The Magpie revisited

October 5, 2012

The Russian “United Art Rating” is an artist rating service of the Artist Trade Union of Russia and which uses the following scale for rating artists

Bellagio Artist

What’s his artist rating? (Photo credit: metamerist)

(nationally and internationally) [source here]

  • 1 – an artist of world fame, tested with time (for more than a century).
  • 1A – a world famous artist.
  • 1B – a high-class professional artist with remarkable organizational skills, who is popular and in demand.
  • 2A – a high-class professional artist with a bright creative individuality.
  • 2B – a high-class professional artist, recognized and in demand with the art-market and public.
  • 3A – a professional artist with a recognizable individual style.
  • 3B – a professional artist, recognized and asked for in the art market and by the public.
  • 4A – an established professional artist with creative potential.
  • 4B – an established professional artist, who is in demand in the art market.
  • 5A – a formed professional artist with creative potential.
  • 5B – a formed professional artist.
  • 6A – a forming professional artist with creative potential.
  • 6B – a forming professional artist.
  • 7 – an amateur artist with perspective evaluation of specialists.
  • 8 – an amateur artist.
  • 9 – an artist-beginner.
  • 10 – an artist-scholar.

I like the fact this scale enables me to distinguish between artists qua artists and artists that focus on the market. The categories also distinguish creative aspects (A) and one category higher than the same artist with a market focus or popularity (B). This helps distinguish between the pull of the market from the push of the artist.

What they don’t give away is how they assess creativity, innovation, but perhaps that is best left to them, but I would dearly love to look inside this assessment ‘black box’.  I think the Artists Union would approve of my notion of magpies, and may even agree that there are vampire artists.

Now, how can we apply this to art education to ensure that the ‘vampire’ art schools are distinguished from truly inspirational educational environments. Then I’ll be even happier!

For those so inclined, it is known that there are historical chains of connection between Nobel laureates and innovative research work. Would it be possible to chain link the artists together (apart from the traditional approach to grouping artists in schools as such) to identify particularly productive chains of innovation and association.

 

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And from a child … true abstraction

June 15, 2012

Aelita Andrea is very young and yet she is showing us what goes on in the mind of a child through her art. See her website here.

No pictures for this one. You just have to go and enjoy the insight and enthusiasm she shows for her work. Likened to a young Jackson Pollock, some describe her work as a combination of Absract Expressionism and Surrelism. Perhaps more of the former, than the latter.

And let’s reflect on Picasso who opined that he spent a lifetime trying to paint like a child.

What is just a delight is her chosen form is abstraction, some further evidence that the natural, unsocialised mind is comfortable with the abstract. It is only through the destructive process we call primary and secondary education, that our natural creative inclinations are stilled, in some cases forever.

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In the beginning, there was abstraction

June 14, 2012

From the UK’s Telegraph that the earliest cave paintings were abstract. Click Here.

Now we can move on and reappraise the historical bias toward figurative and representational art. The early humans painted what was natural.

The digital future of 21st century arts organisations

March 10, 2012

PULP ART BOOK

You are there! Digital art gallery experience.

A debate started on the Arts Journal on Leadership/Followership [here]raises a number of challenges for current arts groups.

In my view, the simple lead/follow dichotomy is not helpful as arts organisations are both repositories of a society’s culture (on behalf of people) and a way to placing before the public new ideas in way that engages and informs (on behalf of new ideas).

Bruno Frey has commented that people may not need to see the original piece of art itself but perhaps a print would do.

Taking that notion further, why are exhibitions not online?  An opening could be a simple ‘app’ instead, and the show curated with additional content and searchable features, individual pieces could be zoomed and viewed in the round.

It would not cease to exist when the exhibition closed — a problem for exhibitions in the real world, and poorly captured in the exhibition catalogue. Few people can actually make it to many openings, and moving art around can damage the art itself. The modern world is increasingly location-independent with the use of smartphones and tablet computers making where we are less important when accessing information, people or events; this is likely to evolve further. Thinking past the current fad for social networking (and something will follow Facebook!) leads to a world where intelligent software ‘agents’ can help individuals find and view the art they are interested in, alert them to new shows.

Perhaps some people may be in a position to attend in person, but generally this is not true.

Digital technology allows time-shifting, so I can view the exhibition when I want and probably reduces my carbon footprint at the same time. The openings can be teleconferenced, so people can attend in real-time or listen to later. If I instead choose to attend, then the app becomes my personal guide, which I can annotate and keep.

Ah, but imagine a gallery of giant video screens, the real art protected. It does challenge us to reflect, as Frey does, on what it really is we want to see when we view art: is the experience of the art object itself (if so, why bother buy the catalogue or art books), an experience few really can have, or is it the art (in which case the sale of posters is explained).

It seems to me that arts organisation leadership might benefit from a dose of ‘disruptive’ thinking to embrace modern possibilities. We now have, for instance, galleries with searchable online catalogues, and we find some degree of interactive art itself, but this is a feature of the art not of the art experience. I wonder if today, the “2 second advantage” (to take from a book of that name) for arts organisations offers a clue on how to move beyond the collection idea to something rather different.

The notion of capturing artistic interests in ‘real time’ would enable a ‘video-enabled’ gallery to be able to anticipate art interests (though mindful that much needs to be made of the random ‘shock of the new’ that accompanies the joy of discovering a new artist), and assemble art for the individual in a way that helps them experience the art more personally. I miss not being able to visit some galleries which house art I like because I simply can’t afford the airfare to visit them — the ability to be telepresent in these galleries would be wonderful and at $£€4.99 worth a lot more than the book.

As I’ve said elsewhere, there’s an app for that.

Just a thought…….

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Feel the fear and paint it

December 23, 2011

Marion Milner, a celebrated child psychoanalyst wrote of her own creative anxieties in her book On Not Being Able to Paint (Heineman, 1950, but still available). Fear is embedded in much of the writing on creativity, mainly because creativity is a public expression of internal life. It is a form of exposure, and ever mindful of judgemental others, we often are more afraid of what this exposure, than the actual creative results themselves. In most cases, despite self doubts, we are proud of our creativity, but know where it is deficient — we’re just nervous about hearing that from others.

Milner’s point rested on various assumptions about preconditions for the production of a work of art itself, namely technical mastery of materials. This is obviously in contrast to whether the creative results are personally satisfying, or articulate well what we are thinking. Art is form of expression, not just a meander across a canvas or a lump of clay deformed by idle hands.  This despite some art being of this form, of course.

English: Creation of an abstract muralHenry Peacock, in his excellent book Art as Expression (Whalesback, 1995) observed that of his art students, the ones that drew well were the least creative as artists, as they were more intent on replicating the form of what they saw, whereas those who drew less well were more inclined to engage with and interpret the external world. Peacock’s book is important as it is provides inspiration for people to explore their creativity without the fear and anxiety of mastering technologies first (like pens and ink, and paint or clay).

All these issues are well-addressed in Art and Fear (Image, 2001) an excellent tonic by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

Taken together, the fear that drives many to avoid creativity is actually self-imposed and has no bearing on whether we are actually able to express ourselves through various artistic approaches.

Now, as an abstract artist, I would like to encourage creative souls to shrug off their attachment to what things look like and think about how to let your inner perceptions dominate. The art world has its cycles, from loving the realistic paintings, with figurative precision through to inscrutible abstract constructions which for many may bring on a headache. Abstraction is the true form (sounds like a mantra…), it excites and challenges the mind, is obviously much harder to do, as it requires real honesty and elegant presentation of complex inner thoughts. For others, it is easier to paint the vase and the flower and I accept that for many people this is enjoyable and satisfying. I’m only saying, there can be more.

Art methodologists and historians may see artistic periods like the tide — new ideas come in and wash away the old. Once done, it can’t be done again. Some think of it as the shock of the new, as all art history must be constantly rewritten from the perspective of current artistic tides. That does not mean that these perhaps passe modes of expression have nothing to say, otherwise why do we keep them on show in art galleries and museums.

So, as Julia Cameron says (this is her site for The Artist’s Way or you can find her book on Amazon ), take an artist’s day out and visit the gallery, but look at the abstracts instead. If you wear glasses take them off and look at them unfocused. If you don’t need glasses (lucky you!), find a spot on the painting and lose yourself in it so you see the rest of the painting with your peripheral vision. Or find a sculpture garden and wander around it feeling the work, not looking at it.

Sometimes you have to lose yourself to find yourself.

 

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The Magpie Index to Assess Autonomous Creativity

October 2, 2011

European Magpie, Pica pica, Linnæus (1758)

When is an artist like a Magpie?

What is a magpie and what has it got to do with artists?

I have posted and written about how people learn to be artists by copying the art of other artists. As I put it, a bit like copying Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare thinking it will help you be a better writer. I see students copying paintings in art galleries as essentially learning to steal, not developing autonomous and authoritative creativity.

The history of art is full of copyists, fakers, as well as artists whose work has been appropriated by less creative (usually male) others. And there are artists whose work fills the sidewalks of cities, with dreary scenes, painted in predictable formats to fit in the luggage of tired tourists who need evidence of the visit.

And there is the art that stops us in our tracks, and changes our world forever: we weep in its power, reflect on it, are challenged by it, never bored, are overwhelmed by its subtley, timelessness. It is  the shock of the new. This is not the shock of the shock itself; the sort of things kids do by writing dirty words on the side of buildings to get a rise from the neighbours, or swearing in front of the parents — mere juvenalia and the sort of art produced by students in art schools who churn out starry eyed people whose greatest shock in life will be the realisation that they will never be famous.

So what about magpies? Well, don’t they steal shiny things, and hoard their ill-gotten harvest? Don’t some artists simply thieve away, copying others, depending on other creatives for inspiration?

Languages are full of words which writers get to combine any way they like, as long as they don’t deliberately copy another person which we call this plagiarism. We often hear sequences in one musical composition that occur in another, but a different context, but without formal references, but inspiration is evident. In the same way that we don’t footnote every word we use, we must acknowledge some creative ownership of sequences of words produced by another person.

So, when is an artist like a magpie? When they pretend to be creative, and importantly, when they lack autonomous creativity, in themselves, and depend on being stimulated solely by the work of others. A harsh standard perhaps.

And when is an artist not like a magpie? Now that is the interesting question!

Email me with artists assessed against my Magpie Index and let’s see what we have.

The Magpie Index

The Magpie index has these ‘chunks’: 1: thieves, 2-3 copiests, 5-7 creators, with 4 the transitional score:

1: thief: unrepetentent plagiarist, counterfeiter/faker

2: copiest: mostly copied work, and little evidence of underlying messages, work is mainly mute or pointless

3: copiest: some interesting ideas, and evidence of having something to say, but may be immature and perhaps too ‘on the nose’ to have any deep impact

4: maturing: evidence of creativity that comes from within more than from others; this is a transitional score between copying and creating

5: creator: mainly original art work with evidence of some, perhaps only glimmerings, of something to say

6: creator: frequently challenging work, evidence of original perceptions and ideas being presented, work is thoughtful and worth more than 20 seconds of your time

7: creator: autonomous, original, changes fundamental perceptions, evidence of authority, strong though not always evident messages

A final note is that the Magpie index is not ageist; younger artists are as likely to fail as older artists. Or to put this another way, older emerging artists are as likely to score 5 and up as the hot young things that fascinate the ‘art establishment’.

‘nough said.

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The mind in another cave

July 26, 2011

Another early scratching of an early human endeavouring to capture the external world has been found in Wales (2011). What was this person thinking, and why did he or she even do this?

what was he or she thinking?

What is particularly interesting, and assuming this is about 14,000 years ago, is that with visual forms, there is a need to abstract from the external reality an interpretation of that reality in the mind. Having done that, this person then had to decide what they wanted to represent and how. In addition, they had to choose something to do it with, which suggests perhaps that this wasn’t or might not have been the first time, either.

As an abstractionist, I encourage people to explore the mind’s natural way of seeing the world, rather than the highly socially constructed one we normally see. The brain naturally likes to construct patterns, and one assumes that a 14,000 year old brain did, too.

This is exciting not just for the discovery itself, but further affirmation that even in our earliest days as more than mere beasts but as maturing sentient beings, we sought to interpret the external world.

The other question, of course, is what did others at the time think they saw when they looked at this, and did it have a purpose? After all, if it was a form of communication, this artist needed to have some theory of mind — in particular, that those viewing it were like themselves mentally.

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Dirt!

June 12, 2011

Through the dirt

There's no easy way for artists who get their hands dirty

In an opinion piece, “Dirt” in Art of England, July 2011, I explore the problem, issue, challenge of artists who do not actually make their own work, but hire others to do the work.

I am concerned that the authority of the artist is becoming simply the act of the creation of the thought, and not the execution of the work itself, a bit like having your word processor start your sentences.

A book by Michael Petry, The Art of Not Making, approvingly examines the artists who don’t actually make anything.

The creative process isn’t just about having a good idea, indeed having a good idea isn’t good enough, any more than a writer with a good idea can hawk the idea around for a few thousand dollars. (Ah, but they do apparently sell tag lines in Hollywood, which may explain why many of the films are so bad!) With art, there is the need, I suggest, for the authority of manufacture, if that is the right word, something that says “I made this”, full of agency and intent.

The downside fear is this. Imagine you only need to put some whatever into a computer software programme and out comes something. Think of 3D printers, and whether they can actually produce art. Then again, maybe someone will eventually invent a word processor that starts sentences.

Keep in mind that only human faces can smile, and only brains and minds can create.

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Intelligent Life

May 21, 2011

“]waste basket and jumble of letters

Now what to do with it. [Image by Torley via Flick

I get a few art magazines; in fact, I only subscribe to a few things anyway. I used to want to get one of each, like some artists who need to have one of each colour.

Knowledge is different, and I guess the fear is that you’ll not be reading the right material when something comes up in conversation. Art magazines can feel voyeuristic or worse, self-indulgent.

I got a complimentary copy of the magazine, Intelligent Life, published by the Economist the other day, hoping I’d subscribe. I’ve read this magazine before. I can only say it feels like a intelligent version of the FT’s How to Spend it. But not something to subscribe to.

Sorry Economist.

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Censorship and Arts

January 10, 2011

"Study drawing shows the allegorical figu...

Do we applaud the reading or censor the nudity? A censor's job is never done!

In the latest issue of Art of England magazine (Issue 78, February 2011), I have an opinion piece exploring arts censorship in the context of WikiLeaks.

The WikiLeaks saga is important for a number of reasons I have explored on my policy blog (The Cognologist) in particular what I call ‘digital exceptionalism’. This simply means that for arts, an art show in a bricks and mortar gallery is not the same thing as the same exhibit on the Internet — images in a gallery can be pulled from the wall, while once on the Internet, they are there ‘forever’. Authorities and lawmakers are grappling with this distinction, which in my view is fundamentally specious, but which is driving a considerable amount of excessively intrusive conduct by governments and enforcement authorities. Of course, there are sensible reasons for this: mainly the ease of access to the material, frequently by vulnerable and impressionable or young people. But such illiberal conduct in the past has been justified on similar grounds.

The real reason for concern lies in an observation by Nicholas Negroponte in his book Being Digital: the Internet facilitates the one to many relationship between an individual and the rest of the world. Individuals have much greater social reach and with appropriate search engines, just about anything can be found within a reasonable period of time. Contrast this with the pre-Internet world, of bookstores which stocked only so many books and you had to specially order some, or libraries with paper-based card catalogues — if you didn’t understand the Library of Congress or Dewey Decimal filing system, you might not find what you were looking for.

So in this brave new world (Huxley said it first) the censors have found new energy. The real problem is that in the Internet WikiLeaks type world, it is becoming harder and harder both to hide and to keep secrets. It is almost like living in the film The Invention of Lying, or Liar Liar. It used to be much easier to be duplicitous — the chances of being found out have escalated considerably.

In the article I note that the arts have always attracted the attention of officials particularly during times of crisis (now, perhaps?). Artists in the UK during the 1914-18 war were viewed with considerable suspicion — marine painters were virtually banned as the paintings of ships might aid the enemy, as might a landscape painting reveal the relationship between buildings and the lay of the land. We are perhaps a bit beyond this today, but the censorship of artists remains a real concern in some countries where freedom of expression is curtailed.

While I have always held the view that some artists seem at a loss for something to say, and produce appropriately poor work, other artists express deep political and social commentary, threatening to regimes depending on terror and repression. And some art is just socially challenging and fall foul to political correctness, a socially enforced form of self-censorship.

We are not yet free — even Mark Twain’s book Huckleberry Finn, the most banned book in the US, has had a rewrite to remove his use of certain terminology which today is seen as unacceptable. The Soviet Union used to rewrite history like this and were justly criticised. While the faces have changed, the objectives remain the same.

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