Spots On My Apples: A Treatise On Originality, Grief and The Flawed But Nonetheless Exquisitely Beautiful Human Experience
All great art is by its very nature drawn from an insistent and incumbent desire to translate experience, to comprehend the distance between what is real and that which is imagined, and most importantly, to facilitate our understanding of the human condition, flawed as it is, sometimes painful, sometimes joyous, and always changing. Great art is like an image refracted on the surface of a lake. Formally, it is there for us to see and acknowledge. Informally, it changes and shapes our lives on an imperceptible level. Most people do not consider art to be a necessity, and if, as they step off the sinking ship onto the lifeboat, they are given the choice of taking with them a beautiful drawing of a house, or a diamond ring, most would undoubtedly choose the latter, however, now imagine the long, wet journey back to civilization. There is a chance that looking at that drawing of the house, a world within a world, would provide some modicum of comfort or solace, and that person's imagination see them through. Our culture has lost its appreciation of subtlety, and an awareness of grief as a substantiating reality of our everyday lives, and this sadly myopic way of looking at the world, which seems more and more a product of a vast consumerist treadmill, has permeated our culture so completely, tragedies fade away over the course of a day, and art stands an even smaller chance of affecting change.
Last week I saw a man driving in his car and listening to a Johnny Cash song and weeping, not crying hesitantly or shyly, but weeping with everything he had in him. He was alive in that moment, and not afraid to show it. There is tragedy in being alive, and this simple fact should be celebrated, otherwise what separates us from any other creature? Isn't the determining factor that distinguishes us as human beings from snakes or dogs or bison the simple fact we recognize grief? Animals register grief also, but they lack the capability of isolating it and giving it a voice. That's all. In every other way, we are the same.
You might be thinking as you read this, that these are the ruminations of a crazy and disgruntled art critic, and you may be right, but please bear with me. Joni Mitchell was onto something when she bravely declared, "give me spots on my apples" in her song "Big Yellow Taxi" because therein lies originality, singularity, tenderness, wisdom, and a certain solidarity of vision that requires great courage. I look around the art world today and see so many gleaming, glistening, impossibly red apples, and each one tries harder than the one before to cultivate what might be called a "burnished disassociation" i.e. "I'm not really an apple at all, but the virtual experience of the apple you secretly want me to be," and not even a nod to the living fact that apples, like art, are sometimes waxy, mealy, small and indeterminately seductive as if to say " I'm not pretty, but imagine what it might be like to eat me."
There are so many exceptional artists living and working in this city, and yes, some of them are over forty, but don't think that for a minute that stops them from continuing to translate themselves to themselves. What can an artist truly know of themselves by age twenty-two? Doesn't life experience have some definite and irrefutable bearing upon the way we see the world, and how we might choose to interpret what we see? I am saddened by the lack of human presence in so much art being made today. Being an artist is a responsibility, and while there are some people who might argue that their trust funds very nearly see them through to transcendence, I don't see evidence of it. Andy Warhol said "without money there would be no art," but I think what he was saying is that artists have to mediate the need for money with the sometimes uncompromising desire to not care about money at all and live only for their vision, and to further understand that capitalism is so very necessary for art to remain viable and alive. Fashion God that he was, Warhol might even condone that owning a Prada bag could arguably be considered a necessary tool to have in one's artistic arsenal, but then this would undoubtedly be meant as ironic.
I believe deeply in the notion that artists are the keepers of the unconscious, and through their translations, personal articulations and transformations, we may come to know and understand our own human predicaments, which in the end derive from the single and universal quandary that we all must live our lives, in hope and pain equally. After all, you can't have one without the other. So let's put down our requisite Gucci accessories, the sunglasses, satchels and lip balms, and look in the mirror. It's important to always remember those salient qualities which mark as flawed and so exquisitely human.