In a roaring heat-wave, I’m walking down Queen St. in Toronto, Canada. It’s a run down, low-rent area full of decaying storefronts, pizza joints, print shops, art stores, alfalfa bars. Every few doors there’s an art gallery. “Alternate,” artist-run, as well as pricey satellites from up-town. I’m people-watching. The smart and the not-so-smart. Panhandlers. Street meat. Smoothies. A woman in low-rider shorts, bare mid-rift, lip and brow rings, pedals slowly by. She’s balancing a huge virgin canvas as she rides. A sleepy guy in torn pajamas is trying to get one more canvas into the trunk of his Volvo.
Recent worldwide studies undertaken by Co-Sight, a Paris-based media company, have uncovered some demographics that affect artists and the future of art. The study looked at what they called “cutting edgers” — the 15 percent of the population who are known as early adopters of technology, aesthetics, food, drink, personal care, health, etc. Statistically these folks are less likely to vote, go to church, join a club, or have kids. But they are a focused bunch, a bit self indulgent, even hedonistic. They don’t care for hierarchies, but they love to network. Above all they like things that stimulate, alter and extend their intellects and senses.
Looking into the future is a risky business. Only last year I was privately predicting the demise of shopping. “Shopping is a religion that has run its course,” I was saying to my closest friends. Right now I’m watching a well-dressed woman carrying a loose penile painting out of a gallery. “Thanks,” she shouts over her shoulder. The cool proprietor gently closes the white door of his refrigerated gallery.
What’s happening? Because of the potential independence, self-realization and non-hierarchical nature of the artist’s life, millions now see art as a desirable vocation. Furthermore, art connoisseurship has democratized. Art collecting these days often aligns with personal passions. (Have you been in a motor-sport gallery lately?) With the cutting edgers, decoration, life enhancement and individual aggrandizement rule the roost. Every quirky, kinky, funky and kitschy indulgence is honoured. Oh, and retro has re-returned. It’s life on the cutting edge.
PS: “And this too will change.” (Arabian saying)
Esoterica: “Alternate,” is abuzz in our cities. Media loves junk chic. Detritus art prevails as the cutting edgers reinforce the antiestablishment. Individualism prevails as art schools and universities continue to launch the artistically literate who then feed the system.
Fashion is fickle
by Theresa Bayer, TX, USA
Is a career as a visual artist finally becoming fashionable due to perks like independence, self-realization, and a sense of equality? I have spent my entire adult life avoiding being fashionable, and now I must face up to being cutting edge?
In the past, whenever my interests became fashionable, I dropped them. I preferred the outmoded and obscure. The cutting edge merely whetted my desire to be “old hat.” However, I am not about to drop my career as an artist simply because visual art careers are coming into style. Alas, I must grin and bear being cutting edge, but I take comfort in knowing that fashion is fickle, and that someday I will again be passé.
Art is ultimately a business
by Brian Knowles, CA, USA
As much as artists may hate hierarchies, they are themselves arranged in one. No matter how much mystique, rebellion, iconoclastic and idiosyncratic individualism we add to the art community, it’s still a matter of people producing product and then attempting to market it to an appreciative public. “Market” can either mean getting them to buy it, or simply to appreciate it. Almost no artist paints just to paint, but maybe some do. I guess I do. We paint mainly to have our work seen and in some sense appreciated.
For some, the artistic way of life is an end in itself. It’s a lifestyle thing, like being a part of some subculture like “the gay community,” the “bodybuilding community,” the “horse racing community.” Artists like to hang out with fellow artists and talk shop. But when it comes to marketing, this sense of community can turn downright nasty. Then there’s competition for a diminishing share of the art patron’s bucks. Each artist wants to maximize his share. That changes the game.
One prominent businessman once told me, “Brian, you produce product — writing products, painting products, etc. etc. But you can fill warehouses full of products. If someone doesn’t market them, then there was no point in doing them. You’re a lousy marketer.” A painful but penetrating analysis. Like most artists or writers, I hate the marketing aspect of things.
by Olinda Everett, Sao Paulo, Brazil
I have great difficulty in connecting with the practical and obvious. This should make me an exceptional person in some way: exceptionally dim or exceptionally accident prone, or whatever. But it does not. I find myself being just like everyone else, right in the middle of the pack most of the time. So it must be a widespread case of common sense being the least common of all the senses. And so it was that, while watching Pollock the movie for the second time, the skies opened and truth was revealed to my otherwise dimmed understanding of these things!
Fact is, I was astonished to realize only a few weeks ago that at all times all sorts of art co-exist — like a great pool-of-everything-there-is and now and again a great artist rises above the surface and his/her style becomes the thing of the moment. Yes, I even think that probably in Venice or Sienna or San Gimigniano some person was making Riley-style bands of colour and admiring their capricious rippling — as one does — but being whipped for being a lazy time-waster.
I believe that what underlies this explosion of wannabe plastic artists is the curious turn that modern painting took during the second half of last century. First the question of serious skill in drawing, composition, etc being sometimes seriously derided as impediments to true creativity and artistic freedom; Second, the fact that you do not have to be touched by genius to dare pick up a brush and apply paint. So many people still think they are not ‘gifted’ because they do not produce a perfect Venus at first attempt… no piano player ever assumes he/she will play Bach before learning scales.
And yet here we are still arguing as to whether it is okay or not to call Christo’s drapes art or, conversely, whether or not to call representational paintings art, or whatnot. Curious is the instinct to exclude the other camp, or even every other camp. Is an unmade bed art? What if it has a few used condoms, hashish joints and syringes lying about? If it is not art, then it is a felony, right?!!! What does it matter? Do we want to have edicts prohibiting these people, whom we (as in each one of us distinctly and separately, of course) do not recognize as ARTISTS, from calling themselves artists, being paid for their work and even touching a paintbrush or an unmade bed?
The above are not meant as facetious or rhetorical questions: they are real puzzlements to me and I would like to know whether it is okay to say ‘I am a painter’ and be entitled to feel one is a painter even though one is an apprentice painter aspiring to be an artist.
Cutting edgers or Cutting edges?
by David Louis, UK
Where did they come from, or more significantly, why have they arrived in studios creating fine art? Unfortunately there is no definitive answer to this question, but here’s just one of my observations. History reveals that left-brain people have been creating art for a long time now. This isn’t a recent transition, but it does seem at present that they are more left brained and in greater numbers than ever.
Could just one of the demographic reasons be due to a crossing over of professions? Twenty years ago the computer was a babbling box. Now it is a boasting beast. Over this development period it has revolutionized the graphics/media industry. Less work for Commercial Illustrators, Paste up artists, Visualisers, Designers, and yes ‘Conceptualisers.’ What used to be considered a skilled profession with some glamour and kudos, is in some ways considered rightly or wrongly, secretarial now.
Could many of these confident, highly organised, very literate, squeaky clean, whizz kids who know about photography, computer manipulation, visual impact, and self promotion crossed over and created their own left brained market? Are they ‘cutting edgers’ or ‘cutting edges’?
Artists and new media
by Jerry Waese
Medias are in flux, and artists are rewarded for exploring the new media partly by the industries that generate the new materials and tools. I remember receiving interesting prototype devices from Sony Japan 20 years ago if I would make artistic software run on them. It was a thrill to be doing something really new. Artists pursue new media partly because new media is a handle that can be gripped and pulled — a niche that can be accessed and defended — essentially transient — technology layers on technology to the point that the sandwich is incomprehensible, but some artifacts can be preserved at various stages (alas my devices burned out and no once can fix them). Artful artifacts of our history are truly important. Personally, while immersed in technology, I find relief in colored pigment on canvas, but I appreciate combined aspects of transient technological emergence when done in such a way that the spirit of the artist touches all of us who see the work.
Changing with the times
by Linda Blondheim, FL, USA
I see a trend away from traditional buyers in pricey galleries toward other venues. Ebay and street art fairs for example. I have watched several galleries close over the last few years for lack of sales. My first thought is that the economy has taken its toll, but I also wonder if the galleries need to change their focus and do a better job of inviting the average person to come in and enjoy their offerings. As people have become more casual in lifestyles, they are put off by the elitism in art gallery settings.
by Ginger Adkins
I have never been a member of the IN crowd, but suddenly it is very chic to be collecting art. Hopefully for me that means oil paintings, as that is what I paint. I am one of the baby boomers and by this stage in life we have done it all, had it all or forgotten it all. It is somehow comforting to think that the baby boomer’s have now matured into a group that indulges itself by collecting art. We must have an original oil painting or two to go along with the BMW or the Lexus. In the town in which I grew up no one even owned an oil painting unless it was paint by numbers. I knew no one who had ever seen an original oil painting, much less bought one. If a home had any art, it was furniture store reproductions of the Robert Woods type. The local library (run by my Mother) even had framed old master reproductions on paper that you could check out just as you would a book. We always had Mary Cassatt and Monet paintings hanging in our home. The only problem is you had to keep changing the artwork as it became overdue at the library after 2 weeks. I am proud to say that I know many people who passionately collect art. If shopping is dead then lets pray that collecting takes its place.
Real honesty in art
by Tricia Migdoll, Australia
Australian poet and painter, Francis Barbazon says: “You must be very careful (as I must also). As by now you have probably found out that real art is dependent upon real honesty. God stresses honesty in everything we do or say. In art and poetry it means not making a brush stroke or putting down a word which one does not know. There can be no faking, no thinking that one “can get away with it” — the hated faking and posing. One can fool oneself (so easily), one can even fool everybody else for a time, but one cannot fool Him — for He knows who He is and judges whether each line and bit of colour is faithfully done.”
I have pondered this quote and painfully wondered what it means to be honest in the art of painting. As a new painter, I wonder if it is enough to just love every brush stroke… painting for the love of it and not for the viewer, or the dollar to be earned. It is so difficult to keep the ego out of it.
by Violette Clark
I went into the Penile exhibit that you spoke of. While walking along the street on a Friday night I noticed a “buzz” emanating from a well-lit gallery. Of course, being the curious soul that I am I had to go in, not knowing that it was an exhibition of penis paintings. I walked right into a group of Alternative people weaving my way in and out of these wonderfully uninhibited folks feeling rather invisible and liking it that way. The paintings were interesting and a bit pricey but hey, if people are willing to buy them why not?? I had to ask myself if I should switch from painting whimsical stuff to erotica. Of course, that is just not my shtick although I admire people who are brave enough to put themselves out there in such a graphic manner! Happily you observe that kitsch still has a market out there so I remain forever hopeful that my art will find its niche. There is room for us all out there in the world.
Something precious already lost
by Janet Warrick, IL, USA
About thirty-seven years ago, when I was a young girl, I remember feeling a twinge of jealousy because a very distant relation, also a girl and about my age, was going to the Chicago Art Institute for art lessons. I was nine years old at the time, but I already had a strong sense of myself as an artist and knew this is what I wanted to do in life. The jealousy quickly fled however, when I heard that my distant relation had glued a doll’s arm, along with other various odd items into a shoebox, and this was called art. I remember how very strange this seemed to me, and my desire to attend that school immediately evaporated like the morning mist. Even at age nine I was totally enamored of the French Impressionists and would spend hours with my nose glued inside the few art books that I could get my hands on. I am still enamored of them. And Sargent, and Cassatt, Guy Rose, Twachtman, and Chase, to name but a few.
My relation has since gone on to performance art where, by all accounts, some very bizarre things have been enacted on stage. To each his own. The art “connoisseurs” can keep their quirky, kinky, funky and kitschy art. That kind of thing will always be around. The danger is in allowing traditional painting to fall by the wayside. What a loss for humanity if that is allowed to happen. It is my opinion that something precious has already been lost. There is a quality, a depth of beauty and sincerity in the paintings of the past that is lacking in much of today’s art. And the sad truth is that if any of these great artists were alive today, their work would probably be rejected from most shows, and not make it through many museum doors. What a pity.
Language of images
by Yaroslaw Rozputnyak, Moscow, Russia
Art is expression way of man.
Known name of expression way — language.
Language of images — human language.
Language of instrumental melodies — human language.
Language of regularly connected mouth sounds — national language.
Macro-language of written words — translated — also human language.
And many other human languages of different types.
A little baby says simple sounds in understandable itself only language.
Child says simple sentences.
Writer creates art works. He think not about speech of people as about not qualified kitsch,
the border between his art work and usual speech is absent.
His art is gradually arisen from life and human speech, he writes about life, he divides not his art from life.
His art teaches people to live and understand life.
A little child moves pencil.
Amateur paints something strange or fun.
Painter creates art work — serious, high-qualified, skilled. His art is gradually going out from life, from his mind and imagination influenced with life.
Must painter build border between his art and all other part of existing image language for expressing?
Must he just teach them to speak nice in this image language and teach them to live more good and nice?
by Jim Pescott
Human kind and human nature are diverse, thank God, and that is what makes this whole life so fascinating. The fact that 15% of a population are “cutting edgers” seems normal, and in fact I would hope it is a bigger number in that a certain percentage of “cutting edgers,” by their very nature, chose not to participate in the survey: we certainly don’t all want to be alike. “Cutting edgers,” beatniks, hippies: another decade, another name?
Perhaps the true positive in the letter is that “millions see art as a desirable vocation” which implies creativity as an activity is becoming a major part of life on earth. This seems such an incredible positive energy.
Then again this whole survey thing in the letter relates only to the industrialized world: we should not forget that billions see improved freedom and living standards as a desirable ambition just to survive. What would the affinity with creativity and the resultant art market be like if this part of the population realized this ambition and the whole world “saw art as a desirable vocation”?
Riding the edge
by J. Bruce Wilcox
I am completely focused on my Art. If this makes me self-indulgent, then self-indulgent I am. No one but me can create what I’m creating. I don’t care for hierarchies. I reclaimed my right power. I believe everyone should, and then we should be able to co-exist in a state of shared power, power over nothing. Above all, I like things that stimulate, alter and extend my intellect and senses, especially extraordinary music that I mix together into long uninterrupted sets.
I am less likely to vote, but love to observe the absurdity of our political process.
I stopped going to church years ago, but I am having an everyday ongoing Direct Spiritual Experience.
I join very few clubs, so far all Art related.
Winter Mooring (Metung, Victoria, AUS)
watercolour painting by
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2003.
That includes Cassandra James who writes, “I think some of us also need perhaps a sense that we’ve made a contribution to the world. As artists we are visionaries. Our job is to see beauty in the world and record it for others to take away and experience.”
And also Alar Jurma who writes, “Seems to me everybody wants to feel free and everybody wants to feel they’re unique individuals, which in itself is a contradiction. Not only that, everybody is still looking for happiness where it doesn’t exist. In spite of how old civilization (or the lack thereof) may be, some things just never change.”