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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”.
APOLLO BELVEDERE
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 well-
behaved, 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.
“Raw”

Cross, Dictionary Column “Fig”


“Deconstructed Book Page”
“Flower”
“Embassador” triptych
“Odd”

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 moss-
like 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:
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 black-
haired; 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 Hansen-
Smith.

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
www.tcp.com.mt 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 dead-
ender 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
prh@tcp.com.mt

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
inbroaddaylight@onvol.net for information.