Some Quick Thoughts on Cultural Attitudes Towards Art and Artists

“We must work to sacralize art.” I heard this phrase today in the opening of a DJ’s set. As I thought about the sacredness of art, I came to some ideas about art (as a form of devotion) and how this is in conflict with mass culture (at least as I perceive it).

Keeping art “sacred” is the great fight of human expression. And the difficulty for the artist is that balance of understanding—they know they are ultimately making something to be experienced by another human person, but the object of the creation cannot be fully be thus, for then the art becomes a product. In this case, the intrinsic quality of true art is lost.

Shall human expression and emotion—that which makes us human—become just another thing by which the corporation will manipulate for Profit? If we understand commerce and market then we know that this is unavoidable. But we must be wary of the formulaic mass production of art and culture, the prime example being the music and movie industries in the 1990s up to modern times. Here, risk became so wholly second to Profits. It is the era of the formula pop songs, one hit wonders, pop “stars” (manufactured icons), the remakes, the action blockbusters, the super hero franchises, the easy.

These movements are more damaging than what they might first appear. They change the standards of the next generation, what the next generation will tolerate in their “art.” I fear this “dumbing down” of our cultural artistic literacy over time. Through gradual streamlined approaches and less appetite and tolerance in mass culture for risk and challenging media, we become more predictable, more easily programmed and manipulated—more robotic.

This risk is clear to the artist—I experience a level of ‘scorn’ just by my focus and attitude towards art as something that is serious. Perhaps it is a product of living in Indiana. The attitude here is that art is a game. A cute hobby. This is because in our modern society the seriousness and reverence towards art has been diminished. To the mass culture that surrounds me, art is a mode of entertainment—not a vocation. It is not a sacred calling. It is something that is performed for enjoyment in one’s free-time after all of the “necessary” work is completed.

All of which is, of course, absurd to the artist. They understand the art as a form of devotion. It is necessary work. In this modern society, the artist is forced to live a double life, where they affirm the values of their society in order to get by, but then must also answer the call of their art in order to be happy.

New Project Series: Modern Abstract Collages

I am not new to the idea of creating works of art through collage. This form was touted by my professors at Indiana University South Bend. I made collages as part of one class. Another, who helped me to fall in love with poetry, has made a serious run of them (I’m talking hundreds of collages). I had a few of my collages published in the university’s student run literary magazine.

Pretty much on a whim, I took some construction paper laying around and throwing clippings together to make interesting compositions. My thought was, could I make interesting and challenging art out of construction paper? Here were the first two. They are brothers, the second (Island Storm) made from the failed remnants of the first attempt.

This raises a few questions for me. While I am calling these pieces collages, this comes mainly from the fact that the process mimics how a collage is made. The implication of the word collage and what I understand about it means that it should have media coming from multiple sources: magazines, colored paper, newspaper clips, etc. Yet my creations use only (with a few exceptions) construction paper.

Secondly, can serious art be made with construction paper as its chief medium? Construction paper is trivialized, seen as juvenile. It is something you find in a grade school classroom, not in an art studio. Advertisements for construction paper are obviously geared towards children, even featuring happy children cutting and gluing.

The Pendulum
Mixed Media Collage
16 x 12 inches
2021

While I am still wresting with this question of whether this is art that can be taken seriously, I am forced to admit to myself that it is this question itself which makes this project compelling to me. There is a inherent challenge here that defies our preconceived notions of what construction paper is and what it can be. This challenging of the norm is attractive to me.

And as I spend more time with the medium, I start to notice things that I actually find really enjoyable. The paper has a real texture. You can feel it as you make the collages, but is also visible to the eye when they are observed on the wall. The colors are soft. And because I am not mixing paint, there is a consistency with the colors that I find pleasing. Collages can be grouped together based on color scheme to make a sort of series. Like so:

The process is improvisational, often the scraps of a completed collage are used in the next. This process connects the collages in an interesting way that can’t be found in other art forms. I can identify pieces which share parts of the same paper.

While there are real questions about the art (Can it be taken seriously? Is it even good?), for the moment I am enjoying this new exploration. At the end of the day, I am having a good deal of fun.