Pop Culture
Jul 29, 2010, 07:28AM

Taking Gimmickry Out Of Art

Or putting more in. I'm not sure which.

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Just as much as I feel that it’s possible to fall in love with someone because of their artwork, I believe that I can deeply hate someone because of the things that they create. There are few more disappointing experiences in this life than meeting an artist who describes themselves as dedicated, or passionate, or at the very worst, “unique,” and forcing yourself through a series of belabored compliments upon seeing their awkward anime re-colors, watercolors of their dog, or a desperately sad failure at something abstract. There’s a difference between Jackson Pollock reacting against figurative painting and you being a lazy asshole, asshole.

During college, I made the acquaintance of a fat, redheaded kid who smelled horrible, but had an incomparably bright disposition. I also befriended his roommate, a lanky guy who was the spitting image of The Re-Animator. They didn’t get along, mostly because Redhead had left a pig heart stuffed with cigarette butts in his bottom dresser drawer over a very hot holiday weekend, but these things are fairly commonplace when you go to a school with a lauded arts program and a low price of admission.

I ran into Redhead at a gallery opening somewhere in historic Ulster County, NY and lamented my displeasure with much of the student art that had made it onto the walls—not as if I was going to debase myself to please the gallery scene anyhow. I was still in a creative phase where I didn’t “get it.” I saw art and it was either nice or not nice, but I’d not yet been willing to plumb whatever intellect stood behind it, because thinking too much about other peoples’ art was for arrogant jerks who couldn’t do any art for themselves. As we stood in front of a big canvas full of short, penciled lines that combined to cascade and spin towards different focal points, I confessed my ignorance. I didn’t know why this work existed, what gave it value, and why someone would have made it.

This is when Redhead said something immensely more valuable than anything that five years at art school had ever taught me.

“Art is just an idea, and it’s an idea that someone takes and pushes until it can’t go any further.”

Of course, the point at which a work is “complete” is still left entirely up to the artist, who will almost invariably fuck it up anyhow, but the thought that good art was a singular idea pursued wholly and completely until it was finished is one that has always guided me.

So, I feel conflicted when I see something like David Ottogalli’s cheap Peep pop art, which might have some kind of appeal if it wasn’t so obvious, or expressed some form of deep psychosis. At its core, it’s the process of using a limited palette to create something, and I definitely don’t take issue with Legos being used this way, so this feeling of revulsion comes with a lot of cognitive dissonance. I feel the same when I see Willard Wigan’s microscopic sculptures, which aren’t beautiful or accurate as much as they are a bit clever, and demonstrate a supreme amount of poise and patience. Both of these are prime examples of one idea beaten into its ultimate submission, and the artists who have managed to capitalize on this premise.

I can’t deny that there’s a certain degree of jealousy involved, but will Wigan or Ottogalli ever be able to expand their repertoires beyond what they’re known for and bring their audiences with them? I’ve taken the David Bowie approach to art and slipped into a new aesthetic anytime a new project called for one, but it’s no way to create the momentum necessary for any kind of fame—so do you need to earn your creative freedom by embracing a cliché and then hoping that it doesn’t overtake you?
Wisdom once again comes from someone much smarter than myself. My friend Beckie was able to summarize this whole mass of creative success and failure better than I ever could:

“It's only the geniuses who can make you fall in love with their art in spite of the gimmick, [and] can make you forget about the gimmick altogether.”

There’s no equation to solve art or love, so you might as well have a good time while you’re figuring them out.

  • art as idea as idea

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  • I'm not feeling your argument here, or perhaps I'm not entirely following it. One artist's gimmickry is another's specialization, and I think you're conflating aesthetic value with commercial value. (which is certainly a great conversation to have, but I'm just not sure what it is you're getting angsty over) In London there is the esteemed Victoria & Albert museums, chock the fuck full of teacups and knights and chairs and miniatures what-have-yous -- basically a what's what of trite, aristocratic paraphenalia, and you know what? people love it. they fill that joint up to peep some tea cozies. 600 years ago someone figured out how to make tea cozies really fucking well and here we are, 600 years later, ogling those cozies. Not that David Ottogalli is making tea cozies (or anything approaching functional art), but I guess my point is that you shouldn't fixate on one artist's gimmick, the one trick, the specialization. Some people get successful on that. Other people don't. Love and art aren't questions or riddles or enigmas to be solved, they're just things keep us busy until we die.

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  • The idea that art and love are busywork is a fundamental difference in how we see things, which leads me to believe that justifying my perspective to you isn't going to really accomplish anything. // Do you actually create any visual artworks? Is it a major part of your life? This might be the essential difference.

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  • Heh, my point about love and art is quite separate from my larger point, which you are free to ignore. (If you can't make your point clear in the original blog post, clarifying in the comments might just more a hash of your argument than you already have) That you assume a producer of art is inherently different than a consumer of art is an unfortunate admittance.

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  • The fact that you don't see the difference is an unfortunate admittance of your own. Sorry that you're obtuse to see the point - exactly why I'm not bothering with it here.

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  • A true artiste remains aloof, doesn't explain anything, and generally shies away from any sort of conversation. You're on your way!

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  • If you'd like to continue this privately, I'm all for it. Shoot me an e-mail. There's very little need to cast public insults about a difference of perspective. Internet douchebaggery isn't a sport I'm really interested in.

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  • I realize that came off rude - I mean to say that we're getting dangerously close to being 'those people', and this is a conversation that should turn into that.

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  • Um... shouldn't.

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