Culture Wars: Where have all the Artists gone, the irrelevance of art in Phoenix

Image The relevance of art in the Valley of the Sun.

This is a song sung so often it has become background noise.   Whenever the subject of art is raised, there is a sense of futility in the air.  A common complaint in the valley of the sun is that the place lacks any cultural identity.  The entire urban suburban sprawl that is the greater Phoenix area has become as creatively dry as the Sonoran desert.

                Complaints, aggravations and the ongoing search for enough currency to make art a reality, the denizens of the cultural epicenter of Phoenix have frequently, and publicly, have made it clear that something is amiss.  

                “Artistic drought” is as harmful as any other.  Walking down Grand Avenue, which was once populated with galleries, restaurants, bohemian bars and alternative spaces that bravely tried to be avant-garde, and you will see a wasteland.  The galleries have largely vanished.  As if a dusty version of a tsunami had hit, the remnants look battle fatigued. Desolate buildings, parking lots with grass creeping up the concrete, the whole area feels less like a community in turn around and more like a science fiction dystopia. 

                There are a few mavericks maintaining an assault on indifference.  By hanging on to what was once a growing area now held in a static holding pattern, some hopefuls linger.   There is something deeply romantic about facing overwhelming obstacles armed with a job, a dream and the monthly rent bill that threatens to tear it all down.  Shades of La Boehme can be felt.  The opposing side of romanticism is cynicism, but that has not stopped the hope that springs eternal.  It is the one thing that everyone is counting on for strength.

There is something horrific that we are in a place and time where visual art is becoming more and more irrelevant to more and more people.  

Intellectual curiosity has become the victim of a society riddled with more social and economic ills then there are birds in the air

Even the once affluent providers of artistic support look upon the idea as an excuse for fundraisers and wall decorations only.  Few, very few, ever do it in order to have a deeper, profound intellectual experience with art.   As long as it is in vogue and has an outrageous price tag, who really cares if anything truly worthwhile has been said.  The Emperor is naked. This time there is no embarrassed monarch because shame among the well-heeled can be written off as cheap p.r.

In the larger scheme of things, no one really cares.  No one has to the time to invest long term with the mutters and pontifications of those without a clue.

                Intellectual curiosity has become the victim of a society riddled with more social and economic ills then there are birds in the air.   Profundity and free expression have found sanctuary in some Universities and Community Colleges.  Like Medieval monks feverishly preserving the past for an uncertain future, professors, students and the ivory tower of academia have become art’s safe haven.  This is not a good thing when the only people looking at art seriously are the few that have made it in the first place.

                The blame game runs rampant. “If only the public understood my work,” is not an uncommon complaint.  The real concern when properly translated into English is more like “Why the Hell doesn’t someone come along and pay for this S—.”  Well, you get the picture.

                Honesty, the disingenuous, the sincere and the phony all converged in art.  Sometimes there is true innovation that is hard to take, but valid.  Then there are the pretenders who put far more effort into image, clothes and the right smug bored with it all expression draped in black than they ever did with the art.  The whole poetic image of a fragile attractive men, or woman, with brush in hand painting away while lovingly looking at the camera is a silly fiction. The reality of art making is far more incredible than a Hollywood glorification can envision.

                Most artists know before signing up for this profession that it is not “romantic.” To the dilettante, much of art is a pleasure ground of expression.   Those that toil at it seriously realize they are in the trenches of a gut wrenching war to bring culture, uplift and vision to a City that does not know what it is missing is what it desperately needs.

                Many on the far right talk of the “cultural war.”  There is one.  It is a war against art, music, intellect and the value placed upon such things that it is being slaughtered.  Society as a whole is not less or more moral than it was before talk of a culture war started. But the dummied down culture is easily swayed by naked Emperors their sycophants who will assault any work of merit if it brings power, wealth and fame. It has become a conflict. A real story of good and not so good men and women.

  Yes, there is a cold war.  The line between a culture without culture and those few true rebels who feverishly keep what little culture there is alive.  It is not about values, moral decay or lack of character.  They idea that America is a Sodom and Gomorrah because an artist showed one painting misses the target.

The real assault on American values are Americans. Only here can censorship and lack of an inequitable distribution of wealth and tax burden be made to look as if Americans are lazy people.

The people are working around the clock.  That is part of the problem.  All work and no time for friends, neighbors and families makes for a vanishing middle class.

As the middle class is burdened with carry the weight of carpet baggers and exploiters of human labor, a casualty in the dog eat dog world American has become art.  Even the upper middle class is feeling the pain.  Relief is just not arriving.  It is like Katrina victims.  You can shout from the rooftops, literally, and there is no one there.  But, if a buck can be made, watch the stampede.

                I have heard too many times Mayors of Phoenix extol the virtues of art.  I doubt if they ever saw one struggling.  I doubt that they would not be so inclined to greet them with open arms if they came face to face with one.  Realities of art are just too messy to contend with in any way. There is something about pressing yourself against an artist covered in sweat, desperation and insight that just ruins a $ 3,000.00 suit.

                                           I like artists, but over there.

                Artists are a lot like the “ethnic neighbor” that moves into a neighborhood where everyone shares the same pained expression trying to surpass the Jonses.  Keeping up is not good enough in a world of Kardashians and “image branding.”

                Artists are fine, we love what they do, as long as they stay over there.

                Oh well, so much time, too little talent to fill in the voids.

                The reality of art is that it needs several things for it to actual mean something.  First, it needs a place to be shown, second it needs to have talent, third you need a tireless advocate, fourth you need writers and theoreticians to separate the pearls from the pigs, fifth you need a good pr person, and last, but certainly not least, patrons.  

You can be as smug and as arrogant as you wish, that will not change a thing.  Like a dog that never learns, so many players in local art keep doing everything the same way hoping for different results.  According to my definition of crazy, reworking what has been believing good fortune will rain like manna is about as sensible as waiting for the Easter Bunny.

                This is a rule no one made, but a sad, unfortunate reality that if you do not sell art, your art runs the risk of being consumed by time.

                Naturally, any artist worth something has integrity.  They paint because they love it and would do it no matter what.  I am sure the same can be said for the financer, the Banker, The C.E.O, any elected official and most if not all medical doctors, give or take a few.  Everyone may love what they do.  They also expect to be paid.

                No one would ever go to a doctor, therapist, mechanic, landlord or plumber and ask for “freebies.”  But make your bread and butter from painting, and suddenly your work is expected to be free to any fundraiser.  It is something to be treated lightly since it has no value. No, I am not bitter, just realistic.

                No, I am not bitter, but the game is still going on and on and nothing changes

                I still believe in art, vision and integrity.  What I do not believe in are the attitudes of so many in the art world.  It is one thing to live with a fiction, maybe desire it.   It is very much a different thing when you knowingly espouse a lie as pure, virginal innocent untouched truth.

                No one wants to destroy a poetic illusion. Then again if you live in icy worlds at icy altitudes long enough, the next stop is schizophrenia.  This may explain why so many artists, actors, comedians and writers are on anti-psychotics.  Surrealistic highs, the lows, the whole expression process is awe-inspiring, wonderful and difficult.

                So far time has proven under the most difficult time, some type of art is made. 

                The burning question is will it last. Can art survive in a culture that deems intellectual pursuits as little more than the mumblings of people incapable of living in the “real world.”  Since when did pondering, writing, creating and performing become invisible?

                One really has to wonder what a nation is like when we have funny derogatory names for smart people. Art will go on kept from death by a fragile life support system.  As the numbers of days become months and years, will we wonder, “Where have all the Artists gone.” 

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One thought on “Culture Wars: Where have all the Artists gone, the irrelevance of art in Phoenix

  1. I must say you are an excellent writer and have a way of expressing yourself that is refreshing in today’s world of social media….where “you are” is ur. Oh well, I read your posts with delight and as an advocate of your position(s).

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