even so, one also suspects that on some level the artists in the show really do want to give viewers a kind of sublime experience. Do they do it? Sometimes. Much of the work is very good, though some of it benefits greatly from explanation in the same way that Warhol's piss-paintings ("oxidations") don't need to have their methods explained to be beautiful but suddenly receive new dimensions of interest when explanations are given. The back-story to Taylor Shields' twin prints is fascinating (parental portraiture/tribute based, in part, on the very personal sensory experience of smelling found-lotion from a hotel) but, without that, the prints are merely inexplicable aesthetic objects.

Somehow Joe Kay's work manages to tip the scale of oddness and satisfy viewers with its insolubly cryptic and enjoyably goofy nature. This may be because his materials are not art materials (common objects like books, a traffic cone, a triple-decker shopping cart, a yard sale); viewers have experience with practical uses of his materials as a point of entry.

The least compelling pieces of the show are Ben Seltzer's postcard and air-freshener constructions which seem to lead nowhere, but even these offer enough scattered clues for a viewer to engage with them. I couldn't tell whether his works' hanging method was intended to call to mind the packaging for action figures that obsessive collectors couldn't help but break open to play with the toy within before duct taping everything back together again, but that is the effect they had on me one way or the other.

Allie Miller's work is three-fold: she is first a curator (having corralled the participating artists), second a liaison and third a draftswoman. As far as I'm concerned, this is almost too bad because her drawings are quite good. I would go as far as to say that the one drawing she has framed in metal next to her two highlighter-yellow screen prints actually does, by itself, begin to hint at a struggle toward transcendence with the obscurity of its subject's form. But even if this is disappointing, it isn't too much so because her work orchestrating the opening night lecture series this show was built to hold was a great treat. I missed out on two of the speakers, but those I was present for were spectacular and I strongly suggest that anyone who can attend the closing party with a performance from Screaming Dinosaur Fire today (Friday) at 6 pm. It's sure to be a grand spectacle.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Re: An observation on a line for me

To the now unnamed observer: I'll think about that edge.

As a side note, if anyone cares to talk to me about my work or about other things I can be reached more directly at