CHECKING IT OUT—a process of critical and

knowledgeable observation

Paul Henrickson ©2005

tm. © 2007

More than frequently and sometimes approaching constantly, I have been puzzled by my discomfort with prevailing thoughts of what the aesthetic experience really was. I do recall that when I was a young lad, a prepubescent organism, I freely interpreted musical rhythms in terms of bodily movement. In adolescence, I distinctly recall the rare but exquisite sensation of recognizing the spontaneous response of my central nervous system to certain operatic and symphonic phrasing. I am sure that there were times when I also intuitively recognized the connection between emerging sexual drives and these exalting sensate responses to sound. This may be one explanation why the music of Tchaikovsky is found so appealing to the somewhat ambivalent and not yet emerged man. Such a neural-morphological connection may also relate to the supposition that the development of musical appreciation follows the pathway of the charkas and illustrates why the work of the American Roger Sessions is presently the most respected among European composers for his structural ingenuity. Oddly enough, while I began as a colorist at three years of age, or earlier, I do not recall any revelationary episode that informed me about the nature of color. Perhaps revelation is really nothing more than having recognized that just awhile back one had taken the wrong turn. There have frequently been from time to time rewarding insights into the exciting potentials of color. Together with my openness to experiment with it and its characteristics to describe conditions and set mood my relationship to it seemed somewhat less subjective than to music and movement. Although by the time I reached my late ‘teens I had made that connection with music and dance as well.

However, and in fact, my entire system’s response to its reality seemed rooted in its function within my nervous system. Having finally come to accept this condition, not without question but without argument, it remained until the beginning of the third decade for me to be startlingly tripped up by the inconsistency of language in describing the performance of the sensate body to sensual stimulation. I will have to admit that the Bernard Berenson wording which first and best described for me an aesthetic response was his phrase “life enhancing”. The phrase, which I first encountered when I was in my early twenties, meant something to me only intuitively. Somehow I knew that those words were the key to the secret of a life based on the aesthetic organization of sensual data. What this phrase did was to suggest the connection between the neural structure of his (Berenson’s) organism and the symbolic equivalent of it in graphic arrangement. Since the graphic morphology of a work of art cannot sustain the physical needs of the body, the body’s response to that work of art through its sense venues must be related to another set of needs…if “need” is the word for such. Perhaps the phrase “evolutionary development” comes closer to describing the experience, which earlier commentators (nineteenth century, primarily) seem to have recognized when they used such amorphous terms such as “sublime”, “exalting”, or “life enhancing”. A parallel developed might be seen in what was begun by the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilber, which culminated in their registering their “flying machine” in 1903 and the landing of man on the moon in 1969. The inadequacy of our vocabulary thus becomes evident we do not, yet, have the verbal equipment to more precisely designate the meaningful connection between an aesthetic event and the vocabulary that describes it. We, as yet, do not know how to talk about our aesthetic experiences. At least, so it seems at the moment. Decades ago there was, as I recall, a day time radio drama serial called “Life Can Be Beautiful”, or something to that effect. I was too disinterested in the lives of others to take a vicarious one in the fictional characters that inhabited this kind of attention absorbing occupation and I probably suspected that the covering title was also hypocritical

since most of the involvements most of the characters found themselves in most of their waking lives were anything but beautiful and that this expressed believe that “life can be beautiful” was truly an expression of faith. There is something rather comforting in shared tears, however, but that experience too is temporary, and the human being must move on to something more completing than another’s sympathy. Perhaps, what I have said elsewhere continues to be true, that the aesthetic life has more to do with experience than experiencing the beautiful. The aesthetic life must leave room for the horrible, the ghastly, ugly and revolting, in short, we must be stirred. If life can be beautiful it is so because it can feel itself in the process of living and that includes all those other things as well as those, which we conventionally recognize as beautiful…as from a distance, without the visceral involvement. As for concepts of beauty, the late Dutch painter, Willem de Kooning raised, intentionally or otherwise, questions as to why and how the stylish female icon of the Western world found it obligatory to add attraction upon attraction to her person in order to capture the attention of the male…as if being female were not sufficient. The “beautiful” woman of mid-twentieth century as exemplified by Marilyn Monroe and de Kooning’s “Woman” are, I think, cases in point.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe

Willem de Kooning: “Woman”

There have been a few occurrences of visceral submission to overwhelming aesthetic events and in every case I have had difficulty in sorting out what appeared to be the various participating stimulae. To cite a few examples there were my first view of the actual mosaics at San Vitali.

Mosaics at San Vitali, Ravenna, Italy

Mosiac at San Vitali, Ravenna, Italy, Theodora, Empress of Byzantium.

The view of Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” in Amsterdam after it had been cleaned.

Rembrandt, “Night Watch”

The film “La Traviata” by Giuseppe Verdi with Placido Domingo and Teresa Stratas and the films “Deliverance” and “Clock Work Orange”, watching Michael Barishnikoff leap, my first hearing of Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemp”, parts of Wagner’s “Parziphal” and, but only under certain circumstances; and certainly the incredibly insightful performance by Tom Courtenay in Peter Yates’s film “The Dresser”.

Film poster: showing Albert Finney (above) and Tom Courtenay (below)

Tom Courtenay: photograph

Three of us went one time to see the film “The Crucible” directed by the Danish film maker, Carl Theodore Dreyer of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” where in one scene we see in a smokey haze in a lamp-lit room the nude back of a chubby woman. All three of us, at once, uttered, “Rembrandt”. This event convinced me of what was probably meant by the term “a visual culture”. These are eidetic images which more or less permanently inhabit our imaginative minds and when, and maybe only when, we put them in context with other thought fragments, “memes” if you will, are we assaulted by those responses we call an “aesthetic experience”. I am aware that what I have just written might suggest that I wish to reduce the aesthetic experience to a somewhat mechanistic and basically uncreative process. While this has certainly been accomplished effectively most especially by many film makers* it has also been successfully accomplished by such graphic artists as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and David Hockney and its auxiliary support structure art

critics, gallery owners and museum directors have given us at least a half century of drossy schlock to which an ever increasingly ignorant public has been willing to subject itself.
• There are exceptions, some of them notable, to this statement. This may be the place to include, at least a reference to, the choices open to artisans, good or bad. When having recognized that the profession in which one wishes to excel by some legitimate contribution, or in which one has a considerable interest, actually functions on a hypocritical and deceitful level, where advancement in the field is achieved by anything but the demonstration of professionally admirable qualities one can be seriously inflicted with a form of malignant creative impulse. This is the sort of tragedy, I believe, may have happened to Lichtenstein, Warhol and not a few others. It is, I believe, what may have happened to Howard Stern, the contemporary DJ satirist author of “Private Parts” but he might have been able to turn his initial responses of disappointment that his initial efforts had been rejected, if they had been, into a weapon of sarcasm. It is this that may also have happened to Herta Wittgenstein, the Austrian cum Santafean accused of art forgeries by high profile art dealers. INDEED! She did say to me one time in response to a question of the legitimacy of an item that it was certainly as genuine as what Gerry Peters, one of Santa Fe’s more high profile, but rather tasteless, art dealers, had to offer. This remark was certainly able to cast doubt on the legitimacy of both. One might also add, at this point, that such evilly unprofessional behavior occurs in fields other than art production and art dealing. The horror about such behavior, which might be called, in one of its more gentle terms, a form of dream fulfillment, is that the cost to thousands upon thousands of people who have naively believed the self-promotional antics of such people as Margarite Meade and Edward de Bono, respectively in the fields of anthropology and psychology, have not been able to base their world view systems on verifiable facts. I mention those two because I have witnessed their behaviors. The same can be said of priests and politicians who buffet their egos at the expense of innocence. Such a narcissistically oriented perception of one’s environment may also have influenced the work of Doris Cross with whom I have had the frequent opportunity to discuss many topics, note many comments, and to observe many responses, when she mildly urged me to follow a line of work which she described as not being done by anyone else. Scroll down to see the work of Doris Cross. I said nothing at the time but did ask myself whether or not that is why I was willing to spend my energies and resources on an effort that seemed primarily designed to entertain others with some diversity or was the object of such creative work to enlarge my own awareness, to expand my own boundaries. I, like Robert Frost, took the path less traveled by.

Roy Lichtenstein: “Grrrr”

Andy Warhol: “Mao”

David Hockney: “Splash”

The reason for this might well be related to the still vibrating remnants of a nineteenth century culture which glorified the rewards of virtue, moral, ethical and social, with promises of there being a prince charming, cheers of popular recognition, and endless monetary rewards and the results of belief and its associated expectations can be seen retrospectively and most graphically in the lives of film stars and entertainers such as Marilyn Munroe, Michael Jackson, and Liza Minelli. The same cannot be said, however, of creative artists such as Jackson Pollack, Henrik Ibsen, Edvard Munch, Toulouse Lautrec, Vincent Van Gogh, where any crack-up of the personality probably occurred before an indication of an emerging popular approval of their work as artists. The defense or probing mechanisms of understanding that an individual employs to come to, or arrive at, a successful technique of dealing with disturbing perceptions that threaten psychic equilibrium are probably the key to the choice of medium, style and subject matter, if any.

Jackson Pollack: Painting

Edvard Munch: “Eye to Eye”

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: “Alone”

My emerging belief is that the critical ingredient in the difference in life’s outcome between a failed-as-artist-but-economically-successful Warhol or Hockney and its reverse, such as van Gogh lies in the quality of the artist’s concern for, and understanding of, the formal aspects of creation. In that environment creational revolutions do not occur nor will they be found in a change of subject matter. That is a sociological matter not a painterly one. Artistic revolutions occur within the sphere

of manipulation of the formative elements and the ways these deal with perception. That is why Monet is a great artist and why Jacques Louis David is not, but is, nonetheless, an accomplished technician.

Vincent van Gogh: “Landscape”

Claude Monet: “Spring”

Jacques-Louis David: “Paris and Helen”

The revolution in the visual arts which occurred around 1850, and I believe, the term “revolution” to be an appropriate one if it can be said that prior to that period the primary motivating force for picture making was to augment the self images of the ruling classes whether they be civil or religious. Glory in battle, imperial in command, divine in rulership and sensually seductive in its appropriation of nature, still lives and landscapes. That facade started breaking up with such startling canvasses as Courbet’s “Stone Breakers”, but its startling quality was in the subject matter not in the technique.

Gustave Courbet: “The Stone Breakers”

Technical changes, and the attendant changes in the image of the painting came with the work of George Braque, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet and Henri Matisse. Of those four only Picasso can be said to have actively and knowingly, if what he has somewhere been quoted as saying is true, participated in the destructive breakup of aesthetic continuity. I no longer remember where I read it but it was recorded that he commented on the fact that it made no difference what he painted, or how badly, what ever he did was immediately accepted by the buying public as having genuine aesthetic significance. He seemed surprised at this development yet willing to accept the benefices it bestowed.

George Braque: “Harbor”

Pablo Picasso:

Claude Monet: “Hunt”

Henri Matisse: “Conversaton”

We cannot ignore him (Picasso) as a contributing character to the art scene of the 20th century, but we owe it to ourselves and the admirable tradition of visual aesthetics to put him in his place. Regrettably, when the ignorant and bigoted raise up the Picasso specter in public argument they take full advantage of the disadvantage they impose upon the knowledgeable who are frustrated by the impossibility of finding a shared language with which to combat the insolent assault and most often must experience the appearance of defeat as an alternative to telling the ignorant what they are. At this point, although it is not timely for me to go into detail, I do want to indicate that even a century after his death, Paul Cézanne, remains largely an artist without a significant following. This is an interesting phenomenon in its own right. I haven’t come to a decision as to why that should be the case, but I suspect, it may have something to do with the general public’s expectation that a picture properly should be put to the use of political control and entertainment. This may relate to the

mistaken insistence on the part of the fourth estate that art reviews be placed in the “entertainment” and fashion sections of the newspapers.

Paul Cézanne: “landscape: quarry”

In point of fact, Paul Cézanne’s contribution goes far beyond the uses to which Braque and Picasso and since them scores, nay, hundreds, of others have put them. In fact, what Cézanne has demonstrated was that what mundanely passes for visual reality is only one particular order of organization and that occultly beneath that order is a more fundamental one which breaks down the perceptual differences and offers a more holistic interpretation of relationships. This means, I would think, that sufficiently broken down one might take these more elemental units and rearrange them in any way we might think to try to do so. The fact that Cezanne likely arrived at this intuitive grasp of a new reality through his probable need for a more secure order of relationships than his life’s circumstances had provided him is of interest to the psychoanalyst, for sure, but also to the art critic for it strongly suggests that the most creative practitioners are those who are solving existential problems on what appears to be a symbolic level. That is why, I believe, Cézanne said what he did about Monet “Monet is only an eye, but what an eye.” Now, this matter of Monet being “only an eye” points to a highly significant stage in the development of Western art. For quite nearly all of the previous centuries of artistic development up until about 1850 there seemed to be a rather hesitantly expressed ambiguity between the use of the outline as in…. and the rendering of the depicted object as a part of its environment where, in most cases, outlines and other demarcations, are blurred. When Monet embarked upon his water lily series he very nearly stepped over that remaining boundary into which, today, we find what some call field painters.

I am not certain that I understand the theories behind nanotechnology, but, if I do, I think it means that the real building blocks of materiality are so basic in nature that at some level everything is interchangeable and, for me, this is what Cézanne was telling us. It is possible that the most appropriate medium for Cézanne’s efforts hasn’t yet been invented, or, if it has, hasn’t been used. More on that matter must wait for another time. The public, apparently, has other expectations, as well, related to the proper behavior of artists as illustrated in the following anecdote. At an opening of a retrospective exhibition of my work at a government gallery in Malta a young fellow approached me with the air of an assured sophisticate and bluntly asked if I were a “professional”. Perplexed by what he might have meant by the term and assuming, as well, that there might have been a language problem since he was speaking English, I decided that what he probably meant by the term was that definition accepted by the International Olympic Committee, but with a somewhat looser application and responded “No”, meaning that I didn’t make my living at it. Unfortunately the atmosphere of a public opening is not conducive to the kind of attention required to reshape someone’s mindset. Nevertheless, I should have given it a try, but, even as it was, the poor fellow gained nothing from my response for he wasn’t even able to leave with the self-assurance he had intellectually bettered someone. I believe, now, that what was probably behind his question was the idea that a professional artist is one who produces work that is consistent with the social expectations of the time and place. I do not think, that at that time, he could have accepted the thought that no matter what the form of art, economic success is not an indicator of aesthetic worth. But, to be fair with the fellow, that misconception is not at home only in Malta, but finds friendly lodging in Minneapolis, Minnesota as well, even among those who have every advantage to know better such as Dorothy Pillsbury Rood who had been married to a sculptor and member of the faculty at the University of Minnesota as well as having been born into a privileged family. She had had an opportunity to learn something but it had been her choice not to. Accustomed to her position

of power and social prestige she chose to exert her will rather than her intelligence… or her sensitivity. I have often wondered about her reported death in a jeep accident in the Sahara for she was not a comfortable person to be around. In instances such as these it almost seems as though the ego chooses to be in contest with instructional fact. Who has the courage to tell one’s defense mechanisms to be still so that the soul might be informed? Where is the humility that allows the gift of wondrous enlightenment to shed its grace upon the innocent and the unexpected? Not all, as I have said above, aesthetic experiences are pleasant. In the early sixties, I believe, there was an exhibition of six Italian artists at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. I no longer remember who they were and, it seems, I have misplaced the exhibition’s catalogue, but what I do clearly remember is the unusually experience of having been drawn irresistibly back and back again to one painting in particular which was a heavily impastoed work in white, ochre, and sienna. It was not usual in my experience to be so captivated by a piece and there was, I thought, no indication of a subject matter that might explain the attraction. I just loved that work. That is I loved it until after about the seventh or eighth return when I suddenly discovered that it had a subject matter. After discovering what that subject matter was, a very dirty public john, I loathed the work and these two extreme responses to a work that did not threaten me physically, but had traumatized me psychologically, needed explanation. I have seen several real and very dirty johns and have forgotten them almost as soon as I stopped looking at them. But this unreal john I have remembered in great detail after more than forty years. I have thought, perhaps, that I loathed the work because of its having been the source of my having been fooled somewhere along the line, but if that had really been the case, why was it that I found the work so attractive to begin with. I have no answer to this question, not even a psychoanalytic hypothesis. I do have a theory, however, that is related to the role that formal relationships play in the formulation of a work of art as opposed to the chosen subject matter. There is in my possession a small wooden 14th century panel of the virgin and child attributed to Lorenzo Veneziano. The subject matter of

no consequential interest to me but the arrangements of the geometric forms which make up the piece have never failed to delight me. I think it is this response that accounts for a true aesthetic response to a work of art.

BREUGHEL: The Peasant Dance

In Breughel’s “Peasant Dance” which shows a crowd of people dancing in the square I had failed, and failed for many years, to notice that some of the men had erect penises. What had interested me in the piece was the rhythmical play of the color which somehow seemed to echo the supposed movement of the dancers. In an aside, I might possible admit that subtly dirty stories have to be explained to me. It is this mindset, quite probably, which did not immediately allow me to interpret William Burroughs’s “The Naked Lunch” as a poignant expression of psychic bewilderment. Later, it demonstrated to me the difference between a fulsome vocabulary, a creative juxtaposition of generally unrelated images and that special injection of powerful personal involvement, which elevates the otherwise commonplace to the level of apotheosis and makes a work of art worthy of contemplation and analysis.

In respect to the human voice I have had to analyze my reactions to the delicate rendering of certain passages when they are approached by Monserrat Caballe or Kirsten Flagstad and how I am differently moved when I hear the provocative Judy Garland interpret choices. Somehow, it is insufficient to explain these remarkable differences by the casual statement that it is “all a matter of taste”. When it came to understanding Maria Callas who managed through her lapses from “belle canto” to attain an emotional meltdown among her audiences. Similar questions arise when I listen to the fiery vocal performances of Mario Lanza, or Caruso, as opposed, for example, to a George Noire, …. Or Jussi Bjoerling. I raise this question even while believing I may understand that it may all resolve around the question that it is all a matter of whether one is singing in what is called “belle canto” or in the environment of the night club. I am in confusion when it comes to choosing between expert vocal production and expressive sentiment and must ask, myself if no one else, why is it necessary to choose at all, why can one not have both? The question remains unanswered. The only “belle canto” singing that also has produced passion, to my knowledge, is Maria Callas and she, regrettably, may have left off the discipline of “belle canto” long enough to have developed calluses on her larynx. Perhaps this tells us how and why there seem to be limits. To satisfy my hunger for aesthetic emotion I must, from time to time, be unfaithful to one or the other. There are two works of sculpture which when they are compared offer the observer some highly interesting material to consider. There are the famous Apollo Belvedere and Michelangelo’s “slave”.



Aside from the fact that approximately one millennium separates these two works there are other even more important differences to observe. Primary among these differences is the fact that the Apollo is a finished work and, it is supposed with good reason, that the Michelangelo is not. Michelangelo was not allowed the time to finish. The result, however, of these accidents of human events, and there are two accidents involved in this scenario, is that we inheritors of these accidents have been left with the accidentally appearing facts of the absence of aesthetic judgment. Although, to my knowledge, there is no indication that the Apollo had been painted when it was originally finished there is indication that earlier Greek work had been painted in “life-like” colors. As indicated earlier, Michelangelo was forced, by circumstances, not to finish this work and so we are, in effect, left with an incomplete statement as to what his intentions had been. It is possible to surmise what he had in mind, but the fact is, at this moment, there is no visual evidence of what he intended. He didn’t finish and that is what we are left with. Consequently, in both examples, today we view them both as they both probably had never been intended to be viewed. A second level of consequence further suggests that we are able to use only what we see as proper material for aesthetic judgment. Today, by and large, and very much by and large, painting a marble sculpture would be looked upon with speechless horror. The contemporary vision of Greek sculpture does not allow it. While most of the civilized world as well as the rest of the world that might have heard something about the Greek contribution to cultural achievement have accepted the image of Greek of white sculpture or architecture against a bright blue Mediterranean sky. The very idea of that architecture or sculpture being painted in bright colors is abhorrent. Such behavior is acceptable from the Indians of the American Northwest with their totem poles but not from the classical Greeks! In consequence, our aesthetic perceptions are not only different from those of the creators of these works, and that includes Michelangelo, but they are based on entirely different perceptions from what the original creators had had.

At this point we might add that we do not know what Michelangelo might have briefly seen as he passed a glance over this unfinished “slave” with its dramatic morphalizing emergence out of stony chaos. It is conceivable that he saw expressive potential in just such a combination of “finished” “unfinished” surfaces but that it took approximately another 500 years before that aesthetic would find sufficient cultural support to allow the appearance of such works as the following:

Rodin, “Gate of Hell” detail

This detail of Rodin’s “Gate of Hell” and the Marquette below illustrate something of the way in which the mind of the creator works. Having been aware of Ghiberti’s Baptistry doors at the Baptistry at Florence, Italy, Rodin accepted the basic premise of a doorway and then proceeded to radically rearrange the major structural components. The idea of the doorway remains, but the structural order has given way to a comprehensible illustration of disorder and (still controlled) chaos. Although I haven’t personally seen this evidence it has been reported that Rodin had originally created the individual figures and then assembled them somewhat haphazardly. In addition, it has been noted that the welding seams, that is, direct physical evidence of the technique used it its assembly were allowed to remain, THUS, becoming more or less subtle indicators and inalienable factors of aesthetic judgment. What one sees (senses) becomes part of the evaluation. In this instance, then, it might be said that these evidences of how Rodin proceeded were intentionally allowed to remain as testimony to his willingness to have the observer becomes aware that his work was not intended, as the Apollo Belvedere may have been, to convince the observer of the supernatural reality of the image. If this conclusion is correct it suggests that the society out of which The Apollo Belvedere had been created was willing, if not exactly purposefully contriving, to have a portion of the potential observers believe in the reality of the supernatural figure’s existence. That is the sculpture is seen being the supernatural figure and not a mere representation of it. In its turn, such a conclusion allows the contemporary critic, the present day observer, to understand that the aesthetic experience is more of a dialogue between the creator and his viewer wherein the visual concentration provided by the observer becomes the communication venue, a form of visual question and response session, by which the viewer reconstructs by way of his own particular understanding the probably intended meaning of the creator. This process is more respectful, as well as more demanding, of the process of aesthetic communication than is the earlier Apollo which comes off more like a fiat from the ruling classes directed toward the masses.

Rodin: “Gates of Hell”

Ghiberti: Doors of the Baptistry at Florence

It is in this light then that many of the more contemporary works must be seen, that is, as items of visual aesthetic focus that become opportunities for the development of visual awareness.

Louis Barragon, “Los Arboledos”

As an example, a rather dramatic change, I admit, but this environmental piece by the Mexican architect Louis Barragan entitled “Los Arboledos” beautifully integrates placement, light, form and environment and, in so doing, emphasizes some of our very contemporary concerns. It is a work that cannot come alive without the more active participation of the observer. I stress “more active” because there is no subject matter to dictate to the viewer what he must see, rather the artist has simply introduced into a previously existing environment elements that make it possible to reveal physical qualities that had earlier been hidden. From this point of view I find it a superb

work. Without Barrigan’s guidance we would have missed the reflections, the cast shadows, and the qualities of light this installation now offers us. I think it also important to [point out that the interference of the photograph, that is, interference in the sense that the photograph makes it possible for us to study at leisure the role light plays in the apparent disappearance of the demarcations between separate substances or forms. In this case, the measurable white vertical rectangle that is reflected in the surface of the water in such a way as to obliterate its connection with the concrete walkway that now appears to be unconnected to anything “solid” or to be suspended in midair. In terms of architectural innovations the development of the cantilever has brought our awareness of the spiritual in material existence to some edge. Frank Lloyd Wright has done this very convincingly in his design for “Falling Water”.

Frank Lloyd Wright, “Falling Water”

Anonymous “Cycladic Idols”

These Cycladic works, which precede all the other illustrations by about 4-5,000 years, especially the one on the left, present us with other aesthetic considerations. There is no attempt in these, as there obviously had been in the Apollo to show a beautiful human male and to present him as a divine being. Here the figures appear to be quite ordinary human being engaged in ordinary, somewhat ordinary, activities, playing musical instruments. Even their gender is somewhat in doubt so we might assume that sexual attraction was not an aim. It might also be noted, and not so by-the-way, that the technical ability to create sculpture with spaces between forms was present much earlier than the appearance of the Apollo, but the sculptural concern in making those spaces an integral part of the sculptured work did not, finally, and fully consciously appear, until the work of Henry Moore in the 20th century AD. This represents an aesthetic concern rarely noted, if ever, in art critical and art historical comments, yet, it is of primary importance in the development of an understanding of aesthetic development. As these examples seem to conceptually dominate what had been found (they represent people doing something and, therefore, represent a more developed concept than other cycladic examples [not illustrated] which appear to merely represent male and female figures) and no others have made their appearance, we might judge that the art form had not yet been co-opted by political interests wishing to control public perception

as has been incisively recognized by Hans Haacke in his article on the censorial behaviors of art dealers, museums, business interests and national organizations such as The National Endowment for the Arts in the United States of America and the various Film Institutes in Scandinavia (misleadingly) set up to assist in the production, dissemination and understanding of cultural artifacts. Nothing that they do not want seen will be seen and anyone not a member of the tightly knit group will be tolerated as I learned when I suddenly had four of the five Scandinavian countries’ film institutes actively acting to discredit me. One of the main characteristics of bureaucratic cultural controllers is that they fear anyone with intelligence, knowledge and a lack of fear. What is so reprehensible about them is that they, perhaps without conscious awareness, work to limit the intellectual and aesthetic growth of the people. On the contrary while they claim to be working for the cultural enlightenment of the masses their actual efforts are actively engaged in their measured deprivation…except in such notable instances of Mappelthorpe (in the USA) where the political battle was fought on levels quite different from that of formal art concerns.

Mapplethorpe: “Two Heads”

Retrospectively, it makes one wonder what geniuses may have existed in the various periods one studies in the history of art that could not make their appearance because of the control systems rigidly in force at various times. Not only do I regret their non-appearance, I also am

enraged by the damage done individual psyches as they may have fallen victim to coercive social pressures. Instead, by way of emphasizing a point, we get such works as “The Arch of Constantine” assembled from bits and pieces, not an entirely new work. Creative work cut off by the requirements of a political ego.

Arch of Constantine

This work, if we are to study it at all forces our concentration on the deeds of the regime. It takes a somewhat rebellious mind to ask where are the things that aren’t there from that historical period…and why aren’t they there? In light of the above comments it is somewhat surprising that the following works ever made their appearance, but perhaps it is all for the best. Out of confusion new inventions and discoveries are made.

Brancusi: “Bird in Space”

Barbara Hepworth: “Sculpture”

Alexander Calder: “Mobile”

Ted Egri: “Anguish”

Storm Townsend: “Eve”

Henry Moore: “Figure”

Isamu Naguchi: “The Seed”

I have wondered time and time again why it was I found Jim Jarmusch’s film “Stranger than Paradise” so offensively banal and came up with the conclusion it was because some other critical commentators about this work had been praising it and leaving me with no sense as to what the value they saw in it might be. I resented having to give the matter more thought than what I thought it was due. But there is a stubborn streak in my nature which encourages sticking to a problem until some satisfying conclusion might be drawn. Two other films came to mind. One was, I believe, Andy Warhol’s film showing the United States’ flag flying for a 24-hour period. The other was a film, entitled, I believe as well, “Conversation” by someone whose name I do not recall, but the entire film was organized around a restaurant conversation between two people. A conversation that lasted the length of the feature film and exhibited no more action than camera movement, and the hand and facial expressions of the actors. The aesthetic problem was how to make such a film capture and keep the attention of the audience. For me, it worked. What I think is to be learned from the example of these three films is that there is a constant and continual need to dismantle the expectations of repeated aesthetic success if the aesthetic solutions we discover are to be freshly informative. I found the Jarmusch film totally wearisome and, I would suppose, Jarmusch did as well [and that is why he did it and delighted in imposing it upon his audience] in order to demonstrate a principle of something like audience participation. I also suspect that he may have

introduced the twist at the end of the film of the wrong person returning to Hungary as reminder that art differs from the reality art portrays. In the final analysis Jarmusch may not have been able to resist yielding to the playfulness of artful solutions. Although, punished us in the process. But this sort of lesson bears too much similarity to the benefits of learning that a live electric burner can be dangerous if you touch it. Perhaps from their experiences they judged that their audience needed the punishment of boredom, kitch and vulgarity in order to become reacquainted with their sensibilities. But I doubt it. I rather think that there was a seriously malicious streak in their decision to consciously offer something repulsive simply to shock. This sort of behavior is not unlike those who conceive of manufacturing replicas of excreta for others of like mind to purchase for the delight they get in unsettling their acquaintances, or the joy some get in administering a buzz ring to someone whose hand they shake in what is expected to be accepted as a friendly gesture. Instead, if the behavior is rejected as inappropriate and rude the person offended is judged to be a “spoil-sport”, “party-pooper”, or “snob”. Consequently, the wellbehaved, considerate and relatively intelligent person is at a disadvantage in defending himself from such libel for his lack of practice in calling a spade a spade, or, to use the more contemporary jargon, …an ass-hole. By way of a refinement of judgment, however, I should like to use as an example the development of the work for which one artist became regionally famous. The artist is Doris Cross. The work for which she became famous was in her own words…deconstructionist. There were times, however, reflecting upon the significance of her work I was tempted to call it “de—structionist”. I know very little about the work she did before the time she asked me to have supper with her in her apartment in Cedar Falls, Iowa. But before that invitation was delivered she had been, at the urging and assurance of a friend of mine and of hers, to rent my beautifully furnished five bedroom Victorian house while I was away for two months. The rental was a token $100.00 per month. After my return she remained, somehow or other, another 6 weeks, meals included, before

she found the apartment she finally moved into. In appreciation for my generosity she gave me an 8” square woolen weaving depicting the lion of Judah she had somehow obtained…maybe from Israel through someone else’s agency, that is, it had also been someone’s gift to her. Over a plate of steamed string beans which was the extent of the supper she served, she tried, sincerely, to explain the concept that was newly emerging in her own mind. I believe it must have been our mutual friend, Rolf Koppel, a photographer, and, like us, employed by the University of Northern Iowa who had suggested to Doris that I might be able to help her, somehow, to clarify that to which she was struggling to give birth. Well, the experience for me was as perplexing as the effort for Doris seemed to be painful and frustrating. After three and a half hours I walked the two blocks back to my house quite totally bewildered and repeated several times to myself the question “What was that woman trying to tell me?” For a more complete picture the reader needs to know that for some reason, perhaps organic, perhaps psychological, but certainly not because of an absence of basic intelligence…for I have never known Doris to be unintelligent, she was, however, unable to select the words necessary to clarify, for the purposes of communication, the concept she was developing. It might have been three days later when all the pieces that had been assembled regarding this enigma fell into a different order that I began to have some insight into the meaning of that steamed bean encounter. But this is often the way discoveries are made. All the details are there, but they need to be rearranged in order for a new pattern to emerge. In actuality this is what she had been trying to tell me, but both by training and practice I was ill-equipped to allow the influence of occult cabalistic practices to adulterate the pure science of western thought. That expression is a mouth-full, I know, but it is true, that is, it is true in so far as my attitude as concerned. I don’t think I should speak for all of Western thought.

I would like to make it plain, however, that experience has also taught me that while the strict adherence to the non-penetration of parametal boundaries associated with a scientific procedure has its benefits the exercise of a sensitive intuition has its as well. These have become for me the cooperative wise sisters of awareness. As Doris progressed in her confidence to evolve a new and previously undiscovered occult knowledge in the otherwise strict boundaries of a dictionary column it was evident that she thrilled herself with the imagery she developed. Her approach was to select at random any dictionary column, those columns which exist in most dictionaries , two to a page, which contain the sum and the substance of millennia -aged knowledge , she willfully and seemingly randomly obliterated segments of these treasured verbal truths and allowed one segmented idea drift into another as the eye descended the page and moved from left to right creating an entirely foreign idea to any that had previously existed on the page. As I read some of these products as she produced them and thought I detected both classical and literary allusions she openly informed me that she had not known anything about the references I had thought were there. Her education had simply not included these aspects of Western thought. At the same time she was acutely aware of contemporary thought regarding the influence of various institutions in formulating public attitudes. I am referring to the article Hans Haacke had written regarding the operations of public museums and business corporations which she was correct in assuming would interest me considerably. Doris was a highly intelligent woman and it saddened me considerably that shortly before she died I had found it necessary to restrict her association with me. The conclusion I came to regarding the nature of the creative process, however, I owe, primarily to my experiences with having been an intimate to her evolving development in regard to these columns. It was an exciting time for both of us. One of the heuristic experiences regarding this development was whether there might not be something quite valid in the assumption some make that our subconsciously unprogrammed responses may, in some way, be related to our DNA composition. Not unlike the experience some unrelated individual

witness when in a sleep state I spoke an excellent quality of French this person had never heard me speak or when my sister in a mild hypnotic state when asked to call upon her guide met a horse named “Rollo” when at those times, neither of us were aware we had both French and Norman blood when we named the Dukes of Bourgoyne and Rollo de Hauteville, a “chevalier”. While the scientific method would never allow the inclusion of “evidence” of this nature in any serious scientific presentation the procedures of both the psychoanalyst and the artist are less exclusive and, in fact, certain theatrical devices encourage the drawing upon of experiential data of this sort in order to enrich the communicative qualities of a performance. At this point it may be helpful if I show some of the column pieces available to me. I urge the reader, however, not to draw unnecessary conclusions as to the comparative worth of one work of art over that of another. That is definitely not my point, but rather, that our job, as art critics, is to uncover the wellsprings of creative behavior and definitely not to determine how closely an artist follows what rules any observer feels the artist should, or is, following. I doubt that her educational or religious training, if any, had been a consciously functioning factor in her behavior. But I am more and more convinced that she was the vehicle for the emergence of the age-old Essenic tradition of occult transmission.


Cross, Dictionary Column “Fig”

“Deconstructed Book Page”


“Embassador” triptych


I have wondered what it might have been that redirected Doris’s attention from what surely had been originally a more conservative approach to picture making to the focus to be found in the works above. She gave me a clue one time as to how she viewed the artist’s position in the complex system of the art world as we have come to know it in the late twentieth century. I had been constructing a paper machee mask for some event and got playful and started to fool around with some paper toweling and flour paste and ended up with some Spanish mosslike constructions about which she uttered what I had interpreted as an encouraging comment. “No one else is doing anything like that.” I made no reply but I was struck by the idea that being different might just be the clue to notoriety if not success. Immediately, the conflict between novelty and academic accomplishment rose up like the habitual responses of traditional enemies and I had to contend with constructing a truce, for a truce is all that can ever be made between them. The analogy of the caterpillar to the steady forward march of human civilization seems the best that literature can offer. The airborne searching thrusts of the creature’s efforts are followed by the dragging forward of the rear-end and the distant view of the caterpillar’s expanded horizon for the brief moment his vision is elevated is sufficient for the moving forward of the rear-end. Those rear feat are securely fastened to the earth, or whatever, if the vision encountered by the lofty and adventurous ambition of the head is at all uncertain. The front end might flail around seeking some attachment but the rear-end stays put…thus the creature survives until such time, that is, when, in a cocoon dream state the caterpillar morphs into a being where the horizons are seemingly unlimited and an unsteady horizon is of no consequence. It is this state of being that also delights most observers and gives man a view of a paradise where he feasts on nectar and honey. The idea, however, that Doris had, at that time, in her seventy years been searching for an image niche from which to attract the world’s attention did not please me. How limiting I felt such a decision was.

For an earlier but very sincere, evaluation of Doris Cross’s work please refer to the following article: DORIS CROSS (this article first appeared in Art Voices South sometime in the late 1970’s) By Paul Henrickson Doris Cross, an artist resident in Santa Fe, New Mexico, does not follow the still popular and rather stereotype romantic attitude toward subject matter that has brought a kind of fame to the Southwest, and to the southwestern artist---nor does she involve herself with Indian motifs so attractive to a large segment of the public. In fact it would be accurate to say that even against the background of the rich and multifaceted contemporary Santa Fe scene, Cross’s work does stand out in very high relief. Cross is an active, continually exploring artist and is non-fashionable. To grow and be non-fashionable could have a relationship that could be described as cause and effect. If one probes for knowledge and awareness, history has repeatedly taught us, we might expect opposition or neglect. Either one of those social responses to innovation would not encourage a climate of “fashionableness”. Cross’s current work is a melding of word and image, dependent on no criteria other than her own sense of appropriateness. While she is very knowledgeable about art, its history, its processes, and its value as a tool to advance and to sensitize civilization, she has not felt compelled to be constrained by the accomplishments of artists from the past, not even the recent past. Cross works with columns from the dictionary. Of her own work she says: “By establishing a state of concentration, by ignoring definitions, I look at my dictionary, some words in a particular chosen column associate to other words as I look up and down the column. They connect to make new meanings. Words are like clues…private secret clues. “The discipline consists of leaving the words exactly where they are found in the column. The visualization of form comes through a clear presentation of the results of the reductive process by applying a deliberate system to a source.”

For the mathematician the symbol of eternity is that symbol’s movement, turning in upon itself and returning to its source. It has also been used by Aikido experts to indicate the rhythmic reaction to action. Whether or not she realizes it Doris Cross is a vehicle for man’s historic systolic diastolic ambivalence concerning word symbolism pictures and meaning. In recent history there have been several creative innovators who have made pictures out of words, or used words, letters, or other symbols on the “body” of their works. Pablo Picasso, Kurt Schwitters, Stuart Davis and George Braque, to mention a few. But with Cross the results are different from all these, for the drawn pictures are not illustrations to compliment a story line, nor is the text a caption for the picture. Cross is not defining words nor is she intentionally making “poetry”. She proceeds, largely, by means of an openness of concentration, a kind of creative wonder and mental flexibility, and begins to make word patterns by crossing out some of the words in a dictionary column, leaving others visible, and revealing a meaning quite otherwise hidden within what everyone can recognize as the practical intent of a dictionary column. Similar but in reverse procedure to that of the ancient Essenes, whose sacred texts were designed to conceal the intended meaning from the profane by submerging in the body of a longer text, key words which only those initiated would know. Cross has turned the one book available to everybody into a source of magical inventions and provocative insight, revelations and visions, in its way apocalyptic. Cross demonstrates once again that the sources of creative stimulation may be found anywhere, and that an indispensable ingredient for their discovery is a certain aesthetic acquiescence, an avoidance of an imposition of the ego on external phenomena. I consider her approach to be mystical, which is suggested by the column “Absalom” emphasizing the magical incantation or “nonsense” word “Abracadabra”, their coincidental positions in the dictionary column allowing its transformation onto a psalm of lament.

“Raw” is an even better illustration of the type of discovery, or meaning, emerging from this unconventional approach. Here words have been reserved on the basis of sound as well as symbol: “…certain American hav horny lock…harsh ugh as a voice…devastate a country …sack a town….” and then a change of mood where “Ravelin” (a term designating a defensive military device) is altered to form “ave”…an ancient greeting of honor, now, reserved for the Virgin Mary. Cross’s columns of “found words” alter conventional interpretations, and become graphically transformed and conceptually enriched… whether the plastic means is a photostat, a photograph, a lithograph or a painting.

However, on the other hand were Cross to have made the same decision because she wished to expand her personal visual vocabulary that reason would have legitimized the action. Having arrived at such a decision myself I wondered what should have told me of my own structure of values. I believe what it told me and, in fact, still does tell me, and that is that I value the artists’ decision more than the decisions made by any audience including those of practiced critics. It is, nevertheless, the audience which, to a very great extent, decides the future of the artists’ work. It still decides whose life efforts will be around in X number years. One might wonder, in this connection, how many works have been given by artists as gifts to friends and relatives and have remained, if they have remained at all, rolled up in some dresser drawer waiting for some singular form of recognition or the time when the artist might die and discarding the work will cause no embarrassment. By way of an example: I once was very generous with my sister and one Christmas gave her a hand-woven blanket of exceptional quality, two ceramic containers and a four-foot square painting that was anything but forthright about its subject matter although the image itself was strong. My sister hung it in her California family room for some time until her four- year-old daughter announced, “Uncca Paul made a

naughty.” Only then did my adult sister, who had had more than the usual amount of art training, recognize that there were there nude figures in the piece. Her husband who held a Ph.D. in Mathematics might be forgiven for his blindness. When some months after my gift I visited again I found the work leaning against the wall with its painted surface hidden from the accidental gaze of any observer. I was crushed by the callousness and the stupid devotion to local mores regarding art and home “decorating”, but be that as it may, my sister complained that in Southern California houses there were neither attics nor cellars to “store away” unwanted items. I suggested they offer it to the La Jolla Art museum. This they did and my brother-in-law, after making sure I had established a monetary value for it, told me that that year was the best tax relief year they had enjoyed. Because my notoriety had not “taken off” even so-called “knowledgeable” people at the Museum eventually sold it to some sort of culture scavenger-type who some-time later offered it back to me for a price. One might wonder what the reader might have gained from reading that scenario. The piece was called “Lust” by the way and is now about 50 years old…if it is still around. I mention this anecdote now because that piece was one of the examples in my personal aesthetic development where I had forced myself to break out of a mold and, in so doing, had caterpillared my way a measure or two and it also illustrates one of the premier values emphasized in this essay, that is, progressive and exploratory change. How one adjusts the cultural expectations held for a work of art to the growth needs of the creator is a real issue for the art critic with which to concern himself. Such a question is, I believe, the most consuming of contemporary interests that involve aesthetic value judgments. Such a concern may ultimately decide whether or not the status of the community or the development of the individual is the more important. Such a question may also bear upon the importance of a shrinking ethno-European population (German and French, for example) in the

face of an emerging majority of those of Afro-Arabic descent. Some how or other I view with some alarm the expectation that the last natural blond will disappear from the face of the earth in another two centuries. It isn’t that I cherish blonds more than those who are blackhaired; it is that I shudder at the prospect of anyone’s disappearance. Although I might avoid encountering at close range a triceratops I would stretch my courage to negotiate a point of observation. The creative individual is nearly always restless about something, in constant need of satisfying his need to discover, to see what is around the next corner. This restlessness often makes him a bad housekeeper. The success of the film about a restaurant supper conversation was, from my point of view, both satisfying as a film and successful filmicly, or directorially, in its demonstrating, finally, that audiences, sometimes, have an ability to connect to the more subtle events that take place on the screen. I realize that I might continue to enlarge upon the concepts suggested in this paper, and probably to advantage, but in the interests of time, spans of concentration, and respect for the processes of reflection I shall leave off at this point and take with enrichment the matter up again another time. It might be more meaningful to the reader if I use another example o aesthetic growth in a practicing artist. As I indicated about Doris Cross I know nothing about her work before she began the column experiment. But Kris Hotvedt is another matter. I have several examples of her work both before and after the change to adequately demonstrate what it is I am describing. Although I will say at the outset that the change is not as dramatic as it might have been. It is, after all is said and done, a rather minor change from works that were nearly only black and white to works that were developed in full color. The change from a black and white to a full color palette was not the only change, however. In place of the two-dimensional patterning that dominated the earlier works there was now a full three-dimensional development and, added to these changes were yet a third which, if subject matter be can justifiably considered an aesthetic change, major or not, then the change from a forthright documentation of current

surroundings to the illustration of dream-like imagery must play a role in our consideration of a developing aesthetic consciousness. Following are some examples of each type:

Regrettably, this change is not a change that I could confidently state was a change for the better, for the “better” in the sense that there is a positively identifiable growth in aesthetic awareness. The changes that have taken place, are largely in the direction of bald illustration and focused on subject matter details that are of greater interest to the psychoanalyst than they are to the art critic except in those not so rare instances when the art critic is also the psychoanalyst. There is yet another artist from that period in Santa Fe, New Mexico when and where I functioned as the art critic for The Santa Fe Reporter and that is Bradford Smith, now know, by some as Bradford HansenSmith. As an individual Brad appears to be quiet, self-effacing and deliberate. He is not at all difficult to get along with, but it does take awhile to get to know him and then, there may be some reservations, but seemingly only in those areas, which are the most personal and where other shouldn’t trespass unless, specifically invited. If there is a way to assess or to characterize Brad’s impressive production of images it might be similar to describing the results if one

were able to aim an asteroid at a planet and were able to watch the results. There are some underlying aesthetic concerns and premises present in all his work and, somehow, while they should be easy to get at and to describe, they are not. One of the commencing comments might be that Brad Smith takes a material, almost any material, and ignoring what that material might have been originally designed for he unhesitatingly twists that material into whatever shape or redesigned purpose he envisions. In this way he is certainly one of the most flexible artists I have ever known. I believe Brad started out as a jeweler. He certainly has continued to make jewelry, from time to time, but not with the same attitude as most jewelers make it. I have a bracelet he designed for me which never fails to produce a gasp of immediate attention in anyone who sees it. I wore it once on a national airline and when the stewardess caught site of it her vocal response clearly penetrated the general and steady roar of the planes engines. It was not unlike Barbara Streisand riding the crest of a drum roll with tympanum accompaniment. Here are a few of Brad’s works

There are more illustrations of Smith’s intensely exploring approach to both materials and concepts in my first CD e-book entitled “IN BROAD DAYLIGHT” and the section on creative products in the website presents more current material on Brad Smith’s application of creative thinking processes as applied to the reality of the theoretical world. One hundred and fifty years ago Paul Cézanne gave the world a beautiful example of how the production of art can be used as a barometer of psychic change. If I were to generalize the changes I perceive having taken place in the lives of as diverse a couple of personalities as Paul Cézanne and Kris Hotvedt I would state that Kris probably came to a fully realized acceptance of her erotic interests and their employment in this change and that Cézanne was more fully able to abandon them as being, probably, an interference in the personal isolation he seems to have preferred. Hortense, Cézanne’s wife, in this arrangement probably also benefited herself to the extent that she had maneuvered herself into a highly comfortable, if bourgeois, existence. Whether the child born within the framework of this marriage was Paul’s remains, in my judgment, doubtful or, at the very least, evidence of a contract. I have recently been in touch with one Charles Thomsen who is, apparently, one of the founders of a recently formed group called “Stuckists” called so after a verbal fillip from a former wife (?) who declared out of some frustration, it seems, with what she felt was a deadender in terms of a significantly developing potential in the group’s work. Perhaps she felt, what I too felt, that while the verbal proclamations could receive my wholehearted support and agreement the work they produced was perplexingly devoid of meaning, except, in terms of the behavior of a purposefully belligerent pre-adolescent. There seems to be, in these days, a growing response to what can only be called a dominating elite placed in power through the combined efforts of the uninformed, perhaps the uninformable, who recognize only that their efforts have been ignored by some establishment and, in response, have recourse only to reaction. This may be the response that

Lichtenstein and Warhol had initially had when they launched their notable artistic careers and iconoclastically intent styles. It is from their remarkable social and financial success that a movement originating in Britain (this may also be significant, by the way) called “Stuckism” may now, and hopefully so for its adherents, be on its way to international notoriety.

Sexton Ming: “Leigh Bowing”(detail)

Charles Thomson: Stella Drawing a Priest Masturbating”

Charles Thomson: “Strip Club”

Ella Guru: “The Queen’s Speech” (detail)

It is clear, in most of these illustrations, that the artists, especially Charles Thompson, is unable to resist convincing evidence of his

attraction toward and respect for the accomplishments of artists who have preceded him such as, Matisse, and Les Fauves and that he, as well is able to pay homage to the art of drawing itself as in his depiction of “Stella”. What is clear as well, is that they are miffed at not having been accepted on the basis of their talents which are clearly related to the tradition of Western Art and so, it appears, they are striking out at the establishment which is acting in locus parentis and purposefully behaving in an outrageous and hopefully offensive a manner. I will grant them this, that while their products, that is those that are the result of their frustration and disappointment in their talents not being validated consensually, are of little value to me aesthetically, their verbal expression which is the intellectual expression of their dissatisfaction is extremely well-done. Their analysis of the place of art in today’s society is worthy, especially their understanding of the influence of Saatchi on the British art scene, what is not acceptable, because it fails to really deal with the problem by offering us better, more complete work, are their aesthetic products. Per haps there is some demonstrateable value in pointing out that something is degenerate by becoming even more degenerate, but one might hope for a more powerful and more real aesthetic statement and not a statement about aesthetics. They are worthy successors to Lichtenstein and Warhol, but that is their major, if not the only, success they have achieved. It is a cheap way of achieving satisfaction. It is not unlike masturbating in public as a way of proving that one is a man. The situation does, however, point up, or, at least, it should do so, that the relationship between the productive artist and the art critic is a symbiotic one. The art critic, I think, should be more than a recorder of events, or a chronologist of influences, but an intensive participant in the act of creation, for, at least in this sense; a work of art is not complete until it receives a formative response. For a work of art to become a participant in a culture it must be integrated into the social fabric by means of discourse and repetitive viewing. There must be a culture of interest.

It is very much more difficult to find and demonstrate a real solution to a perceived problem and then, perhaps even more difficult, to get a significant number of people to recognize that that solution is a real and worthy one. But that is, as I see it, the only objective in engagement in creative effort. Out of the forgoing discussion has come the realization that there is a real difference between the art of or the art that is supported by political tyrannies and the art that develops in a laissez faire political environment. A recurring concern, still not yet answered is how Nelson Rockefeller, A Republican, could have been so supportive of some of the more advanced art forms. Only in contrasting his interests with those of the Soviets had this difference made sense. It seemed to me too pat, much too generalized, a notion to accept the idea that Democrats were democratic because they had an interest in the welfare of the common man. Many of my experiences with some of them would indicate otherwise. Likewise I could not accept the democrat characterization of republicans as being monetary elitists. Nevertheless, when Nancy Reagan selected art work for the White House and went to the bother to select a new china service “so that everything would be uniform”, I rethought the matter. I had rationalized that selecting artwork from the nation’s collection that had a sufficient vintage to hang in the White House was reasonable enough. After all, unless she had very strong aesthetic bias that she was ready to defend publicly, why not take the middle course? I had also rationalized that buying new china so that a mix of plates might not be a problem for the person responsible for table settings. After all, after 200 hundred years one might expect some plates to have been broken. Nevertheless, the way the matter had been described in whatever publication I read it did have a sort of special meaning for me. When she was finally able to get Ron Jr. out of the ballet and into a marriage the message finally came through loud and clear and my sympathies for the human sacrifice to the god of common public opinion went out quite unrestrained. That sort of behavior is always an error.

I haven’t read an explanation of what Bresjnev had in mind when he was supposed to have advised Jaime Wyeth not to underestimate the power of an image. A brief view of the images espoused by the three-generation Wyeth clan might be helpful in understanding why they may have come to symbolize, for many Americans, the role that art plays within a society.

N.C. Wyeth: “The Pledge”

N.C. Wyeth: “Wreck of the Covenant”

N.C. Wyeth: “Crusoe’s Raft”

Andrew Wyeth: “Dryad”

Andrew Wyeth: “Anna’s House”

Andrew Wyeth: “China Blue”

Andrew Wyeth: “Anna Christina”

Andrew Wyeth: “Christina’s World”

Jaime Wyeth: “Herring”

Jaime Wyeth: “Wolf Fish”

Jaime Wyeth: “Day Dreaming”

It is now nearly 400 years since the Pilgrims first landed on the Massachusetts shores. The courage that brought them there, and not without mishap and tragedy along the way, is a wonder. It is simply not an everyday occurrence. These people were, to a great extent, already prepared for the discipline of practical decision-making and continued their courageous decision making well into the following years. It may even be considered a practical matter to have made the decision to found Harvard College eighteen years later. However, that decision might be considered to have been somewhat tinged by aristocratic coloring in that an educational enterprise is likely to generate changes in attitude and differences in perception often encourage differences in the perceived importance of occupations and hence in social levels. Practical pursuits give way to aristocratic ones and the need to define the proper employment of leisure. Consequently, and ultimately, we have the observation made by Clement Greenberg at, I believe, an address he gave at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, in

which he, almost in an aside, mentions that the important characteristic of an art product is not its subject matter or the absence of a subject matter but the organization of the piece. Greenberg did not stress this point to any significant degree. Perhaps, he hoped the concept might sink in and at some future time its potential meaning might emerge, enriched by the gestation process in the mind of the listener. It is on this observation, echoing the words of Madame de Stael of nearly 300 years earlier who stated that those who require a subject matter in a painting are missing the point…or something to that effect, we might more determinedly draw the reader’s attention to the dominant organizational characteristics of the Wyeths, all three generations of them, works of art might be. If we ignore the fact that illustration is a characteristic motive of all three generations and concentrate on formal aspects of their organization what we see is a development over a course of 100 years between N.C. Wyeth and Jaime Wyeth is very cautiously modest acceptance of the aesthetic discoveries of the nature of light of Monet with an interlude of some powerful psychoanalytic insight into the nature of some of Andrew Wyeth’s sitters, and or their residences. Of the three artists it is only Andrew Wyeth who manages to captivate and retain the fascination of the viewer and this mainly by his extraordinary psychological understanding of both the observer and of the subject as well. His technique excellently and unfailingly supports the nature of the image he has chosen. In contrast, both his father, N.C., and his son Jaime, as accomplished technically as Jaime sometimes can be, are inferior workmen. Yet, there are probably more people who know the name of Wyeth than who remember the name of Winslow Homer and it is Homer whose achievements in both illustration, that is, the telling of a story through pictures, and in the handling of the medium excel all three of the Wyeths. To use the concept Greenberg introduced at Western Michigan, that of the structure of a work of art being of primary importance over that of the subject matter or the “ism” to which it may have been relegated by current critical jargon, the structure of the work of Andrew Wyeth and that of Winslow Homer appear about equal, that is, the intent of the work and the technical

presentation of that intent are such that they cannot really be separated. They thus combine to make the structure. In the work of N.C. Wyeth and Jaime Wyeth the presentation undergoes no significant change when the subject matter changes. In their work the technique has been mastered and will be applied without alteration to whatever the pictorial problem. In Homer’s “Gulf Stream” and the watercolor showing people waiting apprehensively on the beach the technique has been altered in response to the differences inherent in the messages. In the same period of time in the United States as N.C. actually a generation earlier, we have the appearance and the development of artists such as Winslow Homer, who was, as well, an illustrator of considerable technical talent and innovation. A selection of Winslow Homer’s work appears below:

Winslow Homer: “Mountain Lake”

Winslow Homer: “Gulf Stream”

Winslow Homer: “Coming Storm”

Winslow Homer: “water color”

Winslow Homer: “Life Line”

Having made comparative value judgments, which I find somewhat distasteful for one of the real values inherent in creating works of art

are the evidences the artist gives us of his personal aesthetic growth, I feel the need to elaborate. One of the greatest contributors to our aesthetic perception was Paul Cézanne, yet, he showed negligible, if any at all, growth in his ability to draw. In drawing the human figure he was just about as clumsy and inept at the end of his life as he was at the beginning. What he did contribute to our perception was an entirely new way of seeing the purposes of picture making which to a significant extent Picasso, Braque and Duchamp picked up on and developed. Now, Homer and Cézanne were almost exact contemporaries yet I doubt very much that Homer, even if he had known of Cézanne, would have been able to understand him. Homer was a superb illustrator while Cézanne had given that up as an aim fairly early on. Now, one of America’s more extraordinary artists was Ivan Le Lorraine Albright. The three works shown here demonstrate one of the more marked differences between him and Andrew Wyeth.

Ivan le Lorraine Albright: “A Soul Called Ida”

Ivan Le Lorraine Albright: “Self Portrait”

Ivan Le Lorraine Albright: “Flesh”

What these examples, and many others, show us is that Albright had developed an outstanding technical procedure and applied it to nearly every work he did the subject of which, for the most part, was the least attractive aspects of the human condition…decaying flesh, his own and everyone else’s. Because this was his major concentration, in fact, I have difficulty in identifying another, he cannot be said to be an illustrator in the sense of both Winslow Homer and Andrew Wyeth, but what he does do is to demonstrate that he has attained a certain level of technical proficiency for which he must be given due credit.

Hyman Bloom, born in Latvia more than 90 years ago is an artist whose flexibility of technical approach and depth of understanding of the painter’s craft has raised him to a level of considerable significance.

Hyman Bloom: untitled

Hyman Bloom: “Red Jacket”

Hyman Bloom: “Harpies”

Hyman Bloom: “Rabbi with Torah”

Hyman Bloom: “Beggar” {this is very much like Rembrandt’s drawing, somehow returning the favor]

Rembrandt: “Balthazar’s Feast”

Rembrandt: “Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife” (etching)

Rembrandt: “Man With a Wide Brim Hat” (drawing)

Bloom’s admiration for Rembrandt is clear, but what is also clear is Bloom’s highly informed ability to produce work in an enriched contemporary visual vocabulary giving the informed viewer the advantage of witnessing both a valuable visual heritage and a vibrant respect for aesthetic intuition. In the foregoing I have attempted to present observations I thought valuable to the reader. If it sometimes seemed that there was too much emphasis on the personal point of view it was only because I felt that the reader might gain some confidence in his own judgments and might be encouraged to share them, thereby enriching the visual culture of the whole group. I could continue this process throughout the entire history and breadth of the visual experience available to us, but it is best now, for the time being, that I put an end to it. Paul Henrickson
Dr. Henrickson has previously prepared an e-book, a CD, entitled “In Broad Daylight” wherein he brings together the many learning experiences he encountered as the first art critic for the weekly Santa Fe (New Mexico) Reporter. Those interested should email for information.