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That's Not Art! That's Art!

From Chris Wayan's journal 1995/3/19

My friend Li and I drive up to the studio of an artist named Nancy. Her house is impressive--a huge, gorgeous, eccentric place on the brink of a green canyon. I'm still more impressed when I learn she and her husband built it themselves.

Nancy's studio is covered with magazine photos--cats and hot women, all of them to my own taste. A healing technique most of us abuse survivors use, I think. Positive images of sexiness, to clean out the bad aftertaste of childhood...

She just finished seven autobiographical pastels in fierce magenta yellow browns greens. The only blue anywhere: the lost baby. Few touches of white--the lack of it creates a fevered effect. Spirals and loops echoed by her body curled up in the center. Sharp arrows and jags invading her. Alone, protecting her child, or held herself by a loving anima, the Madonna of the Rocks. Herself dissolving in waves, a wave of black breaking over her, around her.

And Nancy keeps saying "It's just therapy. Not like your stuff. It isn't art." Art, apparently, is planned, while she "just did these." Yeah, right. She's able to explain the meaning of every line, every artistic decision, from color to medium to symbol to form.

Li and I scold her. "It's art, Nancy. Nancy, hello, it's art..."

In 1850 there was a rigid Academy saying what was art: realism, sentiment, classicism, idealized eroticism, uplifting and public themes and feelings. NOT ART: doubts, concrete eroticism, fear, ambiguity, surrealism, abstraction, ugliness, irony and private visions.

And after all the cultural convulsions of the 20th Century, they've simply reversed. Figurative art, sincerity, realism, idealization, technique are AMATEURISM. Irony, abstraction, idea not skill, impersonality, grittiness, and ugliness--those are ART.

The worms crawl in the worms crawl out the worms play pinochle on your snout. Sorry, I meant the waves crawl in. Stylistic waves. Your art is in, my art is out. My art plays pinochle on your snout.

Or more likely it sits in a garage, or a backwater website.

Because it's not art. This week.



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