Pitfalls

Artists take chances.  They are not always daring or exciting chances, but in the evolution of styles and subjects there must always be a reach for things new. 

At this point in my career as an artist, I can say that I have my own style.  I have my own unique thought process.  People look at my work and they know it is mine.  I sign it with my style.  Being able to have that recognition of my work as mine without telling a viewer means a great deal.
  Stylistically, my work has evolved and techniques I use have changed or been reinvented to suit my purposes.  So far it has worked out pretty well. 

Sometimes, however, taking chances means making mistakes.  It could be a little mistake such as mixing a new color you haven't used before and realizing that it throws an entire work off.  No worries, you can paint over the offending hue and there's no harm done.  Other times you take bigger chances, and these can really blow up in your face.

Recently I was asked by my gallery to create a set of work to show for a month in a cafe/bar.  It sounded like a fun thing to do.  There were no prerequisites and I was given carte blanche to do pretty much whatever I wanted.  These are really great assignments for an artist.  They allow us to take the aforementioned chances and dabble in areas we might now have had the chance to play with before.

I chose to do a series of work dealing with the ordering of chaos.  It's not exactly a new theme for me as I create very complicated systems for presenting information in my works.  The common element in these works was to be images of house fires.  I've used pictures of houses on fire before in my works.  To me they represent personal chaos personified by an inanimate thing in flames. 

 

 

It was a risky choice of themes.  I chose the images very carefully.  None of the pictures showed personal items strewn across the lawns.  No families weeping in the foreground over the loss of their home.  No residents of the houses in flames trying to escape the building.  In images where there are fire fighters, they go about their business in an efficient, professional manner.   There isn't a sense of panic in these works.  Just a fire.  Just a house.  Sometimes it looks like nobody even lives in these houses.   I wouldn't want to confuse the viewer and make them think I was sensationalizing a fire or glamorizing it in any way.

The show opened and many people came to the opening.  It was great fun and the works were well received from a wide variety of different people.  That's always a pretty barometer of how they have come out.  As an artist, it's difficult to be objective about the impact your final work will have when you know what they are about from conception to completion.

Less than two weeks after the opening, they were removed from the cafe.  Apparently the general public didn't care for the imagery.

 

 

So I have a lot of mixed feelings about that reaction.  I took a chance, and it didn't work out too well.  Still, I'm a bit mystified by the reaction.   Had I painted large scale pornography or images of graphic violence I could understand the backlash.   Even politically charged work could ruffle some feathers.  But small works with a house on fire?

Frankly, I feel slightly insulted.  If a business has the idea to exhibit original art in their establishment, then they should be willing to back that art.  So I can add this experience to things that I have learned from my own pitfalls.  I doubt it will change the way I create my work.  but it allows me to see how art is experienced by others in another place. 

I'm a firm believer that sometimes art needs to be edgy.  It needs to prod and provoke the viewer at some level.  Otherwise you might as well be hanging pictures of flowers and seascapes on your walls.

Contemporary art should create an air of immediacy.  Dialogue and questions and conversations should be awakened by experiencing it.  Is that not the power of fine art?  To move us?  To inspire us?  To make us see the world from a different set of eyes?

So the works have been returned to the gallery.  Apparently it's alright to have edgy work in a gallery.  heaven forbid it should be out among the general population where it could create discord of its own.  Best to keep it in a safe environment.  We wouldn't want art to create a stir.

And really, if people want to see a house on fire, or graphic violence, or even pornography.  All they really need to do is turn on the television.  Then they don't even have to tip a waiter.