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Dear Artist,

In most American cities, just a few blocks beyond the twinkle of Gallery Row, you may find an area that portrays a sobering swatch of American life: sleeping bags, shooting galleries, shopping carts filled with the discards of fuller days. Residential hotels replace the fast-fashion teenager meccas. Here, you may spot an art world cutting-edger — a dreamer in search of a better price-per-square-foot and a freshly painted box, ripe for the evangelizing of contemporary art.

Ben-Leslie_Undead-Monument

“Undead monument, 2013”
installation by Ben Leslie

On an impromptu Saturday, I tiptoed over a sidewalk of hypodermic needles and got buzzed in. On show was the newest body of work by an unknown-to-me mid-career artist already on the right side of the hippest collections and museums. I cruised the perimeter, then the plinths. Doodles in watercolour and acrylic, sawed and glued pieces of plywood and fiberglass were arranged in clumps like half-built Legos — familiar shapes and forms but executed with a hand-hewn disregard for craft, materials or colour. “All great contemporary artists, schooled or not,” wrote Jerry Saltz, “are essentially self-taught and are de-skilling like crazy.” The show floated in its light-filled space — ordinary objects posturing as precious — defiantly irrelevant to the sturdy architecture beyond the locked front door and its flanking homeless. A recent review disclosed that while there are no red dots or even price lists to sully the conversation, half the show had been sold in the first 24 hours.

5tlookmetapatrickrees

“META, 2011”
sculpture by Patrick Rees

A talk ensued with the artist and educator facing one another on folding chairs at the front. “I don’t get on an airplane for just anybody,” began Associate Professor of Art History at Blarghity Blargh University near the opposite coast. She cocked her chin and unfurled several minutes of words I had to Google from my seat. I made some notes: “Collapse distinction.” “Training for duty.” “Ossify.” “Liminal space.” She gestured toward a table of glued cement behind us and, like a small wave of confused constituents, we collectively turned to examine the evidence. In that moment, from beyond the street-front window, a mob of drunken Santas paraded by, banging on the glass as they passed. “The gods too,” wrote Aristotle, “are fond of a joke.”

28982-1395843844-Lot5_Paul_McCarthy

“Trans > Gum, 1998”
Lot Number 5
Silkscreen on chewing gum
10 x 8 in (25.4 x 20.32 cm)
by Paul McCarthy

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “Frankly, these days, without a theory to go with it, I can’t see a painting.” (Tom Wolfe)

Esoterica: I excused myself and stepped into the December air, walking towards what I thought might be the source of the Santas. Tall ones, short ones, grubby ones, old ones — Santas weaving in and out of traffic, jolly Santas, naughty Santas, Santas loitering outside the pubs and hotels. The sun dipped and the sidewalk thickened with red suits. “‘I am quite ready,’ answered the Emperor. ‘Do my new clothes fit well?’” wrote Hans Christian Andersen in The Emperor’s New Clothes. I pocketed my notes and, though missing my suit, slipped into the parade.

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79 Comments

  1. So sad and disappointing to see this dumbing down of art, but it goes along with the dumbing down of many facets of our society today. Excellence in anything other than accumulating large amounts of wealth seem to be scorned. Fixing problems seems to be outdated as well.

    • I understand your point of view, JoAnne. Doesn’t it make it just that more important to look for the beauty in anything, in any situation? Too me that is what art is for. Still, the definition of what is beautiful is fleeting and amorphous….and ultimately subjective.

      • #Luckyoldwoman — Well done, beautifully said. Thank You. For me I’m just learning to see beauty in everything. It is a challenge to go into the unfamiliar realms and brave to be able to express that which is against the mainstream. Having said that, I still have preferences, and as they say “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”
        Thank you, Sara, for this post.
        Peace. :-)

    • Thanks, Sara for your observations. SantaCo is a much more lively, interesting art experience than those found in many galleries. As an abstract painter, tra-digital lithographer and printmaker I thoroughly enjoy contemporary art making techniques. Experimental art is alive and well. The challenge of creating beautiful, meaningful art is not always the point of an artist’s expression; sometimes the artist’s, ‘creating-out-loud,’ is mistaken for a completed work of art, rather than, what it is. . .an exhibition of assembled possibilities. Like most processes to make, ‘a find,’ much chaff must be sifted and winnowed away, if we wish to reveal the few grains of gold, the hidden gem, the worthy prize.

    • Couldn’t agree more. The kids growing up now will never experience the things we’ve lost. They call this effect “the good ole days.”

    • Joanne, the post I did below was meant to be a reply to yours of 12/18/2015. I said, “Couldn’t agree more. The kids growing up now will never experience the things we’ve lost. They call this effect “the good ole days.”

  2. Sara thank you for a very meaningful post. I understand the desire by many artists to make a socially relevant statement with their art but it often leaves me scratching my head. I will not even go into my feelings about art critics. Again thank you and keep the conversation going.

    • Sara thank you for a very meaningful post. I understand the desire by many artists to make a socially relevant statement with their art but it often leaves me scratching my head. I will not even go into my feelings about art critics. While most of my success has been in wood carving , I do enjoy painting and greatly appreciate the work of others. Again thank you and keep the conversation going.

  3. Precisely! Every time I walk into a museum or gallery and see this type of display I think of The Emperor’s New Clothes!

  4. It seems as if the skilled artists and craftspersons are now the true “outsider” artists, whether self-taught or trained. They are making visual art that does not have to be propped up with theories and words.

  5. Clearly we are behind the times!

    Still, I rejoice that the local artisan’s group that rejected my slightly-abstract palette-knife landscapes has seen some of its members migrate from Andrew Wyeth-like detail to more relaxed style in just a couple of years. And some even allow watercolor-white by adding tempera on top.

    If you can believe it, though, they will not allow photographs unless they are taken with film! … possibly hand-printed in your own darkroom. We’re not even close to talking about the use of Photoshop.

    It would be interesting to try to define good craft vs. sloppy stupidity!

  6. Thanks for the great letter Sara.
    I was a conceptual artist in San Francisco in the 90s, and loved that world of the obscure and esoteric. Now in Colorado, I actually support myself as a lowly landscape painter – and don’t have to explain my work- which is at once, refreshing and maybe a little dull- but when I am tempted to take myself too seriously, it is good to remember – we are all players.

  7. Barbara Livingston on

    This reminds me of the time, many years ago, when I stopped in at the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati. It was my first time there. I walked up the staircase, following the sign to an exhibit and when I entered the room I glanced around and all I saw was a couple of long lengths of rope, seemingly just thrown on the floor with 2-3 builder’s cement blocks nearby. As I walked out I saw an attendant and commented that I was sorry I missed the exhibit since they had already taken it down. She replied, “Oh, that IS the exhibit.” That was my first and last visit to the Contemporary Art Center. They probably have had some fine exhibits over the years—at least I hope so—but I haven’t the time to waste on that kind of drivel.

    • On some level, that exhibit said that contemporary art is a racquet, fueled by people who earned expensive MFAs, but who have “the right” connections. So. co-opting art with money is an old, old story. Can we change that dynamic, I wonder.

      • I agree. A lot of the present contemporary Art and Installation Art is a collusion between Academia and Art dealers in order to add value to something which does not have intrinsic value. They are sustaining a multi-million dollar industry with obscure theories. And yet there should be a space for experimental Art. The problem in my view is that they have created a standard according to which they grade and judge all art. Makes me think of the “Salon” who opposed the French Impressionists. I believe that the pendulum will swing as the majority of people do not relate to this contemporary movement.

  8. The Emperor’s New Clothes analogy is so very apropos! Thanks for the excellent “expose” of much modern art. I can’t imagine why half the show would have sold out as collectors could just go to a landfill and get all those “pieces” for free! I clearly remember seeing the bed with blood on it in the Tate Modern some years ago and, as a fellow artist, just shaking my head.

  9. Sara –
    This is one of your best so far. The subject of International Art English, ie art world jargon is fascinating and repellant – though pretentious it seems to be important to master if only for satirization. I like how you commented on this without taking sides! Good writing, your Dad is chuckling on his cloud.

    • I agree Liz. Sara’s comment did not take sides. I like that too. And almost everyone commenting here read their own opinion into her words. Interesting. It certainly does stimulate conversation.
      There is just as much bad representational art as there is abstract, but people are more comfortable when they can label something, so in some minds abstract is bogus. I was a realist and surrealist for 40 years. Then I saw an abstract artist who blew me away: Josh Goldberg. I studied with him and now paint abstract. I love it. I still like great realism, but like great abstract art it’s hard to find.

    • Just for fun, here is a story I heard about Robert Arneson, the infamous sculptor from Davis/Sacramento CA. area. In one of his classes during the early 60’s he was watching a student trying desperately in vain to throw a decent pot. Arneson’s quip, “I wish I could do that!”

  10. Good essay, Sara! It’s so easy to forget that this “avant garde” is actually the “academy” now. They control art schools, the art press, elite galleries and museums. How can work with that kind of powerful and didactic support ever be cutting edge or experimental?

    All the artists that are now considered the iconic transitional figures–Giotto, Caravaggio, Cezanne, Monet, de Kooning, etc– came from outside their eras’ established art power structures. So it will be today.

    We don’t know yet who those artists are whose work will live into the future, but they probably won’t be today’s hottest and hippest, as defined by the powers-that-be. Hand-made, intimate, masterful, honest, intelligent, and heart-felt is what always lives on.

    • I remember very well many minimalists of the early 70s, so with the times.. so completely lost to their own history today, not even well-connected ones remembered. I’m not saying minimalism didn’t survive, but the sieve of time showed no mercy to most of its advocates. My point is this work reminds me of that work; yes, nihilistic in a way that was not, but the emotional tenor sets off the same alarm.

  11. If it sounds “artsy fartsy” it must be good. Here’s three bogus artist’s statements generated by a web app. Some people believed I was serious when I posted them. I think Art is sometimes an inside joke with galleries and critics.
    Artist Statement
    My work explores the relationship between the universality of myth and unwanted gifts.
    With influences as diverse as Rousseau and John Lennon, new tensions are created from both opaque and transparent structures.
    Ever since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of the zeitgeist. What starts out as hope soon becomes corroded into a dialectic of greed, leaving only a sense of chaos and the dawn of a new understanding.
    As momentary forms become frozen through frantic and personal practice, the viewer is left with a tribute to the limits of our world.
    Artist Statement
    My work explores the relationship between the universality of myth and romance tourism.
    With influences as diverse as Wittgenstein and Roy Lichtenstein, new synergies are manufactured from both constructed and discovered discourse.
    Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of the mind. What starts out as vision soon becomes debased into a tragedy of defeat, leaving only a sense of dread and the prospect of a new order.
    As wavering forms become distorted through frantic and critical practice, the viewer is left with a hymn to the darkness of our future.
    Artist Statement
    My work explores the relationship between emerging sexualities and counter-terrorism.
    With influences as diverse as Caravaggio and Buckminster Fuller, new variations are distilled from both simple and complex layers.
    Ever since I was a postgraduate I have been fascinated by the endless oscillation of the mind. What starts out as hope soon becomes finessed into a dialectic of power, leaving only a sense of failing and the possibility of a new beginning.
    As shifting replicas become distorted through emergent and repetitive practice, the viewer is left with a testament to the inaccuracies of our existence.

  12. This really was one of the best if not the best articles I have read about art. I have often said to myself that beauty was in the eye of the beholder. Somethings my mother used to say quite often. I, too, have visited many galleries and art exhibits only to be disappointed in the quality of works on display. Some objects, in my opinion were trash. Literally trash that needed to be thrown out. From the comments made above I can now see that I am not alone with many of my assessments. Thank you and keep them coming.

    • VICTORIA, YOU ARE CORRECT ABOUT TRASH…ART IS ART, AND TRASH IS TRASH, AND THE TWO ARE NOT CO-MINGLED, WITHOUT GLORIFYING REPUGNANT THINGS AND PEOPLE…WE SHOULD GLORIFY LIVING, IN OUR ART WORK, NOT TRASH,,,I’VE BEEN A REALISTIC OIL PAINTER FOR OVER SEVENTY YEARS, AND TOTALLY REPULSED BY RECENT SHOWINGS AT OUR GALLERY OF MODERN ART, ..IN NO WAY IS IT ART TO ME, OR ANYONE OF MY FELLOW ARTISTS.

  13. To all of us artists out here who think- this is ART and that is trash- you need to actually answer the question: What is ART? And yes- it’s an unanswerable question. And aren’t we all glad to our very core that we are not living in that time when what we make was dictated by culture- wealth- or worse- religion. You see- ART is anything and often everything. And some art is ‘good’ and some art is ‘bad’- judged by somebody. But in today’s ‘give every kid a trophy just for showing up’ world- finding an artist who is ONLY self-motivated to produce their particular version of ART- won’t be easy. Especially since none of us can handle the personal criticism- or the thought that we might not get what some other artist is saying. Since I’ve made completely abstract ART primarily out of textiles for more than 35 years- on a regular basis I still find someone call what I’m doing a quilt- even though it’s not sized to a bed and has no intention whatsoever of keeping your ass warm.

    • Bruce, I like what you said. Thank You. Indeed, “What is ART?” and what is beauty? Things are just things, neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so. Subjective! :-)

  14. Yes! So much conceptual art is just like the emperor’s clothes! Call me old-fashioned, but for me art is, mostly at least, about beauty. So this struck a chord, and in particular today as this morning on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme’s Thought for the Day the speaker, the Rt Rev Richard Harries, said that while beauty in art is currently unfashionable, since the time of Plato it has been seen as a way into the divine.
    He then gave this quote on beauty:
    “We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name whether they admit it or not can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.” Hans Urs von Balthasar (regarded as one of the greatest intellectuals and theologians of the 20th Century.)
    Gosh. Strong stuff.
    He finished by saying that a lovely sight can lift the heart and even suggest the possibility of beauty being at the heart of reality. Yes!

  15. In Paris in 1964, I attended a recital by a young composer. Of dazed and distracted appearance, he presented a selection of music which the trained musicians and composers in the audience found it difficult to understand or connect with. Unfortunately for the young composer, he started his recital with a selection of Bach.

    “If he hadn’t started with Bach,” chuckled a relieved pianist in the audience, “We would have been in doubt.” The Bach was poorly performed, and the young composer has never been heard from again. I suppose what I am trying to say is that artists who want us to believe that their mind-blowing inventions are well crafted and need to be taken seriously, had better give us some evidence of their skills and their knowledge of the traditions that have come before. Otherwise, we will be in doubt. But woe betide their artistic futures if they fail to demonstrate mastery of the basics and an understanding of the history of their craft. Picasso always could. He could practically do it blindfolded. So we take all his work seriously and learn from every mark he made.

  16. Narrative painting of the 80s and the rise of graffiti as art with their inflated price and importance, gave rise to important university fine art department’s collapse. Art education left the building. We now see the hollow fruits. who continue the trail of crime as today’s professors.

  17. This post made me think of Jean-Michel Basquiat…his work and life. Art is a form of communication. If you remember something you saw – even if you didn’t like it – then the work did it’s job. You can dismiss, criticize, be offended, inspired, puzzled. You are the observer of the visual thoughts of another artist – their “mind share”. Is art really just pretty pictures? Is life just pretty pictures? Do the colours in our life match? Can life be messy and disorganized? What is true for you? What should really go on your next canvas?

    • Nicely said, Barbara, and an important counter-point. We live in a world where everyone’s voice is part of a massive cacophony of sound and visual stimuli. Finding one’s voice, that can be heard above the fray, is a delicate and arduous task for the artist who is serious about her or his work. Beautifully or poorly conceived, successful or not, it is the voice of someone who trying to understand the world around them, their place in it, and brave enough to put themselves out there and say, “Here I am!” Time is the final arbiter, all the artist can do is put it out there.

  18. Whoa! And I thought St. George, Utah was stuck way back in the last century! The Southern Utah Art Guild,n150 members strong, just opened the Arrowhead Fine Art Gallery in the Electric Theater Complex on Tabernacle Street. We’re trying to introduce abstract art to a place encrusted and mired in time.

  19. Don’t worry, be happy! goes the song. I like Tom Wolfe’s quote that I parrot here, With no book-length theory to go along to explain the art, there is no art but forced originality through circus performance.

  20. Several years ago I realized that if someone felt that they had to describe the “meaning” of their work, and were disappointed our mad if you didn’t “get” it on your own, or came up with something that didn’t match what they were sure they were obviously portraying….that I just wasn’t interested. I have no problem with abstract or conceptual work and dabble myself in those arenas……but its my opinion that when you put something before the public it is between your work and the viewer, and for them to make of it what they will. I can’t remember the very famous artist who was asked to describe his work….and he said, I just paint. I leave the analyzing to others (paraphrasing)…I always appreciated that. People love to make make much ado about nothing….consider the pile of Do the Tate bought for several million. What??????? Thanks as always Sara….wishing you a Happy, Healthy and safe Holiday season

  21. Fine article , fine artist.
    Bill Cosby joke: “getting on the plane I have fun saying the thing no one will say : “hope da plane don’t crash” ”

    We all KNOW that it’s been about what is visual art, now that there is photography? Every work of art explores some aspect of this question, like it or not, because it is our truth. And since it is an expression of truth it has worth and is therefore worthy.

    But is it art?

    Happy Holiday

    your fan
    elle

    I am going to go skating a lot over the holiday if the weather permits -high as a kite that I can — on no substances at all! While in the city, my New Years Resolution – get a representing gallery.

    The new work is not yet there but will be by then.

    Exciting

    Elle Fagan Art does fun Stocking Stuffers…the Miniatures and the Blog at the site ellefagan.com have fun children!

  22. Yup, it’s hard not to note the current zeitgeist of anti-art; anti mastery, anti-beauty, ‘sloppy-craft’, DIY. Deeply frustrating to the sincere. But…curator, critic, gallerist, and investment BS aside….

    Perhaps for some artists it’s an authentic, even unconscious, response against our empty commodification of absolutely everything, including the intellectual and spiritual – of which the art ‘market’ is at the centre. Narcissistic, competitive, overpriced and arrogant. I’m sure many just hop on board, happy to play the ‘Emperor’s’ game, hoping to win the art lottery. Certainly it’s grist for the curators and critics mills. But for those genuinely trying to say something, or rail against the corporatation, the result is the snake eating it’s own tail, creation from destruction, and too often poorly done and boring. Truth is, anti-art is a cynical choice reflecting our cynical times. The only positive response can be to push at the pendulum yet again – take a stand, make your own beauty, and find a balanced way to make art in an unbalanced world.

    • While in agreement with much of what has been said
      I am also thinking of what Donald Judd said to his pupils
      “Don’t ask if it’s ART ask if it’s interesting.”
      So I suppose we need to make our individual cut on what
      we see. Artist’s statements tend to be post rationalizations
      of artspeak to justify what they conjure up in an effort to
      be different and “provocative”
      If you find it interesting then the mission has been accomplished
      otherwise it is tedious.

  23. NB Tom Wolfe was of course being ironic. His book ‘The Painted Word’ (now forty years old) was a breath of air through the contemporary art world of the time, ridiculing the pretentious and meaningless chatter surrounding it. Things are far worse now, but ‘The Painted Word’ is still an exhilarating read.

  24. Art, in my opinion, tells a story, makes you wonder what is the message? Abstract art is all about using space. Putting any number of things within a space for no apparent reason other than to fill a void. That is why abstract art is so easy and with that said, anyone can do it.

  25. In my mind big money art and wealthy connections and art politics have dictated what is in vogue…..I was pleased to see a resurgence of representational art in the last few decades. Part of this may be due to the fact that the aging population is returning to childhood passions and art materials are much more abundant, affordable and available. I’m hoping that trend will continue.

    Contemporary and abstract art can be wonderful or it can be trash. And those in the inner sanctum of the art elite make that decision and promote that work. Each individual must also make that decision and must choose their artistic path and be true to it. I never pursued an art career in my youth as I was schooled in the early 70’s and the academics of the time did not promote my vision or focus on the techniques needed to get there. Today as a hobbyist, not needing to support myself with art sales, I am freed of that stigma. I have nothing against academia and it is good to push ones limits but it is not good to squash the visions of those under your tutelage. (chip still on shoulder…LOL)

    Art should be from the heart and not the pocketbook. When I first started back to art I was thrilled to have someone want to purchase my work. It was like a validation of my creation. Ultimately though, I’m just thrilled to do my work. Thanks for an interesting article Sara. I have been enjoying “Painter’s Keys” for the past 10 years and look forward to them in my inbox.

  26. i went to an art exhibit in Akron . with supposedly modern art, it just seemed to me that if you look that hard to understand the arrangement of garbage in some kind of symbolism to make a statement, then we are looking to hard. as you say, you walk past garbage lined streets with homeless about and to me that portrays a more realistic yet not really art but life statement then it did to see the artist’s trash dumped in a heap on a stark white floor.. to me the space would have been better utilized by a budding conformist artist then some spoiled known artist receiving a showing for his lack of enthusiasm towards real art. in fact the space would have been better utilized by the homeless and make a real statement in living art. at least they would have been housed in the length of time the exhibit showed.
    in some ways i think art is spoiled by the scholars as they tell you what you need to see. when all along it is in your heart all you ever need to.

  27. I believe in expanding beyond the familiar; in exploring the limits and bending the rules. However, it seems that ego gets in the way and it appears that being noticed often gets in the way of creativity. There is a huge difference between “making” art and creating. Just to be different and controversial does not, in my opinion, make something noteworthy. Finding a means to express a depth of perception that touches upon the human spirit to inspire, is a great service in art. The seemy,dereliction that surrounds us these days is rife with opinion, conflict, fear and hopelessness. Why add to that? Touching upon the higher nature, the essential unifying core of existence in some way and expressing it is, to me, the work of the arts.

  28. Boy-Oh-Boy- are we all full of ourselves. Right here in River City. I just love the elite telling the elite what it means to be an elitist.
    Dear fellow artists- most on this list who are painters (and I can’t begin to express my opinion about what ‘painters’ have sometimes thought of me- but so what- who cares) what are you all thinking? There are 7+ billion humans on this planet. How many of them have taken the time- made creating their reason for existence- and struggled and suffered through whatever their life handed them- doing whatever it takes to PRODUCE their ART- at whatever costs were involved- out of that 7+ billion? Because I believe those numbers to be staggeringly mind-numbingly LOW.
    Dear GOD- why are we artists not celebrating every single person who is striving to produce ANYTHING- even if we don’t personally like it? Humans are brain-dead- asleep to their connection to the Universal Creative Spirit- to SOURCE. They’re born- and they die asleep- all the while thinking that whatever they’re doing is somehow important. What is important? CREATING.
    I do believe it matters if you- as an artist- can’t explain what you are doing. But it doesn’t matter if you- as a fellow human- don’t GET IT. Why do you even think you should get it?
    We all come from different backgrounds- and some of those backgrounds are filled with the horror of man’s inhumanity to man. So why would you think- if you’ve had a pampered life- that you would ever get the ART coming from someone who’s never experienced anything but strife. You want to get that? Walk ten thousand miles in their shoes. And if you can’t be bothered- then what- really- do you have to say?
    Dear landscape painters. You are BORING. (Sorry Robert.) You paint the same landscapes every other landscape painter has painted- ad nauseum- and people love you and they love your paintings and they buy your landscapes- and what have you contributed to the advancement of both your creative abilities and the damn human species with another landscape? Really. Even if it is beautiful. NOTHING. Any fool can paint a landscape. It’s right there in front of you. Darn it all- was that a little harsh?
    Selling my abstract ART- is important to me. Selling OUT is not. You wanna be a good artist? Work your entire life at it and you will be. And you still won’t be guaranteed that anybody other than you gets it. But judging the work of other artists who are also trying to create something interesting and maybe even beautiful- is not your job. And besides- THEIR definition of beauty and YOURS may be completely different. And you can’t control that- or them- and you have not lived their life. Some artists have to produce work that expresses other aspects of the human experience- not just pretty f*cking pictures to hang over your g*ddamned couch. And quite frankly- they deserve a certain amount of RESPECT for just doing it in the face of what are often- impossible odds.
    But don’t listen to me. Just go paint another pretty picture.
    If you’ve studied any native american spirituality- you may have run across the suggestion that we artists are all walking the Sacred Path of Beauty. I certainly am- and always have. But my manifestation of beauty involves mind-blowing pattern combinations- things that vibrate so confoundingly that you can barely look at them- multiple layer-on-layer textures- and anything that undermines the TRADITIONS of what most people see as normal- related to my materials. I’m an odd fiber OpArtist- and people hated OpArt. I’m still creating.
    The emperor- that challenges the common perception that there’s something wrong with (public) nudity- GETS MY VOTE.

    • I agree with much that you say. Being closed-minded about styles and subjects other than our own isn’t the way to grow as an artist. But Sarah’s essay isn’t about abstraction vs. representational art, or landscape painting vs. everything else. It’s about the art world elite and what they choose to anoint as valuable art. They can’t be both outsider/avant-garde and academy/elite at the same time, as much as they would like to be.

  29. Well….what to write? I first heard Bruce Wilcox’s argument in pretty much those exact words when I began painting interior of woods paintings as an undergrad at the Maryland Institute in 1969. After two years of exposure to several priests and disciples of the religion of “avant- gardism” I found the aesthetic arguments and rationale, and the mindset of self importance that accompanied it to be rather shallow and vacuous. When I set out to paint so called” landscapes”, it was partly with the purpose of striving for something of substance. Yes there had been thousands of “landscapes paintings”. Yes of those many were just more of the same old same old. However after a few adventures in making “avant -garde- neo- dadist -anti-dadist and conceptual works” I realized that that game boiled down mostly to being about” being clever for the sake of being clever” and getting attention, without making much effort into a true and intense commitment to anything or to exploring the greater meanings possible when one sets out to make art….or just to make a landscape painting. For me the issue of painting a “landscape” was: “if landscape is a cliche….then maybe the greatest challenge facing an artist/painter in the end of the twentieth century might be to paint so called cliches in such a way as to give the genre a new depth of meaning. Not just a new “style-ism, but indeed some strong personal depth of meaning. If you note I’ve been putting quotation marks around all those category and ism names. For myself, I have learned that the highest goal in any endeavor, especially in context to art, is to go beyond categories. … to go beyond this pervasive game of human nature to put everything in neat boxes and give them all convenient names so we can all talk and write about this ism or that ism, or his style or her mannerism with some common point of understanding. However useful for general purposes all these isms may be, and stylistic arguments, they do next to nothing in themselves to advance wisdom or even understanding about the true nature of art ….or more importantly – the NATURE OF BEING. All painting and art is “expressive”, “abstract” and “real” and “conceptual-ism”. Except within the arena of new technologies for making “art”, there is nothing new. Anyone who thinks they are saying something about art that Marcel Duchamp had not already clarified should think again. After Duchamp all the discussion is mute. It is only in the nature of the individual works themselves that any “contemporary artist” can say anything worthwhile – think Vietnam War Memorial in Washington. Anyone who thinks their great inventiveness in being a “cutting edge” or “controversial” artist who is “redefining the artistic paradigm” for our time is of great significance could be said to be lost within the self delusion created by the 100 year acceptance of the religion of “avant-gardism”. The controversies and lauds over a Jeff Koons are as much pure foolishness when compared with the deaths and destruction of warfare in the Middle East, as was the absurdity of blocks of ice on the steps of the Baltimore Museum of Art spelling the word “MELT” when compared to images from the Vietnam War on the evening news every night in the sixties and seventies. Self anointed so called “significant artists” are often only prancing their egos in self acclaimed intellectual profundity imagining their art will somehow going to make the world a better place. For many, they are no different than so many Pop Music entertainers scrambling become the next Madonna, or Michael Jackson….etc. So much of the so called “Contemporary Art World” has become nothing but a duplicate of the Pop Music and Hollywood “Celebrity Challenge” game. ” What can I do to get my picture on the cover of Art News”.
    Art about Art for the sake of Art is a closed circuit, which becomes a cliche about a cliche. However the work of painters, or poets, or writers, or anthropologists ( Loren Eisely) whose works become the “by-products” of a life spent in a genuine search of and in celebration of the “Magic of Being” and the Miracle of Existence can serve as models to society and to individuals showing a path by which life itself can be an experience of wondrous adventure,,,,,,They serve as models of how “Acts of Cultivated and Skilled Perception and Response-Able Action” can add to the glory of life.

  30. Cor Blimey Sara, what a can of worms you have opened up here. Just love your prose and your sentiments. I was so fortunate to have been tutored by an “old School ” tutor, with hours of life classes. There truly is no better training if you want to be a serious painter. The rest of them who don’t want to paint? Well who cares…… Happy Christmas Sara, and may 2016 bring all you desire.

  31. Sara, You certainly hit the nail on the head!!! I didn’t read all of the comments (so many) but I did not see anyone speak about Art Basel-Miami. I attended Art Miami (a large venue in Wynwood) and Art Basel Miami. I was blown away by the quality and creative achievements in the art making at the Art Miami site-the atmosphere was welcoming, fun and inventive. We went to the Art Basel site in the afternoon-a totally different experience. Unwelcoming, there was a lot of art represented, and I admit that some was very inventive and intriguing but there was so much art focused on the male anatomy (and I’m not talking about figure painting) and so much art that was difficult to understand or appreciate .
    I wonder if perhaps this type of venue that is thought of as being the “best of the best” and I consider much of it to be the “worst of the worst”-does this set the tone for expectations. Who makes these decisions?

  32. Thank you, Sara, for a wonderful post. I remember so well reading The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe in the 1970’s. Love the quote from that book! You are a skilled writer whose work I look forward to.

  33. Feb28Krazykhalid noone will really know if he was adopted or not, i heard about that while ago though… basically the same story as above ^ HHz was kicked out of his house and dov took him in, they made music, and he used HHz as a cash cow..

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