“Less is More”

July 25, 2010

SO, LET’S SEE — if “less is more” then does this mean that “nothing” is the most? Hmmmmm. Doesn’t sound right, does it? Yet — we have seen that a one-color canvas can bring in more bucks that a meticulously detailed streetscene, haven’t we? So how come we are willing to spend more on a constantly diminishing return? And, we need not even talk about politicians with “empty” promises reaping the poshest positions, do we? At times, I get the notion that the “less is more” mantra really means that we get “less” and simply pay “more”. Now this might not mean a great deal to a whole lot of people — I mean, after all, how many people really care about art, artists, and the artworld. Oh sure, we do — that’s why I’m writing this and why you’re reading it. We’re interested, involved; some of us even have an investment in it (I used that word purposely, since, for many, that’s what “art” is all about anyway — an “investment” — I don’t gotta understand it — or even like it — all I have to do is sit on it until what’s-his-name’s signature goes up even higher and then unload it at some auction. Art’s a commodity man — forget about all that aesthetics nonsense — we all know where “beauty” resides). But — and today this is a hard sell — some of us do care about the aesthetics, about beauty, about civilized taste, about an enhancement of the spirit. We do care about the “dumbing down” of America, about our publicly blatant lack of — well — culture. Yeah, yeah — I also know that other countries are imitating us, swallowing our “artful” exports wholesale…but in my travels, at least, in my nosing around and asking questions when I visit Europe, for example, I have found that not everybody is exactly pleased about the stuff we are exporting. I’m old enough to remember when “made in China — or Japan” meant that it was junk, pure and simple (although it seems that China is once again back to its old tricks of foisting inferior products on unwary “foreign devils” — “foreign devils” — that’s us for any younger readers that might have blundered onto this blog). But folks, here’s the thing — you might not give a hoot about art, artists, and the artworld, but when you begin “dumbing down” in one area, the blight tends to spread. When Harold Bloom accused the educational facilities of “dumbing down America” by applying the “less is more” policy to educating college students, he was talking about the gradual decline of general intelligence — but it doesn’t stop there, does it? Been shopping lately? Picked up any over-the-counter medicines that have just hit the FDA taboo list? Or, for that matter, prescription drugs? How about work around the house? Had any contractors over that appear to know less than you do about repairs? And how about the work — substantial? Or did you wish that you went to Lowe’s or Home Depot and ­had done it yourself…only to find out that some products were sub-standard — or “less means more”? I could go on with this ad nauseam but you get the point. You gotta hand it to those art promoters, though — what a slogan! “Less is more” — bet they didn’t have much trouble rounding up a whole lot of artists willing to go for the ride. Do less and get more? Only in America…you gotta love it!

Raymond J. Steiner

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Two Books You Ought to Take a Look At.

July 1, 2010

TWO BOOKS CAME recently across my desk — a novel, The American Painter Emma Dial written by Samantha Peale and Seven Days in the Art World, an insider’s look into the high doings of the art world by sociologist Sarah Thornton — and I highly recommend both to my readers. First, the novel — The plot revolves around a woman who works as an “assistant” to a famous painter, her job to actually execute the works for which he is both lauded and handsomely paid. She does the work; he gets the acclaim. She gets a salary; he earns a fortune and fame. Although its main character is a woman artist, its appeal and relevance goes far beyond the age-old plight of being a female in a male-dominated world. I believe it ought not only be read by women or by artists, but by anyone interested in the inner workings of what is commonly called the “artworld”. In fact, I would not even limit it to those interested in art, its making, its selling, or in the underlying machinations of the myriad people and groups that serve as middlemen between creator and buyer. Peale goes far deeper than the vagaries of a world that depends on hyped advertising, celebrity, gullibility, ego-building, elitism, and money. Rather, she delves into the mysteries of creativity, human folly, unfulfilled dreams, self-betrayal, naiveté — even submission to a cause one cannot believe in. This might be fiction, but it has a wealth of truth to ponder. Peale is a graduate of The New School and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has an insider’s handle on how the system works. Like her main character, Emma Dial (who works for the likewise fictional character of “Michael Freiburg”), Samantha Peale is an artist who once worked for the real-life Jeff Koons. Thornton’s book, Seven Days in the Art World is a work of non-fiction that can sometimes sound like a world that must be make-believe. A sociologist that has weighty credentials in the artwriting business, Thornton takes the reader on a seven-day tour of sites — an auction house, an artist’s studio, an art fair, an art class, etc. — where art is made, touted, sold, discussed, taught, interpreted and analyzed by those supposedly “in the know”. Incisive, sometimes almost tongue-in-cheek, always informative, Thornton serves up as objective an insider’s view that one can come away with from a world that literally deals with illusion — i.e. art. In her chapter in which she visits the studio of an artist (in Japan), we see Samantha Peale’s fictional plot come to vivid life — a world-renowned artist relying on assistants to do the actual work of making a work of art. This practice, incidentally — made popular since Warhol and his “factory” — is justified by reference to the historical use of apprentices in the studio/workshops of past masters where, often, the presence of the “master’s hand” is conjectural at best. Taken together, both books are eye-openers for both the general public, a public often at the mercy of pundits who almost always have an axe to grind, and the average struggling artist outside the “mainstream” trying to find his/her way. You wont regret the time taken to read these books.