CAPTAIN AHAB THE ARTIST
I love a good mystery-thriller. One of my favorite hobbies is Wild Life Forensics. It really beats the hell out of scrimshaw or model boat building. Wild Life Forensics is the study in which you reassemble a jigsaw of clues and try to determine what it was that you did the night before. Who was I with? Where did I go? Where's the front bumper of my car? How did I get that bruise? Why is there blood on my fist? Who trailed lipstick from my collar to my shirttail? Why's my asshole sore? Some cases can be easily solved with a phone call to a friend or the black and white of a police report. Others prove elusive, a conundrum of sketchy clues and hazy witnesses.
Unleash the Hounds of Baskerville, another mystery is afoot! You can call me Marlowe, or better yet, Nick Charles. Since the Solo Debut, I haven't been kissing babies and whistling at the sunny blue above. The results of a major investigation have yielded the answer why. I have learned that I have been a man possessed, a habitual Ahab over the Holiday season.
It seems to be the same story, night after night. The house I rent has a deck and a long view. Posts stand like tall masts supporting a sail of corrugated roofing. According to witnesses, I would stand against the rail (or gunwale), my hands clasped behind my back, and stare sullenly at the far horizon. My body was generally pitched forward as if leaning into a gale, my legs splayed for high seas. I would mutter silently between sips of grog from a pewter stein. Later, as the North Star edged it's smaller cousins across the sky, my stoicism would erupt in youthful energy and swashbuckling derring-do. I would climb to the highest rooftop crow's nest so that I could shake my fist closer at God. "Thar she blows!" would break the gloom and the deck would become a beehive of activity. Harpoons, launched into the sea of a city below, took the form of brooms, bottles and boorish houseguests. Oddly enough, the adventure would end precisely at 3:33AM, a time well noted by the neighbors. It wasn't the usual cacophony of screaming laughter, overlit song and breaking glass that woke them, they were used to that; it was the unearthly growl that commanded, "Bring me the Great White Whale!" Several witnesses say I sound just like Gregory Peck.
I have never met an artist who did not want to make a living off the fruits of their artwork, where their sole responsibility is to create, at will, every day. It is a modest yet highly improbable goal; it is our Moby Dick.
LIES! ALL LIES!
I tend to believe what is told to me, especially by people who are taller, better looking and have a larger vocabulary than I. Well over a decade ago, the News Department of the National Broadcasting Corporation produced a big special on the innerworkings of the business of Hollywood. The expose was touted as "scandalous and shocking." The advertising promised the real juice on how creative decisions are made. One segment featured an interview with a well-groomed Talent Agent in his sky-high office. His chair was made of veal leather, his mammoth desk of beryl wood and the view behind his shoulder sailed to Catalina Island. Clearly he was an Agent of Talent of the highest authority. Journalist Tom Brokaw, one of the most respected faces in our culture, asked him something like, "How do you know if an idea is good? If it has quality?" The Talent Agent paused, looked into the lens of the camera and told me, "The cream rises to the top. We separate the creme from the chaff. It is our job to recognize quality. And we do."
Suddenly I was at peace. This revelation confirmed what I had long suspected. My faith was rewarded with enlightenment. There are indeed squadrons of well-trained aesthetics out there prowling for quality. They are of keen minds, well balanced on the bridge between form and function. Whatever your field: science, plumbing, fine art or accounting; nursing, bartending, brick laying or loving, standards for quality, beauty and value do have a progression of higher thought. The Agents of Talent are out there. And they're looking for you.
THE EYE OF OUR VERY OWN HURRICANE
Throughout 1999, I wrote extensively and clairvoyantly on the phenomena of the Millennium. As a courtesy to my pals, I did not use the "M" word once in the year 2000. Now our new Editor-in-Chief has asked me to polish the crystal ball for another forecast. The following is a severely condensed brief of an unpublished essay entitled, "Arts and Endeavor."
NO FURTHER WEST: You don't need to be a TV-psychic to predict that the American artist will undergo a series of great challenges in the next decade. What the cards do not tell Madame Jamaica is that we will see the rise and development of a new medium, what I call the Art of Endeavor. Not only will this tool give the artist greater opportunity and visibility, it will generate a new vocabulary that is not exclusive to the art world; it promises a much needed relevancy. Two factors are forcing the issue: overpopulation and economics.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND: Since the art economy can't get any worse, our future doesn't look so bad. The fine arts appear to be a growing segment of the American entertainment dollar. In the next ten years, more money will be spent on the finer arts than ever before. Art supply and arts education will continue to bloom. Auctions will flourish and the established artists, living and dead, will stay happy, if not fat. (Hardest hit will be the Established Artist of the Sophomore and Junior class. Freshmen, like any ingenue, are always a fascination.) Most exciting, more people will be buying more fine art work than ever before. Unfortunately, prices will continue to stall and decline. Demand will increase but the supply remains greater. More product will sell at a lesser price. If the creation of fine art is a labour of love, we better light some candles and enjoy the romance.
DUCHAMP'S CURSE: Unfortunately, everyone is an artist. The art world has never been more populated and this phenomena shall be the most radical agent of change. 1) The serious, career-minded arts community is growing as fast as the grad schools can clear a tuition check. 2) There are now young generations coming of age who have been given a concerted arts education at the elementary school level. Looking to exhibit beyond the refrigerator door, they are hep and aware to the benefits and joys of fine art. 3) We face a growing population of the elderly. The process of making art is therapeutic and Grandma Moses has a lot of time to kill.
OUR VERY OWN AREA CODE: The ranks of the American Artist are increasing to such numbers that we can soon qualify as a Minority. We may be counterculture but it is a culture nonetheless. We may be a disparate cast of characters but we do share many traits. As our presence grows, the commonalties between artists become more apparent, recognizable and identifiable. We spend our disposable income in odd and uncommon ways. We are overly educated. We watch less television. We have limited incomes. We have particular housing needs. Etc. Et al. When you put it all together, it sure smells like a Lifestyle to me.
PRINCES ALL: The two most relevant commonalties to an artist, employment and temperament, will generate the greatest movement in the next decade. 1) Most, not all, artists are generally introspective, anti-authoritarian and recklessly daring. We do not make good employees. It is this independence minded temperament that will fuel change. 2) Artists have employment needs. We need to make more and work less. Time is money. We need time to explore our artistic vision and we need money to produce and exhibit our works.
THE AGONY AND THE ECSTACY: Not everyone can tenure. For the American Artist, the university teaching position is and will remain the most coveted day job, for it provides an income, a relevancy and promotion, not to mention exciting dating opportunities. The demand for such a privileged position far exceeds supply. (Unfortunately, in our near future, there will be fewer full time and more part time teaching opportunities. The icing will be spread thin; more people will get to teach but they will teach less and therefore need more.) What then? If I must spend X hours per day to afford food, shelter and materials, then how can I maximize that time? What day job will keep me closer to the arts?
A NEW MEDIUM: Business endeavor will become our most influential new medium and it is not without precedent. Artist Les Levine toyed with the concept of big business in the Seventies. Today, the Texas based Art Guys are putting a saddle on sponsorship. With a wry smile, they have asked how our commerce can afford our art.
A CLOSER SCRUTINY: An artist's bio is generally quite thorough. Ad nauseam, we list everything we did, everything we write and everything that has been written about, awarded to and honored by us. We even essay our influences. Yet there is one glaring omission to the document: How does an artist spend most of his time? How does she afford the privilege of making art? Like it or not, I would qualify the day job as a major influence on the artwork. Duchamp did not say, "Everyone will make art." He said that we are, or can be, an artist in everything that we do. My day job is another canvas and so is yours. Let's add it to the bio as Julian Schnabel added filmwork to his.
ENDEAVOR AS ART: Endeavor is an American appreciation. We may argue the artistic merits of Charles Ray's fire engine, Robert Smithson's jetty or Matthew Barney's movies but we all agree that actually producing the art is a monumental achievement. It's not the work; it's the endeavor.
It suits our artistic temperament and the drive is in our American genes. Entrepreneurship might sound like Mandarin to an artist but entrepreneurs are we. Webster defines it as "one who manages, organizes and assumes the risks of (a business or) an enterprise." Artists mainline risk. We thrive on discovery. We stand tall in our responsibility. Likewise, business entrepreneurs also favor possession. Ownership is pride. Pride begets quality. The drive for quality and value engenders ethics. Profit and principle can lie in the same bed. This is a large canvas and one which can be gloriously (and honorably) self-serving. Like making art, entrepreneurship is hard and bloody but the touchdown can bring longer lunches and more time in the studio. It satisfies our independence and delivers freedom. There is no authority to defy but our own. It provides independence on our terms.
Most significantly, this new medium, however we define it, will create a greater relevancy that we have long sought and never possessed. It can take the arts and translate our endeavors into a language that most can understand. This arty entrepreneurship will gleefully involve our collectors in a manner in which they have never been engaged. To the collector-investor, the artist can now be a passive interest that may also turn a profit and a profit will only turn heads.
GORDY GRUNDY is a Los Angeles based painter who has earned a Bachelors Degree in Economics from the University of Southern California. Back issues of his column "Genuflect" can be found at http://www.gordygrundy.com