The Art of Art
In the rush to embrace the next trend, crown the next genius, and jump on the next bandwagon I think we forget that art is about you.
Or rather You.
Art is a lot of things, so many things that people get years of schooling just to tell others what is ‘good’ art and what is ‘bad’ art but in the end we forget that art is a totally subjective thing and it’s really about you/me/us. Art is powerful when it touches something in us, rouses something in us, makes us think or feel something more than we did before we encountered it. The art that moves us is our business and ours alone when rubber hits road. Sure, we need scholars and critics to let us know things about art we didn’t get on our initial encounter – relevance, meaning, technique, pedigree, importance to a time or movement, etc. – but it’s up to us to decide whether the art means something or not to us. The best thing getting a new opinion on a piece of art – painting, poem, piece of music, story, drawing, or whatever – is that it lets us see the work through new eyes and see if we perhaps missed something that will make the piece more meaningful to us. That’s pretty powerful to be able to do that and again, the real thing to credit is the art itself for having more to reveal.
Now there is certainly ‘high’ art and ‘low’ art because there is a difference between a painting someone took years to conceive and paint and a poem someone wrote on a napkin while at lunch BUT, ahem, BUT that doesn’t mean that those to pieces are not equally powerful, just that how they were created and what went into them was different. What matters in the end is that the work was made with passion and the rest is up to the person that comes into contact with it. I am the most amateur of painters, am self-taught, and I paint what I want to paint and what amuses me. I scoff at the notion of my paintings being ‘art’ but they are, and they are fine AS they are. They are not art meant for the masses, meant to teach, to expand, to tell a story and hang in hallowed halls. No, my paintings are meant for people that appreciate the weird and the silly, the strange and the odd. People that can appreciate that my passion is greater than my skill. And most certainly one of my silly paintings could conceivably touch someone more deeply than a Renoir well, I mean it’s CONCEIVABLE certainly, but let’s not get ridiculous.
Art has a bad tendency to become parody, imitation, and of late cash-cow. Too many times we are seeing stories of people co-opting the art or visions of others only to profit then fall on the old standard that they are just being persecuted for re-purposing art, or for being a maverick, or some other nonsense people make up. The passion that used to fill art, that used to inform and infect and invite seems contrived so many times. Sure, there is ‘commercial’ art, art made for the purpose of drawing in a sale of some sort, and that’s fine, fine because it can still be made passionately, but we’re seeing too much art become commoditized and too many looking to become the next sensation. Without that passion though art loses its power and connection. Art, all art, has value, even if it is simply to the person creating it. Not everyone will connect with everything, that’s the nature of art but who are we to dismiss and denigrate people for not creating art we connect with? There are plenty of things I don’t like but who am I to tell someone they are wrong for liking it? That’s nonsense. Yet…we do that all the time.
Maybe we all need to remember the street level artists of the world who are doing art because they have no choice. Who celebrate every small sale or notice. Maybe we need to remember when we were kids and we sang because we felt the music, wrote stories because the words spoke to us, and we drew because we wanted to put the worlds in our head into reality. Maybe we need to remember what it was like when we listened to ourselves to know what we liked. Maybe we need to remember what it was like to feel the passion first and the rest followed that drive.
Maybe we need to remind ourselves what art means.
Maybe we need to trust what we like and screw everyone else.
Maybe we need to let people do what they love and stop telling them they are awful at it.
Maybe we should be open to talking about what we love, why we love those things, and not feel the need to tell people they are wrong for loving what they do.
Love what you love and that’s all that matters.
The hope is that all our tastes will broaden, will be honed, and will pick up new flavors and interests over time but art is about what we feel and we really need to stop letting other people tell us what we feel. If people want to argue over artistic merit, value, importance, and meaning then let them. That stuff can be fun to get into from time to time. But when we de-value art and the passion of the artist and the appreciator well, then we forgot what art was all about to begin with, didn’t we.
Despite what bloggers may think blogs change very little. At best they make you think, or make you laugh, or show you something you didn’t know was out there. But it’s in those moments that the spark of an inferno lays.
Flint is a city notorious for its issues and it gets frustrating to see people focus on them and not the world being done by the people here to better the city. For someone like me, that lives here and has lived here for some time it gets upsetting to see that the work people do and want to do gets pushed aside by some glory hounds and wanna-bes that have the connections and gloss to get the press, the funding, and the attention that these others don’t. I am tired of seeing people granted money to do art shows for people who are not held out of traditional art shows and events. I am tired of seeing money funneled into groups that want to bring in and compensate outside artists before and above the local arts community we have here. I am tired of the same people doing the same shows over and over and over. For too long the arts establishment has stayed safe and not fostered the arts scene as they should and then you hear people decry the ‘brain drain’ when all of our young people leave the area. With little work being done to create jobs in the area and less being done to support the young and struggling artists it’s no wonder these people feel the need to leave.
I do art from time to time but I am no artist. I don’t focus on it enough and am terribly sketchy in my talent but that I was invited to do shows out of the city and was able to show my work in Detroit to any degree meant the world to me. Heck, selling art to strangers was amazing for my confidence and is the sort of reinforcement artists need. They don’t need people criticizing them for their style and for their lack of experience they need support and opportunity. It says something that there is a grant funded super arts group that focuses on press friendly art shows that tackle such great issues as POVERTY, HUNGER, um…STUFF with an emphasis on out of town artists when so many locals have felt the need to create their own collectives to encourage, support, and create together. My first foray into Flint’s arts scene was in such a group and that group has definitely influenced the arts in the city but they never were able to make real in-roads to changing the culture.
And the arts culture in Flint HAS to change.
Flint is a city struggling for a new identity and we have the things to create one – multiple colleges, lots of college students, a brilliantly conceived cultural center, a successful monthly Art Walk and young and established artists that are desperate to show their work. This is your identity. This is your key to retain young people and draw older folks into town for shows, for the city to capitalize on the assets that are here. There is a criminally under utilized waterfront performance space. There is an openness in the local businesses to work with artists. And by building off of the Art Walk there is an established and regular event that can used as a base to draw more people here for arts events. But there needs to be a change.
There needs to be more support for the smaller art shows, for the more unique events, and more work needs to be done to spread the funding around. Let organizations that have established themselves stand on their own and find their own funds and stop granting them the same money over and over because it’s safe and looks good. Stop rewarding mediocrity and hold grantees responsible for the money they take as well as the trust they lean so heavily on.
There is a divide in Flint that is growing by the day. A divide that is more than just money – though that is clearly a mammoth in the room – and it is between the people on the inside and those on the outside. Those on the inside keep getting the funding, the press, and the lights and those struggling to just survive and find their voices must beg, borrow, and all but steal show space and then have to decide if it’s worth remaining here if they have to fight so hard just to keep doing something that for them feels like the most natural thing in the world.
The arts cannot save a city but it can revitalize, reinvigorate, and renew a city’s people and can serve as part of a foundation that a future can be built upon. Look to Grand Rapids, Michigan if you doubt me. Art will not save Flint but it can give the city an opportunity to retain the very young people that it will rely on to repair the damage that has been done to the city over the past decades.
There is particular sort of hubris that comes from anyone bold enough to decide they are qualified to tell people the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ but it grows ever more vast when it becomes more than just a sort of sign-post opinion and is presented as a firm entitlement to tell people their tastes are lacking.
As someone who has reviewed movie for ages I have walked the line for a long time when it came to telling people about the movies I was watching. I have always tried to make it know that the movies I am reviewing are playing to my tastes and that I am reviewing it from that standpoint. I mean, people like different things and for different reasons and that’s what makes us all interesting. Even horror nerds can never agree on what it is we all like, but, again, those differences build the bedrock for what molds interesting discussions and impassioned arguments.
Everything has validity.
It’s not fair to look at the work of one person or a hundred and to dismiss it out of hand, even if the work is clearly awful. As a reviewer you just see some things that blow your mind that they were made. For me, it’s the level of passion that salvages a work though. Some things are not good, are bad, but at least they were made with passion but then there are things that are made to cash in on a trend and that just drives you crazy. But just because I think that the work is silly and derivative doesn’t mean everyone will. There is a customer, a consumer, an appreciator of everything.
But what is there a ‘bad’?
There is a bad but bad is subjective. As is good. The same person that loves Mozart may hate Whistler. The person that loves GWAR may love ballet. And at the core of things, at the center, who the heck said that anything is inherently ‘good’? There is a classism and snobbishness to the idea of dubbing things good and bad with the notion that things that were enjoyed initially by the wealthy are inherently good. The love of classical music does not make one any more cultured than a love of gangster rap makes one a deviant. The idea that there is a base of goodness from which to draw from, to use as the measuring sick is a farce and people need to understand that.
Because…there’s nothing, nothing that is by its nature universally good. Nor universally bad.
I get very frustrated when people have the gall to go on a crusade to save others from ‘bad art’, as if a degree in art history and an appreciation of obscure artists makes one cultured and enlightened. Any time someone wants to tell me what is ‘bad’ and what is ‘good’ I immediately smell pretension and self service and want to get far far away because there’s always a pitch and the pitch is always their opinion on what is ‘good’.
The wrongheadedness of such enlightenment is mind numbing. It’s like calling someone fat and telling them to put down the pie instead of helping them see how delicious the food that is better for them is. At its base, any time you tell someone what their opinion should be is presumptuous. If someone chooses to like this or that or whatever it’s their choice to make and it isn’t really our business to tell them otherwise.
There is always wiggle room.
I think what bothers me more than anything about the idea of ‘bad’ art is that people are taking a chance to truly enlighten and are using as a way to grandstand. You go in to broaden your horizon and get a lecture on art styles that do little to piqué your interest. Art is such a subjective thing that it’s a little silly to think there’s a one size fits all sort of taste meter.
So where do we start?
Why don’t we go about things with a new focus with less shaming on someone’s taste and more horizon growing of that taste. Not because what we like is better but because what we like is different and may be something THEY also like. I look at it this way – there are a lot of people who love the artwork of Thomas Kincaid. Mr. Kincaid’s work reached a level of pop fame and crossover appeal that made the general public fall in love and the art major cringe. So here’s the thing, instead of shaming someone for liking his art and mass-marketed art why not show how that art is similar to another artist, or other artists, and help to expand that person’s artistic palate. THAT needs to be the thrust of this conversation, not to shame or to speak ill of ANY sort of art. The hope of anyone that is well versed in something should be to help teach people some of the things they have learned. Education baby, not degree flaunting.
I think people forget that as a nation, as a people we are not the most educated in the arts. People would rather spend money too see a movie more than they to read a book. They’d rather buy a poster of a celebrity than they would a print of classic art. We need to not shame people for their tastes and their interests and work to help broaden those tastes. There’s room for the profane and the divine. There is room to like modern pop music and to love roots music. People don’t need to be shamed, to be lectured to about how bad what they like, or what they love is. Instead we should see if there’s room to teach them about what we love to see if they’ll love it also. We need to treat one another more like friends because a friend influences without judging, inspires without forcing, and accepts that sometimes our tastes are not always going to be compatible.
I suppose but that’s a little subjective, isn’t it, despite what degree gives you the self determination that your understanding and grasp of art is so rounded as to tell people their own appreciation is lacking. Perhaps we should focus less on how ‘bad’ things are and instead focus on how inspiring art in general is because every art, every artist goes through phases, and grows in skill, talent, and vision and to dismiss art, and its artists out of hand is unfair to the artist and those that may hold their art dear.
Hey, what do I know, I’m just someone who makes art. I sure as hell ain’t no artist.
It’s interesting how something can rile up so many feelings in yourself and others. I had posted elsewhere a status that I had tired of holding my tongue on the state of Flint’s ‘art scene’. It ended up getting a bit of response, some pro my thought and some con, but it made me realize that maybe this isn’t a topic I am done speaking about.
Or thinking about.
When I was a kid I loved to draw. I was never really very good but I was imaginative. For the release of my novel I collected all of old drawings, from around ten years old to now, in one binder, and I was shocked at how much I had kept and even more shocked to see patterns.
I went through a space battle phase, a cartoon phase, a zombie phase, a parody phase, a monster and death phase, and then there is a long dead period of about ten or more years (I think more) where I didn’t actively do anything, then it’s into the modern era where I just do weird and silly characters. Lately I paint more than draw but occasionally I will sketch something out, just because I still love it. Even though I am no good at it. Oh, I can sorta draw and sorta paint but on both I am self-taught and it shows.
Which may be why I love both so much.
I stopped doing art after a commercial art instructor told me I was no artist.
I had gotten into his class in a way he didn’t like – you were to be allowed in via your portfolio, I got in because I was in Special Ed., fair, no, but why get an attitude with me about it, not the most mature thing to do but, hey, that’s an aside – and he never felt I belonged there. And ya know, maybe I didn’t. But the thing is, I took the class seriously, and I did the assignments, and I did the best I could and honestly, the stuff wasn’t bad. I was leagues away from the best artists in there but it was commercial art, so it was about message and content, not how pretty your lines were. But when the class was ending he told me as part of my evaluation that I was no artist and his words stung me for a long, long time.
It was one thing not to have people fall all over themselves and your art, that’s just life, but to have someone actively tell you that essentially you’re no good is so much more, and at that point in my life it was like a dagger.
So I stopped drawing and focused on writing. So maybe what he did was set me on the path I needed to be on, though he didn’t do it on purpose, but I gave up art, save for random sketches here and there, for a very long time.
It was fifteen years after high school that I got back involved in the arts and fell in love with them all over again. A friend had joined a small arts organization called the Creative Alliance that had begun as a way for musicians to network and work together on shows and became, member by member, a group that embraced all the arts in Flint, and with my friend joining he wanted me to take a look at joining too. I was reluctant, quiet, and hung to the back but as more people came, and as the group grew, and as we worked together on events I began to feel at home and began to let my voice be heard. I became a member. And it was amazing. Surrounded by so much passion, it really pulled me back into wanting to do art again. There weren’t a lot of venues available to young artists and the three galleries that were open showed only member works or were juried in and it’s not the easiest thing to get a show or in a show at a gallery if you are still developing as an artist. The group, the core of it coming from a musical background, started booking shows at local bars, and it worked. It wasn’t idea, but it worked. The shows would many times include music at their core but would also add poets, sometimes authors, and would have some art on display. They were a mishmash of things but the shows worked and over time, this group of people who were doing this out of their own pockets, and from a place of wanting to just do shows the group made a place for itself in Flint and funders started to take notice. As long as I was with the group, which was around three years and change, we kick-started the big crafting group in town, helped create space for young artists among the established galleries, and created events that added to the culture of the city. And eventually, we became part of the arts status quo and were welcomed into the galleries we couldn’t get into before, if but for the occasional show during off months.
I loved those times.
I left when I realized that what I wanted to do, needed to do, wasn’t always going to jibe with what the group needed to do. I wanted to do more events with writing, and I wanted to work on my own events. But without that kickstart, without the Creative Alliance and the friendships I made and the inspiration I got from those people I wouldn’t have re-discovered art or my passion for it.
During this time, not long after the CA founded, an alternative gallery opened called Red Ink. Red Ink was an arts non-profit that began in San Francisco and was built around re-claiming unused property and turning it into a gallery for a couple years where artists would have space to show and to work and then after that short lease, after the building had been re-imagined, it would be sold. Some local artists and non-profit people got together and made a case for Red Ink to come here, to Flint, a city that could use that sort of space, and they got their wish, Red Ink came.
Red Ink was incredible. It was the right management at the right time and the right artists. You got to see artists that were here, in Flint, that had not found a place to show yet. They did shows that were things you felt you had to be at. And they helped a generation of artists become professionals. The short time we had Red Ink, they made a huge impact. Red Ink’s undoing was heartbreaking and it left a huge hole in the Flint arts community. The toll of inner turmoil had changed the venue and organization and a lot of the big plans that had been laid never saw fruition but it was such an incredible time and space. If there was a major negative I would offer that it was that at the openings of shows it allowed the artists to get a little full of themselves mad the shows sometimes felt as if it was about the artist and not the art. I honestly think that’s part of the arts culture though, whatever the discipline – you will always have people who their popularity, fame, or success goes to their heads. And honestly, never having had that issue, never having to deal with it, I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same.
Though I probably wouldn’t.
Red Ink returned, in a much smaller way, a time later but despite some amazing artists it wasn’t the same. The vibe was never the same. And in the end, that second incarnation was just as doomed.
In the middle of all this is where I began to really get involved in things. In ‘the scene’, though some would prefer such a name not be given. For me it’s easier to say ‘scene’ because, well, it was, and it is. Some people were part of it, active and involved, some weren’t, and worked independently or not at all, but there always was a sort of scene. But I wanted to go back, to how things started before I explained my part in them. When I got involved in the arts in Flint there wasn’t a lot happening. There were bands that played shows, there were artists that did their thing, and I am sure there were some poetry slams at the college but that was about it. If you wanted to see art you went to the galleries. If you wanted music you went to a bar or a venue. Without the work of the CA and the existence of Red Ink there was no indie arts scene. I am sure one would have developed, eventually, but there wasn’t one already there. These were the pioneers.
And if those organizations were the pioneers, I was part of the boom.
During this time my friends and I had started to go to art shows and alternative craft shows and other weird shows (I remember an underground ‘circus’ we went to that was pretty fun) and we started to make friends and some of us HAD friends that were part of those happenings. It really inspired us, going out there and seeing what people were doing. I remember sitting down with friends out in Detroit and talking about the kinds of shows WE’D all like to see. There was such vibrancy in Detroit, in where shows were happening, in what they were, and how they were being done, it was amazing to us. We had never been a part of or seen the big shows of other cities, just what Flint did, and it was like – we can do this, this can all be done IN FLINT! And it was so exciting. And it was exciting to hear how our friend was influenced by what the CA was doing to do her own shows in Detroit.
So we did some Detroit shows, craft and art and rummage shows set up in a bar, and we became inspired. We invited other area folks to come down for these and take part, because that was the thing for us – to get the Detroiters into Flint for shows and the Flint folks to Detroit. To get an ebb and flow where we all got inspired by one another and where we could show people how vibrant Flint was becoming.
Our first show happened by accident of sorts. Some friends and I were living in the upstairs of a building in downtown Flint and our landlord decided to do a sort of art show/garage sale on the unoccupied first floor during one of Flint’s Art walks. He referred to it as a ‘guerilla art show’. Fun name, amazing concept – take this unused space and fill it with artists for one night. We were inspired and asked him if we could take up that idea and use the space and he was thrilled.
We gathered together some other arty friends we’d made along the way and started reaching out to artists from Flint and from Detroit, and we pitched the idea. It was strange but people liked it. A lot. The first show was awkward but it worked out. We decided to do our shows during Art Walk, so we could get that foot traffic and add to that atmosphere, and we lucked out in that it snowed during our first show as ‘guerilla artists’ and because of that a DJ that had been booked for Flint’s yearly motorcycle show – Bikes on the Bricks – got freed up due to that lack of good weather so he volunteered to set up in our space and spin tunes. So in the back of the building we had a DJ and in the front we had a singer and we filled the place with art, with people, and with a show that hadn’t been done before. We embraced art, craft, music, and writing, all of it, and made it about the artists and not ourselves.
If the first show was a success, the second was astounding.
After the first show we really wanted to plan the second so a bunch of us got together and worked on the poster art for the show, on the strategy to promote it, and on who to invite. We wanted to stick with the mix of Flint and Detroit and elsewhere and wanted to keep it varied. And we wanted a lot of artists. A lot of stuff. We put a ton of work into the show, months of work, and we were thrilled to have it come.
Heck, even my folks came out to see it.
And what was special to me was we were getting people who had never shown before, didn’t like to show, or who had all but given up showing to participate. They were friends and trusted us, and trusted our vision and so they did it.
We never could have anticipated the outrage that the name ‘guerilla art show’ – something we used as a fun description of what we did, which was an unconventional show in borrowed space with unconventional artists – would stir. A local ‘indie’ paper had fashioned themselves as guerilla news and when people saw someone else using that word they immediately linked the paper and the show. Maybe we were naive to not see that happening, but maybe, just maybe the paper got a little upset over nothing. What happened was that several people, getting deeply offended that we used the word ‘guerilla’ in our name decided to protest us. They dressed as zombies, met up, and came in a flash mob to the show. Not a big deal, until they got out of hand. The place was packed. At least twenty artists, tons of art, and a LOT of people in there hanging out. It was a great atmosphere. We even had a DJ. The zombies came through, moaning, groaning, shuffling, and they they started throwing their newspaper at people, tossing them, I guess, as a zombie would. The papers hit people, hit art, and almost knocked over a candle a tarot reader had lit in a side room. I was at the front and didn’t realize what was going on as the zombies bumped into people and artwork and threw the paper around. I had thought it was obnoxious but funny at first but as I saw them exiting my attitude changed. I saw that they were being aggressive at our show and, as they were leaving one of them started to unfurl a banner on the ground inside the space. I saw this and became enraged and rolled the banner up, which was full of fake dollar bills and said something about how art shouldn’t be a product of sold or some such thing. Seeing me roll it up, the guy that had laid it down grabbed it from me and tried to unroll it again, and i went red line and unrolled a few things of my own, some choice curse words that couldn’t have been intelligible but were heartfelt nonetheless. He and I got into a very heated exchange and I threw the banner outside so he just went out there and unrolled it there and left this mess of fake money and this banner and ambled off.
They had done their job.
What we learned later was that this was something that had been planned, and coordinated, and in their minds justified. We were misusing a word and selling art when it shouldn’t be sold. Our contention was that they crashed something for Flint, for its artists, and which was meant as a positive. If artists chose to sell or show, that was their concern, not ours. We took no profit, made no money, took no donations, and were not charging for space. It was a free show. And for us, for me, to think that someone got so upset, so upset and didn’t approach us about their concerns or thoughts and did this, I am shocked and I was ashamed for Flint.
We were outraged, the people we’d set the show up with were outraged, and many of the artists were outraged. This outrage bubbled and grew as the days went on and created a very lively debate in art classes at our local community college. It got so intense that I had to take part of a day off of work to go to the school to present our side about what happened. The audacity that someone protested us, an art show, and then wanted to have some sort of referendum was outrageous. And so was this referendum. It amounted to a lot of – uh, yeah, someone else wanted to do the zombie part and we wanted to take papers around so we worked together, but we didn’t do nothin’ bad – crap from the indie newspaper, and a written diatribe about how wrong we were in the use of guerilla and on and on that had to be read because the person who wrote it was working…or a coward. Whatever.
I have never been so angry, so blindly angry than at this time. Suddenly we didn’t know if we wanted to do shows anymore. Would we be protested? Was it worth the trouble? This was supposed to be fun.
It wasn’t fun anymore.
The indie paper folded, the seasons changed, and we decided we didn’t want to stop doing something we loved. So we did more shows, smaller, simpler, but still trying to bring people together from near and far and to help people who weren’t doing a lot of shows, or any, get their work out there. And we impacted the art scene. We had created an alternative venue that would pop up from time to time with shows and other people started doing similar things, setting up shows at other local places to add even more to the Art Walk. The Art Walk had been established years earlier by the Greater Flint Arts Council and was their way to link the galleries downtown and to get people out to all of them for show openings. After many years of it just being the galleries though other people, like the CA, and us, started to use that same night for alternative shows and the GFAC was happy to have everyone joining it. The more the merrier was truly how it was.
It was a great time.
Things came to a crashing halt when plans for what would have been our biggest show, and woulda been something to see, fell apart. There were disagreements, there were arguments, and in the end friendships were fractured and the shows stopped and that was that.
It just wasn’t fun anymore.
And it was only through time, and getting over things that in the end weren’t important that the friendships were saved. But the shows how they’d been, those were gone.
And that was that. Only, it wasn’t.
It took some time but the bug was still in me. I loved doing the shows. I loved being involved. Reluctantly, very, very reluctantly I started to plan shows without the people I had started with. Small, but with the same idea behind them – fun, free shows that were about the art and the artists. I was happy as a clam not to be seen as being involved. I wasn’t in it for that. I want recognition for my writing, not for events. The writing is mine, and just mine, so that’s what I want to be known for, the rest was just something I liked to do. So we started doing shows again, me and other friends, and we loved it. The faces changed, and the venue changed, but we loved it.
With the fracturing of the initial group though it created a void that was filled and so other people started booking space in 625 and doing shows there. And I was bitter, bitter because these people had an attitude that we were sloppy and didn’t do things right and they were doing it better, and they said as much. And it drove me crazy that we did so much work and never got a drop of ink written about the shows but these people came in and were constantly in the paper. And it bittered me on a lot. The shows we had been doing were intentionally meant to not have people know who we were but these shows were inherently about the people putting them on. They were in every show, and they were front and center and it drove me crazy.
And I am jerk for that I guess.
And I needed to get over it.
But as bitter as I was, it didn’t stop me.
I just changed what I was doing.
I began doing Punk Rock Rummage Sales.
Over the years we had seen people take the things we were doing and do it themselves, in some cases better, in others just…differently, but I had soured on those kinds of shows and wanted to change things so I took a page from our friends in Detroit and we (and I mean ‘we’ since I can’t do these things alone, there are always friends that help and supporters there somewhere, so it was always a ‘we’) started doing rummage and art shows at a local bar. This was far from ground breaking but it was new to the area and it was fun.
And people liked it.
They looked forward to it.
The idea was to bring the art show to a rummage show, and bring together weird stuff, fun stuff, and fun people with some music and libations to keep people happy. And it wasn’t, to quote a local character ‘rocket scientry’ but it was fun and it was something different. The idea was to keep things evolving.
And I have watched the art scene shift and change, have seen artists come and go, and have seen the factions and the friction, and all of it over the past several years. I have said and done some ridiculous things and have heard the same sort of craziness from others. I have been influenced and have been jaded and it’s all part of this big, crazy tapestry we have here.
I was still doing shows this year, did a rummage sale, and put together a book release for my novel and a friend’s books, and helped plan a dark art show, so I am still involved, I am just not AS involved. And part of it is bitterness. Especially as I see now that 625, the place that inspired me and helped create me, and so many events, and laid the groundwork for the Flint Horror Convention, has closed as a venue due to the selfishness of some artists.
And that is what changed, for me.
The scene changed, because it IS a scene. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s not a negative, but it’s the collective artists, they have changed. I haven’t changed with them. I still love shows, love the arts, and admire any artist that keeps doing it. Because artists DO have to find ways to re-invent themselves and what they do. They need to find ways to get themselves and their art out there. Witness the popularity of ‘street’ art. My problem though is that some of us old guard have changed, as organizations have waned, and as people have moved on it has changed the culture.
We made it commonplace to do bar shows here.
We made it commonplace to do shows in any space we could find.
We made it cool to bring art and craft together and mix it all up.
We that were here so many years ago to re-write the arts in the city.
We were the ones that broke the mold.
And by ‘we’ I mean a LOT of people. A lot of people that worked to get the permissions, to get the minds changed, and to change the culture as it was here.
I am removed from the scene now because it’s become so much about the promoter, about the party, about the scene and not about the art or artists. Oh, there is still art, there are still artists but it’s not a community. It’s not working together. It’s factions. It’s entitlement.
It’s ‘I am an ARTIST, so, whatever, you won’t understand.’
But I do.
We all do.
We understand because we were there years ago.
I hate that artists don’t take breaks from shows locally. They are always doing shows, always bigger than life, always in your face. And does it work, does it make more sales or grow the art? Does it? Or are you only selling to yourself and your friends? Are you engaging new artists? Are you fostering young artists? Are you getting out of the area?
Are you doing it yourself?
It is about changing things up. About creating something new. And that is happening, but it is all so fractured.
So many factions all working to make sure they get the attention. HEY, HEY, HEY LOOK AT US! Bigger, louder, more garish. Art that doesn’t involve local artists, or that doesn’t reflect anything but a need for attention.
LOOK AT ME!
No one is working together. They are working in opposition because you don’t wanna lose that ‘cool’, you don’t want to lose the attention…you don’t want to lose the funding.
And it all feels sad, and loud, and…wrong. I don’t feel as if I am going to art shows but parties where there’s art and artists. I loved our guerilla shows because they WERE so stripped down. They were so un-gallery.
It all feels obnoxious and planned.
And it’s sad because there is SO MUCH talent here, and so many people to do want to work together, and with people, and want just to get their art out there but the venues have shrunk now, the opportunities are shrinking, and it’s all becoming a clique.
And I hope I am wrong.
I hope I am the bitter old guy who is just overreacting to a scene, and a scenery change that – to an evolution of the scene and I am just so far removed that I have literally lost touch. That’s a sad thought but it is probably the truth. Art will survive. The artists will survive. It’s just hard not to be sad to see how much has changed in these few years and not all of it for the better. When someone doesn’t have the common sense not to screw things up for the artists coming after them, when their actions lose you a space – which has happened before, and again, and will ever happen I am afraid – it worries me.
Because in the end, if we don’t look out for one another to some degree, we artists of Flint, Michigan, then who the hell is gonna look out for us? In the end it isn’t about the parties, about the money, about the scene but about the art and the people behind it, who are just trying to say something…even if it’s nothing at all. There has to be cooperation, even as we work for our own gains, our own goals, there has to be cooperation. Filmmakers, and painters, and sculptors, and writers, and dancers, and poets, and musicians, and singers, and people who draw, and crafters and EVERYONE has to work together to make sure that everyone has a chance. That this rises about the artist, to a sense of community, to a sense that you may succeed personally but without passing that torch, without helping someone else you aren’t growing. That is what is missing. That is what worries me.
That we are becoming a city of All About The Me where the artist is a clown on a stage, a commodity, a actor playing at artiste, and the sense of togetherness, of working to make things easier, and better is fading. Sure, people will work together…with friends, but how many will work with strangers…or ‘enemies’ because it’s the right thing to do?
How many are willing to step away from the mic and give someone else a moment on stage?
Consider this my exercise in nothing, and my testament to everything.
My personal history for a scene that may not even exist and the very small part I played in things.
The story of a writer who became an artist, who had something to say.