Artists—To Being Taken Serious Or Not—That is the Question!

For many Americans, art may be defined in a number of ways.  Warhol believed most Americans thought art was first and foremost a person’s first name!  Others feel art is something that looks good on the wall over the couch!  There are some Americans who believe art chronicles both the time and the context of the artist’s life.  There are perhaps a few who still believe that art and artists have a responsibility to express something significant with their ‘gift’ be it beauty, criticism, insight, or some form of thought-provoking insight.  In an interview with a journalist Billy Al Bengston was asked to reflect back on his career as a Southern California artist in the early Post WWII days and express his thoughts.  The artist made the following observation:  “For me, the heyday was in 1959. It was before the Ferus Gallery moved across the street, in the days when Ed Kienholz and Walter Hopps ran it. At that time, art was taken very seriously in terms of being an artist, and not as a profession.”

As art students close to graduating from an art program of study, how do you see art?  What does art mean to you in 2017?  And, what is your role as an artist in the 21st century?

Billy Al Bengston, Venice, 1973

Billy Al Bengston, Sonny, 1961

Billy Al Bengston—How to Keep One’s Attention!

Have artists in the United States become entertainers?  Do we, the audience, really want our artists to divert us from the realities of contemporary urban living by redirecting our eyes and thoughts to those things an artist’s gaze deems beautiful?  Maybe I am being too literal here but the following message from Southern California artist Billy Al Bengston may be interpreted from a number of different points of view—none of which seem especially uplifting or forward moving.  Bengston stated:  “I paint stupid things; that’s what I do. I can’t think of anything more boring than a really beautiful thing. You have to mess it up. There has to be something a little kinky to keep their attention.”

Maybe this statement from Bengston relates to his youthful extreme experience of racing motorcycles and embracing the motorcycle culture of Southern California.  What are your thoughts of the current role American artists play in today’s urban society and how does that perception fit into the driving force of the Ferus Gang in Los Angeles during the late 1950s through the 1960s?

Entrance to Billy Al Bengston’s Retrospective Designed by Frank Gehry

Billy Al Bengston Racing

Billy Al Bengston, Buster, 1962