May 2, 2008

Robert Genn

Christopher Foyle, British owner of Foyle's Bookshops, has
recently published "Foyle's Philavery: A Treasury of Unusual
Words." In it he defines arcane English words currently dropped
or seldom used. Among them "Dentiloquy" (speaking through
clenched teeth) and "Latrability" (the ability to bark). Many
words have sly connections with art. One in particular needs to
be returned to mainline usage:
"Kalopsia" is the condition in which things appear more
beautiful than they really are. It's like where girls (and
boys) in bars, for example, tend to look more attractive nearer
to closing time. For example: "At 11pm the bar was high on

Kalopsia also applies to regular people and self-deluding
artists who just can't see how bad certain art really is. As in
the bar, there are pressures to overlook problems in the name
of expediency. In the real world, artists with a high degree of
kalopsia can remain wallflowers unless they go for the cure.

When self-esteem is low, artists tend to give themselves a
premature pat on the back. We all know of artists who are
forever in a state of euphoric bliss about their essentially
crummy art. These folks may rationalize that joy itself is
enough, but it isn't. Pleasing yourself is loaded with
potential self-deceit. The problem is compounded when an
occasional observer says it's good stuff. Worse still, people
can start to believe in the delusion of a perpetrator--a
widespread, contagious human condition.

What's the cure? It certainly helps to know how truly excellent
work can be. Seeing, appreciating and understanding competence
sets higher personal goals and spurs both imagination and
facility. A sense of experimentation in the studio and the
application of honest doubt are healthy for growth and mastery.
Good enough is never good enough. Putting in that extra thought
and effort--without overworking--is key. Further, it's
important not to get derailed by trend, story or hype.
Everyone, particularly artists, should remember that no matter
how good the story, quality still counts. The world is fully
loaded with folks who are content with mediocrity. Evolved
artists simply won't let themselves be one of them.

PS: "A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be
true he generally believes to be true." (Demosthenes)

Esoterica: Art dealers and gallerists are not immune to
kalopsia. In good times, when customer bases swell and sales
are readily available, dealers may bring in lower quality work
to fill the gaps. In poorer times dealers may feature cheaper
work to fill in lower price points. While cheap work does not
necessarily mean poor work, it often does. Dealers, the general
public and the artist in particular have to keep a clear eye.
Working, winning and keeping that clear eye is everybody's good
business. Here's another one of Foyle's unusual words:
"Resipiscence" (recognition of past mistakes and the desire to
do better in the future). Not so arcane, wouldn't you say?