the question of art

Four year old Aelita Andre just had her first exhibition of her paintings in NYC. Each of the nine paintings is priced at over $9,000 dollars. The paintings are selling. She has been dubbed an “abstract expressionist with surrealist overtones.” The curator and her parents laud the “innocence” that is a common factor in her images.

If you watch the video ( you will see that not only is the footage of her in her studio very reminiscent of the footage of Jackson Pollack, but that yes, her paintings are quite good. Actually, phenomenally good within the “abstract expressionist with surrealist overtones” oeuvre.

They point to the fact that she has no training, no knowledge of theory or history, nothing beyond an innate sense of color construction created in response to her feelings.

But is it art?

Much the same way that the question is asked when people write a poem that flows out in response to an emotional state, is it poetry?

It is not so much about trying to define art forms based upon a sense of elitism or with a set series of educational requirements (and believe you me I know about that, I had an argument very early in my career in which the head of a department told me I was not an artist unless I had a degree from them and I shot back that I was an artist before I ever knew they existed), but a question of the role of the artist, the role of the poet, the writer within the community and society.

Do they have a role?

There is merit to both approaches to art – the unintentional and the intentional. What concerns me is that both forms are not given the same due. Unintentional art is going through a phase of rising popularity which, last time it had its heyday in the 80s, the end result was not good. Not good for the artists, the arts community or society.

Think inflated prices and the reinforcement of the idea that if you did not have stellar success by the time you were 20 you were a failure.

The reality of art is that the artists and writers who have created works that have changed generations and continue to have a presence and effect as time goes by – didn’t really step into their art form fully until their late 40s and 50s. It didn’t matter if they pursued intentional or unintentional art. And it is not about age, but experience. Experience, on the flip side, that needs time (which translates into age) to occur.

What do you think the benefit to this child, this 4-year old, will be that her paintings at 4 sell for $9,000 dollars?

Adele, who I admire greatly (and whose music I love) made the comment, after her debut album won an extremely prestigious award that she was grateful and appreciative of the award, “but I wish it had come four or five albums down the line, not for my debut.”

The rush to create a celebrity, to raise someone up to the status of artist and to view something as “art” with a capital “A” can become something that interferes with artist.

If at 4 you sell for so much money and have exhibitions, what will happen when you are 13 and want to explore a different style?

I have my own opinions about the role of artists in society, which I am usually quite vocal about, but this is not so much about that discussion but about the need we seem to have to push people into places rather than to expend the energy and patience to…

appreciate them.

Appreciation takes time. It is like getting to know someone. You cannot appreciate an artist based on one painting (or nine) or a poet based on one poem (or nine), appreciation is something that grows with the experience of the work.

And it is a lost art in our society.
Warning, I am reading Erich Fromm’s lectures on being human.

Fromm points out that we make objects of ourselves, we make of ourselves things. We are not seen as artists or writers unless someone wishes to “have” our works. In creating them we often keep this in mind and we become the “havers” and we “use” our talents to create things with an eye towards them being consumed. Even the grant culture is based upon this perception of the artist and art as things to be used, the last question always being “and what will you do with it.”

The thing about becoming a thing is it is dehumanizing. It separates your self from the act of living, of being.

There is nothing wrong with selling your work or getting a grant, that should be the bonus. But we don’t sell our works or get grants from a society that appreciates and values the work (let alone sees the work and work that went into it). We are consumed. What we produce are things to be used as placemarkers in someones life to prove something. Art becomes a thing. An object without life.

Art is at the mercy of trends. Trends come and go and very few trends evolve into the kind of experiences that last to effect generations to come.

Its funny, I do think Aleta’s work is stunning. But I would not call it art, I think that is a disservice to her and the artist that she could become. I think it unfairly places an unusual talent into the maw of a public that has no interest in what she may develop into and no appreciation for what she has done, but they would like to own a piece of her. A piece of a rare bit of life that will most likely become undone by the very attention she is receiving now.

c.2011. Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.


About cassandratribe

"There are few artists that can do what Cassandra Tribe does. Whether with her poetry, her videos or her blog, Cassandra examines the truths that most of us can never come close to realizing and shows it for what it is, both beautiful and frightening at the same time. She exposes our inner-most workings like the cross-section of a powerful but flawed machine, our gears and springs, nuts and bolts removed and laid out before us. She is a true artist. Her new video, Requiem for a God, is the latest example of Cassandra's willingness to tear open and examine the very things that make us human. Shooting the film entirely by herself, she also eliminates all the little excuses we come up with to keep us from ourselves and our truth. You see, even when she's not trying to be, Cassandra Tribe is a beacon of truth and humanity in this darkest of worlds." (Michael E. Quigg, The Culture Network, June 2009)
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