August 30, 2012

Roberta and Jerry's artist-free art

In the NYTimes on Tuesday, Roberta Smith revealed her hobby: she and husband Jerry Saltz scour thriftshops, fleamarkets and yard sales for cheap paintings and interesting objects.
There is something immensely comforting about these works. They come at you entirely on their own, unencumbered by the name, life or personality of the artist, devoid of reputation or blinding auction prices. They lack the white noise of contemporary commentary and opinion that critics usually must work through, either consciously or subconsciously, on the way to their own conclusions when writing about art exhibitions. What might be called their orphanhood or nakedness is liberating. Given the onslaught of the art world and the current mania for contemporary art — largely a good thing, don’t get me wrong — artist-free art can be something of a relief. 
In a way, you love these paintings in the simple, uncomplicated way you love pets, and they love you back. You don’t expect them to hold up their end of a conversation about art in the age of digital, or even mechanical, reproduction.
At the same time, the paintings themselves are not totally separate from art in a professional sense. Some are full of diluted strains of art history: assorted trickle-down styles, vague allusions, instinctive adaptations or absorptions of things in the air. Read More.
Image above: Screen grab from a NYTimes GIF created by multimedia fellow Leslye Davis.

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What is Art? Until I ran out of room, I used to collect thrift store/yard sale paintings, too. They are still my favorite things to look at when browsing antique malls. Rather than thinking of these works as "artist-free", my first thoughts are usually about the person who made it, perhaps because I paint and am not an art critic. What were they trying to do? Did they paint frequently or only occasionally? Is their work badly done or well done and what is the difference? Did they have larger artistic aspirations?

And, I forgot to add, will my paintings end up like these?