Where Does Art Stand In A Throw Away World?

Mixed Media Bee by A. Steady

Ever have one of those conversations that's so deep, you feel like you need to rent out an entire restaurant with full staff to keep the food coming while you and your conversation team solve the world's problems? I had one of those conversations recently, minus the restaurant. Actually it was via email, but none the less, was very satisfying.

The conversation centered around our throw-away society, and how that mentality affects artists living today, and the value of their artwork. It's an interesting concept to say the least. Once upon a time, artists were sought after to document lineage of a royal family through portraiture. Others were hired by churches to paint detailed frescos of religious figures and biblical stories. Not to mention the artists who were employed by shops to create beautiful clothing for citizens of whatever country they were located in (and the artists that created the designs for said fabric). Artists were sought after for their ability to bring imagination to life in this world. And to document what the world was like throughout the embattled timeline of the human race.

You can still see some of those portraits hanging in museums (like right now at The Art Institute in Chicago, and even as I type - the great portrait artist Anthony van Dyck is showing off in Milwaukee's art museum). There are carefully preserved frescos all over churches in Europe, and now and again, a remnant remains from the exquisite fashion of yester-century. Not to mention the breathtaking architecture that still stands going back thousands of years.

Today, in 2013, everything seems so - disposable. Throw-away jobs. Throw-away cars, houses, food containers, old clothing. Unwanted furniture abandoned on roadside curbs. Oh, and my personal favorite - the random mattress that shows up on the side of the road, along with 'a shoe.'  (Okay, WHO is tossing out just ONE shoe into the streets? I see single shoes destitute all over the place on the sides of America's roads and highways. So much so I'm thinking about doing a photography series on 'the random American shoe'). I digress...bottom line, seems like nothing has value to it anymore. I can walk into a box store right now and buy a shitty pair of shoes and a top that will (guaranteed!) fall apart and / or fade by next week.

And I think our throw-away society has impacted our overall mentality about anything and everything we attribute any value to.

"Oh, my car's been a bitch lately. I'm going to trade her in and get another one."

"Yeah, I just bought this shirt last night. Sorry for the boob flash. Anyone have some thread?"

"You done with that shoe on your left foot? Cause I'm gonna toss it out the car window at 90 miles an hour."

This toss-away mentality affects all of us on many different levels. For me as an artist - I am affected by it because art these days can be purchased just about anywhere - like Ross. TJ Maxx. Wal-Mart. Target. Need I go on? Just like the shitty shoe and the faded boob flashing shirt - art has been reduced to crappy print quality onto plastic (that can be thrown away).

As an artist, when I create something that is real, with real materials on real canvas (or whatever surface), taking the time to format, develop and execute, and pour my heart and soul into it - it's frustrating to know in the back of my head that it's never going to be "easy" to sell my original art to someone. I am competing with the factory in China that spews out prints of artwork on any size "canvas" that's programmed in.  For me to sell my hand made artwork, there's an element of cajoling (marketing), teasing (sales), manipulation (if you come to my studio, I'll have wine). Because, after all, anyone can by printed art anywhere for cheap. Which can easily be disposed of after a quick trip to Ikea. Which devalues the artist, and his / her original artwork.

So, does that mean in a throw-away society we've come to live a devalued day to day life? Or is it that we've just forgotten what it's like to really value something for the quality of craftmanship, time and effort put into it, and possibly the high demand? How many of us spend time in art museums and wonder at the talent and craftmaship of the piece of artwork? And then wonder why we don't see THAT level of professional quality in every capacity of our own lives? I know I do.

Honestly, I don't think a fast-food, qwick-trip, one-swipe kinda world we're living in fosters appreciation for the 'real life' time it takes to do something (anything!) from scratch. Here's to hoping the pendulum starts to swing the other way....soon.

Leave a comment