Last month, letter-writing reader Natascha and NW Drizzle
Art Editor Jeff Jahn exchanged
letters. This month their dialogue continues:
Dear NW Drizzle,
Speaking of "in-depth," you might want to go back
and re-read (or read?) Darwin before you start calling art scenes
"Darwinian." The neo-Darwinian take on human social
interaction is as tired as the demand for coherence, programs
and "decisive" statements in art. Thanks for your
response to my letter but may I critically suggest that you
walk the walk if you're gonna talk the talk. Renting "Bring
It On" should clear that up.
Have a nice day,
It's all well and good that you believe artists don't adapt
to their environments and that somehow, in your neck of the
universe (SE Portland? NE?), there are limitless supplies of
resources and opportunities thus eliminating competition
I wrongfully compared an art scene to Darwins ideas
about adaptation for better more "decisive"access
to limited resources in his seminal "Origin of the Species."
What was I thinking? I had no idea a non-competitive
reality like you suggest even existed. As a scholar of British
literature, I now know Sir Thomas Moores "Utopia"
is completely attainable, despite the fact that he loved to
be flogged in a shack. He somehow left masochism out of his
version of a perfect city. Oh well, why trouble over the details
of human history? Does that really matter to an artist?
You are right: artists don't need to engage anything but
Pabst, a few friends, a hit of ecstasy and the eternal funniness
of Austin Powers' car, the Shaguar. Those elements alone make
"coherence" an outmoded pursuit. Just like the new
dot.com economy that experts three years ago described as impervious
to the business cycle of boom/recession, your ideas have shown
this old dog some new tricks. I now suggest everyone invest
in WorldCom stock ...
must be careful about being in a group and using it as a
shield from critical thought.
Sarcasm aside (I'm even sarcastic about sarcasm), having
a group of friends as a bulwark for your creative endeavors
is very important. Degas felt artists created for a small circle
of friends. Then again, he was horribly bourgeois.
But having people such as Mary Casatt in your circle shakes
up a few of the middle-class stereotypes. One must be careful
about being in a group and using it as a shield from critical
Also, being decisive is no paper tiger and making a decision
for better or worse is the only way we learn.
Commitment to a course of action reveals information as experience.
And, as a contextualizing force, experience is invaluable.
That said, I certainly dont discount the need for
peer-to-peer interaction. In fact, friendly competition combined
with some generosity is the best way to go. For example: the
YBAs, die Brucke, der Blauer Reiter, The Ten and, more recently,
The Royal Art Lodge, have historically developed highly eccentric
and individual styles within the context of group dialog.
In the end, though, each artist evolved into a unique
For example, within der Blauer Reiter, August Maacke
was well aware that Franz Marc was the more highly developed
painter in 1914, but was working with subject matter that mixed
man and animal.
Marc has a legacy of being the most famous animal painter
on the planet. Maacke is more obscure and is known more to specialists
like me. Both were cut short by WWI: Marc was in his prime as
a Blauer Reiter and as an individual; the tragedy of Maacke
was that he never got to fully develop.
Im mainly concerned that young Portland artists not
isolate themselves out of relevance. Being decisive means testing
things out on wider audiences so adjustments can be made, or
not. At some point you have to risk failure.
Then there is the academic notion of my "Darwinian"
versus your claims of "social Darwinism." They are
not analogous terms and social Darwinism was a misappropriation
of Darwins empiricism in much the same way that fundamentalism
co-opts the texts of various religions to serve other purposes.
In last month's response I'm not evoking social Darwinism,
but the empirical constraints of evolutionary systems that Mr.
Darwin started to articulate such as adaptation, specialization
and access to resources. I could have just as easily tied it
into the concept of innovation within complexity theory, but
felt that was just a bit too pretentious and gratuitous. Instead
of being out of date, Darwins theories on evolution now
have mathematical models.
Lastly, congrats to both James Boulton from the "Maritime"
show and Cynthia Star from "Hug Me." Both truly deserve
to be in the 2003 Oregon Biennial, but hopefully there will
be a little bravura and competition, lest the Biennial be the
high point of stillborn careers.
Think of decisiveness, competition, programs and coherence
as facts of life; they can either trip you up or bring things
But if you never try ... you'll never know, or develop.