"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Discharge! The Emperor's New Clothes

Last time I wrote an essay, I offered up the question Why do you make? I was delighted by the heartfelt responses you’all shared with fellow readers. Thank you, thank you to everyone who took time to write.

We didn’t determine anything definitive when it came to addressing the gender issue - which was a subplot in my previous post. It’s too big an issue to settle in a blog essay or two. But I’ve continued to ponder gender bias this week as I finished the text for my lecture. (which I’ll reprint here after I’ve presented it to the public on January 29.)

Serendipitously, a friend sent me a link I have to share with you. The Gagosian Gallery in New York City is currently showing the works of Piotr Uklański, in an exhibition titled Discharge! I read the description of the artist’s work, and could feel the color rising – or was it the hairs on the back of my neck? Or maybe my pulse?

Delight that a surface design process has gone mainstream?
Or the usual pissed off reaction I have when the “lowly” techniques I employ to make art are simultaneously appropriated and marginalized?

The review states,
“As with the crayon- shavings paintings, torn-paper collages and ceramic-mosaic tableaux, Uklański opts for low-fi, household wares — in this case, commercial bedding and bleach — over conventional, codified art materials with which to make his art.”

And don’t ask me how we could possibly go from the aggravating (as opposed to the ridiculous) to the even more aggravating (as opposed to the sublime) within the framework of one web link, but here goes. On the same page where I read about Uklanski’s Discharge! there was a link to an image of a textile piece entitled: Woman Recreates da Vinci's 'Last Supper' with Lint. Of course this piece isn’t displayed at the Gagosian Gallery; it’s offered up by Ripleys Believe it or Not.

Am I crazy? Is there a disconnect here?

Does anyone else think it's maddening that these two artists could easily be swapped, if only we had a magic wand handy? I can picture the lint pieces on the wall of a famous gallery, commanding top dollar, if only the artist knew how to work the gallery scene.

I can just as easily imagine the bleach paintings on a wall at Ripley’s - because there are loads of folks out there who would never believe that art can be made with chlorine bleach.

Is it the luck of the draw? Ambition? Asking the right questions and getting the right teachers? Gender bias?

I just hope he neutralized those rather large investments before they went public.


  1. Wow! It's unbelievable! Do you have any idea how he "displays" these bed sheets? Is it simply because he calls them paintings and displays them as though they are that makes them "high art?"

  2. Of course the Emperor is buck nekkid as usual! I went for the eye-candy first and recognized his palette right away. It was so familiar (http://www.lacativa.com/CELLSZ.html)

    As to whether he neutralized his work -
    I won't tell him if you won't. The disintegration could be part of the performance!

  3. Deb, I think you are on to something. Just imagine the piece disintegrating right before the viewers eyes. Almost like participatory art. Whst a great thrill to see the last vestiges of the work disappear.


  4. i don't see this as gender bias. having worked at a N.Y.C. soho gallery, i noticed the owner brought in some stuff that would never sell (try mural-sized muslin creations featuring stuffed unicorns - this was in the 70's and the artist was female) and at the opening the owner was in the next room discussing with people works in his main collection by a renowned Dutch artist. i CAN see your ire at calling crap "art". tell us more about gender bias???

  5. my guess is that the reason one is hanging in the gallery and one is not has more to do with one person calling themselves an artist and thereby presenting his creations as such and the other who considers herself a crafter just trying to pass the time during the cold Michigan weather. If you google her you'll see that her creation has gotten a lot of press but couldn't find a website or online site where you can see other things she's created. Of course that all may change now with the discovery of her lint painting and 6 months to a year from now we'll be seeing a lot more "lint art" articles and books hit the shelves.

  6. Perhaps it is a combination of both gender-bias and self-definition. In art, as in many other arenas of life, women must run faster and jump higher in order to be perceived as even comparable to their male contemporaries. I don't want to set off a firestorm with this post, but I can't help but wonder: if said discharged paintings were done by a woman and began to deteriorate would she be condemned for creating an unstable work? Would the man be heralded as genius for creating a work of art that "evolved"?
    Continued food for thought. The next question: what do we do about it?
    I think we all realize that we need to change our own descriptive language as it pertains to our work, but also in how we define ourselves.

  7. Something else to consider: while her rendition of Last Supper is impressive because of the materials/techniques it is a copy of someone else's artwork.

    on the subject of disintegration - While the bed sheets are slowly crumbling don't forge that dryer lint is highly flammable (that's why they tell you to clean the lint trap every time you use the dryer!) so I hope they display it in a non smoking zone.

    Artist Eva Hesse worked with materials that are now disintegrating beyond the point that they are able to be displayed or handled...

  8. And add Julian Schnabel to the list of artists who used local materials and didn't see disintegration coming - the broken plates he glued to the canvas are falling off, the glue is yellowing...not the first time and not the last that artworks have been created with misunderstood or misappropriated materials - to the chagrin of collectors.

    Ironically - I don't mind that it happens, as long as there isn't any gender bias in the collector's reaction to the perceived damage, or expectation of recovery.

  9. To my mind, there is defnitely a gender bias there. The article was provocative and managed to both elevate and trivialize at the same time, what Gregory Bateson described as the crazy-making double-bind. After mulling this over my thought is that "conventional, codified art materials," are fine and dandy, but that the real innovators are the women who have been making beautiful and transcendantal art that is not low-fi but primal and tactile--cotton, silk,thread,pigment. So now what? Leslie referred to self-definition; that may be the critical element since that is the only thing we can effect. As to art ruined by insufficient research and knowledge about the materials used, that is unfortunate. All the more reason to have a good teacher :-)

  10. What an enjoyable discussion! I agree that self-definition has a great deal to do with where one's work hangs but I also wonder if Piotr Uklański had taken his work a step further by adding the dimension of quilting, would it still be hanging in the same gallery?

  11. Good question, Gina -- I say no it wouldn't. But I also say that if he did quilt his works, would they be accepted into quilt/art shows? Probably not.

  12. Gina - I doubt it. I've been told point blank by an influential artist in his circle that knitting, and by extension crafts, could not be art. And no, he didn't ask what the knitting looked like.

  13. I've been thinking about Jane's post since reading on Saturday. My own experience is that I began my foray into the art world weaving traditional, functional baskets. I participated in weekend art shows where most of what was displayed truly qualified as craft.

    At one point, I was invited to join a group of fiber artists at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, VA. While in the group, I continued to call myself a basketry artist because that is what I was. When the opportunity to sublease a studio on the 3rd floor came, I jumped at it, having no idea what a difference it would make. Having more display space upstairs let visitors actually see my work (which was woven abstract wall hangings - still basketry in technique. Needless to say, my sales took off. Seems customers now saw my work as art because I was on a floor that housed mostly painters. That is when I began calling myself a fiber artist.

    If I applied to art shows as a basketry artist, it was 50/50 that I'd be accepted. However, if I applied as a decorative fiber artist, I usually got into the shows.

    As for the question of gender bias? I simply don't know.

  14. Two comments: 1) I say Uklanski's case qualifies as gender bias definitely! My jaw just dropped! Bed sheets and laundry bleach! definitely Ripley's! Here comes the second comment: 2) My sister has been artfully incorporating bits of laundry lint into her quilt and fiber art for years, perhaps decades. My sister and our family were all chagrined by 'The Last Supper.'

  15. Today, Robert Genn had a post regarding "feminine mystique" that talks about women painters and how many of them there are, intimating that there is a disparity as to how many of them are Sucessful compared to their male counterparts. At the end he lists several characteristics of sucessful women artists. He doesn't say if the list is the same for guys.

  16. I sent an email to the gallery contact, Sarah Hoover, with some links to work by Elin Noble, Regina Benson and Dorothy Caldwell just to let her know that discharge is not a new art form.

    For the record the blurb in Art Daily was taken directly from the gallery's own write up i.e. is not an objective review.

    Love the discussion!

    Kristin Rohr

  17. We think we've won the gender wars--but what you are talking about here clearly shows that nothing much has changed in many realms. Sexism is alive and well in the arts, just as in business where women's wages still lag behind those of men. Check out the article in Salon magazine (http://www.salon.com/books/laura_miller/2011/02/09/women_literary_publishing) on "literature's gender gap." The organization Vida (http://vidaweb.org/about-vida/mission; also see the link from the Salon article) was founded to address these discrepancies for women in the literary field, particularly about the awarding of literary prizes. Sounds like time for a sister organization for women in the arts. The documentary "Who Does She Think She Is?" has started the dialogue (http://www.whodoesshethinksheis.net/).

  18. I think Uklanski's discharge paintings are beautiful and the lint assemblage, while delightful, is either naive or kitschy. Didn't you raise the issue of evaluation/criticism in your recent lecture? What are the aesthetic criteria for evaluating textile art works?