Welcome to ArtSpeaks Now, a blog by artist Mark Jesinoski.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Art in Culture: San Diego

Mindful Malaise- by Mark Jesinoski www.jesart.com
There is some truth to the idea that to get people to pay attention to art in San Diego, you basically have to throw a party.  In the longest Facebook comment string I have ever seen, several people involved in the SD art scene took great offense to a City Beat "Sight on Scene" blurb that (in addition to other things) basically insinuated that the San Diego art scene is watered down with parties and feel-good events.  Although the blurb itself was irresponsible journalism, the point I want to focus on here was the defensiveness that emerged in reaction to the allusion that, to get people to pay attention to art in San Diego you must add the key ingredients of a DJ and a case of wine.  Based on private conversations I have had with my artist friends there seems to be some truth to this idea. 

Yes the art scene’s growing, yes there’s a buzz in the air, all things I hear at art shows, in newsletters, etc.  But what there is a drastic shortage of are people who go to art shows to not just see art as a backdrop for a social gathering, but to observe it, critique it, support it, and recognize its cultural and sociological relevance.  It bears some attention when the enthusiasm of every single artist I know in San Diego seems lightly spread on the crust of cynicism that has grown out of our experiences as artists in San Diego.  I should note that perhaps my perception is such because most of my friends are “emerging artists” as it were, and thus have not yet emerged from the thick soup of B.S. one negotiates to become, at least financially, successful.  But, this caveat aside, there seems to be some truth to the idea that to get people to pay attention in San Diego, the art takes the back seat to the party. 

Being one who picks up the paint brush from time to time, and having done over two-hundred shows of various types over the past few years, I have pondered the idea of how art relates to the community around it.  Art never exists in a vacuum, and therefore I believe there is much to be said (for better or worse) about the relevance or irrelevance of art in the context of San Diego. 

As an attempt to have a more in-depth discussion on this topic.  I have asked several of my artist friends to share their uncensored opinions about the state of the arts community in San Diego.  Below is my attempt to offer an opinion on the matter.  

A perspective with Personality

Perhaps in San Diego art becomes a backdrop because we live in a city of extroverts who are more hungry for validation and social stimulation than they are for the art itself.  This is not bad or good, it simply is a truth of our city...And maybe that’s the way of it. As much as we artists want to be loved for what we do, we have to recognize at some point that our art in THIS social context may be reduced to a medium for bringing people together. 

This brings up an important observation about the role art takes in culture across time and context. Art over time is not necessarily the primary driving force, but it bobs on the waves of cultural currents.  Pollock was an instrument for the expression of his time.  Dali was an instrument for the expression of his time.  Picasso was an instrument for the expression of his time.  Each had their personal content, their style, their innovative approach.  But none of them would be known to us had they not somehow interacted with the needs of their time and place.  This in no way diminishes them, or us, it is simply a truth of the human and artistic experience.  

Personality Sprinkled with Politics

Another perspective is a socio-political one.  San Diego is overwhelmingly conservative; not just in politics but in personalities.  And, to offer a blanket generalization, conservative minded folks tend to see art as more or less, a decoration, a backdrop, an accessory, something that goes well with the drapes.  Conversely, take a culture like L.A.  The culture of Los Angeles is largely "industry" people and therefore comprised of a more liberal socio-political structure.  Now, politics aside, the fact is that liberal-minded people tend to value art from a much more personal and value-based perspective.  Art in this context is not just about how well it goes with the decor, but more about making a statement.  In short, art in this context is valued as a vital component of culture. 

Of course there are many ways to interpret the state of things in San Diego.  I would love to hear your opinions.  
The Best to You, Art Speaks Now 


  1. Great post and your hitting the nail right on the head but there are places that creativity are being nurtured and is growing. Check out a Peeps Meet Up at ArtLab Studios every Thursday evening 7pm 3536 Adams Ave San Diego 92116... Changing the world with creativity one person at a time ... Thanks Dave

  2. Upon arriving from my native England six years ago, the only Art that seemed immediately discernible were the chocolate box confections of Kinkaid, Wyland and Dr Seuss et al. That is to say that the artistically credible chasm in between was as wide as death valley and as detrimental as diabetes. I maintained at the time that San Diego struck me as akin to a Faberge egg, beautiful on the surface, but beneath its brittle veneer a hollow center.
    A conservative small town mentality with big party town ambitions. Not so much a vacation spot, but a boil where the sun always shines,and where-when in Rome-the natives surf and dance, but they don’t buy art. Or rather when they do in any substantial sum, it’s the contrived dribbles that have the depth and aesthetic of Ikea self assembly-a paint by numbers contemporary pastiche, without any of the irony, produced ,packaged and pitched to hang alongside their Swedish furniture and Ming Dynasty knock offs.

    The collar matching the cuffs.

    Meanwhile below ground, there is a heart beat below the din of drum and bass, but it's disparate and maybe that's the problem. It’s a revolution without a manifesto, a march without a movement, a drum without a....well, you get the picture, even if the patrons don’t.

    Neither do the media or the gallery system here. There are a few notable heroes, and I could list them on the fingers of one hand, but the villains are legion. An itchy rash of trust fund bambino’s with aspirations of coffee shop Bohemia, self appointed aficionado's with wizened journo delusion, and second had car salesmen masquerading as curators.

    Do you know, I once heard one of the more visible curators suggest that as artists, we should just accept whatever meager amount of money for our travails and run. Better that than have the art grow stale in our garages. He actually said that. Little matter the years , hours and seconds spent keeling before our easels, because to his mind “artists don’t clock in and out, so shouldn’t expect to price by the hour”. He also said that too. Below minimum wage and the poverty line it is then.

    Meanwhile a box of ants will get you thirty two thousand and the cover of City Beat.

    Van Gogh stereotypes entrenched, lifetime cynical obscurity insured.

    And there you have it. So lets show in LA or anywhere else, despite the price of gas and the schlep on the five.

    Hey ho and hi ho as they say.

    How does it change?

    Block out the sun? Close all the bars? But that’s San Diego’s to a tee, that’s its bread and butter on its toasted smore- dood ,the froth on its Mexican beer surely, the ember of its beach barbecue.

    And round and round it goes.

    Perhaps it starts as an antithesis for all the reasons I’ve listed above. Perhaps the dodgy old guard, editorial mindset that has a stranglehold on the established cultural media and gallery mainframe will dissipate like the flotsam and jetsam of a Twitter soundbite,when it stops pandering to its own perceived,bloated self importance. Perhaps when it adopts the cause of the ‘scene’ as opposed to working against it for ‘contemporaneous’ sake.

    Perhaps when I paint like Kinkaid.

    I have no answers, I just know that until it does, I am weary to the back tooth of my unprimed canvas of trying to make a difference or indeed, any sort of living here.

  3. Thanks both of you for your comments. I think you both capture vital components of this dialogue. This is certainly not a black and white issue, try as people might to polarize it. In some ways the irony of a place like San Diego is that, because of the lack of direction, collaboration, or support, individual artists are pushed to have a voice...And, when artists feel like they arent' being heard they typically turn up the volume. This is perhaps what we typically call, Avant Garde; pushing the envelope to make people pay attention. There are clearly people in this city who care, who are putting forth great effort, and who have made huge developmental strides in the arts community. But, simply as an observation, San Diego as a culture that values the arts, is clearly still trying to find its legs; it's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just a developmental thing.