Monday, October 10, 2005

Overworked Muses Fuel Art and Misfires

Image from Iron Orchid's collection of web clip art.

1) Bad modern art? Isn't that almost redundant? You betcha. Australia is not immune. Here's the story of the latest Primavera showcase of works by artists under 35. The problem? Sebastian Smee (a fantastic monikker) says:

I desperately wanted to like this show, but I struggled to find a single work that lifted itself above the standard of competent but cloyingly over-determined Year12 art. It is the sort of work that is just one layer of superficial understanding laid on top of another, none of it relating internally or showing the least sign of deepening.

What is going on here? Reading the obligatory artists' statements in the catalogue is akin to scanning the eyes of an android for signs of personality. "The message I express through my paintings is that short-sighted political policies can be dangerous," says one. "My practice investigates mechanisms of fiction and reality through the mediums of performance, video, painting, installation and photography." "My practice illustrates a cultural past inside the global future."

Who are these artists ventriloquising? I know they are all under 35, but do they not think for themselves? Do they not have any sense of a deeper human complexity, of the whole, hair-raising human predicament? Perhaps they do, but it is nowhere articulated in their art.

Though the subject of the show is entirely painting, Smee indicates there is little artistic stretching either technically or thematically for the timeless versus the topical. There's my peeve in T's.

2) Is the way to make it as a writer to sign up for a new online system such as the Next Big Writer site, where you earn the right to have your work reviewed by reviewing others', and quarterly and annual prizes are awarded including publishing? There is also a membership fee required, which I suppose I understand for such a slick, professional site. Will this catapult someone's writing, giving them the market exposure they need? Will the people who could best sell or buy work have free access to the boards of hoards? Will the reviews offer the kind of critique that help someone get published?

I don't know, but I'll watch the progress with interest. I tend to find good writers' groups must achieve a certain alchemy and not all attempts succeed. In my experience, it's more a matter of temperament and intent for the progress of the work than a matter of style matching. Further, I think discussions about what other group members are trying to do within their own projects and each one's strengths and weaknesses as a reader help create a more fruitful conversation. For example, I have readers who are obsessed with text at the word level while others focus on overarching story structure. I get different, useful things from each, and I don't know if I'd understand what they offer so well if we didn't take the chance to sit and talk a bit.

3) Here's another story from the NYT about a possible path to success: pay to share workspace with other writers, maybe network by the microwave. I felt a keen pang when I read about the guy who just sold his novel to Random House. I'm sure it's good and that he worked diligently on it for a long time, but I'm waiting for an agent to get back to me on my manuscript, and it's making me unattractively sensitive to other people's progress.

On the upside, I was quite worried about a dearth of story ideas about a month ago. I now have three fresh, completely disparate ideas in development, generating actual squiggles on pages, as well as another three that I thought I'd be writing by now but which are not baked enough yet. I don't know if any of them will be good enough when finished that I'll ever see them published, or how I'll ever promote a career based on such a mixed bag of work. Sometimes, I'm especially aware of what a silly vocation this is. How almost useless. Yet and still...

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