Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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01/25/2005: "Do we lose our "edge" as we age?"

There was this whole string of articles written by Mark Baechtel in the Anchorage Daily News inspired by the closing of the Decker/Morris Gallery, one of the only non-commercial contemporary art galleries in the city (non-commercial in that it didn't sale Alaskana work, paintings of salmon and bears geared towards the tourist trade) was one of my favorites when I lived in Anchorage and I always dreamt of showing there but never got up the courage to apply.

First Article :Fresh and faded dreams - Downtown galleries display passion for and problems of contemporary art in Alaska ONE BUSINESS OPENS AS ANOTHER SHUTS

Quote from Mark Baechtel: "Every artist, no matter what kind, has a split personality. One half of this personality is the creator, and the other -- the half that is typically underdeveloped if it is developed at all -- is the vendor of that creation. Artists have a hard time getting these two selves to talk, or indeed to live in the same body. That's why writers, musicians and performers so often have agents and why, for visual artists, the gallery was born."

This article goes on to talk about why the Deckers decided to close shop, and interviews Marcello R. Munoz, who at the same time opened another alternative space contemporary art gallery in town. The Deckers sound jaded and burnt out and basically say that the reason they're closing is because art in Anchorage has grown flat, has lost its "edge" and they don't want to deal with all the egos of the artists and their sense of entitlement when after awhile even their non-Alaskana artists were just cranking out more of the same, etc. especially since it's never been a money making venture for them. Munoz on the other hand, is just starting out and is full of idealism and hope to bring back some of that proverbial "edge" to the Anchorage art scene.

Second Article: titled “Good art happens at 'the edge,' but where is that?”
Quote from Mark Baechtel :"It seems to me that the edge is the place to which, for good or ill, most contemporary artists are compelled to go. Good art generally has the best chance of getting made when artists skate up to the edge and, often, venture beyond it. When they're working in this territory, they've gotten past what they know how easily to say and begin to try to say what resists being said. This is when really interesting things have the best chance of happening. I rush to add that art isn't good, isn't worthy, merely because it's on this edge. It's possible to make great art when you're cutting trail through the metaphoric wilderness, but it's also possible to fail in truly spectacular fashion -- to create art that is merely self-conscious or self-referential, merely pornographic, incoherent or -- that greatest of sins -- dull."

This article deals again with the heavy topic of art and economics and includes some angry letters from Anchorage artists not at all pleased with being told by the Deckers that Anchorage doesn't need a new gallery but that it needs new artists! (Oh no you dinit!)

Third Article: “Art's 'edge' is difficult to define”
Quote From Beth Blankenship (one of said angry artist):
“I have lost count of the number of outstanding artists who have left this state because of lack of support for their work. Those who stay struggle. I'd like to see "cutting-edge" work shown in Anchorage as much as the next gal, but I'd settle for getting some support for "left-of-center" art. How long can one be expected to continue to produce any work when no one is buying? Anchorage is a small city in a small state with a frontier mentality. Alaska is a place where Bev Doolittle's prints sell 100 times better than Dave Mollett's.”

I read all these articles on a night where the juxtaposition of images on my blog could not be more telling. There is the hollow eyed print "Mark of the Beast" that dealt with the theme of technology's affects on human evolution. In the images the bodies were emaciated and atrophied and the heads were enlarged with head gear strapped on. (It's funny how the reality of too much online time is not emaciated bodies but hugely obese ones..).

but I digress...

My point is that in art school, in my teens and early twenties I was doing experimental work, printing images of starving African children on milk cartons and mushroom clouds on lunch boxes. I made wax figurines with human hair in an attempt to recreate the second level of hell in Dante's inferno which I in turn set on fire...I did performance and installation art...I was "edgy" I guess you might say.

Right above that throw back image to my college BFA thesis show, is my most recent painting for...the Cat and Dog show. It looks more like an illustration for a children's book. In my past several shows there has been no sign of edge present whatsoever. I don't know if that is an inevitable thing that happens as we age, that our vision changes, or what. I remember the contempt I felt for women my age doing work that looks like mine does today. On the other hand, in school I was also a product of my environment and to a large extent was made to feel that art *had* to be edgy to be taken seriously. That is its own form of artificiality.

Perhaps the fact I am doing work that appeals to my own aesthetic rather than trying to walk out on the edge for the sake of being there, is actually a sign of growth? Or perhaps that's just the wishful thinking of a thirty something artist who likes that her work will sell?

Replies: 4 Comments

on Thursday, January 27th,">Frank Davis said

I am the CEO of a fine art publishing and printing company. I like the work in gallery 1. You should only paint for yourself,what you know and love. This is the mantra of the best artists I work with. Sales are down all over. It is hard to educate the general consumer to let go and buy what they love, not what they think is going to be accepted. Contact us.

on Thursday, January 27th, Elise said

Thanks for the compliment and for sharing your perspective on the matter.

on Friday, January 28th,">Jackie said

E: What a bummer that Decker-Morris is closing! I always used to go visit there when I was in Anchorage. But they were snotty too - I remember I inquired once about how they selected their artists, and the woman (Julie Decker) said: "If you aren't a recognized artist, don't even bother submitting a portfolio". I hadn't indicated that I was even considering submitting my portfolio. I had spent some money in her gallery too - sorta knocked my respect for them outta the window. But I'd say most of the galleries her in Seattle are as bad or worse in their attitudes - I don't even like to go in to look at the exhibits, let alone ever consider submitting my portfolio. Not that I could ever afford $2,000 and up for a piece of art. But I like to see what other artists are doing. There are much more fun and open venues - mostly open studio tours and the co-op gallery I show at.

on Friday, January 28th, Elise said

It's funny Jackie, because I had a good friend (a ceramics artist) who worked there and had the occasional show there as well and when I came in with her, Julie would be all nice and kiss assy to me.

I later met her at UAA, she gave a lecture there for Charles Licka, and I stopped her afterwards to ask her some questions and she didn't recognize me and she was totally stuck up and snotty to me.

Still, they were the keepers of the kingdom for so long that you couldn't really tell them to go to hell.

It didn't change me wanting to show there, I liked the space, the location, and the fact they'd show less commercial have to give them that much, they could have made a lot more money if they'd taken the route of the majority of other downtown galleries.

Snotty or not, I have a lot of respect for them...and I've never spoken with Don Decker before so I can't speak to what he's like at all. I just think it takes a lot of balls to tell the local newspaper that you think what the art scene really needs is new artists!