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Key Concepts : Art is Ordinary

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The United Kingdom’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport, defines culture as an economic resource. Their position is that human creativity is essential, in contrast to the old world view that science, industry and culture are considered distinct. In fact, continuing to categorize human creativity is considered a serious barrier to progress in business, social regeneration and in the arts. “In the era of creative economy, art is ordinary, and there is essentially no difference between the creativity of the entrepreneur, the scientist and the artist” (creativeclusters.com). This means that creative individuals must work to unleash their creative pursuits by rejecting existing categories and paradigms to pursue new ways of thinking and working. In this model, entrepreneurial and technical skills become essential in the arts and traditional arts skills become critical in business.

“All this means that the role of the artist is changing. The artist is no longer a peculiar outsider, with a magical gift that the state or the rich must protect. Artistic creativity is an ordinary human activity. Playing a musical instrument, writing, making a film—these are specialisms and as with any specialism it’s hard work and some people will be better than others. But creative skill is not magic. It can be taught and learnt.”

(creativeclusters.com)

Do you think art is ordinary? Right now in Fort Collins (through September 25), you have a great opportunity to contemplate this question! In honor of the 20th anniversary of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, CSU’s University Art Museum received a gift of photographs by the legendary Pop artist Andy Warhol and you can see them along with borrowed examples of his Flower paintings (based on photographs of hibiscus blossoms). Andy Warhol’s art has become such a big part of US visual culture, that today it is easy to ignore how “out of the ordinary” it would have looked when he first created it. Did you know that Warhol used commercial fluorescent paints—not the oil paints that artists were “supposed” to use? His images and ways of making ordinary objects into graphic statements have become so much a part of our visual language that knock-off examples surround us in stores, advertising and interiors. For example, for a price online, you can upload your own photo image, have it transformed into a punchy, brightly colored, Warhol-like canvas, and hang it in your home.

Andy Warhol signing soup can in Fort Collins, 1981, Photo from CSU Library

Andy Warhol signing soup can in Fort Collins, 1981, Photo from CSU Library

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was born “Andrew Warhola,” to Slovakian immigrant parents. He was good at drawing and painting when he was young and later studied at what is now Carnegie Mellon University, continuing onto a career in magazine illustration and advertising. His sensibility for repetition and photo images grew out of mimicking mass advertising.

In the 1960s, when “fine art” and “commercial art” were still considered absolutely distinct categories in a hierarchy of creative expression, Warhol made paintings of famous American products like Campbell’s soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles. Later, he made silkscreen prints of products in order to not only make art about mass produced items but to actually mass produce art. He hired and supervised “art workers” to make prints, shoes, films, and other items at his studio, The Factory in New York City, which became the meeting place for a wide range of artists. Think Mick Jagger, Lou Reed, Truman Capote, Debbie Harry and The Velvet Underground for example. Warhol and other Pop artists challenged established ideas of art—including whether “fine art” could be mechanically reproduced. Ironically, Warhol’s work is now housed in established museums and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh is the largest American art museum dedicated to a single artist! Do you think that debate has been won?

Moreover, long before the “Superstar,” reality television and internet fame possibilities of today, Warhol believed that the media could make any person famous in a cycle of disposable celebrity. He was especially drawn to the images of people in publicity stills and newspapers and to their stories of personal tragedy. He modified photo images to create iconic paintings of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy and others. However, when he “sampled” a photograph from Modern Photography Magazine, the photographer sued. After that, Warhol took thousands of his own photographs, becoming a prolific photographer to create his own source material, although evidence of this process has not been widely exhibited. Did you know that Warhol often used an ordinary Polaroid camera to photograph friends, who like him, were also celebrities? Don’t miss your opportunity to see examples of how art is ordinary and learn more about Warhol right here in Fort Collins, at CSU’s University Art Museum.

While you are there, think about the relationships between photographer, model, and image. Our understandings of these 3 components of photography reveal much about our cultural definitions of art, artist, and creativity. Is art really ordinary? If art is ordinary, is art education basic to being educated? Where do art and process connect/disconnect? Should art be integrated into life, and everyday life into art?

Who gets to make art? What do you think? We look forward to hearing from you!

Read about Denver-based photographer Mark Sink’s relationship to Warhol—Andy Warhol was his hero.

Read about Warhol’s visit to Fort Collins in 1981.

Read memories of Warhol’s visit to Fort Collins.

The Fort Collins Museum and More Meetup Group

Thanks for the photo estaticist!

Art for all!

Deborah Lombard

Key Concepts : Creative Industries

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Last week, I wrote about creative economy, and although there’s a lot more to say and think about, today, I’m wondering about the products that make up the creative economy.  The United Kingdom’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport defines creative industries as, “those activities which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property.”  While a creative product may exist as a physical entity (think paper, film, computer disk…), its value is in its meaning and what it represents—its content.  The content/information of a creative product is boundless, but that content/information defines its value. Creativeclusters.org offers a good example, “Even with a designer T-shirt or a piece of [jewelry], it’s the style, the design that counts, not the cloth or the metal.”

This past weekend, on the Lower East side, New York, several artists and community organizations opened an exhibition, that puts this concept to the test.  HomeBase IV, is an exhibition in a vacant medical clinic.  This is not an exhibition of art created somewhere else and then transported into a pristine, neutral gallery for contemplation.  A lot of what you can see in HomeBase IV, was created from materials found in the existing space.  The creative product, the process, the content, and the experience of visiting the site give the project value.

“’When we arrived, it had nothing in it,’ said Leor Grady, the curatorial and programming director of the project.  ‘It smelled like a combination of mildew, chemicals, medical waste and sheet rock.’  Even after a cleaning, the worn peachy-beige walls, industrial carpeting and fluorescent lighting retain a sterility that serves as a palette for the sometimes unsettling works.”

A variety of artists collaborated to explore the notion of “home,” in this specific space (unused clinic) and to engage the residents of a changing neighborhood.  This means that the artists met together, talked, read, and interacted with the public to determine what would happen in the space, as well as worked to design what a visitor can see.  (See images) All at once, the meaning for the project/action is in the process and its space–the product becomes spatial, as it connects people, place, and time.  Gone is the presumption that art=object, or that art can only exist isolated from community in a building labeled as gallery or museum.  As reported in the New York Times, one of the artists, Paul Sepuya, a Brooklyn photographer of Ugandan descent eloquently describes his reality and makes his experience tangible.  “I thought it would be interesting to apply the idea of home as spatial,” he says. “When you’re not at home, it’s constructed by your family’s stories.”  His contribution to the exhibition includes portraits of friends and neighbors who like him, have some association with Uganda—a “home” that Sepuya has never visited!  Another artist, Dafna Shalom took photos of men in the neighborhood who reminded her of her father — a hand here, a hairstyle there.  Our realities are often constructed through small gestures that we don’t notice, but become intriguing when we stop and think.  If a smelly, unused, and dingy health clinic in New York, can be reinvented as a site for building community and thinking about the meaning of “home,” what are we overlooking?

Creative economy is driven by creative industry.  Products are reorganized from seeming non-existence, although the ideas and materials may already have been there.  Ideas are what transforms materials and what can transform people, neighborhoods, cities, and towns!  There are lots of creative spaces and events that promote thinking in and about Fort Collins.  This week we can think about caring for each other by simply eating out to help United Way of Larimer County.  Later in the week, think about places that used to be here but only exist as fading away signs painted on buildings in Old Town, or join others to think about an area of Fort Collins that will grow in the future.  You can contemplate exhibitions about Dreams, Floating Worlds, and art made by senior citizens.  Perhaps you’ll ride the trolley and think about public transport, or learn more about the public art that helps create a sense of place in our city.  All the details are at www.visitfortcollins.com!

The whole world is a museum without walls!

Thanks for the photographs No Trams To Lime Street, MacRonin47, and hoggardb.

Deborah Lombard

Adjusting definitions of creativity.

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I’ve been thinking more about creative economy.  Under a heading of “key concepts” for creative economy, creativeclusters.com states that “creativity is the key factor driving development.”  Their position is that, “[a]cross the world, enterprises based on individual creativity are booming.  Furthermore, knowledge and culture-based activities now play a central role in the activities of all businesses. This is the era of the creative economy.”

One of the ideas behind creative economy, is that up until now, the industrial age harnessed human creativity to focus on mass production.  In order to create the most profit, industrial manufacturing standardized products to appeal to the largest group of people possible.  Employees and consumers were not imagined as individuals but as a target market who could be convinced that they all wanted (and needed!) the same things.  The mindset that drove this kind of production, pushed us to collectively separate creative wealth and power from economic wealth and power.  Proponents of creative economy argue that today, many people still maintain this distinction, to the point of believing that creativity and economics are binary opposites.  All over the world, we’ve bought into the idea that economic and creative activity require distinct types of behavior, learning and language.  Our institutions reflect this paradigm, so that our education and political systems separate the arts, science, and business from each other.

Why should we evaluate creativity, economics, and art at this point in time?  Most of us can sense that we are moving into a different world driven by technology.  Earlier in history, the agricultural age was replaced by the industrial age, and once again a shift is taking place.  We are living in a world where products produced by machines that rely on raw materials (like coal and steel) can no longer be considered as infinite.  In this new age, the most valuable products become ideas and meanings, produced by the imagination—not by machines.  To participate in this new age, we need to adjust our definitions of creativity.  Artistic creativity must now be understood as ordinary human activity that can be taught and learned.
Steampunk Space Helmet

Steampunk Space Helmet

As I work to process these concepts of creativity, the Steampunk movement provides me with fantastic visuals of what human imagination can produce and even sell.  Steampunk starts with concepts rooted in fantasy and speculative fiction set in the era of steam power—usually 19th century, Victorian England.  The twist is that elements of science fiction, fictional technology or real technology are added to the unique mix.  If you’ve never heard of Steampunk, do a web search and be amazed at the exquisite examples you’ll find.  Steampunk fashion provides limitless individual examples, like an elaborate Victorian bustle dress adorned with discarded pocket watches.  A closer look reveals that the dress has been sewn out of a surplus military parachute. Rooted in the remnants of industrial production, Steampunk narratives, ideas and objects, explore the past and the present to imagine the future.  I read somewhere that science fiction allows us to emotionally cope with change.  Steampunk shows that we can proceed with unlimited imagination and style!  A new creative economy is as possible as our collective imagination.

Have old goggles, will travel!

Thanks for the photos JoesSistah, pashashaLush.i.ous, and  Foxtongue !

Deborah Lombard