Sunday 19 June 2011

Wow, I suck at drawing. Okay then.

I’ve just noticed that the cultural leaders responsible for shaping the art world may not actually be reading my blog.

I know! I couldn’t believe it either!

But in any case I might take the opportunity to stop preaching my nihilistic propaganda and just chat about crap that may or may not have anything to do with art.

 I think one of the funniest things about being a kid who likes drawing is the way that people react to your work.  90% of the time someone sees your drawing they will tell you all about how bad they are at drawing. 

“I can’t even draw stick figures.”
This is a phrase that you will hear many times.

Do these people walk up to mathematicians and tell them about how they’ve always been crap at sums?

“I see you scored well on this IQ test, as for me I’m a complete moron.”

Doesn’t happen.

I don’t mean to make fun of this reaction, because these people are obviously paying a compliment, and that’s real nice.  But the question is... 

what do you reply to this with?

The thing is, you can’t agree with them because that’s rude: “Yeah, you totally suck at drawing.” 

You can’t disagree with them because in all likelihood they are correct: “No way, you rule at drawing!”

You can’t change the subject because they’ve just opened it: “Really?  What’s for dinner?”

Often you’ll find yourself spending the next five minutes trying to think up tactful ways of consoling someone about the fact that they do not excel in a field they have no interest in.

I think the only answer is to follow these people around and the next time they read something, jump out from behind a bush and say;
“Wow, you just read that sentence!  I tried reading once, but for some reason I didn't automatically know all the letters, so I quit forever.  Boy, I sure do suck at reading! Why is that????”

Then swiftly run away, cackling like a mad-man.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Fran Fine Quantifies the Quality of Experience

Sometimes the foibles of art can be hard to discern at a casual glance.  To most people it can be like trying to find a needle in a giant pile of needles.

Unfortunately pointing out the defects of art can be like scorning an ad on TV; no matter how valid your rebuke is, you will always lose the exchange because you’re the one who’s talking to a TV.

The art world seems to have conjured up an all encompassing response to criticism, that if you don’t like something the problem is not the art, but your own inability to appreciate it.  However, with a bit of perspective I think some of the problems with art can become clearer.

Firstly, art doesn’t like to be compared with anything outside of itself.  It resorts to terms such as “priceless” to actively avoid having to deal with appropriate perspective.  

Art likes to think that to stand in the presence of a Kandinsky is an experience so incredibly transcendental that it cannot be compared with other experiences such as watching a TV show, reading a comic or buying a hat.
However this is incorrect, there is a perfectly legitimate way of comparing the value of the experience of a Kandinsky against the value of the experience of buying a hat, and you don’t even need to delve into the murky waters of aesthetics.

 We all have a certain amount of free time, and we allocate this time according to the value of the experiences of our options.  You can’t have an ulterior motive for allocating your time, because whatever that motive is, it still boils down to the value of the experience of that motive.

What does this mean in real terms?

It’s Saturday afternoon, you’ve got a couple of hours to spare and you can either crack open a copy of Shakespeare, or catch an episode of the Nanny.
Many people will attempt to believe that the value of the experience of Shakespeare is far greater than the value of the experience of an episode of the Nanny, but in most cases these same people will choose to watch that episode, rather than reading Shakespeare.

By choosing to watch the Nanny, in perfectly real, quantifiable terms you’ve proven that the experience has greater value in that situation. 
By choosing to go buy a hat rather than heading to the Kandinsky exhibition you’ve proven that to you, the experience of buying a hat is greater than the experience of the artworks of Kandinsky.  It doesn’t matter how many times a gallery curator uses words like transcendental, the experience of art is always going to be perfectly quantifiable, and in the vast majority of cases a person will decide that there are many other things to experience of much greater value.

Of course, I’m not saying that quality is quantifiable, or that if the majority of society believes something it makes it true.  If that were the case we’d all have to believe that Rebecca Black’s classic track “Friday” is of a higher quality than many of the works of Bach.  

I’m not saying that the Nanny is objectively greater than Shakespeare, or even that the Nanny doesn’t owe a great debt to Shakespeare.  I’m saying that we shouldn’t try fool ourselves into believing that the value of the experience of Shakespeare is greater than the value of the experience of “lower” art forms.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t feel good about being pretentious.  That would certainly cause me a lot of troubles.  By all means, believe that your ability to enjoy Matisse places you a cut above the commoners. Dissecting the reasons behind why you enjoy something is not likely to provide you with more enjoyment, but understanding and accepting your own system of values might.

The material point is to understand that when someone insinuates that there is something indescribably deeper and more meaningful about the time spent viewing an original artwork, take it with a grain of salt.

By which I mean take a large grain of salt and throw it at their eye, because they’re probably a very annoying person.

In the next post I will give evidence that not even the art world believes there is any value to the experience of an artwork.

It’ll be an awesomely transcendental experience.

Le Sime.

Monday 13 June 2011

Growing up in Kambah

This doesn’t have anything to do with art, but all this reminiscing about primary school’s got me thinking about how weird it was to grow up in Kambah.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Kambah is the largest and possibly the poorest suburb in Canberra.  While I’m sure it’s level of decrepitude doesn’t rate on a global scale, it was featured in a list of the top 10 most bogan suburbs in Australia.  A great day indeed for the proud bogans of Kambah.

The Best Things about Growing Up in Kambah.

1.  Being on the very edge of Kambah.
Kambah is the kind of place that manages to bring down even the most upstanding of adjacent suburbs, which is why if you’re going to live in Kambah it’s best to live right on the edge of the actual city.  This way up to 50% of your personal radius is going to be uninhabited bushland, which becomes increasingly alluring the more you compare it with Kambah.
It’s not as though you can really avoid Kambah by being in the scrubland alongside it.  I remember that in such areas it was commonplace to encounter shreds of transvestite pornography in the dirt.  I’m not sure who it was that was buying transvestite porn magazines, taking them to the bush and then tearing them into small pieces, possibly in a misguided attempt to grow a porn tree.  But it was the possibility of encountering such a person that would transform a mundane trek through the bush into an exciting quest to avoid crack-head paedophiles.

2. Lethal Playground Equipment.
My generation will be the last to have memory of the original play-grounds of Canberra.  In the mid nineties the government replaced all existing playground equipment with a single, generic system that lamentably prioritised safety over and above the values of adventure.
Let me tell you that these original playgrounds were fucking incredible.
Of course all my memories of them are from when I was 3ft tall, and consequently they appear to have rivalled the proportions of cathedrals, but even to an impartial viewer they were a lot more fun than anything you’ll encounter nowadays.
I remember a lot of wooden towers and stone dungeons.  My primary school had one structure like the deck of a ship, which you would use a series of triangles to climb up to.  There was another one that was like a giant pile of logs, randomly bolted together, which you could climb around on.  Nowadays you can’t have wood because of splinters you can’t have stone walls because there might be paedophiles hiding behind them, you can’t have any ledge or platform without a regulation railing installed and apparently triangles are no longer seen as an acceptable way of traversing levels. 
It wasn’t all good though.  Whilst many suburbs had some very interesting and creative playgrounds, Kambah tended to have some very cheap ones.  Instead of tanbark there would often be a mixture of bleached gravel and broken glass.  There was also one place which had apparently been originally designed as a free, out-door public pool.  When this idea was discovered to be insanity they decided to just remove the water – problem solved Kambah-style.
It was actually pretty fun; you’d spend 30 seconds climbing into a large concrete hole in the ground, and then 30 minutes trying to climb out.
I think even Charles Darwin would’ve approved of the level of skill required to avoid death in some of those crazy play-grounds.  In those days reaching your 7th birthday wasn’t the cake-walk of today. 
These days kids have to get creative to acquire even your basic-level injuries. 
But I think the main lamentable point was that a playground is no longer something that was designed with the imagination of a child in mind.  Instead, every primary school simply ordered the same identical, council-approved system of plastic platforms. 
It was also annoying that most of the playgrounds in Kambah were removed without being replaced by new ones.

3.  The wildlife.
As kids whenever we walked anywhere in Kambah we would always be sure to bring a stick. The function of the stick was to protect the user from being attacked by dogs. 
It’s a small point, but I don’t think there’s many people out there who’s earliest recollection of their mother involves walking home with her from preschool, at which point she was obliged to deal with the attack of a gigantic dog by whacking it across the face with a hefty stick. 
There are also other rich and fulfilling ways to experience the wildlife of Kambah.
One time I was walking home from the shops eating some cornchips when a bunch of magpies suddenly turned up and seemed keen to share in the feast.  I respectfully declined their request, at which point they started actually flying into my face and snatching at the bag of chips.  These are birds we’re talking about, and it wasn’t even swooping season; a designated time when magpies decide to peck the heads of passing children.  
I’ve seen the magpies from other suburbs; their idea of swooping is to fly near someone and politely titter a greeting to them.  In Kambah a friend of mine had one of those bike-helmets made of Styrofoam that was literally pecked in half by magpies.  That’s not a joke, by the way, they would land on his head and peck holes in his helmet.  Like most residents of Kambah the magpies weren’t fucking around.

4. Leaving Kambah.
Without a doubt the best thing about growing up in Kambah is when you realise that there are places that aren’t like Kambah.
You only really realise how unusual Kambah is when you eventually leave it behind.  You soon discover that it’s not a universal law that if you’re walking down a footpath and you see someone coming the other way that you should immediately use a different route.  It’s only once you’re gone that you start noticing how other places aren’t actually coated in broken glass, and plastic bottles with little bits of hose-pipe sticking out of them. 
(I’m not sure who it was that first discovered how to manufacture a bong out of rubbish, but it must’ve been some kind of bogan version of Einstein.)
When you leave Kambah you suddenly notice that not all trees have black bark and constantly ooze sap.  (What in the name of Christ is the deal with that?!)  You notice that gravel doesn’t occur naturally, and that it is counter-productive to liberally apply it to areas bordered by concrete footpaths.  You see that the point of a drainage system is to avoid swamps, rather than to create them.  You notice that not every building, wall, window, telegraph pole and cat needs to have a kind of bizarre penis-symbol spray-painted onto it.
All these epiphanies and more await any person who was lucky enough to be raised in Kambah.

Le Sime.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Art History

History is an odd subject.
Trying to extract modern meaning from something a genius said back in the days when everyone thought Satan was the cause of their back-pain, is going to be a real pile of butts.

It can be made worse when art is thrown in, because it takes a hell of a lot of perspective to be able to realistically appreciate a picture that was specifically designed for the people who were telling everyone that their back-pain was caused by Satan.

Contrary to this, most art history is taught in such a way to exclude the possibility of proper perspective. 

An Art Historian will not say, “At the time they thought this picture was great.”
They will say, “This picture is great.”
And it’s at that exact moment that they shut out almost everyone who ever comes into contact with the subject.

This is a problem.

Why is the possibility of proper perspective actively excluded? It’s because if you take a proper look at art you might find out that the ideals don’t exist on some immortal, elevated plain.  It’s just rich people who want to own expensive shit.

Here’s something you won’t hear an art historian say:

“The reason there are so many female nudes in painting is that men enjoy perving on a lady’s tits.  The reason that most of these nudes are found in allegorical paintings is because men like to think that it’s less pervy if the tits are pretending to have something to do with mythology.”

Why would it be so strange to read this in art history? Because it would demystify art.  It would help make art understandable and accessible, and if art is accessible it has no value.
If art becomes accessible it means that wealthy people will need to find something else to reinforce the divide between themselves and the filthy masses.

However, the really annoying part is when the student who likes drawing, is presented with either an ancient or modern piece of art which is described as being immortally brilliant.  In truth it could only be considered brilliant by someone with a very specific perspective, and one that is not shared by the vast majority of contemporary society, but instead it’s presented in a way that precludes the possibility that there can be other opinions on the matter. This means that if the student can’t find a way to somehow reconcile their values with those held by people within these specific groups, then they have no place in the art world.

The art world says to the budding artist:
“If you don’t value this 12th century painting, or this circle by Malevich, above the various cartoons you watch on TV, then your taste is wrong.”
How can you be an artist if your taste is wrong?  That would be like a guy who loves the taste of dirt trying to become a chef.  When he tried to make good food it would inevitably taste like dirt to everyone else, and they would spit it out and kick him in the butt.

In reality no student can feel inspired by the work of Malevich, or any such “significant” artwork that simply offers no way in for someone who hasn’t studied the academic and culturally specific elements of the pictures.  A student can lie to themself and pretend to be inspired by these works, and they are duly rewarded with accolades and the promise of a bright future. 

Most of the time, however, the student will tell art it can go eat a butt. 

In my experience this is the way that the history of art is presented to students, and it is why most kids who have a talent for art choose not to pursue it as a career.

The solution is to stop acting like galleries are so important.  Stop perpetrating the idea that if someone pays a lot of money for something you should automatically bow down and worship it, rather than deciding for yourself whether it has any value, and what the nature of that value is.

Try to illuminate the reasons behind cultural significance rather than acting like the value of the work is in the timeless aura that will reveal itself to those who are worthy.

Maybe if you do I’ll stop complaining about it, you jerk you.

Primary School

I’ve found there are some problems with art.
“Really” you say.
“Have you figured out the solutions?”
I think I might have.
“Well you better tell us then.”
Okay then.
“Jolly Good.”

When I was a child I was confused as to why my teachers didn’t seem to realise that art was a mechanical process. 
I wanted to draw a good picture in exactly the same way that I wanted to get my sums right, but for some reason the teachers would see a barrier between the two.

Maths and art.  One involves the composition and arrangement of abstract concepts, and the other one is art.

The difference between the two is that a teacher is allowed to tell a kid when his sums are wrong, but not when his drawing is.

This is not the case with all artistic pursuits.   

When you learn an instrument the teacher tells you the correct way to hold it, the correct way to play a note, and the correct way to play a piece.
For some reason the teacher doesn’t hand a violin to a child and tell them to try and disregard all concepts of the correct way to play music, to look beyond the notion of “notes” and “pieces” so as to approach true creativity. 
This doesn’t happen because the child would start whacking the violin on the table.  However, if they perform this action with a paintbrush in hand it is recognised as the correct way to develop artistic skills.

Children aren’t fooled.  They know when someone stinks at drawing and they’ll let them know about it.  The teacher recognises this development of an aptitude hierarchy as being detrimental to the spirit of education, and reprimands the child for reprimanding another child’s work. 
Having completed this duty to the arts they will then give each of the students a number out of 100 for their abilities in math, science, music, reading and writing.

Is there a difference between drawing and writing? 
If you tell a child that they could be better at writing, will they be so discouraged that they'll never write another word?

The problem is that adults have been trained to look at the work of a child and think,
“This looks kind of like a Picasso, and I don’t know why, but apparently that’s the highest form of art.”
Consequently they end up praising children for making drawings that look like the work of a child.

This can be really annoying for the kid who is desperately trying to draw something that looks real.

The last thing a child wants to see is a drawing that looks like the work of a child, and the last thing I want to see is another artist who reaches the skill-level of an infant before believing themselves to have achieved perfection.

Teachers don't look at the writing of a child and say,
"I see you've decided to remove all punctuation and capitalisation to create a "Stream-of-conciousness"style approach which has obviously been influenced by the work of Kerouac! You must be a genius!"

Instead they say "This is a semicolan; here's how you use it."

Understanding punctuation isn't going to inhibit the child's ability to write expressively. 

 It all seems a little bit strange to me. 

If a school can see no value in developing the drawing skills of a child, then I can understand that.  I’m not going to argue that the ability to draw is of any value in society.
But if they are going to set aside time to teach art, why don’t they try doing some teaching?

They don’t hand a book to a child and tell them to develop their own, unique approach to reading the symbols, so why do they feel so unqualified to designate a correct approach to art?
About a hundred years ago it became popular for practitioners of the arts to start subverting the foundational principals of their practice, but it’s only in the field of visual arts that we forgot to tell them to shut up when it became boring. 
Probably because it was the only field of art that didn’t have a good enough reason for existing in the first place, but I won’t try to prove that here.

The point is that decades after artists all got together and decided to try only talking about themselves for a change, their anti-hypothesis hypotheses have only become popular in the field of visual arts.

This is a problem.  

Either all arts are crap, or the artists who tell you that all arts are crap, are, in fact, crap.

So the answer is to stop being so afraid to actually teach children art.
It’s not all that different to teaching them to write:
First you become acquainted with the language, then the symbols used to communicate the language, then the ideas that the language communicates through the symbols. Done.

If that didn’t sound like a complete pile of balls you should stay tuned for the next post which will talk about the problems involved in bringing children into contact with the history of art.