Dana Ellyn   www.danaellyn.com

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Black Cat Bone interviews Dana Ellyn
on "The Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other Modern Art Questions"
From an interview with Black Cat Bone

WHO - is your favorite contemporary American artist and why?

Naming a favorite contemporary artist is impossible for me - nobody embodies all the things I treasure most. I take my influences and pleasures from a variety of artists ranging from the obsessively detailed, dark paintings of the lowbrow crowd to the emotional expressiveness of the German Expressionists and rawness of contemporary Outsider artists. I am growing in to becoming my own favorite artist by creating a lot of paintings and learning from each and every one. I have dark days, political days, sarcastic days, happy days and days that I just say "fuck it."

WHAT - was your first memorable encounter with a work of visual art like?

I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY when I was in grade school but at that point in my life, art to me meant 'pretty pictures'. Oh, how things change. I went to college and became a fine arts and art history major. I learned the stories behind the art and I read about the lives of the artists. That was the turning point for me. Studying medieval paintings caused me to seek out information about religion for the first time in my life (that's a whole other issue which maybe I'll be able to touch on later in the interview...). Studying the Neoclassical period made me strive for better technical skills as an artist and abandon frivolous subject matter. Every semester and every class was a new memorable experience. But, going to the National Gallery of Art (east wing) for the first time is probably my most vivid single memory. I was frustrated by Rothko, Pollack, Warhol, Twombly and the abstract expressionists in general. With a little education, it didn't take long for me to gain an appreciation for them and their place in history. But for someone to paint like them now...well, don't get me started.

WHEN - did you first change your mind about an opinion you held concerning a particular work of visual art or visual artist?

As I said, many of my opinions changed when I was in college and learned the important influences and meaning behind the art and read about the tumultuous lives of the artists I admired. As a kid, I did the equivalent of judging a book by its cover - judging a painting only by my visual reaction without knowing the story. But, if the story is not there and it is, in fact, just a bunch of non-descript drips, blurry imagery or a pile of poo in the corner, I have a hard time swallowing it. On that, my opinion will not change. I try to look at contemporary art with an open mind but too often I am disappointed. The stories are lacking, the styles are blatantly copied from the past and the artists are often out to make a buck - or out to make 10,000 bucks.

WHERE - do believe the next important visual art contribution in America will emerge?

I think the next important visual art contribution is going to come from people like me who live in cities and are engaged in the world around them. By engaged I don't mean social engagements. I think living outside of the accepted social protocols is essential to creating good art. If you're a social butterfly, when will you have time to paint, to reflect, to watch the news, to read, to experiment with your art and ideas? I believe intellectual art will emerge as the greatest contribution to American art. Not to say there's not a place in the world for more decorative work. I just don't think it will make the history books. I worry, in the short term, about what is currently being considered "the next important thing." Consider this scenario; you go to an exhibit and as you contemplate a piece of art, someone exclaims "Isn't it brilliant!". In order to not feel stupid because you don't 'get it', you agree. Then, the person next to you agrees. Next, a stellar review is written in the newspaper and the newest art star is born. But it's not real. It's like the story of "Emperor's New Clothes." The emperor stands naked and calls everyone else incompetent for not seeing the beauty of his invisible clothes.

WHY - do you believe the visual arts are important to American culture?

There is such a diverse range of cultures in America - so it follows that there are vastly differing styles of visual arts and that each style finds its own niche. America has a large consumer culture that enjoys buying decorative art to adorn their homes. The decorative arts are also the most widely accepted because they are non-confrontational. On the other end of the spectrum is what I strive to do with my art. I tell stories, I document history, I express my reactions to the world through my paintings. Although not as readily accepted, I believe it holds an undeniably vital place in American culture. I'm leaving behind a visual commentary of the time in which I lived.

HOW - in your opinion, can the visual art professionals currently working inside the present structure of art museums, visual arts centers and both for profit and not for profit galleries in America, as well as members of the general artist community in this country, better engage the American public toward a more informed understanding of and appreciation for contemporary art?

I think one thing that could help to engage the general public is to have affordable art. Going back to the Emperor's New Clothes analogy, just because the price tag says $10,000 does not mean you have to appreciate the art or believe it is really worth that much. Encourage the public to ask questions to the artists directly. Limit the power the gallery system holds over art. I represent myself, I sell the majority of my work off my website and through festivals. People I deal with enjoy picking my brain about my art. They come to truly understand and appreciate my work.