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By Paul Henrickson, Ph.D. © 2007.
tm. © 2007
Paul Henrickson: “The Towers” 1987
I need to relate a story about this painting. It was, as you see, finished in 1987, or thereabouts. When I moved from Santa Fe to Pojoaque in 1990 I brought it with me and hung it on the wall behind my desk One day which I retrospectively recall as being significant, I looked at it and frankly wondered why it seemed I had chosen, or rather allowed to emerge, the subject matter of a city in the midst of an explosion of some sort. It seemed useless to me to pursue that matter any further and I dismissed the thought. In November of 1999 I had made my decision to leave New Mexico which I loved dearly but now had become a place where the racial and cultural perspectives were too alien for me to encompass. Some time in the early spring of 2000 I had begun the task of sorting belongings and boxing up books and other goods in preparation for the movers that this painting along with others were standing, wellsupported, on their edges slowly began to move as I stood amazed and helpless to intervene as it fell against the sharp corner of a cabinet creating an 8” tear in the upper center of the painting. It was more than a year after I had moved to Malta (June 2000) that my neighbor across the street called me over to see the television broadcast of the twin towers being hit by air crafts. I wondered why, at the time, I was not surprised, even unmoved. Now I know. There is very little, if anything, about this that I am able to prove but what interests me is the possibility, if not the probability, that some minds, at some times, are able to break through the barriers which create the impression of sequentiality….meaning by this, that what appears to be the order of events resulting in theories of cause and effect may be a misinterpretation. Somehow, the above rather vague thought outline touches upon the various developments within the fields of the expressive arts. In some cases the individual artist develops something significant from something very commonplace, in others, the artist casts about and is forever bewildered, others take a very safe and
very narrow path and depend upon the ignorant gullibility of a public to sustain them and some take something potentially very grand and minimalize it, sucking it dry of all communicative meaning by trivializing it. But what seems strikingly important is that in the ultimately most creative artists is a compelling force, of some type which direct the individual to a destiny. I am not speaking of talent, for that, up to a point, is a given. I am speaking of something more akin to the fate of the ancient prophet Habicuc who, in opposition to his will, was forced to go somewhere he’d rather not. Donatello created a very good work, and one with a sense of humor that is generally overlooked, when he created what is popularly known as “Pumpkin head”. You see Habicuc was physically transported through the interference of a strong angel who had grabbed him by a lock of his hair and transported him through the air to a spot several hundred miles away. Donatello, therefore, pictured Habicuc as being bald. There is no account of Habicuc having been dropped along the way so the baldness is Donatello’s humor or an expression of his disbelief.
Donatello: “El Zuccone” .It is, today, as I see it, the function of the art critic to help lead man’s attention back to legitimate sensibilities. and to use language as a clarifying tool …at least wherever possible.
Synchronicity is a word psychologist Carl Jung used to describe the "temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events." Jung spoke of synchronicity as an "'acausal connecting principle'" (i.e. a pattern of connection that cannot be explained by direct causality) a "‘meaningful coincidence’" or as an "‘acausal parallelism’". Cause-andeffect, in Jung's mind, seemed to have nothing to do with it. Jung introduced the concept in his 1952 paper "Synchronicity — An Acausal Connecting Principle",
ADVOCACY REPLACES REVELATION
By way of illustration and I hope clarity, for the purposes of this essay “aesthetic” refers to the entire collection of affective responses available to an individual when confronted by an object, or experience, for which intellectual tools are either not available, inadequate, or nonexistent. My present hypothesis is that art criticism is a concentration of energy involving both the aesthetic and the synchronistic in the process of assessing value. The critic, as I understand his function, needs considerable psychological insight into the history, sources and uses of imagery. That is, he does, if he views his responsibility as critic objectively. Many of the following statements are, in part, criticism of criticism The following was written by Jon Carver in reference to the work of Paul Shapiro, a practitioner in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and was published on the web site of the Zane Bennett contemporary art site: “So let fall the tower of babble before the abstract (in what way(s) is Shapiro’s work “abstract?”Is Carver aware of the definition of the word “abstract” and can he defend its use?) painting of Paul Shapiro. His vast quontumscape scenes neatly resolve categorical issues of abstraction. (What are these “ issues of abstraction”?)Like Richter he creates gestural abstractions that paradoxically appear to deny the hand. And, as Richter claims, Shapiro finds his source in nature*
*. Shapiro has arguably (finally) advanced the now
historic cause of abstract painting in a way that hasn’t been seen before.* Rather than style he has chosen, like contemporary physicists (and Aristotle) to turn and face the void. In a sense he might be the only abstract painter since de Kooning or Joan Mitchell (I wonder how Carver would go about analyzing these
two very differently oriented people) or is he just tossing these names in with the intent, similar to that of the sand man, to make us little boys sleepy?)to live up to the existential challenge without, like Richter or Motherwell, taking
cover in the decorative.*
* The structure of this sentence is misleading. It seems to be telling us that Richter is talking of Shapiro whom I doubt he knows. In any event, what I have read of Richter’s self analysis suggests that he, Richter, is well aware of his limitations. I do not know whether Carver intended to inject this ambiguity or not, but it does no service to the reader but does tend to support the over-all impression that Carver writes to fascinate and create allegiances as opposed to clarify. * I have not edited out the explanation as to how Shapiro is supposed to have advanced the cause of abstraction. It had not appeared. The reader, I imagine, is expected to fill in the blank. This is not the function of expository writing, but then Carver’s writing is not expository, but purposefully vague and propagandistic and intended to cast the aura of greatness over artifice that has failed to reach the level of mediocrity. in short, Shapiro’s work represents the antithesis of creative behavior dependent entirely on venues worked out by others before him.
* “taking cover in the decorative” is the phrase here that I object to on the grounds that (1), “taking cover” seems pejorative in the sense that one may be seen as retreating from some encounter. I suspect that this is probably the intent of the writer, Carver, for in general, it is part of conventional thinking that “the decorative” is somehow less worthy than (being ‘brave” and) exposing oneself to popular criticism, or exposing “reality for all the brutality it is”, or has . It is conceivable that the “decorative” could be likened to the “polite” and that aspect of behavior in social terms is not only boring, but on the surface it is also meaningless and leads to hypocritical behavior and the formality of superficial politeness. Although Carver may have thought he had neither the space nor the time to elucidate his thought on that matter he might have tried to be more keenly selective. Statements that encourage the audience’s reference to categories or groups of responses, such as in racial profiling often lead to misunderstanding. The passion and impatience of adolescence has no place in responsibly mature society, yet, it is the way most political behavior is conducted and, after all, the process is after all the process. One of the results of Carver having introduced the subject is that it has helped me to reconsider the relationship, for example, between the “primitive” (style) ”sophistication”(style) and the “decorative”(style). Below are three examples of how I believe these three aspects of maturation are related. Carver seems to mix the two procedures and consequently we need :
A SECOND LOOK AT SOPHISTICATION
It is not the Cambodian architecture I would like you to look at but its interesting juxtaposition with the rough rock in the right foreground that is placed on a prepared stand, the Greek influenced Scythian work and the Hopi Koshari to the right. In terms of vocabulary understanding, the defining of terms, we go from the primitive, to the sophisticated to the ultra sophisticated which has returned to a level of the primitive in its effort to present a complex concept in terms easier to comprehend than would be the case were all aspects, individually, to be presented sequentially. The simple roman cross, by way of example, means more than just two lines at right angles to each other. In fact, most of the time when one sees it one doesn’t think in terms of geometry, but the entire panoply of the Christian tradition, a very complex set of ideas. In terms of contemporary art forms the Koshari could well be replaced by a Brancusi and the argument might not be any clearer for not many of the experience of seeing the compressed package of limbs and head that comprises that little bundle. In terms of the Koshari, it becomes, largely, a decorative object for those who have no background in understanding its parts. One might with justification conclude that Brancusi had recently seen such a new born and had been impressed by that aspect of its form and that this impression found its way into his understanding of it. My experiences with new borns has enriched my understanding of the Brancusi. A doctor having had more experience with seeing new borns may have no affective response to the young one what so ever. His mind may simply summarize the experience in terms of chemical designates. Perhaps, after all is said and done, it is the purpose of art to sensitize, and “humanize”, the human being by injecting the affective into the objective. Some where I read the description of a mother bear , having given birth to a cub and was seen removing the birth sack with her mouth and licking the cub dry with her tongue, but the description, which, I think, comes from Wilfred Owen was this: “licking it into shape”, as though the mother
bear was seen as being a sculptor forming the new born from out of the birth sack something with four legs a head and a tail. In such a way science differs very much from art in that science attempt to “stick to facts” and to describe accurately while art prefers to inject meaning, mostly affective, into experience. Some have thought that it was this affective aspect of an event that gave meaning to the fact of the effect. What appears to be a rough rock in the temple picture for the sake of this argument can be considered primitive, that is, barely formed, the Greek-influenced Scythian work or as Greek work commissioned by the Scyths, shows the sophisticated awareness of anatomical structure of both man and horse. The Hopi Indian koshari is quite basically geometric, but the presence of the details, the parts of the costume, the details of make-up , the held instruments all have a role in a story-telling piece and it is that detail which takes the piece beyond the realistic representation of the horse that we see, into a much more complex concept and in that sense is beyond the sophistication of visual detail. This is also true of the Brancusi, for the process of simplification that is apparent in the Brancusi embodies a knowledge not strongly visually evident or immediately determined or inumerated in the work. In that sense both the Brancusi and the Koshari are sophisticated and while a considerable amount of anatomical knowledge is evident in both the horse and rider it may fail to reach the level of sophistication UNLESS the observer brings to the work more awareness than the piece itself seems to possess. On the surface the Koshari is primitive because of the manner of its construction, while the Greek piece is technically sophisticated but intellectually primitive unless other factors are brought to bear on the matter.
Brancusi: New Born
A “PRIMITIVE” TO “SOPHISTICATED” PROGRESSION
1. 2. 3. 4. The sequence of images here is to demonstrate the development on a flat surface of the representation of an unbroken spatial continuum. It is illusory. It is not real, but it is there. We must ask: how can something not real be anywhere? And the answer might be that there is never anything not real, but in a situation such as this we must distinguish between types of reality…perhaps very much the way Alice in Wonderland was required to do, If one accepts these distinctions what should it tell us about a work such as this one by Hans Hoffmann?
Hans Hoffman: Bald Eagle It could be argued that since the paint on the canvas is real, as are the canvass and its stretcher and the spots are measurable, which process is accepted by some as an indication of reality that this work is real. However, popular and thoughtless terminology insists on referencing this result as “abstract”. From what is it abstracted?
Albert Bierstadt, “Yosemite”
The Bierstadt is more abstracted…and severely so. Abstract, in the sense that the final look of the Bierstadt is the result of the collection of all the visual phenomena the artist abstracted from the scene before him…or the one he imagined being before him.
If Neanderthal man created any form of art, no traces of it have yet been found. But with the arrival of modern man, or Homo sapiens, the human genius for image-making becomes abundantly clear
From the analytical structure of the human body and its subtle reference to its heavenly origin (the star) which we see on the left we come in one astounding leap to the image of the decorated woman and if “creativity” can be determined by the degree of difference it would seem that the woman has it head over heals over the man. But then we have this intriguing and somewhat mischievous image of a Neanderthal from whom we may have received some of our DNA which appears to offer something even more provocatively creative…what next? It begins to appear, the longer such discussions take place, that there is a certain inadequacy with the vocabulary. Definitions no longer really define. There seems to be a crack or a spill over involved. The line –(the defin-iting line)—between reality and nonreality has got a bit blurred, or maybe just moved a mite to the left or right.
The triangle has a range of meanings distinct in cultures as close as the Hopi and the Arapaho, or as diverse as its interpretation by the Western economist (The Greek letter Delta, signifying change). Yet, the act of the interpreter translating their culture’s symbols into a communicable form is the absolute, universal, primitive act. Dorothy Dunn
The Indian artist may say of the contemporary artist that they are in forgetfulness of their origins, and the contemporary artist may refer to a child like quality of the Indian’s painting. Nonetheless, to Dorothy Dunn they are both primitive art, or better said, a primitive act, and both have their reason for being. “Each aspect which characterizes Indian painting as a primitive art has its own reason for being. Likewise, certain of these same features qualify Indian painting as modern. This seeming paradox may well be in the fact that international painting, for reasons of its own, increasingly evolves forms and styles, even concepts, not unlike those long and deeply developed by Indian artists.”
The idea has been expressed that the American Indian painter may see the white man’s naturalistic attempts at representation as “primitive” in that being naturalistic they do not embody the sophistication of accumulated understanding associated with “geometric” symbols. This being the case it would seem not a thoroughly satisfying analytical route to make aesthetic judgments based solely on formal appearances. There are some things I need from Carver; among them would be an explanation as to what he means by “ the categorical issues of abstraction”?, what are “gestural” abstractions? From what are these abstracted? What is it about Shapiro’s work that hasn’t been seen before? Physicists are facing some “void”, but what “void” is it that Aristotle faced when it seems, to some at least, that he rather emphasized the reality of things as opposed to the “idea” of things. In what way(s) does Shapiro not “take cover in the decorative” and in what ways do Richter and Motherwell ? And finally, is Carver telling us to forget words altogether (“let fall the tower of babble”), including his own unknotted string of pearls in regard to the process of art criticism?…a process which, if communication is to take place, rather depends on words…not loosely strung together. Such a description that Carver supplies leaves this reader breathless for a pause, a ‘gasp’ really, of meaningful fresh air. It is a style of rhetoric that begs reason. Like the current pop-news-service descriptions of Paris Hilton and the late Anna Nicole Smith , fame are its own credentials and no one need
Paris Hilton and friend
Anna Nicole Smith
know the what for which one is famous. It is true that there are qualities in Joan Mitchell, Gerhard Richter and Phillip Guston which are similar to some which are somewhat detectable in Shapiro. There are also similarities between the Mitchell work and those works that have been offered us by Desmond Morris. However, what is the meaning of all that? should acceptance be granted out of some generosity of spirit? Any thing goes? …and it is unmannerly to apply intelligent analysis?
Joan Mitchell: “Cous Cous”
Gerhard Richter :”Clouds”
Philip Guston “untitled”
(nb) by an associate of Desmond Morris. additional examples below. Is art production a matter of intelligence as we know it?
It seems to be in the nature of man, and perhaps other creatures as well, to look for the unusual, the outstanding and once detected there are a variety of efforts to do the bloody thing in…kill it for its difference. Such is one of the more outstanding characteristics of the ideal idols come to life, the pattern for self-destruction laid out plainly for us by our corporate social being characterized by a mass-mind consciousness that thrills at military parades, firework displays and the approaching celebrity death.
SHIFTING A POINT OF VIEW
There is nothing at all unusual in one artist learning something from another nor is it to be despised. Even Raphael is reported to have generous enough of spirit to acknowledge his debt to Michelangelo. What is unusual is the emergence of a truly independent spirit with a compelling perception of a new coalition of aesthetic elements. That is rare.
Rahael Sanzio: School of Athens, Heraclitus
Raphael’s “School of Athens”
It is more clearly apparent that Raphael learned something from Michelangelo’s more dramatic use of contraposto when we compare that one figure of Heraclitus in the front and center left with nearly all the other figures in the Raphael composition and it has been thought by some that Raphael introduced this figure into his own more classically composed work simply to irritate Michelangelo who had earlier stipulated that no one should be allowed in the Sistine chapel until his work was finished. From my point of view it is quite surprising that Raphael had so little regard for his own work that he was willing to introduce a disharmonious element into it just in order to tick off another artist. And it is just this point I wish to stress that in judging a work of art from the point of view of its aesthetic success, as well as its genuineness, it is of great importance that all the work’s parts work intelligently together. Raphael may have thought himself clever in being able to make a sort of pastiche of Michelangelo’s drawing ability and to introduce it into his otherwise totally harmonious work, but actually all he succeeded in doing was destroying the effect of his own work and sullying his own character. A truly creative artist cannot behave in this way…without degrading the respect for the medium and his own
THE EYE OF THE FLY
That, whatever “that” is, can only come from the intense probing into the elements of individuality and the motivations of self realization. Although it is possible to make a pastiche of anyone’s work, as the Norwegian Odd Nerdrum has done of Rembrandt it
takes little honest reflection to understand that Nerdrum, next, for example, to John Marin, Arthur Dove, Gustave Baumann, Vincent Van Gogh, or even a Christian Krohg, is merely a clown….but a technically very good one.
Vincent Van Gogh
While technically very good indeed Nerdrum (oddly enough this surname, if that is what it is, has all the appearances of a nomen omen, in that in Norwegian the first syllable of that word (nerd) means penis and Nerdrum not only seems to live up to his name in this second self portrait but also, in his special way, his own gloriously special way, contributes to his own degradation as a person and
artist and that of his culture.
as does Koons
In each of the above works (with the exception of the bottom two) there seems, to this viewer, no question whatever as to the certainty of the artist’s determined and purposeful acceptance of his aesthetic, that is the “formal”, decisions he makes. There is no doubt in the mind of the observer that all the graphic events which take place on the flat surface make total sense within the context of the work. That recognition, however, to some significant extent depends on the observer’s visual sophistication in understanding the visual language of his culture. Not all individuals from everywhere can experience that. This means that the artist and the observer of the art already possess certain common expectations and attributes. To be perfectly honest, this is also true of the bottom two works, to which, however, has been added an additional quality, one that might be described correctly as pornographic. Such images,
New Mexico : Petroglyph, nd
however, also have a history
and illustrate some enduring characteristics in the human experience.
I would not have the reader believe that I object to looking at other people’s anatomy. It really all depends on whether or not I am prepared.
INTELLECT AND INTELLIGENCE and TECHNICAL EXCELLENCE AND SEARCH
Even within a culture there are times, as when one first gets introduced to the works of the impressionist Monet, when a readjustment in the expectations one holds of what one might, or should, see, needs to take place.
Monet: Garden Monet: Sun breaking through fog
Monet: “water lilies”
Monet seems to have been investigating the nature of the insubstantial
Masaccio: (1401-1428)Rendering of the Tribute Money”
Giotto: (1267-1337)Meeting at the Golden Gate.
In the intervening one and a half centuries the accomplishments of Giotto to realize the sense of solidity in physical objects has been broadened to include an awareness of the atmosphere in which those objects exist. A development that might be seen as parallel between Romantics and the neoclassicists of the 18th century and the impressionists of the 19th might provide us pause to consider whether there are not divergent and conflicting drives within the realm of the graphic arts and what, if they exist, they might signify. In short, is an art drive, enumerative, that is with the mind set of an accountant, adding up every pertinent unit, or is the mind set that of a gestalt, considering the entirety of an
event. Of course, it should not be forgotten that when an artist chooses to explore the potential of an expressive graphic element, such as a square (Albers), a circle (Brach), a line (Mitchel), etc., and thus, by choice and definition, limits the parameters of the universe with which he works, adequate judgments as to the artist’s creativity become more difficult and complex, perhaps, no even possible. Such a confinement, or limitation, of critical measures also lends support to the oft, very oft, repeated assertion that works of social commentary are the only pertinent examples of creative expression (Arthur Danto on Gerhard Richter) and novel uses of formal elements are overlooked. In the case of works that bear little reference to representation their being assigned to social issues is made very much easier…if more problematic.
Petersen's new paintings are like pages from then her studio, each day looking and exploring, listening to what was trying to speak in this line and that shape, this color and that constellation. Some of her forms are quiet -- staring or sitting alone. More are in motion, with an occasionally anxious but usually confident, even frenetic energy. They assemble and meet, tumble and spin. Even in shocked immobility or reverentially still, they seem busy. Petersen's line has a marvelous assurance and suppleness. It demarcates and displaces, asserts or retreats. It can swing into the arc of a hummingbird's flight, or harden into an oar or pole, or the armature of a chair or table. Her passages and fields of color have fluid identities as well. They can have a prayerful stillness; they can coalesce and thicken, and, like a watchful parent, stand above the animation in their midst; they can squeeze around and between the fragmented, even broken, yet oddly complete forms, locking them in.
Vita Petersen's new paintings are like pages from the journal of an artist who has spent a lifetime in her studio, each day looking and exploring, listening to what was trying to speak in this line and that shape, this color and that constellation. Some of her forms are quiet -- staring or sitting alone. More are in motion, with an occasionally anxious but usually confident, even frenetic energy. They assemble and meet, tumble and spin. Even in shocked immobility or reverentially still, they seem busy. Petersen's line has a marvelous assurance and suppleness. It demarcates and displaces, asserts or retreats. It can swing into the arc of a hummingbird's flight, or harden into an oe armature of a chair or table. Her passages and fields of color have fluid identities as well. They can have a prayerful stillness; they can coalesce and thicken, and, like a watchful parent, stanabove the animation in their midst; they can squeeze around and between the fragmented, even broken, yet oddly complete forms, locking them in. a Petersen's new paintings are like pages from the journal of an artist who has spent a lifetime in her studio, each day looking and exploring, listening to what wasto speak in this line and that shapthis color and ellation. Some of her forms are qui ing or sitting alone. More are in motion, with an occasionally anxious but usually confident, even frenetic energy. They assemble and meet, tumble and spin. Even in shocked immobility or reverentially still, they seem busy. Petersen's line has a marvelous assurance and suppleness. It demarcates and displaces, asserts or retreats. It can swing into the arc of a hummingbird's flight, or harden into an oar or pole, or the armature of a chair or table. Her passages and fields of color have fluid identities as well. They can have a prayerful stillness; they can coalesce and thicken, and, like a watchful parent, stand above the animation in their midst; they can squeeze around and between the fragmented, even broken, yet oddly complete forms, locking them in.
THE ROLE OF THE OBSERVER
Michael Brenson, a critic of art criticism has made the following observation:
“art criticism, as a whole, is in trouble.” “I believe that art criticism is failing miserably to meet the challenges of this time, and that art and artists, and indeed the artistic culture of this country, are suffering as a result. American art, artists and art institutions are struggling, and because so few critics have been willing to participate in this struggle and examine their role in its development and outcome, art criticism, as a whole, is in trouble.” This statement presupposes that there is a legitimate and even a necessary function for the art critic. But how can this be, we might ask if the artist, the sole arbiter, presumably, of what comes out of his studio is someone who knows what he is doing? These days, at any rate, artists do not have overseers to determine whether what they producer is legitimate, valid, or good….or do they? The critic does function as one who, in the long run, does function as a determinator of what might be allowed to appear. If the artist can, legitimately, be considered a barometer of his environment and if this is his primary function, as opposed, for example, to his being a interior decorating consultant, then he stands in relation to the rest of society as a prophet , or, at least, if not one who foretells the future , one who describes the present in “graphic” terms. In the light of this observation I would describe Paul Shapiro as an unfocused dilettante, Paul Brach as a rigid jailer at a site where diversity is rejected in favor of consistency, Hyman Bloom as a well-trained, disciplined and cautiously obedient servant and Picasso, Nesjar, Warhol and Koons as opportunistic conmen who offer the ignorant glitter rather than a gem.
Vita Petersen's new paintings are like pages from the journal of an artist who has spent a lifetime in her studio, each day looking and exploring, listening to what was trying to speak in this line and that shape, this color and that constellation. Some of her forms are quiet -- staring or sitting alone. More are in motion, with an occasionally anxious but usually confident, even frenetic energy. They assemble and meet, tumble and spin. Even in shocked immobility or reverentially still, they seem busy. Petersen's line has a marvelous assurance and suppleness. It demarcates and displaces, asserts or retreats. It can swing into the arc of a hummingbird's flight, or harden into an oar or pole, or the armature of a chair or table. Her passages and fields of color have fluid identities as well. They can have a prayerful stillness; they can coalesce and thicken, and, like a watchful parent, stand above the animation in their midst; they can squeeze around and between the fragmented, even broken, yet oddly complete forms, locking them in.
Seurat:”Model” Henrickson: “portrait” Henrickson: “a lad “
Please note, that in each of these works, (the drawings just above), there has been established a premise, a visual premise, I imagine we must call it. To begin with the works are limited to black and white and in some instances with some gradations in between, or, to be perfectly exact there may be no true “black” in the Seurat at all…and no true white either. In the drawing on the right there is no value change at all, yet, there sometimes appears a deepening of tone as marks approach each other. In each case the “look” of the work is starkly different. In the Seurat the basic texture is one of softness and although there is a level of indistinctness the outlines of the objects are still quite clear and the observer would have little difficulty in pointing out where “edges” of things might be. With the “Portrait” in the middle that description would not hold. There are few, if any, outlines whatever, yet, the sense of their being there is present. The separation of object and space is defined by the absences of those separations. In “A Lad” we see that it is composed of nearly only of defining line separations. What these observations tell, I believe, is that at some point the artist has determined to say what he has to say in the graphic mark equivalent of French, Finish or Somali, that is, in line, smudge, space, or dot. That observation, I hope, brings us to the point where I can state that when an artist chooses to invent a new visual language of communication he not only embarks on a program of drastically diminishing his audience, but coincidently, encourages the development of the misapplication of critical comments and the offering of bogus insights. This has led, I believe, to a general mistrust in the process of art criticism because there has failed to be developed that crossable bridge between a new vision and an acceptable explanation. By way of a reverse example, what today western man might call a primitive savage, say from the Sentinel Islands, may might not be able to translate a Caravaggio painting
Caravaggio: “Lute Player”
with its high degree of highlight and shadow back into an experience he has known, or a drawing showing a small object such as a bug in the foreground and an elephant in the background, but on the paper the actual comparative sizes are reversed may not be able to see the drawing as representing “reality” because for him the bug IS small and the elephant IS big….and he feels the drawing should reflect THAT comparative reality. Considering the nature of human need for selfrespect and confidence in one’s worth this absence of an agreed upon conceptual reality also encourages the growth of duplicity and hypocritically staged performances on both the parts of the artist and critic. There was a time, I read somewhere, when Picasso expressed genuine surprise that works he had executed, which he did not care for, were enthusiastically received by the public. The context of the report seem to support the interpretation that Picasso may have been testing the public’s level of acceptance and thus was created this great gulf, chasm., of communication between the producers and the consumers and there arose, in that ambiance of nebulousness a new breed of conman who knew how to manipulate the pretensions of the ignorant wealthy and the sociopolitically ambitious. "In art the mass of people no longer seeks consolation and exaltation, but those who are refined, rich, unoccupied, who are distillers of quintessence, seek what is new, strange, original, extravagant, scandalous. I myself, since cubism and before, have satisfied these masters and critics with all the changing oddities which passed through my head, and the less they understood me the more they admired me….Picasso
CRITICAL RESPONSIBILITY "It is one of the jobs of the art critic to undo that sticky web of confusion…if he can.
It was a friend of mine who provided me with the more complete quotation which appears below made also the following comment : This will probably hurt the sincere artist, the one who believes that he is searching for the "omega point" (sorry about that Teillard de Chardin) of the art form in which he is sadly and often ridiculously wading, poor toad in his swamp...chasing mosquitoes with his pens, brushes, violins and chisels... thinking that he is a bull chasing Europe. This artist will never reach an Omega point of art, this does not exist. He will console himself by believing that he contribute to its search (the omega point). He will be sincerely unhappy, and this will make him feel misunderstood, and he will make a fool out of himself trying to justify the "why of the how" of his work, of his "Oeuvre Originale". But then there is a way out, and this kind of artist sometimes get the help of an art critic, a journalist, a gallery. He will sign a pact with the devil, he will trade his honesty against fame, and he needs fame more than he needs money (and the gallery knows it). This kind of pact works, the next morning our artist will see him self in the mirror, and discover that he has become the living angel of creativity, he will believe that he really deserves his fame. Poor fool... And then there is Picasso, who's no fool, who dips his feather in urine to write the above text, or I would even say that he literally pisses generously over his critics and clients, telling them that its champagne, they know that it is only piss, but they still lift their arm in the air and jump up and down singing "It's champagne, it's champagne, and from the best... Ahhhhh, Ohhhh...., this Papa, this Pablo..., this Pipi, this Picasso..." Well all this people cannot without being ridiculous fire the jester they hired, because he knows all their dirty little secrets, how they create (yes they are creators as well, but looking for the Omega "Coin") fame and how they sometimes destroy it, they even know who's hand is in who's pants...sorry I mean pocket. Yes and there is Picasso, who loved to be famous, who loved money, who loved women or it would be more amusing to say that he was famous for being able to have at the same time one of his hand in a women's pant, and the other in her husband's pocket(on his wallet). And they would scream their fake ecstasy over the roofs. Yes there was Picasso,who was honest enough to say that he was not honest (I know it sounds like that Athenian saying that all the Athenians are liars)( this precision is given so that you don't think that I am dishing out some syllogism that most of the people will overlook), a Picasso who loved women ( yes, it is never said enough) and money, Picasso who, had he taken the stony way up, instaid of taking the easy way
down, would have become somekind of a Bougereau, and would have been quiet happy with himself, he would have been despised, but would have kept his head up, he would have waited in the other world, just like Bougereau is doing now for the last judgment of all artwork. But so far allmost nobody had the guts to point out the obvious, most of the art in our Museums of Modern Art is trash .One of the reasons is again associated with the second world war and the nazis. They told us that some art is degenerated and that good art is the one of people like Bougereau. But nobody wants to be associated with the nazis, just as nowadays germans oppose anything who goes against their right to smoke, but if Hitler would have smoked, it would have been ages that they would have tried to forbid smoking all over the world. And that is enough for today.
Adolphe Bouguereau: The First Kiss”
Just by way of some clarification there are some startling examples of how aesthetic perceptions have changed over time. 700 years ago when ancient Greek and Roman sculptures were being unearthed the vision we had of them was that they were made of white marble. Our view of them was then conditioned by their being largely revealed by light and shadow, form, undercut, protruberance and certainly NOT, as we have relatively recently learned. by their having been painted in full color a performance, an aesthetic decision on their part that many of us today would find ghastly, reprehensible and ugly….in short, lacking in “taste”. What that accident of the earlier discovery did, however, was to give birth to a new way of looking at threedimensional form and with out it we might never have had Henry Moore.
A Greek Harpie
Henry Moore: Figure
Some years back Jarry Saltz wrote about what he had observed as a result of an exhibition of the world of Camille Pissarro and Paul Cezanne and made, I think, some very valuable observations. The design of the exhibition had probably helped a great deal in pointing up some similarities and differences in the approaches and the results obtained by these two artists. Saltz’s conclusion that Cezanne was, by far, the greater artist. Pissaro was, of course, very good, but he did not possess the grandeur of Cezanne. These are conclusions that need investigation. I do not disagree, but my agreeing with Saltz mean little more than we both see something in these two artists that means something to us. It doesn’t tell us what that something is nor even that the some thing is the same something. My observation of the characteristics of both painters is that they are both about equi-distant from “reality” wherever and whatever that may be, and that the differences might begin to be described in the following way. Pissarro’s canvasses, as here illustrated, are by an large significantly cooler in color tone that are those of Cezanne. Pissarro’s canvasses also contain a narrower value range. This might lead the observer to conclude that of the two personalities Cezanne had the greater struggle in overcoming whatever frustrations he endured. Pissarro does present the observer with a mild, and also an attractive, environment. The observer perceives no threats depicted, suggested, or extant on some subliminal level. The same comment can, however, not be said about the responses elicited by Cezanne’s canvasses. There is no ominous something portrayed in Cezanne’s canvasses so it cannot be said that apprehension is a subject, yet, it seems to be there. Whether that is an occult expression emerging from some inner anxiety on the part of Cezanne one might not know, for sure. While that hypothesis is legitimate what relationship does it bear to art criticism? It seems to me that it bears a great deal of significant
relationship since the paintings are products presented to our consciousness and we are expected to respond to them. If what I had suggested is correct and these works display not only landscapes from the real world, but the personalities of the artists themselves, but what reason do we justify our having arrived at a decision suggesting that one of the personalities is grander than the other…or, as the title of Saltz’s article claims…unequal? On the other hand if we ask the question which of the two artists is offering the greater challenge to the growth of our visual perception we may come up with a different kind of answer…and for different reasons. If we ask the question which of the two artists more effectively represented the goals and aspirations of impressionism our answer might be quite different. In the first choice the response might give weight to the explorative (at the risk of possible failure), In the second, to the conventional.
I consider the increasing absence of viable sensual connections with real experiences to be threatening to mental health on the individual level and in terms of the community at large awesome to contemplate. Many of us have been amused when a child asks of parenting adults “Are we there yet?” “Are we having fun yet?” but those questions, especially the second one, speak of that break in the connection between cause and effect. Jung’s definition of synchronicity suggests not so much that there is a real difference between cause and effect on the one hand and coincidence on the other, but that, the difference may have described the way we have been functioning in the past and that, for future effective response to existence we may need to make usable connections with more advanced modes of perception….modes of perception, perhaps, that will allow us to “bridge the synapse” between one reality ”package” and another.
That effort, I believe, will take a great deal of self-examination, a great deal of self confidence and a great deal of flexible ingenuity in applying the parameters of discipline. One might say, “well, who the hell cares, if artists want to fool each other and their followers, let them, it has nothing to do with me.” Such a conclusion would be a serious mistake for as much as I encourage diversity of opinion and insights I am quite totally aware of the need for a consensually secure base for any culture to maintain a confidence in its decisions. In this respect we may only look at the fate of those our culture have created to be gods and goddesses on earth. I have in mind, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Anna Nichol Smith and thousands of wannabes. Our culture has encouraged them to believe in an attribute that was at best temporal and when it and our culture failed them by tiring of their novelty culture contributed to their destruction and they were finally toe -tagged. From my point of view that is no way to care for a family. I came across an interview between Jordan Essoe and Jeff Kelley. Here it is.
By Jordan Essoe Jeff Kelley is an art critic and Curator of Contemporary Art at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. A professor of art theory and criticism at UC Berkeley from 1993-2004, KELLEY: That's right. Hence the sense of cynicism around your generation. It's a way of protecting yourself from a lack of authentic experience. I would say, however, that I don't think authenticity is a quest. I think it's just a consequence, or an effect, of just working for a long time. The extent to which I feel authentic at all is very closely related to all of the times that I have felt inauthentic. I think cynicism is the most significant and unfortunate consequent of this stage of mass media experience. Cynicism protects us from what we feel, or from when we don't feel, and when we can't feel. It makes what we can't feel fashionable by giving it an ironic tinge and making it cool. It's essentially smartass, but it is in a way that is so commonplace that it doesn't seem defensive. Sometimes I think maybe the best I can come up with is just being the opposite of cynical. And you don't always know where that's going. It’s the highlighted green sentence I most appreciate. I believe I do so because it leaves us all some room in which to grow, develop and form ourselves in response to our experiences. This being the case, it would seem to me that considering the mid=set, experiential background of artist is essential. How then, does a keen awareness of the existential background of a creative artist integrate into the technical procedures he uses and that total effect upon an observer…and his existential background. I reject the notion that suggests “it is all up to the individual”. I find that too facile. I do not find it unreasonable or inconsistent to expect as much effort from the observer to understand what is being observed as the creator put into the creation. Perhaps, it might be considered, that the entire process of arts, its creation, its comprehension and effect is justified entirely by the degree of empathy it engenders.
STABILITY AND REVOLUTION
When Michael Brenson mentions the term “deconstruction” I immediately felt the rush of memory, irritation and a kind nervous excitement as when I first heard it when Doris Cross, at one time a Brooklyn housewife turned artist whose husband left her for a belly dancer, explained to me that her aim as an artist was to deconstruct the construct of cultural expectations, so she chose a 1913 dictionary to begin her work, (like a termite in an ancient house), of dismantling (other people’s) cultural expectations.
I had no idea why she chose to invite me to dinner that evening in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and served up a small plate of steamed green beans. Doris had some difficulty in using vocal language. It could have been a physical abnormality, I supposed, or, I thought, from time to time, more likely some care in choosing the precise word she needed in order to get the idea across, or, perhaps, a combination of the two of them. In any event, I ate the beans and listened carefully and increasingly asked myself, what is it that this woman is talking about?. Years later I told her what my reaction had been and she smiled appreciating its significance and the history she and I had by then experienced. Well, Doris was certainly destructive in taking, what she probably considered was a worthless and out of date dictionary at any event and proceeded somewhat at random to select a heading from any of its pages and systematically, but flavored with insistent intuition, to cross out those words she didn’t like. About every two or three months after we both, separately, had moved from Cedar Falls to Santa Fe and she and moved into an apartment attached to my house, she would show me her latest work and ask for my reactions. Since she and I had at the earlier Iowa time, been members of the same faculty at The University of Northern Iowa I felt complimented that she thought I could help. Certainly my approach to the problem was very much more academic than was hers. She had, after all, been a student of Hans Hoffman…now, she seemed to have chosen me. The more I saw of her work the more entranced I became, not so much at what she had chosen to destruct, but what she was beginning to reconstruct, although she said that she had known nothing about those things I saw in her work, and I often had the feeling she was ambivalent toward my conclusion that she was now re-constructing and not destructing. The idea that she was destroying something, during a time when it was fashionable to destroy, made her a heroine, a brave little charming Jewish woman. What did I see? Well, to begin with, there were many rather subliminal references to classical Greek material, and the association of meanings between words that usually only an etymologist would know. These occurrences gave rise, in me, to a more serious reconsideration of how people know what they know, and to allow the consideration to develop that, perhaps, what we today value as education is merely a decision to act to overlay, cover-up, obscure, what the individual knows instinctively, as though, and I hesitate to say so, it became dangerous if one remembered an earlier life. There is an advantage to politicians to being able to control the memory of the masses. Now, having said that, I hasten to add that out of the destruction of what was there may come a new reconstruction that offers the opportunity to be richer, more satisfying and more equitable. Western civilization did that in the millennium between 4thC ad and the 14th C .ad. I would have little hesitation in maintaining that the differences in aesthetic perception between then (the classic period) and now (after 1850) have been very rewarding. If the present fascination with the destruction of social values such as one sees in the work of Jeff Koons and Borat ( Sacha Baron Cohen) ends up with an enriched reconstruction I can only approve the process…at least from a distance. It will be the responsibility of the non-Koons and the non-Borats to make a better arrangement of the material remaining.
These were the first works of Doris I obtained from her and she told me they were the prototypes for her large group of dictionary column works. However since in the back sides they were dated 1983 the dating must be in error. At one time Doris had a young woman come in to help her get her work in order and she was still, at that time, living in my Santa Fe house and I had nearly daily contact with her. Doris never indicated any dissatisfaction with the woman’s work, but the dating simply doesn’t work out for it seems quite unlikely that more than a decade passed between the time she had invited me for a plate of steamed green beans and the production of these works. The point I wish to bring out, at this time, is that in the course of our frequent conversations I happened to mention to her and, somewhere I also published, the comment that the illumination she was creating for these columns was much like the decoration of Gothic Medieval manuscripts. She evidently took that to heart for as one can see from the two examples above to the three below she has begun to reconstruct from the destruction she had earlier imposed. Not at all unlike, it seems, the historical development of that pre-renaissance period, first comes the destruction of the classical order and then comes the Romanesque and Gothic reconstruction which responds to a greater variety of aesthetic demands. Doris never talked to me about her responses to the teaching of Hans Hoffmann except, I believe I remember, that she thought him a better teacher than a painter.
I do not believe that Doris Cross was any the less perplexed by her own difference from others, or the destructive/creative processes she was subject to, than either Michelangelo when he worked on the Sistine Chapel or Caravaggio when he moved , seemingly like a grass hopper, from the literary, symbolic rendering of religious subject matter as it appears in “The Rest on the Flight Into Egypt” to the breathtakingly august composition of “The Entombment”. One might try to forget the subject matters, if possible, and the weakly intellectual enumeration of anecdotal detail and the carry over of Gothic symbolic usage generally associated with “The Rest on the Flight Into Egypt”, and simply become aware of the ponderous significance of placing a human body forever away into the grave and how the elbow of the man in red and the jutting corner of the slab might be seen as proto-expressionistic. All that aside, it is the fact of change itself, how it is accomplished, and why, that concerns us. And at times it seems to me that the function of an art critic may not be too different from that of the phosphorescent or bioluminescent red microbial tide that lights up the dark sea. Enough at least for some to see movement in the midst of obscurity.
Caravaggio: “Rest on the Flight to Egypt”
I have little doubt that this jutting elbow in this photo by Rolf Koppel is a descendant from the image that appeared 400 years ago.
Rolf Koppel “Self Portrait”
Although subject to many of the enculturations members of groups inevitably experience (you must be like us to be with us) there were moments that were as refreshing to her as they were to me when she was simply Doris and her perceptions shone through the veil of those culturally imposed habits. That is one reason why I see something similar in the photograph she chose to have made of herself emerging, and/or retreating, into a drawing and the tabular rasa portrait I did of her.
Karl Kempton : photograph of Doris Cross
Paul Henrickson: “Portrait of Doris”
There is an interesting, at least for me, anecdote in connection with this portrait of Doris that involves her son Guy who has finally some of his energies focused on legitimate production when , as editor of “The” magazine he called for pictures (of any kind) to use in the publication. I sent in a photo of this painting of his mother. Never a word did I hear. Of course, I believe I know the reason for this and his reasoning is the same as Paul Brach’s. “Ignore them and maybe those who are not us will go away…if not, we must find ways of eliminating them”. In my experience with Paul Brach he was most notably a racist, an ethnocentric Jew who wanted no one but Jews around him, therefore, the Scottsman was persona non grata on two counts, first of all he was not Jewish and secondly his aesthetic was fairly closely fixed on the objective representation of objects. At the time that I was with Paul Brach I was unaware that in my own ethnic background there was evidence that linked me to the House of David through Theodore Makir, the Archjudiarc of Narbonne. Had I known I would have looked for an opportunity to challenge Brach’s behavior. What, if any role, one’s ethnicity plays in aesthetic decisions, and I do believe that at some point and in some ways it does play a role, but exactly how I am unprepared to say. I do have several; hypothesis running around in my mind, they haven’t been still long enough for me to evaluate them. It is certainly clear, however, that in areas where definitions are open to interpretation there you will find a Jew. It could well be that this is why, among some, the Jew is regarded as the earth’s salt, or rather, since that gives the wrong impression “The salt of the earth”. An anecdote in that regard. In the middle seventies Joseph LaVoie, a Roman Catholic priest, and I were on our way to Jerusalem and stood waiting for directions to board the plane when as we stood there each in our traditional western garb, levis and a black Stetson, he with a crucifix and I with a crucifix and a Mogen David a man from about 40 feet away moved solely toward us never taking his eyes off me and stopped ten feet away and without an apology, or introduction said only “Why are you wearing both?”. Well, I knew what he meant. Why should I have known what he meant? I answered’ “Christ was from the House of David, why shouldn’t I wear both?” His response was interesting. “You must be a Jew only a Jew could give an answer like that.” And he walked away.
Perhaps we might extend and amend this thesis to say that there is nothing anyone does that hides who he is as one might justifiably conclude that in his interview with Barry Schwartz of the 23 people mentioned by Brach in any accepting manner 15 of them are Jews. The exclusionary character of Brach’s social nature is illustrated in the character
and breadth of his graphic production. In short, it is narrow, very narrow indeed. I will give him credit, however, a great deal of credit, for being neat. He is very much neater than Hyman Bloom, for example, whose technical execution while expressive cannot be considered “neat” and whose breadth of expression ranges from dismembered cancerous human limbs and decaying corpses to brides in all their glory and chandeliers in Synagogues.
Hyman Bloom: Corpse
STABILITY AND REVOLUTION
Even a geometrician rarely if ever limits himself, like a damaged shellac record to the same phrase over and over and over again. By way of startling contrast to the work of Paul Brach.the work of Bradford Hansen-Smith should make the point.
If the thesis that an artist, if he is a “true” artist, doesn’t hide his deepest sources of inspiration then we might look again at the range of Brach’s expression:
and five sets of circles
(his) “wholemovement” web site is on-line
Actually, that time was interesting from another point of view as well. There were three places of worship set aside for the religious. Roman Catholic, Episcopalian and Jewish. The Romans pushed giving to the poor, the Episcopalians announced a “happy hour” and the Jews gave a
history lesson.. that should tell us something. Certainly we might question the real intent of the question “So, Where is it written?”
WHERE? LEO STEINBERG WROTE IT: "I’m over here to see Paul Brach’s show (at
Flomenhaft Gallery). Back in 1964, in Art International magazine, Steinberg called Brach’s simple yet opaque paintings "the invisibility of an encompassing, undifferentiated homogeneity," Only someone with a Talmudic (schule) education could say this with a straight face and those without such an education accept it as a compliment. In point of fact Steinberg spoke the truth, Brach has very little to offer.
Perhaps it is inevitable that no matter what one does or what one makes, he reveals himself, whether it is the mother doing housework and caring for the children, or governing a country and standing before an easel it is by what they do you can know who they are. It is the obligation of the critic to attempt to unravel the various clues which exist in the work of art that reveal the character of the producer. .Paul Shapiro is a tragic character who is seen hopping from one art style hot plate to another and so superficial in his understanding of the obligations he has as an artist he can do no more than, as his indulgent and self-indulgent appraiser Jon Carver tells us, is make a “gesture”. He desires the adulation but will not endure the pain. This is not unlike the “gesture” of a town mayor handing over a cardboard key to the city to a visiting celebrity (or Guy Cross turning
over the front page of “THE” to Paul Shapiro, or far that matter one Maltese artist employing the prestige of a bank to advance his own reputation as an artist. What intelligently aware person would accept the idea that a banker automatically knows good art from bad? Or, in the case of the Norwegian Nesjar that the key to being famous is being known to know famous people.).
An artist exhibiting the fact he receives support from banks. The art work, of course, stands in the background. A transmuted Picasso stands on an American campus through the agency of a Norwegian functionalist.
or for that matter, a university presenting someone with an honorary Ph.D. It is all symbolic . It is not real. No effort, no work, no “blood sweat and tears” have gone into any of Shapiro’s work What is the result when someone believes in something that is not real? Well, the psychiatrist, R.D. Lang has described that in his study on adolescent girls. The employment of language that disguises reality, as in euphemistic language, encourages the development of the mental disease known as schizophrenia. That is a very broad allegation but I believe it makes the point.
QUEST OR CONSEQUENCES
There was one saving act on the part of Picasso that clarifies it all but it has not been widely disseminated. It reads as follows: In art the mass of people no longer seeks consolation and exaltation, but those who are refined, rich, unoccupied, who are distillers of quintessences, seek what is new, strange, original, extravagant, scandalous. I myself, since Cubism and before, have satisfied these masters and critics with all the changing oddities which passed through my head, and the less they understood me, the more they admired me. By amusing myself with all these games, with all these absurdities, puzzles, rebuses, arabesques, I became famous, and that very quickly. And fame for a painter means sales, gains, fortune, riches. And today, as you know, I am celebrated, I am rich. But when I am alone with myself, I have not the courage to think of myself as an artist in the great and ancient sense of the term. Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt were great painters. I am only a public entertainer who has understood his times and exploited as best he could the imbecility, the vanity, the cupidity of his contemporaries. Mine is a bitter confession, more painful than it may appear, but it has the merit of being sincere."
from an interview with Picasso in Il Libro Nero by Giovanni Papini (1951), translated in Robertson Davies, What's Bred in the Bone (New York, Penguin, 1986 ) pp. 406-407.
RESPONSE AND REVISION
What is real?
(In regard to changing perceptions of the “real” a short observation of the work of Carl Nesjar is available through The Creativity Packet , email: email@example.com)
In terms of the artist’s internal development one of the most intriguing examples is that of Paul Cezanne. A look at some of his early work and that of his later mature work tells us that he had moved dramatically from the greatly involved emotional romanticism to that of a dispassionate observer. One could ask: just how difficult was that development?
Or, what a relief for him to be shed of the nonessential and the distracting
These works are arranged, I believe, roughly in chronological order. They show not only a shift in subject matter from the highly dramatic to the dispassionate, but in color as well from strong contrasts to high value and low contrast. It is this shift, we suspect which provides the clue to what Cezanne seemed most to admire about the “art of the museums”, that is works that were soundly structured and “classical” in their composition. His aim, I believe, was to attain that structure AND to attain to the aim of the impressionists. This may explain why he described Monet as “only and eye, but what an eye.” Cezanne wanted both the classical sense of structure and the impressionist sense of air and light. Seurat may have tried for the same effect, but the results are more formal, more contained, more precise and consequently less “real”. In terms of the artist’s internal development one of the most intriguing examples is that of Paul Cezanne. A look at some of his early work and that of his later mature work tells us that he had moved dramatically from the greatly involved emotional romanticism to that of a dispassionate observer. I would suggest that this development mirrors a growing detachment from mundane events. The testosterone level no longer presents a chemical interference to his studies in optics.
Seurat: “Jar de Bouffon”
GENETIC PROGRAMMING OR ANALYSIS?
Mark Finger: Easter Drawing age 6/7
Mark Finger: Easter Drawing age 6/7
It may come as a surprise to some to see crayon drawings by a child in a serious discussion on art, but it is precisely because this is a serious discussion on art that these two works are here. The happen to demonstrate what has been identified as a normal and sequential development in the way minds of this maturity regard the representation of space. In the drawing to the left we a base line, that is a horizontal presentation of the flatness of the earth upon which we stand.. In the drawing on the right the base line had disappeared in favor of a stretching out of the base line from a here to a there and ending up as an horizon line. The objects represented on earth are also represented as being at different distances from the observer. These demonstrate a real development in perception. I do not believe this graphic device was taught this boy, he came upon this solution as children of that age generally do. If one were to compare this development with the development illustrated above with the works 1 through 4 (above) demonstrating a similar progression there might be reason to compare the instinctual development in an individual with a stylistic development within a society over a period of about 500 years. We might ask what the significance of the development might be no matter where it is it takes place. We can be sure of only one thing and that is it is a development at least within the western society By and large today, that is, in the first decade of the 21st century we see a not minor role where the emphasis in graphic representation is again on the flat surface EVEN while some individuals within the group manage to introduce elements of spatiality as in the subtle works of Billybob Beamer.
VISUAL DESTRUCT / SENSUAL RESTRUCT
What are the differences in looking when we look at the world outside of ourselves and we look at the world as presented by the artist?
FRANZ KLINE and PIERRE SOULAGE
Some of the understandings we may have gleaned from all these destructive processes might be present in the works of these two artists. The discovered elements of visual researches and the psychology of vision artists such as these may have given us might provide others with the raw material of a reformation of a visual grammar and we may, in fact, be in the process of launching a truly great advance in visual cultural experience…if we are careful. In all the works depicted below the qualities observed in the above mentioned names are there as well. In some cases they are more evident than they are in Shapiro, Franz Kline, for example, and I am using Pierre Soulage as a foil, in this case, in contrast to Soulage
presents a very subtle dimension to painting. Both of them work from the base of a white field using black as the medium of expression. In the Soulage we basically are aware of two levels, the whiter, the black surface on top. It is only with the illustration on the left, with the introduction of the maroon that we might be getting the suggestion of an intermediate level, but, for some reason, with the Kline, where there is neither the addition of a third color or the hint of extended blacks into grays we still seem to get the impression that these violently heavy strokes varying from the very thin to the very heavy create a nervous and very active tension and the suggestion of a very active interchange of energies within a defined space. Nothing in the works themselves are doing this, but an understanding of how the eye works accomplishes the effect. If one were, for example to compare one of the Kline’s to Rubens’ where Rubens’s very active canvass suggests the same sort of activity within a defined space but uses human and animal figures in combat to accomplish it. The readable figures, of lions, horses and men, help the observer to understand the action. With Kline there is no such assist and the observer is left on his own to figure it out. In so far as I am aware Kline never made a clarifying statement to that effect but Agnes Martin did, as she stated, leave it up to the observer. I am not exactly sure that that resolve is at all fair.
Three works by Agnes Martin. The artist stated that it was up to the viewer to determine what the works were all about. It is true that some people are shy, or otherwise reluctant to talk about their work. I can understand the hesitation for it is truly rare that one comes
across an individual who is both free of bias and intellectually equipped, in the vocabulary sense, to follow a line of argument. I was once successful in that attempt with a school superintendent who turned deep red when he learned he had been bested and was not rehired. The intelligent response would have been to have promoted me. But that too raises an interesting question…why should the exercise of intelligence be so abnormal? Is there something about the very nature of (any) society that does what Jose Oretga y Gassett described as the operations of the mediocre mind to strive wherever, whenever possible to reduce the effectiveness of the outstanding? It probably would have been helpful to all of us for us to have had a word from martin about her work and maybe she did say something somewhere at some time, but for the most part we are left, (as she wanted), left to our own devices. If it had been her intention to force the viewer into assessing his own responses to her work and not to be encumbered by someone else’s thoughts on the matter then she risks many chances at not being understood. On the other hand maybe she felt it wasn’t anyone’s business what she had in her mind . She appeared to be a very independent woman. If that is the case, however, her behavior begs the notion that art is a means of communication. Well, be that as it may she may have been successful in communicating the idea that she wanted no communication.
So let So let fall the tower of art babble before the abstract paintings of Paul Shapiro. His vast
Three images by Franz Kline
an analysis a la Kline of the Rubens
This black and white freely interpreted rendering of Ruben’s composition might clarify some of the values I see in Kline’s “gestural” works.
Three works by Pierre Soulage In both of these instances, Kline and Soulage, we have ample evidence that the artists were well-focused on what it was they were doing. There is no exception to their being personality differences between them which may, and probably, does account for the feelings of genuineness they both give us. And while it probably is entirely possible to trace the graphic genealogy of their approaches to some other previous artists that particular DNA has become so a part of their aesthetic expression as to become inseparable from the totality of their work. They have then, fully incorporated earlier influences
The following three statements excerpted from a statement by Arthur Danto (with my editorial corrections in this color and concerns and questions in green)
Hegel was the father of art history as the discipline through which we become conscious of the way art expresses the uniqueness of the time in which it is made. Is there a single “uniqueness”, or a collection of them at any epoch?
It strikes me, for example, that Andy Warhol was exceptional in seeking to make (an aspect of) the reality of his era (personal environment) conscious of itself through his art. How can Hegel be correct and Warhol an exception unless everyone else except Warhol and Richter are non-artists? Gerhard Richter was a product of these various tensions. But like Warhol, whom he resembles in profound (in what ways profound?) ways, he evolved a kind of selfprotective cool that enabled him and his viewers to experience historical reality as if at a distance. It has not been my impression that Warhol experienced contemporary history at a “cool” remove.
Richter's body of work calls into question many widely held attitudes about the inherent importance of stylistic consistency, the "organic" evolution of individual artistic sensibility, the spontaneous nature of creativity, and the relationships of technology and mass media imagery to traditional studio methods and formats. While many contemporary Postmodernists have explored these issues by circumventing or dismissing painting as a viable artistic option, Richter has challenged painting to meet the demands posed by new forms of conceptual art, in the process confirming the vitality of painting as a mode of expression. ( sfmoma,2002) The implication seems to
be that painting, as it has become known, is no longer a viable medium of expression and that those who employ it really have nothing of importance to say. This statement appears to be similar to those of American politicians who would like to keep disparate groups within the same party, creating thereby a coalition. Richter’s work has the same quality and importance as a contemporary news reporter, partly descriptive of an event and moderately a contributor. The event, in Richter’s case is the fracturing of those values which made what achievements there are possible. Richter’s accomplishments will become more clear, perhaps to his disadvantage, when the reconstructuralists begin to exhibit their work
What KIND of reality is “historical” reality anyway? This statement appears to be saying that work that does not fit the definition cannot be work that proves the definition, ergo, it is not, then, art. I thought definitions were supposed to tell us what things were, or were trying to be.
On the other hand Shapiro who has gone from Marsdon Hartley/David Barbero type landscapes into, or out of, oriental collaged calligraphy and here, into the exray mysticism of a graphic version of the interior blood-stream journey depicted by Otto Klement in “Fantastic Voyage” where Shapiro offers us vague images from an unknown source (such sources do not have to be known) into which he has introduced two lozenge-shaped objects whose meaningful role in the composition remains obscure. They are there in all of the canvasses, not unlike an oriental chop used to make sure that all later observers know who has had something to do with this important work. Their presence perplexes me for their lack of sophistication mixed with Shapiro’s strong ambition for recognition seems to suggest some arrested emotional development. ..something like the fascination 10 year-olds had for finger rings with secret compartments, codes, disappearing ink that were so fascinating in 1940. Carver also managed to include the name of Gerhard Richter in discussing Shapiro and I wondered just what it was he might have had in mind. I think it is true that Richter and Shaprio do have something in common. I doubt that it has much to do with their aesthetic development but everything to do with their political development for, it seems to be, that they both demonstrate Bresjnev’s comment to Jaime Wyeth
not to underestimate the power of an image. Image wise, Richter is the more powerful, but they both appear to be either a product of or are an agent for their respective ethnic and national political orientations, Richter the German and Shapiro the Jew and either they, or their supporters, have chosen the field of aesthetics to make their political points. What they both have in common, however, beyond that, is a nonreconstructive interest in their deconstructive processes. Shapiro destroys the structure of western aesthetics by practicing aspects of it mindlessly and Richter by angrily reenacting the disappointing failure of National Socialism. I wonder whether Carver had been aware of those possibilities or whether he was simply responding to some vague instinct. This does not mean that I discredit instinct. On the contrary, I very much value it. The bewilderment some conscientious observers may possess might be gleaned in this image of a young man standing before a Karl Benjamin.
Daumier: “Print Collector”
It seems that size exists in direct proportion to significance., Where as, maybe, the size of Beamer’s work, some times requiring the aid of a magnifying glass, (provided by the artist and somewhat reminiscent of a cartoon by Daumier), does the opposite.
Karl Benjamin Should we talk about a brick wall?
Even the frivolity of Miriam Shapiro has greater graphic significance than these meandering maroon gonads of Paul Shapiro.
SELF-RESPECT AND VALIDATION
Where as it might be said that Paul Shapiro is chameleon-like in his manner of change, that is, he adopts whatever background or environment he thinks he is in, the result, of which, of course, is that the essential Shapiro is obscured in the multiplicity of costume change, or, perhaps, the chameleon is the essential Shapiro.. Donald Fabricant, on the other hand, someone whom few know, made a dramatic shift and an aesthetically cohesive one toward the end of his life moving from the unbelievably academic painting of the 1920’s into the bosom of Juan Miro in one fell swoop.
Works by Donald Fabricant
Shapiro,P after Marsden Hartley/Barbero period and Shapiro as an orientalist and. below Shapiro , perhaps as Roberto Matta with just a hint of the comic strip approach with the recurrence s of the maroon lozenges.
Three images by Paul Shapiro
Two works by Miriam Shapiro
Three images by Paul Brach As for Paul Brach, his brand of ethnocentricity aside, his work was correctly described by a functionally illiterate, but astute, a VERY astute, observer as being, from among all those shown above the least valuable as an aesthetic experience. And, after all, what else might be expected of a picture than that it BE an aesthetic experience. Barry Schwartz interviewed Paul Brach for the Smithsonian Oral History archive. I can imagine how that idea came about. The Oral History Archive’s purpose, according to what they tell us is to It is a rather lengthy interview during which Brach recalls nearly all those he’d even met who were any body. As I was struck with some underlying similarities between them aside from the fact that they all had something to do with art so I copied down the list of their names. Here it is: Leo Casstelli, Roy Lichtenstein, Raushenberg, Jack Gelker, Miriam Shapiro, Joan Mitchell, Larry Rivers, Mike Goldberg, Harold Rosenberg, Clem Greenberg, Helen Mothewwell, Robert Motherwell, (motherwell was a student of Meyer Shapiro, Bob Irwin, Ed Kleinholz, Larry Bell, Mel Powell, Max Kozloff, Lucy Lippard, Marcia Tucker, Judy Chicago, Andre Emerich, Jasper Johns, Carl Morris, Bob Morris, Ed Fry, Alan Kaprow, Henry Gedzehler, Peter Selz, Ed Klienholz, Ashile Gorki, Willem de Kooning and Matta were also mentioned but not as direct associates. Brach exhibited the same sort of political maneuvering as chairman of the art department at the University of California at San Diego and was actively seeking the support of other department members in urging the one lone Scots to leave. What balanced view of creative effort the students at La Jolla might have received was difficult to imagine. In that environment, so egotistically defensive, not even Hyman Bloom would have been allowed to survive, being much too good an artist to be allowed exposure to “unencumbered” minds.
Bloom: David w.Goliath
Apparition of Danger”
I came across a short (2,300word) article by Jonathan Goodman remarking on Brach’s 1997 exhibition at Steinbaum and Krauss. What I found particularly outstanding were the following remarks: “The show
made it clear that Brach continues to make intellectual perception a major underpinning of his art, even when he is addressing a favorite, and often romanticized, theme: the beauty of the Southwest.” “
“Brach's intelligence enhances the calculated beauty of his art; he is also confident enough about his work to poke fun at the general enterprise of image making.” “ Yet, for all their conscious beauty, the paintings are about perception -- what happens to natural forms when they are seen against various hues. The results of Brach's experiments are spectacular. In the oils the halos shift from orange to reddish orange to rose to purple to red, and a similarly subtle movement in color and tonal value occurs in the pastel versions. Indeed, the latter have a remarkable delicacy in which the differing circles of color both bracket the mountain and embody worlds that feel quite complete in themselves.”
I suspect that there may be something different in the way I perceive things, for the only intellectual materials I finds In Brach’s work are the circles and circles are an intellectual concept as are, to some extent, controlled variations in value and in hue, but in the final analysis Brach’s works exhibit an impoverished intellectual activity and, to pun somewhat on his fascination he seems to be “going round in circles” There is more intellectual material in Miriam Shapiro’s work than in Paul’s Having said that I should hastily suggest that intellectual material as such may not be the most contributing characteristic to any effort involving creative expression. In fact, the rather rigid definitions of wither of those activities suggest that .they are mutually exclusive. Intellect is involved with established and agreed upon systems. Creativity is involved in the discovery of new relationships in which respect it is perfectly clear that Billybob Beamer is several laps ahead of Brach and both Shapiros…but who makes comparisons?
Three images by B.B. Beamer
Henrickson: Sangre de Cristo Mts
Here with these three works (top row) by Billbob Beamer we have, I believe, a distinctly more complex fellow who appears fascinated with the infinitesimal. Some works are often no larger than 2 and ½ inches square. And, we have learned that, at times, Beamer provides magnifying glasses for those wishing to inspect the work I am not sure whether I should, or not, but I find that accommodation rather amusing. It is, I find, not unlike the machinations of those whose public conversations are whispered and which require the listener to move and bend closer which also achieves a certain intimacy, or those with eye make up so elaborate that in order to recognize the person one is talking to one must move nose tip to nose tip or otherwise get a whiff of pheromones. It is an interesting observation that while in Beamer the viewer is encouraged to get real close, in Martin, whose work, on the surface at least, would appear to be equally non-objective seems to produce quite the opposite effect, that is, it repels the viewer, or rather the viewer is rejected. Now, that observation leads us to wonder to what extent is it truly possible and to what extent is it truly admissible to explain, and to accept, the existence of works of art on the basis that they represent the person’s range of existential reaction and as observers we simply leave it at that and let the matter lie. Can a proper critic properly do such a thing?…simply say “well, this is the way he/she is.” On the other hand where is it written that we are obliged to know, label and pack away all knowledge, as though they—the knowledged—had no rights to existence of their own. Where would knowledge go if left unaltered by the human mind? Let me try another way. There is an indication in Beamer’s work that the various graphic approaches to a visual experience begin to show evidence of an existence of a life of their own within, or behind, the veil of indefiniteness and obscurity which characterizes them. Thank God that Beamer shows evidence of an interest in search and experimentation on a seriously employable level, otherwise this nose tip to nose tip,
eyeball to eyeball confrontation, even with a magnifying glass would fail. In a sense experiencing some of the work of beamer is like following the line of thought suggested in the 1884 novel “FlatLand” by Edwin Abbott. The subtle invitation to “come closer to me I want to get to know you” differs from the Henrickson approach sdvising others to “stay at arms length I can see you better that way” who attentively searches for the orchestration of marks, smudges and stains that will enlarge the graphic vocabulary in directing the viewer’s attention to aspects of neuronic, that is, physically rooted or related vision, as opposed to variations on graphic themes unrelated to anything else but themselves. Henrickson is still attached to some objective criteria whereas Beamer seems not. It remains to be seen whether an art so detached from outside references can survive. In the meantime one might wonder whether those characterizations are related to the fact that Beamer is, I believe, Virginian and Henrickson a Bostonian and what works societally among people may also be the approach to the production of art…another possibility of art being an expression of its producer. Someone recently sent me a video on the subject of a very young hippopotamus orphaned by the flooding rains in the Indian Ocean area which after having been rescued by zoo keepers was found to have made a really strong bond with a male tortoise, seen, it was supposed, as a surrogate mother. Are the inner, survival instincts so powerful they can overcome the evidence of one’s senses?
Additionally, I need to ask whether the tortoise which is usually a solitary animal may be experiencing a response of togetherness unknown to its breed whereas the needs of the young hippo which is generally with its mother for four years is determined to acquire the psychological nourishment it requires and the possible indifference of the tortoise is of no matter whatever. Belief in the structure of the relationship, at least on the part of the
A Story Worth Seeing (268 KB).m sg
hippo, is all that counts. When and why did society find it necessary to have art critics anyway? My guess is that it may have something to do with the acceptable ordering of the experiences of existence. My second guess would be that we destroy what we are unable to order. I am not at all certain that the relationship between the Hippo and the tortoise could be correctly termed symbiotic. I think the tortoise would probably get along very well with the hippo. What can be said about the tortoise is that it appears to be both flexible and tolerant. Flexible enough to tolerate an unaccustomed and dependent interference in its accustomed isolation. Maybe Agnes Martin is a wise woman after all and simply refuses to deal with the matter of taste and like the tortoise she’ll go her way and let those who need to cuddle up do so.
This is a form of social theater where the drama of human exchange is interwoven with the intimacies of graphic marks and, I believe, erasures as well, These are more, or are they less?, than cabinet works requiring a withdrawal. Closeted to the extent that obeisance is a requirement. If art is a measure of man’s relationship to the outside (of oneself) world then, perhaps, the occupation of social work, at least for BillyBob Beamer has been intimately informative. When one reads some of Beamer’s poetry with some of the words, once there, having disappeared, or, perhaps, never brought to enunciation, we may, perhaps, have a similar aesthetic interrelationship between the poet and his audience as we have with the image-maker and his observer. In order to participate fully in the Beamer creative experience one must be willing to get close…get real close.
The question that follows is: Is it legitimate art critical practice to reference the personal experiences, concerns and cultural background of the artist, or is the concern of the critic only with the graphic events taking place on the surface or stand before him, or can the final look of a work of art be separated from the artist’s experiences? If one grant that the experiences of the artist and the quality of the work he produces cannot reasonably be separated what matching, soul-mate qualities must be present in the critic…to say nothing about those who read the criticism. Does this whole relationship suggest a mind/aesthetic/experiential/responsive culture of its own…a singular gestalt identifiably separate from another group? Certain critics, then, might become the high priests of certain occult cults of aesthetic sensibility with followings of their own, appropriate ceremonies devised and the coming of age ceremonies. The critical focus that seems o be forming in me is related to the personal experiences of the artist as I once detailed in the CD book “In Broad Daylight”.
The above drawing, a cartoon, showing myself in danger of being consumed by the anthropomorphized mantis is the result of a comment I had made in a published criticism that appeared in a local Santa Fe weekly, The Santa Fe Reporter. Shelby Matis had exhibited at Hill’s Gallery a collection of large (more than life-sized) brightly colored constructions which made me feel as I walked among them that I was in immediate danger of being grabbed and consumed and that in the program describing the work of the artist I had stated that I felt perhaps the letter “N” had been left off from her surname, so that it aught to have read “mantis”. She asked me to visit her studio (I was unsure that I would leave it alive) and it was during that visit she confided in me that at 16 she had been raped. And that, in effect, I had picked up on that experience which had, even after 15 or 20 years not left her reservoir of creative reference. Does this anecdote illustrate the communicability of art forms or is it merely an unusual coincidence? In the early sixties I wrote a paper, which is still available if anyone wants to read it, entitled “Caravaggio and Sexual Adjustment.” To my knowledge, it was the only work, until then, that attempted to prove through Caravaggio’s creative work that he had been giving graphic and symbolic expression to his sexual concerns. The broader implications of the study suggest that only those works which deal with who one is are works that are the most informative and effective. Paul Shapiro may achieve his aim of being Santa Fe’s bet known artist, but it won’t be because of his art, and Paul Brach is already in the Smithsonian collection of oral history accounts which makes more sense than his being in the National Gallery. .
Three images by Paul Henrickson
Three images by Paul Brach
As for Paul Brach, his brand of ethnocentricity aside, his work was correctly described by a functionally illiterate, but astute, a VERY astute, observer as being, from among all those shown above the least valuable as an aesthetic experience. And, after all, what else might be expected of a picture than that it BE an aesthetic experience.
Barry Schwartz interviewed Paul Brach for the Smithsonian Oral History archive. I can imagine how that idea came about. The Oral History Archive’s purpose, according to what they tell us is to It is a rather lengthy interview during which Brach recalls nearly all those he’d even met who were any body. As I was struck with some underlying similarities between them aside from the fact that they all had something to do with art so I copied down the list of their names. Here it is: Leo Casstelli, Roy Lichtenstein, Raushenberg, Jack Gelker, Miriam Shapiro, Joan Mitchell, Larry Rivers, Mike Goldberg, Harold Rosenberg, Clem Greenberg, Helen Mothewwell, Robert Motherwell, (motherwell was a student of Meyer Shapiro, Bob Irwin, Ed Kleinholz, Larry Bell, Mel Powell, Max Kozloff, Lucy Lippard, Marcia Tucker, Judy Chicago, Andre Emerich, Jasper Johns, Carl Morris, Bob Morris, Ed Fry, Alan Kaprow, Henry Gedzehler, Peter Selz, Ed Klienholz, Ashile Gorki, Willem de Kooning and Matta were also mentioned but not as direct associates. Brach exhibited the same sort of political maneuvering as chairman of the art department at the University of California at San Diego and was actively seeking the support of other department members in urging the one lone Scots to leave.
What balanced view of creative effort the students at UCSD (La Jolla) might have received was difficult to imagine. In that environment, so egotistically defensive, not
even Hyman Bloom would have been allowed to survive, being much too good an artist to be allowed exposure to unencumbered minds.
Bloom: David w.Goliath
Apparition of Danger”
The following are additional works by Congo:
With the drawings I was able to prove that the chimpanzee brain is capable of creating abstract patterns that are under visual control. To put it simply, the position of one line influenced the position of the next line, and so on, until the drawing was considered (by the ape) to be finished. If I placed geometric patterns on the paper, these altered the position of the animal’s lines. In this way I was able to demonstrate that the chimp was able to balance a picture, left to right, and was able to develop a visual theme and then to vary that theme….the Mayor Gallery There may be, or there may not be, some tongue-in-cheek motivation on the part of Desmond Morris to present these works by Congo. I suspect there was a little mischievousness involved, but the point, nevertheless is well taken if what Morris intended to do was to point up the difficulty in making judgments about a large segment of the works of graphic arts with which we, the public, are confronted. All that is true, except, when an artist does it he does it, I think, in an effort to open up the chest of expressive resources. It is rare that I can see a blot and not wish to formalize it in some way. God must have had a similar r4esp[onse when he created everything out of nothing. I should like to suggest a plausible standard by which one might make judgments about certain works of art FOR, to begin with I fully recognize the value in deformalizing activity designed to make one’s aesthetic responses more liberal. It is not unlike the barre exercises a dancer undertakes before a performance. The basic motivation for picture making is communication and some are always searching for a better way of making a point. In some instances it takes rather an extreme and very personal form. One wonders whether man is the only creature with the neurotic need to explain himself.
Graphiti: a corporate expression , not unlike that of pissing canines.”I’m here too.”
Prison art: tattoo: is this a last ditch stand to protest that one belongs to something…after all?
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