Today, the idea of "Greatness" in certain artists is somewhat out of vogue in the academies and perhaps too popular in museums, where every big name painting is suddenly touted as a masterpiece. The Truth is both are intentional dilutions and are institutionally self serving. (Yeah I used the word Truth, one can invoke it but not pinpoint it... it is easier to identify in its absence or the promise to be attentive to seeing it cross our paths, however fleetingly)
For perspective, today Portland is full of good to very good artists (500-1000?), perhaps 50-100 consistently excellent ones and maybe 3-4 ones who can summon greatness any time they want (those 3-4 are very different than the others, I've never once seen any of them satisfied and are incredibly good critical thinkers that have immense technical capabilities that they feel are just barely adequate).
Real greatness isn't that rare as most people experience it in flashes but the kind I'm talking about lies in a kind of constant questioning, questing relentlessness. One where every action is an interrogation of the matters at hand; what to do?... what can be done? ...and why not? These are conceptual and existential questions that meet the world at its terms... not just the projection of the artist's desires.
I find that the strongest artists are like rivers, their flow finds their channel by abandoning their preconceived notions. Just like rivers they follow fault lines and grind into the bedrock becausethey are so supple intellectually and often materially. Their process isn't just the path of least resistance, it is the natural path of relentlessness to work at the fissures and the seems of that what most people take for granted. The always work/cut in the deepest channel.
That said here are some great links to consider:
I'm not sure is George Shaw is a Great artist but he is consistently very good and this interview in the Guardian
is a good read.
Roberta Smith's account of what makes Picasso a Great sculptor
explains a few things that we never seem to grow tired of. You can hate the man or the reputation but the artist is hard to deny.
Another artist that many younger artists have grown to grudge is Ellsworth Kelly but this visit with the Guardian shows just why he is the real deal
. The man breathes art and I admire him greatly. If you have a problem with his art, read this piece.
Peggy Guggenheim was a truly Great art patron
. Today most collectors are just that, collectors and it is a more commodity driven exercise than one of sustained development between patron and artist. True, some do a bit more but the Great ones challenge artists and take real risks... not just offer incremental opportunities or vanity projects. Great patrons stretch artists beyond any demonstrated previous capacity and the artists do the same for patrons. I'm not certain Great artists are possible without Great patrons and perhaps a Great institution or two.
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