With the world of visual art as susceptible to vogue as the fashion world, the aspiring artist today is in a pickle: How can I appeal to the tastes of gallery owners, critics, and the general public when art trends are always in flux?
Fortunately, in the making of contemporary art, one approach is bedrock. Not only does it show no signs of becoming démodé, it also allows the individual artist to work within his or her chosen “-ism” and still come out on top.
This approach, of course, is to make art as if you are mentally ill or brain damaged.
We who consider ourselves sane have always been fascinated by loonies. Centuries ago, Britain’s Bethlem Royal Hospital (aka “Bedlam”) notoriously allowed visitors to come watch the crazies for amusement. In the more convenient modern world, we enjoy in the comfort of our own home the erratic behavior and nonsensical rantings of celebrities.
Or we could pay a visit to practically any contemporary art gallery or museum. There, we are witness to a parade of artwork governed by mania, compulsion, obsessive repetition, and the hoarding of mundane objects.
Take Marina Abromovic (seen above), whom the art world warmly applauds for maintaining a wordless autistic stare for hours on end. If you’re fortunate, they say, you can sit and enjoy the privilege of being stared at. In short, you can act crazy too.
If your reaction to the designation of Damien Hirst’s “spot” paintings as Art is to say, “That’s crazy,” then congratulations: you’ve hit the nail on the head.
Similarly, if the paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat look like pages torn from the journal of a retarded elementary school student, then you know at least as much about Basquiat as a critic for New York magazine.
Julian Schnabel smashes plates and glues them to canvas. Warhol prints the same soup can over and over and over again. Jeff Koons likes shiny things.
Mind you, this is not a criticism of contemporary art, or of artists. I’m not one of those people who smugly say, “My unmedicated child could do that.”
The appearance of mental illness or defect simply has appeal.
The insane seem to live with enviable simplicity. They are freed from the expectations and demands that crush the life out of every moment of our day. The mentally ill are subject to fantasies and waking dreams that almost always more elaborate than anything on TV.
So if you yourself are an aspiring visual artist, try scribbling the same thing on 1,000,000 pieces of paper. Get a large amount of something—concrete blocks, eggshells, tampons—and put them in a big pile. Take a crayon and draw a rhombus.
Crazy people are unpredictable, incomprehensible, socially transgressive, and never dull. If you can make art that has any or all of those qualities, you’re looking at a bright artistic career.
It’s easier than learning how to draw.