Continuing his Spring Residency for Writing on the Wall, G. James Daichendt shares his thoughts about street art at Coachella. "Professor Street Art" Daichendt is author of the books "Shepard Fairey Inc. Artist/Professional/Vandal" and "Stay Up! Los Angeles Street Art." He is a Professor and Associate Dean at Azusa Pacific University in southern California.
The fever of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has died down and the cycle of limited edition prints and art installations celebrating the music bonanza has thankfully stopped with it. While I don't have a problem with entertainment, I am frustrated that the mind-altering experiences of events like Coachella are changing the reality of what is good art. The excitement associated with special events is contagious and invigorating. However, it dangerously obfuscates the low quality work displayed with the stimulation of positive emotions. Essentially, the art-public is becoming short sighted about what they engage visually.
Many street artists are quick to jump on this train (D*Face and Eine being some of the most recent). The large number of people in confined spaces corresponds perfectly with artists who desire exposure. A recognizable icon or reference to music becomes instantly nostalgic and pulls on the heartstrings of the dedicated music fan or new art collector. The experience and the art do not necessarily equate, but we have a hard time separating them -- in other words, the art becomes a background for selfies and soundtracks.
This energy and event-like experiences are also replicated in the galleries. Shepard Fairey's 50 Shades of Black opening reception a few weeks ago had a waiting line the length of a football field outside his gallery, Subliminal Projects. There was even a bootlegger selling knockoff OBEY t-shirts. While there was not necessarily anything new in the exhibit, the atmosphere and concert afterwards quickly established the show as a success among his devoted fans.
It's one thing to create a buzz and throw a party; it's another when the event supersedes the art. The DJ spinning tunes, or the club-like atmosphere that permeates many art spaces, can cloud our ability to actually see what we're looking at.
Think of how one explains the art purchased at one of these events. "I bought this at Coachella," you exclaim to your friends. Or perhaps the story starts with "I had an amazing time at (add art fair name here) and picked up this limited piece."
To wait in line infers exclusivity, or that the art was earned. The enthusiasm spreads like a virus to other participants as the delay heightens their anticipation. Similar to waiting outside the Mac store to purchase a new iPhone, the general mood is heightened by the experience and that something special awaits a dedicated few.
Yes, these experiences can be enjoyable, but we (myself included) have become lazy in our art viewing. We require live painting or a concert to spice up the boring art on the walls. Add some alcohol and that lackluster work of art starts to look pretty darn good.
Festivals like Coachella that host exhibitions, or artists that produce work in conjunction with the experience, are often banking on your emotions, rather than your intellect. While these are quite fun and increase exposure for artists, they are terrible places to buy art. Art requires time to reflect, ask questions, and gauge responses that may be emotional, physical, and intellectual. Failure to do this, and buying a work because it was a good scene, is no better than purchasing a souvenir beach painting on your vacation to Hawaii. It's rooted in your emotional response and does not take into account any deep thinking.
Street art has been commandeered into this craziness because it's an exciting development that has a lot to offer. You (and I) -- the art collecting public -- need to shape up and expect more from artists and ourselves as collectors.
Aesthetic development and interpreting works of art takes time. Good work will reward such contemplation and poor work will only represent that fading event or experience. If you think you're immune to this development, I've got some news for you: you're not.