Sunday, June 5, 2011

Artists discuss: The Art Assembly Line - WSJ

The Art Assembly Line
With the market revving up and pressure to produce higher than ever, more artists are turning to assistants for help. Who really painted that masterpiece?

CJ Nye
Hmm... too much "hot ticket" thinking to my mind, putting the emphasis on too few artists. It looks like anyone who wants to "make it" needs to become a Mr. Brainwash. My work is very much about the body, my body, creating it. And most pieces take months. The Market will come or it won't, I cannot not make my work.

Michelle Anne Muldrow I'm all about my hand in my work, so I'd never ever have an assistant actually paint for me.Why would I want to?I live to paint!

CJ Nye Right!

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy I've used assistants many times, but only for things that are manual labor, like sanding. I will most likely use them in the future for programming and electronics, since it will take me years to get really good at it. But a painter who doesn't paint any of his work, and farms it out to third world labor? It's as hard to respect that as it is a corporation using a strikes me as so exploitative.

There are some odd factual errors in that article though...Pat Steir does use an assistant to help with her paintings (he's a friend of mine), and it's insane to include Sol LeWitt since the work he created is the instructions for the drawing, not the drawing itself, just as when he was alive. Still, though, overall interesting article. What sucks is that we are ALL judged by the bar these millionaire artists raise, and overall, art starts feeling more and more like a product for the market. I think overly produced work just loses it's magic, becomes another widget.

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy ‎(I mean, I guess the LeWitt thing isn't an error as much as a strange misrepresentation...)

CJ Nye Yeah, I also find it irksome that talk about art practice focuses almost exclusively on the artstars, even by people who have a clear picture of the reality.

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy It's true, and even beyond that, it annoys me that it focuses exclusively on the coasts 99% of the time. The entire country is full of artists, in every city, many of them every bit as good as what you see in Chelsea. (In fact, it's high time the Whitney Biennial actually reflected AMERICAN art, like it always claims to!) I mean, I love New York too, but it is not the be-all and end-all of the art world, as much as it wants to think it is...time to start thinking globally!           

CJ Nye Ha! & just *try* "emerging in an art capitol- there are almost *no* opportunities for local artists (Brooklyn only wants Brooklyn artists, for reals, so that totally doesn't count).6 hours ago · Like

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy Yup, either way, it's too much focus on superstars (who are usually not making the most interesting work out there at any given time, anyway)!

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy It really is a constant frustration...I think I've been lucky enough to have a pretty good career, with many more opportunities than most of my NYC friends have been able to have. BUT it isn't taken seriously by some, because it's not in New York! At the same time, I've watched immensely talented artists who live in New York never show their work hardly at all. (I've also seen artists go from New York to smaller places and get opportunities simply because they're from New York, not because the work was any good.)

In the end, all artists know it really is just about the work, and if you aren't the one DOING that work, then is it just about the money/fame? What kind of artistic satisfaction could you take as a painter who never lays a brush on a canvas, I wonder?            

CJ Nye Wouldn't it be nice if the market knew what artists know? ;)        

CJ Nye ‎& adding to my "stretching" comment above- I even work my gesso layers to the texture I want, so that wouldn't get an assist, that's part of the painting for me- it effects everything that happens on top of it.          

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy It would be nice if artists were at the top of the totem pole in the art world instead of the bottom...I mean after all, it's not like it would exist without us!

CJ Nye That would have to stand on the foundation of an educated & discerning population.

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy Hah!

Janice Tieken Great discussion. This bugs me. The whole star and big bucks arena of the art world boggles the mind. I can't imagine a painter having someone else paint for them and it is still their work - huh? - for me that would then become a conceptual performance piece. The brush stroke itself is individual. So I guess idea trumps execution or skill.          

CJ Nye Part of my disgruntlement with the whole "artist statement" thing- it places the emphasis entirely on the concept- the plastic arts are equally about execution.

Janice Tieken I find the art statement too binding in a way that pigeon-holes my ideas or process into words that are not the work but something else. It is also why when I worked with the mentally ill I used art-as-therapy and NOT art therapy. I wanted them to experience the process. The idea of diagnosing art was/is abhorrent to me.

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy I'm in favor of the artist's statement as a tool for artists themselves, though. It's difficult for young artists to speak about their work, having a good statement is helpful to both them and the viewer. That said, they've become entirely too important in the art world, but writing has always been a part of my studio practice and has helped me work through ideas and frameworks for what I'm doing.

Janice, I love your distinction between the two, and agree. I hate it when art is seen as something used (even by professional artists) as therapy! Not all of us are making art about our emotional scars or crappy childhoods, but the general public seems to think art is all about emotions, and "art therapy" just adds to that misconception.                 

CJ Nye Ah! Normally I wold post this on my page, but it's SO pertinent.
Dilemma, aka, choice: In laying down the first mark for a form intended to represent a concept, "A tall, unbowed form in cadmium red medium. The mists behind her. Bright, strong. She will get the depth of a rich glaze next week. Powerful. Resonant." I made a mark so gorgeous that I now want to keep it- despite the fact that it, being a single layer of paint, is not the Solid (strong) form I wanted, but shows the paint under through steaks & gaps in the coverage- more delicate/fragile. Now I, because I am a painter, must choose between the concept and the form. Ha!

Campbell Laird mmnn... well its the future, more and more artists will be getting their work made, painted, fabricated in India, China, etc, just like the major corporations have done. Maybe the art assistant will become a thing of the past similar to the manufacturing jobs that used to employ huge numbers of american workers. How long before Koons gets his photoshop images painted in oils by very skilled indian painters? Ai Wei Wei uses many assistants to create his work, I wonder what he pays because this work is obviously made in China but sold overseas. I know i am pushing the point here but that would make his work very cheap to produce, maybe other artists feel they need to level the playing field for complicated time consumimg artworks?

CJ Nye Lauri, I think in pictures (literally), not words, so the writing to help myself, nope.

CJ Nye I will say this for diagnosis in art therapy, it can be an *excellent* tool for unearthing abuse of children (less verbal), & spotting cognitive dysfunction (mechanical issues).

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy Campbell, I know an artist doing just that, in China. He tries to pass it off as conceptual, but I still only see exploitation. Caroline, your experience is probably more the norm for artists, but I always encourage students to write about the work to get in the habit - when I have to write a statement, I can literally just pluck things out of my notes, string them together, and fill-in with massive edits. I've found it to be much easier than what I see my friends going through! (And given that I will be expected to write a 30 page thesis about my work next year, I'm profoundly glad of the habit.)

CJ Nye Campbell, it may be a part of the future (or the now) I see it more as the beginning of a divide. There are those of us, and there will be, who will never do that- which there may be a distinct market for... but it is paradigm divide, absolutely.

CJ Nye Good habit.

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy Oh, and yes, art therapy is a FANTASTIC tool, no disrespect there, but I like Janice's way of thinking about it -- it's art used for therapy, not art in and of itself. Not that it can't reach those levels, but that every mark on a piece of paper doesn't necessarily need to be called art if that wasn't it's intended purpose in the first place. (I kind of feel like I'm edging towards sounding like an asshole here...sorry.)

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy Easy to form a good habit when it's something you love -- I could have just as easily have become a writer as an artist (and I suppose still may). I'm really thankful for it!          

CJ Nye ‎& I do "keep notes" on my page, which *is* useful. & I think art therapy is great, but I hate what I have termed time and again - "art therapy art."

CJ Nye I like to write too- but it comes from a separate impulse, strangely enough.        

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy It is, truly. There are times in the studio, though, when I'm working and thinking and suddenly HAVE to rush over and write, so it's really interesting how they're linked for me. I rarely get the urge to write separately from art-making.           

CJ Nye Resolved, fyi, the whole needs a stronger mark there, an anchor. Pity on some level though, I really love the mark.

Janice Tieken The need for brevity in fb comments makes it difficult to express a big idea in a sentence or 2. I wrote my thesis on using the art experience to raise self-esteem with abused children in a shelter. I gave them means and encouragement to explore. They learned problem solving and other good things that making art brings. They created something! We can say it is not art which would mean what one does in an art class is not art perhaps. What it did was give them a chance to see themselves as agents of creativity that came from within themselves and to value it. There is therapy involved just as being in the presence of a loving adult is therapy too. That others like art therapy is fine and I think coming to the field as an artist first I chose my own path with it. Diagnosing art still for me takes away something magical in the process of making it. I have to wonder if anyone whose art is diagnosed then is ever able to freely engage in it. Don't know but do know what I saw emerge in those groups (and individually with the children) that I felt was healing to the participants. Every time. They do get tired of talking about feelings all day long (6 groups a day was typical) I only worked in the field for 10 years but never changed my conviction that making art was good for people in periods of high stress. 'nuff said. or too much perhaps...          

Janice Tieken btw - I agree that writing about my work has helped me to articulate what someone might ask about it though it does confine.

Campbell Laird There are 2 conversations going on..this refers to the first... Yes Caroline, the great divide. There is also that growing sense if you don't position your work to appeal to the Rich you are dead in the water! 'Event Art' is becoming the new normal - bigger, cheaper, faster, stronger! ARGGH!!

Janice Tieken In terms of 'big' that does also seem the way for it to be 'important' and worthy of a higher price. All these things about the commercial side of things have to be set aside for me to proceed. But once I start I totally do not care about that which may be a mistake - don't know.

CJ Nye I think we're up to 3 ;)
As I noted originally, I've made my choice: I make my art. Physically, conceptually... mine. A few people may even be priveledged enough to own some of it one day, or not, but I will not pander. If the only things I wanted were fame or money I'd throw away the brushes and hop on a bus to Hollywood. Ha!

Janice Tieken I think of writing as a separate art form and not the same as writing an art statement which for me is like a caption or a p.r. piece, something that is work anyway.            

CJ Nye Obviously.

Campbell Laird You think hollywood is any easier than a career in art. I know many out of work actors and artists. Both careers are extremely difficult but of course i do get your point. ;)        

CJ Nye I don't think, but you got my point. xo

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy I have proven myself incapable of pandering. When I have tried, it's been an utter failure. In fact, if I try to make things that I think people will want I only get weirder.
And Janice, I do totally see your point...I knew I was sounding like a jerk, but I've seen so many shows of really bad art that came from therapy...and I know you're right, that it IS art, but I guess I just think it needs to be judged the same way any other art would be, and people are unwilling because it's so personal. I supposed I tend to see art as an intellectual pursuit more than as an emotional one, which may make me biased, I don't know.

Elizabeth Briel Re. using Chinese labor - I'd considered it for the Cyanotype series I'm designing about Chinese & US empires. It would have been part of the concept, a metaphor for the cheap labor we all have been using for 15+ years to support the lifestyles we currently have (however we may feel impoverished compared to a few years ago, the factory that makes Apple products in Guangdong recently installed suicide nets to keep its employees from throwing themselves out of the windows).

Elizabeth Briel ‎...but in the end I decided not to. That's Chinese artists' prerogative (like WeiWei), but I am using different techniques rather than Chinese labor. Keeping the focus on process and nimble creativity rather than just paying semi-skilled labor living wages to finish my art for me.

CJ Nye mmm... i don't know that i would call it art, it's a fuzzy line, like with craft, but i think there has to be some element of intention to convey to the larger world.... and the years of training to make a mark/image the way you intended it to come out... & still there's a difference- for example, if you don't know, i studied to be an art therapist in undergrad, ultimately didn't, but as part of the practice kept a "visual journal" it was definitely NOT art.            

CJ Nye Elizabeth, I like that you thought about it as part of the concept, and like that you didn't, for the same reason.           

Janice Tieken Lauri, I also see art as more intellectual and surely not to pursue as catharsis. Those making art for therapy per se may have a different goal than what I tried to describe (quite unsuccessfully) and I in no way at all ever see you as a 'jerk'! you are at all times respectful and open-minded IMO.

Janice Tieken Elizabeth, what you described about suicide nets is stunning and not to be too glib but another reason perhaps to not buy a mac after all.

CJ Nye Not to be grim, but maybe the PC manufacturers just let people jump... make no assumptions.

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy Thanks Janice, glad I didn't offend. Elizabeth, I don't know that it's Chinese artists prerogative solely -- we are undeniably part of the equation, and at the same time enjoy far more freedom of speech and ability to reach people. With conceptual reasoning for a work I think it does more good than harm, in the end. The suicide nets are horrible, but I agree with Caroline...and I hate to say it, but I hate the thought of giving up my Mac!

Janice Tieken On Chinese labor for any purpose: I once asked an importer if they could pay more and they said it would disrupt the whole social fabric of the community. I could see the logic but also saddened that stasis was a given.

Elizabeth Briel ‎"Disrupt the whole social fabric of the community"?! Ack, that's tripe, coming from these guys. What it means is they'd disrupt their relationships with other business owners, exporters, etc.

Elizabeth Briel The company who has been entrusted to make many Apple products is Foxconn, and they've got some poor labor practices that go beyond what you see at many Chinese factories: They've been all over the news in Asia, but my American friends aren't familiar with them. Doubtless Foxconn makes some PC products too, but PCs aren't centrally owned or as proprietary as Apple, which is my problem w/the me they're directly accountable for their company's decisions. For example, my laptop/last netbook were both Toshibas. If I'd heard this about Toshiba, I wouldn't buy them again.


Anonymous said...

When will you post again ? Been looking forward to this !

cjn212 said...

Hi Anonymous- I'm a "don't post unless I have something to say" kind of blogger, but in a few weeks I will be posting the work related to my current project: Artists and the Economy - Postcard protest to the White House.

It's open to all struggling US self-identified professional visual artists and arts supporters- I hope you'll take part.

Anonymous said...

I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

cjn212 said...

Thank you, Anonymous.