Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Death of Interior Art

"I don’t advise any one to take it up as a business proposition, unless they really have talent, and are crippled so as to deprive them of physical labor." - Grandma Moses
First, while overseen while making some prints down at DateLine, some dude had one of my panels as a screensaver on his laptop. Little things like that make my day. Vanity voyeurism aside, I maintained anonymity.

Next, the work of eight folks out of my Beginning Drawing class got pieces into this semester's student art show, of which two had submitted multiple entries (successfully doubling their odds of both rejection/acceptance); four others didn't make the final cut, and lastly, and most unfortunately, two students were too late and didn't make the entry deadline. That was my stupid fault in erroneously writing some completely fictional times on the board - so after apologizing, I told them the entry fees for the spring semester's show were on me. I'll write more about the show when all is well hung - but I should add that one of absolute worst pieces I've yet to see in any exhibit was from one of my own students: the actual pen & ink drawing in the 3-page vignette is okay enough but the presentation was so crappy I actually attempted to personally intervene and fix it up a bit, but gave up after a closer look and seeing how hopeless it was. This didn't give me much faith in the abilities of the jurors, especially after seeing the relative quality of some of the rejected works - unless it was seen as so white-trashy it transcended into kitsch status.
At first glance though, there's an overall balance of amateur, aspiring talents with extremes on both ends: it'll be worth it to pick the brains of the jurors if they make the opening as I'm always curious as to the rational behind particular choices. God knows I've been plagued by afterthoughts and reservations in my own juroring experience.

"The way art is reported makes it very difficult for people outside the arts to consider visual art a sensible profession." - Anne Desmet

And another blow was dealt to our arts community with the announcement of the closure of a second venerable institution: after thirty years in the community The Artworks will shut down at the end of this month/year. This truly sucks, as they were all really great folks working there that were extremely knowledgeable - not to mention over the years they have bailed me outta some tight spots getting works ready for exhibition many, many times, along with showing occasional pieces and carrying some of my works, both cartoon & fine. They cut us working artists a break with discounts, and knew who was who and who did what all across the state. You guys will be really, really missed by a lot of people!
One of the best illustrations of the drooling aesthetic idiocy prevalent in Fairbanks was evident in this gem from the newspaper article about this impending loss in the on-line comment thread:
"ohh boohoo, now "artists" have to go get real jobs like the rest of the world. maybe someone can use that floorspace for something we need. now we just need the other useless wasteful things to go away from Fairbanks..."
Now that's the congenital stupidity we are up against, long before any supposed economic factors come into play, and is also why at every stage of education it's crucial to instill a practical, working knowledge of the value and worth of art, along with the financial side of this business (not to mention the obvious vested interest in cultivating future consumers). Commodification and commercialization issues aside, it's already hard enough doing art - being an artist is a whole 'nuther shit sandwich.

There isn't one damn gallery in Fairbanks that makes enough money off of selling art to be a financially stable business. Not one. As a viable enterprise it can't stand alone without spinning off into related areas like framing, studio rentals etc. Recently there was even news of an attempted bail-out of an Alaskan gallery by seeking state funding to keep it open:
The Alaska House is the "only nonprofit arts and cultural organization dedicated to promoting Alaska" in New York City and
"... educating the public on the diverse artistic and cultural offerings of Alaska and improving economic conditions throughout the state, especially rural Alaskan villages---which are among the nation’s most remote locations."
Exhibitions feature prominent and upcoming Alaska Native artists such as Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Erica Lord, Da-ka-xeen Mehner, and Larry McNeil, among others. So much for the whole "improving economic conditions" thing.

Meanwhile, back here, a quick perusal of local website resources yields a smattering of mostly crafts (not that there's anything wrong with that), and unless it's connected with the University, the Fairbanks Arts Association is the only game in town. After the cinema multiplex, Ice carving is the single most visible art experience the public has in the Interior, beside maybe some annual annual festival gigs. I wouldn't go so far as to say creative arts are slowly dying on the trapline here (despite the hyperbole of this post heading), but it sure seems like a bit of false advertising, or at least a stretch to claim "Fairbanks is a place sustained by a healthy arts and culture scene." If that quote was painted real pretty-like I bet oil companies and the military might frame that and put it up on a wall somewhere...
Sad to say, maybe this reflects not only the economic climate but also the artistic swan-song of a generation if WalmART reigns as the epicenter of cultural enrichment for Americans. Enrichment ... seems to be something you only do to crappy, worthless white bread.

How does one console oneself in the face of such grim news? Besides ranting on the internet?
Well, by doing some more art. Much like this blog experiment, probably really doesn't matter all that much who out there gives a dang - it'll still get done anyways, art still gets made, still gets put out, regardless of opposition or enthusiasm. Though, going full-circle with the opening of this very post, every little bit helps.

*Demo from a half-hour pose in yesterday's class, of which I sketched for maybe ten minutes, seeing as how I was supposed to be teaching.
I've learned that making a "living" is not the same thing as making a "life." - Maya Angelou

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