One thing I like about mail art is the concept that responses to a mail art call are displayed without judgment, without a jury, without prizes, without criticism. I read a very well written art critique in our local alternative newspaper on Sunday by a lawyer-turned-art-critic with whom I am acquainted (theme: the decline and flaws of a Texas abstract expressionist) which gave me my usual pause about capital "A" Art and capital "A" capital "C" "Art Criticism". I don't have any tremendous insight into all the Duchamp/Fluxus/Ray Johnson aspects of "gallery art" v. "art in everything". I do think, though, that the current pursuit of what was once "avant garde art"
but now might be called "galleried art for the more intellectual monied class" is deeply dissatisfying to me as a construct. Academic art becomes a sort of odd scholarly hobby, a bit more respectable than alchemy, but hardly any more capable of creating connections or building insights or any of those other things that I, in my naivete, imagine art with a small "c" can do. The slightly more "outre" near-cousins of "too risque for a grant art" and "got an MFA, seeking street cred" art seem even less likely to advance the field.
I like to read about alternative religions in America. I find fascinating spiritual movements such as New Thought which owe much of their theology to distinctly "new frontier" "westward ho" thinking, as well as to "additional scripture" movements such as the Latter Day Saints movement. Both must borrow and reinterpret what has gone before, but both must also create a new language of defined terms, of touchstones for discussion. Hence, Emma Curtis Hopkins, one of the bridge authors who was a precursor for several New Thought movements, wrote books which borrowed liberally from Greek mythology, freemasonry, Eastern philosophies (as then understood in the west),
and redefined Christian ideas. Ms. Hopkins, and her intellectual descendants such as Ernest Holmes (parenthetically, a refreshing honest synthesist) had to create an elaborate language to express theologically what was really a very practical theology--that a person's thoughts and way of thinking could have not only spiritual but physical effects in the everyday world. One who wishes to read New Thought texts can find anything from the most
"how to" "You Can Change Your Life" texts to the most arcane reinterpretation of numerous mythologies.
Distinctly but analogously, the Book of Mormon adapts numerous orthodox Biblical concepts, but reinterprets many of them, ostensibly in the light of a "complete new revelation". The result is that a pragmatic faith (complete with ongoing revelation from a living prophetic group) attracts new members.
In some way, I feel that Art in "the Academy" has all the reinterpretation of "heterodox" religious writings, but much less of the pragmatic connection with the audience.
I still see too many exhibitions based on the concept of the "shock to the system" rather than on an actual connection with the viewer. In a system which is post-WWI, post-Holocaust, post-Cambodia, post-conventional religion, post-nuclear, post-communist, post-fascist, post-WTC and post-quantum mechanics, how many more "shocks" effectively teach us anything about the "system"? Is it now just a matter of a grant, a witty column in the local alternative, a good excuse to smoke an off-brand of cigarette, and disdain those whose particular "school" of "arcane thought" dances the angels on a different pinhead than one's own? The odd thing to me is that the net effect of the past 60 years or so, at least in the US, has been that the avant garde has in essence proclaimed, to paraphrase the cartoon Pogo, that "we have met the enemy, and they is us". As convincingly as music videos absorbed surrealism and dada, the state-funded institutions absorbed the "we will shock you" genres as soon as they arose. We are all now beyond shock. We are all now beyond convention. Paint it if you will--it can be interesting stuff--but don't pretend that you are finding a new frontier.
I find myself drawn more and more to outsider art, to folk art and to art beyond the Academy. Oh, I enjoy "academic" art, and a trip to the gallery, and even the mildly catty bit of criticism from time to time. I do not know nearly enough about art history and art criticism to come to any stunning conclusions about anything. But the more I
see a cultural elitism turn "Art" into a way to distance the gifted from the audience, the less I am interested in that kind of Art. I am tired of heroes and idols and
bohemian godlings. I'd rather have a nice postcard, earnestly drawn, thank you very much, or even a simple realistic if untutored picture. I don't criticize the professional "Academy Artist" who can command a high price for a vocational work of obscure arcana, anymore than I criticize a hair salon assistant to the stars. I will enjoy seeing a print of the work if it is in a book or available via google. Still, give me a little art, freed of high concept and inner meaning, and I'll be as content.
It's amusing to me that in 2002 we still have an Academy and academia laying down a confused sort of dogma.
But I'll still just look at pictures I like. I will enjoy the pictures of others, and without quite descending into the 60s anything goes bit, I will try to reserve judgment. Perhaps art needs a bit less "my complex so-called life" and a bit more "Find Healing Here". But I'll leave that to wiser minds than mine. I just know what I like.