This past Sunday, I went to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) Workspace Works-in Progress Open Studios. Although there were notable exceptions, including Laura Braciale’s object-paintings and Elana Herzog’s fiber and molded paper pieces, I noticed that a majority of the work was project generated. That is, rather than make objects–paintings or sculptures, the artist has “made” an idea. The tangible work created serves less as an aesthetic object that is the working through and realization of an idea, and more as the illustration of an idea. It’s a blueprint rather than a building. Because the object produced is not really the artist’s work, it makes it difficult for the viewer to be critical of the work. For example, an artist decides she is interested in language, and the connections we draw from seemingly unrelated objects. She places groups of objects together. The viewer says, “Yes. I see these connections.” The conversation is over.
When the craft and process are immaterial rather than integral to the creation of an artwork, the work produced does not feel like art, but instead, like a secondary, disconnected thing. Ironically, the problem is the same if the object created is mired in process, so well crafted that there is nothing beyond the pure aesthetics of it. Perhaps, in the last decade of excess, many artists were so afraid to create a commodity that they chose instead to essentially create nothing at all. So now is the time to rejoice– nobody’s buying art! Artists are free to make THINGS without fear of being accused of simply making a sellable something. So make a painting; make a sculpture; or make an installation or a video, but just don’t be afraid to make a commodity, because right now, it’s not one.