Juan Usle

Above: I Dreamt that You Revealed XI (Airport), 2002; a painting by Juan Usle. Credit: Guggenheim Bilbao.


There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you're going to be part of the problem--Eldridge Cleaver.

What does it mean if your work gets criticized for being complacent? (ODE: showing smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one's achievements; SOED: tranquilly pleased, self-satisfied, esp. uncritically or unwarrantedly). There are some people who take the view that in times of great political, social, and economic turmoil it stands to reason that one's art and creative practice has surely got to attend to critiquing some aspect of that (such art gets called things like: engaged, politically engaged, politically aware, activist).

And then there are those who argue that art, and one's artistic practice, has got to rise above all of that social turmoil and just carry on regardless of it--those who take this view often think of their art practice as something akin to, say, farming, with the primary attachment and relationship being to the elements, the seasons, the Earth itself, and time passing down though eons.

Examples of artists who don't seem to be affected by world events are artist-painters like, say, Callum Innes or Juan Usle. Their abstract paintings are pretty similar from one year to the next, and their artistic practice is not noticeably affected or changed by such things as Brexit, Trump, Erdogan, Putin, the international refugee crisis, global warming, international terrorism, the Internet, etc.

To such artists as these and many others, world events are not part of what they are involved in. For these artists, art is an intensely personal activity. And so their art-making can seem a bit like a form of escapism, the activity of an introvert, the art of someone who does not want to--or cannot bear to--face up to (and respond to) what is going on all around.

There are no rules on this, but whichever side you come down on it's good to be aware of the other argument and position. The point is, that it's good to have your response ready when someone from the other side comes knocking.

(29 August 2018)