Hybrid Art Summit notes

I’ve been taking an extended break from art-scene engaging, writing and reading, but like a slab of chocolate cake in the fridge, it’s constantly nagging at the corners of my mind. So it was pleasant to hop out of the internal hamster wheel and spend an afternoon listening in on two writing-centric panels at the Hybrid Arts Summit a couple of weeks ago. It was retroactively comforting to know that other writers/bloggers struggle with the same things I did when I was developing Tu Scene. It got difficult towards the end because I knew I was moving back to Austin, but felt immobilized by dealing with that change in my personal life, much less a public blog. I’m kind of a slow processor that way, still thinking about things month after they happen. Not so much unhealthy dwelling as quietly searching for some kind of enlightenment to come out of the experience. And once something hits me, I get all effusive about it.

True to character, I jotted down a few points of interest during the panel discussions that I’ve been assessing, but no significant lessons or questions to add to my mental card catalog, much less post about on here.

Yesterday morning I read a negative [but completely justified] review on Keep Austin Stylish of work recently shown at a fashion event that provided the foil I was looking for:

Does taking a pair of jeans and cutting part of them out and replacing it with neon lace and then creating a “top” by simply taking a yard of tulle and tying it around your boobs really make you a designer? The sad thing is that in Austin it apparently does. I’m sorry to have to be the one to say this but, adorning an outfit does not make you a designer.

Photo credit: http://keepaustinstylish.blogspot.com/

This “bad review” was heartening to read because she had the balls to write it, and because it was the truth. You gotta respect that, and she did go back to compliment the hair and make-up, which was actually eye-catching and well-executed. I haven’t subscribed to this blog over a long period of time (a matter of months, vs. 3-4 years as I have with other fashion blogs) so I am not sure how many other shows have been negatively reviewed on the site, but in general, I rarely come across panned fashion shows or collections. * I will say after barely delving into review-territory on Tu Scene in late ’09/early ’10 that even throwing the teensiest amount of negativity into a commentary is what definitely gets the conversation going.

Another foil: there’s a whole genre of online venues for and by graphic designers to vent about pain-in-the-ass clients/bosses/salespeople and their dismal creative preferences: Sh*t The Creative Director/CEO/Account Guy/Client/Intern Says, Comic Sans Criminal [I’d love to see a site called Papyrus Perp! why won’t that font just DIE?!]. And of course, outlets like Design Observer, Design You TrustPRINT, Voice, etc. offering industry news and formal analysis. And a ton of other stuff I don’t even seek out because it’d probably push me over the edge. I worry enough about designing and executing projects 40 hours a week, thank you very much, and I’m lucky to have sympathetic co-workers there in the trenches with me and a kindhearted husband who actually listens when I need to blow off steam about all of the above.

Why compare to art writing to fashion and graphic design? For one, I read comparatively more about these subjects than I do art, and because they are both creative, subjective cultural topics, unlike, say, computer programming or neuroscience. Not that one can’t write passionately about computer programming and neuroscience, but a slogging through lot of the empirical information to get to the juicy conclusion would probably be rather dry for most people. And also because both forms cull hugely from visual art — contemporary, historic, folk. But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of conversation and second-guessing about pre-reqs in those communities. You’re either with The Establishment [anyone who has a print magazine presence] or you’re a rogue blogger. If anything, blogging has actually helped the fashion machine reach out and grab consumers by the lapels through the web with all kinds of creepy tracking MO’s. The last couple of years have seen the rise of the Superblogger – once fairly regular people who now wield influence* over media and major brands. [On a side note, wouldn’t it be cool to see something like IFB for art bloggers? A support network, not so much an information aggregator]. The only pre-reqs I can gather in a general sense for these two sectors are that the writer must have a passion and knowledge about the subject matter. Graphic design bloggers take it one step further, but not a big one: the expectation is that one works in the field, which would require a piece of paper issued by an educational institution. So while it’s true not just anyone can write well about fashion or graphic design, there certainly seem to be less hang-ups in those communities.

When I write on my own site here, I worry about being invalidated because I didn’t go to a prestigious state school with a strong visual art program and don’t aspire to move to NYC or get my MFA [but Marfa, Alpine or heck, even Silver City would be OK]. Maybe because I don’t possess that background I’m more likely to second-guess myself, and it’s just my perception of a snobbish vibe that actually has little to no existence in Austin, because all the kids who went to state schools with fancy art programs seem to be equally doubtful.

So my question is, why are art writers so self-conscious? As Women & Their Work Executive Director Chris Cowden pointed out [via], Texas doesn’t have as many writers as it should considering the amount of work out there. I don’t ask this in a self-congratulatory, “hey, let’s give ourselves some credit” or self-aggrandizing, “hey, let’s not be so hard on ourselves” Oprah-esque self-esteem check. I’m just curious as to why this conversation is happening with visual art and not these other cultural communities I mentioned.

  • Is it because there are formal conventions [or perhaps “trends” is a better word] to graphic and fashion design one can delineate and analyze?
  • Is it because unlike fashion and graphic design, art is not completely consumer-driven, thus making its value harder to quantify?
  • Are we afraid of hurting relationships with readers and other artists in our locale?**
  • Is it a self-image problem? Do we have to be the first at everything, bucking trends unless we’re the ones who establish them?

On a side note, personally, when it comes to trends I just try to give myself a break. I dislike a lot of trendy work, but usually only for that reason — because it’s popular, and when something is popular, the quality and technique and be better manipulated to have a market and influence. But ubiquitousness is not a real reason to be so harsh about it, because I’ve come to realize it’s kind of inhumane. 95% of trendy art won’t even matter in a couple of years anyways, and the 5% of artists that do evolve deserve success because they progressed, and I think if one progresses in any endeavor, it’s a show of real dedication. Another quality to respect. So why get so upset about it? Just take a look at Facehunter and you’ll see fashion conventions are flimsy, transparent and easy to puncture as a layer of cellophane. Graphic design styles, on the other hand, shift slowly from decade to decade, with relatively little hand-wringing over the past, present and future.

Probably the most common trait I can chalk this self-consciousness up to is that most artists who can write decently are people who are caught up in thought about how they’re communicating on several levels, which affects what they produce in their visual art, all through to the way they speak and write. I’m not that surprised when I read something by an artist friend that shows they have a real gift for language as well. These are the people who should be encouraged to write, start a blog. To give whatever they think they might be capable of a try. Honestly, the only other group of cultural contributors I hear stressing more about writing than artists are actual writers!

If you’ve made it this far, you might’ve judged I’m probably not cut out to be in the aforesaid artist-writer group. I guess this is more of a stream-of-consciousness journal entry than a critical essay. In fact, as I was writing this, I kept imagining how I’d discuss this through a Margi Kimball-style brainmapping illustration!

Going back to my sparse written notes, I see a couple of other thoughts I’d like to elaborate upon, but not to nearly this extent. Lucky you!


* See Mr. Boyd’s wonderfully comprehensive summary of the Summit for further illustration about cheerleading and much more on his Houston-based art blog, The Great God Pan Is Dead.

** Earlier this week, the dazzling WendyB brought up an important caveat about this perception: Famous ≠ Rich. Still, I would love it if designers sent me free shit and all I needed to do in return was snap a few self-modeling photos and post them on my broke-ass but famous blog!

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