I don’t know if anyone thinks the goblets and dwarfs are subject matter that the Fine Art world embraces, but I got to thinking yesterday that someone should really make a list that outlines the subtle distinctions between acceptable subject matter, and that which will get you laughed out of the gallery. Consider this post a public resource of sorts.
With a few exceptions, undersea creatures have been acceptable for several years, so if you’re thinking about using jelly fish in your paintings, the art world will certainly accept them. However, artists who find affinity with starfish and seahorses are clearly pushing their luck. Undersea mammals also tend to be problematic. Meant to be inked onto the shoulders of 18 year old girls everywhere, dolphins and orca’s do not receive a warm welcome in any fine art community…except unfortunately for this one. Neither do other popular tattoos such as geckos, four leaf clovers, and yin and yang signs.
Sometimes however, artists manage to subvert the iconography above with irony. While admittedly I have yet to see the satirical clover grace the surface of a canvas, its over use and facileness as problem solving technique, makes me much more interested when an artist manages to reclaim cliché through other means. Robert Longo’s most recent exhibition for example, The Outward and Visible Signs of an Inward and Invisible Grace, at Metro Pictures featured a number of planet drawings including one of Saturn and its many gas rings while managing to avoid looking like a science center display. Frankly I’m amazed to have just typed these words since so much of his work ends up crossing the cheese ball line.
While Longo draws from photos, his charcoal works have little in common with how photography itself functions in this regard. The medium really needs to be considered separately, since the easily picked upon faery art doesn’t translate, nor does the excessive use of irony. I haven’t seen much in the way of sardonic National Geographic shooting, sepia toned portraits of brooding geniuses, and spot colored photographs of children, for instance, a stone yet to be turned in Chelsea. However, I guess if I saw a shot of motel, near a gas station, with a shopping cart in the parking lot, and an empty swimming pool in the back, I’d be convinced that irony has a richer life than I knew in the photography world.