Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Art for “the People,” Part 2—Murals

One of Al Black’s prison murals from the book, The Highwaymen Murals: Al Black’s Concrete Dreams (University Press of Florida, 2009). 

“…[A]rt is no longer the hard-won ‘scrap of critical freedom of thought against external pressure to conform and internal fear,’ to use Alexander Mitscherlich’s words. I submit that aesthetic experience is the momentary, personal, exhilarating—to use [Clement] Greenberg’s word—form of this nonconformist, fearless scrap. It is a delicious, if brief taste of critical freedom not unlike what D.W. Winnicott called an ‘ego orgasm’—a eureka-like experience of restorative ‘creative apperception’ involving the conscious feeling of being intensely alive. It transforms alienation into freedom and adversariness into criticality. This is a ‘fragile achievement of the ego,’ to use Mitscherlich’s words, that nonetheless strengthens it, allowing it to transcend its social identity and conformity. Socially, reality is seen in a standard, ‘schematic’ way, as Mitscherlich says, and thus loses complexity. It becomes one-dimensional, losing dialectical intricacy. It seems foreordained and fixed rather than a changing, ongoing process. Aesthetically, reality is seen spontaneously and dialectically—as a problematic, disjointed, interminable process full of tensions and contradictions, some resolved, some unresolved—which opens the way to insight into it, and the self-transformation and re-equilibration that come with insight. The real becomes as lively, fresh, and ‘moving,’—really real—as it was in childhood, which is why many proto-modern and modern poets and artists, Wordsworth, Baudelaire, Gauguin, Kandinsky, Klee and Dubuffet among them, have cherished the child as the greatest imaginer, and ‘primitive,’ childlike ‘outsider’ art as the most imaginative, vital art.”—Donald Kuspit
“Only when art is truly beautiful can it defy the ugliness in life—resist if not defeat it (although modern art sometimes seems like a Pyrrhic victory over life). This creates a small space of momentary happiness within the larger depressing and everlasting ugliness, even if that space is only a stay of execution and illusion. Thus, the aesthetic transformation of ugliness creates the sense of being in subliminal control of the feelings aroused by our consciousness of our own destruction and death—which confirms that we are part of the ugliness of the world. The tragic aura ugliness acquires in art makes us less susceptible to it even as it confirms that it is the permanent flaw in existence.”—Donald Kuspit 

“Every day is market day in the post-art world. [….] Winning in the market means the work is a good bet, not a good product. Commercial recognition and critical recognition have become interchangeable. [….] Art is a gamble in the post-art world, which is why some of the gambling casinos of Las Vegas have built art museums on their premises, each adding a touch of class and charisma to the other. More than the association of art and excrement, the association of art and money adds to the charisma of both, making each more magical than it would be if it were indifferent to the other. [….] Show me the contemporary artist who would prefer to live from hand to mouth rather than fall in the hands of an art dealer. It seems impossible to be a martyr to the cause of art in an art world that has become all business—ruthless business. It is impossible to avoid the temptation of money, because art itself has become money. Capitalism transformed the prima materia of our time into the ultima materia of money. [….] The interchangeability of art and money—the completeness of their correlation—suggests that there is something rotten about both. This has nothing to do with whether art is good and money is bad, but with the fact that they belong to radically different realms. Or at least they did until Warhol* confused them by forcing them together. Giving each the value of the other he devalued both, however much he meant to use each to increase the value of the other. [….] For Warhol, all art is commercial, which says more about the power of commerce than it does about the power of art. It took little more than half a century to undo Kandinsky’s idea that art was the last bastion of spirituality against materialism.”—Donald Kuspit

* Kuspit writes that the “success of the transformation of art into money became explicit in 1975, when Warhol nonchalantly declared, with deceptive cleverness:

‘Business art is the step that comes after Art. I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist. After I did the thing called ‘art’ or whatever it’s called, I went into business art. I wanted to be an Art Businessman or a Business Artist. Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. During the hippie era people put down the idea of business—they’d say ‘Money is bad,’ and ‘Working is bad,’ but making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.’”


 Panama City

 Los Angeles

 Los Angeles




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