April 28, 2007

Fetishization of the Artist: Nonvegan post

Posted in art, happiness, recovery at 3:04 pm by nevavegan

I had this really cool discussion with the ever honest and daring Angie Reed Garner (full time artist) about her recent trip to the outsider artist show. For those of you outside the outsider artist scene, outsider art is roughly defined as art by people without formal art training, often encompassing various types of folk art, as well as art by the mentally, terminally ill, disabled, etc.

When Angie talked about the fetishization of the artist, she spoke of a situation where a collector may take more pride in the stories surrounding the artist than in a particular work of art. So in fact they are not collecting art as much as they’re collecting artists in a symbolic manner. This becomes especially true with the more unfortunate stories. This leaves with some sort of creepy vision of some shadowy figure rubbing his hands together saying “Mmmm, child abuse and cancer? I’ll take it!”

While it’s impossible to know what people will do with or think of our art after it leaves our hands, I imagine most artists want people to buy or collect their art because they love it. My ideal situation would be someone buying my art because they think it’s beautiful or it speaks to them. They would display it lovingly and develop their own stories around it through the years. My worst nightmare is someone getting a painting of mine only to toss it out with the garbage a year later because they changed the colors in their living room. But that’s a different entry.

Buying and collecting original art is a practice something apart from interior decorating. Anyone can buy a print, in fact a lot of discount stores are full of framed, matted, very lovely prints of well-known art. So what motivates someone to buy original art? For me the most obvious motivation is a desire to support and encourage creativity and originality. We invest in the world we want to live in, so if you want people to keep painting, pay them to do it. The second obvious reason people buy original art is as a unique keepsake of a time and place—this is the reason why people who are more the framed and matted print type buy an original watercolor from a street artist while on their honeymoon. They want a reminder of that time and place that is solely theirs, not the standard souvenir. People buy original art because they love it too of course. They see an image that speaks to them and are willing to pay for it. Some people prefer to decorate only with originals because, while they probably love each image, they prefer their decor to be unique. Some people buy original art as an investment too, hoping they’re one of the first buyers from someone whose work will later be worth a fortune.

But I don’t think that we can deny fetishization of the artist as a motive. When I think about myself and some of the criticisms that have been leveled at my work, I have to wonder if that’s a particular issue with my work. I keep this blog apart from my art blog for several reasons and prime among them is that I don’t want people reading what I have to say here about abuse and violence in particular and viewing my art through that lens. Which is strange, because why shouldn’t they? It just bothers me on some level.

The stupidest thing is that all through school I was accused of making art that was “too pretty” or “too cute” (and was even referred to as “neo Rococo” which is only an insult if you understand Rococo, the ‘90’s art scene and the point of reference of everyone in the room). For Ms Reed Garner the assumptions are all opposite—she refuses to compromise her aesthetic and her message just to make images that please others. I admire that, but I’m actually not compromising my aesthetic or message either.

I never set out to do anything like that, I just do what I do and I let the chips fall where they may. In my opinion it works out to roughly 9 out of 10 things I make are going to be cute or pretty or whatever, and 1 out of 10 will be deeply disturbing, if you really think about it, and if you don’t think about it, you can lump it in with the “pretty.” But the catch is, that’s really honestly who I am. I’m a hippy who really does run barefoot through fields of flowers and hugs trees. I like to wear lacey dresses with my hair down and hug baby animals. I don’t think if my heart screams “cute” I need to stifle that so I can also appear serious to others. Of course I actually am serious, dead serious in what I do, but the other aspects of my personality always come through as well.

As I said in a previous post, much of my art is about joy in so many ways, that being vegan makes me really happy, that seeing animals and being nice to animals makes me happy, that love and sharing and togetherness and dancing make me happy. It’s not a bad message in my opinion.

So what happens when that message gets all tangled up in someone else’s stereotype of who I am, what I’ve been through, where I’ve been, and what they feel I ought to be? Who out there sees me as little girl lost, in need of rescue? Who is thrilled by picturing me being hurt? Strangeness all of it, and so the two blogs remain apart.

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