Last week, the most frequent questions jingling my inbox concerned artist’s websites. Fact is, most of them don’t work very well and artists often don’t know why. Some of course contain art that is substandard and any amount of smoke and mirrors won’t make them the dream machines that their owners desire. Having said that, many artist sites are wrongheaded and poorly done. I know this because over a period of several years I’ve had some pretty smart people fine-tuning my own site with an eye to troubleshooting and making it effective.
Robert Ryman was a 22-year-old aspiring jazz musician who moved to New York City in 1953 and took a day job as a vacation-relief security guard at the Museum of Modern Art. There, he encountered the newly acquired Number 10, 1950 by Mark Rothko, part of the museum’s collecting spree of abstract expressionist paintings.
“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there,” said the jazz artist Miles Davis. His thought is one of the keys to avoiding the boringly ordinary — “the borinary.” Many works of art are what I call “one-two.” That is, they engage the mind and sensibilities only so far. Putting a half-filled wine glass into a landscape foreground, for example, turns borinary — for better or for worse — into a bit of a conversation piece. It becomes a “one-two-three.”
In 1986, Jim Lee was preparing to graduate from Princeton with a psychology degree and considered going to medical school. As a kid growing up in suburban St. Louis after his parents emigrated from Seoul, South Korea, Jim learned to speak English while escaping to comic books to relieve the anxiety of feeling like an outsider. Upon his graduation from Princeton and longing to return to his love of art, Jim decided to enroll in a drawing class. When something ignited inside him, he asked his parents for a year to postpone his studies while he tried to break into the comic book industry.
One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus of Rhodes, stood near the harbour. It was constructed by Chares of Lindos over an eight-year period starting in 292 BC. Felled by an earthquake after only 56 years, as a pile of bronze shards and stone rubble it commanded just as much attention (a thumb, it was said, was larger than a man). Sold for scrap 800 years later, it took 900 camels to carry the remnants away.
If you drive for about a hundred miles due east out of Los Angeles, you’ll reach the Mojave Desert and the edge of one of its National Parks, Joshua Tree. There, among a dusty network of roads to nowhere, a ten-acre plot sprouts with assemblages made from the detritus of 20th Century America. Repurposed and redesigned to tell new stories, they cut, wind-worn and bleached, into a cerulean, high desert sky.
Early on in my painting life, my dad made an observation about our creative differences. “You are, for the most part, an idea-driven artist,” he said. “I am, for the most part, subject-driven.” At the time, I’d been building a written list of titles for work not yet made, drawing from literary reference, word play and free associations with colour and forms pulled from nature. Meanwhile, my dad was cruising sketches he had made during a recent material-gathering trip, his ideas emanating from the memory and visual record of a specific place, time and experience.