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Artists’ Tools and The Cultural Messages They Convey

In ancient times, finger nails, teeth, fingers, and tongues comprised the anatomical tool chest that performed every life-sustaining function. Humanity might have remained dependent upon this set of tools were not for the existence of  human cognition which soon invented ways to expand the tool kit with sticks, stones, plant fibers, hides, sinew, and bones. The work performed by tools received a massive boost when the mind’s analytic powers discovered mechanics, levers, screws, gears, wheels, and pulleys.  Even greater tooling potentials were unleashed when the mind’s inventive powers harnessed non-human sources of power. That is when cattle, water wheels, wind mills, steam engines, internal combustion engines, electricity, jet engines, rocket technologies, and nuclear power were successively enlisted to serve the human demand for tools. By augmenting both precision and power, these energy upgrades extended the range of human manipulation both microscopically and macroscopically. Today, robots assist micro-surgery, rigs drill two miles into the earth, cranes lift massive weights into the air. The stirring narrative of humanity’s tooling history can be summarized by comparing the carving potential of finger nails, stone flakes, metal blades, power saws, dynamite, sand blasting, pneumatic chisels, hydraulic excavators, and laser beams.

A Few Words About a Big Subject: Art and Material Ethics

STRATEGIES FOR ACQUIRING

STUDIO ART SUPPLIES

       –    RECIPE – several ingredients are combined in precise proportions and manipulated, either ground, distilled, heated, evaporated, stirred, etc.

       –    FORMULA – laboratory concoction with ingredients that have been removed from their original context and are no longer distinguishable

      –    PRESCRIPTION – use of art medium generating strategies that simultaneously cure an environmental malady

 

        ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF ART MEDIUMS

      –     BAD = purchasing most commercial art products. 

      –    LESS BAD = purchasing products manufactured to minimize waste, reduce toxic by-products, and avoid depleting resources.

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Eco Art Criticism. Eco Art History

The arts are making increasingly important contributions to envisioning sustainability and implementing the means to attain it.  In order to fulfill this challenging environmental mandate, these artists are boldly revamping art’s traditional themes, mediums, aesthetics, processes, roles, and skills. In the process, aspects of art that have been cherished for hundreds of years are being discarded as irrelevant and replaced with unprecedented alternatives.
 
Eco artists may, for example, disrupt conventions in art by rejecting rarity, craftsmanship, authenticity, stylistic consistency, and aesthetic appeal in order to defer to natural forces. They may adopt nature’s manner of recycling materials by selecting mediums that are materially unstable, or they may disregard or reject the intention to produce an enduring art work in order to harmonize with such dynamic conditions as growth and decay, weather, and geological cycles. Furthermore, eco artists may replace static arrangements of discrete objects in space to envision the vibrant interconnectedness of all living beings.  Ultimately, eco artists’ concern for the welfare of Earth systems and their diverse populations subsumed the age-old association of the artist with self expression.

Myopia Among the Ranks

While contemporary art is being invigorated and reinvented by throngs of eco artists worldwide, distinguished art professionals like the chief curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston remain oblivious of their contributions.  Helen Molesworth revealed her myopic assessment of contemporary art in an analysis of this year’s Whitney Biennial that appears in the current issue of ARTFORUM. She wrote “…in today’s hypermediated art scene, no one actually expects to be bowled over by anything “new.” This makes a kind of sour sense, since the new as a value was pretty thoroughly debunked in the twentieth century and, well, here we are in the twenty-first.”

It is only fair to note that Molesworth has earned her esteem within contemporary art circles by looking backward to the 1960s and the 1980s, not forward. She is acclaimed for curating “Dance/Draw,” which traced the origins of today’s performance art in the intersection between dancing and drawing since the ’60s,  and “This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s.” Molesworth confirmed her historic orientation in a talk at the ICA where she announced, “I’m not known in the field for being the discoverer of new talent.”

Nonetheless, Molesworth is misrepresenting and belittling contemporary art accomplishments. Because her opinions are supported by impeccable credentials, they carry the weight of authority. Readers are likely to agree with her assessment of contemporary art as a paltry version of reruns, and not challenge her blatant disregard for the bold explorations of contemporary eco artists that are authentically ‘new’.
While contemporary art is being invigorated and reinvented by throngs of eco artists worldwide, distinguished art professionals like the chief curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston remain oblivious of their contributions.  Helen Molesworth revealed her myopic assessment of contemporary art in an analysis of this year’s Whitney Biennial that appears in the current issue of ARTFORUM. She wrote “…in today’s hypermediated art scene, no one actually expects to be bowled over by anything “new.” This makes a kind of sour sense, since the new as a value was pretty thoroughly debunked in the twentieth century and, well, here we are in the twenty-first.” 

 
It is only fair to note that Molesworth has earned her esteem within contemporary art circles by looking backward to the 1960s and the 1980s, not forward.
She even admitted, when speaking at the ICA, “I’m not known in the field for being the discoverer of new talent.”

The FALL and RISE of COMMUNITY

INTRODUCTION:  Recorded history is typically charted through the deeds of great individuals. Complex narratives of conquests, revolutions, discoveries, and accomplishments are encapsulated in the biographies of prominent personages: Atilla the Hun, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln, Dante, Leonardo, Goethe, Ben Franklin, Pablo Picasso, Florence Nightingale, Genghis Kahn, and so forth.

While exceptional individuals dominate humanity’s historic annals, ‘individualism’ is a modern concept that is largely absent from ancient and medieval civilizations.  It is not until the early nineteenth century that asserting one’s independence and uniqueness, as opposed to contributing to the common good or the collective interests, was introduced. 

Alexis De Tocqueville (1805-1859), the French political historian, described the emergence of ‘individualism’ by stating, “Our fathers did not have the word ‘individualism’, which we have coined for our own use, because in their time there was indeed no individual who did not belong to a group and who could be considered as absolutely alone.”  

“A DEFENSE of FUNCTIONALITY and DIDACTICISM in CONTEMPORARY ECO ART”

Today I posted a new essay entitled “A DEFENSE of FUNCTIONALITY and DIDACTICISM in CONTEMPORARY ECO ART”. This defense was necessitated because contemporary eco artists, unlike those celebrated by the star-studded ‘artworld’, are inventing new definitions of progress, health, success, and productivity. Such values necessitate including factors that have long been alien to fine art values – functionality and didacticis.This essay is offered to loosen grips upon the cultural ideals that comprise the status quo.
       

INTRODUCTION
If society was envisioned as a living organism, artists would serve as its sensory receptors (gathering inputs issuing from their  surroundings) and its brain (bringing key concerns into consciousness and filtering out extraneous data). That is how the history of art came to be a rich repository of cultures as they evolved through the history of civilization. This ongoing account reveals if people, at a particular time and place, were captivated by the afterlife, or a new technology, or social inequity, etc.

“Warning: Humans in the Natural Environment”

The following is an amusing news story that predicts this un-amusing fate for humans: “At the London Zoo, visitors can talk to the animals – and now some of them talk back.

Caged and barely clothed in a rocky enclosure, eight British men and women were on display beginning Friday behind a sign reading “Warning: Humans in the Natural Environment”. The inhabitants of the Human Zoo exhibition sunned themselves on a rock ledge, wearing fig leaves – pinned to bathing suits. Some played with hula hoops, some waved. A signed informed visitors about the species’ diet, habitat, worldwide distribution and the threats to its survival.” 7

In fact, on May 21, 2012 The Automatic Earth Community delivered a Petition for Listing of the Homo sapiens species as an Endangered Species Pursuant to Federal Regulation of the Endangered Species Act [50 CFR 424.14(b)] stating that, “Upwards of 50% of this species’ range has come under the threat of near-term (within the next 50 years) extinction due to economic growth (and it’s natural collapse), untempered development, severe resource mis-allocation, air/water pollution, ecosystem degradation, energy scarcity, climate change, potential nuclear war and a variety of inter-related factors.”8

The Function of Functional Eco Art

The task of addressing today’s environmental challenges is daunting.

      – Functional schemes for cycling wastes, renewing resources, conserving energy, and maintaining productivity have not yet been devised;

     – Existing means of productivity may not suffice to support escalating populations of humans;

     – Non-polluting and non-depleting technologies compete for resources that restore ecosystems beset with the accumulated ravages of past indiscretions.

The works of art that address these challenges are functional. They remediate soils, create habitat, remove litter, cultivate food, produce energy, and conduct a myriad additional environmentally responsible acts.

What special attributes do the artists’ versions of these utilitarian tasks distinguish them as works of art?

Why Eco Art???? Because the Brain is Like Culture is Like Art

The brain typically pays attention to one thing at a time. While this may appear to be a limitation, being able to focus attention is an extraordinary achievement of brain function.  Neither houseflies, nor humans, nor any other organism is equipped to process all the data that their sensory receptors collect.  Organisms focus on only those bits of data that are essential to their sustenance; otherwise their brains would be

For this reason, survival depends upon eliminating items from consciousness as much as absorbing them.

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Greatness In Contemporary Art

What issue will ultimately define the current era?

Health care, privacy, gay marriage, gun control, missile threats from Korea, nuclear weapons from Iran,  unrest in the Middle East , a dysfunctional congress may be contenders, but they seem trivial compared to super storms, water shortages,  pandemics, depleted aquatic populations, bee colony collapse, climate change, and the numerous other environmental predicaments that have arisen in recent times.

Greatness in contemporary art has always been earned by artists who visiualize their era’s distinguishing characteristics and primary concerns.