The trial of producing a huge art project

For past six months, I’ve been working myself to the bone in producing what is perhaps my biggest art project yet. Simply put it, its a series of books (which I call “visual art albums”) that deal with aspects of Christianity through a more surreal prism of thought. I originally conceived it as a project about world beliefs in general, but I encountered several problems during the research phase of the project, and thus I changed the overall theme of the project.

A lot of my time has been devoted to finishing the project that I started, and so I’d like tonight’s post to talk about what goes on behind the scenes, and offer some insight into the project’s concept, creation, and production.

DSCF5089

Book III (The Houses of God), shown being produced during today’s sessions.

The project was originally titled “Visions”, then I changed the name of the project to “In the Valley of the Shadow of Faith”, and that name ran until last week, when I decided to change its named to “The Shadow Bible” (I name I chose for when it becomes a published book). I have made nine A2 folders, each of which are meant to contain 11 artworks, along with text and additional embellishments across 48 pages per book (as a whole book, this would be 432 pages long). I made it this way because I thought there would be nine units in the second year of my art course. This was eventually proven wrong. There were eight units, and only one could accommodate my project, so I’ve been working on the whole project alongside the other assignments. As you could imagine, it’s been a living hell managing all this.

Much of the project was conceived a few months before production actually started. In May 2015, I began to plan out my ideas, and August, I began making the book folders. Meanwhile, the planning phase of the project, wherein I would organize my various ideas and concepts for the project (at least by name), continued until November. I produced the artwork starting as early as September, but did this sporadically until November 17th, when I began producing artworks almost every day until February 4th, when I had finished all the artworks relevant to the project. The week before was when I finished the first book (or rather the eighth in chronological order), and from then on I began focusing on the books.

Today, I’m on what could be considered the final stages of the project. I had finished all 99 artworks, and so all that’s left is to finish the books, writing for each one along the way. I made the actual artworks as drawings and paintings, experimenting with various mediums. The books are each made using 24 sheets of tropical paper (except for one book which uses metallic paper), with each side displaying either an artwork, the text to go with the artwork, or anything else that I use to fill the remaining pages. The artwork is stuck down to the pages using double-sided tape, and since one roll runs out after around two and a half books, I had to buy it in bulk. Each book can take up to a total 12 hours to produce (which is why I split off production into separate sessions, each lasting up to four hours). The text is written using pencils, and exhibits a style of writing that doesn’t adhere any current precepts of creative writing (mainly because I don’t know any).

For the books, I want to convey narrative with a lyrical style of writing. This is in part due to the fact that I derived the concept of the project from music albums and the booklets that come with them (particularly vinyl records, and especially Christian Death LP’s). In fact, the writing in the project was influenced by the music I listen to on a daily basis. Sadly, this is not a collaborative effort, so I’ve had to do all the production and writing by myself, and I have until May to complete it. I’m on track, but it’s been a long and exhausting road to get to where I am now. It’s also been quite an expensive project. The amount of A2 card I need to finish the project has so far costed me a total of £120, with other costs being incurred in buying new pencils and replacing any paints that have run out. I’d say the project has so far cost me upwards of £300 to produce. Considering that I have no income, I’m lucky that I’m able to afford everything.

Producing “The Shadow Bible” has been quite a trying part of my life, but I feel that the experience has been a test of character. In my opinion, some of my best artworks have emerged from the sessions, and it’s on this project that I’ve actually started visualizing what I might want to produce in my later years. There’s also the prospect of releasing this whole project as a published book (which, according to one of my lecturers, it is entirely possible to do). That sounds like the most exciting prospect in years. I don’t know when it’ll happen, but if it works, who knows what could happen.

Until I start university, I’m certain that this is the hardest project I’ve ever done, but when it’s done, it’ll be one of the most satisfying things I’ve done yet, mainly because of the sheer ambition and scope of the project. Throughout the project, I felt like I was making something nobody else had done before (then again, I’m sure most people have more sense), and I think that’s been keeping me going all this time, that and the fact that I was making something I truly wanted to for the first time in many years. For all its ups and downs, I have high hopes for the project, and if given the chance, I’d do it again (though, hopefully, it’d be a lot shorter).

Advertisements

Idealistic art and the abstract

sistine chapel

“The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo (c. 1512)

Last week, I went on a trip to Rome, where I stayed from Monday night to Thursday afternoon, hence why I haven’t been able to write any new posts for over a week. It was quite a trip to say the least. I got to see a vast range of artworks both old and new, and I got to see some of the famous attractions (including the Vatican City), as well as the grungy, graffiti-covered side of Rome, which for some reason proved very interesting because it’s the side that’s always hidden.

I went to a number of venues, including the MAXXI Gallery, the Villa Borghese, the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, and the Vatican Museum. Of course, I had the opportunity to see some of history’s finest artworks, though one thing I took in was the prevalence of art from before the 20th century. In other words, much of the art I saw fell under the category of what I would call “idealistic art” (referring to portraits, landscape paintings, sculptures, religious paintings, mythological paintings, etc.). Even though I thought there was a bit too much idealistic art for my tastes (it did get a little repetitive after a while), I found I could appreciate a great deal of it. After all, how many times would I get to visit the Vatican City and see the giant fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? For all I know, only once in my lifetime.

In spite of that, I found myself more interested in the abstract, avant-garde and symbolic artworks (these were found in the MAXXI Gallery and the National Gallery of Modern Art). I felt those works were more striking because they compelled me to use my imagination, as opposed to the conventions of idealistic art, where every subject is painted as realistically as possible, often leaving little to the imagination. The National Gallery of Modern Art had several works of abstract art, including some from the era of Cubism and Futurism, though the MAXXI Gallery is filled with much more examples of symbolic and abstract contemporary art that make it stand out in a very classical city. A lot of it had a surreal quality, although I also noticed that there was a significantly large exhibition themed around political issues in Istanbul (these included civil rights, urban transformations, and the social conflicts that came with a mass migration to Turkey). However, my favourite from that gallery was the “Geometry and Abstraction” exhibition, where I grew fond of a multi-colour pyramid in front of a series of illustrations featuring it.

DSCF4586

Reminds me a lot of Gary Numan’s “The Pleasure Principle”.

I preferred the more abstract art because through abstraction, the artist creates his or her own reality as opposed to the now dated practice of trying to capture the real world with paint on canvas. With the idealistic art of the pre-modern era, it’s all about presenting an expected ideal of reality, whereas with the more symbolic forms of art (abstract, surrealism, etc.), we see the world from the point of view of the artist. The artist is capable of presenting new worlds on canvas, and as gallery visitors, we are the play the role of the interloper, voyeuristically observing realms of possibilities that many could only dream of.

Of course, that’s essentially the perspective I got while in Rome, with its dizzying variety of fine artworks. I felt it to be a very enriching experience that sharpened my contextual perspective on both the idealistic and symbolic forms of art. In other words, after visiting all those galleries, I’m very confident about what I’m talking about in terms of art, as well as what I might want to do in art. I had the opportunity to compare the idealism of classical art with the raw abstraction found in more modern artworks, after close study, I found abstract art to be my preferred field of art, mainly because it represents a realm of greater creative freedom than idealistic art, which, I felt, required an unhealthy fixation on perfectionism in order to create.

The suppression of natural forms

Photo by Mathilde Grafström

Recently, a exhibition held in Copenhagen by a photographer named Mathilde Grafström was closed down by the Danish police, who claimed that her photographs were “obscene”. Grafström’s exhibition, “Female Beauty”, featured various photos of naked women as part of a project to combat negative self-image. To that end, the artist selected a serious of photographs depicting normal, unaltered women in the nude, aiming to show that the female body is nothing to be ashamed of. Of course, the artist was outraged when she learned her exhibit was closed by the authorities, furious at the reprehensible suppression of her art, while an advertisement for plastic surgery featuring bare breasts isn’t being censored.

So let me get this straight. In Denmark, photos of normal-looking women being themselves are considered obscene, while adverts featuring plastic breasts are not. When did positive self-image become such a great crime in today’s world. I’ve seen the artist’s work, and I see why this would be important. The women in the pictures show confidence and communicate the sense of a free spirit, and what’s so obscene about that? To me, it sounds like the Danish police can’t tell the difference between art and porn, even though the difference is so glaringly obvious, that I don’t even need to spell it out.

I think that for Grafström’s photos to be denied the right to be displayed in public speaks volumes about how Western society values body image. In fact, I speculate that if another artist put up nude photos of a porn star, or some Z-list celebrity with fake breasts, then nobody would have minded, never mind that those sort of people consistently promote a negative sense of self-image, as does the very idea of plastic surgery, which makes a profit by exploiting people’s negative belief about their self-image and self-worth. Also, some of the coverage of this story was quite childish. For example, the Daily Mail censored the nipples of one of the photographs with little black squares, typical of their medieval attitudes towards the female body.

For me, the artist is attempting to expose the viewer to the kind of natural beauty and self-expression that is constantly shunned by the mainstream media, in favour of the artificial look we see being sported by Britain’s favourite celebrities. When did natural beauty become something to be despised? When the natural body is deemed an obscenity, but the plastic body is revered as an idol, then there is something grievously wrong with our attitude towards the female body, and as long as we continue to sweep this issue under the rug, then the idea that Western civilization is a sexually liberal society shall remain a joke for years to come.

The artists of the future need better teachers

art teachers

The art teacher shown here is most likely better than what I’ve seen in school.

On Tuesday morning, I did a somewhat improvised painting in a class session, but unfortunately, my particular style drew ire the art teacher that presided over that lecture. She argued that my style of painting was lazy, and she tried arguing with me about developing a saleable painting style by insulting my own unique style. After I continued making my point intellectually, the teacher, unable to come up with any intelligent counterargument thereafter, resorted to comparing my art to that of a five-year-old. Given that I have a five-year-old nephew, that was the most insulting thing I have ever heard from a teacher since my days in primary school.

Of course, I really should get over this, except that’s been on my mind all week for two reasons – (a) because the teachers general attitude has been a recurring problem for me and my classmates, and (b) because thinking it over allowed me to see that it was representative of a bigger problem that reminded me of my school days.

The art teacher in question was the kind who would belittle anyone’s art that didn’t conform to her preconceived notions of art. Specifically, she was having us all imitate the Cubist stylings of Pablo Picasso. Consequently, I worried that much of my artwork was going to be the same under that direction. In my mind, all the good artists, Picasso included, rebelled against the current of art to create their own unique stylings. By attempting to restrict our stylings, she is blaspheming against all that is wonderful about art, and slandering anyone who tries to deviate from that pattern only compounds this.

All that aside, I look back and wonder, if she acts so much like a grade school art teacher, then what kinds of art teacher are our kids getting? As my experience has taught me, a teacher can make a significant, life-changing impact on how children perceive their future, and indeed themselves. If art is to continue growing, then the next generation of artists need teachers who recognize the talent and the potential of young artists, and who will help to nurture that talent. At the moment, I don’t think that happens in school, and as for British colleges, this largely depends on the tutor. Then again, where I come from, college is not as different to school as we’d like to think.

I recently read something that Picasso once said that I believe is relevant to the subject in question. He once said that “all children are born as artists, the problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”. In that regard, I think the art teacher has a role to play in that struggle. If the art teacher has no faith in his or her student, or teaches art the wrong way, then the student will not be enthusiastic about his or her own art. I remember not wanting to do art again because my A-level Art course was such a frustrating experience. It took until 2014 for my enthusiasm to return, and that’s a very bad sign. If that happened to all young artists, there’d be no new talent. Just more old artists anchoring the art world to old ideas, and that would cause the art world to stagnate horribly. The only way that stagnation is prevented is for young artists to contribute fresh ideas, and that cannot happen as long as the next generation has teachers who insist on anchoring them to outdated ideas.

What the Turner Prize says about contemporary art

assemble

If this is art, then art is doomed.

On Monday, Channel 4 once again brought us the Turner Prize, the only annual winter farce that doesn’t make anybody laugh. I remember being told about the Turner Prize when I was doing my A-Levels, and I didn’t give a damn back then, mainly because I didn’t truly understand the gravity of art back then. Today, I’m doing a rather intensive art course in college, and have a broader understanding of art, and indeed the nature of artistic interpretation and expression, and I still don’t value the Turner Prize that much, so when I decided to check it out this year, I found that it was just as banal and pretentious as I remember it.

The award ceremony itself was essentially a round of Lauren Laverne and other pretentious commentators polluting the air with their self-important nonsense, all while I wonder “didn’t Lauren Laverne used to be a comedian?”. Seriously, Lauren Laverne used to be a TV comedian, but she’s been lending her voice to anything that pays, and now she’s become another celebrity in an already crowded industry. If that wasn’t enough, they brought Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon to announce the winner (an odd choice, since she isn’t even relevant anymore). Yet again, the shortlisted artworks were quite banal, a few of them weren’t even close to art, and the winner wasn’t even an artist. This year’s Turner Prize went to a direct action collective known as Assemble, who use art to make a tangible difference to the community. For me, the problem is that they completely missed the point of art entirely.

Of course, the Turner Prize is known for creating controversy, if only for a short moment until we look again and realize that the art is actually quite banal. Prize winners are always controversial, but Assemble are the lowest of the low because they take “anything is art” so far that it can no longer be called art in its truest sense, and I say this because they’re using art the wrong way. For me, art is about the creative expression of the world within us (which includes the outside world). Assemble, meanwhile, believe that if art cannot make a tangible difference to society, then it’s only for rich people. This misguided view of art sounds like the philosophy of an art collective who got their education from a Benetton ad.

That a group of architects had won an art prize signals the latest low point of contemporary art. The art world seems to have lodges its head so far up its own ass that it is has forgotten the validity of visual art, or at least that’s what I get from the Turner Prize, whose jury seemed to have universally decided that the medium of visual art is now irrelevant. Granted, this could just be the reason why the Turner Prize is a complete joke, but that’s besides the point. The fact remains that the art world is in such a sorry state that it’s now going through contortions to convince gullible art patrons that there is artistic value in the work of a bunch of community architects who aren’t even remotely interested in art. If that’s what’s happening in the art world now, then it says something very awful about just how little this country values art.

The pointless exercise of the art critic

art critic

Today, I’d like to talk about critics, the people who make a living writing about things you may or may not have already seen. Granted, I myself have thought of myself as a critic throughout my college years, but I focused on films and video games. Never in my lifetime did I consider art criticism a thing, and today, very little about that perception has changed.

Art criticism is a lot like music criticism – it attempts to set a standard of quality for a creative outlet that which is ultimately subjective and less tangible, which in my opinion contradicts the point of art. For me, the whole point of art is that everyone has a different idea of what they see, and what they think it means. For some, even a banal drawing of a house can hold some sort of philosophical meaning if one perceives it, and what others call a masterpiece can be perceived as meaningless by others. In other words, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That is the true power and value of art, and I feel that’s what art critics miss.

Of course, this wouldn’t bother me so much if art critics weren’t so pretentious about it. The problem with art critics is that they make it their mission to tell you the meaning of a certain artwork in a way that makes you sound like a complete idiot for “not getting it” in the first place, and what they usually churn out sounds like the kind of claptrap that only reinforces the stereotype of a pretentious ivory tower intelligentsia that is hopelessly out of touch with the common man. In other words, they make a living spewing what one of my art lecturers would call “arty bollocks”, and yet when they do it it’s called a career, while if I tried that, I’d be a considered a loony.

Whatever they’re actually saying, the vast majority of art critics, in their attempt to try and sell an objective meaning for an artwork, are highly likely to be driving a bias steamroller when it comes to various forms of art. For instance, Banksy is still quite popular with art critics, even though, as I’ve mentioned before, he’s basically a hack. A lot of these critics only seem to like what’s new and shocking, while they’ve had a history of simultaneously dismissing newers forms of art.

In the early 20th century, critics such as Robert Coates would dismiss some of Jackson Pollock’s artworks as “mere unorganized explosions of random energy”, and yet decades later, his painting “No. 5, 1948” would end up being sold to a Mexican financier named David Martinez for $140 million, even though I doubt that the buyer or the critics had any idea what the artwork even means. Earlier still, in the 19th century, Impressionist painters were despised by the French Academy of Fine Arts because they were different to the more realistic style of art preferred by the establishment at the time. Now the works of the Impressionsits and the Post-Impressionists are now part of the art establishment.

To me, the art critics represent the art establishment, whom I see as little more than a bunch of clowns flailing mindlessly as they try to interpret the meaning of art. Is there any reason why we can’t simply like our pretty paintings for reasons that don’t involve pretentious drollery? If not, then why not? These are the kind of answers that art critics won’t answer, and that being said, I’d strongly recommend not trusting art critics. In fact, the next time I hear an art critic loudly espousing some vague idea of what you’re really looking at, I might have the right mind to ask that critic what he or she was even thinking of to begin with, or if any of that had anything to do with the artwork itself.

An artist’s path

It’s been over a year since I decided I wanted my creative mojo back, and that desire led me to abandon a potentially more lucrative degree course in favour of my principles. Since then, I have been slowly regaining my confidence in my creative abilities, and my artistic identity has begun to take shape, but it has been a long and arduous journey, one that has seen some unexpected changes in my own outlook on life.

The way I see it, the artist’s path is one of uncertainty, but also one of freedom and open-mindedness. I think that this has been true for me over the past year, as I now have far more independence than previously, and I have a lot freedom with regards to how to use it, but I now find myself worrying about whether or not I’m languishing in a path without direction, and with only one year left in college, this situation could become more dire if I don’t do something about that.

Of course, I enjoy the path of the artist, no matter how chaotic it can get, because I value freedom above pretty much everything else. Besides, I have gained so much in terms of both creativity and personal feeling. What I do here and the outlook I develop here may irreversibly alter the course of my life. At this point, I’m not too far away from a point of no return, and yet I feel that there could only be hope.

So far, it has been an uncertain road that twists and turns with every passing moment, but it has been a rewarding path in ways that I probably still cannot imagine yet. As far as I’m concerned, the initial storm is over, and if I play my cards right, the artist’s path that I aim to walk will lead me to opportunities that will make the whole journey worth taking in the end.