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Contemporary art has been misunderstood since 1870. So most of us are confused. Most people are about 70 years behind understanding what is actually going on in the art world. This is the time it takes to canonize art. However, we have actively been trying to move to a more democratic art canon. That however, does mean that visitors and collectors need to do more legwork. We no longer appreciate the exclusionary practices of bygone era, but it does mean that we do not have a definitive guide of what constitutes what ART is. And that is good.
Today we are going to talk about levels of art. By levels I do not mean levels of quality but levels in the sense of quantity of spaces art can be part of. This will help you understand contemporary art better as well as what the difference is between real art and creating images.
Levels of art
We get hung up often in definitions pertaining to the quality of art, technique and interpretation, but often also use wrong markers when assessing art. We think some art is bad and other is good and we often use the level of museum art as marker. Museum art checks several markers, like historical significance in the arts or politics of a country or even the world. These same markers should not apply to contemporary art that is the voice of activism or the voice of a an artist voicing his own poetic soul. These same contemporary works may later be assigned to becoming museum pieces, but they first exist in their own level. That level they exist first, is in the spaces of our homes, public spaces, offices, galleries and as think pieces on contemporary issues.
Beginning: Creating Art
Let us start with creation of art. Always the artist is taking how they understand the world and marrying this understanding with their technical understanding of material used. Whatever understanding artists are channeling into the work may be known and also vastly unknown, to the them. Art is always created by someone who is either searching for their voice or trying to amplify it. This is true for all creations of man, whether you are a person picking up a paintbrush or pen, know yourself as a painter or poet, stand-up comedian, or public activist even. I peddle in paintings, so we will continue in the creation of painting. Hundreds of paintings are made daily, with different levels of technical quality, with different levels of depth or even no depth. And all of these paintings made by artists with different voices. And again the person creating these works may not always truly know what they are voicing in their entirety of the work. The art that gets created shouts or whispers different voices of the human condition. The final creations are then deemed good or bad, by often times confusing different levels of where this art exists in our life.
Middle: Seeing Art
After Michal Na'aman 2013 | Pen on paper | Merav Shinn Ben-Alon
For example, I follow a gallery in in Stockholm Sweden, Galleri Majkens, that is an artist run gallery for feminist and queer practices. I can not tell you how much I love their work they exhibit. A particularly good work, was by artist Merav Shinn Ben-Alon from Tel-Aviv is "After Michal Na'aman" 2013. It is a pen and paper drawing, the pen stokes looked like a stitched the outline of someone in a skirt from just above the knee. Between the legs is the semblance of a pulled down underwear with overlapping pen strokes. Compared to the rest of the sparse lined piece, there is much more red pen lines, where the underwear is. The title suggests blood lost after virginity. Before reading the title of this work my immediate thoughts went to period blood and how often women (me) have accidents. We are not allowed to speak of it, we are supposed to hide it, even though it is not much different than a nose bleed. My knee jerk reaction thought when seeing this work; was a bit disturbing, but that was a learnt social response. After a thin scratch I do not find it disturbing at all, to see a representation of period blood.
However, my first reaction was, NO, this is an activist piece, not a home piece. But as I write this, I am mad at myself and my mindset to pander to a male dominated world. I digress on a tangent, this piece has lead me on. Meray Shinn Ben-Alon’s other work I wanted to say is work you can hang in your home, and this piece is more an activist piece for in a gallery, public space or museum. But I do not want to say that at all anymore. This piece in your bathroom, for example, tells a story we as women are not allowed to tell. A story that affronts many male senses, but having this piece in your house where your daughters, sons, partner lives and guests visit, is a legitimate conversation piece about a culture of shame and starting point to a larger social conversation we should be having.
If this is your goal in life, to tackle social issues, one person at a time, this work is meant for your home. If you need the art in your home to create a calming effect and relax you, then you choose a different piece of art in your home.
Middle: Thinking about art
Art is good when it makes you think or adds something to you or your home that you need to be the person you want to be. This person may be someone trying to show their wealth by having art in their home, this person might be a low key social activist, this person may be a person that just wants to be reminded of a beautiful memory from their life. Maybe the art you have is the work of your daughter finding her worth as a creator and not just a mother/partner/sexual object by painting flowers, or your son working through a depression, or an artist tackling social issues that you relate to. All these art forms are valid to hang in your home, regardless of assumed technical quality of a piece.
All your art choices are legit, the different levels of art and the human condition allows for a wide variety of art to exist. The art work in a museum or even in a gallery does not qualify a level in quality, but is simply a level an art work can exist and be brought to a wider audience. The creation of art for a museum or gallery is not the end goal, but simply a space art can exist. The different voices echoed by artist and their work, find homes in different places in the world. That saying, not all art is meant for sale, but if the artist wants his work out there, think of why. Too often the why is to solidify that your voice or experience of the human condition is legitimate. External validation should not be the end goal. For art to find a home, the right audience must be found, and that is a principle of marketing and market research and has nothing to do with the legitimacy of a creation.
End (game?): Sale of Art
For too long art and money should never be mentioned in the same breath, except when it comes to validate the worth of a work after a sale. This however creates the issue of what is left unspoken, namely if it does not sell it is not worth anything. Out loud we always talk in the art world about the value of a piece in its intrinsic properties; form, colour, inspirations and symbolic representations. Money does not taint the work, but when we talk about artists their value lies in accomplishments; experience, prior exhibitions and sales. An art work of his has been sold too notable person A, so you know the artist is valuable. That thought process is placing the value of a person based on the value of another individual. Or that the artist has exhibited at this museum or gallery and that is placing the artist worth on an institution and a business. Again the unspoken being said, that the person without this is not a valuable creator. When again it is a question of marketing and market research and even then, the person who loves your work may not want to buy it, but take simple pleasure in viewing the work on Instagram or once in a church exhibition or at a family members house.
The space art takes in our lives should not just be viewed in the lens of institutional markers, but the space we want it to take in our lives as creators and collectors. Does art echo your human experience or amplify your own voice? As a creator or collector think about what a piece does to you. Does art ground you or allow you to further understand the continuous evolving human condition? Does art signify a social marker? All reasons are legitimate to create and buy art. We are all part of the sum total of our human experience. Art is a visual view into this experience and for a connection between us as people.
P.S. This article does not
look into work that can
intentionally like Holocaust art
This is something I am not
sure yet how to write about,
but may in the future.
 The Death of the Author Theory posed by Roland Barthes in the early twentieth century.
I need more!
Some things, like the conversations with South African artist Janno Jordaan I can not give you. For all other things there is Maste- the internet.
I am not affiliated with any of these people or links but have drawn inspiration from them.
Back to the Drawing Board podcast
Listen to all the episodes! (It is easier from your phone) Find them where you always find all your podcasts.
In particular the episode with: Rodika Tchi her thoughts that some art is not placed in the right space, gave this article the idea of where art should be. We argue completely different things in our views, but the podcasts Instagram post of her episode shifted a perspective for me.