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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Carlos

Loads of Crap

Please excuse the profanity but as an artist you get crapped at a lot of times before you can make great shit and earn shitloads of money—if you’re lucky.

The Shitty Wisdom of a King

At a summer street festival in Stuttgart I met an architect who introduced himself as “Lion.” I wasn’t quite sure if he was referring to his star sign or he wants to be called the king of the jungle. Anyway, he had too much Wulle in a cup so I hardly expected a darling of a conversation. However when he got to the part about our professions, as expected, in German he asked, “Was machst Du?” (What do you do?). I took a quick deep breath and tried to say it without a hiccup, “I’m an artist.”

With a brief flash of sobriety, his interest peeked and then asked what kind of art I make.

“Animal art, whimsical art, a bit of abstract and fantasy—whatever I fancy,” I replied.

“Where’s the money in that?” And BAM! A hard-hitting reality check if not a genuine insult. But he was drunk, so I let it pass.

Still he carried on with, “Why not make architectural illustrations or murals in department stores?”

Because I don’t want to.

Practicality over Passion

That conversation reminded me of Chapter 1 from my favorite novel, The Little Prince. Grown-ups always need logical explanations, are fascinated with numbers or inclined to practicality and have seem to have forgotten what it is like to be a child. Don’t be a novelist, be a journalist or instead of becoming an artist, be an architect.

An illustration of a hat-looking object and an elephant inside a snake
A hat or a boa? | Artwork from "The Little Prince"

I did not pursue architecture because I thought I would have an easier time in college if I just improve on what I already know (mathematics is not my friend). That decision did not necessarily mean that I am overly passionate about the arts. I was rather being more practical over my chosen field of study. Isn’t that an indication that I am becoming an adult? Well, no. Because according to grown-ups’ standards, I have not succeeded yet.

To be honest, I did not take college seriously. It was the easiest—if not the most fun part of my life. I was making more friends than art.

Multicolored brush strokes on a blue background
“Strokes” | Gouache, chalk pen and metallic leaf | 2017

Rather say, “Why do that?”

Speaking of friends… One time I showed a friend of mine one of my abstract paintings—a mixed media of carefully designed broad brushstrokes, in which he commented, “I could do that.”

“Really?” I asked. “Do you know which color to use or how to apply gold leaf on paper and that a masking fluid is necessary for each panel?”

The argument that anyone can do that continued until I said, “But you didn’t.”

The Perfect Blue

French Nouveau Réalisme artist, Yves Klein, who was obsessed with the color blue, created a series of paintings, sculpture and installations splashed in his patented hue, International Klein Blue. To the untrained eye, the painting is just one big blue panel.

So can anyone do that?

Unless you can make the exact blue color using the exact ratio of pigment to binder and can render the paint onto a canvas as perfectly even as possible, you would think otherwise. Regardless of the technicality, and although he was aided by a pigment expert, no one other than Klein himself can precisely determine the right mixture because after all, it is his ideal blue. What exactly compelled him to create this hue is entirely at his own discretion.

Similarly, I have painted a memory of an uninterrupted sky on a clear sunny day by the sea. It was a mixture of cyan, ultramarine, leaf green and opaque white in which I no longer remember the exact amount of every gouache paint necessary to create that blue. Mixing was purely instinctive. It was also an exercise on even brushstrokes. The point is, despite having a clear memory of that blue sky or a big tub of the blue paint mixture, even I will not be able to recreate an identical painting again simply because the strokes would be different likewise the intention will never be the same. The original painting being about a memory and the second one being only a repetition.

Flat blue painting
“Uninterrupted” | Gouache | 2018

Ars gratia ars is bullshit

Art being purposeless is debatable. Artists do not make an artwork in order to just create. There is almost always a deeper meaning, a story or reasoning and layers of emotions behind every piece. No artwork is insubstantial.

Art for art’s sake likewise delineates social classes and cultural differences. Does it imply that only the educated few appreciate what for them is pure substantial art? What of the other cultures, whether rich or poverty stricken, who use art from the infancy of mankind as a way of life, a manner of self expression and yes, social distinction?

Although I am no fan of socially nor politically relevant works of art, I am in no position to criticize an artist’s goals. What I have learned in new media conservation is that the most valuable aspect of an artwork is not only the medium but also the intention of the artists if we are to preserve their work beyond their lifetime.

This brings me back to Klein’s blue. He did not invent that blue because he wanted another pigment even though strangely, blue is the least common natural pigment on a blue planet. He wanted a hue that will encapsulate his perfect idea of a boundless blueness.

The artist used blue as the vehicle for his quest to capture immateriality and the infinite. - from the biography of Yves Klein

And that is his intention—his art’s intrinsic purpose.

A man with one raised hand painted in blue
Yves Klein during the filming of "The Heartbeat of France" | © Photo Charles Wilp | BPK, Berlin 2018

Who gives a crap?

Oftentimes I do not understand the arrogance and abuse of people towards artists. I’m pertaining to those people who have not even produced any artwork since kindergarten and have the audacity to subject artists beneath their ego. Obviously not all artworks can be considered an obra maestra nor will all artists find acclaim in their lifetime if at all. And then there’s the issue of taste. Although art appreciation is subjective, one must also consider the amount of time and effort put into the artwork, the extraordinary execution, as well as the circumstances that compelled the idea. Besides nobody is obliged to like it. Many artists burned their works for whatever reason anyway. Sometimes destruction is even part of the artwork like the Burning Man. Moreover, appreciation of art does not end at the final picture hanging on the wall. Next time you view a painting, pay attention to that tiny piece of text-heavy index card beside it because it tells you that this particular piece is indeed one of a kind that no one on this planet could ever replicate. Even that piece of paper is not enough to encapsulate the meaning behind the artwork. Artists paint to express something beyond words could tell.


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