“Our dreams are a second life.” ~Gerard de Nerval
By Rodolpho Teardrop
During a recent visit to the hospital, the nurse and I idly chatted about this and that.
“I really wish we could do something a little nice to these rooms,” she sighed. “You know, get some art on the walls or something? I called the local art college and they said they’d be happy to let their students hang some pictures. Nothing…you know…offensive. Just…art.”
You’re going to hate me. I just know you will. At least I hope you will.
I’m one of those snobs for whom Art should always have a capital A. Otherwise, it’s just a pretty picture. There’s nothing wrong with pretty pictures. They look pretty. They make the inside of a hospital room look pretty. One of the few posters my daughter put up in her room as a girl featured a mama swan leading five or six baby swans on a jaunt through a pond. And at the end of the line was a baby duck! Adorable! As Walter in the The Big Lebowski said, “It really brought the room together.” You couldn’t really call it Art, though.
I have two reasons for writing this.
“Wow!,” I’ve said to several SL photographers, “That kind of looks like Cindy Sherman. Was that on purpose?”
“Who?,” they invariably answer.
Cindy Sherman is one of the most important photographers working today. Using herself as a model, she sets up scenarios full of drama, movement and metaphor that leave me dizzy. I can lose myself in a Cindy Sherman photograph for hours ,not only following the threads of the story she tells in a simple 2D photograph, but how she manages to tell such a complex story in a 2D photograph.
Consider her Untitled Film Still 21.
The name of the series, Untitled Film Stills, itself sets up the expectation for some sort of homage. As a viewer, you walk into asking questions. Which films, what actress, what director? The young woman in the photo, freshly arrived and anxious, finds herself already swallowed up by the city. The only real open space, just over her head, looks like an escape hatch. Moving to the right or the left closes that hatch and she’s trapped. Her deer-in-the-headlights look keeps her rooted to the spot.
How many pieces of SL art have you seen (or created) have this much thought or drama put into them?
Don’t miss my point on this. My point is not to call SL art lame compared to RL art. I’ll do that later. My point is that many SL artists have no grounding in…well…the art they create in-world.
One of the working titles of this article was “Who The Fuck Is Mondrian??”. Outside of the needless profanity (of which I’m quite fucking fond of, thank you very much), it didn’t quite fit the overall scope. But the title works. Far too many SL artists don’t know or care about their RL forefathers. That’s not to endorse some line about SL needs to mirror RL. I’ll talk more about that later. But, sadly, the axiom is true ̶ you’ve got to know what the rules are before you can break them. And far too many SL artists don’t know the rules. Not only that, they cut themselves off from critical sources of inspiration by not visiting the temples of their forefathers.
I’m going to put this plainly ̶ if you don’t have an RL hero in the medium of your choice, why are you bothering?
Why does some Picasso look like Kandinsky? Because they hung out together. They influenced each other. Did Picasso steal from Kandinsky? The answer is another axiom: Hacks borrow. Genius steals.
I said I was a snob and so I am. I understand completely the need for pretty pictures on hospital walls. And they’re important. They have the capacity to act, for lack of a better phrase, as a gateway drug. But if we’re going to talk about Art, the pretty pictures have no place in the discussion.
Let me tell you how I look at pictures in the galleries I visit. I scan very, very quickly. If something jumps out at me, I’ll linger on it. If I linger longer I’ll spend a little more time on the show. If not, there’s really no point. How many variations of ballerinas do you need to look at to know that they’re ballerinas? And if there’s a point to multiple versions of ballerinas, the point needs to be made quickly and bluntly and that point should not be “ballerinas are flexible and gorgeous”.
In SL, literally anything is possible. So why does 95% of the in-world art try so hard to mirror RL Art? Where are the major innovations and totally new genres that have never been seen before? Where are the boundary pushers?
Pavl Duke would call himself a “builder” but he’s far more than that. As we all know, you can project video onto a white surface. Wow! That means you can watch YouTube videos in your SL home! Um. Sure.
But. You can also build and script an airplane, color it white and project a video on it, thereby creating a flying video airplane. Or project video onto any surface you choose to create. He took this and built a video hall that, the first time I walked into, I literally had a mushroom flashback.
I’m not a graphic artist so I’m a little stuck determining how far SL can be pushed or where it can be pushed. I do know, however, that with the unlimited possibilities of SL, the potential is there to establish SL itself as a major artistic medium. And, as far as I can tell, that potential is squandered.
Perhaps somewhere someone currently fulfills that potential. And I hope they end up on the cover of next month’s magazine and have their PR machine honed to the point where SL invades RL for a change.
Should my editor read this far before digitally ripping this up and throwing it away, she’ll most likely have this comment. “What’s with the numbering and does #3 really need to only be one line? Let’s roll that into something else or just cut it.” I made that choice, though, to make fun of myself and of the many “think pieces” I’ve read that follow this kind of numbered format.
It’s taking the genre, pulling it apart, looking at it and putting it back together to tease out or exploit its conventions. Which is, in my opinion, what Art does. The reader (or viewer or consumer or whatever title you choose) has the choice of saying “oh, how clever!” or “oh, how pretentious!” and that’s their opinion.
I made a conscious choice about how to present myself. In a certain way; I don’t really care how it’s perceived.
In the end, that’s what “think piece” mean — one person spouting off their vision of the world. Maybe it’s on target and maybe it’s not. In the interest of balance, though, let me add a post-script of sorts.
Sometimes the talented are simply talented. It’s not like Vermeer’s pre-school teacher focused on showing her students a lot of art in the classroom. He had a vision and followed it. To look at it on a grander scale, it would have been impossible for the first caveman who drew an elk to have any precedent for said elk. It was an act of spontaneous creation. But it also set a precedent.
A friend did a series of fairy photos. They were lovely. And dull. She asked what I thought she needed to do. I gave her the following challenge: “Take those fairies and drain every ounce of magic and beauty out of them until it’s almost oppressive.”
“What the hell does that even MEAN?,” she asked.
I wouldn’t tell her. Instead, I set it up as a commission. What she came up with turned out to be pretty close to what I had in mind. She pushed herself beyond her comfort zone and found a new avenue to explore.
Personally, I dropped out of college. I don’t put that much stock in a pre-manufactured education. But I do believe in education, especially (obviously) self-education. And I have no problem stating proudly and snobbishly that if you consider yourself an Artist then you must be able to speak intelligently and coherently about your Art.
If you’re just making pretty pictures to hang in the SL Motel for decoration, God bless you. We need that, too. But don’t call yourself an Artist for simply selling product.