On Process Art

Those who know me have often heard me rant against ‘process art’ and its proponents. I am going to reprise those complaints with the end of 2023. So many art ‘hobbyists’ discover and follow a particular process for producing pieces and are ultimately deceived into believing it is art and that they are subsequently legitimate artists. Maybe this is brought about by the commercial success of their product as pure decoration or by inept and misguided peers’ adulation. The use of alcohol inks or acrylic pouring come to mind as prime examples of process disguising as unique art. You can find infinite examples of either process and their mostly identical image results with a simple computer search. If you are producing process art using such methods let me clearly tell you that no, you are not producing art – you are just following a process that results in a pretty object. Art needs meditation and purpose in how marks are applied and images are transferred from the mind to the surface. It is never enough to just depend on a process. Of course we all utilize ‘processes’ in order to transfer and realize images but these processes must be secondary to concept and interpretation, and hopefully invisible. For instance, the use of loading brushes with paint might be considered a ‘process’. The distinction is that the process must be slave to the artist and not vice versa. Artists also use processes to print and realize their images in multiples such as woodcut, silk-screen, lithography, etching, etc. but these processes are never the end in itself and have rather always been seen as legitimate vehicles for realizing personal visions – especially in multiples. The clearest modern example is photography – a technological process (machine) that permits individual personal expression but is dangerously close to being abused as a simple process. To further complicate matters we now have Artificial Intelligence (AI) art that is total process but has exponential expression built on communal or specific images from real artists. The distinction of personal vision from technological process has never been harder to distinguish as with AI and it embodies the same philosophical questions that photography once posed and dominated as the preferred machine process for generating images. Sure we can coax computers toward a personal vision, much like cameras, but where does it stop being a repetitive process and begin being the artist? I don’t think anyone can really tell and so we have widespread opposition to AI images as legitimate art. The best advise if you want to be an artist is to avoid technological tools and concentrate on the basics – handmade personal images using rudimentary tools. Mistakes derived from traditional media never seemed so comforting as when considering an alternative to pure process art.

Cuban-American Dichotomies

Two dueling versions of the art world were in plain view recently, specially for Cuban-Americans. In Florida on the one hand, we saw the spectacle of Art Basel Miami Beach 2021 (along with NADA and various other satellite shows) and in Havana the 14th Biennial – all in the midst of Covid-19 and the Omicron variant – as if anybody cared. In the southern heart of American capitalism, huge crowds of ultra-rich investors descended upon the stalls of the 1% selected galleries to scoop up commodified goods sometimes recognized as artwork by other narratives. The haul was in the billions of dollars for mostly blue-chip artists and galleries. Meanwhile, back in arch-nemesis Havana, the communist overlords trying to soften their image by using art as political propaganda had their every-other-year efforts to promote local artists ‘salir por la culeta’, or backfire spectacularly as selected citizens declined to participate or protested the exhibit due to the government’s suppression and jailing of other dissident artists. Miami saw the likes of pop stars Leonard DiCaprio and Adam Levine, casino mogul Steve Wynn, and many other VIP’s entertained with exclusive sessions where they could select their visual investments prior to the common hoards. In Havana, hundreds signed an open letter calling for a boycott that included the likes of Robert Storr (isn’t he just a critic living comfortably in the US?) while another letter from Human Rights advocacy groups including Meryl Streep called for the Cuban government to “…stop its unrelenting abuses against artists…”. As was to be expected, nobody signed any letters objecting to the commodification and institutionalism of the affair in Miami but rather gave tacit approval to the money orgy it represented. There were also no letters from artists calling for an end to the obscene ‘sanctions’ imposed by the USA on Cuba for over 60 years. Miami was awash in celebrities and publicity – it was the greatest of successes – while Havana was ignored or criticized and kicked down some more notches in the global art hierarchy. Somehow the balance doesn’t seem quite right in this equation of the art world between the two centers of Cuban American culture. Attribute these diverse attitudes to obvious regional economic and political inequality. Cuban artists in Miami were marginalized per usual while Cuban American artists in Havana were non existent. Most of this can be rationalized as a result of the highly politicized polarity of the two cities but shouldn’t art be held above that? In any case, the art world proves once again to be as disgusting as usual in its real manifestation on both sides of the Caribbean.