Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Welcome to Miami, bienvenido a Mi—[C CHECK]

“Art can help us to envision the new cultural images we need to grow our souls.”

While many in the art world descend upon Miami for Art Basel this week… I’m reading The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs, and, as I am wont to do, have been finding connections to art and the value of art:

In this period, we need artists to create new images that will liberate us […] and open up space in our hearts and minds to imagine and create another America that will be viewed by the world as a beacon rather than as a danger.

Art / culture and progress / [r]evolution are interminably intertwined. To the Occupy movement, she has the following message:

You have the opportunity to create something new. […] You must not be satisfied with rebellion. We need revolution. Revolution means reinventing culture.

Such is the role of art and the artist.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Art = Life

The last discussion presented art as a vehicle for revolution and change, as the channel through which the people make their voices heard. Rather than letting some bureaucracy-obeying art world sycophant churn out an offensively predictable Top 10 artists list that’s supposed to, somehow, tell you what he thinks you should like… Who and what do you want to see gain more exposure? What kind of art or which artists represent you? (To keep things organized, discuss over here.)

And now for this week’s discussion: I interviewed artist Martin Bernstein for Sixty Inches From Center, and here are some gems from our conversation (and good advice to boot):

Photo by Andrew Roddewig, 2011.

On art:

Art is a consciousness. [...] It’s a way of life. It’s a way of looking at every single nanosecond of every day.

On great art:

Great art isn’t something that gives you all the answers; it’s a starting point for you to then question. [...] You’re always learning. You always have to push towards something you don’t know.

On the value of traveling:

The road taught me: open your eyes right now, because what you are seeing or doing or thinking is gone, and now there’s a new “right now,” and that’s gone, and now there’s a new “right now,” and you keep moving through… Well that’s life. And it’s right now.

On not only knowing yourself, being yourself, and sticking to it…

Principle is all you’ve got in the end, and so you really have to find the basic code of how you want to live, and all your work and all the things you say and do should fit that perfectly. [...] Especially as an artist and they are constantly telling you no. [...] We look outside of ourselves to define ourselves when we [are young]. It’s kind of a parabolic curve of life to me, and somewhere in the middle when we get to our 30s, we start to go, “Wait a minute. It’s not them. It’s me.” You start to realize that you sort of colored in the all the surrounding areas, and now it’s time to fill in this figure that’s sort of the shadow. You start to fill it in.

…but also having faith in yourself:

 I just trust that I’m on the right path, that I’m doing the right thing at the right time, and if I don’t feel that, I’m willing to turn around on a dime.

More wisdom here.

For many of us, art was our first [and only—shhhh] love. To ask an artist if she could do without creating is like asking someone if she could do without breathing, or if she could log in to Facebook and log out within five minutes (it’s impossible). This question applies to everyone, artists and collectors and art appreciators alike: When did you first fall in love with art? When did you know you wanted it to be a part of—no—to be your life?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Viva la Revolución / Hey art’s pretty important, you guys

“This society—American society—does not value the arts.”

True words from Patric McCoy, President and Co-Founder of Diasporal Rhythms, as well as one of the panelists at “Creating Community through the Arts,” a discussion I attended a couple weeks ago. The conversation was a breath of fresh air. Saying the things we all want to say but are often hesitant to say out loud, the panelists pulled no punches, dispelling and deconstructing misconceptions and myths about art and artists, taking on America’s lack of funding for the arts and arts education; and, most importantly, offering grassroots level solutions to the problems addressed.

American society at large may not value the arts, but one cannot deny how indispensable the arts are to American society.

“Arts are essential for democracy. […] The arts teach people to think freely.” –Panelist Carlos Tortolero, Executive Director of the National Museum of Mexican Art.

Here’s an excerpt from my write-up of the panel discussion on Sixty Inches From Center:

Patric McCoy: I’m seeing that the energy is actually in the subcultures, and that it really is a bottom-up phenomenon. [...] What we have is a top-down process, is that the Art Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the art critics, and so forth [...] tell you who is good, instead of you telling them who is good. All of our community should be working to promote… should be telling you, “This is who we think is good in this part of the city,” and it bubbles up. I think it’s most prevalent in visual arts. [...] In the musical arts, we don’t have a problem in America that it comes up from the bottom. [...] Hip hop can start in the Bronx, gospel in the South Side of Chicago… we don’t have a problem with that, that eventually, it gets up to the top and it becomes “America.”
Carlos Tortolero: It becomes “America” from the powers that be, and I think the real problem is that the power structure has created an “either/or” situation, and I want to create an “and” situation, where the mariachi music is good, classical music is good, hip hop… it’s all good. It should be an “and” situation where we embrace all forms of art, in which all forms of art are valued.
Luis DeLaTorre: [...] Do you think it’s because music is a very rich commodity, that people can trade easily, and make money off of, and art isn’t seen that way?
PM: That has to do with power, and that the visual arts are associated with power. Imagery is extremely powerful.

When it comes to working within one’s subculture(s) and inciting change from the bottom up, panelist Giselle Mercier, an installation artist from Panama and the Executive Director of Pros Arts Studio, pointed out that anyone can be a patron of the arts, that “it has to be a collective force and can’t be just from people who have means.” She explained that, instead of purchasing a $3 cup of coffee for one day every week, one can donate to a local museum (or, as I’ll interject, invest in a great piece of artwork).

Technology was another topic that was raised, framed initially as another problem (think bookstores-might-be-going-bankrupt-because-of-tablets problem) artists and arts professionals face. One audience member asked whether technological advances “undermine the ability of the people to decide which art is important.” On the contrary, technology makes the world smaller, makes art more accessible (shameless self-aggrandizing: hello, blog), allows for the democratization of art (why yes I will continuously recycle my own words). In the words of moderator and artist Luis DeLaTorre:

[With technology], we can have [art] at our fingertips To be able to experience it, visual art and music, you have it right there. I was talking to a friend of mine and I said, “Art is dead.” Her response was, “Art is never going to die, because it’s that human experience of creating that always propels us.” 

Essential for democracy? Never going to die? It’s what propels the human race? If that’s what art is and we’re not supporting it, it looks like our values are indeed skewed.

Read more highlights from the conversation here.

All of this brings me to the flip side of the discussion we had (and are still having) on this site concerning overrated artistsOne of my main objectives is exposing and sharing the talents of artistswho might otherwise remain under the radarwith shows like Exquisite Corpse and via online galleries. Who do you want to see exalted in galleries and museums? What do you want to see? Who/what do you feel represents you? We need to take the microphone from the mainstream and major outlets and institutions and hand it back to the people, to you. The artist has the ability to condense an entire zeitgeist into a single image, to create something that someone else can look at and say, “This is who I am, and this is who we are.” Art encapsulates the voice of the people.

Related: I’m pleased to be a part of Lolk Collectivea new community-focused initiative I mentioned briefly in this interview. Launched by Zachary Johnson, who exhibited art in Exquisite Corpse, Lolk is looking for collaborators, so this is an artist call for those of you who are interested in street art, guerilla art, and other forms of happiness.

Everything is connected.

Except for the following fact.

My favorite “search keyword” (thank you, Blogger stats) that led someone to this site this week: “how old is jenny lam”

(Well, kind stranger, if you click around on enough links—hint! the sidebar! also! interviews on the press page!—you’ll figure out when I graduated college, and that should narrow things down. Although I’ll let you continue to believe I’m either a 14-year-old prodigy—the ages mentioned on the “About” page are fabulous red herrings—or a geezer with an aging portrait in an attic.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Living for the City / “Mommy, where do [great artists] come from?”

Last week The Huffington Post ran an article that asked, “Where do important artists come from?” (My simple answer would be the following wise words from the masterwork that is Ratatouille: “Not everyone can become a great artist. But a great artist can come from anywhere.” Slow clap.) Here’s an excerpt:

For in a world celebrated for rapid shifts in technique and style, and for the iconoclasm of its young geniuses, the geography of artistic innovation is profoundly conservative.
Simply put, important new artists are most likely to emerge in the same cities where important artists have emerged in the recent past. And even more narrowly, in recent decades important new artists have been most likely to emerge from the same academic institutions that have produced important artists in the past.

But why those cities in particular? Is it the cities themselves or the academic institutions within those cities—or a combination of the two—that produce artists? Above all, forget the chicken and egg conundrum; do those cities cultivate artists, or do artists, regardless of their origins, gravitate towards those cities? (Speaking for myself and those I know, I would say the latter. And if it is the latter, what if great artists actually, you know, stayed in their hometowns rather than making the inevitable migration to places like New York?)

The piece also touches upon the subject of young / once-young (e.g. Hirst—speaking of whom, the overrated artists discussion is still going!) artists, artists steeped in self-awareness and reacting to their historical contexts, taking a rather calculated approach in steering their careers, so the rest is worth a read.

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