I have been discussing the merits of and seemingly endless fascination I have with Alexander Calder this week with my husband. Husband has been doing some seriously deep thinking about masculinity, fatherhood, and related topics as he sketches new creations.
I find that issues of quality, craftsmanship, virility, masculinity and humor overlap in many of the artists I admire. These are qualities often disregarded, or as one critic has written, there was no category for the work of Calder for a very long time (think of his wire “portraits”) and he was dumped into the category of the decorative (which is the way art historians and dealers/gallery owners dismiss much of the art world they do not understand). I think art and the makers often go misunderstood in admirers need to admire, and that is a waste. Humor in visual art has gone disregarded for so long (there seems to be a stupid, unreflective assumption that humor in art somehow makes it less serious or meaningful, when the exact opposite can be true), it has been reduced to superficial snark in a work, or simply the nervous titter of viewers too insecure to let loose with a belly laugh.
Too much of what passes for art, particularly in the 20th century (and feeding the 21st), is a habit of consumption and the need for social celebrity. Big Art is the commodity, the oohing and ahhing at price quotes for the work of mostly dead people, and the speculation of what it might be worth later. It is the drawing room sensibility of the wealthy, most of whom care little for art history, craft, or aesthetics and more for the symbol of wealth art can represent. Real collectors are often a little crazy, and like to get to know artists. They collect what they love, what strikes them, and engage in works of art in ways that make them feel very alive.
I admit to admiring a certain “muscularity” in works of art. I enjoy a raw masculinity, an edge, in the art I choose to spend time with. Muscularity, wit, and humor can be very persuasive and I admit, arousing. What porn can not do for me, muscular and multi-layered art can. Is this the solipsism of the educated? Do we channel our baser impulses, have we learned so deftly how to distance base needs into high minded forms? Is it safer than more common forms of activity? Or is it less safe? Conventional sexuality is explored in a few simple moves of imagination and action. It is when we let our imaginations run, have an active fantasy life, and have a partner with whom we can explore, isn’t it then when we risk? When we allow ourselves to be truly aroused, all senses alert, without threat or fear, stimulated beyond the box of sexuality, isn’t that when we challenge ourselves as human beings? Art is an ideal I can never live up to, a series of fascinations that never cease to surprise me, but is more often the search for gems in an arena that can often bore with the monotony of poorly executed, unthought out (or one-liners as Husband says), witless, and decidedly “emperors new clothes” riddled events.
But. But when a work, or a series of works, and at best the oeuvre of a particular artist engages me I can find myself supremely aroused. I would seem a pedant to quote various aesthetic theories at this point. So I won’t. Suffice it to say I like using my mind and I like it when there is a responsive harmony between using my mind and body, a heightened collective of senses, an experience (as Dewey would say) that lingers in memory. Thank you Calder, thank you Pollock, thank you Husband, thank you innumerable masters of the muscular art. Thank you too, those women who have made me become engaged, if aroused in different ways, alerted my senses and sensibilities to a new idea or facet of critique. Thank you to the apprentices and support staff, who in an age of misguided singular attribution of works go unmentioned, and therefore the art significantly less understood. My life would be so much less than it is without you, and your work. Thank you.