THROTTLE by GORDY GRUNDY
APRIL 2007; ISSUE No. 5
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AGE AFTER BEAUTY
   
   

On January 30, 2007, the Los Angeles Times published ‘Never Too Late’, a laughable essay on age and art making. The writers, David Galenson and Joshua Kotin, propose a wild theory that as one ages, one makes better art. Clearly, the authors demonstrate little knowledge of the realities, standards and practices of the fine art world. The piece should have appeared in the comics rather than the Opinion section.

The argument begins with the arse of Clint Eastwood. Everyone is kissing it over the success of ‘Letters From Iwo Jima.’ The Japanese language World War Two epic has been highly lauded and I personally believe it should have won the Oscar. At the age of 76, the film director is making the best work of his career. But I also wonder how the same material would have developed in the hands of an artful innovator or a young firebrand. I wonder if the film would have made a greater statement had it been made in the Yiddish language. I wonder if a rap-laced soundtrack would have given the anti-war film a contemporary parallel to Iraq. Clearly, Eastwood is not thinking outside the box, as only the young can.

The authors evidenced their naiveté when they noted that Louise Bourgeois just sold a recent artwork for a record price of $4 million. This does not mean the sculptor is making better art with age. It merely indicates that she is nearing her greatest profitability. The old gal will turn a century if she can hang on for five more years. In the world of high finance, it is called Futures Trading. In the art world, collectors call it S.O.D. or Smell Of Death. That’s where the money is. Buy when it’s most stinky. The best bio of an artist includes an obituary. I wonder if the owner of the $4 million sculpture often calls Bourgeois to ask how she is feeling?
I believe that S.O.D. is one of the reasons why serious collectors have abandoned Damien Hirst. When the hard drinkin’ and druggin’ artist found sobriety, his life expectancy was extended and his S.O.D. rating plummeted. Why buy now?

Most hilarious is the statement that “career arcs—gradual improvements culminating in late achievements—account for many of the most important contributions to the arts.” Nonsense. We do not want arcs in art. The art world wants artists to create just one thing and to keep doing it until they die. This is how one develops recognizability. The arts are an intellectual pursuit. Status is accorded to those who can ‘Name The Artist’. How can I have a dinner party and impress you with my good taste if you can’t recognize the painting on the wall? “I love the Warhol.” “No one does a dachshund like Hockney.” That’s why we hate Sigmar Polke; his work changes too much and too often.

The article states, “It’s dangerously easy to parlay judgments about early work into assumptions about entire careers.” Is this a bad thing? Art collecting is about speculation. It is a gamble. Why buy art if it will not appreciate? The engine of the art machine is fueled by early work. Without premature judgments, the art world would collapse, gallerists would starve and sober collectors would spiral to another addiction.
The economics of art demand discovery. At one time we were shocked to learn that aggressive dealers were scouting grad schools. Today we are unfazed when they scour a grammar school. Do you ever hear of a gallerist snooping around a retirement home? No. That’s why there will only be one Grandma Moses.

What gave me a laugh was the notion that success in the arts is a “trial and error accumulation of knowledge that ultimately leads to novel manifestations of wisdom and judgment.” Yah, right. You either got it or you don’t, baby.
There is a vocabulary to art and age. ‘Brash and brilliant’ will always connote youth. ‘Cranky and road weary’ is reserved for the senior citizen. Dynamic or drooling? Edgy or demented? It’s all about sex appeal.
Poet Robert Frost is quoted, reflecting upon youthful flashes of insight. “It is later in the dark of life that you see forms, constellations. And it is the constellations that are philosophy.” That’s lovely and all, but it’s not now and it’s not hot.
Art is immediate, not sustained. Art is about the discovery of a new sensation. Judging a persons career over time is like watching paint dry. It just isn’t sexy. Steadfast dedication to one’s craft won’t bring out the paparazzi.

One would assume that the fine art world would be socially progressive and of a liberal mind. It is not. In truth, the art world is the caboose of our society. It is the last entity to modernize and illuminate. It is racist, sexist, homophobic, fearful of religion and wholeheartedly ageist.
Private country clubs began to accept female members long, long before a (white) woman ever got an art show.
Been to many exhibitions at a museum that feature an artist of color?
Homophobia is rampant but never expressed. As long as gays (or ‘faggots’ as they are now called in the media) keep buying art, a slur will never be sallied. This minority is the economic lifeblood of the art industry.
Youth and beauty will always be synonymous. Yes, ageism, like any prejudice, is a very bad thing, but who really wants to sleep with an old person? Sorry, grandma.

In defense of the article, our world is changing. With medical innovations and health discoveries, people are living longer and leading active lives. I have read that even old farts in their fifties are able to have a healthy and active sex life.
Medical experts predict that the baby boomer will live to be 120. This is very encouraging. If the definition of ‘old’ is changing, then so will the definition of sexy. As long as jumpin’ Mick Jagger, swashbuckler Harrison Ford and velvety Helen Mirren are still making big, big money, the Hollywood publicity machine will be shouting and touting their sex appeal while influencing younger generations around the world. Sixty is the sexy new thirty. The standards are changing and I am optimistic. Just think, thirty years from now, I will be getting more action than I did when I was twenty. I am beginning to believe my sunset years will be golden.

The authors end their argument with words of encouragement, “Don’t give up. There’s time to do game-changing work after 30. Great innovators bloom in their 30’s (Jackson Pollock), 40’s (Virginia Woolf), 50’s (Fyodor Dostoevsky), 60’s (Cezanne), 70’s (Clint Eastwood) and 80’s (Louise Bourgeois).” Bullshit. To quote a prominent gallerist friend who shall remain nameless, “Hell, I won’t even look at a painter if they’re over 25!”
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GORDY GRUNDY, a precocious teenager, is a Los Angeles based artist. His visual and literary works can be found at www.GordyGrundy.com.

   
         
         
   
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