The Artist’s Hand

Detail from Van der Weydenthe’s “Descent from the Cross”, 1435

Recently the New York Times ran an article discussing the role of fabricators at play in the contemporary art world.

The article prompted my own, admittedly inchoate musings.

link to article:

The  NYT article points out the current emphasis of concept over construction: “In the digitally enhanced multimedia era, the mark of the artist’s hand is far less important than the concept…”.  The article elucidates further, I suggest a reading in full. 

This isn’t new, although the article hearkens to an imagined purity during the Renaissance, I recall distinctly my boyhood heart sinking upon discovering just how many assistants the great Raphael employed to create that army of Madonnas. I’m not naive about it all but it does leave me feeling isolated and out of sync with a tradition I do not fully recognize, or currently understand and share sympathy with.

In the film First Reformed, the title character, Reverend Toller (performed admirably by Ethan Hawke), is a man of burning spirit,  actively engaged with both angels and devils, Toller is condescendingly mocked by the megachurch Abundant Life, which patronizingly sponsors his flagging 18th century parish. In the haughtiness of Abundant Life’s head pastor, a preacher more inclined to the Prosperity Gospel than to that of Christ, Toller is mocked for reading of all things, Thomas Merton. Toller is ridiculed for what is perceived as a rejection of the “real world”- which according to Abundant Life is the blessings of wealth and power.

Toller, upon bearing this scorn is adrift, seemingly unfamiliar with the community of faith and his role in it. This is a heartbreaking moment. One sees his struggle,does he abandon self for ease and acceptance?

Such in a way, a modest comparison, is my struggle with the issue of fabricators, be it the workshops worthy of Haephestus or the quotidian reliance upon photoshop and image manipulation.

I have a series of “rules” of what is and is not permitted in my art making .   These rules are based upon an insistence that most, if not all  of the elements  in my work be personally hand crafted. This can border upon mania and must at times be challenged; rules are of course meant to be broken. But for the most part, this self imposed dictate has made collage making, assemblage and installation pieces a bit more challenging-or at least time consuming. I see, know and respect artists who easily and adeptly employ all sorts of found objects and digital techniques, to great effect. I frequently admire that. But for my practice I feel compelled, take joy in fact,  in making almost every element. I employ some found objects: feathers and beads and recycled fabric. But for the most part, if a floral pattern is called for, frequently a piece of fabric or artificial flowers would suffice in expressing what I seek to express. Yet I insist, perhaps masochistically, and truth be told, delight in, fabricating each little element. I love the craft of making and would be saddened not to have the wonder of making in my life.  Each element seemingly opening the path of art and craft that much wider.

In many ways I pity many of  these artists for having reduced their role to designer (although I admire a great many designers, they are generally not artists in the making way), this pity is colored by wonder, don’t they miss the brush, the pencil, the forge? How does a lap top satisfy ? Yes, it is time efficient, but is that the only goal? Handing off a whim of design to a mighty workshop, isn’t that fraught with risk? Is the concept sound, well developed, or as a Prince of Art, is your mere whim worthy of time, labor , expense and occupation within the common sphere-yes, I am referring to Mr. Koons. 

Away from the lofty realm of Koons and other celestial beings, there is what I impishly describe as the Lazy Person Artist, the person with perhaps limited time, talent or vision yet wishes to be known as an artist. The type is familiar,  most likely having seen the work : some pedestrian pre-made object, or refuse, upon which is  slapped some lumpy paint, some string perhaps and then scrawled upon some on-trend slogan: “resist”, “privilege” etc. and then calling it a day…and art. I’m being sarcastic of course but there is a frustration I feel in this rather impoverished exchange .

It is all rather maddening. 

Recently an artist “forgave ” me for my indifference to digitally produced art, this artist now , rather alarmingly decided to include in their studio practice such “analog” technique as, shudder, painting! Admitting, perhaps begrudgingly, that whilst digital manipulation allowed images to be made swiftly and efficiently, the allure of brush to canvas was calling. I hope this trend, the artist in their studio, at an easel , alone with thought and inspiration, not a laptop or fabricator in sight, returns. It may be only a pretty myth but it can at least be found in my own studio .

Viola and the maker
2014?

The Artist & their Studio

Many of us share a fascination with the artist and the place in which the magic is made. I know as a boy, fascinated with all things 19th c. , the studio of the artist was most beguiling . The divine Sarah perhaps embodying all that I held dear.

Sarah Bernhardt in her studio.

Miss Bernhardt was an astonishingly gifted “amateur” , far surpassing my own talents. But other artists, “real” artists, also possessed gorgeous palaces devoted to art. John Singer Sargent’s magnificently appointed studio nearly outshines dear Madame X.

John Singer Sargent’s studio, the lovely Strapless One in the distance.

In  my opinion there never was a more glamorous studio than that of the immensely visionary Gustave Moreau ( we here in LA have an outstanding Salome at the Hammer). Moreau was a god and certainly deserved a stairway to heaven.

Detail of Moreau’s incredible studio.
Gustve Moreau’s most gorgeous studio.

Moreau’s lovely digs apparently provided shelter to some comely lads.

Studio of Gustave Moreau, apparently model for his Hesiod.

The Pre-Raphealite John William Waterhouse had a rather wonderful place to apply his admirable talents.

The Pre-Raphaelite John William Waterhouse looking dapper at his easel.

But many of us, particularly those of us working in expensive cities such as Los Angeles, have less Palace to Art and more Hovel. My own , while modest, brings me great delight. My dear friend Kristine Schomaker, foundress of Shoebox PR ( link: https://shoeboxpr.com ) , called recently , the following images a fond memento of her visit. 

With my dear friend Kristine Schomaker.

Although less grand than dear Sarah, I do, in my thrift store way attempt to capture her glamour.

Sébastien-Charles Giraud, “Souvenir d’atelier”

Although Papa Picasso had rather imperial digs,

The grand Pablo in his sumptuous studio.

most of us, as dear Mary Ellen Best ( 1809-1891) have far more modest making places. Yet in the end, the space is infertile ground without its maker.

The painting room of the artist Mary Ellen Best; by the artist.

Wishing all fertile ground.