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The Art of Elections & Vote Tally Meditations: John Baldessari

It's 2020 and everyone in the world who went to sleep last night had their mind on the fate of America. That is if they went to sleep at all.

Both Biden and Trump have assured their followers of victory even as stores from Tiffany to Target were boarded up in anticipation of election unrest. For a break in doom scrolling, wondering at the fate of polling and democracy, and the blue/red scenarios of each state's decision I encourage anyone to head to their happy place.

For me, one of the best answers for the art of elections is John Baldessari. What can't one of the masters of American art answer?

Making the Negative Positive

John Baldessari shows up in my work all the time. Sometimes in the form of art criticism and sometimes as a character in a poem (see "The Simple Art of Murder").

As someone who was classically training in illustration and drawing one of the major lessons I got from my instructors was in composition. That is, considering what is positive (the subject) versus negative (the background) space.

In Art:21 Baldessari does a great riff on positive versus negative space. But none of his work or explanations seems more profound today than the series "Crowds with the Shape of Reason Missing."

In a lot of Baldessari's work, he plays with words and pictures (as with "Hot and Cold" that uses excerpts from screenplays).

But the day after an election, as tempers flare and people count the votes ina frenzy makes Baldessari's work all the more important. Since his recent death, I have felt a deep prophecy embedded in some of his works.

What We Focus on in the Art of Elections

If we take out the reason, as Baldessari suggests, what are we left with? Last night a QAnon supporter was elected to Congress. You may think blood-sucking conspiracy theories were left to the hilarious cameos in Borat sequels.

Take out the reason and the laughs are a lot closer to despair.

Baldessari worked after pop art gained momentum and there surely is a question here on popularity and populace in the "reason" series. In terms of the art of elections, we are a country now wondering about what is important and what isn't when people cast their votes.

On a Wednesday in America, it isn't always easy to see which is the positive and which is the negative space.

The Art of Looking

In some ways, polling and projections are also central to the idea in Baldessari's art. I'm not claiming that Baldessari set out to make an art of elections in the series. But, in the post-truth era of American society HOW we look at things is as important as WHAT we look at.

I suppose this is the central idea of every modern artwork since the Impressionists gave their personal "impression" of a sunrise. This personal expression was more true than a photo-realist interpretation of a scene.

Negative and positive space makes up a lot of my visual artwork as well. Take a peek at "Freedom Rings" (made in honor of Marriage Equality) and the blank spots where there are no rings (representing couples in history not being allowed to get married) are just as important as the rings themselves. The backstory is more powerful than the current story.

The same is true for a pop collage work like "Escalator." As tensions escalate and looking is more charged with emotion, it's difficult to see which is the subject and which is the background. This shift, the push-pull of space on a flat surface, is something I inherited from Pollock and de Kooning and the AbExers.

But today is all about Baldessari and the art of elections. If we look long enough, we might just find the reason (cause) or reason (sanity) embedded or removed in the center of these turbulent times.

Please take a look at some of my other art if it helps today.

Image above is borrowed from Mixografia.

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