Ever since my days as an art student I’ve been grappling with the ideas surrounding the making of art. Mind you, I submitted myself to a genre of art with very purist tendencies, mainly painting. The majority of the professors who taught that discipline were purist in the sense that they practiced and taught painting and eschewed its values and virtues far above all other disciplines found at my school.
As a student, I embraced that strength. I became a neophyte in the art of painting; and I regurgitated its core values in a modernist way, naively. I say naively, because retrospectively I’ve since outgrown that myopic view. I can no longer accept the benighted reality of transcendence in painting, as the ultimate form of artistic expression. In fact, in my senior year at my art school, I was already bucking the system. I was making “constructions”, art out of found objects on traditional wall hanging platforms. I was experimenting with concrete, lead, steal, mesh wire and all sorts of construction grade materials. In a artistic sense, I was finding my way, internally, I was conflicted.
I loved painting and I understood the progressive historical reality of it, yet I was beginning to see its limitations as a stand alone medium. The art world in itself was being questioned by my peers. The bastions of art; the museum, the art galleries, and even the stark white walls found in them were all being questioned. Were these spaces the final resting places for art? Do we want to as artist, perpetuate the inevitable by participating in a predetermined ritual of making art so it can be showcased in these white sepulcher walls? How do we make art that’s not confined to artistic predetermination? How do we make art that is more accessible to the masses? These were some of the heavy questions we were all struggling with.
Then, there was the questions of style, figurative, nonfigurative, one did not mix both. It seemed that purity, a modernist conception, was being pass down at my school heavy handedly. Even though, we were all well aware of the postmodern inroads in art. The fact was that our more staunch tenured professors were still carrying the modernist torch and passing it down to there more treasured students. I was one of them. I was older than most of the students having come in after military service. Consequently, I was one of the more devoted students because I was paying my way through, I wanted to be there and they appreciated that and my maturity.
Postmodernist artist like Gerhard Richter were blowing up modernist conventions by purposefully painting figurative, nonfigurative art. Secretly, he was my hero, his manipulation and mastery of both styles were unquestionable as a painter. Even so, he did not attack the notions of modernist art space, those white walled tombs, were art had it’s final resting place. To this day, I don’t know if it can be done in that medium?
After graduation my small circle of friends went in different directions. I went to study graduate philosophy and poetry, Kristen went to UCLA for her MFA and David continued his MFA at SFAI. I became a teacher and used my artistic skills to develop a successful children’s line of furniture , besides selling art and having exhibitions. David became a professor at a local college, and Kristen she became one of the leading figures in the LA art scene.
Water Benjamin had a profound influences cerebrally on me. I wrestled internally with his Marxist ideas on art. Our age was the age of artistic reproduction. At the time, we were as a society entering into the internet digital world; where, the lines between authenticity and exclusivity were being blurred. As an artist, I realized that this was a new medium, but did not know how to effectively use it to my advantage. To this day, I’m still trying to figure it out; and personally, I’m conceptualizing these ideas as we speak…
(To be continued…)