Fog and clear skies

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Ambiguity sells. In our postmodern world where seemingly nothing is what it seems, the more mixed the message, the more appealing. Yuskavage’s paintings — or Sally Mann’s photographs of her children, say– are not quite Tide or Oreos, where truth in packaging is required.

The ambiguity of whether the images are porn (child porn in the case of Mann) or post-modern feminist (Yuskavage) is part of their sales package. They can be either, both or none of that, and maybe the potential audience for the works (i.e. buyers) is larger that way. Of course critics love this stuff and that’s also smart packaging – get a critic riled up and it spills ink and creates buzz.

Some artists are not clear on what their own content is. They make art out of passion/obsession/need and don’t quite get it themselves. I suspect Yuskavage is aware and I know that Mann is aware of the ambiguity of their subject matter. (I just watched “Art:21,” the PBS documentary–excellent, btw–in which Mann says “If it doesn’t have ambiguity, why bother,” or some such.)

Which brings up the most un-ambiguous contemporary artist of them all, Thomas Kinkade, “painter of light.” Now here’s an artist who’s got a Wharton marketing sensibility – focus-grouped and market-driven. I saw a lot of Kinkade images in California last summer (image above is a Kinkade), in galleries in tony Carmel by the Sea and shopping mall galleries in Monterey. Fairy tale houses set in firefly-rich woods, they are pure, middle class fantasy. Art for comfortable people — nothing to upset the apple cart. The guy is selling safety at a time of terrorism and war/battles.

That’s not new, of course.

Artists respond to their times, and for every Goya, painting the horrors of war, there’s someone else painting escape from same. Pre-Raphaelite painters (see “Lady Lilith” by Dante Gabrielle Rossetti) were selling a pretty escape (their embrace of the morbid was part of their message, and for that generation, part of its charm).

But here I am talking about the business of art again. It’s First Friday and I’d rather go out and look at the stuff. Although I may buy something.

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