Has anyone else noticed that 90% of everything in galleries and at art fairs these days look, well, the same?
Before I launch into a diatribe, let me start by saying two things: 1. I’m kind of a judgmental prick. Not my words, actually. I questioned the hipster art (I’m sorry, but I really haven’t come up with a better term yet) of one Matthew Craven over a year ago, and he found my post and called me that in the comments section. 2. I very sincerely am not trying to belittle any artists with this post. These are simply personal thoughts about a general landscape, and I want to recognize anyone whose work I posted here as talented and inspired. I included artists’ names under each image to give them credit. I didn’t post anything that I thought was purely awful or stupid.
That said, as an internet-nobody, I’m sick of all your talented, inspired, boring art, guys. It feels like everywhere I go in search of great art- ArtPadSF, blogsuponblogs, Vacation SF, and most recently- Little Paper Planes (they just opened up a very nice store in the Mission) I see the SAME damn stuff.
Why? Is it as simple as a confusion of art and design? Is the old-as-time dilemma of marketing and consumerism obstructing artistic license? I know that what sells, sells- whether it’s in a gallery or on a $30 t-shirt at Urban Outfitters. But when did Urban Outfitters become THE standard for what I see in art galleries and on art sites?
Recently, I was given an internet-recommendation. Someone pointed me in the direction of artist-run Mammoth and Company for discovering affordable works by up-and-coming artists. Do I even need to impart my reaction to this site? I mean, granted, some of the original art is very pretty and would look bomb hanging on my collage wall, but frankly, I’m about to fall asleep just browsing through their offerings.
No offense, designers, but I don’t want to go to art events and galleries and feel like I’ve somehow been tricked into attending an Etsy convention. I am by no means saying that the people who produce these works aren’t talented. Lord knows I couldn’t just whip up a geometric unicorn print without a good deal of struggle. But as an art enthusiast, it’s getting old. It’s annoying as a regular ol’ consumer too- I see the same design principles applied to “cool” jewelry, concert posters, clothes, album art- but I don’t really care as much about that; I expect sameness from the retail world. I do not, however, expect it from the “art” world.
“Well, you should stop going to small hipster-y galleries in the Tenderloin, and start frequenting legitimate fine art galleries.” But… “legitimate fine art galleries,” where every work is $10,000+, and all the employees are stuffy and old-school… that shit is terrible too. The way I see it, there is too wide a gap between these two types of contemporary galleries. And few people on either side are truly experimenting. When I stop into galleries in the Mission, I see a lot of re-hashing of pop art motifs and marketable colorful, geometric works. It makes me sad.
Unlike most of my general criticism of shit, this conversation is dangerous territory that makes me uncomfortable for one specific reason: I feel like I’m echoing the traditional gallery folks who, especially in the ’60s-’80s but even today to varying degrees, actively aimed to restrict what was considered “fine art.” Art critic Hilton Kramer dismissed Basquiat in the ’80s, saying that the only reason he was successful was because “liberals need to make a gesture.” Obviously a load of BS, right?
But am I a new-age Kramer? Should I rename this post “The Horrible Democratization of the Contemporary Art World,” and admit to being a pretentious traditionalist who can’t handle the way things are headed? I hope not. I don’t want to dismiss contemporary trends that MIGHT be totally visionary as “not art.” But I’m just really, really sick of this stuff. Sure, I have somewhat limited taste, but overall, I consider myself a huge fan of outsider and visionary art, much of which is rejected by museums and galleries all the time.
So, why is everyone so into brightly-colored “Native American-inspired” owl paintings? And adorable illustrations of faceless girls with kites? And triangles on top of space prints? Can you please all just take your work out of my face, and put on Society 6 or in a book by Chronicle, where it belongs?
I don’t want to end this on a “well, everything sucks” note. I know the exciting art is out there. How do I find it? What websites or galleries do I visit? Or am I looking at this the entirely wrong way?
I just want to be good at finding art that I like. With music, you’ve got mainstream lameness everywhere, but then you have places- labels, websites, zines, blogs, and radio shows that are a sure go-to to find the “the good music.” What are those places for innovative, underground art? Everywhere I look, the “underground” people are acting like the “mainstream” people.
My suggestion: Eric Kuns. His art is pretty good for my taste but better yet is his taste in other art and the blogs/artists he follows (mine, for only a day, good ones for long term). He has enough pretension to recognize real art and enough self awareness to see the shallowness of being important. He’s got a political thing which is a little buried. His work comes across as more emotional than confrontational so I’m not certain it’ll meet your tastes but who knows?!?
I’m into his early drawings. Nothing cute or hip about those, which is good.
That shows what I (don’t) know about your taste. I would have guessed it would be the other way around. Oh well! In any event, your points about the geometric combined with mythical are dead on. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s like serving a quiche with a ball point pen.
As for hipster, I must live in such a hipster world (just outside of Boulder, CO) that I can’t see it as something separate. Maybe that ignorance keeps me sane.
I am a collaborative artist based in the UK and there is a lot of empty art like this here too. I am bored to do death with ‘craft’, which seems to be everywhere. And for some of us seeing a lot of the same boring stuff(not just in how it looks but what it is about) spurs you on to make something different and your own. have a little hope. sometimes things have to hit rockbottom before they can get better.
Yes! I think you nailed it with “craft” and “empty art.” Not that I have anything against crafting- I love making collages and punk jackets and whatnot. It’s just annoying that craft and design is in all the galleries these days.
I’m into the collaborative approach, and btw, I love a lot of your art! Do you have a site where it’s all organized or do you just have the blog?
Yeah I think craft can be really great, and we often make collages as a way to develop ideas but its sad when you see it is not being used in an interesting way. I wish people would stop putting birds on everything!
Thanks for checking out our blog, I love yours!
We only have the blog really at the moment, (www.topiagould.wordpress.com) we like how it has a casualness to it. Though we hope to set up something more proper soon. There is some stuff here on on our friends little gallery website of a body of work. http://www.georgeandjorgen.com/Paddy_Gould_and_Roxy_Topia.html#artist=work
Matthew Craven’s comment strikes me as having been slightly immature. Calling someone a “judgemental prick” is a little bit harsh.
I haven’t actually been to an art gallery since I was twelve. My parents used to drag me to them all the time (which was boring at the time, but I’m grateful for it now), but public places scare me, so I’ve never gone to any since. I might as well be a redneck. 😛
I totally agree with what you’re saying. I’ve been thinking about stuff like this recently, though I find it difficult to actually explain what I mean properly without people misunderstanding. (I’m not a good talker. Then again, the people I’ve been trying to talk to aren’t very good listeners.) In future, I think I’ll just give people the link to this.
Aw thanks. It’s a really weird concept to try to articulate, especially as an art enthusiast.
I guess that stuff like this has so many shades of grey to it that it’s easy for people to be misinterpreted or whatever when they talk about it.
First of all, very good article. I agree about most things you say. However, I would not call that “contemporary art”. I’d rather go for “graphic design”, “illustration”…hmm I don’t know. I have graduated from a school of fine arts in France and I have to say that what is teached there is VERY different from drawing “cool” animals and galaxies and triangles. A lot of contemporary art centers are more encline to show sculpture, video or installations than drawings or craft. Or at least, the galleries selling this kind of art are closer to fashion, decoration shops, which is not really the purpose of contemporary art. But I guess it’s different according to where you live.
Anyway, I like to see that I’m not the only one fed up with this boring etsy/tumblr art. Even if there is talent in there, it’s anything but original and every of these artists seem to be copying each other… I’m curious to see when it all goes out of fashion, and what will replace it! I guess in 5 years they all will be obsessed with something else.