Monday, May 21, 2007

But does it float?

It has been my experience that whenever anyone starts asking the question "but is it art?" they are barking up the wrong tree. They are not only asking the wrong question; they are not even near the forest, forget the tree.

When the painter Milton Resnick was younger he used a thin paint and a vivid palette. Those paintings from the Fifties were what he later dismissed as his "pretty" paintings, and he did it in such a way to suggest that anyone who liked those paintings was made of less sterner stuff. I was one of those people and I have to say I cared for him less after that. But that's me, the wimp.

But I wonder... Because his later paintings from the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties, the one's he wanted us to like, well, were they so stout? Were they so tough? Were the paintings from the Fifties the real thing, the brave thing, the brave heart, and were the later paintings just tough, like over-kneaded dough--crusty slabs of paint that were all wall, walls of paint, but a scab really, a scab over a broken heart.

Resnick was always the painter's painter, but no one else's. He was a god among painters, and he dwelled among the people. Brice Marden has never been that. In all my years as a student, painter, teacher, curator and critic, I never ONCE heard anyone say, ooouuu or wow, that Brice Marden, can he paint. Never once. But Resnick was held in awe by even successful painters, and especially by anyone who loved paint the way young painters love paint.

Paint, of course, isn't it. Word has it that Resnick blew his brains out. The final act. What was he doing with a gun? Still, how does that add to the story? His story. Robert Miller showed only the Fifties paintings. The pretty paintings. They were poetry. The poetry of a young man. The passion of a young man. He wasn't chosen. Like de Kooning, like Pollock, and yes, like Marden. Tough to be an old poet.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Calling All Artists

One of life's really interesting experiences always clobbers me. I witness someone behaving really badly and as I run for cover I'm forced to ask myself: "Oh my god, I don't do that, do I? Please god, say I don't." And as I flip through memory flashes and hold them up like slides to the light, I scramble for clues as to whether I have indeed crossed the line.

A long time ago, when I ran a gallery on Newbury Street in Boston, I wanted to publish two little handbooks. One for those visiting art galleries, giving them ideas for what to look for, how and how not to look at art, and offering them things they might say, useful catch-phrases, like "I love the way the artist moves the light through the painting," or "This video installation really puts me inside the artist's head," along with things one should never say, like, "The color is so garish," or "This artist doesn't know how to draw." Sounds fascist, but it was really intended as an times humorous guidebook for people who are lost in the world of art, and lost for what to say.

The other little guide book I wanted to publish was one for artists on how to behave when outside the studio. I did do "One Hundred Ways to Survive as an Artist without Cutting Off Your Ear," but that was a little different. Some of the same thoughts pass through all three.

For the artist's guidebook I would have rules of art world etiquette. Like Emily Post. Just a few, and just for those one or two artists who seem to have been brought up by bears.

Rule number one: NEVER bring your slides to someone else's opening! I put that one first because although it would seem impossible and unnecessary, it actually happens. I know examples of both, the artist who had other artists, friends, bring slides; and I've known a few artists who brought slides. But just in case what's so wrong about this doesn't occurr to you, just remember: it's not your moment. Learn how to celebrate someone else's moment, as painful as that might be. I'm glad to get that one out of the way, thank you.

Rule number two: Keep your opinions to yourself when viewing art in a gallery. AND don't make faces. That's important. My ex-wife did that, and it was probably over as a result. This is another variation on the golden rule, but it still needs to be said. Wait until you are at least two blocks, maybe three, from the gallery before you start passing judgment, and always keep your voice down, wherever you are. Never risk saying something negative within earshot of the artist, or their family, or friends, or the dealer. This one is hard when wine is being served.

Rule number three: When you enter any gallery and start sizing up the walls imagining how great your work would look, at least pretend to look at the work already hanging where your masterpieces will demand to be reckoned with, and if you can actually give the work hanging in your future space the time of day, so much the better! But at the very least pretend to be interested in something besides yourself.

Rule number four: Never give someone, a gallery, your slides and then ask that they get back to you as soon as possible with an answer as to when you're going to have your big show, as though you're about to fly to Venice to represent the WORLD at the Biennale and only have a few moments to spare before you have to get on your private jet. And like you're actually going to get a show! Also, don't keep going back to the gallery because, godammit, they haven't gotten back to YOU!

Rule number five: Don't eat all the food at the opening. Save some grapes for someone else, and never hover over the cheese and crackers and FEED like a horse at the trough!

Rule number six: Don't argue with the work; inotherwords, don't argue with other people's art. First off, everybody knows what's really going on. By arguing you keep yourself in charge, the focus on you, you at the center, you in control. All about you!

You ever notice how some people never cease to do this. They might be on a committee; they might be at your breakfast table. To argue is to create crisis, which shuts down movement, and impedes change or progress. It divides. It also inflates the ego: you argue therefore you are, therefore you exist, therefore you are important. It is also a way of dismissing what is clearly at that moment is not about you, even more important than you. When something threatens us we argue, thereby making the thing we're arguing about less important, and as a result elevating ourselves instead.

It is exhausting. People who argue of course never listen, make the possiblility of listening the last thing that will or could ever happen. By design. Keeping the message on them. So. Don't argue. Listen. Be open to the work! It won't be the end of the world. It won't kill you.

Rule number seven. See rules one through six and hold them up to the light like slides. Oh yeh, and find something nice to say, even genuine; be generous in the artist's presence, even if it kills you!

Next up: Rules of etiquette for dealers, curators, and museum people. Ha!

And finally, I'd like to thanks my parents, Mr and Mrs Bear.

Friday, May 04, 2007

One Long Victory Lap

I beat my wife and daughter at Fish this morning. THREE TIMES! After my press conference at noon I'll be flying off to do the Larry King Show, but it doesn't stop there. Next is the White House, of course, and then the usual late night talk shows. The really big question is whether I want the Wheaties box or the cover of a video game, because apparently you won't get both. My agent, however, assures me that I will. The possibilities are endless.

For example, there was the extraordinary come from behind victory at Horse with my two boys. I was H-O-R-S but was able at the last second to do a backwards set shot that won me the game. That made the highlight reel on ESPN. TWICE! I was basking in the glow of that for a whole day. And then of course there is Scrabble, I always clean up; and UNO, I'm just a natural; and ping-pong, what can I say?

These are the rewards of being a stay-at-home dad. Who knew? Sometimes I feel like Rocky. I assume that position with my arms raised in the air, sometimes it is automatic, sometimes I just keep them that way all day long. What a life! It is just one long victory lap. The SI photographers are coming any moment. In the meantime I keep my badminton racket firmly in hand and wait for the bus. The kids have a half day.