Home Runs

Extreme Weather

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Six years ago Professor John Schellnhuber (who had recently been appointed as Chief Government Adviser on Climate and Related Issues by the German Chancellor) talked at the RSA Art and Ecology Conference (2006) about the challenges in modelling the interactions between different critical points in global environmental systems – gulf streams, sea ice, glaciers and snow on mountains, desertification, etc.  He was addressing complexity, not looking at one thing in isolation.

The recent article, Extreme Weather, in the National Geographic explores the increasing extreme weather – flooding, storms, tornadoes, drought and fire.  The article offers an interesting analogy: climate change has a similar effect to steriods – you don’t know whether the steriods enable the batter to score this home run in particular, but you do know that they increase the overall likelihood of scoring more home runs than someone not on steriods.  So the point is not to ask whether climate change caused this storm or that heatwave, but rather to recognise that it is affecting frequency and intensity.

All analogies (and metaphors) have to be used carefully - steriods as a metaphor for ’enhancing’ and making more powerful is probably not the worst, but the other medicalised metaphor is ‘cancer’ which engenders a particular sort of fear – see Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor.

We are still learning about complex adaptive systems.  Understanding that things are connected and that there are unintended consquences is only a small step along the road.

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It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge Research, Gray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
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Art Steroids = Money

{Free Manny sign by GhoDilated}

What else can art steroids be, but money?

I began mulling this over on Sunday as I watched the Dodgers lose by two in 13 innings. With Manny Ramirez out for 50 games because of steroid use, the Dodgers are a different team. I like Juan Pierre, but he doesn’t quite have the swagger, showmanship and home runs that the ManRam brings to the game, and I’m going to guess, the power-enhancing steroid use either.

We know what steroids do for sports, but is there some equivalent for art? I don’t think it can be literal steroid use (like this example), nor can it be drugs, alcohol, sleep deprivation, cigarettes, or any of the tried and true tricks used by artists (or more likely, artistes.)

But there is one thing that changes the game and that is money. Not that this is an original observation, but here’s the thing: having money means you win the game or are at least assured a piece of the action.

Infusions of cash into a mediocre artist’s career means we will still be talking about them decades later. A few examples here might be Michael Heizer or Dennis Oppenheim, who either through family money or interest of a collector, parlayed early promise into decades of boringness.

{Reading Positions for Second Degree Burn, 1970, by Dennis Oppenheim. I actually really love this piece, despite my earlier comment.}

Although baseball is a game with rules and a supposed level playing field that can be manipulated by steroids (i.e., more strength and power) art is a “game” where people say anything goes, where there are no rules. That may be true, but money still matters. A whole lot.

The following list can can go on and on, but I’m specifically thinking about Duchamp’s parental support, Warhol’s earnings from his career as a graphic designer, and Koon’s work as a commodities trader and later risky bets on sculpture fabrication by gallerists. Money made the difference in turning them from players into superstars, and since I generally like the work by these artists, I’m glad it did. But what about Damien Hirst or any of the other forgettable mediocrities out there? We have to talk about them because people with money decided that they were worth talking about, even though they aren’t.

Just like in baseball, “art steroids” i.e. cash money has the effect of improving your chances at a successful career. But here’s the crazy thing: people love it, encourage it, gossip about it, complain about it but take it anyway, flaunt it by keeping it on the DL; but it is generally just this acceptable thing which we all know is there. In a way, it’s like the only rule in the game of art. If you have money, your chances are a lot better.

Now, if anyone would like to provide “the drugs,” I’ll be the first to step up for an injection.


Am I wrong here? Let me know what you think constitutes art steroids.

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