Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Documentary Review - Degenerate Art: The Art and Culture of Glass Pipes

I first saw glass blowing when I was a child visiting Green Field Village in Dearborn, MI. The process absolutely amazed me, so I happily decided to watch Degenerate Art, a documentary focused on artisans that make glass pipes.

The documentary delivers a rapid fire flow of images of exquisite glass pipes. An impressive array of very high end creations and the people who made them are presented. The concept of the glass pipe was spread by the original handful of artists through the Dead Head culture that developed around Grateful Dead tours. The beauty and superiority of glass pipes created an insatiable demand for the products, and glass artists have been attracted to the craft in droves.

Selling glass pipes was a way for the glass artists to finance their operations. They could make a profit and be able to experiment and develop ever evolving techniques.

Because of the endless market for glass pipes, the form itself became the medium for the artists' development. Many fine artists create complex sculptures based on the form that are works of art so beauteous they deserve contemplation.

Unfortunately, these sculptures are denied display in fine art galleries because they are pipes. The point of the documentary was that the glass pipe culture is so large and bubbling with intense creativity that the mainstream art world will have to acknowledge these artists eventually.

Before watching Degenerate Art, I had not considered that glass pipes had any kind of taboo association. I thought they were mainstream. Every town these days has smoke supply shops with large inventories of run-of-the-mill glass pretties. Of course, the lovely works of art featured in this documentary can't be found at any old storefront, but such is the nature of fine art.

Degenerate Art also touched on the absurdity of U.S. Government drug policies. It came in midway after all these entrepreneurs and artists were introduced with their awesome creations and booming businesses. Several years ago a number of these businesses were shut down by federal drug agents. The artists were put out of the work and the business owners had all their assets stolen by the government.

Although this was a setback for a few unfortunate businesspeople, the demand for glass pipes did not abate and artisans continue to passionately pursue their underground art.

It's just pathetic when governments attack artists. It's a sure sign of tyranny. Art comes from the hearts of people and government attempts to suppress art stab straight at the soul of a society.

The documentary did not linger on this unhappy subject and again picked up speed and presented the emergence of the art culture after the crackdown. There remains tremendous support among lovers of the medium for the artisans. They still can make money supplying the glass pipe market and continue to develop the art form.

I'll close with a quote from Carl Jung.

"Therein lies the social significance of art: it is constantly at work educating the spirit of the age, conjuring up the forms in which the age is most lacking. The unsatisfied yearning of the artist reaches back to the primordial image in the unconscious which is best fitted to compensate the inadequacy and one-sidedness of the present."

I contacted the producer of the film M. Slinger, who was kind enough to provide some links to glass artisans, so you can surf images of their work and see the elemental masterpieces coming out of some studios.