The State of McArt

By Lana Alattera

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SAN FRANCISCO - Lately, with the explosion of online communities and oversaturated spaces for the presentation of art it’s as if the city is on artistic overkill. Since the dotcom tragedy left the creatively inclined smothered, anxiety ridden and dwelling on unfulfilled opportunities, the ‘art world’ seems to have swung into the extreme reverse. The dotcom influx of the 90s forced musicians out of rehearsal spaces and artists out of their studios; it nearly killed the ingenious free spirit that makes this city what it is. The aftermath of this is an overabundance of so-called ‘artists’: those with no talent or those without a real desire to be one. That is until they saw an ad for an art academy enrollment, promising you could be ‘cool’ or hip once you’ve allied forces with those who already are artistically inclined and could find success. In the city’s efforts to encourage and rekindle the arts, it’s created a monster. This overwhelming amount of artists and musicians has absolutely diminished if not eradicated the very core of self expression they say the dot commoners almost succeeded at. The value of self idiom and manifestations are so reprehensibly empty they’ve thrown subjectivity out the window. There now lives here, a quantity, not quality ethos.

I see a struggle, a competition, a far reaching of such desperate measure to legitimize one’s self as an established artist, it becomes the antithesis of its original intent. There is no individuality left when one is basing their work on subsequent matter of the other. I see this work displayed in the most detrimental of environments, to the point of absurdity, an awkward irony, either in corporate or the most deprived ramshackle businesses. From inside the office to the taqueria, dentist’s offices, to check cashing centers, aged diners, nail salons and even university bathrooms, you’ll find this ‘art’. Now I’m a believer in the more art the better, but look where it’s coming from. Everybody and anybody is an artist or musician now. It’s as simple as being publicly accessible. These everybody and anybodies are content to show anywhere as long as they can list their ‘show’ in their portfolio’s resume to somehow legitimize their work. “If people see or hear it, it must have value.”

It’s painfully obvious it’s not about talent anymore, in the one place an individual could take refuge, in art and music. It’s about effortless attempts of self validation through promotion. This is now branching out though, into a national phenomena. Thanks to media and reality shows like American Idol, easy-to-use computer graphics, widely available electronics equipment replicating instruments that could fool even the most trained of ears and build- your-own webpage online communities like myspace, we’re nothing more than the time we spend typing or what our image invokes. Notoriety has never been more desirable or promising. Myspace has so many bands that it has its own record label. This type of 1-2-3, simple step-by-step self promotion is now an enclave that’s turned the most obscure, experimental and marginal of art and music into a mass marketed occurrence. It’s created a supply without a demand, the intent is off balance. And in their mass appeal they’re now a product of mass consumption, most without even realizing it, now commodities for commercial use thereby becoming mainstream and part of popular culture. The ‘underground’, the alternative, is now obsolete. It just doesn’t exist anymore.

These attempts at becoming successful as an ‘artist’ or musician are becoming lost in a sea of clones and copycats, all trying to one up each other, building or parasiting off each other in hopes of being bigger, better products. In doing this, the artist loses all original meaning and value. The intent of self is gone. I recently read The Conquest of Cool by Thomas Frank, which completely reaffirms my theories. It seems there’s a 30 year incubation before innovation becomes the sustenance of the populace. The once true artist, the unknown, the reluctant genius, becomes acknowledged, in the now, as art, and hip. This mainstreaming of what was once an exclusive novel endowment has disregarded the initial basis for what art is, has been reduced to nothing more than fashionable posturing. Look at the punk, new wave and death rock scenes of the late 70s and 80s. I would never have thought I’d see this satirical anti-culture being embraced by the very essence of its revolt resulting in nothing more than novelty theme music or style for consumerism in today’s youth. The media will tell you belonging to various subcultures can be bought in the ‘rebel as hip’, or oxymoronic ‘be different, think different’ marketing schemes. The current fashion and music panache or trends have stripped down and melded what was meaningful in my youth to an amalgamation of nothing.

All of it has no distinction; preppy, goth, new wave, hip hop, punk, mod, emo, even gasta and thug ‘life’ is all combined into one. How can one take a style or make music that’s defiant when it contains every element of all other genus. You have to define what it is you’re rebelling against before you can ‘rebel’. The self conscious art that is a result of this is all so predictable now, from endless self portraits (as if the hundreds of photos we see of them on myspace, friendster and lj aren’t enough), to the almost regimental hordes of wanna be Weegees, thanks to cell phones and digital cameras nothing is missed! A never ending production of egocentric, autobiographical zines and comix, to the occultniks continuing to barrage society with their attempts at subversion in cliques claiming to be the ‘private elite’ (which again isn’t private nor elite, especially when you see it all over lj, tribe.net) with lesser known context via autonomous art. Though to utilize hallucinogens excessively to achieve this just means one thing, Westerners in general don’t do autonomous nor tribal well.

There also results another affront, I feel my generation was cheated, nothing we did was even remotely publicly acknowledged because we just didn’t communicate via Internet or on a mass scale in any forum, we didn’t feel we needed to. If it was worthy of press or notice, it would get press or notice, without effort on our part. Back then, you were left to word of mouth, ways of myth and legend. It seems everything from my generation was a genuine movement as we created it with no role models and we risked real physical danger to live it. Now even with personal expression, which as I wrote before, is nothing but fashionable posturing, I see kids today wearing the hair and clothes we wore back in the 70s or 80s as punk or death rock, carelessly shopping for this very style in everywhere from Macys to Ross, saying how ‘cute’ this clothing is while talking of current night club gossip, when that look years ago would have warranted being spat on, verbal harassment by on lookers, beatings, questionings by the police or worse. We suffered for our art and music, especially for the message. Somehow this generation missed the message completely and mimics what we created, emulates it and exists in it superficially. It makes me frustrated that the youth of today takes what we built, our valid ideas and stakes claim on them, uses it for themselves without giving any credit to us and is creating a profit from it too. It’s commercializing what we were. Welcome to the world of McArt and McCool. Is it just me or does everyone over the age of 30 see those art academy and graphic design school ads and think of the old Barbizon ads too? “You can be a model, even an artist, or just LOOK like one!”

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All contents © 2006 by Gene Mahoney