Archive for the ‘Art’ Category
“All profoundly original work looks ugly at first.” – Clement Greenberg
“All ugly work looks ugly at first.” – Anonymous
“Frankly, these days, without a theory to go with it, I can’t see a painting.” – Tom Wolfe
The surrounding lines and colored quadrangles are “works” by Piet Mondrian. They speak.
“The notion that the public accepts or rejects anything in modern art … is merely romantic fiction….The game is completed and the trophies distributed long before the public knows what has happened.” – Tom Wolfe
Observe the descent or rise of art from Modernists to Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art to Op Art to Minimalism. Take Neo-Plasticism, originating 100 years ago, Mondrian, and the De Stijl art movement. Then Pollock, Rothko, Frankenthaler et al, competent but not good enough, they explored other directions. Their ilk repeats versions of the same with “individual” flourishes, moving art, supposedly, as the elite collect and promote. The debate is whether this advances society. Tom Wolfe , to paraphrase from The Painted Word, noted that 400 art critics suffice to create enough steam for an artist to become absolutely rich, but for the literary artist, no matter how beautiful the written word, without mass appreciation there is little hope for financial success.
“But nobody is visually naïve any longer. We are cluttered with images, and only abstract art can bring us to the threshold of the divine.”― Dominique De Menil, The Rothko Chapel: Writings on Art and the Threshold of the Divine
Brief Bio Part II – More Boring Stuff: (From Brief Bio I) While in New York my father, in the Navy Reserves, was called to active duty and sent to Taiwan and then Saigon. My mother, at the time, was a grad student at Columbia and writing her dissertation with perhaps six months of work to attain her Ph.D. She chose to postpone her degree and join my father in a decision that can be seen as a metaphor for much of her work. She never finished her dissertation. My mother stayed in Taiwan, where she taught Mandarin at the Taipei International School.
Competition: But how does having an “EBD” (Everything but dissertation) become a metaphor? Because my mother lacks the gene that drives successful artists to create until completion. In previous posts my mother has taken on Paul Doran, Helen Frankenthaler, and Clyfford Still, and her technique has handily defeated them. However, beating those three replicates an adult winning a tennis tournament against 8-year-olds. To paint better than Pollock or Rothko or Motherwell eludes the point. Their whole shtick depends on the shock value of not aspiring to the heights of technique. When it comes to abstract expressionism and similar disciplines, mental energy focuses on conceptual ambiguities that escape the interest of many, and thus comparing Beatrice Powell to them is, as I like to hammer redundantly and self-indulgently, comparing Apples to Orangutans. (Apples and orange are both round sweet fruit, they are similar, so why not compare apes to apes and fruit to fruit and find a new cliché?) I do not respond to Pollock & company, but I realize that many people do, thus the exorbitant pricetags of their work. And this pisses me off.
Anyway, I diverge and die…gress. I’m trying to pay homage to the greatest painters. How would my mother fair against, say, Pieter Bruegel the Elder?
Bruegel suffered to paint. His life was his art, it was not a hobby, a part time whim or fancy; art consumed him 100% of the time. He kept painting, seeking an illusive redemption. There is no romanticizing or exaggeration, in the 45 years or so that he lived, and by the less than 50 canvasses that remain of his work from the 16th Century, he became, without hyperbole, a master.
My mother, ah, my mother. Look at her two paintings sandwiched between the Bruegels. The “Half-Castle” illustrates her unfinished “finished” painting. ”Caricatures” is a hoot, but the white spaces remain. These watercolors show how she often loses the fire and hunger mid-painting. My mother has not suffered to paint. She is happy. This can lead to complacency and, dare I say, laziness. She has had moments of dedication and hunger and study, especially in her youth, but as with her Ph.D., art was never that important too her. She chose family and happiness, and I love her for that. Who could blame her? I admire her talent, and yet, the artist in me wonders where she would be if she had been consumed more by art.
“The fact that the latest round of proposals for the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square included Tracey Emin’s idea for a little group of sculpted meerkats as “a symbol of unity and safety” reconfirms what everyone already knows: that it is possible to gain a reputation as a serious and important artist on the basis of work devoid of seriousness and importance.” – Geoff Dyer
Manu vs. Tracey Emin
The other day at 24-Hour Fitness we’re warming up shooting hoops, and my friend Manu walks in, bouncing a ball, gyrating his hips, doing his best Sir Mix-A-Lot, saying, “There’s a girl outside dribbling a ball like she’s practicing for the bedroom. Woo! Woo!” My man Jerome starts cracking up as if this is the second coming of Eddie Murphy. I tell them, “I don’t know who I’m more pissed off at, Manu for telling that turd, or Rome for laughing at it.” Now, Manu’s a cool dude, he has game, and on the humor side his delivery ain’t bad, he’s got a certain shmoo quality worth a chuckle, but he’s a long way from auditioning for comedian. But Rome or anyone laughing at such schlock only encourages more schlock and gives Manu the illusion he is funny. Don’t encourage schlock!
This same dynamic is at work in art such as that by Tracey Emin and her posse of overrated artists, the weird, rich, anti-talented doofs that somehow garner attention and money. It goes back years, to the befuddling success of Warhol, Pollock (Yankee Pot Roast captures my opinion), Frankenthaler, Still, etc. I classify Tracey Emin as a parallel mystery.
Vice Magazine, an international site read by millions, satirized Emin: I’m Sick of Pretending: I Don’t “Get” Art. The visuals displayed didn’t need captions, and the finale cogently illuminated the difference between art and “art.” (See: I Still Don’t “Get” Art & OK, Do It: Teach Me How to “Get” Art)
Big Other, a literary “agree-fest,” questioned Vice author Glen Coco with: “I Don’t Get Art.” Basically, Vice Mag demolished Tracey Emin, and Big Other man James Todd Adcox volleyed with a ”don’t make fun of art unless you try to understand and engage” shtick balanced with a “people take pride announcing that they don’t get art. It’s a particularly easy way of being culturally brave.” No. It’s a way of being fucking sane. Now, I enjoy the crew at Big Other, and drop in on the blog every now and then, but really bad art needs to be called out.
Sure, Vice was unsophisticated, but so? The artist needs to hone in on what should be taken seriously, what promotes culture and humanity, and what doesn’t. What Geoff Dyer said. Tracey Emin lowers the bar, her work should be execrated, desecrated, and eviscerated. Vice didn’t go far enough. I’m angry at Big Other in the same way I’m angry at Rome. Don’t encourage schlock!
This post has four pictures, two of them are painted by Helen Frankenthaler, an abstract expressionist who achieved no small amount of attention. She passed away on December 27, 2011. And here are two self-explanatory examples of her art, which I’ll call ”Blue” & “Yellow.” Pleasant, indeed, but worthy of greatness? The paintings above and below are the work of one of her unknown contempories, Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell, aka Cove Loon, aka Mom. Frankenthaler achieved fame and attention, yet comes from a period that I simply do not get. She counts artists such as Jackson Pollock among her influences. This is problematic, Pollock is not great. Certainly, he is among the many of her contemporaries that have changed & influenced art, but I would argue that they have not advanced art. They’ve lowered the aesthetic bar, added elements that take away from pursuits of beauty and meaning and replaced them with simplicity. Often I think the art world has gone nuts, and rewarded people not on skill or talent or aesthetic but on random chance and marketing. Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Paul Doran, Arshile Gorky, Damien Hirst, Lee Krasner, Dale Malner, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Andy Warhol, et al somehow managed to replicate pop culture or fill a niche or fund bizarre projects as they spread globs of paint on canvas or as they manufactured junk into a visual display; their art is craft or promotion. Am I an unsophisticated lout who has no appreciation of art? That usually is a defense artistes wage against detractors, fair enough, but I have grown up amidst art, am familiar with the art historians, and think that for an artist to be great, one of the criteria is that they must have talent.
As far as Frankenthaler’s art, intuitively and with a further and deeper glance, I do not see why her paintings have value. Her art does not interest me, I pass it by and look for something else.
This brings me to my mother, and do not think I imply that she should be famous. Her talent is worthy of greatness, but her output, ambition, drive, complacency et al have hindered her overall body of work. She is exactly where she should be in the art world, someone who is appreciated by family and friends. Nevertheless, take a look at the art within this post. What would you rather have on your wall?
“Aisha and I paddled a canoe between willows at the edge of Lake Washington, amidst spring flowers pink and yellow. She described herself as a liberal Muslim. We fell in love; became engaged. Then she said we could not marry unless I converted. For it is haram. Not permitted in Islam. And so Aisha requested I go to mosque…”
My mother studied Fine Art at Cooper Union in New York City, and has painted oil and watercolor all her life. She started visiting Copenhagen during the four years her daughter, my sister, lived off Fredericksburg Alle, and painted many scenes of Copenhagen. Here is another – Havfruen, Nyhavn 2005:
The original Chinese character for love placed ‘heart’ – 心, inside ‘receive’ – 受, to form ’love’ - 愛. Thus the meaning of love was to receive a heart. Today, though, the character has a horizontal line where the heart had been:
Though the linguists in Chairman Mao’s China might not have had any intent of taking the heart out of love when they simplified the writing system, the tragic recent politcal history of China indicates differently. This removal is more than a sentimental metaphor for the losses sustained by China in the latter half of the twentieth century, where complete obedience was dictated by the state, and any chance of caring or loving was poisoned by insanity, evil, and cowardice. The Chinese under Mao suffered greatly during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, and this amounted to a debasement of humanity. In the worship of Mao, in kowtowing to his goons, love meant to receive a line, the communist party’s line.
See Love: An Etymology at decomP.