Thursday, October 3, 2013

Towards A Modern Arcanum

If I ever have a show, I think that's the title I want.

I noticed in the paper that Silk Road has been raided and the proprietor busted. Eh, well, it might all have been a government honeypot, but if not, then the guy, brilliant as we are told, was an idiot, and a seriously compartmentalized retarded idiot to boot. I'm seeing a lot more of this behavior lately. It might be anecdotal, or it might the cumulative effects of radioactive fallout or hormone-mimicking toxic chemicals, but it sure seems like this behavior is reaching endemic proportions. One symptom (or cause) is an embrace of Rothbardian libertarianism or Austrian economic pseudo-philosophy. But, that's not new, many people can do truly awful things if they can rationalize it with a higher calling. So, I guess that justifies all the Breaking Bad behavior. Honestly, can you show me a better example of compartmentalized retardation?

But that's not what I want to talk about.

Dig this Ross William Ulbricht question on Stack Overflow:
"How can I connect to a Tor hidden service using curl in php?"
Now, when I read that, I'm not ashamed to say I felt a little thrill of fear course through me. Not because of the import of the question, or the knowledge that these computerized innertubie things have hidden agents of every stripe and flavor spying on me, or that I am reliant on something with zero knowledge of how it works. None of that scares me, since I don't know how half of the modern web of technology works, or that privacy is an illusory modern concept, which, through the use of all the cultural and social tools I tacitly accept said loss of illusion, or that I am basically reliant on people I don't even know or would trust if I did. No, what scared me was that I kind of knew what the question was about. But only kind of.

If you have knowledge of something, if you understand it, it ain't scary. On the other end, if you have no knowledge, how can you be scared of it? It's only that partial knowledge, the half-understanding, the... twilight zone... of partial comprehension and recognized clues, that delicious area that writers and storytellers have used for generations, that is scary.

But again, that's not what I want to talk about, but we're getting closer.

I considered, at the suggestion of a colleague, pursuing an MFA. Looking at the various entrance requirements at various institutions of higher learning, all had some form of request for a statement of purpose, usually in the 1000 word range. Basically, they want an fuller explanation and expansion of an artist's statement.

Oh, well, fuck that.

Here's my latest artist statement:
"There really isn't any profound or meaningful thing I am trying to say through my art. Any associations or implications are mostly post hoc justifications. Honestly, I'm just trying to make cool-looking stuff."
A cop out? ...maybe. Actually, though, a 1000 word essay of what it is I'm trying to do would be an interesting exercise, and maybe I'll try it. But before I can do that, I suppose I have to do some introspection as to the purpose and direction of my work. And I think it is working on recreating some permutation of that thrill of fear I mentioned earlier that drives my work. In other words, as I told nephew, who aspires to be an artist, "Work on stuff that makes you uncomfortable". Solid advice for any field, don't you think?

So, what are they working around that requires this stuff?
So, really what am I happily uncomfortable about when I make my stuff? Well, I think it's about people. People creep me out. They creep me out because the exhibit intelligent behaviors, but also beastually stupid ones. People are monsters. That seems to solve why people creep me out, but it's still a mystery. Otherwise I wouldn't be fascinated, would I? And when machines become complex enough to be called life, and develop enough of a personality to become people (and I see no reason why they won't), then cyber beasts and creatures will enter the mystery This whole ugly/pretty smart/stupid paradox is fueling things, and probably has since I was first able to draw. They're monsters. They're people. They're artificial people. They're natural monsters. They're the consequence of epigenesis. They are mysterious, dangerous forces.

They're all the things that make speculative fiction and illustration worthwhile, and the stories and pictures you can tell and draw about them is a modern alchemy, a modern arcanum, and people would be wise to wear appropriate protective gear when working around them, not only with the cyber critters, but the... zookeepers and livestock managers that tend to them... and thus my fascination.

It's all fantasy, but taken from real life. And wouldn't you know, did you really think I'd write 1,000 word essay without getting lost along the way?


  1. a mighty fine random walk indeed...,

  2. Curious? What do you think draws people to 'ugly art'?

    1. Two answers. The first one, the high end art market, is easy. That's all about commodities, valued determined by market makers (collectors, big name gallery owners, etc.) looking to flip that house, hand off that hot potato while it is hot. (It is, BTW, a terrible investment in fast to medium monies, slightly better in slow monies). In such a market, branding weighs substantially more heavily than aesthetics. For the rest of the market, it really is more idiosyncratic and personal. Someone may like Boston terriers, yet hate similar looking cats, like the Cornish rex. (Explain brandings, piercings and ugly tattoos, collecting troll dolls, the old cabinet of curiosities, murderabilia). Aside from that, I think the attraction there is that there is at least one attractive element within that offsets the rest of the ugly, which would suggest a holism is involved.

  3. Long ago I read about a study on creativity. They found that in order for creativity to flourish, a person has to achieve a balance between challenge and gratification in the process of making something. It can't be too easy -- then it's boring to make it -- and it can't be too difficult -- then it's just frustrating -- so it has to be hard enough to make it gratifying to do it but easy enough to make the process pleasurable enough to proceed.

    I've never thought about making art that makes ME uncomfortable. Difficult for me to do it so it looks good to me, yes.

    But more to the point, I LOVE that sculpture.

    1. The myth of the starving artist, that suffering is good for the soul, is all crap. If you are suffering, you can't do anything. let alone anything creative. Clearly, play is the best way to go, and yes, challenging play. But I think, even though I say there's no meaning, clearly there must be some kind existential discomfort, or it wouldn't be worth exploring. And thanks! I am making more of these figures.

  4. Maybe we're talking about the same thing, only I'm saying "challenge" where you say "discomfort". I must admit the discomfort I like best in my art (and I mean "uncomfortable" type of discomfort here) is when it makes the targets of my political stuff feel discomfort. How much I've treasured the "You're a psycho! You're a sicko!" comments I've gotten on my satires!

    But back to real art: How big are the figures? They're extraordinary, so full of life, a really hard thing to achieve I think since they have no faces, but each has so much personality and vigor.

    1. Yeah, I think so. Of course, there is the distinction of improving skills versus confronting demons. No reason you can't do both! So, anyways, the figures are about a foot tall. The story behind them was, when I first started making figures, I was good at anatomy, gesture, posture, drapery, hands and feet... not so good at those tiny faces. In fact, rendering on the faces were just awful. painfully awkward. The solution was to put stylized welder's masks on them. And then I spent a lot of time making 1/8 scale busts, so I could get the face down. Faces are hard! And it's easy to get out of shape in making them. Now, after a year away, it's like starting all over again.