Skimming the Surface? Alzaruba on Authenticity

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Al Zaruba on Authenticity: Skimming the Surface

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The Big C: Copyright for Visual Artists? by Cara Ober

Photo Collage by John Stezaker

Being authentic requires a careful comparison between exterior and interior intentions- the image vs. the impulse, and it’s context. The average appearing girl next door can be a perfectly authentic serial killer or an environmental activist. An authentically dressed Zulu may be an outcast who has tossed his belief system. What then is authentic? But take the issue of authenticity in the art world and there are complex layers of contradictions and half-truths widely being touted as gospel. This is the age of appropriation, or what used to be called theft.

The art world largely exists through merchants and museums and their pursuit of fame and fortune- all deeply held contemporary American goals, which are subjectively materialistic- which, in turn, questionably serve as artistic goals. Creative, idealistic objectivity is more often a hoped-for fiction than ‘fact’. Plus, authenticating the authentic is akin to counting the number of angels on the head of a pin, depending on the experts consulted or the ultimate authority we look to. As Dylan said, “We all gotta serve somebody”.

Consequently, both seeing and making authentic art is a system of faith that defies conventional logic. We all go through spells. Things may dry up, and then suddenly flow. With that said, there is something mysterious within our makeup- an inner light- an impulse that calls artists to search for meaning, to reach towards what used to be called ‘noble’, or aspiring hopes and dreams of ‘revealing the mystery or truth’ with a freshness and originality. I believe that it IS SHARED by all people- that this variable impulse resides deep within each heart, no matter how clouded or misguided.

Having recently visited the overwhelming Art/Basel Miami complex, there was abundant evidence that the majority of contemporary art springs from shallow concerns- hence the fashion of skimming the surface. Most unconsciously bounce across such issues as cynicism, greed, media worship, desires for fame, shock, sexual obsessions, unqualified self-importance and glorifying the margins of the banal- in attempting to say something ‘new’ that will set them apart. Shout anything loud and long enough and someone will come to believe you. There are plenty of authentic art whores.

Little seems to delve into the deeper reaches of what art can offer or reveal. While it’s true that the decades-old fashionable concept of ‘hot art’ as being minimal bits of visual information is still common, (especially among the art world gatekeepers), the enormous amount of slick banality begs the questionable state of such a fashion.

Who chooses those who make history? Few, if any gatekeepers are authentic artists or visionaries. Not everyone who claims to be an artist, is, let alone good, or much less- great. (Many also argue that this is no longer a valid argument in today’s turgid political correctness.) There are many world famous artists who are in place because of their connections, charming or distinctive personalities, networking career professionalism and brilliantly guided market tactics. There are also more authentically gifted artists who never make that jump. Some of these could care less- they simply make the work, because it springs from something that is often difficult to articulate, but insistently, authentically true to heart, is a breathing of the soul.

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