Paint Schoodic

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Party dogs

What is art? That’s something nobody can agree on.
Great Danes and Doberman Pinschers talk about what they plan to wear to my daughter's wedding.
Last night I assembled an august panel of artists to help me with a project. Barb is a printmaker with an art degree from University of Maine. Sandy is a gallerist with degrees from Pratt and Hunter College. Together, we dressed 42 dogs in wedding finery. (As so often happens in sweatshops, I ‘forgot’ to pay them.)

“Is this art?” I asked two other artist friends.

“It’s like asking if a soy product in the shape of a chicken leg is food,” said one. “Technically, yes, but it’s bad food.”

“I guess the individual sculptures are art,” hedged the other, who then raised the question of whether they’re craft or even, just possibly, crap.

Two coats of silver and three of glitter... good taste, by the way, is repressive at times.
‘Artistry’ is easier to define than art itself. That means the skill necessary to produce a work of the imagination. But what defines the product of the imagination as art rather than engineering or craft?

Ars longa, vita brevis, wrote Hippocrates. He probably meant that it takes a long time to acquire and perfect artistry, but that the practitioner has only a short lifespan in which to practice. We repeat it, instead, to mean, “art lasts forever, but life is short.” That is, of course, a modern conceit. The ancients understood that “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18)

Barb felt that a DeWalt glue gun was not the tool for the job.
Plato said that art is always a copy of a copy, an imitation of reality. This leads us from the truth and to illusion, making art inherently dangerous. (Rich words from a philosopher!) Elsewhere, he hinted that the artist, by divine inspiration, makes a better copy of truth than may be found in everyday experience. This makes artists prophets of sorts.

A lot of artists have had a go at defining art. Many are coy, like Marc Chagall, who said that “Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers–and never succeeding.”

Even in non-traditional art, imitation is a recurring theme. “Art is either a plagiarist or a revolutionary,” said Paul Gauguin. What makes an Andy Warhol painting of soup cans different from the soup cans themselves? Intent and meaning. Pablo Picasso said that art is a lie that makes us see the truth.

In some way, art is the taking of an idea and making it manifest. Otherwise, it’s just a fleeting thought.

Sandy and I sewed their garments, Barb dressed them.
People frequently debate the line between art and craft. Art is useless in practical terms; it exists solely to drive emotion and thought. Fine craft does that and more. It must serve a practical purpose along with being beautiful. Since I didn’t drill their noses out to hold flowers, my party dogs fall on the side of art. 

Neither fine art nor fine craft are mass-produced, however. That is manufacturing. Those brass birds from Home Goods, as inscrutable as their meaning and purpose might be, qualify as neither art nor craft.

“The craftsman knows what he wants to make before he makes it. The making of a work of art… is a strange and risky business in which the maker never knows quite what he is making until he makes it, wrote R.G. Collingwood in The Principles of Art. That sounds very nice, until I think of dye-master Jane Bartlett throwing pots of color into the snow to see what shows up. Her textiles end up as clothing, but her process is wildly unpredictable.


SqUaNg said...

What would American Marxist Philosopher Clement Greenberg and American writer Susan Sontag say about the creation of these centerpieces on the Philosophical side of things? As we reflect on the topics covered by both writers, who are considered authorities on the Avant-Garde, Kitsch, and Camp aesthetics, the dogs are a reminder that the creation and decoration of the dogs are in some ways a part of each form of aesthetic.

The dogs are Avant-Garde in that so far, no one has decided that the Macdonald tartan bow tie ought to be the accessory of choice for all the dog grooms, and a string of pearl and a veil ought to be the accessory of choice for the dog brides.

This unheard of, an almost preposterous idea was the newest idea yet of yesterday past. Also, because Greenberg announced the death of Avant-Garde in Europe, or at least predicted its demise, and conversely, the practice of Avant-Garde seems to permeate the fabric of society in the United States through the 1990's into the 2000's, would it be safe to say that Avant Garde only died in Europe, but not elsewhere?

Clement wrote in his essay “That avant-garde culture is the imitation of imitating—the fact itself—calls for neither approval nor disapproval.” Yet, his definition of kitsch, “that thing to which the Germans give the wonderful name of Kitsch... Kitsch is a product of the industrial revolution which urbanized the masses of Western Europe and America and established what is called universal literacy.”

Unsure of what Clement means by universal literacy, it must mean the accessibility to understand a work of art and the ability for anyone to look at it and discuss it. Thereby the full creation of the dogs can be understood by all— must make the dogs kitsch.

And, although preposterous, the creation of these dogs is possibly Camp. As Susan Sontag would define, “Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It's not a lamp, but a “lamp”; not a woman, but a “woman”. To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater.” The act of taking dogs that appear androgynous, and genderizing them into a “metaphor of life as theater”, or better yet, a metaphor of marriage as theater. We have thus created something Camp because the dogs are not only dogs, they are "dogs". The dogs are not only grooms, but "grooms", and the brides are not only brides but "brides".

Carol Douglas said...

As I mentioned above, good taste can be so repressive in art. You can't get into deeper meaning of kitsch until you're unafraid to be tasteless.

The inspiration for this work is the reindeer that graces my home at times and was the subject of this painting: