Ivan's Blog

Thank you for stopping by. This blog will be dedicated to art criticism in today's culture.

Tag: Art Criticism

My Thesis

Hi Everyone,

I recently finished my MFA degree and I have decided to put my thesis paper on wordpress. I will be posting according to chapters. If the response is good I will keep posting. In the end I will put a link to my artwork.

Please remember this is copyrighted, so please respect! If anyone wants the actual PDF, please go to UCF Library to view it.  Also I added links for references only on the web, they were not part of the original paper.








B.F.A the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 2008

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements

for the degree of Master of Fine Arts

in the School of Visual Arts and Design

in the College of Arts and Humanities

at the University of Central Florida

Orlando, Florida

Spring Term  2014

© 2014 Ivan Riascos



This paper will discuss the creation of my artwork, which has been inspired by my experiences and understandings of Catholicism and its icons.  I will consider how iconography works in art, its influence, and how and why I have created this artwork dealing with my beliefs.  I will also refer to the works of contemporary artists Duane Michals and Michael Wesely to help explain my exhibition, which I have titled “Doubting Thomas: The Testaments.”







Having been raised in a religious household I witnessed my mother’s unwavering belief in and devotion to Catholicism, despite highly publicized reports of pedophilia, and corruption within the institution.  When I was a child I did not question going to Mass or the Church’s teachings, but as I got older, those teachings began to conflict with what I was witnessing in the world.  Also, I often felt disconnected from the religious imagery I was exposed to, because I was taught that the images were actual representations of what had happened according to the scriptures.  Instead, that imagery came from the imagination of an artist and his view of the world, or from his interpretation of the scriptures of the Bible, which did not relate to my views or offer substantial proof.

For my thesis show I have created two bodies of work that explore my experiences and understanding of Christianity.   First is the use photography to create my understanding of the biblical stories that my mother and I often discussed.  The second are sculptures referencing a specific experience that I believe was directed, perhaps from God, towards only me.  That experience raised the question, “Is God communicating with me”?  For the installation, I created an object similar to the one that I encountered during the event to recapture the spiritual effect it had on me.

This paper will discuss how and why I created the photographs from the first part of my exhibition and the sculptural installation for this exhibition, which I have titled “Doubting Thomas: The Testaments.”



In this chapter I will provide a brief history of Catholic iconography and of my formerly incomplete understanding of it to justify my thesis.

The origins of iconography are hard to determine, because many cultures have been shown to “write with images.”  Iconography is a term used in anthropological studies and art studies.  Iconography is also general term applicable—generically—to the West and the East, as well as to their respective religious sub-genres, such as Christian, Orthodox, and Buddhist.  Each branch has specific criteria, such as its location, culture, beliefs, and a system of symbols that have been established through historical studies.

In the Oxford Dictionary of Art the word icon is defined as:

An image of a saint or other holy personage, particularly when the image is regarded by the devotee as sacred in itself and capable of facilitating contact between him or her and the personage portrayed.  The term, which derives from the Greek word eikōn, meaning ‘likeness’, has been applied particularly to sacred images of the Byzantine Church and the Orthodox Churches of Russia and Greece (The Oxford Dictionary of Art).

Because several meanings and histories of icons exist I do not intend to write broadly about the subject.  Instead I primarily discuss Catholic iconography I was exposed to and its relevance to my artwork.

While growing up I encountered religious iconography inside churches and in an illustrated Bible.  I accepted their truths as literal.  Two paintings that affected me were Saint Michael the Archangel Michael Bringing Down Lucifer by Francesco Solimena, and The Collapse of the Tower of Babel by the Dutch School.  Solimena’s painting depicted a winged creature banishing the angel who was to become Satan.  But I began to wonder, if Michael had the opportunity to defeat Lucifer once and for all, why did he not do so?  Michael would have eliminated evil in the world.  I believed that evil arose from Satan’s desire to lead us away from God.  Where did a world of winged, and powerful creatures come from?  How did they relate to me?  Would they rule over me if I reached heaven?  How does someone become an angel?  It did scare me into not wanting to be a sinner and end up in hell.  I was less inquisitive about The Collapse of the Tower of Babel because its message was clear and it was such a powerful image that I did not question its validity.  In the story of the tower of Babel, God was angered that humans believed they could reach heaven on their own.  God destroyed the tower and created different languages so humans could not complete the construction of the tower.  I reacted equally strongly to images that depicted the scriptures in which God punished humans for not obeying him, especially from the Old Testament, such as; The Destruction of Sodom by Jean Baptiste Corot (http://worldvisitguide.com/oeuvre/O0030826.html), The Evening of the Deluge by John Martin (http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_130359/John-Martin/The-Evening-of-the-Deluge-1828), The Plague of Asdod by Nicolas Poussin (http://bible-library.com/imgfullsize?id=ag1iaWJsZS1saWJyYXJ5chALEgdQaWN0dXJlGI_w8QIM), etc.  These images blurred truth and fiction and confused me as a child.  Images created by these artists matched my understanding of particular scriptures.  I was taught, “you do not question the word of God,” which meant the Bible is the truth.  At the same time I was being taught in school the theory of Evolution and other scientific theories.  Why did men attempt to give us a metaphorical understanding of the world at a time when it was not possible to explain the phenomena referenced in these stories?  This conflict weakened my trust in biblical scriptures as tools for resolving my daily moral dilemmas.

When author Albert Moore discusses Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn’s, The HundredGuilder Print (http://www.artbible.info/art/large/446.html), he suggests that an icon is a ‘likeness,’ and that the reality it seeks to embody is actually present.  Thus Rembrandt’s etching shows us that Jesus was a person 2000 years ago who preached and healed the sick.  The picture purports to provide us his likeness despite the fact that neither Rembrandt nor anyone else could be sure of what Jesus looked like.  At the same time we are drawn into the picture as a depiction of the present, for it represents (makes present again) to our mind’s eye Jesus meeting a group of people who would have seen him.  The “reality” of the image has simply been taken from its original time and place – or at least from Rembrandt’s – and made available to us (Moore 30).

Over the years as an artist I’ve learned that the purpose (or effect) of art is to illustrate the artist’s intentions as well as the culture and time period that the artist lived in.  “Art is sometimes classified by anthropologists as cultural tradition and as communication-to convey ideas and emotions by means of conventions and formal symbols and to reinforce beliefs, customs and values” (Moore 33).

After reading Albert Moore’s ideas, I understood my feeling of separation from the religious imagery I had grown up with.  These images from the past did not relate and coincide with my understanding of the world.  This alienation became a primary motivation for the creation of this body of work.

Three main things that I was taught about faith were: (1.) one does not question it, because God works in mysterious ways; (2.) God’s intentions for us are incomprehensible to us, and (3.) one can witness God’s hand in the everyday if one pays attention.  The ideas correspond to “blind faith,” which I had difficulty with, but the third idea was also a motivation for my thesis project, which meant if I witness God’s hand at work or its results, I can photograph it.

To be continued…


Interview with Coco Fusco and Team Coco at the Atlantic Center for the Arts

Sorry for being silent for such a long period, but with me being in my last year of the MFA program things have gotten very busy.   Earlier this year I had the pleasure and privilege to interview Coco Fusco and her Team at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. This is my first time interviewing and I hope you find it interesting.

Interview with Coco Fusco and Team Coco at the Atlantic Center for the Arts

Art World aka Theme Parks.

So I live in Orlando, Florida, the world’s foremost expert in theme park experiences.  Over the weekend I flew to NYC to view James Turrell’s, Aten Reign at the Guggenheim, and Paul McCarthy’s, WS at the Park Avenue Armory.  Both were in a sense a theme park based experiences that overtook the entire interior of building they were exhibiting at.  Two polar opposite artists in every sense of the word, from the issues they address, Turrell dealing with the spiritual and how light affects our lives, and McCarthy addressing consumerism that is heavily driven with sexuality and fantasy, to the medium they work in, Turrell principally works with light, and McCarthy with video, and over the top installations.

James Turrell’s piece takes over the entire rotunda at the Guggenheim (http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/exhibitions/on-view/james-turrell ).  They altered the circular staircase to accommodate for the visual aspect in creating the experience of Aten Reign.  To fully enjoy this piece one needs to dedicate an hour of laying on the first floor, or grabbing a seat along the perimeter.  The best way to describe the piece is to imagine a slow moving color field, which envelops you.  The majority of the time is spent looking up that at the graduation through a spectrum of various colors.  The center circle remains a neutral white that is not apparent at first.  This neutral white is actually the natural light filtered from outside.  The more you look at it the more it becomes like a meditative piece.  You start to think how beautiful the world is in having witnessed such a beautiful creation, or things that you overlooked because you are too busy to notice the subtle changes in your daily surroundings.  Another aspect that is overlooked in the piece is that it’s a wonderful place to people watch.  Seeing the people’s reactions while they look up or lay down.  The security guard futilely repeating to the visitors that photography is prohibited.  Also the colors in Aten Reign causes a chain reaction to the colors in the room, so depending what you are wearing you will see colors become fluorescent or a different color.

Paul McCarthy’s WS, is the taking of Walt Disney’s tale of Snow White (http://gothamist.com/2013/06/18/paul_mccarthy.php#photo-1 ), and twisting the story with many references such as: biographical (the set and house is a replica of where the artist grew up), art history (Olympia by Manet http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympia_(Manet) ,  The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden by Masaccio http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expulsion_from_the_Garden_of_Eden), Oedipus (the relationship between the characters White Snow, the mother figure and Walt Paul aka Paul McCarthy, the son), Hollywood set designing, and to add a final topping to the cake McCarthy mimics a Disney store where actual Snow White merchandise can be purchased.  This show has an age restriction of no one under 17 is allowed to enter.

I will admit that prelude to visiting WS, I saw Llyn Foulkes retrospect show at the New Museum.  Some of Foulkes work was heavily influenced by the Mickey Mouse Club handbook where his belief that Disney’s intentions are to brain wash children’s minds.

Below is an excerpt from the THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB handbook:

The primary purpose of the club is two fold:

a) It provides an easily arranged and inexpensive method of getting and holding the patronage of youngsters.

…Everyone knows how strong the “gang” instinct is in children.  The Mickey Mouse club is unique in that it…implants beneficial principles, the latter so completely shorn of any suggestions of “lessons” of lecturing, that children absorb them almost unconsciously.”

While viewing WS I saw the same issues being address by McCarthy.  His installation in the main room consisted of 3 large screens on one side of the room, with duplicate videos being shown on 3 other large screens.  They show a party that is unraveling with White Snow and her different personification (each personality wears a specific color yellow, blue, and red), since there are 3 princesses then there has to be 3 Prince Charmings, Walt Paul, and 9 dwarfs.  The movie is 7 hours long, so if you want to see the ending you need to stay till the closing.

Between the video screens there is a large set of the interior of the house where the evidence and bodies of the party gone wrong remain, including the smells of the food left over.  The sets are the same location viewed in the videos.  Of course you can’t forget the magical forest where White Snow and the Dwarfs reside in, which was recreated but in plastic plants and trees that have the color of human excrement and somewhat shape like it.  Also located within the forest the artist offers you an exterior view of the house, with its white trim and yellow siding.  The side rooms in the armory include videos showing.  These videos are chapters to the story.  One video includes Prince Charming having intercourse with an animated sex doll of White Snow, basically he is trying to revive our princess.  The strongest video for me was Adam & Eve, Etant Donnes.   Seeing WS and Walt Paul running naked in slow motion and the slowing down of the audio their voices calling in agony, you feel the pain, shame, and the gravity of the crime they have committed.  It heavily references The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

Going through the different viewing aspects of the installation; eye level, peeping through windows, cut out holes, from below, and from up above, you feel like you are in a Disney amusement ride minus the cart on the rails, and the innocence.  The viewer is constantly bombarded visually and especially auditory, no matter where you go it mixes with other sounds of the installation.

Both exhibitions or should I dare to say theme rides, was such an interesting clash of perspectives, but powerful and strong artistic statements.  One installation being so meditative and spiritual, while the other installation being perverted and decadent, showing the ugly side of humanity in a very pessimistic way.  But of course real life works the same way in that you have good days and bad days and to me this is the beauty of seeing both works back to back.

Review of The Aesthetics of Scale by Simmons and Lines

One of the small treasures in the area for those seeking to be exposed to contemporary themes in the art world, the Orlando Museum of Art has a program called New Work: A Series of Bi-Monthly Exhibitions of Contemporary Art.  I always look forward to seeing these exhibitions, which are shown in a small gallery space, that is set-aside from the museum’s main galleries and an added bonus, it’s free! So how can you beat that?

The majority of the time the art shown here is more cutting edge and conceptual than what is shown in the museum’s main galleries.

New Work is aimed to educate viewers in the area of contemporary art that work in various mediums including new media and collaborative projects.

The exhibition I went to see was The Aesthetics of Scale, by Rachel Simmons and Lee Lines (http://www.omart.org/exhibitions/rachel-simmons-lee-lines).  The images were black and white on white paper, with visible traces of charcoal and graphite.  The sizes of the paper were roughly 16 X 20 inches or 8 X 10 inches, which was a series they titled POSTCARDS, even though they were not the standard size of a postcardThe imagery came from photographs taken by Lines on his travels across the world, which are later transferred by a printing method to paper.  Barren landscapes and modern structures are juxtaposed.  The choices made by the duo sometimes work and sometimes loses the formal qualities and disorients me, questioning what I’m looking at.

The pieces that I thought were particularly strong were;

Landscape as Measure 2, I thought of how humans make themselves at home no matter how isolate the area.

Economy of Scale, made me think of arteries and how we are connected.

Unconformity 2, the past versus the present, or is the past in the picture really the present, but we assume time lines without understanding the full scope.

Landscape as Measure, is it possible to contain the world in glass houses, and of course what happens when we throw stones at these structures.

The Postcards, were smaller images, covering one wall from top to bottom, and reusing the imagery from the large prints, but juxtapose differently, which did not offer any new insights to the artists intentions.

This exhibit was collaboration between an artist (Simmons) and a scientist (Lines), a dialog between the professions that started on a trip to Iceland where they witnessed first hand a nation that is dedicated to renewable energy.   They are addressing scale and sustainability in the landscape.

Overall the concept is very contemporary, but the artwork and use of materials did not relate to the concept.  It did not bring it into the 21st century, which stop me from defining it as contemporary art other than the fact the year is was made.

Here is a link to Rachel Simmons’s blog that has some of the images from the show.  http://www.omart.org/exhibitions/rachel-simmons-lee-lines

Review of SNAP! in Orlando

SNAP! took place this past weekend, which is a five-day photography festival.  Three years running and with each year the festival grows in bring in a talented scope of photographers/artists that work in this medium.  This year’s theme was Motion to Light.

Over the years SNAP! has shown photographs that are very beautiful, and this year is no exception, for example Jill Greenberg’s portraits of horses; sharp, clean, large, luscious, and mesmerizing to look at, in other words eye candy.  SNAP! organizers try to bring different genres of photography such as: fashion, commercial, documentary, portraiture, and conceptual, but the main qualification that dominates what gets into the show is eye candy, and I believe this to be a handicap sometimes.

In this critque I have decided to only write about photographs/art I found interesting in the festival:

Stephen Knapp’s (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqWnU3ClG6I) light painting titled Next Yesterday, grabbed my attention at first glanced.  This piece was installed on the second floor with one directional light, its beam broken up my various shapes and sizes of glass that created color fields as the light shined through.  It reminded me a little of Dan Flavin’s installations (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Flavin), but without the fluorescent tubes, and this twist grabbed my attention with is jagged edges, and the way the light traveled from intense colors to soft hues in various directions creating a kaleidoscope on the wall.  His photos on the other hand were too closely related to Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and I felt the images functioned as documentation of his light installations.

George Rousse’s work came to mind when I saw Jeff Frost’s photographs, but the videos he made I found strong and captivating, again a twist on something that has been done before, but mixing video and stop motion into the artwork.  He showed three videos titled: Flawed Symmetry of Prediction, Modern Ruins, and War Paint for Trees, the videos not only references George Rousse’s work, but National Geographic, NASA, movies, and news broadcasts. His installations that referenced George Rousse came to life in their creation, but at the same time he wants the audience be aware that no graphics or CGI was used to create the videos, which I believe is not necessary.  Why destroy the illusion of what is transpiring? Does the audience need to know?

The last body of work that caught my eye was the large photos of Kerry Skarbakka (http://www.skarbakka.com/portfolios/struggle.htm).  Where each image is a self-portrait of him falling from different scenarios, such as a balcony, a tree, a cliff, stairs and slipping on something in the living room.  Two images where he falls from the tree, and him is slipping, closely references Sam Taylor-Wood’s photographs (http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/sam%20taylor%20wood), where the overall feel of the movement is that of levitation and not the movement of falling, which results in being weak in what his body of work. When he blurs the line of reality and makes you believe that he is actually falling, he makes the viewer’s mind race with several questions i.e.; Did he survived his fall without major injuries?  To what point of desperation is an artist driven to capture what he is trying to convey?  Were there props to break his fall? Or how many attempts did the artist do until he felt it was perfect? And this is what makes these images intriguing and beautiful.

I want to educate people on the history of photography and to point out the differences between past and present photographers/artists, and how they work, this is why I name artists that I see have something in common.  I firmly believe SNAP benefits the Orlando area in educating the public on current themes and trends in photography that is seldom seen here since we live in a world dominated by theme parks.

Documentary Photography Part Two

Basically I found this quote to get to the guts of what I’m addressing about photo documentary and photography all around. Critic Jonathan Greene describes in American Photography: “The camera cannot lie, neither can it tell the truth. It can only transform.”  The photographer manifests this transformation, but the viewer can also manifest a transformation according to his or her cognitive.  Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against the medium of photo documentary as long as they are aware how photography functions.  What bothers me is when I visit a website claiming photographs are non-fiction.  Controlling the aperture, exposure, cropping, all these functions done both in the camera and the darkroom is deviating from the original scene.

So the five photographers and their body of work I saw at the Southeast Museum of Photography were the following:

A Perpetual Hold and One to Nothing/ Irina Rozovsky

Not Natasha/ Dana Popa

Eighteen/ Natan Dvir

Historia, memoria, y silencios/ Lorena Guillen Vaschetti

Los Jardines de Mexico/ Janelle Lynch

On the first floor of the museum were the works of Rozovsky, Popa, and Dvir.

Irina Rozovsky’s work titled A Perpetual Hold is about documenting her return to Russia after a long absence to a place she called home.  Her images are seeking a connection to her family and the past.  I found some images surreal while others a splash of reality about her journey, but an underlying tone of wanting to connect or relive was conveyed in this body of work.  Some images where taken at angles as if a child had taken them, or instinctual, which reinforces the understanding that the last time she was in Russia was at the age of eight.  Unlike One to Nothing were photos of her travels to the country of Israel seem distant, cold and calculated.  It was refreshing to see a photographer using the square format in a digital age, with such rich colors, and crispness that I have not seen in a while.

Eighteen by Natan Dvir are images of young Muslims living in Israel reaching the legal age of 18.  The scale of the images were large, each depicting a young person in their environment in a natural pose, shot straight on, with a paragraph or two telling the life history and ambitions of each participant in the project.  I will admit I’m ignorant, it never dawn the idea of Muslims living in Israel with issues dealing with Hamas and neighboring Muslim countries, why would Muslims want to live in a Jewish State. I’m very aware the three major religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam sharing Jerusalem as a holy city, but still it never crossed my mind.  With that out of the way I did not find these images interesting, since I’ve seen countless of shows prior with similar compositions.  I thought this bodywork is stronger in a book format; I wanted to get intimate with each young adult and read about his or her problems. It seems that it is fashionable to make prints large just because it possible.  Make everything big to catch the viewer’s gaze.

On the other hand Dana Popa’s Not Natasha was similar in one-way to Eighteen, each image had descriptions telling the viewer what was transpiring or a history of the subject matter, but the difference was instead of posting it on the wall next to each image, the gallery gave each viewer a sheet of paper numbering each image, and next to the number the description.  The photographer traveled to Eastern Europe to document young women who are kidnapped, forced, or sold into the sex trade industry.  Natasha is a nickname given to women who are prostitutes that look like they from Eastern Europe, which according to Popa the women absolutely hate to be called this.  The way the images were displayed they reference traditional photo documentary display in a gallery, roughly 16 X 20 inches, with a 3 inch white mat around the each image, so it made me think of 35mm film, but she also works in square format.  I don’t know if she used film or digital, but I did not care.  The images were personal, and intimate like she took the time to spend time with these victims. I did not spend much time reading the descriptions, it didn’t matter, because you felt the sadness, desperation, hopelessness these women, family, and children face on a daily level.  It makes me angry on how low humans can go.  Humanity has its beautiful side and its ugly side and Not Natasha reminds us of the ugly side.

Moving to the second floor I encountered Historia, memoria, y silencios (History, Memory, and Quietness) by Lorena Guillen Vaschetti.  The images were large prints roughly 60 X 40 inches, all horizontal except for one vertical.  They were re-photographs of slides, with the miniature effect applied to them, and a big black border around each image.  According to the photographer her mother was throwing away all the family slides, because they were the only two remaining people from a large Italian family she wanted to protect her from a dark past, but on further research on the internet it also states the slides had no value so she decided to throw them away.  This adds to the confusion to the story and it affects the viewer on how you should feel towards these people, well to me it did since I did some research before seeing the show.  Anyways Vaschetti was able to salvage only one box of slides.  The images don’t reference anyone particular, and in some of the images the faces are blurry.  The body of work is trying to hold on to memories that at one point were important enough to capture but now had no value to no one, except to the photographer, being these are the last documentation of past relatives, and experiences.  To me this body of work was the strongest out of the whole exhibition.  Vaschetti also had another set of images small with a black background that were conceptually interesting, but not as strong as the large photos.

The last photographer was Janelle Lynch, with three series of work under one titled Los Jardines de Mexico (The Gardens of Mexico), which technically they all dealt with gardens, but in different themes. They were the following series: El Jardin de Juegos (The Garden of Playgrounds), La Fosa Comun (The Common Grave), and Akna (Mother, translated from Mayan).  The first two were taken in Mexico City, while the third Akna was taken in a natural reserve in the department (state) of Chiapas. I will not go into much detail about this series because overall the way the images were taken or displayed, it implied not much effort such as time and research went into each body of work. It felt as if the photographer snapped the photos in one or two days and within a close vicinity to each other.  The way the exhibition was hung it did not offer much variety in translating the importance of each theme. You could have taken away two images from each series and it would not have made much difference getting the point across.

Overall this exhibition is 70/30.  For people who don’t know much about photography this show is a great introduction, and it sheds light on issues overlooked specifically the sex trade and Muslims living in Israel, but for people whom are aware of issues and knowledgeable about photography it is a sold good show.

Documentary Photography Part One

This is a prelude to my critic on the current exhibitions at the Southeast Museum of Photography at Daytona Beach, FL:

I’ve been viewing photography shows for a long time and my tastes have changed over the years.  For example I use to love documentary photography, but now I don’t like seeing several paragraphs explaining to the viewer what is taking place in the photo, this is why books were invented.  Yes, I do know of art exhibitions were the literature is vital to understanding the artwork, but to me documentary photography has evolved to a different level over the years where this is not necessary.  The problem is in the old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words,” Photographs can have many different meanings and if the picture needs a paragraph or more explaining what is going on in the picture is the photograph really working as what the photographer intended? Or is it the curator’s decision in placing this information since they feel the need to make sure the masses will have an understanding of what the intentions are of the photographer.

Documentary photography is a very difficult genre where the belief among documentary photographers is that they are taking images of what is “reality.”   They believe they are capturing a story to document and make aware of an issue, war, or newsworthy.  Since the time of Edward Curtis’ documentation of Native Americans, the history of photography has shown that the photographer yields his will of the subject matter with the click of the shutter.  A photo is but a fraction of time.  We don’t know and will never know what happen before or after the picture was taken.  Conceptual art has tackled this theme to question how photography works starting with the artworks of Joseph Kosuth and John Hilliard to contemporaries such as Joan Focuberta, and Vik Muniz.  Photos have been altered since its invention.  We want to believe what is transpiring in the photo is real, but we then question if it has been “Photoshopped” if we have a hard time grasping the reality.

(To be continued in my next post.)

The Salon

Two weeks ago I attend what might be my last Salon held by the Atlantic Center for the Arts.  My second year as an MFA candidate is coming to a close and usually third year candidates are not invited to attend the Salon, giving the opportunity and the experience for the incoming class and the second years.

The Atlantic Center for the Arts is a residency program that operates year round.  Each residency session has three master artists usually made up of one visual artist, one composer, and one writer.  For supporters of the program they have a night, usually a Thursday night that is a mix of a meet and greet, and show and tell of the artists, titled “The Salon.”

The night of the Salon the artists presented in the following order: Carolyn Forché- poetry/memoir, Richard Teitelbaum – composer, and Pat Oleszko- visual and performance art.   Carolyn talked about her experience second time around as a master artist in residency at the ACA, her new memoir about her experiences in El Salvador in the late seventies, and finally read a poem about her battle with cancer with a friend who succumbed to the disease.  Richard spoke about a opera that he is composing about the Rabbi Sabbatai Zevi, who claimed to be the Messiah, declared war on the Ottoman Empire, and who was then forced to convert to Islam.  Richard mostly works with electronic music, but for the opera he is working with traditional instruments, and singers.  The opera is performed in five different languages.

Please keep in mind I’m not an expert in literature or music, but Carolyn’s poem was very good, giving hope and inspiration in handling the difficulties of life.  Richard’s opera is an interesting idea, but the story doesn’t have a large audience appeal.  What crossed my mind was what if somebody wrote a modern day opera, but sung and composed like Verdi opera.  For example the story could be of Lindsey Lohan, Kurt Cobain, or Marilyn Monroe.   The majority of operas are tragic and yes I know of Rock Operas and Andrew Lloyd Webster, but I thought it would be interesting mixing the both to see what you get, with one hell of a light show similar to a Beyonce’ concert.

I knew a little of Pat Oleszko and her work prior to the Salon (see link below), but hearing her presentation made me appreciate her work more.  She presented in a way that an audience who is not well informed about performance art could relate and understand what she does.  She kept her art speak to a minimum; she did not over burden the audience with too much information about each performance to keep our imaginations going, and enticing us too keep listening.  By the end she had us all laughing and wanting more.  She is a court jester in today’s society, but she takes what she does very seriously, using humor primarily to tackle serious issues such as global warming.

In the past I have attended three salons where egos were big, and complications arose during the presentations, it was nice to end it with a laugh.


Understanding the Art Scene in Central Florida.

Living over 30 years in Central Florida and many art shows attendance, the major compliant I’ve heard from art lovers and artists is that there is no art scene or support for the visual arts in the area.  People love to go to art shows, but it’s mostly a social gathering.  To give you an example, the show that draws the most attention in Orlando yearly is “Nude Nite.”  It is usually held in a warehouse, charges a high admission usually $25 per person, with a cash bar/food, not only that they also charge an entry fee to artists and commission if the work is sold.  It draws large crowds and the main interest is to see naked people in artwork or naked models walking around with airbrushed paintings on them.  Sex sells, what else is new?   Other than that nothing much else happens in the sense of the art impacting the viewing public, unless you are a virgin to the local art scene.  Then it’s a sensation of a wonderfully, never seen, most spectacular exhibition in the world.  I will admit that I’ve been through this experience, but once you learn about the history of art, and go to many shows you become a little numb.   Also art really doesn’t sell unless its sugarcoated art.  There is nothing wrong with sugarcoated art, but it is a level that seems to dominate the Central Florida art scene.  The people I’ve talk to their belief or understanding of when art stopped being art is after one of the following art movements:

-Renaissance (da Vinci)

-Post-Impressionism (Van Gogh)

-Cubism (Picasso)

-Surrealism (Dali)

These are the majority of artists that are usually referenced.  I might get other artists names thrown in this mix: Michelangelo, Titian, M.C. Escher, Wyeth, Rothko, and Pollack.

From a big city’s perspective such as New York City, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles it’s not up to par.  They have better artistic communities that support each other, and the art that is displayed is more on a more of an international level.  Cities similar to Orlando’s development such as Houston also have better art scenes, why is that?  The people that have settled in the Central Florida region are mainly from the north, escaping the hustle and bustle of big city life or replacing the shoveling of the snow and freezing temperatures for warm weather and sunny beaches.  So people from the north settle here they should be bring some of the culture they were exposed to while living up north. Right?  I’m mean we have bad drivers, spring training, NY Pizzas, Philly Cheese Steaks, and Chicago Hot Dogs, why not art?

Galleries come and go, and so do some interesting artists that couldn’t make a living here.  I have discussed this theme over the years with several people to understand why Orlando’s visual art scene does not grow.   By grow I mean why the art that is shown is not touching conceptual themes, why do local galleries keep showing art movements that are long gone.

Reason 1) Orlando is a transient city.  The very talented get restless here in a town that stifles them.   Orlando lacks the community support to make people want to stay for a long period to see their fruition bare to fruit that they are so passionate about.   Some people do succeed, but the stain power does not last because of a finicky consumerism.

Reason 2) The Mouse controls everything.  The majority of Orlando’s local government caters to the Walt Disney Corporation in meeting their needs, because tourism feeds our hand.  Disney does contribute to the arts, but it mostly all goes to performing arts.  Disney and the surrounding parks employ the majority of the local artistic community, which are performers and designers.   To say that these corporations have a say in what visual art is shown is hard to believe that it dictates what kind of art is acceptable and what is not.  I think Disney is too occupied patrolling the Internet for copyright infringement or the reselling of Disney property on Ebay to worry about what Joe Schmoe is showing in some gallery.

Reason 3) The majority of people who live in Central Florida relate to Disney as an art form, including the theme park experience (Universal, Sea World, etc.).  People want an escape from reality and for them it’s “The Parks.”  I have many friends who have annual passes to several of these parks and go routinely.  They are entertained by the fantasy becoming a reality.  The same experience can be attained in the movies, cable, movies on demand, and video games.  Yes, this is an art form that is very lucrative, and allows us not to think except when our stomachs tells us we are hungry, so we need to decide what to eat.  When the escapism is over we then think about the experience that has transpired and how it relates to us.  The reaction is similar to art hanging on the wall and what we take from that piece.  I believe that Orlando has a big concentration of people wanting to escape, and this group’s definition of art lies in the fantasy realm.

Reason 4) People are not educated about the current visual arts world or they do not care to understand since the theme do not relate to their everyday life.  Conceptual art is very intimidating, especially when you don’t understand why it’s considered art.  People’s understanding of art is you paint what you see or feel, and the painting is suppose to show the mastery of paint, and leave you with a good feeling.  Conceptual art is not only visual based, but recreates an experience, reinterprets history or an issue, makes you interact, makes you aware of an issue, or makes you aware of the complication or simplicity of the surroundings.

I believe that there is not one specific reason to why the art scene has not thrived, but it is a culmination of the above reasons.