Thursday, April 22, 2010

WikiLeaks and Collateral Murder

I've been thinking about the increasing homogenization of news in the United States, specifically printed news. As more local papers go under and most articles are written by Associated Press writers and are circulated across the country, our news has become boiled down to a few stories. And it seems as if actual representations of our military actions overseas are few and far between. Our news is corporately owned and operated and investigative reporters have been gaining more and more attention for reporting harsh truths, such as the police coverups of murders in New Orleans after Katrina, extraordinary rendition, and recently the film clip of US soldiers opening fire on 8 civilians in Iraq. You can watch the clip at

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

To continue the conversation on street art...

Here is a link to the trailer of a movie about street art:

The communicative power of images

I received this month's Harper's Magazine in the mail today. Inside there is a photo essay with some beautiful and haunting images from Haiti that depict the impact of the earthquake. One image that stands out is of a small box, perhaps 8 ft. wide and 10 ft. tall, with curtains acting as a fourth wall and a piece of sheet metal lodged in the front for extra "security." The caption underneath reads, "an improvised house." It occurred to me that I had not seen any images of the destruction in Haiti before seeing this photo essay, and so it wasn't until today that I was able to concretize an understanding of the magnitude of damage done by that earthquake and the impact it had on human living conditions. These images were thus very powerful because they communicated a harsh reality that I would have otherwise been unable to see.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Street Art: Art or Non-Art?

According to Yuriko Saito in Everyday Aesthetics "mainstream pragmatic art"...
  • is removed from the beholder
  • incites an aesthetic experience
  • was created with the artist's intention in mind
  • has a determinate boundary
  • is presumed to be permanent and fixed
  • does not allow modifications or engagement
While non-art...
  • lacks authorship
  • is unstable/ lacks permanence
  • allows direct engagement or manipulation
  • can be modified
  • involves/values the lower senses, more than just sight and sound
  • is without a frame or determined boundary
  • is practical or purposeful
  • act as "fill-ins" for our everyday longings of art (p. 17)
So then it seems that street art lies somewhere between these two categories. It has authorship and usually a determinate boundary. It does not often require or allow for engagement beyond that of the creator. All of the characteristics signal it as art. However, it is impermanent and can be modified. And while the street art artifact itself may have a "frame," it is also unclear if the artwork becomes a part of the structure. Once the sidewalk or building or public structure is modified it seems as if the image and the surface to which it was applied become a cohesive entity. Thus, when seen from this perspective, it would follow that street art is in fact without a frame, and thus takes on another characteristic of "non-art."

Additionally, Saito argues that cities are created by individuals adding buildings, structures, and infrastructures over a long period of time. They are accumulated collectively and thus "there is no specific point at which this townscape was born; nor is there a specific author or a group of authors whose intention may shed light on its current appearance" (p. 23). In response to this view of cities and public spaces as author-less or owner-less, one might see street art as a way to add authorship to abandoned objects.

Further, it seems that such a movement was motivated by the lack of aesthetic experience present in our industrialized society. Our society has largely abandoned, or destroyed, the natural aesthetic of our surroundings by replacing it with asphault, bricks and concrete. Perhaps street art emerged as an attempt to remake our environment into an aesthetically appealing one. As McLuhan would put it, the medium became the message. The message in street art is that the street is no longer visually appealing, our surroundings have become the canvas. Individuals feel the need to communicate directly with the public -- outside of the constraints of a museum or gallery. If images are already everywhere, on billboards, buses, newsstands, sides of buildings, why not add to them. Who says that visible surfaces can be owned by an individual or a company or a government? Who owns the sidewalk, the brick wall really? Especially if it confronts the public everyday. Doesn't it's facade become publicly owned by all the eyes that view on a daily basis? Is it so wrong to want to change it aesthetically?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ownership versus economics

I recently saw a documentary about the movement of the Barnes Foundation collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Barnes Foundation is a private art school that houses "one of the finest collections of French Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early Modern paintings in the world, including an extraordinary number of masterpieces by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (181), Paul C├ęzanne (69), and Henri Matisse (59). The collection also includes important works by Pablo Picasso (46), Chaim Soutine (21), Henri Rousseau (18), Amedeo Modigliani (16), Edgar Degas (11), Vincent van Gogh (7), Georges Seurat (6), Edouard Manet (4), and Claude Monet (4)." When Albert Barnes died he left behind a very specific and detailed will that guarded against any of the works in his estate being sold or moved. However, the city of Philadelphia has managed to purchase the collection that they will move to their art museum in 2011.

The documentary brought many questions to the forefront:
  • Should the "masses" have access to these works of "high art?"
  • Is the "importance" of making these paintings more accessible enough to ignore the original owner's wishes?
  • Will the "value" of these paintings decrease once they are obtained by the public and included in a highly accessible museum?

Exit Through the Gift Shop

I saw the Banksy film on Saturday and it brought to mind a lot of the readings and discussions we had in class. It even made me reconsider our experience at the Armory Show.

If you haven't seen the film it is about the very unbelievable circumstances that allow a Frenchman obsessed with filming everything to become a part of the secretive, underground street art scene in the 90's and early 2000's. In the end this man uses his connections with established street artists who had been successful enough to cross over into the mainstream art world, such as Shepard Fairey and Banksy, to catapult himself into the limelight as a legitimate and sought after artist.

At the end Shepard Fairey talks about the whole experience as an interesting anthropological study on the art world and the influence of promotion and perceived greatness on the success of an individual. The "hype" surrounding an artist can speak louder than his or her actual art. The New Yorker review of the movie describes it as such, "The joke is that he (the Frenchman) has no discernible gift, save a knack for self-advertisement; the more depressing joke is that this crumb of talent turns out to be enough. He calls himself Mr. Brainwash, and fills an abandoned television studio with sub-Warholian dreck of his own devising. Art scavengers, lured by the smell of publicity, line up, open the jaws of their wallets, and feast" (April 26, 2010, p. 79).

This quote is exactly why the movie conjured images from the Armory Show. People with money flocking to purchase something that will give them status. In particular, I remember watching an art collector discuss which two colors of the Damien Hirst skull prints would look best together. Because, god forbid, if one were to spend thousands of dollars on matching screen prints of a skull they better match and not be too feminine. How hip and "with-it" they will be with their original Damien Hirst prints (that cost a fortune)! People will buy anything that they believe will help them to be perceived in the specific ways they desire to be perceived.

Another astonishingly poignant point that Anthony Lane makes in his New Yorker review of the film is thus, "'Exit Through the Gift Shop' feels dangerously close to the promotion of a cult--almost, dare one say it, of a brand. Nothing by Banksy or his acolytes would have been remotely alarming to Marcel Duchamp, or to Tristan Tzara; what would have struck them was the means by which a Banksy image can be reproduced--the sudden velocity at which its impact can travel, whether online or through the eyes of a hundred cell phones."

In light of this perspective, and to return to McLuhan's argument that the medium is the this time of cell phone cameras and instant ability to share images, can the medium still be the message? The minute an image is captured in a digital photograph and sent across the world the image is no longer attached or associated with its original medium. It now exists in a new medium, and thus, it must have a new message. So street art metamorphoses from an attempt to add aesthetic to an everyday object into a semi-brand in the time it takes to snap a photograph.