Guest blogger Brad Ford Smith is a Dallas artist and arts conservationist.
If you are an artist in search of a new medium to explore, here is a list I created while walking the rows and rows of galleries at Art Basel 2008. This is a list of materials and techniques that have been used by so many artists in so many ways that they can officially be called Been Done.
*Painting over, or altering old Victorian photographs. Yes, our ancestors do look funny and strange with the addition of rabbit ears and pig snouts.
*Using covers from old hard bound books as canvas. This instant access to a lush surface has now left thousands of books out there running around naked, cold and unloved.
*Sculptures made from phone books. Phone books may seem like a good resource, because there are just so many of them lying around the house. And that’s the problem — they are lying around everyone’s house.
*Presenting photos of your drunken friends as a window into a counterculture. These are just photos of your drunken friends that you took while you were drunk, so post them on Myspace where they belong.
* Adopting the style of a famous artist: If you copy the style of another artists, and you call it an “Ode to…” (as in “Ode to Yves Klein,” pictured), it does not change the fact that it is still a copy.
*Drawing cartoons with a wood burning tool. Pyrography is a retro craft that produces a lush line while filling your studio with the sweet aroma of burning wood. If you choose to use a retro craft, push its limits.
*Laser cutting: Just like with retro crafts, it’s not enough to just laser cut a bunch of lace doilies out of steel. You have to use this tool as one of many steps in the process of creating, not as the one and only step.
*Mutant deer heads: The kind with three eyes, five ears and gold metallic skin. Could it be that it’s the toxic materials used in making these deer heads that is mutating the deer heads in the first place.
*Solitary human ears: whether it’s a drawing, a sculpture, or a needlepoint, stop doing them. Find some other body part to obsess on. Perhaps elbows.
*Rhine Stone covered anything. Damien Hirst did the diamond encrusted human skull last year. Any thing less than diamonds is just a cheap imitation, anything more would be a question of why would you?
The one exception to this list of plenty is bunny rabbits. There were lots and lots of bunny rabbits at Art Basel, but bunnies always sell, so, I suppose it is still viable for starving artists to keep cranking them out. Just try to hold back on the amount of visible blood.
Overall, the artwork at Art Basel 2008 was amazing and inspiring. I was very happy to see lots of art on paper, and that cheaper priced flat screen TVs have made a major impact on the quality of video art. In closing, I highly recommend going to art fairs, not only to see trends to avoid, but also as a way to visually validate the artistic direction that you have chosen to pursue.