Slow Art

Slowing Down the Process of Art: Craftsmanship, Connoisseurship and Critique

On a recent rainy day in a provincial city lacking access to great paintings and exceptional work by art masters, I turned, in desperation, to a catalogue from my personal library of the  Matisse retrospective I saw in 1993 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York .

It struck me, as I recalled his adventurous exercise of creative imagination, how a master painter sees colour, discerning the layers of different hues beneath what ordinary folk only see as the surface colour of objective reality. For Matisse apprehended the vibrations of light which reveal all the depth of colour present in light waves and pulses bombarding the surfaces of Nature. He built up the colour in each painting over several years. His ungifted, amateur imitators see the decorative design, but miss the construction of the picture. Unfortunately, there are too many amateurs who imagine that a loaded brush of a single vibrant colour will produce the same effects in a much shorter time.

Which brings me to the following problems: without knowledgable dealers who devote the entirety of their practice to searching for the best art in the community, or a critical media to analyze and discuss exhibits and artists, the amateur gets swept up into the same stream as the serious, trained professional, blurring the distinction in the mind of an uninformed public.

The frame shop which doubles as a gallery is partly responsible for the problem, which is an ethical one involving a conflict of interest. If you get your work framed at the shop, you get a show. A so-called gallery which doesn't commit to the artist, but exploits him by making money from framing his work, is a parasite, not a real dealer.

In addition, without critical attention and nurturing by a connoisseur-dealer, a serious artist is deprived of the stimulation of a knowledgable public dialogue about his/her work; the resulting dialectical vacuum leads to an artist's over-inflated ideas about how important he is in the larger scheme of things.

Most artists arrive at the great art capitals by way of the provinces, having served, in the best of scenarios, apprenticeship and gestation at the local level by exhibitions in thoughtful venues, curatorial support, media articles of a critical nature (not P.R. "hype"), as well as patronage by responsive, informed collectors: a kind of farm team tryout before the big leagues.

The rush to the "glories" of the market place, from province to the art capital with clever marketing techniques, rented agents and publicists, has usurped the integrity of the traditional process by which artists prove their worth. Serious critics, gallery dealers, museum curators, art historians and the connoisseurs who collect art in a thoughtful manner, are alarmed at the lack of quality, i.e., craftsmanship, in contemporary technical execution, the lack of depth in thinking relative to the deep forces of cultural tectonics. 

Fast oil money from the Caucasus plunked down on the latest "hot" thing, trumps the kind of steady connoisseurship which the Russian, Sergei Shchukin exercised as he collected one masterpiece after another by Matisse before the Russian Revolution of 1917 swept them up into the collection of the Hermitage. [A little note: Shchukin saw Matisse's large painting,"Dance II" in Paris, rejected it, and on the long train ride back to St. Petersburg, digested what he had seen and changed his mind, acquiring "Dance II" and "Music," both very large masterpieces; seminal works which ultimately led, many years later to the commission for the Barnes Collection mural, "Dance." Some slow train ride!]

Fashion replaces style; lazy appropriationists photographically "steal" famous images; outright thievery of fellow artists' artworks are exhibited as some kind of clever, audacious art action [and reviewed in the New York Times!]; incomprehensible garbage is represented as street "art", and it all adds up to undermine our faith in the ability for art to have meaning. The art public is confused by shallow art rhetoric, critical fragmentation shatters the art order, and all reasonable appraisal of art in the context of our contemporary world explodes. This is art terrorism.

As people are fond of saying these days, actions have consequences.
And, if an argument for the chaos, described,  says that these actions are only reflective of the larger society, I would argue that artists should be responsible people who carefully consider all the issues and transcend the immediate to shape the culture to a greater expression of our common humanity. For, if anything, that is what art is for: to affirm our worth and bind us together as humans; not tear us apart.

© Margaret Koscielny, 4/24/2013