I keep pieces of locally-produced art that I’ve bought at poster sales over the years, and looking at these works breeds a sort of tension inside me because I don’t know the artists. It’s weird that I’ve had them for so long yet any time someone presses me on their importance, I can’t articulate it. Knowing virtually nothing about art, I don’t keep these pieces to confer some great lie about perceived tastes that I have. Like most people who own original pieces, I simply like the feeling they elicit, and the sort of liberation having no source material offers – the only referents being human experience.
This made me wonder about visual art as a medium of expression, especially as one young people undertake. I know young musicians, film producers, photographers, graphic designers, and comic artists, but I only know one person who actively curates visual art. So, I spoke to her about it. What follows is a thorough dialogue on visual art’s place in youth culture, the space young artists can enter, the future of visual art, the conditions which allow it to prosper, and those that see it wither. I want to thank Anu for allowing me some time to speak with her as a student artist.
We conducted this interview in a booth at McCabe’s. I had a hot chocolate and she had two cups of coffee. In the effort of full disclosure, I’ve shortened our conversation to meet the word parameters of this piece. I hope you take something from this, whatever that may be.
ME: Anu, why do you think people our age have so much trouble discussing visual art?
ANU: Poetry and visual arts are almost forgotten. If we’re talking about something like fine art or highbrow art, then people don’t have the capacity to discuss these things. It’s the same thing with music. [People are able to talk about] whatever is available to [them] in popular culture, so … in terms of what they’re exposed to. I don’t have the capacity to speak to you about music, but I still have my preferences. In terms of art, maybe it’s been appropriated and it’s available in different streams? There is so much visual clutter everywhere and we already have a stimulus for visuals, so art is pushed to the side or incorporated in brands. So for example, OBEY. Do you remember the Obama Hope Campaign?
ANU: So Shepard Fairey, he did that whole thing. He made the poster, and then eventually he got launched as a brand. So he was an artist and we see that and we talk about that and the reason we do that is because it is incorporated into pop culture, and if art isn’t incorporated into pop culture then it’s just forgotten.
ME: So you don’t think that there’s a space available for uncommercialized art to be its own thing? Where people can talk about it the way they want? Because sure I agree with the point about music where one might not have the capacity to talk about it at length, but everyone has their own preferences. I think it’s a little bit different with visual art though, because even if I don’t have the capacity, I also maybe don’t have my preferences. Like I don’t know … There are no common youth artists that people are talking about. The most relevant you can get is Banksy, which is not enough, you know what I mean? Not enough, when you stack it up against how commonplace directors are or how well people know different music artists even if they don’t listen to them. There’s not that sort of awareness I’ve noticed that’s cultivated.
ANU: So exposure? There’s a limited exposure to art? Because otherwise, everyone is exposed to music – it’s just a thing. It’s a social thing. Same with movies, it’s a social activity to indulge in. It’s a social activity to indulge in music. Art is more personal, so we could be seeing the same exact thing and I might have no feelings towards it, but you might have a strong feeling. So, you can’t, it’s not relatable on a universal level.
ME: Okay, so what are some of the things you’ve made? What do you do? What have you done?
ANU: A lot of acrylic paintings, that’s how it all started. Actually, it was taking artists that I enjoy and trying to replicate their work. So initially it was impressionism, a lot of bold colours and things like that. And then I decided to make it more specific to things that I enjoy. So I went the abstract route: exploring watercolours, changing a canvas, and manipulating a canvas what I mean? Whether it be putting other pastes on it, tissue or gesso and letting that dictate where I apply the paint. And also, other artists I enjoy, sculptors, I wanted to get into sculpting. A lot of work with steel wire, and because I’m in Health Sci so kind of sculpting anatomical things. So whether it be a hand and an arm, or a foot, something like that. And light sculptures with wheatpaste and translucent paper. And that was Mary Button because I enjoy her work. So again, replicating work that is visually appealing to me and then going from there.
ME: How do you find out about new artists? Other than a classroom setting, I feel like you could just go online and Google young artists and get a ton of people. How do you filter them out? Because you’re obviously not able to go to wherever they are to see their art so you would be faced with pictures of their work.
ANU: Finding new young artists, for sure social media. There’s a group of artists that I follow and based on who they’re promoting or who they’re bringing into the spotlight, finding others, oftentimes the medium that they use or the styles that they work with is similar to the initial artist. So I have a specific preference and then branching off from there. Just the fact that I’m finding them on social media brings up a discussion on high culture versus low culture. Even when I appreciate someone’s work on Instagram, does it make it less genuine? And if the only platform that someone is displaying their work on is Instagram and that brings them traffic, is that kitschy?
ME: I don’t think so, but then I guess that brings up the question of why there isn’t a more dedicated platform of visual artists of all sorts to network.
ANU: There is! There’s something called DeviantART, but the only way that you would go on this is if you knew about it in the first place or if you have an interest in coming across it. But on something like Instagram or Facebook, anyone just scrolling through their newsfeed can come across your work. Using tags to reach people, even when I make something and I want to share it, I only started doing this a couple months ago. With Instagram I found that I could reach out to people that were interested in this specific subgenre of art. Other than that, the more that I’m speaking about this, I feel like you can only find these artists if you’re interested in it to begin with. If I’m ever sharing my work at an artist marketplace or something like that, or going out of my way to attend an art opening, sometimes it’s just an interesting thing to do. And then there are other people looking at other people’s work. Usually the artists are there speaking to other people about their work and learning about other artists through them.
ME: Being in Health Sci, what are the merits in the connection between art and science? Are you fascinated by it? Do you incorporate that fascination into your own work?
ANU: Oh my God, that’s a very deep soul-searching question! I think both of these things compliment very different interests that I have. People come to you, whether you’re a chiropractor, physician or whatever, and the act of seeking help puts them in a very vulnerable position, that’s where I’d like to intervene. So that’s why I’m interested in health, and a lot of the art I enjoy, they tend to be anatomical drawings or like the artists that I’d share with you, Mary Button and Fernando Vincente, they’re kind of biological. So maybe I’m drawn to that art because I know molecular biology.
ME: Do you think in the case with Mary Button, the intent to make it biological, is that a purposeful thing? Or is that what you read into it?
ANU: I think the comparison is made, but she started off playing with shadow and translucent versus opaque textures and then it turned into something.
ME: Do you think one of the issues with spreading visual art like you would with music or film is that inherent meaning plays less of a role in the work? Do you think there is more appreciation for other contemporary art because at the end of the day, there’s some definitive basis people can grapple with and discuss on an even playing field? The safety net being the inherent meaning injected within whichever contemporary art.
ANU: Definitely. You can say that with listening to music, it brings out a feeling, but oftentimes it’s accompanied with words that are telling you how to feel; whereas with art, the goal is often to be as ambiguous as possible. The idea is people interpret it differently and people get frustrated with that. I know I’ve gotten frustrated with it. I guess it could either be for expression or just to produce something aesthetically appealing. Going back to Banksy, and he’s a big a name, but his intention wasn’t to become known – his intention was to just create and provide a commentary on what’s going on in society and he just happened to be found, so that’s still considered authentic. But when you’re going out with the purpose of making it big in the art world, that’s pretentious in itself; but you have to be pretentious in that way in order to get clients.
ME: I don’t know the big names. Any time we refer to an artist, it’s usually a Picasso or a Rembrandt. Anyone who’s old and dead and their art is still being filtered around through auctions versus young artists. The notion that these old artists are more valuable than anything you would come out with or that any youth artist would come up with, why is that? How do you combat that?
ANU: I think there are probably going to be a couple names that we don’t know at the time that might come forth in the future because in a lot of big cities, the artists who are making installations will remain. Like the Chicago Bean. But that again takes visual art and puts it into another category of architecture and that’s why it’s going to stick around. Things like music videos, and advertisements, art in mass media, and the way it’s displayed there. But again, I don’t see any big names. A lot of artists today that are making it are people who can sell themselves with their words and not necessarily their art. There are giant canvasses with a stroke of paint that will sell for tens of thousands of dollars and people are questioning whether or not there is skill behind that. And then there are other really, really skilled artists – whether they are working on realism or pushing boundaries or experimenting with sculpture or whatever it may be – they’re kind of left on the sidelines. So whatever is known as Big Art right now, a lot of it falls into that category of being pretentious, and you’re questioning whether it took skill to produce that. Since forever, the style of art has been changing. For a couple of decades it was pop art, and now it’s contemporary art. But what does contemporary art mean?
ME: What do visual arts look like 50 years from now? After pop art, is it just contemporary art into infinity? Whatever contemporary art is?
ANU: I have no idea.
ME: Are there any emergent styles now or is that something that the internet might have sort of destroyed?
ANU: Not destroyed, but it’s taking it in a completely different direction. Digital art, or digital drawing, or animation. No one aims to be a painter when they grow up, and that’s kind of odd. Either you’ll take that kind of art, whatever you’re interested in, and apply it to architecture, or starting a clothing design, fashion design, or advertisement. So there are a lot of different sectors that take art and apply it in different ways, but not necessarily the act of painting or drawing.
ME: So do you think it’ll be around in a hundred years?
ANU: I think so.
ANU: Just people wanting to create something. Make something with their hands. But then maybe there’ll be some sort of virtual reality where you can create in that way so you’re not actually creating something, but you have this Oculus Rift thing on your head and making something in a different reality. Maybe that’s where art’s going to go.
Anu showcases her work on her Instagram, anu.paint. Check it out and support the culture.