Friday, October 31, 2014

Not all "art" is art.

Photo from the internet, general web source, depicting one of the faces.

What is art? Sorry, not even going to attempt to tackle that one in a few paragraphs, but I can tell you one thing I feel it is not….vandalism performed under the blanket heading of “art” made by a self-proclaimed “artist”.  Yes, one of the major foundations of art is to evoke a response from those who encounter it. Social media has reared its head again in helping to promote the work of a vandal, identity yet unknown,** thereby giving more attention and validation to her act of crime, as people express their outrage over her actions. But hey, she is making “art” right?, so we have to leave it alone and accept it….right?  Sometimes, even though it may not be PC, we have to take a stand and say no, you are just a jerk, and a criminal one at that….at least in my opinion.

This “art” was brought to my attention by a small article in a local paper last Friday. It was from the AP about a situation in Salt Lake City, Utah. I am going to quote the article here so all you legal eagles out there, no author is listed…

“A series of colorful, eerie faces painted on rocks in some of the West’s most famously picturesque landscapes has sparked an investigation by the National Park Service and a furor online.     Agents so far have confirmed the images in Yosemite and four other national parks in California, Utah and Oregon. Park Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson said the vandalism could lead to felony charges for the person responsible. [I hope so, tax dollars well spent!]     The images appear to come from a New York state woman traveling across the West this summer and documenting her work [her work???] on Instagram and Tumblr, said Casey Schreiner of, whose blog post tipped off authorities. [Find it hard to believe nobody saw this person painting on the rocks, or were too timid to say something which I can understand in this day and age…but nobody took her picture…even in the background of a family photo?]      The investigation is the subject of well-trafficked threads on the website Reddit, where people railed against the drawings [does that description throw the blanket of art over her rights?] as the defacing of the irreplaceable natural landscapes.     ‘You’re seeing this emotional response of people who feel like they’ve been kicked in the gut,’ Schreiner said.”     End of published story.

At least 10 images have been found in Bryce Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands national parks and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Okay lady who did this….what the hell? What was your point? Frankly, I would consider you so untalented that you had to draw on the rocks rather than paint a picture (or photograph them) and then put your drawings on your own creation. Leave God’s creations alone! Who gives you the right to infringe on my right to enjoy the wonders of nature without your handiwork attached? In this crazy mixed up litigious world of ours, if you had fallen off the rocks and died while performing your little art act of vandalism, I bet your family would sue the US park service because no sign was posted that said “thou shalt not paint colorful faces on natural (and national) treasures.”  Can the rocks be cleaned and returned to their natural beauty? Who knows….God will decide what to do when the time comes.

**Latest updates to the story are that the 21 year old woman has been located and gone into hiding for her own protection. She feels “remorseful” for what she has done. Hmmm…no longer calling it “art” when the tide is against you? Yes there are those defenders posting out there that say it is art and she has rights blah blah blah , but we have rights too and I hope for once the majority actually wins. If you wish to read more or stay up to date on the story, just google “national park vandalism” and multiple sites will appear.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Spreading the Word…”Out of Print” by Pam Neff


The Little Art Gallery in North Canton is currently showcasing the creative genius of artist Pam Neff. “Out of Print” : An Upcycled Exploration of Books and Text into Configurations of Fine Art is the full title of this solo show that fills the gallery side to side, top to bottom and right down the middle with one of a kind pieces that will entertain and enlighten the viewer on multiple levels.

62 individual pieces are on exhibit with several of them arranged in groups that seem natural to have to purchase all of them, and the red dots were numerous. Some works are made of multiple units that are all one work, therefore one must take the time to read the titles and tags to fully appreciate each piece as it is meant to be seen. And to NOT take the time to read the titles (in a show based on books and texts) would be a shame. So much intellectual creativity is hidden within them…..which is just one more layer of this show. It is well documented that to really appreciate subtle humor, one must be fairly intelligent. So goes our first layer….society associates “smarts” with books…bookworms and nerdy types are depicted with their noses in scholarly documents, always reading… Neff has played upon this stereotype through her use of titles, imagery and materials…and sometimes even form, to relay her message. A viewer can look at the creations as simply artwork on a wall or they can truly read into each one the volume of information found within their reconfiguration. She challenges us to think.

Overall, the gallery is a visual collage of creams, blacks, and beiges, awash in double entendre and no matter what direction one turns, assaulted by parody, satire and textural text.  Some works such as “Tom Swift and his House on Wheels” (which is a book), is mounted on wheels, the concept is simple, the presentation straight forward, and funny.  So too are “Facebook”, “Rock Paper Scissors” and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”. Other works require some effort to truly appreciate their meanings such as “Weapons of Mass Creation”.  Featured on the cover of the gallery program, this piece is one of her most compelling. With the title in mind, view the piece overall, it is a fish, a Christian symbol, but stand back a bit and one can see an angel as well. Above her head or its tail, is the word “prologue” meaning before or in the beginning….. do I really need to visually spell this out for you? (Yes, that was intentional).

Before I forget, the reason I chose “Spreading the Word” as my title is not so you all go out and tell others to see this show, but it would be the title I would have given her “Push Broom” piece propped in the corner. The handle of a broom has been inserted into a converted dictionary whose pages have been cut and fluffed into bristles. As soon as I saw it, my title clicked and that was all she wrote, I was out the door. Only three works are untitled, all the same type of folded paper manipulation but in three different sizes, hung together, and sold separately. I am calling them the “Mums” because the intricate curvilinear folds look like the petals of a mum plant and also because…..Ha!! “Mums the word” as the saying goes….  I just can’t allow any untitled pieces, especially in a show based on books….ever see an untitled book?

The dictionary pages were quite popular and selling fast. I bought one too after debating and changing my mind several times over which one. The pages are A through F of a dictionary with an image on each one that is of that letter…case in point, I bought “Art” whose pictorial image is of a painter’s pallet. Originally I was set on “Brushes” until I viewed the works from across the room….how could I have missed it the first time? I had to buy “Art” because it is a work of art, about “art”…and I know it is art because it says so right on the picture…so it must really be ‘art” right? This way nobody can ever accuse me of not buying art…because I bought “Art”.   See what I mean about Neff’s depth of though? Other dictionary pages feature collage images for letters R, T and P.

If you have been to her gallery space at 2nd April Galerie in the arts district, you would have seen her pieces featuring the small scale wooden artist’s manikins. The titles are witty such as “In the Middle of a Good Book” and “A Real Page Turner” but so too is there an underlying innuendo…books are made of paper, paper comes from wood, wood comes from trees and the little guys interacting with these books are made of wood….you do the mental gymnastics on that one.

A few pieces to mention for their obvious attention grabbing structure are “Out of Circulation”, a wheel of old paperback books large enough for a person to pass through and “Statue”, an absolutely gorgeous dress-like (hmmmm…..) creation that plays upon the idea of memories and dreams (and play). The exhibition as a whole must have been a challenge to install so that each piece could be featured in the best possible light (because there are actual lights [lamps] in this show too).

Neff has even made a series of bookmarks, free (one each please) for the taking. I can only imagine what else her right side would have envisioned if she knew I have several old typesetter drawers sitting in storage….I wonder what type of work she could make with them.

Time to put this chapter to bed and end the story here…..   Rarely do I end a blog with a recommendation of a show being a “must see” but this is one of those times….and it is a “must read” as well. Take the time to appreciate her genius, and I don’t use that word lightly either. Skimming through to the end or just looking over the cliff notes of the program will short change you on an enriching engagement with the written word.

October 16 – November 9, 2014
North Canton Little Art Gallery in the North Canton Library
10am – 8pm Mon - Thursday
9am – 5pm Saturday

1pm – 5pm Sunday

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Stark County Artists Exhibition 2014

Mother and Child: Forgotten
Housekeeping first, full disclosure, I have a piece in the show. It is a photograph. I have lamented in the past that this show should consider separating photo and digital works from other media to create two shows. If anyone had listened to me, I would not be in the show. Crow is so delicious this time of year.

Second bit of housekeeping, a reminder that this blog is my opinion and in no way a formal or solicited review of the show, or any show, I happen to write about. Considering my low number of blog views, I needn't worry that anyone will really find this essay anyway.

Third bit of housekeeping, I have to mention the renovations done at the MassMu. The place looks fresh and modern and more fitting for a museum of their caliber! Nice job whoever worked on that project.  Painting the walls a dark grey in the main exhibition space was a great choice though I wonder if it was done specifically for the works in this show or just by luck of the cycle of exhibitions. Why? Because the overall selected works, the show as a whole, appears at first impression to be chosen to enhance the walls so the space is cohesive and mellow. Thank goodness there is no papier mache or bubble wrap this time! But so too is there no “wow” in the room. No one seemed drawn to any particular work or corner or space on opening night.  It was all just “there”.

If I were new to the area and walked into the Museum, glancing into the main gallery, I would think I am seeing a permanent collection room. This year’s show is….let me read my notes….bland, overly cohesive, flat and repetitive. And I have not even walked very far into the room. I see lots of red-orange, teal, cream and black and white art on the walls. Let me repeat…on the walls.  Besides one free standing table on the upper level with some small figurative pieces, the space is empty. The one and only in –the-round sculpture is tucked into a corner along with a dimensional paper installation. Perhaps that is how the artist wanted it seen. As viewers, we are not given that information. Only one other piece (hung on a wall) besides these two offers any interesting shadow play. The majority of the work is approximately the same size with the largest in the room being the best in show. The show feels sparse due the 20 or so less works accepted in this year. I miss the use of middle space.  I miss color! No greens, hot pinks, purples, metallics…..just very (dare I say…matchy matchy?). Even the ceramics are for the most part hung on the wall. Margene May has the one and only entry in the fibers arena.

In recent shows around the area, I have noticed a trend in how pieces are being submitted for jury. When only one work is allowed to be entered, some artists are grouping their works into “one” unit and classifying them as a diptych or a triptych or something even greater than that-tych, hung as a group of separate (and even separately signed---dead giveaway)  pieces to be judged as one work. This allows the artist to get more work in front of the public and perhaps more weight to the jury. (Not done in this show.) The second trend I see is the exact opposite, to separate pieces which should really be considered as one unit. The weight of the individual creations as a statement is far greater when seen as “one” work then as several solitary ones. By submitting all of them as singles, the number of pieces that may get accepted is far greater and weights heavier on the CV of the artist. Which leads to a third and perhaps a rhetorical or ethical or just plain confusing question. I will try and ask it as simply as possible….but it does come across as one of those dreaded story problems of our youth so please bear with me….

Artist A has three pieces in the show. Artist B has two in the show. Artists C – Z have only one each. Logic would dictate that works A1, A2 and A3 are equally as excellent with each other and superior to a C2 or a C3 and so forth for C – Z.  So too would logic then be that A2 and A3 as well as B2 should all win an award because none would be worse than C1, D1, E1 and down the line. Yet….C1 and D1 also win an award. Therefore, C1 and D1 are better (by the juror’s own opinion) than A2 and A3. So why add them to the show when they are not really “as good”? Any number of reasons could be provided…I will let you come up with them. I am just asking the question for consideration. I am not saying I agree or disagree with any choices, just wondering as to why fill the room with pieces by the same artist rather than works by others. All the award winners this year have multiple works accepted, four of the six having all three entries juried in. Interpret that as you wish. One cannot tell me that some very talented and gifted artists were not included because they had not one thing to submit. (I know, I hear the whispers.) Why the overall cohesion of visual and physical aspects of the show? Yes, we are dealing with a group jury situation so each one gets to weigh in and outweigh as they desire, which allows for the inevitable clunker or two to slip past, and there are a few this time around….again.  At least a clunker can be differentiated. Some of the pieces look so much alike from the doorway that one cannot tell they are by different people. Why is that?  Is originality and creativity starting to wane as more and more access to the imagery of others dilutes the process? Was it this elusive specter of visual unity dominating the selection process? Again, I don’t have answers. I don’t offer any either, although I have theories and opinions (as do some of you who stage whisper).  Perhaps Herr Professor, modern art really does suck.

I do want to mention a few pieces in particular. “Waves” by Lindsey Bryan, a paper work constructed into a corner, is a contemporary twist on a classic Japanese woodblock print. I found it clever and creative. The scotch tape however did detract from the overall piece and I was not sure why it was used. The spotlights bounced off of the tape and called my attention away from the intricate cuts of the paper. Michael Barath’s “Phoenix”, a digital double exposure of visual mastery was overlooked yet again. His was the only piece that really reached out from across room, requiring a closer look at the complex edges and forms contained within the format.  

But yes, my photograph is included, thank you for that. I can see why my other two entries would not have made it past a first round. I was pleased to see new works and styles by unfamiliar names (to me anyway), good to keep the talent pool fresh and growing. (Bullach, Bryan, Wadsworth, Stoddard) I was pleased to see familiar names with something new to show, good to keep the talent pool stocked and reproducing.  (Kribbs, Wachunas, Waalkes, Bogdan) The smaller number of pieces included did make for a less crowded exhibition space and perhaps a bit more “professional” in appearance, but this is Ohio. This is Stark County. This is one of only a few shows in the area where we compete against each other exclusively. It forces us to keep working, to try new things, to see what each other is doing and who is “better” this time. This is football country with a sports crazy mentality that lives and breathes competition. This is “our” big game.  This is where we see what each other has done in the off season.  Some major shows will accept only one piece by any artist no matter how many are submitted. It will be your best of those entries. Not filler, not matchy-matchy, not whatever, which leads to a level playing field of choices as to who makes the playoffs and who goes back on the bench until next year. If none of them make the cut, then we work harder. We try again year after year after year to be on the field. Sometimes we get picked for the game and sometimes we just go home, but nobody in the neighborhood is happy when one kid’s siblings all get to play and they can’t even catch the ball.

Congratulations to the winners for sure. A polar bear is kicking butt in tiger town in this dog eat dog business we are in. Hmmm….that sentence had three “in”s in it…I bet that violates some grammatical rule somewhere.

So overall, it is a “nice” show. Not a “wow” though. It feels serene rather than energizing.  not one to cause pause and wonder how something was done. Are there some standout pieces in my opinion, absolutely, but a really great show is downstairs in Studio M.  

Saturday, October 4, 2014

And the answer is....

Last night was the official opening of Snarky Art…the studio and I wanted to try an experiment. Posted outside my door was a 4 x 4 foot chalkboard on an easel. A question was written at the top and lots of lines drawn on it for people to add their answers. Granted, being a “new”, and to some, intimidating, request to participate, the answers were good ones. I hope to expand on this concept to “leave your mark” as I grow into this new adventure and space or my own. Yes folks, the brain is firing on all cylinders and that can be a scary thing at times.

A slight digression (what would a snarky blog be without one?), I eventually want to respond to the Artwach observations about the state of the arts as we share many of the same questions. I saw a different side of the demographic last night and witnessed a flow of traffic directed by orange cones of our own humanity. Interesting. And it was raining which added even another layer to the cake walk.

Okay, back to the board. The question was…”I think art should be…….”  Besides the variety of handwriting (someone even asked if it was okay to use cursive) we had one clear winner in the concept category. Written in the blank spot without lines (I got tired of drawing lines) was the answer “not confined to lines “, well played my anonymous friend, you win. The other 24 responses we did get are as follows below. The fact that people were asked to write something on chalk on an old school green chalkboard surface was the first obstacle to overcome. There was a hesitancy to participate as if the leaving of one’s own mark in an art setting was not to be done unless one is an artist. I have ideas to change that point of view in the coming months. One must conspire with their partners in creative crime before committing any acts of personal space invasion however. Some people would write and then erase their answer. I don’t know why. Nothing inappropriate was left on it, and would have been removed as free expression does not including offending me since it is my board. I should mention that I went to 5 (yes FIVE) stores that sell office and or art supplies and not one had an actual chalkboard eraser. They sell chalk….but no erasers. Those are to be found over in the white board section located elsewhere.  I think I have discovered the buggy whip of my generation….I guess when throwing them at students became a no-no then there was no reason to make them anymore.

Thank you to all who came out last night and took the time to read all my statements, old followers and newbies alike. Lots of laughter which is always my goal (served with a side of snark of course).  So, I think art should be….

Fun – everywhere – art – inspiring – purchased! – well funded – treasured – expressive – interpersonal – an action – from the heart – relaxing – recognized – unlimited – engaging – mind easing – lived – the wine of life – in schools – in the details of life – appreciated – communication – musically inspired – undefined and of course not confined to lines.

Good answers, good start. Look for a new question every month and even more ways to get involved!

Upcoming blogs (yeah, it feels good to write again) will include a review of the Stark County Show at MassMu and an essay about being on the opposite side of the desk again.