Friday, November 5, 2010

Abstract Calendar Art

So there I was, waltzing through the local Barnes & Noble book superstore to grab a cuppa at their captive Starbucks stand when lo! I beheld three long racks devoted to calendars for 2011.

A quick eyeball estimate revealed something on the order of 250 selections, of which around 70 were devoted to art as the main topic. (Other subjects included cars, airplanes, sports, pets, comics, movie stars, nature and even one calendar whose theme was "posters for peace and justice" which might be classed as art even though it wasn't positioned with that grouping.)

Of the art-related calendars, there was one whose theme was abstract art. Closely related were calendars devoted to Paul Klee (main works are a blend of Surrealism-lite and semi-geometric abstraction), Mark Rothko (whose late work dealt with swathes of color) and Ryan McGinness (jumbles of images and design elements that result in an abstract overall effect). Then there were calendars featuring Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol and Marc Chagall -- all of whom did work that can be considered more representational than not. (Yes, Chagall is kind of a borderline case. His classical works sprinkled images of humans and other recognizeable objects across the surface of a canvas in an un-natural manner.)

Doing the math, I come up with a little more than five percent of the calendars dealing with art featuring abstraction and about ten percent explicitly related to modernism. These percentages fall to about a quarter of those numbers if the entire calendar selection is considered.

What we have here is what I'll call an anecdotal measure of the acceptance of modernism by a literate, middle-class-and-over audience. Anecdotal because there are no statistical controls and because I have no knowledge of the process by which those calendars were selected for that particular B&N store. The store in question is located less than a mile from the University of Washington and within three miles of some of Seattle's most upscale neighborhoods (Laurelhurst and Windemere, to be specific). B&N seems to allow store managers to tailor stock to fit the locality. For example, this store has a good selection of art books whereas other Seattle B&Ns are more lacking. But I don't know if this applies to seasonal items such as those calendars; for all I know, each Barnes & Noble is sent the same general selection.

Statistical and methodological uncertainties aside, what I saw makes me wonder how far hard-core modernist painting and graphic arts have actually penetrated to the general public after more than a century of "education" by all the various promoters of modernism as the "appropriate" art for our times. If that B&N is even a remotely decent example, even in educated neighborhoods people reject modernism in the privacy of their kitchens, dens and other places where calendars are hung.

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