In recent years, Charleston has discovered the Avant Garde. It is very liberating when this freedom of expression comes to a city. Charleston is lucky to have great people and institutions leading the movement. City Gallery and Redux come to mind right away. More and more commercial galleries are popping up to deliver this refreshing new freedom to the art consumer. As a representational artist, I’ll be the first to admit how stifling it is when only one style dominates an arts scene, so we must embrace the “shake up” that the Avant Garde brings with it.
But as is almost always the case, there’s a pitched battle between the representational/impressionists and the more raw-boned abstract and Avant Garde approaches. It is not spoken of openly but the pressure is on to choose sides. The battle is for the hearts and minds of would be collectors, so the stakes couldn’t be higher for working artists, like myself. Having been doing this art thing for going on 40 years and working in other cities who have also gone through this cultural warfare, namely Detroit, New Orleans and of course New York, I’ll be honest in saying my perspective is more of weariness than excitement. I have fought against the idea that there is a conflict between our various “brands.” I believe the differences in our styles and approaches help create a diversity of ideas and broaden the appeal of fine art within the community. I don’t think it’s healthy to encourage people to choose sides when it comes to style.
It has always seemed silly to me that one’s preference for one art form or movement over another should in any way become a battle for dominance. Personally, I enjoy all art forms and relish in the diversity of expression. More importantly, I think collectors do as well. It is the mark of a healthy arts scene when there is a wide diversity of offerings. In my book, Point of Art, I discussed the idea of defining Detroit art by a particular movement and whether that was healthy. All I can say is I found very little support from Detroit artists or collectors for wanting to be pigeonholed in that way.
When it comes to the integrity of the work, genre or style are secondary. My concern is solely with how effective the work is at expressing an important idea. Why is it important that this idea be expressed in this particular way? I also ask whether the artist is convincing as a master in their approach or are they trying to pull something over on us? Authenticity is an extremely important component when I consider the work of any artist. When an artist is not authentic, it eats into consumer confidence and adds to the cynicism on the part of collectors, who struggle with where to invest their hard earned money. In-authenticity is the number one killer of art sales.
I often wonder if the style, genre and methods used by an artist are by choice, or out of necessity. If one hasn’t taken the time to learn to draw the figure, for instance, it may be more expedient to splatter paint. I appreciate that Picasso could paint like Raphael long before he chose to paint with the immediacy for which he is so famous. I enjoy the experiential aspect of the abstract and the playful experimentation of expressionism, as do many. But many others, prefer traditional realism. My challenge to my fellow traditional realists is, “what are we doing with that genre to break new ground?” It turns out, a lot. Robert Lange Studio certainly comes to mind as an excellent example of where realism is heading. I am inspired by the way he and the wonderful artists he represents are using traditional painting methods to make us think and feel anew.
Getting the viewer to think and feel differently, to see from a new perspective is essential for any work to be taken seriously as a work of art.
I believe these qualities are not specific to any one style, genre or approach.
I believe we can we change the world with art.
Our styles may be vastly different but our goals are the same. I aspire to be among the serious-minded artists in Charleston who are inviting the community, indeed the world, to dig deeper into the creative process and fill their lives with evocative art.