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"Express yourself"

Art as a human endeavor.

By Elliot J. Nitkin and Jurgita Gerlikaite

ow do we choose what art we hang on our walls?

Are our decisions made by unaffected choice or societal pressure?  What is the impact of art in our lives? Fundamentally how do we internalize our home and environment?  One can look at a photograph of a nude women and call it pornography and a painting of a nude women and call it art. Why is one message corrupt and one imaginative?

Certain art pieces have even had a considerable impact on whole nations and affected social discourse. There is the famous painting of a man and women in front of a house, the man holding a pitch fork, called “American Gothic”, by Grant Wood.  This piece has long been considered the single most important piece of art in contemporary America given the general social acceptance it eventually received and the many times it has been imitated.

However, it caused extreme controversy after it made its public debut at the Art Institute of Chicago. Iowan’s, in whose state the house in the background was built, thought it mocked Iowa farmers. Gertrude Stein, among others, thought it was a clever satire of small town life in America and praised it.

The artist however painted the piece out of his admiration for rural America, its steadfast adherence to simple values and fortitude as the backbone of American life. As the depression took hold in the 1930’s (the piece was painted in 1930) the painting came to symbolize the pioneering spirit of America. People react to what an image makes them want to feel within the context of the times, the reaction of prominent figures and where the piece appears, even if it is in direct opposition to the message the artist intended to convey.

Every image can impact on our consciousness, should we choose to consider it (in the age of mass media there is a lot we tune out I would imagine). Owning our understanding of that image is now more essential than ever. Subjugating our opinions to those of others is tantamount to relinquishing our democratic freedom. The right to have an opinion is predicated on the thought that we actually form that opinion ourselves, even if it is through conversation with others. In an age where style gurus abound and getting lost in a blitz of media hype can deflate one’s sense of distinction, creating individuality through the message conveyed in one’s art adds a measure of control back into our lives.

If knowing what a piece of art is about presents such a reward and a difficulty, where does that leave the general public? Should they feel empowered because they have choice or more trepidacious about making the right choice? Is it enlightening to control the expression of one’s environment or is one more in need of peer reassurance and acceptance?

I don’t think there is the “right” choice. When deciding how to react to art and especially what art should appear in your home, everyone should feel undeterred by the pressure of social acceptance. While most will solicit opinions of close friends, being governed solely by other’s opinions seems irrelevant. If there is a conversation to be had it is with the artist.

Art has the power to affect our decisions and the course of our society because it is both interpretive and representational.  It captures a moment in time that can affect us for years to come, but often that experience is as unique as the viewer and as open to interpretation.

Jurgita Gerlikaite 

Jurgita has, since her first piece was created, grappled with the definition of what is art, what the viewer should experience from art and how he or she can contribute to the experience (and yes they can contribute to the experience).  For her, the piece only exists because there is also an audience.  And that audience has a voice and a right to add to the understanding of the subject matter.  While I would expect that many artists have shared this quest, her thoughts have brought her to the following definition of art:  “Art is communication”.

A professional artist, art historian and author, she was born in Vilnius, Lithuania to a family of artists. Jurgita graduated Art History and Theory Studies from the Vilnius Academy of Arts in 1998.  She has taken printmaking courses with Parisian graphic artist ?ibuntas Mikšys, at the Icelandic College of Arts and Crafts in Reykjavik and has worked with Danish graphic artist and author Henrik Boegh at the Printmaker’s Experimentarium in Copenhagen. She also worked at the Copenhagen artist’s workshop “Factory of Art and Design” between 2003 and 2006.

As an art historian Jurgita Gerlikaite has published a book about self-taught Chicago born Lithuanian painter and tapestry artist Petronėlė Gerlikienė.  Jurgita Gerlikaite has actively participated in exhibitions since 1995, and has had 16 solo shows since 2003 in her home country and abroad. Her images have been exhibited and featured in many magazines and on covers in many different countries around the world including the US, Denmark, Norway, Japan, UAE, UK, Poland and Russia.

For Jurgita art is a means of reaching out to communicate with people and create a conversation with them, even if they are not in the room.

“Every piece of art is unique because it is a reflection of the artists’ individuality and his or her manner of creative expression. It’s never easy for me to evaluate my own art because I would like to stay away from interpreting my images.   I prefer to leave space for the viewer to have his or her own thoughts and questions and eventually find the answers. As an artist I am continually evolving and changing, learning new techniques and trying new modes of creative expression because I also seek knowledge to answer my own questions.

Ultimately, I believe art is only as good as the questions it raises. Art is a documentation of an artists’ reality, a blend of the technical with the intuitive, the physical with the spiritual, truth with fiction. Experience, existential and metaphysical contemplation, the ability to accumulate and forward ideas and to recreate the present, enables the artist to foresee and create the culture and civilization of the future. As incredible as it sounds, allow yourself to be inspired!”

We are the 99%, we start at home

Inspiration can create monumental change in society. One of the most prominent attempts at the moment is the “Occupy” movement.  Photographs in newspapers, magazine and the internet all show that the age of mass persuasion can actually spur on human endeavours.  Much effort is being expended at the moment to change Wall Street and the capitalist system.  The immediate popularity, if not the outcome, of the movement is not surprising.  More and more, people are feeling out of control, and that their lives are being controlled by the agenda’s of a few people.  It’s not entirely an incorrect assumption; there are roughly 140 companies worldwide who control more than 40 percent of the world’s wealth, a very scary thought.

This article has not been written to explore the impact of that fact.  The point is raised to convey the reality that there is a very real issue being addressed. For disaffected Americans to finally be making their voices heard is understandable, laudable and a relief.

However, while I am in full support of changing Wall Street and the American banking system, corporate greed and the system that distributes wealth, I am quite certain that Bay Street is in no such disrepair and we can benefit from a more proactive approach to creating our personal live.  In fact if people are so concerned with changing society and the impact of the corporate world on our lives, Canadians would be much better off “occupying” their homes and leaving the streets to the pedestrians.

There is something that has had me perplexed since I started selling art.  Why do average individuals feel such an emotional disconnection from art appreciation?  Why does art not seem to be a financial priority over buying the next six clothing items on sale?  Why do people spend more time talking about Gene Simmons “Family Jewels” or Le Donald’s “The Apprentice” or other forms of mindless drivel than the “The Group of Seven“?

The art world has made two monumental mistakes, one of which was preventable.  The first is that the so called “top 1%” in the art world has made art into a commodity; just another place to grow net worth.  The price structure often does not reflect real value either.  Snide owners use art auctions to inflate values by secretly bidding up prices of artists whose work they own so that they can sell it at a profit.  People have surrendered to the thought that art should be purchased as an entrée into a higher social position, not as an emotional experience and means of self expression.

I think it is time to take back the ownership of art’s purpose which must undoubtedly be to express oneself and one’s reaction to the surrounding world, or to have a meaningful experience from the expression of others.

The second big mistake the art world made was to promote the belief that people are unworthy of concluding for themselves what is emotionally satisfying, valuable art.  How is it that otherwise intelligent people – who would not be swayed to recommend a movie they did not like – seem so stymied when deciding what art they want to possess?  Why are they even so indecisive about owning art in the first place?  Why do they allow themselves to subjugate their free will to self appointed doyens of art?

Galleries have too often become social outlets for terminally vacuous sycophants with nothing better to do in life than pursue the acquisition of an imaginary world that in reality was bombed out of Europe during the Second World War.  Sometimes I wonder if certain Bay Street Beasties or their wannabes utilize pithy banter at gallery shows just to replace the sense of humanity they can no longer achieve.

The saddest reality of all is that the uninitiated are more concerned with who may have recommended an artist than the artist’s message, and with the opportunity art affords one to engage in a creative conversation about another’s view of the world.  Truly moving art is often discounted as “unimportant” unless the “right” person or gallery has deemed it worthy of attention.  Little wonder that what seems like a majority feel a complete disconnect from art appreciation.

I began this article with a few questions and I think I have answered the first two.  Permit me to offer an answer to the last question: “What makes one piece of art corrupt or undesirable and one worthy of our attention and imagination”?  It is simply this:  you make it so.

You the viewer will decide how you feel about a piece of art whether you want to or not.  Deep in the recesses of your mind, you will form a reaction.  The only thing stopping you from expressing it, is confidence in yourself.  There is no reason to lose that confidence; no one can take that right unless you give it.  The time has come to re-occupy your living room, show the world no one owns you.

Who cares if a piece is likely to be worth something some day.  If it appeals to you, and it is comfortably priced, buy it.  The real value an art dealer or gallery should provide you is what should be their knowledge of what message an artist is trying to convey, and in an ability to provide a well seasoned ear to help you, yes you the viewer, decide for yourself what means something to you.  They should have a questionnaire you should answer for yourself that helps guide you.  They should also make certain that the provenance of the piece is made available to you to ensure it is legitimately from the artist who claims to be its creator.

Don’t give up your power; it’s your home, live in it.