Art Is the Promise of Transcendence


I haven't posted in a bit and there's no danger of my posting any more show reviews for a little while, so to make sure no one thinks I've died or been otherwise incapacitated -- I'm sorry if that's disappointing -- I thought I'd write a little something more general than I usually do. This blog has a specific function, namely to keep me going to galleries and thinking critically about art. So rambling on about my own thoughts or feelings absent any particular review is technically outside the scope of this blog. In fact I've updated both Plan Ahead and added Probable Working Sequence over there on the left, but I'm not sure how many people read those -- I'm not really sure how many people read any of this, actually, but there you go.

Today I was thinking about what I look for in art. You've probably gotten something of an idea, if you've read this blog at all, but my thinking today came down pretty solidly: What I'm looking for in art is simply transcendence.

This is not just something I want from art I'm viewing. This is something I also want to achieve in my own art. Maybe that sounds overweening -- maybe more so if you've actually clicked on my gallery link -- but it's what I'm striving for. I don't think I'm there yet, but it's a goal. I don't think it's a goal I'll ever really reach.

If not transcendence -- I do wonder if it's possible for a painting to push a viewer out of themselves -- then I at a minimum want art which hints that transcendence is at least possible. I want to feel that it's out there, even if this particular work doesn't embody it. I want someone to whisper to me about transcendence.

Notice I didn't say anything about quality or technique. I happen to think the best road to transcendence in art leads through painting technique and experience, but I don't think those are necessary. I'll take it where I can find it, no matter the style, subject matter, age of the artist, venue, or any other limitation you can think of.

One thing I think is necessary, though, is that transcendence not be easy. I don't think the art of transcendence can be easy. And by easy I don't mean simply difficult in a technical sense, or conceptual sense; I just mean easy, done without great effort, effort of soul and heart and mind.

I mean, I could do easy things. I can do easy art no problem. Here's an idea: I could get a bunch of old automobile trunks and put bumper stickers of my own devising all over them. One trunk might have a lot of pro-war stickers on it, another one might be a punk, another one a goth Wiccan. The stickers could form a dialogue, both on a given car trunk and between the car trunks. I could do that. It wouldn't be that hard: Go to a junkyard, maybe, find some elderly parts. Print out bumper stickers on Cafe Press. Hang everything up in a gallery.

That's an idea. Or how about this one? Circus posters, only instead of clowns and lions and acrobats, draw in contemporary figures. Have one filled with sex freaks, people with leather masks, latex, and other fetish gear. Have another with politicians and warmongers. Make a bunch of these on posterboard, maybe do some silkscreening, maybe some gesso. Artificially age the posters with belt sanders and leaving them under hot lights for a while. Hang everything up in a gallery.

These seem like pretty good ideas to me. I have no clue if these are original ideas. I really don't know if any gallery would be willing to show them. It seems to me they're pretty original, maybe, and a lot better than some of the shows I've seen in Chelsea. I don't know. Maybe these are stupid concepts and no gallery would touch them with a 500kB JPEG.

But the important thing here is, neither of these considerations have anything to do with my decision not to create these shows. Because both of these ideas are just too damned easy. They're easy in concept, they're easy to grasp quickly, they could only say shallow things. There's no hope of transcendence in either idea. Long before I'd get as far as rejecting "Bumper to Bumper: Free Speech on the Road" because it was done by Chuckle B. Donethat in 1987 I've already rejected it because it cannot possibly move a viewer up and out of their existence, not even for a moment.

This is not to say that I've never done something goofy and stupid. I got a book cover deal out of depicting Elvis as Jesus replete with Sacred Heart. In fact I bet I could have a decent career selling Elvis as Jesus paintings, at least until the Elvis Police catch up with me or I get shot for a heretic. But, sure, I've done some dopey stuff. In my defense: I don't call it art and wouldn't consider it art for even a femtosecond.

So that's what I'm looking for in art, both from others and from myself. I'll let you know when I've found it.


The Nail meets the Hammer Head.

Hi Chris, I am with you on transcendence. I, too, have realized that I could make my work quirky or edgy by writing in french over the sky or adding a contrasting border of vaginas, in which case I would surely improve my chances of getting into a Chelsea gallery. But the work would be so not me, not what I want to say and not honest, it would be cop out and I would be miserable (but maybe wealthy). I think the search for transcendence (I call it honesty) is the best thing about life, whether you are an artist or not.

A contrasting border or vaginas, now that sounds interesting. I may try that.I think honesty can help lead to transcendence, yes. I also look for honesty in art, which is probably why I'm not a big fan of the Juxtapoz people, all of whom seem way too hip for me.

Don't try to create a work of art that you think will sell in a Chelsea Gallery, you'll drive yourself crazy chasing the latest trends. Find your style and create. Stay true to your artistic vision and eventually the art world will catch up with you. Don't think about it to much, take a more Zen approach.

What if. . .Someone found transcendence through searching for the perfect Chelsea gallery niche?

It's nice that we agree that art should be honest and pure. Do any of us own galleries in Chelsea? Hobnob with Mary Boone? Meet Jeff Koons for drinks?I didn't think so. Damned shame.

Yeah, but all art can ever offer is a PROMISE of a transcendence that doesn't actually exist. Our search for transcendence is coterminous with our unhappiness, dissatisfaction, inability to say yes to life in its mundanity and ordinariness.Someone said, 'take a Zen approach'. As Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen, famously said to the Emperor of China, "there is nothing sacred."Tolstoy said that literature exists to make us love life.

Does transcendence not actually exist? I mean to say, doesn't it happen sometimes?

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