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Peeks and Piques!

The Mission of Art

ART TIMES August, 2005

SOME THIRTY YEARS — twenty-one of them with ART TIMES — of writing about art and artists has yielded, along with some pleasant surprises, not a little disillusion. As anyone who has read my essays, critiques, and reviews over the years can no doubt confirm, I approach art with a fairly constant point of view. Perhaps erroneously — definitely stubbornly — I’ve come to the business of artwriting with what is the somewhat old-fashioned idea that art claims a certain privileged status in our lives and that people who make it have an obligation to uphold that standing. In this respect, then, the artist (in my perfect world) is burdened with the onus of creating only that which both supports and furthers that special place in our lives. My friend, Jörg Iwan, a Berliner and now a retired scientist, tells me that most Americans are “blue-eyed”, an expression that the Germans use to denote our often naïve — if not in fact benighted — view of the world. I cannot but agree that I am among those blue-eyed innocents. Even after seventy-two years on this planet and about thirty of those years in writing about art, I continue to hold fast to the idea that art-making stands outside the usual fare of our lives, that ever since its inception in pre-historic times, the making of images has had as its primary purpose the communication of things that were not, ultimately, ‘worldly.’ Pre-dating all written and spoken language, art necessarily pre-dates religion and probably served, as Otto Rank posits in his Art and Artist, as a kind of proto-religion. In this respect, the making of symbolic markings was the result of an inner compulsion to express something beyond one’s world, to communicate in some manner a sense of another reality outside of or beyond that of the sensual one. Those under such compulsion, in effect, were answering a call and, in doing so, became our first priests, our first mediators between heaven and earth. They were ‘inspired’ in the original sense of that word, namely ‘breathed into’ by God. It was only later, when tools and techniques evolved, that later image-makers turned their eyes earthward and began depicting flora and fauna on cave walls with the result that representation, because easier to read by uninspired viewers — and, let’s be honest, equally easy for the uninspired artist to produce — quickly took the place of abstract signs. Thus, art slowly made the transformation from that of an inner compulsion to express the ineffable to an external one of mere depiction of the obvious. Technique, in and of itself however, has never made the artist, but only the skilled artisan; it has always been and will continue to be subject matter which defines the genuine artist — and by subject matter I do not mean social, political, and especially not economical issues, all of which are concerned with earthly affairs.  Once diverted from its original use, the mere making of images for their own sakes was a sure progression from symbolic expression, to cherished artifact, to marketable commodity, a progression that, to my mind, has devalued the creative process. That its original use has been historically preempted for other uses and other ends — including, ironically, those stylized linguistic dogmas that came about after we invented the written language and which we now commonly refer to as “religion” — is not denied by me. That this has been the case lies at the bottom of my disappointment; that it must be the case, my constant and strenuous objection — a fact made evident (too evident for some of my readers) in the bulk of my artwriting. Just as religion has been corrupted by dishonest priests seeking to enrich themselves by imparting the divine message, so also has art been corrupted by those gifted artists caving in to the selfsame marketplace. Still, in spite of the general trend to misuse the creative spirit, what has kept me going over the years has been the occasional light in the forest that convinces me that somehow that original spark continues to flare up now and then. I’ve been fortunate to come across such painters — among a handful of others — as Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso, Marilyn Cohen, Eric Angeloch, Zhang HongNian, Morton Kaish, Carolou Faller Kristofik, Pamela Jarrett, and more recently Keith Gunderson, John Varriano, and Franz Heigemeir — all of whom give evidence of a vision that hints of the ‘other worldly’ stuff which I have always sought (and continue to seek) when I am on my gallery rounds. So, all is not lost. And, as long as I continue to uncover the occasional light in an ever-encroaching sea of darkness, I hopefully look forward to the next twenty years of ART TIMES.

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