Friday, November 06, 2009

A Bitter Ode to Hermes

Anatomy of a Creative Funk

Christopher Reiger
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.

Homer tells us that Zeus gave Hermes 'an 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)."
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.

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


Donald Frazell said...

I hope you come out of it, this piece shows the light is coming back on. but I offer another god, or actually, goddess to be our divine benefator and goal. Athena. Goddess of Wisdom, decked out in armor, yet beautiful. The owl has always been my favorite bird. Smart, adaptable and kicks ass. As we artists must also.

While many artists began their quest for truth after early illnesses, miro, modigliani and others had childhood sicknesses, then usually became strong and got out into nature as much as possible. Some posseurs like the mini dude Picasso, who loved his bullfights, but many loved and played sports as well. Deleaunay and de Stael portrayed futbol players, and many went to war, Braque severely wounded, Marc and Macke dying.

Artists must be warriors, explorers, and seekers of truth. As was our patron goddess Athena. Dont feel sad or worn away, but rejuvenated, espcially if you do make some money to pay for future adventures in art. Each work must be an exploration of ourselves, anture and god. I feel more exhausted after finally finishing a piece, But also looking forward to new ways of making stuff, getting rid of the backlog more my worry. 6' to 10' pieces do that.

I cant wait to get my full Chapel set up in January, its time to attack. Put on my helmet, lift my shield, lower my spear, and take no quarter. It is a good feeling routing the enemy, even though he will always be there, and never be exterminated. Mankinds passions are our domain, and must take the good with the bad, for balance, and the resolution of supposed opposites, our job. for it is a job, it is work, and w do ahve purpose. Thsi should give cheer, along with a nice bottle of wine, and the kiss of my sweet woman. What more could a man ask for?

You have been a busy beaver, that was alot of writing in Nebraska. Get outside, feel the season come upon you. We had a nice haunted porch for the neighborhood kiddies, that was fun. Scared the hell out of them, parents loved it, had my Doom painting out there with strobe light, haunted floor matt that gave out vampire geetings, rising dead, beward yellow tape and bush lit up like a pumpkin.

One can be creative in many ways. do something else, recharge, and get back at it. the war has begun. There is no turning back. man msut adapt, seek wisdom in unifying humanity with nature and god, if we are to win. Be a warrior. Glory seldom comes in truth, seek not fame, but live the way of the warrior. Be prepared, and to the death, thats all we have. And it is enough, be grateful. And be Athena. She is our guide, reflecting truth our battle.

Hungry Hyaena said...


As far the Greek pantheon goes, Athena is certainly a good goddess to admire, and owls are wonderful creatures. I'm not sure how much of a warrior I truly am, fantasies aside, but I appreciate the pep talk!

I'm glad that you had a fun Halloween.

Donald Frazell said...

There are many ways to fight the good fight. It is up to all of us to find ours. That is our calling. Thats life. Nike! To Victory, just do it! And you are, its simply as a soldier we cannot expect the spoils of war, but must continue, to the death. Its the only way to win, a fight that will never end. We have been losing, its time to fight back. You are doing the right thing, just be confident, follow Athena, and keep on truckin. Work is its own reward, but working as one together, now thats victory

art collegia delenda est

Donald Frazell said...

By the way, my Queen just threw her first blow. Check out her new magazine for young women, to counter the fashion industry, about mind, body and soul(sound familiar?)Had her free minimag premier Saturday at a showing of an allie,

Can download it, I write a column, go figure, from the male perspective. First issue if Body Image, a quarterly mag to attack the rags, and free women of trying to be someone else, someone who is a slave to the fashion industry and controlled by those who care not for woman.
check it out.

art collegia delenda est!

Steppen Wolf said...

I have not painted in six months.

Hungry Hyaena said...


Please pass along my congratulations to your queen. Her efforts are valiant, and I wish her the best of luck with the project.


That's not a happy note! Get back in the studio; force yourself to make something! (Easier said than done, perhaps, but six months is a very long time.)

That said, it seems that you're atill contemplating and appreciating (based on your recent photography).

Donald Frazell said...

I quit for over 12 years, I had more pressing creative concerns, raising my kids. A no more creative task is there. I got back to it when they wre grown and out of the house, and amazed and horrified at how far art had fallen, though it was at a rather low place already.

Being outisde of it, I could see its incredible lack of substance or style. All surface, all shining things up, all looking pristine in white cubes for sale. Sterile, passionless, conceptual vanity, therapy and childsplay.

get away from art for awhile, or go out and see that which is great, that always inspires me, giving hope. When I do come across an artist with both something to say, visually, and either developing or already fulfilling their own personal visual langauge, I rejoice, and am inspired. Rarely of course, far too rarely.

Get outside, hike, see gods wonders. That is what we measure ourselves against, the creators works. If that doesnt rejuvenate I dont know what can. One must fill this empty vessel with the world before one can express it, find ways to connect and trigger it in others. Go to gardens, the ocean, the mountains, the desert. Get away from the media which is filled with irrelevant data, much of it false.

My wife is going through media detox, and withdrawals, but is good for her. I seldom wtch much beyond playoffs in sports and a movie once in awhile, besides keeping ehr company and some Comedy Central. God knows we were given mountains of sad absurdist humor during the Bush years, now going through teh tough task of rebuilding, and we must contribute in doing it in a more constructive and self critical manner, finding balance, instead of all greed. Always will ahve self interst, thats survival, but must build ways to put it back into societys growth.

Be holistic, not new agish, but finding inner peace through interweaving humanity, nature and god. When you do, things will open up, they do for me. As Cezanne said, true artists are priests, we must begin acting like them, instead of merchants, whores, and pharisees.

Fight on, one is defined as much by ones enemies as ones friends. If you dont have any, you arent trying hard enough. Things are changing, not immediately, we are too addicted to instant gratification. Truth takes time and hard work. Lets get to it.

art collegia delenda est

ps. I believe Picasso didnt create any paintings for about a year in the early 30s while going through a divorce. Happens, go and store up the world, it will come out later.