Pen and sumi ink, gouache, watercolor and marker on Arches paper
15 1/4 x 15 1/2 inches
I apologize for the lack of regular HH content. Writing is as much a part of my creative process as is art-making, and, for weeks now, I've been creatively out-of-sorts. Fairly or not, I attribute this bout of artistic malaise to my solo show.
Visual artists often speak of the funk that descends when a solo show is on view. My first solo exhibition, "Mongrel Truth," at Brooklyn's AG Gallery, gave rise to minimal tsoris, but "Some Species of Song" has played havoc with my head. I've little or no inclination to write, and I've had to force myself to work on studies for future paintings and drawings.
I've heard many explanations for the funk put forward. Most often, artists will say something along the lines of "the batteries need to recharge." That seems natural enough, but, why, I wonder, does this requisite recharge always seem to coincide with a solo show?
I discussed my condition with a writer friend, and her hypothetical explanation of the solo show funk is convincing, at least with respect to my experience of the malady. She contends that, before the solo show, the artist works happily in the studio because he is fully present in his creative labor. In this "process mode," the artist understands the artwork and the art-making as an extension of self, a soulful and intimate activity. Once the artwork is displayed in a commercial gallery, however, the artist must conceive of the artwork anew. In the "product mode," the art is commodified and abstracted, effectively reduced to paper currency, worthless without social consensus. In transitioning from studio space to market space, the artist has crossed over a Hermetic boundary, leaving behind the eroticism of Eros for the commercial quantification of Hermes.
I've quoted from and alluded to Lewis Hyde's fascinating book The Gift before; it's again pertinent. Hyde's foundational position is that all art is a ceremonial gift, that the creative act is part of a free and open dialogue of spiritually nourishing exchange. Once the market commodifies art, however, "a part of the [artist's] self is inhibited and restrained," and the greater community suffers for it. Sadly, this inhibition and incompleteness is, in our capitalistic world view, assumed to be natural; the artist's worth is counted in coinage rather than spirit. One manifestation of this corruption appears in notions of gender.
"[T]he nineteenth century saw a decline in faith coincide with the remarkable success of a secular, mercantile, and entrepreneurial spirit. The story has been told many times. By the end of the century, to be 'self-made' in the market, or to have successfully exploited the natural gifts of the New World, were the marks of a Big Man, while attention to inner life and the community (and to their subtle fluids - religion, art, and culture) was consigned to the female sphere. The division of commerce by gender still holds. As a character in Saul Bellow's novel Humboldt's Gift remarks in regard to creative artists, 'To be a poet is a school thing, a skirt thing, a church thing.' In a modern, capitalist nation, to labor with gifts (and to treat them as gifts, rather than exploit them) remains a mark of the female gender."Considering muscular capitalism, Hyde calls Hermes the most contemporary of the Greek pantheon. He is the god of the self-made man, the trafficker in goods, pure and soiled.
"Hermes is an amoral connecting deity. When he's the messenger of the gods he's like the post office: he'll carry love letters, hate letters, stupid letters, or smart letters. His concern is the delivery, not what's in the envelope. He wants money to change hands, but he does not distinguish between the just price and a picked pocket. [...] Hermes can't be trusted, of course. The say 'he either leads the way or guides astray.' [...] In a Hermetic mood we will make a hundred intellectual connections only to find, when we check them with a less restless god, that ninety-nine of them are useless.Indeed, the amorality of global capitalism was spectacularly revealed in the recent hemorrhaging of the financial markets. Still, as a people, we've given ourselves to the worship of Hermes, and we champion the good news that he carries over the bad. The art market is no exception. There are, of course, some very positive aspects of the contemporary art market, just as there are some wonderful individuals participating in it, but a dark cloud shadows all contemporary commerce...and luxury commerce, in particular.
Homer tells us that Zeus gave Hermes 'an office...to establish deeds of barter amongst men throughout the fruitful earth,' and he has done his job well. He may be the twentieth century's healthiest Greek god. He is present wherever things move quickly without regard to specific moral content, in all electronic communication, for example, or in the mails, in computers and in the stock exchange (especially in international money markets)."
In a short passage, mid-way through the book, Hyde offers readers a striking condemnation of the contemporary art market.
"The more we allow such commodity art to define and control our gifts, the less gifted we will become, as individuals and as a society. The true commerce of art is a gift exchange, and where that commerce can proceed on its own terms we shall be heirs to the fruits of gift exchange: in this case, to a creative spirit whose fertility is not exhausted in use, to the sense of plentitude which is the mark of all erotic exchange, to a storehouse of works that can serve as agents of transformation, and to a sense of an inhabitable world - an awareness, that is, of our solidarity with whatever we take to be the source of our gifts, be it the community or the race, nature, or the gods. But none of these fruits will come to us where we have converted our arts to pure commercial enterprises."I hope that my charitable sales model can, in some small way, act as a corrective to the market's distortions, and serve as inspiration for other artists. We are empowered to change the system. We only need to become enthusiastic about doing so.
Image credit: Christopher Reiger, 2009