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by Paul Henrickson, Ph.D. ©2006
tm. © 2007
I am unable, at the moment, to recall who observed that “a mighty oak from a little acorn grows, but, I suspect, he was saying a great deal more than calling our attention to the scientific fact that from an acorn one does not get a peony. That observation could also lead us to consider the richer nature of inexact poetic language over the self-proclaimed “exact” language of mathematics and science. This, in turn, has led me to wonder why it is that some politicians are attracted to the agenda of improving education by means of eliminating the [liberal] arts and emphasizing the “exact” disciplines of adding things up, so that one gets to the one correct answer in and at the right time, and to come to the unquestioning understanding that a definition is, after all, just that, definition, that is, something that defines…limits….limits to existence and therefore, limits to experience. And “experience” we have all heard “teaches” and good, that is to say “effective” politicians do not want the people to have too many experiences, or any at all , of a certain kind. Having had such a trail of logic in mind may have been why the Russian tyrant Brezhnev is reported to have advised the American realist painter Jaime Wyeth not to undervalue the power of an image…and why some people like Doris Cross, last resident in New Mexico, whose ashes, according to her son, now fill a cardboard oatmeal box, so delighted in not merely destroying definitions in her dictionary columns work but introducing new ones as alternative to the established reality. It was she who had expressed amazement to me that she had been able to seduce the male lover of one of Americas more prominent newscasters…also male. She, at the time was in her mid seventies and the lad a mere thirty. Of course, who can tell for certain, that the report was more a report of her imagination, very consistent with her joy in redefining things, than a non-editorialized statement of fact?
Harold Jo Waldrum
However, Since oaks, not birches, grow out of acorns perhaps Doris, having some consistency to her fractured-mirror image of life had other motives in mind when she mentioned to me that the virtue in the work of Harold Jo Waldrum was the
smooth consistency of the way he applied paint to canvas. Like some ancient sibyl Doris’ comments were never really precise and left everything up to the imagination, and it seemed, at times, up to the needs of the listener. But while there are other noteworthy characteristics of Waldrum’s work, Doris’s statement, were it to be taken literally, if taken at all, might be compared to the work of the 18th Century painter Ingres who, according to information available on the Web said nearly precisely the same thing…a concern for the surface of the painted surface to show as little as possible of its actual origins.
Ingres: “The Turkish Bath”
If such an aesthetic concern were to be accepted as the only legitimate one where would we consider putting painters such as Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, or even August Renoir, to say nothing at all of Anselm Kiefer? Is one to conclude that these artists are less worthy because they fall short of that ideal for a painted surface? Actually, I have suspicions, several seemingly conflicting ones, as a matter of fact, as to Doris’ motives in mentioning the factor of neatness in connection with Waldrum’s application of paint. Basically, I think she introduced the idea as a kind of red herring. With the aim, not so much as to introduce a new and possibly related topic but as a ruse to divert the attention of others to more appropriate and applicable “standards” of performance. Doris once described herself as a deconstructionist. I think in this statement she was absolutely sincere. In response to that claim of hers I once remarked, “… but Doris, you are constructing something else of value, so there must be something more to your claimed aim than what you say.” She didn’t object to that interpretation. She made no comment, but the feeling at the time was that she felt complimented and was content to leave it
at that. I felt at the time that she was willing to accept the statement as a not unworthy goal for herself for her work became, after that, more in line with reconstruction than with deconstruction. Such an approach, that is the occult part of it, would also be consistent with the Essenic tradition.
Vincent Van Gogh “Starry Night”
Anselm Kiefer: “Jerusalem” (straw, varnish and paint)
A decade earlier, in the early 60’s, Kenneth Burge, one whose work might be described as field painting and Paul Henrickson who both found themselves in the Art Department of what is now known as Radford University (Radford, Virginia), were discussing the merits of retaining both the sense of three dimensional space on the two-dimensional surface and the integrity of the stretched canvas and had experimentally agreed to each see what might be done with that concept using, as they had agreed upon as a model Titian’s “Rape of Europa”
Paul Henrickson: “The Rape of Europa” Santa Fe Museum of Fine Arts
The Burge/Henrickson discussion centered on one painting “ Titian’s “Rape of Europa” in which Burge had brought to Henrickson’s attention the fact that while depth was indicated in the Titian work it maintained a sense of the “whole fabric” extending from side to side and from top to bottom…an unbroken sense of wholeness that preserved the sense of stretched linen. This seemed a legitimate value, however, I have not read, or heard of, any contemporary (to Titian) comments which would support the idea that Kenneth Burge had mentioned, but even if there had been no contemporary concept comparable this does not lessen the importance of the concept even as a later observation. Such seems to be one of the characteristics of the metamorphosis of art, a sort of interplay in the dynamics of attention to one quality or another of graphic concern. Nevertheless, Henrickson, in his oddly perverse way, not responding comfortably to the rather academic notion of preserving the structural sense of the canvas took off on the subject of rape and how that concept might apply to the integrity of the stretched canvas and the result of that notion we see illustrated above. Regrettably, I do not have available an illustration of any work by Kenneth Burge.. Nevertheless, what one might gain from this anecdote is that the artist might obtain creative nourishment from a number
of very different sources and make use of them in a great variety of different ways. How the resulting kaleidoscope of artistic production might relate to or be integrated by the general public is a matter of concern for the art critic and philosopher.
Titian: “Rape of Europa”
In a literary, or a dictionary sense, Doris Cross was responding to similar restrictions in life, that is, the guide lines with which we are provided to assist our navigating a course in life must be tested to determine their appropriateness for what the individual senses his own needs to be.
Doris had two major difficulties in communication. One of these was fluency of verbal expression and the other was the simple mechanics of making a vocal sound. Whether these difficulties came from an organic or a psychological source I do not know for sure, but both factors were involved somewhere along the line. The end result of these difficulties was that she had somehow surrounded herself with the intriguing characteristics of the mystic and, noting how this provided her with some appreciable attention from others she changed those disabilities into advantages. I am not sure how these qualities may have been the source of her broad popularity as a personality except, perhaps, to consider the possibility that in most instances she did not give voice to any disapproval of others. The one exception being Carlo Coccioli after his visit to me. How she determined he was a fascist I do not know. By no means should the interpretation be made that Doris Cross was either unintelligent or imperceptive, only that there were these rather mechanical failings that somehow forced her to invent new ways of expressing subtleties of thought. One of the strongest and most often repeated emphasis she maintains is that there must be new ways of looking at anything and this is a Talmudic approach to education. It is also a very useful approach if, as a group, one traditionally finds oneself as a culture imbedded in a more dominant and not always kindly one as Jews have done from time immemorial. The work of a second person, in addition to Waldrum, whom Doris suggested I look at was that of a fellow called Paul Shapiro. At that time I had not reviewed Shapiro’s work. Not until the publication of the CD entitled “In Broad Daylight” did I discuss Shapiro’s work which at that time was rather much along the lines of Marsden Hartley but immersed in a significantly brighter color range. She had mentioned only that I might learn something without specifying what it might be. In Waldrum’s case Doris had simply maneuvered into having me escort her to Waldrum’s opening at Hill’s Gallery, for it was clear that I was expected. In Shapiro’s case I simply walked into the gallery which had no visitors at the time.
Marsden Hartley: New Mexico Landscape
When I later asked Doris what value it was she thought I might notice in Waldrum’s work her only comment was concerning how well and how smoothly Waldrum applied the paint. To which I agreed that that might be a desirable aspect to the work but what, I asked her, particular significance did it have? There was no further discussion. Nothing more was said about Shapiro either so I was, and have been, left to my own devices, as it should be, of course, in deciding what aesthetic worth might actually exist. Of the two approaches I’ve noticed Shapiro taking, the Hartley approach and the more contemporary oriental calligraphic approach have one thing in common which, regrettably, indicates for the moment, that Shapiro is searching elsewhere for what most creative artists search for in themselves. It is precisely that, I suppose, he might never find unless he develops the courage it takes to accept self-knowledge. Shapiro is basically academic in that he accepts established approaches, whimsically, like a woman bys a new hat, approaches others have devised, to picture making. It may be that he will become, as he announced he intended to become, “Santa Fe’s most famous artist”, but not likely for the reasons even he would find acceptable. Waldrum is quite another matter. In his earlier “cunt” series of works which I saw exhibited at El Rancho Encantado I left feeling irritated, bored and identifiably cheated by the tedious repetition of that single one icon, placed at they had been, for there were about thirty or forty of these, hanging around the walls, as orderly as neckties hanging on a hanger arranged according to hue. There were for me no redeeming features in that exhibition.
What was on view were a series of images consisting only of the top part of the thigh to the hairy limit of the pubis. all this seated upon a variously colored (from picture to picture)striped woven blanket. The matter of the figure ground relationship, so important in psychological studies of perception, was reversible so that instead of looking like a hairy vagina it appeared like a brightly painted Indian tent with poles and smoke rising from the opening. Waldrum ultimately succeeded in destroying my original virginal concept. Waldrum’s paintings of churches, however, do seem to justify their existence beyond that of having paint neatly applied to the canvas. Some of those redeeming features are evident in the works included below:
These works exhibit some aesthetic concerns in common, bold form, emphatic and blunt composition and a surprisingly subtle modulation in color that justifies the existence of the other two undemanding and brutal characteristics. Psychoanalytically, it might be said that the silent mysteries of Waldrum’s empty churches are an echo of the aria of the cunt’s lament, but such a claim reeks of misapplied rhetoric.
However, the differences n the uses of color between Waldrum’s churches and Shapiro’s New Mexico landscapes might be expressed in the following way: The subtlety of color adjustments in Waldrum’s work, the only subtlety there seems to be, works to compliment the stark power and raw presence of the structures themselves. The color as chosen by Shapiro seems to be a color chosen according to demands quite separate from that of the subject matter, more like a decision made about color that an inferior interior decorator might make, that is, with little regard as to the role color takes in the functional purposes of the space.
In his present work now on exhibit in a local Santa Fe Gallery, yet another move in the direction of assuming aesthetic interests others have been adopted, the Zane Bennett Gallery, we are shown. once again, thematic works whose relationship to each other is only the theme, calligraphic curves playing against inserted rectangles, and there seems to be no organic aesthetic development, or even the search for one, evident in the collection. It is this last characteristic, that of there not being evidence of search, which is the most disturbing for the art critic. If not through evidences to be found in his work it will be difficult to imagine how Paul Shapiro expects to become Santa Fe’s best known painter….as though there properly existed competition between artists where actually the only competition proper for a painter is how he is going to help himself emerge from the conventional approaches to a zeitgeist demanded by his personal mental environment.
It was in 1969 in Cedar Falls, Iowa where Doris Cross and I were both in the Art Department of The University of Northern Iowa we first met. Doris had invited me over to her house for dinner, a plate of nicely boiled green beans, to discuss a concept she had been working on. I remember leaving Doris’ apartment and carefully negotiating the icy street and side walk to my house and asking myself over and over again “What, on earth, was that woman talking about?” Retrospectively, it is not difficult to understand how someone might have difficulty in clarifying ideas that are only in their initial emergent stages. But this problem complicated further by the lack of experience in using words to create images in support of ideas made expression difficult and communication nearly impossoble. It was only later, after I and several others from Cedar Falls, including Doris, had separately moved to Santa Fe and she had, once again, found herself under my roof, this time as a full-fledged tenant that she, once again began showing me how her work was developing. Eventually, I began to see references in her work to classical (Greek) concepts which somehow related her column works to poetry, but she
claimed to know nothing of those, a claim which only added details to her image as a sibyl. Additionally, I was becoming fascinated by the image of a woman whose inability to articulate in oral language was doing battle with words found in a dictionary, the depository of the tools of language and, at least symbolically, reeking vengeance upon them by eliminating them from their columns and twisting their functions and forcing them to do her bidding rather than be subject to the conventions sanctified by millennia. Not only is Doris sybillic, but she has perfected Essenic occultism…and is rewarded by every moment of it.
Doris Cross: “A Dictionary Column”
In this regard, that is, following the idea that the creative artist reaches out to solve his personal problems, the following quotation from the website (www.ilbibio.org) is instructive It is writing of the artist Ingres.
He was a bourgeois with the limitations of a bourgeois mentality, but as Baudelaire remarked, his finest works `are the product of a deeply sensuous nature'. The central contradiction of his career is that although he was held up as the guardian of Classical rules and precepts, it is his personal obsessions and mannerisms that make him such a great artist.(emphasis mine) His technique as a painter was academically unimpeachable--he said paint should be as smooth `as the skin of an onion.
perceiving some glimmerings of Romanticism there. And if an element of Romanticism involves mental perturbation and a constant struggle to achieve a personal vision, this is what the painter Jacques-Emile Blanche saw in Ingres earlier this century. Describing him as tyrannical, pedagogic and opinionated - all words that occur many times apropos Ingres - Blanche also notes the way in which the artist wrestled with his problems, as 'sublime touchant, admirable', attempting, not always successfully, to reconcile his militant idealism based on classical perfection with a delight in colour and all appreciation of the sensual .
I am not certain that in these two phrases, and along with the description of Doris, we are not dealing with the essential nature of the creative act, which may be, the re-creation, or the embodiment of the spiritual concept in the carnal, and that it is that, in whatever field it might manifest itself, that distinguishes the creative from the non-creative personality. But what, it would be reasonable to ask, of the artistic practitioner who has no physical or psychological problem to overcome? And I ask the questioner back…”Who might that one be?” Well, actually, their number is legion. Those practitioners of art who exhibit no problem they are attempting to solve may not be the sensitive antennae of society some commentators have claimed for them. Museums, galleries, private homes and now the internet is packed with just that kind of unfocused, unrealized vision of the pastiche maker at loose ends as to where to turn for guidance in seeking salvation. As Paul Cezanne might tell us, were he here, it is NOT easy to discover what it is you want to do. If you can’t find what you want to discover, then discover how to use what you can find. What bothers me about the present direction of this essay is that it would appear that it is leading to the conclusion that the ultimate purpose in an art activity is therapy. Why, one might ask in response to that, should being in a state of psychic and physical balance be something to achieve? There is, perhaps, no assurance that art activity itself brings about a psychic balance
in an individual, although art therapists might claim that it does, at least temporarily. And if balance is so desirable, why do individuals seeks the thrill of an imbalance? If those periods of creative aridity that nearly all artists experience are any indication at all they may be an indication that, for that moment at least, there are no damsels to save, no dragons to kill and the creative personality finds itself at loose ends looking around for a fight, or other people’s lands to conquer. Speaking of which, if our various governments would not fear a creative populous so much we might be easier to govern. In its present insistence on emphasizing reading and mathematics, two studies which exact obedience to rules at the expense of those interests which delight in experiment and imagination, they will be encouraging yet another generation of robots to emerge and with it a significant correlation of highly anti-social responses among those who may have ultimately successfully resisted those procrustean efforts. One might, in stead, consider life alternatives that emphasize, encourage and reward successful personal growth and enlarge upon, rather than diminish, areas of human expression. Although it may read as a departure from the main topic (I’m not sure that I have discovered what the main topic is as yet) I would like to refer to a 1965 report by Michael Wallach of Duke University and Nathan Kogan of Educational Testing Service. The original report had been printed in ‘JOURNAL OF PERSONALITY”, vol.33,No3,September.1965. In assessing the relationship between intelligence and creativity they concluded the following:
GROUP 1: Those high in both Creativeness and Intelligence could exercise both control and freedom in their behavior’ GROUP 2: Those high in Creativity and low in Intelligence were in angry self-conflict in their environment, felt unworthy and inadequate. Without stress they blossomed. GROUP 3: Those low in Creativity and high in Intelligence perceived academic failure as catastrophic. GEOUP 4: Those low in both measures were basically bewildered, developed defensive maneuvers such as extensive social activity or its opposite, regression, passivity or psychosomatic symptoms.
While it is my personal interest to evaluate art products from the point of view of their level of success or accomplishment as products of art as opposed to whether the activity is valuable as a therapeutic effort it does
appear that at some point one cannot really separate them and it is at that point, perhaps, that one will discover the particular kernel of creativity we seek. With Ingres, it would appear, he is deeply conflicted in the area where social responsibility intersected aesthetic impulse. His dogmatism may well be associated with the neo-classical training he may have received. His presumed acceptance of authority, although his political views seem not to be recorded, his personal views regarding the role of women opposed to that of men may be seen in the nearly perfect absence of evidence of worldly interest on the part of all of his female subjects which may have been a social adaptation, an assumed style of social behavior for women, while the men he depicted exhibited an undisguised, even if somewhat reserved, interest in what went on around them. It should be remembered, however, that as pervasive as this neo-classical cool style for women may have been, Ingres bought into it quite willingly enough. The only sensuality seemingly associated with Ingres’ female subjects were the jewels and textiles associated with them, or so some have said.
Ingres: Portrait Mlle. Riviere
Ingres: Portrait M. Riviere
Ingres: Portrait Mms. Riviere
Ingres: Female Nude
Ingres: Male Nude
Although the differences may be perceived as being subtle I believe it acceptable to say that where the female nude is concerned any sensuality associated with the image is a sensuality the observer brings to the icon. Even the hint of any corporeal weight to this body seems absent whereas, in contrast, the male, while not being a strongly sexual image does possess a detectable sensuality which seems to emanate from the painter rather than the subject, does remind us that the man pictured is a substantial figure with considerable weight being supported by his right arm resting on a table. In light of these remarks what comparisons would be justified in regard to Waldrum’s aesthetic reserve and that of Ingres, for if they have anything in common it is that. At this point shouldn’t we make a point in regard as to whether, or not, this reserve is desirable and, whether or not, it is a matter of valid aesthetic consideration. Is aesthetic analysis nothing more than description? According to Ingres the egg-shell surface was a distinct value, according to Doris Cross Waldrum’s neatly painted surfaces were also “virtuous”, or they seemed to be at the time she said that. Neatness seems not to be a quality that would demand much by way of serious consideration in either the Amselm Kiefer or the Paul Henrickson works. A quality of a lack of neatness doesn’t seem to be a valid description either, for there is evident in both a sense of control over what occurs within
the picture frame, so should one, then, consider a control over the behavior of the medium a characteristic, and possibly a virtue, in all of the works shown thus far? If one should conclude this then we must, I think, consider in what specific way does the control exercised by Ingres differ from the control by any of the others mentioned? My answer to that would be as follows: while Ingres certainly exercised control over his medium he also allowed the non-creative graphic controls exercised by the social mind set of the time to dictate the ways and extent to which he would betray more professional concerns of picture making. I have in mind his “Venus at Paphos” which shows evidence of gross distortion of representative female anatomy as to suggest that Ingres could be thought of as (perish the thought) a precursor to both Picasso and Duchamp. I do not, for one second believe, this. What I do believe, however, is in the happenstantial, coincidental, the accidental, and the turning on by the seemingly irrelevant, making the seeming irrelevant relevant. Now, in all fairness to Ingres, his painting of Venus may have been seriously misrepresented by some clumsy over-painting for the sitter’s left arm seems to be missing and what is represented as the sitter’s left shoulder is not in perspective line with the right one. While Ingres may have taken anatomical liberties with subjects from time to time this degree of invention would seem to be uncharacteristic of both him and his period.
Ingres: “Venus at Paphos”
While the Ingres “Venus” may have been the victim of stupid mutilation the Duchamp and the Picasso are not.
Duchamps: Le Passage du Marier
When all is said and done, and we have more or less successfully joined in some sort of united creative effort such divers artistic personalities as Doris Cross, Ingres and Picasso in the singular effort of building a new artistic tradition where does the effort of a Paul Shapiro fit in? Maybe it doesn’t as yet since he is the only one mentioned who is still living, but one still might ask at what point one’s pastiche explorations might cease and a searching, (a word almost synonymous to “artistic”), probing visual analysis take place? Until it does occur Mr. Shapiro’s efforts will remain fruitless and nothing more than a not too bright an effort that furthers the tyranny Ernst Gombrick referred to as early as 1958 which is nothing more than a woolpulling over the eyes of the public in the hope of passing oneself off as a type of genius. The irony of that sort of behavior is that there may always be some who will believe it.
Paul Henrickson Gozo 2006
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