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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
A Brief Renassance
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