Tuesday, March 09, 2010

rno the artist unplugged

As an artist I find myself in continual development from many sources. This was not fully possible when I started on this trek. I used to go from library to library to find the book other libraries didn't have. I read magazine after magazine. And I did this because in college, the art history course I was in was stuck on the virtues of Roman and Greek art and architecture. I kept saying in my mind, this is not relevant. For perpetuating the flavor of those cultures in todays world maybe it was, but my heart kept saying "not relevant." Our present culture owes a lot to those early Euro civs, but after becoming aware of Africa, my origins, I could not have rest.

The media always has a shaded view of Africa. It is not that they are hiding stuff from us but more of a not mentioning because of no interest on their part. So when our national interest is disturbed, there is coverage. If the human atrocity meter rises too high, there is coverage. Any achievement or advancement or development on the African continent, it is not news. Over the years my view of Africa was uneducated, primitive natives. I had the same view of American Indians here, only they were uneducated savages. Tourist all want to go to Africa to see natives. It was the same for American Indians here.

I won't go deeper into the bias that has flavored life in the US since the get, we all know. And once this kind of flavor is institutionalized (it is deep in the dominate culture), it takes generations to ferret out and dilute.

The internet came to my rescue. The net allowed me to see history (art, social, national) from many different points of view. The most important questions for me was untwisting history. How stories, even histories, are told eventually becomes the guiding force for human worth, development and progress. If you are told your ancestors were slaves and you are the son of slaves and add to it a kind of loathing weightiness as if slavery was for lower lifeforms, guess what happens to the people who must receive this story, this history? I have lived with the weight of this, even though Civil rights events were going on during my youth.

Young kids should hear untarnished history. My realization is that history is unappreciated until you have lived some. Older folks all appreciate history. But kids should hear history because it is the shaping force. American history has a lot of lies, if we can expose them and fill in the blank spots, we will raise up an intelligent and thoughtful generation. It is our history "story" that has damaged America. We have a saying about history repeating itself. Actually we perpetuate the lies and tell kids it is their right of passage to repeat. I am so amused at how as adults we know the truth yet resist. We lie with boldness and tell the truth with uncertainty. We know what kind of kids the lie will produce, we are not sure what the truth will produce. Yet in our hearts we want kids to be more enlightened, not just smarter. And we also are afraid of that. I have heard parents say, "he didn't learn that from me!" I am talking about the good stuff.

But we are talking about art and design here. The internet has allowed me to see the art and design of other cultures, especially African. From the top to the bottom of Africa, with and without the Euro influence, African art is pretty impressive. And although I can not directly have a cultural tie (been in America too many generations), I can feel some empathy. Not because of the events of history but because there is a sensibility in the way I think about art that is akin to the ways of Africa. This is expressed in a simple statement I heard in an interview of an African craftsperson. He said, "I just want to make beautiful things." This artist was not in the Euro art tradition of schools and galleries and expositions and art as a part of human accomplishment or art for fame or art as an investment or art for historical reference and documentation. He just wanted to make beautiful things.

I myself do abstract, non-object art, decorative. Many black artist do faces, the human form, black faces, black persons in life. While I think drawing and painting black people is wonderful, I am not that kind of artist. Perhaps with abstracts, you can not tell what color the artist is, that is OK with me, why should you care? That's rhetorical! Many of the stories we tell as artist have nothing to do with color as a race marker and sometimes that kind of art perpetuates the lie. Even in my abstract, I should have references to my past, my origins, my struggle to overcome, or to protest, pay homage to or to praise, or to hope. Well, if those things happen in my art, I will not force them to exist, they will just be there. If you recognize them in my work, that is the message it speaks to you.

Abstract art is like jazz, many black abstract artist have said this. I first heard John Coltrane and the critics said he was angry, expressing anger, Archie Shepp and others. The times were angry with civil rights and such. They thought for sure these musicians were the voice of the times. No, the anthems for that time was "We shall overcome" and "Lift every voice and sing". Jazz was not angry voices, it was pent up creative energy being "freely" released. Motown on the other hand was about a finely cultivated art form moving toward wide acceptance. It was saying we ain't no gull dang minstrel show, we don't shuck and jive, we are respectable high quality entertainment. We raise the bar using our own faces (not in whiteface). Motown was my right of passage, jazz was my liberation. Jazz was about how we black folks do things, camaraderie and one-up-man-ship at the same time. Even today when I walk through a store, I nod in appreciation to every black face who acknowledges hello. It is within even if that other person has other thoughts, or a challenge or a delusion. That "jazz" is inside and I can see it. I only see that in a few Euro folks, here and there. I don't understand that and perhaps it's just my bias, yeah, I got some too.

Today jazz is so watered down in the media. Coltrane on the radio turned into nightclub jazz into smooth jazz into elevator music into popular vocal music. Now I hear jazz radio late at night and mostly it is mainstream, the heady avant-gard stuff is so rare it is practically gone. It is the same for abstract art. There is this dime a dozen attitude and a we can tell which Euro artist influenced you. So blacks drawing black faces is original and blacks drawing abstractly is copying white guys (who studied black guys).

Then you got to fit into some style, school of art, some movement or historical reference or.......... I'm telling you, if an artist is burdened with this kind of stuff on the front end, there is no art on the back end. I will reveal the art process one more time. There is this person who discovers by whatever means the ability to create and goes about doing that. He or she acquires skills and gathers whatever views that form their world view and reference information that flows through their senses. It all converges in the mind and flows out into what ever media is being used, wither a dream or paper or canvas or camera or computer, a building, clothes, etc, etc, etc. You see it, hear it, and go, "oh, wow, that's art." Simplistic.

Why I do art the way that I do? "I just want to make beautiful things."

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