Does InstaFaceTwit make everyone an artist?

Joseph Beuys famously declared on a number of occasions in the 1970s that ‘Every human being is an artist.’ 

I’m an artist, are you?

I wonder what he would say in 2017? I think he’d say the same thing. Everyone is an artist. Oh yes indeed, everyone really is an artist.

Or, at least, I would modify that with: everyone can be an artist. Creativity is in everyone, I feel. What distinguishes those who make it their life’s work and those that don’t are different levels of drive to get the creativity out. As someone who seems to be trying to make art her life’s work at the moment I feel that desperate drive to get it out almost every day of my life.

However, that hasn’t always been the case with me. From the time I went to university in 1990 until a few years after I had had my first child (around 2006) I didn’t do much that could be described as creative. I studied my degree (economics and politics), I worked for a locksmith, I taught English in Japan, I was a temp for six months, I worked in academic reference publishing and then I had babies. During those years I didn’t do much beyond doodling in meetings and a one-week painting course at Oxford College. So I have been the artist who both has the urge to create all the time, every day, and who has previously suppressed it for the greater desire to get educated (in a subject other than fine art), earn money and look after small humans. 

A doodle from my temping days in Oxford

I firmly believe that there is no difference between me now (someone studying for an MA in art who creates something every day and shows the world via social media) and me then (someone who doodled occasionally and didn’t show anyone anything). I’m the same person. I have the same urges (I’ve just allowing myself to follow them now). So is everyone like me?

Earlier this week I created a a-minute-of-my-life video and challenged friends on Facebook to create their own and post online (this is my attempt). I had about six responses, which wasn’t quite as many as I had hoped, but they were all different, creative, quirky and artistic. It might not have been many but it was still six responses which proved to me that I could encourage creativity out of people who would not describe themselves as artists necessarily and who might not have otherwise pursued anything creative on that day. 

I’ve recently read a book by Gregory Sholette called Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture which talks about the huge amount of art activity that takes place beyond the art institutional world (art schools, art galleries and the like). I see on social media that most of this so-called ‘dark matter’ exists there (and indeed there is more beyond social media). I see it in the people I know, the people I am friends with or related to and by assumption the people they know, the people they are friends with or related to and so on and so on. It spirals outwards. I like the analogy used by this book of ‘dark matter’ because like ‘dark matter’ in the science sense we know it exists, yet we cannot quantify it. 

Dark Matter

Another observation I have about this art by ‘everyone’ is how transient it is compared to most of the art seen in the art institution world. Instagram is littered with very creative and thought-provoking images and videos many of which have that elusive essence  that all artists want to portray, yet they appear, they are ‘liked’ and then, they are gone, out in the ether of the virtual archives in computer and server land.

I love scrolling through Instagram and Facebook and seeing the comments, quotes, poetic words, images, videos and ideas of ordinary people. They move me. They inspire me. They  inform my own art practice. The world is saturated with creativity and artistic activity (saturated in a good way). I love the virtual world for that.

Duchamp’s famous Fountain ‘artwork’ had a revolutionary impact on the notion of what an artist is in the early 20th century (an artist changed from a skilled practitioner to anyone with a concept and the means to display it with or without skill). Could we argue that Instagram and Facebook have had a similarly revolutionary effect now? Have they enabled the mes from 1990-2006 to find channels for their creativity that perhaps didn’t exist prior to 2006? So not only can anyone be an artist in the art institution world, anyone can be an artist anywhere now?

Just an old urinal?

Surely this ‘dark matter’ on the internet is the new avant garde, is it not? I would argue that it is as revolutionary as Duchamp and his urinal. Peter Burger, the author of The Theory of the Avant Garde, who argued that the historic avant garde was unique and ultimately doomed to fail in its aim to subsume art into the ‘praxis’ of life should take note here (except the fact that he is no longer with us): social media has successfully subsumed art into the praxis of life. Or at least I think so. The historical avant garde has been successfully replicated and will continue to thrive. This avant garde hasn’t yet been adopted by the art institution or bourgeois society, so it is working, is it not? It is both art ‘ahead of the rest’ and art integrated – just like the dictionary definition of ‘avant garde’.

It has, in my opinion, created an avant garde revolution, just so with gradual splash rather than a sudden big bang. The dark matter is there, it is huge, it will continue to grow.

The Book

Walter Benjamin might pipe up at this juncture and say something along the lines of ‘well, this is all well and good but do these virtual arworks you see have the aura that original art has?’ I think I need to leave that debate for another blog entry. Watch this space. 

He’s pondering the aura

 

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My favourite tool isn’t a paintbrush, it’s my iPhone

Creativity comes to me in bursts. It acts just like the proverbial busses. I sometimes go for weeks without much of a creative thought or idea passing through my busy, anxious mind and then suddenly they all come to me at once: tidal wave after tidal wave, and oddly, when they do, the anxiety subsides. It is a bit like taking a drug or suddenly waking up after a long, dreamless nap. When ideas come, I feel euphoric, excited and energised. I see everything clearly. There are colours. There are shapes. The world is ace. I am desperate to get ideas out.

This is how I feel this morning and I didn’t expect to feel this way. I’ve had a very busy few days. 

One of today’s creative thoughts was about my iPhone. I realised today that I cannot live without my iPhone. It is by my side all the time. It travels with me. It keeps me company. It sleeps near me. This love of my iPhone isn’t related to connectivity with the world via social media and the Internet (although it does do that for me and I love all that), this love is to do with the iPhone as art medium.

If an art idea strikes me, such as, photographing something I spot on my travels, or making a video, then my iPhone is my medium of choice. It can do both. I don’t even need to use PhotoShop or Adobe AfterEffects. 

Or if an abstract thought comes to me, or I see a poster for an art exhibition, I reach for my iPhone to explore the web like the cyberflaneur that I am. And doing that leads to other things and other things, more thoughts, even more thoughts and perhaps a concrete art concept. A good example is the day I saw an abandoned balloon in Wolverhampton. That lead to a year-long project.

My iPhone is my sketch pad too. I use the Notes application for noting down ideas, thoughts, words or urls to read later. I also include here book titles, magazine article references and key words for searching later. I write poems, I sketch out ideas with words and I use it for all sorts of note taking. In fact, it is a jumble of thoughts and ideas.

I love Notes

 

My iPhone is my portal onto feedback for my ideas too. I use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Messanger to get feedback and discuss ideas with friends. I have friends who I talk to who offer me an invaluable reciprocal relationship for creative ideas generation and discussion that may be virtual in nature but is no less important to me than any discussions I have in the real world.

My iPhone is my best friend in a way, as it is my route to so much potential. I know there are many who have written and talked about the dangers of living in a virtual, hyperreal, ethereal world rather than in the here-and-now real one of real people. In the virtual social sphere we interact with people we cannot see or touch through typed words and uploaded pictures but for me, this world, is very real, very vital and has helped me over the last few years get to where I am with my art practice.

Facebook idea generation

Thank you, little iPhone. I couldn’t live without you.

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MA Show 2017 – review

Today, I took my seven-year-old son to see the Wolverhampton Art School MA Show 2017 at the Wolverhampton Art Gallery

My youngest son and me

We spent an hour looking around the artworks on show. 

Later, over lunch, I asked him what his favourite piece had been. I predicted incorrectly. I thought his favourite piece would be by Travis Booth, who has just finished his MA in Digital and Visual Communications. One of his pieces of work is a Virtual Reality motion device, to be held against the eyes, which my son appeared to love exploring.

In fact, his favourite piece had been the same as mine, more anon.

My main focus in this review is on fine art so most of my comments here refer to the pieces exhibited by the fine art students. The overall feeling I had from the fine art pieces in the show was an impression of size, or lack of it, of the works on display in comparison to the recent BA in Fine Art Degree Show, which I took part in as a graduating student. However, one very important lesson I have learnt in my art journey so far is that size isn’t everything; quantity is not the same as quality (unless part of the message is quantity perhaps). What counts, is the research, the message and the effect.

The pieces I saw showed depth of thought, a lot of it, and depth of research, and most of all, originality in a specific aspect. What I mean by this is that the graduating students seemed to be attempting something ‘new’ using something ‘old’. The media and techniques were not new, but the desired effect, perhaps was. There was a feeling of tentativeness about their work, but also courage.

Back to my son’s favourite piece, which happened to be also mine. We both were most taken by a set of four paintings by fine art soon-to-be graduate Roman Malinowski. My son and I agreed that we found these paintings utterly absorbing. We spent quite a long time looking at them. Examined up close, they were works of pattern, line, shape, form, abstraction. Examined from a distance, they were works of figures, light, sense, essence and mood. We kept standing first up close, and then away; close, and away, just to look and think and look some more and think some more. We were absorbed. These paintings definitely had that rather elusive quality of ‘essence’ so well-described by Jacques Derrida as far as both of us were concerned.

Up close

From a distance

One phrase in the description that accompanied these paintings struck me as pertinent to what we thought is the following: ‘The paintings seek to build the light on the canvas by painting matter as specks of colour as if dispersed in the air.’ All I can say to that is: yes!

We also both quite liked the work of Richard Bruce. We didn’t quite understand the concept, but we like the interesting depiction of not-quite numbers in interesting configurations. I asked my son to describe what he saw in the paintings and he immediately was able to describe various types of figures and shapes. It intrigued me that he felt it natural and not at all strange to imagine a narrative out of the images. It is a child-like quality that perhaps many retain as adults, but not all perhaps. I hope that I do.

Richard Bruce’s work

The final pieces I want to highlight were by David Fletcher. His work explores death and decay, but the resultant drawings and sculptures were haunting in their impact, and very beautiful and moving.

Images that will stay with me for a while

There were other pieces we felt an impact from, including some digital ‘paintings’ and sheets of painted metal with perspex embedded into them. Many works appeared to be attempting to merge the boundaries of 2D painting and 3D art, doing so very effectively.

I left the MA Show feeling inspired and energised. I will be exhibiting here in two years’ time. I have no idea what I might be showing, either what concept I will be following or what media I will be using, but that’s a good thing and it is that which is what is getting me energised right now. The great unknown lurks ahead for me, and it is exciting and frightening and that’s a great combination to be facing. 

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The story of the red-and-black silk pants

On my travels around Newport today, looking for beauty, I came across a pair of red-and-black silk pants.

The mysterious pair of pants

The paints had been left / flung / abandoned next to Travis Perkins Builder’s Merchants at some point before 11.18am on Monday 2nd October 2017.

Where I found the pants

These pants have since been on my mind. They are not cheap and nasty pants. They are good-quality pants. They are not dirty. They are surprisingly clean. I think they had recently found their resting spot. I can’t stop thinking about these pants.

What I need to know is: how did they get there? 

When I find an abandoned object (whether it be a balloon or an odd shoe) I have this odd desire to construct a narrative for it. As I can’t find out the true narrative, at least not easily, I have to come up with my own (and that is the fun part for me). I suppose I could stand in the area over a 24-hour period, by the object in question, and ask everyone who passes by whether they either own the pants, know who owns the pants, witnessed the arrival of the pants or have any way of finding someone who might be able to help with one of the above.

Since I haven’t got time to be a sleuth, I simply must rely on my imagination. This is the story I have come up with for these pants.

I think that the pants were thrown out of a passing car window. It happened on the night of Sunday 1st October 2017, at approximately 8.22pm. It was dark when it happened. There were no passers by to witness the flying pants. The pants arrived just to the soundtrack of a passing car.

I came across the pants at approx. 11.18am. The pants must have been spotted, and ignored, between the hours of 8.22pm and 11.18am. I suspect I am the only person to stop and photograph the pants. I expect that if more than one person saw the pants, they might have exchanged a few words of amusement about the pants, wondering at their circumstances, but left it at that and moved on. Nobody else, I don’t think, went to the extent that I am now going to go to to create a history for the poor, abandoned, unloved pants.

Here is my story.

As I have already said, I believe that the story of the pants started at 8.22pm on the night of October 1st 2017. Picture this.

A car is driving down Station Road in Newport on the way to Waitrose carpark. It is maintaining a steady speed. There are two people in the car. The car is dark blue. I don’t know what make it is, though, as I don’t really do cars. I see a middle-aged couple in the car, on their way to an anniversary dinner. She is dressed elegantly, with a bit of bling. He is wearing a smart suit. I think it is their 14th wedding anniversary. They don’t have any children. As we see them pass by at 8.22pm, they are both feeling cross and hurt. Here is why.

For their wedding anniversary, he had bought her what he imagined was a thoughtful gift. He had previously hid the gift in the glove compartment of the car as an odd, romantic gesture. At 8.12pm, he had told her to look in the glove compartment. She had easily found the gift. She had been delighted to find a gift in the glove compartment, and so beautifully wrapped as well. She had been touched at his spontaneity. He isn’t usually a romantic soul.

Shortly before 8.22pm she had opened the prettily-decorated package. He had beamed at her with a sideways glance, not wanting to take his eye off the road for too long. He had thought the gift would be perfect; he had thought she’d look stunning in the expensive red and black underwear he had bought her from Rackhams in Birmingham. He adores her and this gift had meant to be a sign of his long-lasting deep love for her. However, the mood had soon changed. The gift hadn’t had the desired effect. Rather than with warmth and desire, she had reacted with anger. Her face had reddened. Her neck had reddened. She had turned to him, accused him of not knowing what she needs or wants. ‘Red pants it is not!’ She had shouted.

So as the clock strikes 8.22pm and as we join the couple, she angrily and haltingly opens the car window and flings the offending garnet out of the window in disgust. They fly through the air, high, over towards the pavement, and land, ironically softly, by a sign for Travis Perkins Builders Merchants. The car keeps going. It doesn’t slow. He stares ahead, fighting the confused emotions he feels, drives on, feeling misunderstood and hurt. Exhausted by her burst of anger, she slumps to the side, feeling exactly the same as he does. All that remains is silence, the air in the car pregnant with years of unsaid desires.

This is the first of my one-finger narratives.

There are many possible narratives for these pants. This is just one of hundreds of scenarios, like those that could occur in parallel universes. Perhaps there really are parallel universes at play here and the spot where the pants landed is a portal to all of them. Perhaps there were hundreds, thousands, millions, an infinite number of pairs of pants that all landed in that very spot at the same time.

Whatever the truth of the matter is, all stories end in a single pair of pants lying next to a sign for a builder’s merchant in Newport, Shropshire. 

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Beauty in Newport – it exists to those that seek it

Two years ago I went out one day and sought beauty in Telford. Two years ago, I found some beauty in Telford. Admittedly, not a great deal, but some. I wrote about that beauty.

Today, I felt inspired by a chance conversation with a good friend to seek some more beauty. This time, I decided to look for beauty in my new hometown of Newport. So my Canon camera and I took ourselves off with high hopes and a light heart. Newport, after all, isn’t Telford. Newport has a long history. Newport is pretty. Newport has a certain gentle, pace of life which differs to Telford’s more frenzied feel. Newport is old. Newport is quirky and eccentric. Newport has lots of lovely coffee shops. Newport has a Waitrose. Newport is an expanding town with much to offer. 

Ironically, I didn’t take as many photographs as I did on my visit to Oakengates and Telford two years ago. Newport is a very beautiful town, and I feel I need to go out again another day to discover more of its wonder. I found some elements to capture, just not quite as much as I felt I found in Telford. Is that because the pockets of beauty in Telford lept out at me, being perhaps fewer and further between? Is it because Newport is all-over beautiful so that renders it more difficult to pin-point pockets of beauty here? Or is it because my idea of beauty is a little off scale and my love of the 20th-century urban landscape means I found more to seize in Telford? I think it is a combination of all of the above.

There were a few photo opportunities that I reluctantly shied away from, such as the line of mobility scooters waiting patiently outside Waitrose; the two elderly ladies huddled under a blanket on a bench in the centre of town, heads bowed close together sharing a delicious piece of gossip; the downtrodden-looking pregnant woman with the Boots bag under her shoulder, complaining into her phone in the underpass between town and Waitrose; or the permanent resident who I see every time I go to town pensive and deep in thought as he stared at the offerings in B&M’s window. As I have said before, I am no Martin Parr. I’d love to be more like Martin Parr. That status is ahead of me, somewhere. I need the confidence to be more Martin.

In the meantime, I did manage to find some tiny gems of brilliance (in my eyes at least) and I offer them up here. I always find myself attracted to abandoned objects, whether they be purposefully abandoned, loved and then hated, or just other people’s rubbish. To me they are pregnant with potential narrative, often more than one, and that is what excites me as I wonder the streets whenever flâneurdom strikes.

Everyone’s ideas of beauty differ of course. Here are a few of mine.

First find: colour, contrast, simplicity.

What’s not to love about the contents of a bin?

Oh the stories I could come up with for these. That is a blog entry all by itself.

Newport is full of such cobbled streets.

I don’t think there is a Weatherspoons in Newport so how did this end up there?

It’s a cliche but I can’t resist a good line of bins.

Newport is a very British town.

Last but not least: a rather poorly executed balls and giant penis.

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Art galleries should allow solo entry only

In an ideal world, or parallel universe if not in an ideal world (or is that the same thing?), art galleries would allow solo entry only.

Last weekend I went to Washington D.C. for a short holiday. While I was there, I visited the Phillips Collection, for my first of many injections of art that weekend.

Last weekend

The Phillips Collection includes what is called the Rothko Room. My first impression of the Rothko Room was to exclaim in that know-it-all art student way: ‘I don’t think Rothko would like this room’. To me, the room felt cramped and not at all soothing and condusive to Rothko contemplation. While I was in the Rothko Room, there were about five other people looking at the Rothkos at the same time as me. I thought to myself: ‘These are Rothkos, I need to spend a few minutes looking at them and feeling the sublime he meant to convey’. In that room, I felt that I had to ‘force’ the feeling. This felt wrong. To me, this went against what Rothko aimed with his abstract pieces. So I concluded that the error was in the room (its dimensions or lighting, I wasn’t sure which) and that Rothko would be frowning.

The Rothko Room in Washington D.C.

So I sat on the bench in the middle of the room (see photo above, that’s the bench) and contemplated one of the four Rothkos. I looked at it. I tried to feel the sublime. I started to feel it. It was coming. The feelings grew. It was good. It just needed a bit more. I shifted slightly in my position. It helped. It was almost there. I just needed to wait a little longer and I’d reach Rothko nirvana. 

While I was going through this, the other visitors left the room. And it was at this point that I realised what had been wrong with the room; it wasn’t the dimensions, or the lighting, it was the fact that other people had been in the room at the same time as me. They had been the element that had ruined the experience for me. 

At this point I decided to read the blurb about the room and in doing this I found out that Rothko had been heavily involved in the design and intention of the room. He had liked the room, despite my first impressions of it. He designed the room himself and actually spent time in the room contemplating his paintings. It was designed to be a sort of ‘chapel’ to the four paintings and to silent contemplation of the colours and juxtapositions in the paintings. Other Roktho spaces have since used the Rothko Room as a guide to their own Rothko requirements. 

It worked. It really did work. Rothko was right. But for me, it only worked when I was alone in the room. It was if something suddenly clicked. I ‘got’ it once the distractions had left the room (the five other people). And ‘it’ was amazing. ‘It’ is too hard to describe. The only way to experience ‘it’ is to go to Washington D.C. yourself and experience ‘it’ for yourself. If you do, I urge you to wait until the room clears. 

As the weekend progressed, I saw much, much more art. I went to the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Art (particularly the East Wing). I saw a lot of amazing art. I was awed, I was amazed and I was dazzled. However, since my trip to the Rothko Room I realised the extent to which other people distracted me, almost to the point of irritation.

People looking at Pollocks

The issue arises from the fact that I actively enjoy people watching in art galleries. I like to observe how they look at art. It fascinates me. There are those that aim to look at everything and give the same time span to each piece. There are those like me that flit about from work to work and just see what grabs. There are those that come to see a select few pieces and spend more time on those few. There are also families, couples, single people, students and arty farty pretentious moi? types. I love it all. However, they are a distraction. They stop me really appreciating the artworks on display. What is the solution? Get rid of them of course.

Art, art and more art

So if there is a parallel universe where art galleries don’t need to count foot fall, I’d like to see such art galleries permitting entry to one person at a time so that that one person could choose what they want to look at and not be distracted either physically by bodies in the way of what they are seeing or mentally by the activities of behaviours of those bodies. 

All I need to do now is find a portal to this parallel universe I can imagine and go there and experience the sublime, the awe, the wonder and the essence that is art.

 

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More musings on the nature of creativity

Today I came across this quote in an article I read online about how Facebook uses algorithms to manipulate our thinking. 

A provocative quote

So, without irony, I asked Facebook what they thought (by Facebook, I mean my circle of friends, my Dunbar’s number, my like-minded thinkers, you know, the ones filtered by Facebook algorithms).

One friend responded straight away disagreeing with the quote, with the argument that algorithms need to be created by the human hand (selected, manipulated) so therefore they are creatively generated. He argued further that someone has to craft the algorithms with ideas of taste and aesthetics in mind. Without those, there is no control on the output.  This friend is someone who does this. He is someone I consider an artist. He is certainly creative. He has created his own ‘art’ using algorithms (by art I mean something made from an initial thought that effects the senses and / or provokes thought). The examples he gave today were the MinusEveryone artbot which he has made which creates cartoons sans living creatures, and ThreeKissesADay which generates Briget Riley inspired Op Art images, which are, well, rather aesthetically pleasing I have to say. However, he speaks code (lucky him!). His medium of choice is code. He doesn’t need to outsource this aspect of his artistic practice.

I agree that algorithms used for artistic purposes need a creative manipulator (i.e. an artist) or, at least, creative input from somewhere. I have recently used algorithms for the sake of art with my meme machine which I made for the fine art degree show. The use of algorithms in art is an an area I want to explore further as well. I feel, however, in my case (as opposed to my friend’s case) that I am hampered by lack of expertise in the area of computer code and algorithm generation. I simply don’t know how to do it. I only have the ideas.

One of my generated memes

So a second question that came up from this discussion is: is the algorithm (or creation thereof) a medium of art (the same as oil paint or video editing software) or is it part of the creative process itself? As I outsourced the code writing, is the artwork 100% mine and 100% authentic? I’d like to think it is. I recently came across EmpathyDeck on Twitter which uses algorithms to generate empathy tarot cards that are tweeted to followers. I have received one already since I started following EmpathyDeck. EmpathyDeck was created by an artist who had help with the computer code to create the program. She is still the artist. So the computer code writing (or writer) is the medium. If you can do both, like my friend mentioned above, then you are lucky.

However, a third interesting question arose from the discussion I had on Facebook. If you can use algorithms to create something aesthetic and emotive (such that a good artwork  made by hand does), to do that you are presumably injecting into the algorithm theories of what constitutes an aesthetic artwork. In other words, you are using science to create art. You have to tell the code something in order for it to generate something back. This made me ask myself: can science explain creativity in the same way that science can be used to generate creative output, as we see with the above two bots made by my friend? Is it my ‘gut’ feeling and my natural sense of aesthetics that create my artworks or is it my neurons, my brain’s innate mathematical abilities and psychology and biology that are creating the artworks? Am I using maths and science without realising it? Can my creative output be explained, mapped out and fed into a machine in the form of code to create more similar artworks? I suspect that the answer is yes.

I’m not depressed by this thought. I’m curious. I think I need to learn more. Is it science that is thinking that? Is it science writing this blog?

 

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