FLY ON THE WALL – Presence of the Artist

There are many interesting links in the article that will provide more context.

“Modernism’s insistence on immediacy and the foreclosure of distance inevitably resulted in a denial of history, in an ever greater emphasis on not just the present, but the presence of the artist. Expressive symbolism gave way to self-expression; art history developed into autobiography. Vanguard art became a practice concerned only with itself, its own rules and procedures. The most startling result was the liberation of technique; the least useful result was the pursuit of novelty. As the modernist idea became debased, its deliberate sparseness worn through overuse, the acting-out of impulse, rather than the reflective discipline of the imagination, became the measure of satisfaction and value. As a result the modernist insistence on an essential meaninglessness at the center of artistic practice came actually to mean less and less. From being a statement of existential despair it degenerated into an empty, self-pitying, but sensationalist, mannerism. From being concerned with nothingness, it became nothing.” [Thomas Lawson Last Exit Painting]

Jackson Pollock Life Magazine 1949
“I was born in Cody, Wyoming.”- Hans Namuth’s famous promotional reel for Jackson Pollock. “When Pollock and Namuth came in from outside, blue from the cold, the first thing Pollock did was pour himself a tumbler of bourbon. It was the beginning of the end. Pollock had been sober (some say) for two years. Soon Namuth and Pollock got into an argument — a volley of ”I’m not a phony, you’re a phony. Then Pollock tore a strap of cowbells off the wall and started swinging it around.”

COVID revealed a lot of things – but in the art world it was apparent we were experiencing a tipping point for its artists. When people couldn’t or wouldn’t go to the galleries, the galleries began to use the internet differently. There were special viewing rooms for the new works to be sold. There were interviews in the studios. There were presentations by and/or about the artists. Suddenly selling art also involved selling the artists. And with that we began to “know” the artists in that kind of way we “know” celebrities.

Sterling Ruby Interview for Gagosian Show Turbines
“How can I make something that inevitably refects the charged time we live in…”

The “presence of the artist” is what this moment feels like. A few years ago a filmaker followed Gerhard Richter through a group of paintings from start to finish – a quiet film – but also groundbreaking. It gave the tradespeople an idea and a blueprint for how artists might become celebrities, make them more sellable. Between social media and the marketing promotion machines artists are now featured alongside their works in ways unimagined when Thomas Lawson first wrote about the end of painting in the 1980s. Today to be an artist means to be a media artist advocating for one’s work using ALL the electronic options. To be present one must be present online and preferably as a presenter and storyteller. Since COVID artists have become ubiquitous documenting the studio moment, the processes of making while adding an air of celebrity to the final objects sold in their names.

Amy Sillman reflects on her artistic practice – “Twice Removed” at Gladstone Gallery 2020 – “I work from information and feelings and thoughts that I have….”

The truth is that You Tube creators – like Casey Neistat“… everything is content… you realize if you externalize. If you put it out there in a video. If you take from your inside, and put it out into the world – every aspect of your life – you’re kind of left with “what what am I? What’s left? What’s just for me? Am I a phony for exploiting the ever living shit out of my life, every aspect of my life in the name of subject matter for my videos? – led us into this new experience of presence, camera imagery and storylines. This new kind of artist is something that many of us older artists find fascinating as well as a bit off-putting. But it’s a new world and this media presence is now part of the job of being an artist – at least an artist that is known to others.

Phyllidia Barlow on artistic authenticity and the unspoken, the unseen and the unknown… From ART21

Stories Not Theories. Modernism as a way of life – the good and the bad – is impossible in this century. When Warhol arrived on the scene it changed everything. Suddenly the demimonde mattered and continues to matter – because the money came downtown to play. And once artists get a taste for it – the fame and the money – well, we never want to let go. Today Warhol would be astounded by our marketing capabilities and our worldly ambitions. “Gotta bring home the bacon.” We are Post-Enlightenment, Post-Individualist, Post-Futurist, Post-Postmodern. We are Meta Modern, Homo Economicus, Neo Liberalist Media People, Creators. We fly private or at least First Class. We arrive in Prada. We stay at the Standard.
The “rules” are different these days and artists must find a way to work through those rules, use one’s celebrity, enjoy the results and make the best work that they can. Or not. The filmmaker Adam Curtis suggested that the most radical artists today would be those that do not seek celebrity, those that remain off the grid, those that do not show. Is this then the antidote to Meta Post Artist celebrity culture, to NeoLiberal aesthetics? Is this a radical idea? Making and doing Nothingness? Purposefully becoming an Outsider? Truly – haven’t a clue…

Your comments are always appreciated – To be continued…


  • gwh12

    A heroic and fitting post for year’s end. Every artist I know now whose work I really value is living in obscurity.

  • admin

    Thank you, George – you’re always very kind! However, will say that there’s absolutely nothing heroic going on here. Just a few things being noticed, and a few questions being asked into the ether. It’s an interesting thing, obscurity, because there are many ways to see it in this context. Is one obscure because others haven’t seen what’s being done? Do others find no “use value” for the work? Is the work hard to understand and obscure because it’s misunderstood? Has the artist any personality or mental health issues which makes it difficult for others to work with them? There could be practical life issues involved that overtake one’s focus – money, time, effort, illness, relationships, death. OR has the artist withdrawn, pulled away from the grind of celebrity? And if so have they accepted their choice to remove themselves from the fray? Are they being honest with themselves about this choice? OR is the work lacking something, some growth, some maturity, some moment of meaningful reality that isn’t being addressed by the artist? Has the work stopped growing? Has the artist stopped asking questions? Each case is different. But for the most part intention by the artist and dedication to that intention are all important. How one follows up in the real world can be just as important and just as telling about one’s intention for the work, for the reason it exists in the first place. Which leads to my favorite question of the moment: Is obscurity a sentence or a tool? And this, inevitably, goes back to our intentions.
    Now that we have mourned and dispelled some of the fear of the last couple of years, it has to be said that COVID left us in interesting times. So – just looking and waiting to see what might change, what has changed and how artists might define themselves in this new media reality….

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