Sunday, February 11, 2007

Art in a Rearview Mirror, Thomas DeBari on art education

George Washington University
Dimock Gallery

MFA: Thesis Group Exhibition

The recent show at the Dimock Gallery at George Washington University signifies what an education in art is. The work in the show followed the artistic devices of the past. What is it that makes this work, work? The conventional positioning of objects and images that are simplified down in away that makes the viewer say," I get it." Now getting people to get is great and is certainly a positive factor and building block. The problem is that when you get, you don’t want it. If you get it, then it’s used. You would never go and buy something that is used for new prices. Will the work sell? Will they make a mark on anything? Knowing only an outdated strategy of the market, what more can they give us? A recycling bin of perpetuating ideas and trends of the recent past still fresh enough in our collective heads to say," oh, that is so '98”. The artwork reflects a true methodology of teaching. One that says Are you ethnic? Get the black out. But what we get is a blackout. And then we back out. Why? Well, only because you can look at unanswered questions so many times. Art consumers in general have already answered those questions. So then, the question is 'how can you make it visually compelling enough that we revisit?' The invention, I believe that should be cultivated, is one of aesthetic vitality. If this is not taught then your work unfortunately is boring.

Photo work in the show is documentary. Diane Ramos’s Too, two photos of a young woman made to look different expressed the duality of being racial mixed “model”. One photo accompanied by text that read 'too white' was so light the curvature of her face was only slightly noticeable. The other 'too Rican' typed on the bottom was a brown face and dark curly hair. Both photos were small, 11 by 14 inches.

A problem unforeseeable to some is that they, like conversation, build out of text. Rhetoric predicts text that reestablishes rhetoric. The weight of this theory and learning style makes the producer lethargic in their visual output. When these people are asked questions about a contemporary drawing, they say they read and ‘draw’ a conclusion from what I read. This does not bode well for a tradition, which holds itself up as being visual. In a world today with advertising being flashy and everywhere, we as visual artist have an obligation to respond by making work that visually jams. There is no space visually for a clear thought of meditation. We, as visual artists, have to be visually compelling. We need to be bigger than Nike, Newport, and more refreshing than Kools. Poor crafting or minimalist conceptualism gets passed over like a homeless person on the street. You get it. We don’t care. Isn’t that a shame?

Crafting of these objects and these identities in a mundane manner means that it isn’t worth your time to look and learn and think about this.

In another work, aesthetically sterile as the aforementioned Diane Ramos, are the photos of Kenny Georges. The piece titled 'Spaghettios', was showing consumption of a man eating Spaghettios. Pictured is a t-shirt and jeans wearing twenty something sitting in a white background. Eating the treat right out of the can and getting it on him in way that isn’t possible with a spoon and a can, he has. This is truly a pediatric production.

The most redeeming piece of work in the show was Michelle McAuliffe’s 'My Own Private Hell'. The video work featured two young college students sitting in a room talking to the camera about their first loves. The girls speak candidly in a bashful awkwardness that is compelling in the genuine gestures of moving in spasms. The audio is not the constant flow of speech. Its modification has been done through the audible perception of the artist. The artist can only hear with a hearing aide. Taking it out, and deciphering what the viewer can hear by what she could understand through lip reading the audio is changed to reflect these fragmented murmurings. The strain is intolerable, because all you want is that juicy love story. I’m sure their stories are the same as everyone else’s, but good gossip is good gossip and who doesn’t love gossip. We are culture that enjoys these things so much yet she denies it from us. She truly changes us as viewers so we may experience a frustrating disability. In the end, she shines a light on why we should be tolerant to our elders when they ask us to repeat ourselves. They care just as much for us as we do about who loves who.

Overall the work was something that teetered on poor craft, general philosophy, and a meek shot at universals. When dealing with this much information and philosophies from dated materials it is easy to be academic, and they really are a product of that environment. Answerers that they are looking for aren’t in the production of their teachers work. Inevitably they look outdated. Fresh is a hot word people throw around a lot in art. I am left wondering who pitches and who catches at GW. And whether not they have any balls to throw.

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