These hit me like a rocket! They’re fantastic! They convey a patron’s status, they create a state-altering experience for any viewers standing before them, and they’re at home in 2011 America. That third point is something that’s eluded me, because I’ve been in a slump, making works that would fit 1890s southwest as well as 2011 suburban PA. Timeless art is not my goal. It should not be my goal. The best art is out of place anywhere but here, any time but now. That is not to prescribe that a work be a snapshot or illustration of current events or even current movements or styles. It need not relate to current politics or current cultural trends. Art can do any of these things or none of these things, but again, the best art is out of place anywhere but here, any time but now.
This is something curators look for: works that are indicative of the time and of the place surrounding their creation. Cot’s The Storm looks kitschy from our 21st-century viewpoint, but when it was painted in 1887, sappy, crassly sentimental paintings were in vogue. In a way, The Storm may reflect the sensibilities of the times just as Baroque and Renaissance art reflects sensibilities of their times. Its link to 1887 is limited, though, since its subject matter in no way relates to 1887. Timeless subject matter sets it back. Compare Cot’s painting to the Ash Can School of Art (George Bellows) or to the regionalist painters of the American Midwest (Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton) or to the Italian Futurists or to the Precisionists (Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth), all of whom made art that was generally about or inspired by or pertaining to the world immediately surrounding them. Bellows was not a great technical painter nor a great colorist, but his works were iconic artifacts of the environment in which they were created. Such is not the case for Cot’s The Storm.
What are the sensibilities of our times? How does Dozier Bell reflect these 21st-century sensibilities? These are good questions, and my answers are still coalescing. My first impression is that the scale, the spare composition, muted colors, and the polished style connect Bell’s work to 2011 America. The subject matter is also contemporary. Her works are not timeless, and therein lies their value.