“All men by nature desire to know.

An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses, for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything, we prefer seeing, one might say, to everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things.” Aristotle



CITY COMMISSION OF THE CITY OF MIAMI BEACH Office of the Mayor and the Commission 1700 Convention Center Drive Miami Beach, Florida 33139 Re: The Struggling CANDO Artist Honorable Commissioners: As you know very well, your approval of zoning incentives to provide cultural arts workers with reduced housing costs in the historic Miami Beach area known as the Cultural Arts Neighborhood District Area is believed to be a foregone conclusion. According to the August 1, 2006 Miami Herald editorial re-published on Mayor David Dermer’s official website, his CONDO Blue Ribbon Committee “represents a broad range of personalities,” including, most importantly, “struggling artists.” I urge you to approve such zoning incentives with struggling artists mainly in mind, for they are the ones who are expected to renovate the foundation of the creative renaissance of the district – I believe ‘renaissance’ is the appropriate term; for instance, many of the applications of the Art Deco decorative style that made Miami Beach famous were conceived during gatherings at the old library now housing the Bass Museum, itself the finest example of Art Deco around. It is to that end that I shall introduce to you Darwin Leon, a real Miami Beach struggling artist, that he may serve as a qualifying model for your equitable consideration. You are men and women of considerable experience, persons who, as Aristotle noted so well, “succeed even better than those who have theory without experience. The reason is that experience is knowledge of individuals, art of universals, and actions and productions are all concerned with the individual; for the physician does not cure Man, except in an incidental way. But Callias or Socrates or some other called by some such individual name, who happens to be a man.” We must belay the contemporary denial of the virtuous existence of the First Person and consider an individual example of the concrete universal if we are sincerely interested in a renaissance of the cultural arts in Miami Beach. Jacob Burckhardt associated the civilization of the Italian Renaissance with the development of the individual, who emerged from behind the veil “woven of faith, illusion, and childish prepossession.” If Miami would be the world-class city it is touted to be, we should recall that “the cosmopolitanism which grew up in the most gifted circles is in itself a high stage of individualism.” Note well that “in Italy at the time of the Renaissance, we find artists who in every branch created new and perfect works, and who also made the greatest impression as men.” Of course the rise of the individual coincided with the rise of the bourgeoisie whose leadership took pride in the fine arts that lent them and their cities so much prestige. Modern liberal thinkers such as Frédéric Bastiat, who feared socialism, and Benjamin Constant, who feared war, thought classical individual liberty was highly overrated and outmoded, originally purchased by the ancients with slaves. Bastiat complained that “the subversive doctrines called socialism or communism are the fruit of a classical education,” and remarked that “those who live by plunder exert their action on other members of their species; what they ardently aspire to dominate are their fellow men.” On the other hand, he extols the individuals who want to subject Nature to their commercial control. Constant, like the


Doctrinaires, moderates who did not really have a set doctrine, wanted a dynamic synthesis of monarchical and democratic principles. He warned that the liberty of the ancients is not for modern individuals, for they would rather not be distracted by politics and war from the pursuit of their happiness: “Commerce inspires in men a vivid love of individual independence. Commerce supplies their needs, satisfies their desires, without the intervention of the authorities.” So let it be well known from previous renaissances that Miami Beach civic leaders have good cause to expect some salvation even from creative artists who might resent them, and that there is something in art for men of great practical experience. Men of experience, who know the ‘how’ of getting things done, said Aristotle, “suppose artists to be wiser than men of experience,” for artists might know the ‘why’ of things. Wherefore I pray for your attention to these few pages, knowing that your interest in them depends in part on their subject matter, which I am intensely interested in, while others might be more interested, for instance, in 100-page housing reports, or in watching television for three hours a day – I confess them to be my interests as well. The need for equity in our cultural arts considerations was identified in the City of Austin’s 2002 ‘Identification of Public Cultural Arts Funding Best Practices and Benchmarks’, a 42-page evaluation of a survey of the practices of comparable cities including Miami, which was mentioned for its “very open and participatory process.” “EQUITY: For the purposes of this paper, equity alludes to the provision of equal access to arts resources for artists and arts organizations and to the broad participation of audiences in a diversity of arts experiences. Ensuring equity is, in itself, an activity that has its own intrinsic value. Further, as implied by Richard Florida in The Rise of the Creative Class, ensuring equity may be a key to attracting and retaining Creative Class people…” Whenever government favors one artist over another because of his or her household’s annual income, or for his or her political or aesthetic principles or avowed lack of them, the consequences in the long run may be inequitable for everyone concerned. Moreover, for a government to bestow substantial economic favor on an artist, not because of the quality of his or her artistry but because the artist’s income happens to be moderate or substantially above dire poverty, defames the noble artists who either unwillingly or willingly starved for their principles. Gustave Courbet pointed out, in his 1870 letter to the Napoleon III’s Minister of Fine Arts refusing the ribbon of the Legion of Honor: “The state is incompetent in matters of art. When it undertakes to reward, it usurps the public taste. Its intervention is altogether demoralizing, disastrous to the artist, whom it deceived concerning his own merit, which it encloses within official rules, and condemns to the most sterile mediocrity; it would be wisdom for it to abstain. The day the state leaves us free, it will have done its duty towards us.” Courbet at age 50 had good cause to be personally embittered. For example: the jury had excluded his most important works from the 1855 International Exhibition. He withdrew them all and set up his own successful show outside the gates of the World’s Fair – the public appreciated his realism and individualism. Perhaps Miami’s disgruntled fine artists should set up their own one-person shows, by way of demonstration against the mediocrity they privately protest but give public lip-service to, on the sidewalk in front of the great Miami Beach Art Basel exhibitions. We may be opposed to Coubet’s staunch conservative liberalism today. Darwin Leon, having personally experienced the socialist experiment in Cuba, appreciates Coubet’s libertarianism but he does not agree with his condemnation of abstraction – “An abstract 3

object, invisible or nonexistent, does not belong to the domain of painting” – or his disaffection for schooling – “There can be no schools; there are only painters.” Although Darwin would prefer private support from collectors and other patrons of the arts, he would be glad to receive governmental support for his artistic endeavors. As every politician knows who has lost an election, the best man or woman does not always win, and nice people tend to finish last. What a shame. Wherefore I plead for your support of the arts on equitable grounds; equity should preclude the exclusion of the model of the struggling artists to whom the honorable mayor and commissioners would purportedly extend a hand up to if not a hand out. Darwin Leon, as you can see from the enclosed copies of his paintings and drawings and his exhibition at www.darwinleon.com , is definitely a can-do artist. That is to say that he can do it all, from classical to Renaissance to modern to postmodern, and he can do it well. Shortly after I moved to Miami Beach, I visited the studios of various artists-in-residence at Art Center/South Florida. On my way out I noticed Darwin Leon sketching at the front desk. I was suitably impressed and asked to peruse his sketch book. I was amazed by his drawings, not only because few artists can draw well nowadays, but because his artful expression of the truth of the psychological reality beyond mundane reality, or surreality. He then showed me photographs of his neo-Renaissance work. He fervently explained how modern art in its rebellion against tradition had eventually leapt off the cliff into meaninglessness, abandoning history altogether. He said he considered it his mission to help restore the integrity of history and give fine art a new life. “Incredible!” I exclaimed to myself, “Here is an artist who knows what a concept is and has one that he believes in.” And to Darwin, “Where is your studio? I must have missed it.” Darwin said he had applied for an artist-in-residence studio at the Art Center on three occasions, but the juries of artists-in-residence and directors rejected his application. He was privately informed that his work was “not contemporary enough” for the Art Center, and that it was “inadequate” and “inconsistent.” Not that his work was not consistently good. It simply did not fit into the direction art was taking in the compartments at Art Center/South Florida. However, he was grateful for the fact that he had been allowed to work the front desk and to teach at the Center’s art school. He said the aesthetic conflict between his teaching and the general direction the school was taking had caused him to have a recurring dream: a vision of the Center’s buildings converted to an art academy, with this signage: New Art Academy. Honorable commissioners, here is a suggestion, based on Darwin’s Dream, for Miami Beach’s evolutionary officials to consider: Purchase the property now occupied by Art Center/South Florida for the conversion of the buildings into an internationally renowned academy for the fine arts. The current artists-in-residence can be happily relocated to the spaces provided by CANDO developers in return for tax incentives. Mind you that I certainly would not detract from the artistry we already have, nor would I defame the artsy events that bring thousands of tourists and many worthy artists to Miami Beach – some of their work is truly remarkable. But we must face the awful reality although it is getting better: Miami and Miami Beach do not enjoy the best reputation among art collectors around the world. I recently encountered at Bass Museum a prominent art buyer from France. She said she included Miami on her annual buying trips, but did not expect much from Miami: “After all, this is Miami,” she explained. Perhaps we are too serene in our progress. “All is serene…yet doubts persist,” remarked Eugene Fromentin in Paris, 1864. “Don’t you see that there is room here for 4

certain doubts…. We complain, we blame, we regret. We should like something better and would ask for something more. We say that good works are rare, and the great no longer exist; that talent grows less in proportion as it multiplies…. We are tired of the mediocre, we should prefer the great. We say that curiosity has its limits…and that this periodic flood of six or seven thousand pictures converging every ten months upon the same place and spreading over the same public will end by submerging the taste for the beautiful and drowning it in an inevitable weariness.” Fromentin, by the way, was not a radical artist in any sense of the word. The “inevitable weariness” over the “mediocrity” in art and the repugnance for creative ideals is apparently related to the blighting of our culture. Darwin Leon believes the rebellion against traditional art and history went too far, leaving in its wake an unprincipled wasteland where anyone with principles is called an anti-democratic fascist; wherefore his New Art movement. I abjured to stow away his “anti-anti-art” diatribes lest he become his own enemy, and to simply paint his renaissance. “What good does it do an artist to complain about non-art? You might as well protest against the pottery and kitchen utensils on Lincoln Road. Leave the words to me – I’ll write a wordy manifesto to please or irritate the intellectuals who want to impress the market with their wit.” No doubt Miami’s reputation for art is improving, and we do see some very fine art produced by local artists. We can improve reality all the more if we are willing to face it. Tax incentives for real estate developers are good thing if invested well. What artists obviously need is cash in hand; they need a better market; they need buyers; fine artists need first-class buyers. That is why I am hitchhiking the mayor’s pet promotion, and putting a real face on Miami Beach’s struggling artists. Witness the embarrassing reality that Darwin Leon faces in Miami Beach as a struggling artist: Darwin is 36-years old. He lives with his wife and two young children, in far-flung Southwest Miami, in a small room where he paints. His income is approximately $12,000 per year and is derived entirely from art instruction and painting. He recently lost his access to food stamps because of confusion over how to fill out the necessary forms – he took the term “non-employee” on his Form 1099 from Art Center/South Florida literally, crossed out the boxes that should have been filled and wrote a long explanation on the form. In lieu of food stamps, he was given a list of organizations that hand out food. Darwin is a Cuban-American, from Havana, an American citizen with a cosmopolitan attitude – as an impoverished Cuban-American he has several good reasons to laugh heartily at the prevalent notion that “the Cubans run Miami.” He struggled to learn English and computer systems at Miami Dade College, and eventually landed a clerical job in a local bank, one that is now having serious problems with its real estate loan portfolio. But he got caught up in the usual American Dream: he wanted to be somebody, to contribute something wonderful to America, and the advertisements of the Miami International University of Art Design (MIU) caught his eye. Of particular interest were the promises to find promising work for graduates. Darwin quit his regular bank job, devoted himself entirely to art, and won his BFA. MIU, incidentally, has recently notified Darwin that he has been inducted into its hall of fame. He replied that they should note under his name that his BFA has saddled him with $75,000 in debt, and that the college did not provide him with vocational referrals. Darwin worked part-time at the Bass Museum while he was a student at MIU. He was like a bee in a honeycomb, delighted with the job until he and others were fired by Diane Camber because, he was duly informed, the City of Miami Beach did not have sufficient funds in the budget for miscellaneous workers. Despite my attempts to persuade 5

Darwin otherwise, by way of reference to the need for ruthless compliance with budgetary restrictions and other rules, Darwin remains embittered by that experience, because, he thinks, the city had plenty of money, Diane Camber knew of his desperate financial struggle as an art student, and replacements were hired a short time later. “Darwin,” I insisted, “let it go, don’t take it personally, it was not about you, it was about the money, or maybe about some rule about turning over the part-time staff, and sad as that might be for you, that is how it is, unless you are protected by a union or by public law.” “But she knew, she knew, she knew I was hurting, and she hurt me after I fixed the museum’s website for her,” he stammered painfully.” “Get over it,” Darwin, “she did what she had to do, and if you wanted job security at Bass Museum, you should have applied for a museum job with the city. As for me, I’m thinking of immigrating to Cuba, where brilliant authors are taken seriously.” “You won’t be able to get the big cans of green tea you like so much. And the way you write, you’ll go to jail.” Most recently the enthusiasm of a CANDO promoter caused Darwin and his wife Vivian to believe that some sort of immediate justice or salvation for the struggling artist was available in CANDO or from the persons promoting it. Wherefore they were severely disappointed to read the income qualifications published by the Miami Herald in a July 1, 2007 and republished by the Mayor on his CANDO website; the report was based on conversations with city officials. “To qualify” for affordable housing, quoth the article, “people will have to prove they are artists” and have income from 51% to 120% of the median $55,900; that is, from $28, 509 to $67,080. So great was Vivian’s disappointment that she threatens to take the kids and leave Darwin unless he immediately gets jobs. He believes the loss of his family would kill him – the children are his pride and joy – hence he is scrambling to find two jobs pumping gas, flipping burgers, or guarding properties. That would be a tragedy and a terrible waste of talent and investment in his artistry. Great artists are not famous for holding down full-time jobs doing something besides their calling, and for that fact and despite their hard work at their avocation, they are resented by many people who “have to work for a living instead of doing what they want.” Perhaps more hours teaching art would do the trick for Darwin, if not at the Art Center then at one of the free spaces the Mayor’s personal CANDO adviser A.C. Weinstein says developers sometimes provide struggling artists, although he said he did not know of one in particular. Indeed, given CANDO’s present income criterion for truly struggling artists in comparison to the relative pittance they receive from their artistic endeavors, it would appear that the Blue Ribbon Committee might be more interested in “day workers” or “wage slaves” than in struggling artists. All right, then, if that be the case, then let the truth be told, rather than building up expectations that are bound to let struggling artists down. Let it honestly be said, then, that real estate developers allied with civic leaders would exploit the artistic sensibility of the bourgeoisie with a superficial decorative effect, converting real estate into artéstaté, posing as benefactors of struggling artists instead of actually patronizing them, creating the illusion that they would reverse the gentrification or gentile denigration of Americans for whom South Beach was once a poor person’s paradise, the very gentrification they sponsored in the first place in order to save themselves at great cost to current residents. Thus would the opposition be co-opted and business-as-usual proceed apace. We hope that is not true in our illustrious case. Speaking of the high cost of gasoline, Darwin Leon managed to scrape up $3 in small change from under the car seat last Tuesday, to buy gas to get to his non-employee job at Art Center/South Florida. He loves that job, by the way, and a survey of his students 6

reveals that his contributions at Art Center/South Florida are deeply appreciated. His students wanted to exhibit their work in the gallery at the Center and submitted their application (copy enclosed), but the jury turned them down although the directors had encouraged them to submit it even before they had the art work ready to exhibit. Apparently it dawned on the directors that it would behoove any bona fide art school to periodically exhibit the work of students from all classes instead of discriminating in favor of one class with a particular aesthetic philosophy; and that is precisely what is being done – Darwin’s students were naturally dismayed that their application was turned down after getting the impression that acceptance was a foregone conclusion, and they were further disappointed that they were not thanked for the effort that led to the most equitable result. Now this portrait of a genuine Miami Beach struggling artist in 2007 is not the pretty picture Matisse idealized in 1869: “What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject-matter, an art which might be for every mental worker, be he a businessman or writer, like an appeasing influence, like a mental soother, something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue.” Yet it is a true picture, and it is the truth in art that makes us wise to what is really going on. Wherefore I leave the honorable commissioners with this truth to consider: If Darwin Leon, our model of the struggling artist, does not qualify for the benefits promoted by the Mayor’s CANDO Blue Ribbon Committee, none should. Wherefore I urge the City Commission of the City of Miami Beach to only approve of the proposals by the Mayor and his good committee with this proviso in mind. Sincerely, David Arthur Walters


Resurrection of Greek Reasoning www.darwinleon.com


Art Revolutions by Darwin Leon www.darwinleon.com


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