Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Desperate and Lonely Time

Yesterday, I posted a couple of quotes from abstract expressionist painters Motherwell and Rothko. Mister Anchovy made an insightful comment "Those guys were onto something. There is a desperateness and loneliness about American art of that period though, don't you think?"

1)Yes, I do Mister Anchovy. One of the main haunting questions I thought about since studying the literature and art of the post Second World War, is why didn't those artists and poets have more fun? Very few contemporary artists have come to fame under the kind of duress that artists of the 50's lived through. If an artist has made it to a level of fame and income, seldom has their story been surrounded by a monumental angst of the kind we associate with Van Gogh, Pollack, Rothko, Plath, and Ginsberg. If Warhol, Koons or Schnabel struggled for their existence and art, it was only for a couple of years till they became stars in the pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair. We have our token struggling artist Basquiat lore, and Joseph Bueys being nobody's fool created a huge mythology surrounding his muses for art-making. Our current struggling artist story is likely J.K. Rowlings period of writing her Harry Potter series without much food, in coffee shops as a single mom. And of course we have the rehab brigade. Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, the Olsen Twins, Robert Downey Jr, and celebrity feuds highlight and seem to have replaced our struggling artists motifs , at least for the moment.
2)Sylvia Plath.

3)If you are an artist today, or a writer, you are either a nobody, or wildly rich and famous. But is that all you are?

4)Would a writer or artist today rather be a nobody than suffer the kinds of depression and self-esteem issues that Pollack and Rothko set up against overnight fame, and the possible knowledge that they were simply bought by the Establishment to secure cultural supremecy as well as military supremacy for America? CIA theory of government funded art movements.
Hans Hoffman.

But then again...doesn't every writer and artist have a sense of desperation and loneliness? Doesn't every human spirit struggle as it grows with desperation and loneliness?

Or is that only the realm of the crazymad artist and writer?

5)The question, then, is whether manic-depression and other emotional disorders serve the creative process, or actually impede it. ''Most people who are manic-depressive are more reflective, introspective, can deal with more existential issues when they're depressed,'' Dr. Jamison said. ''And if you think of a classic kind of manic wit, like Lenny Bruce, there's a rapidity of association and an ability to reach instantly back into the mind. It's clear that if you give hypomania [the medical term for the manic state] to an already creative person you give them a big advantage.'' As if to underscore the point, Dr. Jamison helped produce a Los Angeles concert last May entitled ''Moods and Music.'' It featured compositions by Handel, Schumann, Wolf, Berlioz and Mahler - all of whom, she maintained, were manic-depressive.

Dr. Barry M. Panter, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Southern California and the director of an annual conference on ''Creativity and Madness,'' cites a similar chemistry between emotion and creativity. ''The material artists use for their art,'' Dr. Panter said, ''comes from the primitive levels of their inner lives - aggression, sexual fantasy, polymorphous sexuality. What we know about the development of personality is that we all go through these stages and have these primitive drives within us. As we mature and are 'civilized,' we suppress them. But the artist stays in touch with and struggles to understand them. And to remain so in touch with that primitive self is to be on the fine line between sanity and madness.''
From "How Inner Torment Feeds The Creative Spirit" NYTs

6)Is it true all writers and artists are at least half mad?
Allen Ginsberg.

7)Traditional forms and ideas no longer seemed to provide meaning to many American poets in the second half of the 20th century. Events after World War II produced for many writers a sense of history as discontinuous: Each act, emotion, and moment was seen as unique. Style and form now seemed provisional, makeshift, reflexive of the process of composition and the writer's self-awareness. Familiar categories of expression were suspect; originality was becoming a new tradition.

The break from tradition gathered momentum during the 1957 obscenity trial of Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl. When the San Francisco customs office seized the book, its publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights, brought a lawsuit. During that notorious court case, famous critics defended Howl's passionate social criticism on the basis of the poem's redeeming literary merit. Howl's triumph over the censors helped propel the rebellious Beat poets -- especially Ginsberg and his friends Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs -- to fame.

It is not hard to find historical causes for this dissociated sensibility in the United States. World War II itself, the rise of anonymity and consumerism in a mass urban society, the protest movements of the 1960s, the decade-long Vietnam conflict, the Cold War, environmental threats -- the catalog of shocks to American culture is long and varied. The change that most transformed American society, however, was the rise of the mass media and mass culture. First radio, then movies, and later an all-powerful, ubiquitous television presence changed American life at its roots. From a private, literate, elite culture based on the book and reading, the United States became a media culture attuned to the voice on the radio, the music of compact discs and cassettes, film, and the images on the television screen.
From The Anti-Tradition

8)Johns and his contemporaries were concerned with tackling the problems set out for them by the preceding generation, the Abstract Expressionists. Pollock had died in 1956, and we have only to recall that when Johns was looking for a gallery the following year he was anxious to find a neutral space, that is, one not infected by the second Abstract Expressionist generation. The weight of this generation would have fallen particularly heavily on the younger artists at a time when the Abstract Expressionists were being promoted extensively, at home and abroad, as the "true" American artists. Additionally, Abstract Expressionism had accrued a critical vocabulary and eminent apologists, such as Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, who regarded it as the true heir of modern art proper and the flagbearer for modernism. Abstract Expressionism and modernism became synonymous.
Louise Nevelson.

The cliche struggles of the artist and writer in modern times, has become a standard for all of us. The very nature of making a painting or writing is about conflict resolution. A novel is incomplete without conflict and conflict resolution. That might be the first lesson in many creative writing courses. Every painting is a history of conflict, and conflict resolution. The mere act of composing an image and reconciling it with the artists inner vision and intent is conflict, and hopefully....a kind of resolution, at least for the maker.
Robert Lowell.

9)This traditionally "artistic struggle" has become marketed for the mainstream. Everyone has a story, and everyone wants to be validated. We know this is true because of the huge business that self-help books generate and the popularity of Oprah.

10)This makes me wonder, if actually, the abstract expressionists, the "anti-traditional" poets of the post WWII era really were living in more desperate and lonely times?
Barnett Newman, Broken Obelisk.

11)It appears as if most of the world is living in desperate times and aware of their own desperation and struggle. Roseanne, in her own strange way has summed this up perfectly. She says, "half the world is starving to death and the other half is on a diet."

12)I also wonder...if it hadn't been for the personal and professional risks that poets, writers and artists like Lowell, Pollack, Rothko and Ginsberg made by diving into their world and looking at the world despite loneliness and desperation...or perhaps because of it...would we have the drive today to expect so much more out of our own lives than what social constructs, family or our society may have tried to drug us into accepting? With a few bucks all of us can go to the book store, or watch Oprah and find tools to work on our own conflict resolution. We can go to the library and borrow poetry to read the lives and challenges of a gay man like Ginsberg or Lowell as they record and code freedom in a society less tolerant than ours right now.

13)And I believe there are artists and writers out there today speaking about our own current desperate times. If Pollack and Rothko can tell us something about their times...isn't it possible someone out there right now, as you read this is painting something that might touch you? Making a sculpture that shares their story and yours? I hope if you are reading this, you will take a small amount of effort and go see a local artists show or studio. Drop by a gallery and talk to the representative and ask them if they could introduce you to an artist or a few artists in your area. Find out when their next opening is, and ask the artist questions, have a glass of wine with them. Look and think about their work...find out if they are telling a story for our times.

And if their work touches you...why not take it home? You'd be surprised how many artists will sell work from their studio for a really good price. Plus, you'll be making a statement too, that the Olsen Twins and Britney Spears bare-butt passion play are NOT our story of the times.

Related Topics
A Brief Renassance
Gerhard Richter
Broken Obelisk
Posters Online

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Tink said...

A long post indeed, but very interesting. A lot has got me thinking...
Thanks for visiting my art TT!

Wylie Kinson said...

Very thought provoking TT!!
I haven't had my afternoon coffee yet, so much of the 'depth' had my head spinning ;D
I'm coming back to re-read when my eyelids aren't so droopy!!

Candy Minx said...

Tink and Wylie, Ah thanks for checking this post out is always good for everything! Hey art and thinking shouldn't be rushed activities anyways...I think we get so used to soundbites and politicians that we forget that it's okay to ponder over ideas and not be afraid to think for ourselves.


Darla said...

Great questions, Candy.

Some random thoughts your post prompted:

There does seem to be a connection between struggle and art--along the lines of necessity being the mother of invention. A perfectly happy, comfortable person doesn't feel as great a drive to create, perhaps, or maybe what a contented person is driven to create isn't as likely to resonate as universally.

I've heard a few writers say that when they psychotropic medication for depression or other illnesses that their creativity suffered or even disappeared altogether, so I'm sure there's a connection there.

Modern society does seem to try to produce its own struggles--with social safety nets, struggles for physical survival have been replaced by internal struggles.

How many of the struggling artists were only recognized after their deaths? Might there not be similar artists now whose work won't be recognized until decades from now, ones who have either rejected or been overlooked by state-sponsored art programs?

Mostly, I'm intrigued by the concept that while current culture is affecting art, the affected art is portraying the culture that's affecting it.

Candy Minx said...

Darla says "Mostly, I'm intrigued by the concept that while current culture is affecting art, the affected art is portraying the culture that's affecting it."

That's a pretty cool concept Darla, almost like time travel. I don't know if there are artists out there who will be discovered after they die...some I think, but there is something else going on now. An idea of "historical correctness" and that there aren't any "secret" artists or writers...epople think everything is exposed. There are huge portions of society that don't even seek out local galleries, where they could have an evening of wine and snacks, meet new people, in primal real time! (what a concept) and read art like they might a newspaper article.

It's not about "liking or disliking" a poem or painting. We seem to have a fetish that we have to "like" something for it to be "good".

I believe it's as important to be exposed to ideas and free thinking as it is to be comfortable and safe.

Sometimes looking at a poem or a sculpture should be liek opening a magazine or newspaper...a diferent kind of record.

nancy said...

Hmmm...well now JK Rowling is worth a billion dollars so her "struggling"paid off didn't it.

This is a very interesting post. And that Roseanne quote is so right on.

I think I have to digest and come back and post more of what I think.

Janet said...

Interesting and thought provoking! Hmmm....

Gette said...

Ouch. Stop making me think so much.

Christine said...

Great post. I'll have to reread it though because my charming and hype children were running around me! Thanks for stopping by my site today. :)

Amy Ruttan said...

One great writer said authors were slighty schizophrenic, but I can't remember who said it.

Great TT!

Joy Renee said...

talk about hypomania..
your mind seems to work like mine--take a simple question and zip zag zig you pull in facts from here there everywhere, memories, feelings more questions than answeres... but the ideas are stimulating, provocative, full of those oprah-styled lightbulb moments.

do you have as much trouble getting people to sit still and hear you out when your mind takes off like that as I do?

you won't find much evidence of this hyper scattershot thinking on my blog since I've tended to not post at all when I can't get my thoughts 'disciplined'.

now, thanks to you and how much fun i found it to read this post, i'm thinking that I need to start letting myself be myself...especially on my blog.

sorry, i didn't mean to make this so much about myself. but that was the impact your post had on me. i found much that i was familiar with mixed in with info that was new to me wrapped up in questions. i love to be mentally stimulated this way.

happy TT and thanx for trying to visit mine this morning. It is up now. It's 13 things provided by our county library services (which we're about to loose due to lack of funding) and yes, i admit i'm obsessed!

mister anchovy said...

Let's look at a survivor of that era, Phillip Guston. As you know, I think he is one of the most interesting American painters ever. After achieving much fame and fortune for his so-called Abstract Impressionist paintings, Guston, as Weird Bob might say, "through it all away", and began painting those haunting and strange paintings of his later period, the "hoods" staring at bare lightbulbs and whiskey bottles, clocks with one hand, floods, tangled legs, figures smoking a dozen cigarettes at once. They still give me chills. When one critic suggested these paintings were hard to look at, Guston made commented that the critic didn't have to live with them. When the underlying content of the ab ex works had become watered down through time and misunderstanding and ridicule, he re-expressed it with the figure, with Krazy Kat-like cartoony nightmares. The painter commented that sometimes, like Babel with his Cossacks, he felt he was living with the Klan, riding around town, staring at bare lightbulbs, conspiring. Interestingly enough, the title of one of his early 'social realist' paintings described it perfectly - If this not be I.

spyscribbler said...

But without hindsight, can we really see the broad strokes of art, culture and current "history" and how it relates, today? Patterns are more easily spotted years from now, maybe?

As a writer, I'm a pretty happy and even-keeled person. From time to time, my characters can get me down. I try to go back to being me when I'm done writing, but ... sometimes I can't.

Vincent said...

Everyone knows that in order to be a truly great artist you have to suffer!

Songbird said...

Deep post and obviously keenly felt, CM. Used to do a lot of creative writing (stories, poetry) but all of that dried up when I got into therapy for depression and (very recently) bipolarism. If I wasn't feelingdepressed, could not be creative. Don't know if that's true for others, but that's how it was for me. But would not trade this feeling of relative stability for all the writing in the world. That might sound horrid/anti-art and I don't mean it that way, but the depression was so dark and so very deep that the writing wasn't worth it, even though there was a lot of it. Know what I mean? If there's a way to balance those aspects, it would be wonderful but man ...just the memory is like swallowing glass. Am glad not to be there anymore, but it is not all that far away (if you know what I mean).

Terrific post.

Candy Minx said...

Nancy, yes. Rowling's struggle, of what a year or so...did "pay off". I thought she was a good example because almost everyone knows that she was a single income single parent with a dream!

Janet, thanks

Gette, sorry!

Christine, see art and kids make us crazy!

Amy, thanks and glad you had time to stop by.

Joy, hypomania? heh heh maybe...I guess I just see all things as being connected actually. I also don't think being "disciplined is conducive to the life of the imagination. My parents were always telling me to think straight and school teachers always said i was too day dreamy...well. I prefer letting my imagination ROAM!

Mister Anchovy, actually, I had a Guston in line to add to this post and forgot. Maybe all those hooded figures and the mood of oppression in Gustons last paintings was him letting us know that the CIA and Establishment WAS running the art scene!

Spyscribbler, hi! Yes perhaps patterns are best recognized when step outside ourselves and look back over time, but I would also suggest that the act of writing, imagination and art making is a form for stepping outside our social constructs and involvement. I believe imagination can help us see patterns and intuit and interpret our world. I think writers and artmakers recreate the world in their own ways. As for craziness, well I am nutty, but my life is very simple and I am quite boring. I like to go crazy in my imagination and making stories and sometimes, when I BLOG! Once, I did write a scary character that I had to take a lot of focus to shake myself loose and it kinda freaked me out. But I have to work with my imagination because really I'm just a ol geek around the house.

Vincent, well darLINK! You would know, I trust you. I was looking at your bedroom painting the other day at The Art Institute of Chicago...and if you were crazy, thank you for sharing with us! You deserve your fame.

Songbird, we all have to do whatever it takes to get through the night. You sound like you made good decisions for your own health. I have known people who were unable to practice art or jobs after some medications, I have ehard of that...of course it is much more important to be healthy...besides...many people who were into art in high school or college don't keep practicing it anyways once they get married, carreers or maybe it isn't just the medications that distracted your interest in artmaking. It is very common for a lot of us to eventually stop practicing. Life and family is the biggest prioroties, no point in being an artist if the kids are starving too you know?

Thanks for your fascinating thoughts everyone!

Greg S. said...

Great post Candy. You remind me of two famous quotes: "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation ..." (Thoreau); and "Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work." (Flaubert).

candyminx said...

Greg S, those two quotes are really quite perfect for this topic, thanks. I think Flaubert's is absolutely perfect!

mister anchovy said...

When Guston showed those late works at Marlboro Gallery, Candy, his old buds called him a traiter, thought he sold out the cause, except for deKooning who said what's the problem, these works are about freedom.