Dirty Windows, Ephemeral Art, and Commodity

Scott WadeOver the weekend, I came upon this article, Dirty Work but Someone Has to Do It: World’s Leading Dirty Car Artist Turns Grubby Car Windows Into Works of Art. I’m not quite sure what it means to be the world’s “leading” dirty car artist, but Scott Wade certainly does seem to be quite the phenomenon. He is a graphic user interface designer, but is best know for his hobby of creating art out of dirt on glass.

I don’t think that it is rude to point out that if this work were on paper or canvas, it would be considered professional-level illustration but nothing special — certainly not something that would take the internet by storm. In a different and more fundamental sense than Marshall McLuhan had in mind, “The medium is the message.” We may all appreciate beautiful flower arrangements, but there is nothing especially notable about creating beauty out of beautiful elements. But creating beauty out of garbage or dirt is at least remarkable and sometimes edifying.

Scott Wade - Mini Cooper

What I am more interesting in is the ephemeral nature of the art. When I was younger, I was hung up on the notion of art that outlasts the artist. It no doubt reflected my fear of death. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to see explicitly ephemeral art as the most valid. Art that can be stored loses much of its integrity and becomes commodity. Portrait of Dr Gachet was an interesting and idiosyncratic painting in 1890 — utterly worthless as a commodity. Today it stands as one of the most expensive paintings ever sold — pure commodity. But more to the point, it is virtually impossible to see past its status as commodity. Like all of van Gogh’s work, it is that peculiar style of painting that rich people pay a lot of money for. (Note that the most valuable paintings are almost all post-Impressionist and early modernist.)

If you click over to the Daily Mail article I linked to above, you will see that most of the subjects are what you see at poster shops at the mall: American Gothic, Marx Brothers, Albert Einstein, Luncheon of the Boating Party, the stars of Dallas. If you go to his website, you will see more of the same: Mount Rushmore, Alice in Wonderland, Mona Lisa, and of course, Marilyn Monroe. This is not a put-down of Wade. He’s a commercial artist doing what people want to see. But I don’t think it speaks well for our culture.

Scott Wade - Stagecoach

Did we travel such a long artistic road with constant battles over technique and philosophy only to reach the point where art is born, lives, and dies as commodity? Maybe I’m expecting too much. Art has always had to appeal. Of course, at one time, it didn’t have to appeal to huge swaths of humanity. And if the media is the message, maybe dirt is exactly right. Maybe sand is a more edifying medium:

Sandcastle - Guy-Olivier Deveau
Cropped via Shine Beautifully.

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