Friday, December 08, 2006

Rauschenberg vs. Klein: HAPPENING Head to Head

The Pompidou Center in Paris set up an interesting juxtaposition. Yves Klein is long dead(1962)so we can only guess how he would have felt about it. Rauschenberg on the other hand, must have been amused if he made the trip. It wasn't subtle.

Historically speaking, Rauschenberg has nothing to worry about. He's a supernova in his own lifetime, a heavy hitter, a HEAVY weight. Yves Klein is not in his class. Still, "comparing and contrasting" the two, as we are invited to do by the French art establishment, was inevitable. Impossible to avoid. So pull out your score cards and let us begin!

Rauschenberg looked great. I mean GREAT. Beautiful work, beautiful installation. Rock solid. If not all the pieces we've come to know and love, most of them were there. By Job he looked like the master! Rauschenberg 1, Klein 0

Next door, however, Klein immediately took the advantage. SURPRISE? He was given the nicer space. Larger rooms, more beautiful and better flowing space, and windows, which let the space breathe. Rauschenberg's space felt like a closet. So chalk one up for the Frenchman. Klein 1, Rauschenberg 1

The thing about Rauschenberg looking great was a double-edged sword, unfortunately. The work looked too museum worthy despite its whole "happening" history. It certainly seemed "happening" in its day, but now it looked more calculating, like he knew exactly what he was doing. Klein, on the other hand, looked positively breezy; alive; daring; even hit or miss. But his hits looked fresh from the market, even today. Score a big one for Klein! What a surprise!

Most of this work is from the Fifties and early Sixties. I won't talk about what that means. Museums( the Louvre is close by) have a way of looking like mausoleums. Rauschenberg ended up looking like Rembrandt, not like anything we might find in one of the ICAs of the world. We might learn from him the way we would learn from Poussin. Maybe even down on our knees in front of the master. Now maybe it was the installation, the lighting, but the work looked that old and yellowed. Is that bad? It felt that way. Again, I was surprised and disappointed. I remember going to the Johns show at the old MoMA and feeling like the light had gone out of the work, work I loved. These guys had been heroes of mine as a teen in the Sixties. But not Klein. He seemed like some kind of showman/charlatan, giving his peers a bad name.

I have to add quickly that the taste question is another surprise. You figure the Frenchman is the one who is going to get bogged down in such bloody good taste. NO! Rauschenberg is the surprisingly tasteful one, it is just so hard to see past his rebellious nature. The work looks downright ugly most of the time, but the taste quotient is through the roof. Everything is so tastefully considered(too?) it is a wonder he could find the time to do what he did. The taste is furious! Fast as a cake walk. NOTHING is left to chance. Everything is immaculately considered. Calculated. Made to get him past or around or even up with de Kooning, Rothko, and Pollock.

Now Klein looked pretty damned good. Not at first, mind you. Still in the glow of Rauschenberg he looked shallow. Flat. One-dimensional. The same over and over again. Even slick. But then something happened I could not get around. Something I couldn't dismiss to preserve my old hero.

There is a famous picture of Klein that the Pompidou Center used to advertise the exhibition. They put it on posters, cards, and books. It shows him flying out the window with the sidewalk waiting for him. It it positively glorious. Icarus. His head is held high and thrusting forward, arms spread like wings to his sides, back arched and body behind him like a bird. It is the picture of the artist. The individual. The fool. The hero. The artist. Everything that it means. It is wonderful!

That thing I couldn't get around was that in Klein's paintings, almost prints, made by rolling naked women(yes, so FRENCH!) in his signature blue paint(IKB) and then on blank canvas, things did happen! Real accidents, visual mysteries that you couldn't put a finger on, just experience. These were REAL happening paintings. Yes, Klein was a conceptual artist, one of the first of his age, and not a painter, per se, but these paintings are paintings precisely because they are light as a feather. With a whimsical detachment that frees them. Almost like the sort of thing that kids make with spin art. Crap shoots. The kinds of things people find too easy to dismiss. Too just beautiful. But they got me. They flew through the air. THEY SOARED! Surrendering to them was an experience that slapped me in the face like a biting winter wind. And it woke me up! With a smile. I needed that! But maybe that's not art.

Maybe Rauschenberg wins for art. Maybe he IS the master. And maybe Klein was just a life thing. Too caught up in his blue freedom to carve out his place in art history. But give me life everytime!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Andre and Smith: Americans in Paris

What to make of these two out in front of the Louvre. David Smith and Carl Andre. Sr. and Jr. The Modernist leading the way to Minimalist. Smith taking up the torch of European Modernism(read Picasso), and Andre, what, the dead end, the killer, the cold hard last stop, the bridge too far. Ironically Andre looked the more comfortable of the two. Hiding in the grass. Snake in the grass. Cool. Elegant. Safe. Coiled. Invulnerable. Smith much more human, of course. How could he not be? Bold. And again, ironically, looking more American. A little awkward. Ill-fitting suit. A little showy. So the pioneer American sculptor looking a little out of place. As it should be. Andre, the preppie from Andover, very smart. Very smart. Too smart for his own good, thus he painted himself into a corner with his “floor tiles,” and really left himself nowhere to go. Really jumped with both feet fast and hard, claiming the turf for himself, but unlike LeWitt, unable to reinvent himself. More the sculptor, less the conceptualist. It is the old issue of “brand” and “branding” that gets so many artists in trouble. Establish the brand and you’ve got it made. Establish the brand and unleash the curse. The beginning end the end. Stella had a second act. Pretty amazing.

David Smith, of course, like Pollock, clearly transcended and repaid his debt to Picasso. The spring board that turned swan dive in both cases. Both, however, enjoyed unfolding and evolving bodies of work. They did not just happen. Abstract Expressions was the “happening.” The ing was important. Andre’s work, like Intelligent Design, just happened. Didn't evolve like Smith. Made it more godlike and not Darwinian. More arrogant. More elite, and thus less approachable. Another reason Smith suffers a more human appearance by contrast. Andre’s grey flannelled cool from on high. Smith’s jaunty free spirit/maverick out alone in the universe, facing the elements on Bolton Landing.

Although they made unlikely companions, their association was fruitful. Americans in Paris. Old School and newer Old School. A thousand light years from Delacroix. They always say artists from different periods, from the past, would recognize their equals. I don’t necessarily agree. Issues of form can be transcendant, but other qualities may not be so sympathetic, and may not travel so well. Greatness as a transcendent force smacks of a kind of clubby elitism. Who decides? Delacroix was so “hot” and pushed the Romantic discourse so far left. Hard to deny something pretty great there. Andre is so classical, so right, so conservative really. I don't think he'll make it. Smith is out on his own. Out in space. Classical and Romantic at once. Maybe somewhere in between, maybe outside the discourse. Greatness in his bones. A free man in Paris.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Mystical Bits

Last night I was captivated by an airing of a lecture by Richard Dawkins at a southern women's college on C-Span. After the inevitable "now what?" let-down of the elections, whose outcome was of course very pleasing, this was just the ticket. An English gentleman lecturing about the absurdity of God and God-beliefs in small town America. While he had an excellent audience that was academic, and by and large very supportive, he was NOT singing to the choir. We are at times a nation of church-going, God fearing, mindless lemmings. This was fascinating. What was amazing at that moment was how civil he was most of the time. What was also amazing was that the questions were not all ridiculous. It was a very good dialogue for television. Much better than all the recycled tripe on Hardball! It would make a GREAT television show! This is something people are REALLY curious about. What do they believe? Are there alternatives? What if you like some of the rituals, community elements, and even some of the people, but don't adhere to the beliefs for a second? I suspect that there are a lot of these people. There better be! There are also people that are excluded from those things because they don't believe.

Why am I writing about this? What does this have to do with art? First of all, plenty, and second of all, because I have a few questions of my own, thank you very much.

Richard Dawkins is a supporter of the Brights' Net movement. Brights are essentially Atheists. Bright is intended to be a positive term for Atheists along the lines of the term Gay, and what it did for the same-sex movement. And we are talking movement. A political force if you will. Why? Because religion is controlling the discourse, not only in this country, but around the world! So naturally I am right on board.

The Brights will tell you right up front that:

"Our nations, cultures, politics, genders, occupations, interests, and so on differ widely. However, we are generally "“in sync" with one another because we share a worldview that is free from supernatural and mystical elements. We are set apart in a broad sense from those who have worldviews that embrace such elements, whether entities such as deities, or forces, or both."

First of all I think it's great what they are doing. It is a big thing. It is a good thing. A very distant second thought is that I don't think you can have a movement that is defined by what it is not. Well, maybe you can, but it is reactionary in nature then, and at a distinct disadvantage when trying to hold it's own against the fanatics. On the other hand quibbling about that it is like standing in front of the Grand Canyon and arguing about the color of the shoe laces on your boots. Again, this is a big thing. A good thing. So although I have a problem with the "free from" thing figuring up front so prominently, it is a minor issue.

How does this figure into art? Art for art's sake. That says it all. I believe Brights' Net is merely "Life for life's sake." THAT says it all. Very positive. What art for art's sake meant was precisely the same thing in that "free from" was implicit. Art for art's sake paved the way for Abstraction, which was self-identical, about itself, of itself, etc. and I think that this is relevant to the discussion of being Bright. Abstraction IS the real. No illusion. Real color, real line, real paint, real form, real real. Bright is the same. Real. Reality. No illusions. No false references. Natural law. No pointing over there; but instead looking right here, right now, sober and clear eyed and yes, free from supernatural and mystical elements. It is a commitment to free-thinking; finding reasonable explanations for what we don't understand instead of inventing myths and relying on superstition to ease our pain and confusion.

This is a very positive thing. For so long now we've been trying to fix religion. Reform it. Create new ones. Those of us who rejected it altogether in favor of Life, life for life's sake, were disenfranchised, shouted down, alienated. Richard Dawkins is the kind of voice in the wilderness that David Hume was, the big difference being that Dawkins is out talking about it with people, people all over the world. HE is BRAVE. David Hume didn't have to remember too far back to when people were burned alive for being merely reasonable.

There is no fixing religion. We've tried that. People who want the sense of community, the comfort of rituals, the interaction, the sense of belonging, the sanctuary, need to seek a more reasonable solution. (Ironically religion involves a ridiculous amount of imagination--too much!) Reasonable imagination would do. Bright is a brilliant and imaginative alternative.

I've always felt very positive about art. Some people think it can be a religion. It is something better. It is a place that demands that we look and feel and think about the world around us, and then take that and celebrate it.Wartss and all. That we appreciate it! That we do it HARD! It locates us where we are, when we are, how we are and what we are. Even who and why we are. The path. The true path. The razor's edge. Accepting the challenge. Embracing the challenge. Keeping it real. Always learning. Always taking the hard fork in the road. True. No mystical bits. Just LIFE. Sounds pretty Bright to me.

That said, what does it mean? That said, what someone wants to believe or not believe is their business. No exceptions. So getting all excited about a reasonable world is just as absurd as believing in the Easter Bunny. Life is not reasonable. Reasonable, like every other ideal is, up to us. Like justice or charity or civility. How many times have I been wrong trying to right a wrong. Makes me shudder to think. My shoulders bunch up and a wave of "sorry" comes over me. Two wrongs. Wrong every time. I already regret ragging on religion.

It is hard to treat love reasonably. I've seen it done, and the results were anything but reasonable. I'm not even sure it's worth trying to accomplish. Reasonable is not warm. Reasonable is not comfortable. Not supposed to be. But don't we need comfort. Am I going to deny the comfort religion, with all its supernatural and mystical elements, can bring to the lonely, the poor, the lost, the confused, the downtrodden, the betrayed, the forgotten, the abandoned, and misunderstood? After all, who knows? It is very hard to practice the reasonable, even for those who preach it, just like it is hard for those who preach virtue. For every priest or evangelical who fail themselves and the ones they were meant to love and protect, there are the reasonable ones who go down in flames obsessing over some crush. Something they can't control. I've seen it. I've seen Oxford Dons taken down by aninfatuationn that was anything but reasonable. So so much for the church of reason. Fact is, we're on our own, and where ever we find sanctuary, well, any port in a storm. Good night and good luck!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Express your YES!

Express your yes! This means having a positive attitude about what you do, what you believe, what you support, what you dream. It does not mean being defensive about these things. That's a no. Zidane. Don't Zidane anyone or yourself for what you do, believe, support, dream. The headbutt is not the answer. Yes is the answer. Don't let a jerk make a jerk out of you. Yes is the answer. Is it hard? You bet. It is the only way to go? Absolutely.

You see it with those in the extreme everywhere. They explode or implode. Yes is the answer. If you are an artist, give yourself the yes you need and leave the no behind. When you do the no, the rebel, you join yourself at the hip to the thing you are trying to get away from. Yes keeps you free. Are there consequences? Yes. Are they worth the price? Absolutely. When you have that yes you are always ready to go your own way. No is a negative force the way defense is a negative force. Who can tell who is the good guy and who is the bad guy in a fight. No one. It stinks. Peace. Yes. When you get involved with fighting war, you are Zidane. You've stepped in shit. You become part of the shit. For what it's worth, as an artist, you also spare yourself the incessant need to put other artists down to lift yourself up, which is a defensive and negative action. You will free yourself from that game, the need to opine, the need to be strident, and the yes will restore your energy in a positive and creative direction, so that you can be your true self, true TO yourself, and your work, and others!

I did not rebel against school when I was a boy. I just didn't give it power over me because I had too many other things that were important to me, that I wanted to do, that I had a yes for. Did I suffer the consequences as far as the school was concerned. Of course. I didn't care. I had a great life. School sucked. I gave it no more than was required by law. Of course school doesn't have to suck, but there is no getting around that it is a breeding ground for bullies, children AND adults(teachers, administrators, custodians, etc.). All of this is hard. The only way to flourish, to grow, to be happy, to do something truly good, is to express your yes!

Friday, October 06, 2006

On Paper

You know the sports aphorism that if games could be won on paper then there would be no point in playing them. The truth is that not only do they not get won on paper, but that this is the whole point of playing the game. As much as we try to achieve things on paper, and there are people dedicated to figuring out how to make that happen, it just doesn't make any difference. If you can't factor in everything( you can't), and all it takes is one unfactored event, well... then the best laid plans of mice and men...

Does this happen in the art world? ALL THE TIME! Does it frustrate people? YOU BET!

Do you get it? Well, you see it with designers, architects, engineers, etc, all the time. They conceive it on paper and then in REAL life: it sucks. EVERY TIME! About thirty years ago someone in the art world coined the phrase: site-specific(ten years before that it was just called "going with the flow"). I don't know who. Who are you? It was like identifying gravity. There all along, but someone gave it a name. We're good at that. Anyway, there you have it: site-specific. What does that mean?

Well, in the art world it was limited. Limited to a specific site( a gallery, a museum, a landscape, a city space, etc.--it spawned what we now know of as Installation Art). It meant that all the decisions that went into making something happen, into making a work, a work of "art," were made in that particular time and space, in the place where it would exist--as much as humanly possible. Unfortunately, as a result of this limitation, in the end it was naturally limited to this specific idea and experience. But the real meaning is much larger. When you create something within the space(and time!) it is meant for, rather than on a drawing board somewhere, you feel the space, you rely on feeling the space, and you respond to everything about it. You don't just see it in your mind's eye, you feel the energy around and between things, below and above things(this means light and temperature, and sound, and color and texture, as well as history and function and so much more), and you not only surrender to it, you embrace it, you honor it, you serve it, you celebrate it( all the feng shui rules and recipes can't cover it--you have to BE there)! And that is huge! A huge difference, and huge distinction, a huge chasm between the two. It makes all the difference in the world.

This figuring stuff out on paper plays out everywhere. On Wall Street, in the Pentagon, in Fashion, and as I said, in Sports--and in the minds of people young and old. How many times did I go out with someone who was great on paper and a dud in real experience. MY FAULT. No one else's. They weren't really a dud, just not the person for me. I never listened to my feelings. I remember that Richard Tuttle tried to explain this to me but was ill-equipped because he hadn't quite put it together. He put it in terms of doing the best thing instead of the right thing, the right thing being, I guess, right on paper. The other thing, the best thing, had to do with this larger idea of site-specific. It is not just being "in the moment." Even that is too limited.

This is larger. The sort of stuff when you put time and space together. You can see a long way, and a long way AROUND. Shades of Vonnegut. Is there something to be said for paper? Maybe, but I can't really say one way or the other. What it reminds me of is when I was moonlighting(Addison) as a young art critic. People would tell me what their work was about "on paper" and all I wanted to say was "Huh?" And then when I asked them what was really going on they would explode from inside with all this emotional stuff. None of this "juxtaposition" crap. The same was true when they showed me their sketches. All I could think was: wow! this is where it really happened--the finished piece is just an empty shell. As a result, I tend not to do sketches, ever really. I try to make it all happen it the work. It either happens right there or it doesn't. Have I done work I liked from sketches. Yes, but mostly because something ELSE happened.

I know this is a little different, but it is connected.

I saw a card for a show called SHOCK. Hello? Talk about setting yourself up for a fall! You've given it all away on so many levels, surprise being a critical one. It is like telling someone you're going to hide behind a door and say boo! SCARY! Also connected.

I heard yet another artist ragging about how all the work(except THEIRS!) really sucks. Because someone else is showing or selling or getting written up-- and not them. It is not supposed to be this way: ON PAPER!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Guilty As Charged!

Politicians forget that they are pubic servants. Service people forget that they are there to help. Teachers forget that they are charged with the care of young people's dreams(as a father of four I am only TOO aware of this). The power goes to their heads. They like being in charge; not being charged with a responsibility. The destruction these people cause can be devastating.

I had mostly lousy teachers(and I was a lousy student, thank goodness, because we moved a lot and I fell through the cracks, and to a large extent remained unschooled). We were stuck in school; they were stuck in jobs. There were times that I taught because I needed a job. Were there times when I made mistakes as a teacher. ABSOLUTELY. Do I regret them? ABSOLUTELY. Did I overstep my bounds? ABSOLUTELY. Guilty as charged.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Get it going on!

I have this idea that training is antithetical to expression. I can't quite express it to my satisfaction, but I see proof of it all the time. I see people who are untrained and they get it going on. I see people who are trained and the whole thing is dead for them. If there are exceptions, and that is why we train people, then I don't get it. Is it worth it to achieve exceptions? The exceptional? Is that what that means. Training is backward looking by definition. It is based on time tested and honored standards and traditions and successes. But time moves. That was then, this is now!

The only reason I bring this up again is that I have just seen it happen, again, and I have experienced both sides of it for myself. As a painter I have been over trained. Over informed. Recently I started making sculpture. It is so fresh. I don't know the rules. There are no voices in my head. I feel the way I did before I trained as a painter. Free. It feeds over into my painting, too, thank heavens. So many people, good and bad, think you shouldn't be allowed to be an artist without permission, without training, without the blessing of the institution. People shouldn't be allowed to be free!

I look in Art Forum and as weird as some things might be in there, I feel like I have seen them all a thousand times before, and it just looks like garbage. Stale, weird, self-absorbed dramatics. I've seen some things recently out in the world by some people who weren't trained, things I have never seen before, and I have to say, I feel envious that they can just do stuff and not know either what they are doing or that they aren't supposed to be able to do it. I've spent a lot of my life defying the "you can't do that" just because I wanted to do something and didn't care one way of the other about the powers that be or the rules. But it wears you down. I just had something I wanted to do. Maybe it was just something else. It wasn't a reaction or rebellion. I just had something I wanted to do. My ex-mother-in-law once said to me that I could do anything I wanted as long as it was "trad." I was confused. I thought she meant something like plaid. It was like saying you can paint your house any color you like as long as it is white.

Someone asked my daughter the other day if she was taking piano lessons. I cringed. My theory is, spend time with a piano. Get to know it. Let it know you. Then you can play the piano. I don't know one person who took piano lessons who actually plays, or likes playing the piano. Plus, why is it that we look the other way on this one: you play someone else's music and not your own. What is that all about? Even painting and writing you aren't expected to paint or write someone else's work. What is it with music that we swallow this kind of training and mind-set? Who is in charge? There really needs to be a revolution there. Of course there was. It was called jazz, or folk, or rock, or rap.

This person who asked my daughter if she is taking piano lessons meant well. She is finally getting to take "advanced" painting at Smith. But when the class started they didn't start painting. They started having crits before they started painting. The "preemptive" crit. Get it in before the student even has the audacity to think they might have an idea about who or what they are and what they might paint. Get to them before they naively think that they might just paint. That is evil.

Who survives this kind of tyranny? John Lennon didn't survive. John Doe didn't either. We need other people in charge. I've always felt sure that the last person to lead should be the one who wants to. We need benevolence in all things.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Love and Art; Power and Money

If you're going to do anything sweet in this world, of course, you're on your own. It doesn't register on any scale. As they say, money talks and everybody listens. The way things are. No point in being unhappy about it. You have to like it. It does not mean however, that there aren't other ways to go. And doing something sweet, for the love of it, well, that has it's own reward, and you had better see them for what they are.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

You Get It After You're Dead!

It's been a while, but this is a good one. I have a friend who came into a little money, or so they thought. Turns out, when they had the nerve to ask the family head about it, this is what they got. "You get it after you're dead." And they were, forgive me, dead serious. Still, always good for a laugh!

Now I haven't figured that one out yet, and I'm not sure I ever will, but the other day I figured one like it out quite by accident. I think someone was lamenting the whole "artists never make it until after they are dead" thing. I immediately, without thinking, responded that this was the way it was supposed to be. Then I realized that I wasn't being ironic; I was right.

I've written before about the whole "you can lead a horse to water but can't make it drink" thing. That was a hard one for me because I was a teacher. It was my job to make the horse drink, or so I thought. Then I realized that it wasn't supposed to be the challenge I had taken it for, and that you couldn't do it. That just depressed and frustrated me. I was so sure that if I couldn't do it I was a failure. Clueless. Forgive me. Then one day I got it. You're just supposed to lead the horse to water. Drinking has to be the horse's idea. You not only have to accept this one, you have to like it. And of course this goes for the rest of life: you not only have to accept the truth, you have to like it. Then again, you don't have to if you don't want to. Drink or don't, it's up to you.

But this is the deal with artist's always getting famous after they die. It's a good thing, believe it or not. We didn't hear it all our lives for nothing. It is the way it is, and the way it is supposed to be. The exceptions are so few, much fewer than we think. There are more aspiring artists that get off the bus in New York on just one day than there are famous artists. It's a fact. Artist's are not supposed to be famous in their lifetime. It ruins them. History is littered with artists who were famous in their day and we have no idea of who they are. It is almost impossible to be famous and be an artist. It is putting the cart before the horse. There's that horse again.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Fork in the Road; The Razor's Edge

I ran into a couple of artists yesterday. One in the morning, the other in the afternoon. Same thing. Frustrated about their careers. Leon Polk Smith liked to say that if he had to he would pay money to be an artist. The fact is, every artist does pay. They invest money in studio space and supplies that they will never get back.

Stay close to the source. You find God in nature and in life, not in churches. The same is true of art. You have to stay close to the light. Every second an artist spends worrying or obsessing about their career the farther they get from the light. The world is filled with temptations to take the wrong fork at every turn. We compare, we score, we want more. It may be natural, but it's the wrong fork. It is simple math. You do the work. Without the work you have nothing. With the work you have everything that matters. The rest is crap, and it lures us with promises that are static illusions. Visions of grandeur, visions of glory. False evidence that we matter somehow.

Those two artists I ran into are gifted. Art is a gift. For giving. I just wanted to slap them. SHUDDUP! STOPPIT! Quit wasting your time and mine talking about stupid shit. If they could only hear themselves. Sure, they do another kind of math. The exposure game. The more exposure they get, the more chance they have of making it. Never happen. You can't force life. All you get is resistance. Be grateful for what you have if indeed you have some time during the day when you can do the work.

Sharing your work is a blessing as well. It is part of the process. Find ways to do it, but don't be pushy. Let the horse drink when it feels like it, all you can do is get it there. Better to make sure the water is good, clean, pure, drinkable, worth drinking and so on.

That's the deal. The razor's edge. It is not only sharp for a reason, we are supposed to keep it sharp. Every minute. And every choice we are faced with, every dilemma, every spot we find ourselves in, we are challenged to do the right thing, make the right turn, make the right choice, by ourselves, the best we can, with the best tools we have, and our best judgment, and our biggest heart.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


The information age is over. We got the information and it is us. Too much info. Now we must face the new age. The Age of Agenda. Machiavelli would be horrified, ironically. There is such a thing as too much of even a good thing.

Where does this put us? The Age of Agenda means everyone has an angle. Not to be confused with the Age of Enlightenment, when everyone had an angel whether they liked it or not. Agenda is by definition secret. It is redundant to identify it as such. Some are just more or less secret than others. Gone is the Age of Innocence. This is the opposite age. On the other side of the wheel.

Yes, we could call it the Age of Politics. Same thing. Everyone has a blog. Everyone has an agenda. Nothing, NOTHING, is what it seems. 1984, but just twenty years too late. The Age of Paranoia? That too. Topsy-turvy. I can't wait for the movie about two gay men who cheat on each other and have secret lives as married men with children and are too ashamed to admit to it. Won't that be fun. Maybe I should contact an agent.

Cheating. That is what Agenda is about. One thing out front and another in back. The new beast with two backs. Cheating on oneself and everyone else. It is everywhere. We celebrate it. It's like gravity. Been there all along, but now everybody's doing it. I love the one about the pretty teacher having sex with one of her students.

WOW! That poor 14 year old boy. He's only the hero and envy of every adolescent boy past and present. And they are calling him the victim! We are talking about a thousand over-lapping agenda and no one can see the forest for the trees! Are the comics having a field day? Fox News and every other station is wringing their hands over this one. The only bad news here is that this kid's paradise on earth has turned to shit. For that I am sorry. The end of innocence is not what they were doing together but what everyone else has made of it.

Are our leaders at least partly to blame. Absolutely. Especially the bushy one we have now. I normally identify the agenda thing as the hump. You know, someone's trying to hump you. Everyone is trying to hump everyone these days, and I'm not talking about that teacher and her student. I'm talking about that hump that is about domination. It's like the Republican Agenda. Is there anyone these guys aren't trying to hump? The public, the environment, the animal kingdom, the world, God!

This is the Year of the Dog. It is kicking off the Age of THE HUMP, appropriately enough. Although I think it really started in the Year of the Rooster. So what can you do? You watch out! You lie down with dogs you get up with flees, and you probably got humped in the process. Don't close your eyes and hope it will go away. This is the gauntlet. Keeping your eyes open is the only chance you have. See things plainly. It is not a question of whether someone has an agenda, it is just a question of what it is and what it is going to cost you. The next question is, can you pay the piper? The bushy one.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

NEOAB: Settled Abstraction

Before getting into the abstraction of the last twenty-five years, NEOAB, or neoabstraction, I would like to rant a little about another one of those negative ideas that get passed down unchecked, along the line that having a mind of your own or doing what you feel like are bad things. IMPRESSIONABLE. You know, how very impressionable he or she is, and how sad. Like this is a bad thing. That a person is moved by something or someone. Too sensitive. Too willing to listen. To consider trying something different, outside one's normal sphere of experience. It falls in the same camp as INFLUENCED. These are in direct conflict with the other two I just mentioned. If you have a mind of your own and do what you feel like, you are probably less impressionable and less likely to be influenced. Nonetheless, the idea that one could or would be influenced by forces outside oneself is not even worth discussing. We are nothing if not a lump of clay shaped by the world around us. But the idea that being unimpressionable would be considered a virtue is mind-boggling. That being easily impressed is a sign of bad character, that being influenced is a sign of weakness or perhaps a lack of character. The real question should be about which forces we allow to make an impression on us, and whether we are influenced by positive or negative energy.

One of the absolute worst things one can say about an artist is that they are heavily influenced. It is downright mean and practically indefensible. There is not an artist alive who has not been heavily influenced. The greatest artists were probably the most influenced. I just heard a story about the great Miles Davis, whose wife turned him on to rock and roll and Hendrix, and how it changed his life and his music. De kooning, Pollock, David Smith, Rauschenberg and everyone else, were influenced by Picasso, who made no secret of his influences and took it a step further by acknowledging that they were self-conscious influences, that he didn't borrow, he stole. Nevertheless, the worst thing you can still say about an artist is that they are influenced, period.

Consider the people in this world upon whom nothing makes an impression. The unimpressionable. The unmovable. By anything, especially the unprescribed, the unique. Things like children, nature, animals, art, music, literature, etc. Two things: first, what a shame; second, STOP making a virtue of the affliction.

Because if you are going to get anything out of this life you must allow yourself to be touched. The hope is in nature, in love, and in art. Let them make an impression.

Now on to NEOAB.

The very first Modern abstractionists were an absolute lot. Malevich. Mondrian. There were hard line, hard edge for a reason. They were trying to be clear about a new language. They were starting out with building blocks. Lego. The work had a graphic quality because the language came from a graphic place. The inspiration which shaped their images came from places like design and topography. They were not interested in the wilder or even more nuanced side of the language because it served no purpose. Rational clarity was imperative if this new language was to survive. It was no different than the kind of rigid severity required by the Pilgrims to survive their first few winters in the New World. You don't take any chances.

The abstract expressionist began by literally breaking down the hard line of such clarity in favor of exploring a more irrational, personal, emotional, poetic, gestural and fluid expression. They were influenced by impressionism, collage, calligraphy, and the can of worms that was opened by the world of psychology. They wanted to go down that rabbit hole and see what they could find. Dreams, the unconscious, the emotions, these were the stuff of the first generation of Abstract Expressionism, and they crossed the line. If you want an almost instructional example of this, look at the early work of De kooning. Everyone talks about the dissolve of the figure/ground relationship in these works, but one could more easily make a case for the break down of rational abstraction. De kooning would find an edge, cross it, find it again, cross it, again and again. He would do it until he had broken it down as much as he could and still have a painting/composition/picture.

NEOAB is not another generation of abstractionists exploring the language. That is over. NEOAB is the first and following generations of artists who accept abstraction as settled law. Indeed, if the abstract expressionists were frontiersman, NEOAB are the settlers who are building a life on ground those artists before them broke. Is there any virtue in being one of these settlers? Probably not. Virtue doesn't enter into it. NEOAB are not heroes like the original abstractionists. Those guys were giants, no question about it. I would never question that or try to diminish what they accomplished. Never. I have only respect and awe for them. Those of us who follow behind them have a different set of challenges, like keeping the curiosity, the wondering of it moving. It is NOT about refinement. It is instead about doing what it takes to expand. In some ways it could be considered a significant challenge. Like the war in Iraq, it is a question of winning the peace. It is also not about preserving abstraction. While we don't want to lose it, that is a job for historians, not artists. No, it is literally about settling it. Reinventing and reinvigorating it. Bringing new meaning to the language, new testimonials, new visions, new poetry. More than keeping it alive, bringing it new life. It is an evolution. Abstraction is evolving and will keep evolving.

Who are some of these artists? Joan Snyder. Bill Jensen. Jonathan Lasker. Jennifer Reeves. Thomas Nozkowski. Elizabeth Murray. Howard Hodgkins. Jessica Stockholder. Porfirio DiDonna. Richard Tuttle. Have they been around? Yes. Have they been doing this for a while? Yes. Is it settled abstraction. Yes. Is it good. Yes.

So what's the point? Dead End? Beating a dead horse. Scratching the same ground? No. Scratching the surface is more like it. Each of these artists brings their own vision to the language, like jazz, or even english. Since abstraction is indeed evolving, these artists bring that vision to the larger collective that is abstraction. Define abstraction. Well, that's another blog.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Love&Art on Bow Street

I think we are all well aware of what the dangers of individualism are. We hear them all the time. We get beat up by them all the time. We have cautionary tells to guide us, or better, keep us in line. In line. That's the thing. And that is what this is about.

The group, that is any group, family, institution, community, town, government, peer, company, workers, partiers, you name it: the group, they will you tell you that first and foremost the individual "just does what he or she feels like doing(without regard for the group), that he or she is SELFISH.

Most of us accept this as gospel. We might even accept it with shame: "Yes, I am selfish."

We might go a step further and live with that shame and accept that we are bad and that we might never change.

What gets lost in all of this, and I'm probably cutting to this too soon, but feel compelled, is that no one ever questions the group's selfishness. SELFISH. The group is, let's face it, selfish on a LARGE scale, but because it wields the power of the group, it goes unchallenged and unchecked. The only example we have in our entire culture of the negative and selfish nature of the group is when we speak of adolescents and "peer pressure." When we say those words everyone knows what I'm talking about. "Peer pressure" is the most frightening pair of words in the mind/life of a parent. Maybe as scary as the word "war." Scarier.

So if the idea of the group being selfish seems like some paranoid ridiculousness to you, think "peer pressure" and go from there. Think of all the billions of selfish and destructive things the "group" has come up with (individuals don't make war, for example, groups do.) Some of them are the most ridiculous things one could ever imagine. Let's make everyone take two years of say, algebra, so that they can become well versed in the practice of mathematical equations; and then let's make it critical to their future in life that they get it, and if they don't let's relegate them to low-paying jobs in the service industry because, yes, we've made mathematical equations the bar that will decide who moves on and who doesn't. Now tell me how many people you know use algebra in their lives EVER. It tells you what group has selfishly imposed itself on everyone else, and did exactly what it felt like doing.

Where am I going with this? Art. Art has always been tarred as selfish. A selfish act by the selfish individual. Decadent. It does nothing for the team. Useless. The word art has never crossed this president's mind or lips. It serves no purpose in the military industrial complex that is this administration's sole agenda. Art is the voice and will of the individual. The only one, by the way, who will say that the emperor is not wearing a stitch.  It is also easier for the group to justify any means to survive. Any means. It can lie with many mouths. In fact, I don't think we can count on the group for the truth. Too much at stake. The truth is the domain of the individual. Now don't get me wrong. The group does good. It is a given, it is a necessity, it is a reality. Group and individual, individual and group. They gotta get along.

But the group is an entity, guilty of the same things individuals are, just in larger numbers. Every individual has to be able to fend off the group in a given situation, just like with peer pressure. It might be about conforming to group expectations or group thinking. It might be about performing for the group expectations and group thinking. Many so-called individuals only represent and mouth group expectations and thinking. There was a time not that long ago, for example, when women and minorities were expected to think and act according to the dominant group's expectations and thinking.

Every young person that considers a life of art is bound to be greeted with a great deal of opposition from every quarter. Some of these greetings will attempt to attack their personal character for the choice they are making. Do I think that it is selfish to be an artist? Obviously the selfishness of the group does nothing to justify selfishness in the individual. What I do think is that we each have a life and that it belongs to us, no matter how much we might owe any group. If a life of art is an individual's choice, then who can argue with that? Art contributes to many peoples lives. I won't say everyone's. That would seem to be enough, however. It takes all kinds to make the world go round. Breadmakers, bridgebuilders, bankers, baseball players, and yes, bass players. We have room for it all. No accusations or recriminations. Go fourth and multiply is fine if you like math, but waxing poetic can outshine the stars.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

No Illusions

I was at Bow Street today, my wife's art exhibition space in Cambridge, and a man came in with a bit of an agenda, and that's ok. He did take the time to look at the paintings first and that was good. At first he didn't have anything to say except that only one of them was signed, which was true. It was a print. Anyway, at some point he expressed the concern that young people go into the arts with some kind of illusion about what it's going to be like and then they are disappointed. I had to stop him right there. Since when has our culture ever painted a pretty picture of what's in store if you choose to be an artist? NEVER. You might as well be deciding to grow up and be a heroin addict. From the very beginning all we get are pictures of pain and alcoholism and degradation. Warning after warning. Parents, teachers, college counselors, movies, magazines, etc. SO MUCH SO that I think people choose a life of art very often because that is what they want. Not the art, but the lifestyle of struggle and alienation. There actually could be some disappointment there if you don't achieve that dramatic result. Heaven forbid that an artist should live a happy and fulfilling life. Who would care? It would seem completely antithetical and inauthentic. The man said a lot of other "stupid" things along the same lines, but he wasn't stupid. He just repeated the same garbage that passes for knowledge of the way the arts work or the world works. Cliches, of course.

On another note I was again surprised to find someone going on about the professionalism of curators and museums and the like. I used to have the same reaction to my art history teachers who went on about their theories all the while oblivious to the fact that some human being somewhere actually bothered to think and feel and make the things that historians and museums make their livelihood from. Without the artist they would be in real estate. But you would never know it. There must be some deep-seated resentment there. It makes them keep trying to put the cart before the horse.

By the same token I had a friend of mine declare the other day that people were FINALLY starting to recognize his work, as though he deserved it somehow, as though his genius and the recognition of it was well past due( he once referred to his work as "the cause!"). This is just as crazy. He always gets himself in trouble. Expecting too much from people because of some psychotic notion that he is a great artist, dammit. He promptly alienated the woman, who was kind enough to show his work, because he made too much of the group show she would be putting him in that was months away. He dragged in a lot of paintings and didn't like the works she chose, instead wanting her to take more important and major works. Maybe she should have just gotten rid of everyone else's work and just shown his. He is the great artist afterall and these other people were just pretenders. Needless to say she finally told him to take a hike. He was outraged by her negativity. Afterall, who needs that? We can all relate to this, of course. God knows I've embarrassed myself on ocassion over the years with some arrogance in the face of a dealer.

On the other hand last summer I had a dealer beg me to let her show my work. I wasn't interested, but I wanted to honor her interest; not wanting to reject her outright the way dealers are of course quick to do with artists. In front of my friends she expressed her interests and even frustration. I never asked for anything, and even warned her that she had her hands full. I liked her. I didn't like her artists at all, which is unusual, since I am pretty easy to please most of the time. Shlocky comes to mind. Anyway, I insisted we keep things on a friendly level and left it at that. A few weeks ago I received an email from her telling me she was sorry but she couldn't show my work! Wow! What are you going to do? Amazing, of course, since I had never asked for the honor. Nevertheless I got a rejection. So there you have it!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

ANYTHING WORTH DOING...Is actually worth doing no matter how well you do it.

Think about it. Who decides what is well done? Your boss, your parent, your local newspaper critic, your average guy off the street? You may appreciate it when someone else appreciates your thing well done, and everyone likes to be appreciated, but what does it mean? It occurred to me immediately as a child that the obverse of "anything worth doing is worth doing well" was even more true, that anything really worth doing was worth doing badly, or just as well as you could, which may be really badly or who knows. Just as much of a cliche is the Van Gogh tale: but it fits. He loved what he was doing and no one else much cared, until now that is, and you can't get within three feet of his work without a museum guard backing you off. He may be the exception to the rule, but then again, who knows? Who knows is what it is all about. "Who." And "Knows."

There are two answers. You know, and nobody knows. Furthermore, why would you let some other mere mortal dictate your choices. People do, lots of people, all the time, and lots of other people want them to. The words "it is your life" don't occur to them. But it is your life, no matter who you are, and if it occurs to you that something seems worth doing, then by all means it is worth doing no matter how well you do it. In other words, anything worth doing is worth doing badly. If that offends someone else, then that falls into the category of their problem. And they are entitled to that.

Someone asked me yesterday, how do you hang your work out there. How do you keep from being hurt?

Well, I've been showing my work since I was ten in a "professional" context. The older I get, however; the more I embrace amateurism. Not that I don't appreciate a professional dentist or airline pilot, but in the area of the creative, I think it keeps things in a healthier perspective. Professional artists and writers get a little stiff for me.

But back to the question. Well, it is a balance. You have to have a healthy opinion of yourself, perhaps even a high opinion. Of course professionals get a rigid high opinion of themselves that overcompensates for the subjectivity of things. It needs to be balanced, again. Everybody bleeds, everybody gets gas(sorry), and everybody needs to be loved. Everybody. Everybody has an up and a down side. Yin Yang. Make room for your bad self and then you can work on it. Make room for your good self and you can appreciate it. Not too high or too low. I hang my work out there for those who might appreciate it. Do I think it is worthwhile? That is understood. Does anyone else have to think it is worthwhile? No. I may not like that someone thinks I'm a lousy painter, but I would fight for their right to their opinion. Because that is what it is. Opinion. It is not knowledge. No one can know what is good or bad. They just have an opinion. The greatest people in their fields all have their detractors, which is as it should be. You can't take opinions either way. If you do you give up your freedom. Of course this does not mean you can't consider someone else's point of view. Again, that is your choice. But it is just their point of view, and it is skewed thus, and it may or may not work for you even if it works completely for them.

So I take it all with a grain of salt. The good and the bad. I've had people at the top and the bottom go both ways and it was pretty much the same. Take it in stride. Stay close to what makes your motor run and work hard to keep it running. Up and down can take you out of your groove(when does a groove become a rut?). Rudyard Kipling wrote a very wise poem about it(If).

What would I really like to have happen as a result of my work? I'd like people to feel like going there, and I would like them to have a worthwhile time, whatever that is. But they can go on not go, and I'm fine with that. It is the old, you can lead a horse to water thing but you can't make them drink. That is how it is supposed to be. They only drink if they want to. I don't invest too much in their reaction either way. Do I feel like to be appreciated is to be understood. Yes. Would I like it? Yes. But again, I don't let it affect me too much most of the time. Do I hate being ignored. Sometimes, but it goes with the territory. Freedom means responsibility, and if I want the freedom, I have to want the responsibility.

But I'll go back to the beginning. Painting is worth doing to me. I am really into it. Could I be the worst painter on the planet? Of course. I've gotten a thumbs down from my father for most of my life. I didn't let it stop me. Why? I like to paint. I think it is worth doing. Why? I can think of a couple of reasons right off. I like color. I like that it affects me but I don't know why. I like beginnings. I like the blank slate. It is like the bow of a boat with nothing but open water out in front. I like making something. I like mushing paint around and seeing what happens. I like the way paint tells me things and helps me to see things. I like the way it feels. I like being a part of the language of paint, and painting and the history of painting. I like connecting with the first person that ever did a cave painting to tell a story or express a feeling or idea. I like the way you can take it in all at once, that it is spatial, not linear.

Now what about the people who are confused? The people who think that they are empowered, entitled, equipped, enlightened enough to decide how well people are doing what they are doing it and whether they should be doing it at all? There are a lot of these people, and more are being born everyday. What do you say to them? Nothing. They are entitled to their delusions. They are bullies and like any kid knows, the best thing to do is ignore them. Walk away. I spent too much time fighting bullies and I suspect it made me one too. Don't fight. Walk away if you can. What do you do when you see them hurting someone else? Well, I hate to say it, but I still try to stop them if I can. Mostly I feel pity for them, but I believe in protecting and defending the frailer of us. Which is why I went back to teach at RISD. To shepherd the more fragile sensibilities that wanted to be artists. In the end I had to leave them to their fate, however, because RISD is for artists who want to get ahead( I did), and so you get what you deserve. You can't have it both ways. If you want to play with the big boys, it is a rough game, and someone is going to get hurt. If you want to just be an artist, well find somewhere and go do it. You don't need to play the game. If you think doing something is worth doing then do it. If your parent, mate, sibling, teacher, boss, whatever has a problem, again, it is their problem.

So that's what it's about. I do what I do because I think it is worth doing. I hang it out there to make the connection. Either I do or don't connect, but at least I made the first one with myself. For what it's worth, I think painting can be like music or nature, and work its magic whether people are paying attention or not. Do I think it's magic? Yes, to me that is what magic is. And it is worth doing because I think so.

PS It is understood that we are not talking about something that is hurting someone else, I mean REALLY hurting someone else, not just "disappointing" them. You have to know right and wrong. That is understood. Where that line comes into play is something you will have to decide.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Bows Art

Stacey Parks, my wife, has taken a space in Cambridge on Bow Street. It has large windows and looks out at the Lampoon Building at Harvard. She plans to open a space for art. An art space. I've been involved in a few since I was a boy on Via Margutta in Rome, and I suspect things have changed a lot since I ran my last gallery on Newbury Street ten years ago. It was called Gallery 28 and it was just across the street from the Ritz. It wasn't really a gallery, but an art school exhibition space that showed the work of artists from Boston and New York for the most part. Occasionally it included faculty in the shows, which was nice for the school.

I guess what I'm getting at is that exhibition spaces like the ones I've shown in or directed have long been absorbed into our ever-widening consumer culture. Alternative spaces are an anachronism. Part cliche, part joke. Everyone is excited that she is doing this space, but sometimes the reaction is all about business. Will it succeed? How will you pay the rent? Cambridge is not a good place to try to sell art. It never occurred to Stacey that she would be selling art, just showing it. I remember when I opened my second "alternative space" in Providence, RI(The Cleveland Gallery), and I jokingly told the Providence Journal art critic in an interview that if I ever sold a piece it would be like Christmas. That was the headline, of course. What I was suggesting was that it would only come once a year. My assistant did sell some pieces while I was out.

Even in Provincetown, on whose outskirts we spend our summers, everything is commerce. I was approached several times by one of the more prominent spaces about either partnering or taking over entirely. The talk was always about selling. Now don't get me wrong, I understand that an artist needs to sell his or her work, maybe, but art is not about commerce. That aspect to art, if it has such an aspect, just NEVER interested me, and I was poor most of my life. Professionalism in the arts is almost oxymoronic, and even embarrassing, but it is the norm in New England. It is anathema and even considered naive to think of art in non-commercial terms.

Yankees are nothing if not practical, and it is not practical to think of art in non-professional terms. Amateurism is rank. Of course I couldn't disagree more. But no one makes art for the love of it, or even the fun of it anymore, and what good is that? (I was just speaking with my friend and rare book dealer John Wronoski about this very subject yesterday, about art made by writers and writing done by artists, and how much more interesting that can be--and this will be the real subject of this or the next posting). We get something akin to a coffee cup now. Shoes. Newbury Street in Boston is all about hair and shoes, and that is Boston. A friend of mine, Martin Mugar, was reviewed in the arts section of the Boston Globe today. On the front of the section was a big spread about beads. A picture the size of a bus. His work was blurbed in the back with a postage stamp for an image. This is a world class artist. So it goes. The blurb funnily enough reduced the work to just that, fun, but in a demeaning way. As though Jackson Pollock was so fun with all those squiggles. Embarrassing. But such is Boston. Which is why Stacey is opening a space in Cambridge. Maybe some Europeans will wander by and understand. Art for art's sake in America. How refreshing. That was what her landlady said, and she is French, naturally.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

More about Tuttle

In 1977, just about thirty years ago, I left an Alex Katz lecture at Brown University in disgust. He was all business man, all merchant, and I had no stomach for it. I had very intense ideals about art and a bad taste for money. I was reeling. Was this what it was all about? Was this what I had to look forward to as an artist in America? What were my options? Would I be holed up in some institution like my old teachers. I had graduated from RISD six months earlier and I was looking for something. I have a son who is a painter and six months out of school and I see it in him. It is a tough time. Terrifying freedom. Terrifying. Forget two roads in a wood. Try, looking up from the bottom of a very deep hole in the ground. This was not paper/plastic, this was God please send me a sign. It has been my experience that we always get one.

As if by some magic from the Magus a man was standing outside the lecture hall. He looked like a hillbilly. He was hard and withered in appearance, like a smoker, wearing a cheap flannel shirt, the kind that is printed, not woven, and maybe a hoodie and some bad jeans. He was standing under a sign that said Richard Tuttle. I might have said hello or nodded but walked past him into the List Gallery and what happened next changed my life forever. I have never been more excited by an exhibition before or since. Maybe a visit to the studio of Leon Polk Smith.

In this vast gallery space were almost invisible little pieces of shaped paper partially stuck to the wall, below eye level, with watercolor on them, and then pencil lines that left the paper and traveled close by onto the walls. They usually had his fingerprints on them, which was curious. How could his hands have been that dirty? Anyway, I was thunderstruck. Dumbfounded. I looked at each one closely and then again, and then went out and approached the man under the sign. It was Richard Tuttle.

We spoke for a long time. Mostly I listened. He had a lot to say. People poured out of the lecture but we kept on. He spoke quietly so I had to lean in and direct an ear towards what he was saying. One of the things that I remember him speaking about that evening was that there are diamonds everywhere and people are picking up garbage. He also said I looked like I was living under a cloud. Eventually he was expected to join the school president for dinner, so I walked him there and he told me he would rather have dinner with me, and that he was sorry to have to end our conversation. Then he gave me his address in New York.

And so began the only real mentorship I ever engaged in, and it was by accident and it was intense. It started out with a heated correspondence and then a year later, with his encouragement that included putting me in touch with his landlord, I moved to New York. I did not, as it turned out, take him up on his offer to dig in on 11th Avenue, a wasteland at the time. Instead I moved in with my brother on Central Park West, and he didn't approve.

And there you have it, really. Approval. What I soon discovered was that he didn't approve of a lot of things. He made up his mind hard. He called it being severe. He was probably the most thoughtful and intelligent person I ever knew, but he was also incredibly judgmental, even mean. After a while it got to be too much. He thought I wanted a mentor but I didn't. I was thinking friends. The friend thing is funny of course. It has gotten me into trouble a lot. Just wanting to be friends when people think and sometimes are even afraid that I wanted more. To be friends means a lot to me. I never knew much about it and wasn't very good at it. Coming from a divorced family that split everyone up, and having moved around so much, going to thirteen different schools before college, and then even transferring in college, I just knew about being on my own.

Richard went to the trouble of trying to teach me about a lot of things. If we talked about art, it was more about what goes on between the lines, and I liked that. I still do. His biggest obsession was pride, and for good reason, he had a lot of it. He worked me over with it, because I had it too, of course. Everyone does, but it was easier for him to deal with his own by focusing on me. He would question everything. The stamp I put on a letter. It was filled with pride. It was the one the postman gave me, but that didn't matter. That never got in the way of a lecture. He would read so much into it. If I accepted that stamp, then I was guilty. Apparently I should have been more sensitive and asked for another. I have been very careful about stamps ever since, but I am still limited by what is available, and for this I am tortured(not).

Another time he gave me grief for the jacket I was wearing. It was below zero and I had gone to meet him on 11th Avenue and walked there. I borrowed my brother's orange parka because I didn't own anything warm. I think I still got frostbite. But he chided me for the orange jacket. It was pride. I should have frozen. It didn't matter that it was my brother's coat. He had made up his mind.

And that is what this is all about. A mind made up. The good and the bad of it. Richard Tuttle made up his mind like no one I ever met. It is in his work. It takes a shape, it follows a line, an edge, a color. He makes up his mind. In art that is nine tenths of the law.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Richard Tuttle

Richard Tuttle has been in the news lately. Cover of Art in America. Whitney. And why not?

The man has always been something of a mystery. Especially to himself. Watching him connect the dots through his work is like listening to someone talk to themselves. You don't understand what they're saying, and for the most part you don't want to because it's private and personal. You accept the mystery. You like the mystery. You like that there is a mystery, and in the case of Richard Tuttle, that's just what you get.

The work looks like it might be intellectual and beyond you. If it is beyond anyone it is not because it is intellectual, however. It is because it is personal. It is emotional. Perhaps. There really isn't a word for it in english. Which suggests that I know some word in some other language. I don't. I'm just not ruling it out.

The work is difficult for Tuttle, and, by most people's standards, often painful. Is it complicated? Absolutely! But in the simplest terms he can find. He was never a minimalist, however. The guy is resolutely individual. The group is too glib. He makes Thoreau seem like a frivolous social butterfly.

First and foremost the work dances the razor's edge. Originality and freshness are so important, essential, everything really, that the challenge is, again, often painful. Sometimes the frustration when the work falls short is palpable. So why does he let it out there when that happens? Who knows? Maybe in the end that says more than if he nailed something. Maybe failure is more interesting than success. Maybe success, again, is too glib, too easy, not to be trusted. To him I was always the beautiful Addison Parks, taking the easy way out. What can I say, I grew up in Rome, he grew up in New Jersey. You cannot escape these things. I am always becoming Rome. He New Jersey. And he has made it a better place, while I have only danced around it, I suspect.

Tuttle has probably always enjoyed the role of idiot-savant. The work has that bewitching quality of keeping you guessing: it is either absolutely brilliant and sublime or just really dumb. But once you accept his genius you are still in danger of overinflating the experience. You can end up guilding the lily by assigning too much or just more than the "lily" will bear. Poetry is the thing closest to this work. The domain of the ineffable. If you can get there, or better, live there, you'll be fine. Because that is what this work locates, and that is where it lives. You can't get there be studying it, by being smart, by figuring it out, by trying to get on top of it, or even eating it. It is absolutely more about what you don't do than what you do do. DO-BE-DO-BE-DO! But you don't have to DO anything. Just let the work do it all. Of course that is doing a lot. I suspect you could dance with it, just as long as you let it lead.

After all, it is all energy. Poetry in color and shape, line and mark and texture. A voice finding itself in these things. Tuttles listens very hard. And that is good. And we can thank him for that.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Hard Drive

Some of us come into this world encouraged to fly. Others get squashed or blocked at every turn. So it goes. What happens as a result is that we adjust our innate drive accordingly. The flyers find it easy to surge into high gear. The squashed learn that their one recourse is to choose reverse. Reverse is hard to squash, hard to block. The flyers got a yes and give a yes. The squashed got a no and give a no. The flyers fight for possibilities. The squashed fight for the right to be wrong; because it is the only power they've ever had.

These are two sides of the same coin. Determination and stubborness. Force and resistance. They are essentially the same force but just moving in different directions. Determination moves forward. Stubborness moves backwards. There are stubborn individuals with the force of Alexander The Great, but their wheels are spinning in reverse. We all know people like this. It is just a question of changing gears. Getting out of reverse. Putting their bad beginning behind them, claiming their individual freedom, and demanding nothing less than a yes for themselves.

This is hard. Hard is good. Drive is what gets us to the top of the mountain, and getting there is more than half the fun. No one has to be climbed over to do it. It is not about being on top of the mountain or on top of anyone else. It is about the challenge and possibilities. The view and the stimulation. The growth and the becoming.