Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Art School Flash Back
I recently got the DVD of Art School Confidential (2006) and was struck by the unchangingness of the beginning of the film. Set in the present day, it could easily have been 1974. It reminded me of a litany of flipped out self-indulgent students and pretentious unfathomable teachers. The film could cause you to think that art school hasn’t changed in a generation. This, of course, is not the case, which made me think it should have been set in the past to play up the 70’s film genre ala Dazed and Confused. The reason the movie – it is very funny – catches the 70’s vibe so well is that the writer Daniel Clowes – best known for the graphic novel, Ghost World – was born in 1961. The odd part is that some of the parody in the film is accurate and perhaps unchanging, while the current art world – equally ripe for lampooning – is a little different. The film is peppered with up-to-date art school dialogue which certainly wasn’t used in my day. There was no contextualizing anything and no one read Barthe. We were smart enough to suspect the futility in what nearly all of us were doing. This would change quickly as Punk and New Image were about to break. Unbeknownst to me, there was Jenny Holzer graduating a year ahead at RISD. How did she know what she knew then? Different and inspiring teachers or artist parents? In those days, the leaning was towards the cosmic rather than the well-read Marxist and teachers more often had a discreet pony tail than not. One was lead to believe that there was this mysterious process in becoming an artist that involved something akin to primal screaming when many just wanted to learn how to use a brush. These were days where minimal art flourished along with myriad strange performance arts if you had the guts. David Sedaris caught some of these moments very well in his stories (Me Talk Pretty One Day) about his school experience, involving how much speed he was on. Basically, there was an overblown sense of importance to the work and to the individuals making it. That part was hard to take seriously and was often mediated with vast amounts of alcohol and drugs. It was the mid-seventies after all. If I’d gone to art school a little later I might have latched on to the New Image trend which I caught at the end of the decade. After a few years bumming aroundI became an MFA at Syracuse made attaptes to update. By this time music was as important to me as painting and it seemed appropriate at the time. I graffitied the whole MFA hallway with images of skin heads (hard core-bands) ala Picasso. Can I tell you it was fun? This was an incredible sea change and many professors were caught unawares. They were still smoking pipes and going on about Pollock and On the Road. I remember the day in 1983 when reknown critic, Clement Greenberg showed up to preside over a crit. I should have gotten his autograph. He called my little oil painting muddy. He was correct but it was a funny picture of a punk rock band as well. I continued making that sort of work until the late Eighties and ran out of steam. I remember being told – when I finally got the opportunty to show in a gallery in New York – how New Image was out. My life had either just begun or was coming to a complete halt. Shall we talk about Basquiat next? He died that very year.