The conversation around race and representation in regard to my art continues to expand as more people add to it, which is, of course, the goal. One of the paintings hanging up at my show Hello Cruel World at Guerrero Gallery right now depicts my friend Weez in his prison cell. We conceived of it together and I executed it. I told him that I might take some heat for being a white artist making a painting that could be interpreted as being “about black suffering,” especially in the wake of Dana Schutz’s Emmett Till painting. He and his partners in prison came back with a response that added another piece to the puzzle of my understanding of art, culture and power. He said that you can determine an artist’s sincerity by how the works looks and feels–that aesthetics mean something. (Susan Sontag: “All aesthetic judgement is really cultural evaluation.”) We equated this way of evaluating–the look and feel–with street smarts as opposed to book smarts. When your life depends on knowing another’s true motivations, you don’t listen to the words spoken (the political positioning of an artist statement). You listen to the body language, the vibe, the words that aren’t spoken. It’s the same with looking at art. If you know real, you see through fake. If you don’t know real, you read the artist statement. In academia, people are taught to ignore the signals from their bodies, their feelings, their hearts. If an argument is logical it must be truth. I think this is why people who aren’t educated in the arts see the realness in my art and those who are educated sometimes see only the signs and symbols and what they were taught these symbols mean and how they should be arranged and never get as far as feeling the work. I report on this not as a defense of my work, but as a point of learning for us all about how the criteria for evaluation varies across social groups and that if we are truly interested in revolutionary or subversive ways of thinking, we should listen to the wisdom coming out of the streets and the prisons.
I want my art to part of charting the territory between social groups. Our separation is the new frontier.