Tuesday, January 31, 2006

New Book About Making the Arts Universal

"What Good Are the Arts?" is an intensely argued polemic against the intellectually supercilious, the snooty rich and the worship of high culture as a secular religion for the spiritually refined and socially heartless. Modern art," writes James Carey, "has become synonymous with money, fashion, celebrity and sensationalism, at any rate in the mind of the man on the Clapham omnibus." Contemporary painting, opera, ballet, most poetry and theater are all removed from the life of ordinary people, being part of a cult available largely to the wealthy and mandarin, where only the elect may worship. Meanwhile, "mass art" -- daytime drama, pop music, Hollywood filmmaking -- is commonly dismissed as mere entertainment for shallow and stupid proles. Washington Post01/29/06

I have conflicting feelings about the premise of this book. While I agree that art has to be accessible, I stop short of believing it has to be "dumbed-down". I have enough life-experience to back-up my belief that people will (as a whole) only succeed to the level of another's expectations. That is true in business and education - therefore I believe it is also true in one's willingness to understand art. If you take the time to make your art accessible through explanation and exposure, mass intellectual understanding will follow.

This ties-in pretty well with my last post, because James Carey's book "allows" for bad popular culture as an artform - it seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to the snobbish elitism he finds distasteful. While I agree it is a trend bordering on (bad) art, I disagree that this is the best way to reach the masses.

Similarly, while Bush's "No Child Left Behind" is an utter failure. I believe it is a failure due to the fact that it wants everyone to go slower inorder to be on the same page, intellectually. I propose a "No Patron Left Behind" attitude by contemporary artists. Rather than slowing everyone down to grasp an art movement like "clichéd cowboy realism" - the artists can educate (up) and enlighten to the multi-layered messages of their more contemporary works. - DN

Monday, January 30, 2006

Multi-media art movement

In earlier posts I have mentioned my disdain for the state of television. I’m not sure that it ever had a true silver age. Even old favorites like MASH had its share of problems (any episode Alan Alda wrote or directed). Television has more often than not served the lowest common denominator. Now I’m throwing myself into that category, because like hundreds of millions of others – I still watch. But there were a few shining beacons of hope, such as Charles Kuralt (CBS “On the Road”) My friend Gaelon still holds him as an artistic role-model.

My question is this – what will it take for television to surpass quality to become art. Obviously, once again I am talking about a new art movement. If it came about (in television) how would it tie into the rest of the art world. Notice, I said Art World not Art Market. Sad to say but I believe the trend of “Reality Shows” are/were easily definable as an “art movement” within the constraints of the commercial television medium. Unfortunately, they lost their way in the first five minutes of airing. For me it was always difficult to grasp the illusion of “surviving” on a show like “Survivor” when I knew the film crew’s TEAMSTER buffet was twenty feet behind the cameras. Charles Kuralt came much closer to reality television with his random interviews of the ordinary.

Now does the fact that Kuralt worked within the confines of the most commercial of mediums discount the artistic credibility of his work? I don’t believe so. Picasso was the equivalent of the television star of the art world. He was wealthy, trendy and had groupies, but is still regarded as a modern master.

So once again - my question is this – what will it take for television to surpass quality to become art. But maybe more than just to become art but to wholly embrace a movement to become quality. Art movements encompassing bad art are still art movements. “Reality TV shows” have been such a force in modern television that they have influenced to the point of being an actual movement. But I think most people will agree that they lack quality. So will quality come in a way that crosses into music, painting and television? – DN

Friday, January 27, 2006

Just Because

Former Post back in the News

I posted on this a while back, it looks like NPR did a story, yesterday. Click here to go to the site and listen to the broadcast. - DN

January 25, 2006 ·
A French man has been ordered to pay a large fine for cracking one of Marcel Duchamp's most famous works of art with a hammer. The man says Duchamp would have approved of his "performance art."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Just backing-up my point...

How many roads must a man walk down / Before you call him a man?
- Bob Dylan

That's the best thing about walking, the journey itself. It doesn't matter much whether you get where you're going or not. You'll get there anyway. Every good hike brings you eventually back home. - Edward Abbey

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Journey - to Place or Philosophy?

As Plotinus said, it is "a flight of the alone to the ALONE," and as the old Zen poem says:

If you do not get it from yourself,
Where will you go for it?

The art comes from within, but is it the journey to the place or the the journey of the mind that brings it out? The muse without or within? The 20th century philosopher, Alan Watts, compared life to dancing across the room - the purpose of the dance is not to get from point A to point B, but the fun along the way. Oddly enough, I always prefer to drive twenty hours when I could have flown in three. I would rather just slowly cruise across the country for the sake of the journey, itself. Stop along the way to take in the landscape and local citizenry, buy some "Super Rope Licorice" at the gas station and maybe a couple too many "Red Bulls" to stay awake. (Although, I do remember a road trip to Chicago with my friend Hank, a few years back. From personal experience I do not recommend trying to survive for four days on nothing but Yoo-Hoo! and Slim Jims.)

As far as which muse is best - well that's best left to the nature of each artist. Like another Zen poem says:

In the landscape of Spring there is neither better nor worse;
The flowering branches grow naturally, some long, some short.


Sunday, January 22, 2006

Good television always disappears...

Warning: this post has very little to do with a new art movement.

Well NBC did it, everyone saw it coming... "West Wing" has been cancelled. As my good friend and fellow artist Ilene Berman used to say, "For one hour each week, I get to pretend someone better is President".

I suppose the fact that television is counter-productive to intelligence should be glaringly obvious to me. But that doesn't change the fact that I always try to be its friend... but this friend keeps screwing me over. First "Northern Exposure", then "Ed", now this...
- DN

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Critics and magazines

I used to have an old collection of "Art In America" magazines from the 1960's and 70's. I had picked them up at a library book sale, a few years earlier.

Before passing them on to someone else, I read through them a couple times each and the one thing that has always struck me is the fact that I didn't recognize half the artists featured. What does that say? Were the critics wrong and these artists were not truely eternal or have universal appeal or is it the other way around - the artists were/are great but the market is flooded with greatness and its a crap-shoot on which ones survive.

I have shows lined-up for the next two years and am currently preparing for two exhibits running straight through this Feb - May. But I have to keep sending out portfolios and making the phone calls to guarantee I have exhibitions lined-up after then. Its a constant process of PR, often it is more time-consuming than the painting itself. The painting will never end, but what about the PR? The answer is unfortunately - it won't end either. Just look at that those poor schlubs that "made it" in "Art in America" magazine, forty years ago. Very few made a permanent name for themselves in Art History (well, as of yet). How many sat back after publication and said "I made it"? -DN

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Finnish Blogs MEME

I am becoming more and more open to the internet as an actual outlet of conceptual art. I actually believe it is a better place, than commercial galleries, for most installation video performance works - because of the larger available audience.

In a previous post I mentioned the addictive Post Secret project of writing down secrets and mailing them to an artist on the east coast. The artist/sponsor has taken a few of the ten-thousand-plus images and put them on a very popular blog/website.

I recently ran across another societal-based-art/internet-project. This MEME has been bouncing around the Finnish blogs: List your five wierdest habits and link to the blog you read it on. Now I hate chain-letter crap, but I see this as more of an interactive art project, plus I dig the fact that it has crossed the Atlantic.

Here's my list:
1. I make a drastic cross-country move every two to three years.
2. I hate answering/talking on the phone. I always prefer e-mail.
3. I prefer to go to movie theaters by myself (have always done this).
4. I only listen to audio books, while I paint (mystery or philosophy).
5. I keep buying British vehicles that are absolutely unreliable (and make me continuously angry) and when I get around to selling my current Land Rover, I will probably buy a different Brit car.

Do me a favor, if you write your own, link it to my blog or website. If you don't have a blog, just write your own list under the comments section of this post.

This is where I got the MEME


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Beck's Futures Prize

What's competing for this year's Beck's Futures prize? Here's a gallery of the nominated work... The Guardian (UK) 01/18/06

A few examples of painting nominated...
Click here to view
- DN

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Painting is Still Relevant - Despite what the media presents

On Jan 16th, I watched the latest CBS “Sunday Morning Show”. (It along with “60 Minutes” and “West Wing” are my only must watch shows during the week.) One of the feature stories of the “Sunday Morning Show” was the most recent “Miami Basil”. I discussed the event in an earlier post and commended the group of Pacific Northwest Artists that rented-out a motel to host their own exhibit in the city. But watching the show on Sunday I was struck by a very unsettling image – the lack of painting as a presence in the show. Now I had very little imagery to go on in my previous post about the Seattle-based artist group so I didn’t know if they were pushing mostly conceptual art as well or what and really didn’t care, at the time. But I now wonder what was the make-up of this “show of shows” for the USA. Is painting truly being delegated to the back-bin of contemporary art? That’s the impression given by the media presenting the event on my favorite Sunday morning show.

What will it take for painting with imagery, possibly even symbolism – to return to the forefront? Are Rauschenberg’s “Combines” as close as we will get to painting/drawing in the contemporary art market? - DN

Monday, January 16, 2006

Travel Art Movement

I am a sucker for good travel writing. "Blue Highways" chronicles the journey of a man as he circles the country in a van, searching for "his" America. "Take Me with You" tells the story of a man that scoured the world searching for that “perfect someone” to give the gift of America. Kerouac’s manic cross-country runs in "On the Road". I even read (and reread many times over) "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" for the thrill of the open-road odyssey as opposed to the much more relevant Chautauquas (well, more relevant from Pirsig’s point of view).

A few posts back, I mentioned the relevance of travel to my painting process and self-survival. How many more of us are out there? Could “travel” be the common source? It is very common for members of my generation to be well-traveled in comparison to their families. It certainly not that the airlines have gotten any easier or faster. So what is this urge to keep moving and continue the journey for the next thing? Is EXPERIENCE the new form of materialism?

One popular opinion is that the contemporary art movements of the twentieth century were pushing us into the direction of exposing and embracing materialism. If “travel” is the new materialism - then is it so radical to embrace travel as the new art movement? From the individual nomadic writers to the globe-trotting bands of gypsy art school students; this is happening without approval. It only makes since that formal powers will eventually embrace this “artistic history of movement” as artists use the internet to learn about exotic locales where which to create. - DN

Friday, January 13, 2006

At least they tried... I Suppose...

Last month, the Danish artists’ group Parallel Action attempted to culturally hijack Guantanamo Bay with the aid of a ghettoblaster and a recording of Beethoven’s Third Symphony. Unfortunately, they could not find anyone to help them get to the base from Jamaica. In 2003, the group toured Iraq for three weeks with a box called Democracy in the lead-up to the January 2004 elections. The box contained some tea and coffee cups, pencils, and proposals for world democracy. “We were in the position of court jesters,” said the leader of his Iraq venture."

I'm assumming no one else heard of these two Performance Art adventures, either. Makes you wonder if Parallel Action shouldn't spend more time in the studio DISCUSSING their plans BEFORE acting on them. - DN

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Make a Statement: The Arts Can be Powerful

"Plato had a love-hate relationship with the arts. He must have had some love for the arts, because he talks about them often, and his remarks show that he paid close attention to what he saw and heard. He was also a fine literary stylist and a great story-teller; in fact he is said to have been a poet before he encountered Socrates and became a philosopher. Some of his dialogues are real literary masterpieces. On the other hand, he found the arts threatening. He proposed sending the poets and playwrights out of his ideal Republic, or at least censoring what they wrote; and he wanted music and painting severely censored. The arts, he thought, are powerful shapers of character. Thus, to train and protect ideal citizens for an ideal society, the arts must be strictly controlled." Professor David Clowney, Rowan Univ.

Most artists, myself included, don't do enough with this powerful weapon we control.
The arts, he thought, are powerful shapers of character - We can influence our world, we can bring our country back from the brink of insanity. We can unify, rather than just "Stay the Course". But how? What art movement can influence rather than manipulate society?

Plato feared the power of art, but he respected it enough to utilize it to convey his own ideas. But what coming artistic storm did Plato fear? Was it "Uncle Tom's Cabin" or the now-famous 1984-esque Macintosh Superbowl Commercial or was it the Nazi-influenced-and-supervised art, literature, film, music and architecture of the 30's and 40's in Germany? The knee-jerk reaction is the Nazi answer. But what if it was all three. What if Plato, we forget he was human, feared the arts because they were the only thing capable of finding something better than his ideal society and he (of all people) knew he could not fight a GOOD idea and win? - DN

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Classics-Based Version of "Black Mountain College"?

One of my first posts, here, was about the influence and disappearance of Black Mountain College. My interest in the school is the manner in which it bucked tradition to teach through actual communication and interaction. The instructors were only there for the purpose facilitating conversation and to act as a professional influence.
Click here for a refresher course on the school: Black Mountain College

Recently, I ran across information about another “un-orthodox” school in my own backyard of Santa Fe (I just moved here, so forgive my only recent awareness). St. John's College teaches a "classics-only" based curriculum. Now when I say that I mean literally… classics only. No textbooks, everyone studies the same thing at the same time and everyone studies from the original texts. Professors are called “Tutors” and classes are structured around seminars – where your grade is based on your personal participation in thoughtful discussion. Also, students are “discouraged” from enquiring about their grade, because grades seem to be just a formality for the purpose of acquiring transcripts upon graduation.

From the St. John’s College Website:

St. John’s College is a co-educational, four year liberal arts college known for its distinctive “great books” curriculum.

  • The all-required course of study is based on the reading, study, and discussion of the most important books of the Western tradition. There are no majors and no departments; all students follow the same program.
  • Students study from the classics of literature, philosophy, theology, psychology, political science, economics, history, mathematics, laboratory sciences, and music. No textbooks are used. The books are read in roughly chronological order, beginning with ancient Greece and continuing to modern times.
  • All classes are discussion-based. There are no class lectures; instead, the students meet together with faculty members (called tutors) to explore the books being read.

The Mission of Liberal Education

St. John’s College is a community dedicated to liberal education. Such education seeks to free men and women from the tyrannies of unexamined opinions and inherited prejudices. It also endeavors to enable them to make intelligent, free choices concerning the ends and means of both public and private life.

At St. John’s, freedom is pursued mainly through thoughtful conversation about great books of the Western tradition. The books that are at the heart of learning at St. John’s stand among the original sources of our intellectual tradition. They are timeless and timely; they not only illuminate the persisting questions of human existence, but also have great relevance to contemporary problems. They change our minds, move our hearts, and touch our spirits.

I'm still only learning about this institution, but I am very curious about this school because of its basic premise of defying the system of higher education. Something I am very interested in doing to the academic art world.

Click here to read more about St. John’s College


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Using Art to Tell Our Secrets

"PostSecret" is the 2004 brainchild of Frank Warren, a document delivery service owner and part-time artist whose best-known previous project involved leaving enigmatic visual messages in bottles in a lake near his Germantown home. Calling himself "PostSecret's" "founder and curator," Warren has hit upon something much more powerful for his latest art project, whose rules are elegant in their simplicity: Share a secret with him, by postcard, as long as it is both true and something never told to anyone before. (Naturally, there's no way to verify either of these things, but why would anyone lie when it's all anonymous?)

Not all secrets revealed in "PostSecret," a Washington Project for the Arts/Corcoran presentation of anonymous, confessional postcards, are of the stop-the-presses variety.

"I gave my vegetarian sister a meal with beef," reads one missive, glued in cut-out magazine type like a ransom letter.

"I think Little Richard is creepy as hell," reads another. Hey, join the club, pal.

Others throb with ancient, undulled heartache, like this one, which raises as many questions as it answers: "I annually attempt suicide on December 12, because it's the anniversary of when Child Services didn't take me away." Washington Post 12/23/2005

Click here to visit his website: PostSecret

I read through a bit of the book at B&N. I have to warn you, the website is addictive.


Monday, January 09, 2006

Neo-Dadaist or just "The Men's Room had a Line"

"The Dada movement made its name in the early 20th century by trying to destroy the conventional notion of art. Taking literal inspiration from their exploits this week, a latter-day neo-Dadaist took a small hammer to Marcel Duchamp's 'Fountain,' the factory-made urinal that is considered the cornerstone of Conceptual Art. The assailant, a French performance artist named Pierre Pinoncelli, was immediately arrested after his act of vandalism... The porcelain urinal was slightly chipped in the attack and was withdrawn to be restored... Mr. Pinoncelli, 77, who urinated into the same urinal and struck it with a hammer in a show in Nîmes in 1993, has a long record of organizing bizarre happenings. Police officials said he again called his action a work of art, a tribute to Duchamp and other Dada artists." The New York Times 01/07/06

Is what Mr. Pinoncelli did really wrong - as it fits within the Dadaist movement? Plus the guy is 77, so its kinda like he deserves a "get-out-of-jail-free" card. Twelve years ago, when his peers in the USA were applying for Social Security, this fella is "giving closure" to Duchamp's sculpture by urinating in it (which I believe to be a better artistic statement than just beating the thing with a hammer). So, hammer or not, by returning to the work when he is 77, he obviously feels some sort of need to make an artistic statement.

On a side-note... I always preferred "Nude Descending the Stairs" over "Fountain", so I wasn't really offended by his actions. - DN

Friday, January 06, 2006

Where to Make Art?

A couple posts ago, I discussed NYC and the relocation of the center of the art world. My problem with the center of the art world being a metropolis like NYC is not the marketing or the cost-of-living or even the huge social-conundrums it would cause me - personally. I fear how it would impede my painting or maybe how it will change it. My production style and numbers have gone through the roof compared to when I lived in an urban region.

Three years ago, I moved to rural northern Montana from St. Louis for a complete change of environment. In St. Louis, my work was somewhat more figurative – I assume it had to do with the three million people living there. Most recently, I have moved to Santa Fe for the gallery scene and another change of environment. Something else to paint, that's the motivation; I’m enamored by New Mexico's high desert light and the way in which it has changed the colors of my paintings.

Like any good thing, I was just starting to get a foothold in the Montana gallery market, when I left. So did I throw it away? I still have some presence in the galleries of that state, but was it the right move to drop south? I say yes. (Obviously, since I moved). In two years I had produced over 400 paintings of the northern Rocky Mountain eco-system (particularly Glacier National Park & Banff); it was time to explore the southern Rockies. I love Montana like no other place in the world, it is home. But after seeing the growth of work produced in my so far brief New Mexico hiatus - I like what's happening, artistically.

So would it have been a "sell-out" to stay in Montana for the purposes of "having a good thing started with galleries" and "being comfortable"? My very nature is to travel and paint my experiences. How much of that makes my work what it is? Is it my work that needs the influx of new associations and environments or is it my on neurosis? How many artists need to keep that change happening, in order to continue growing artistically? By the time I left Montana, I was "chomping at the bit"; how long until that happens again? My goal is to stay in Santa Fe long enough to establish a career HERE. But will that eventually mutate into a "sell out"?

I produce work with the sole intention of producing work, the selling is an afterthought. That has led to two standards in my career:

1. I quit accepting the majority of commissions (any with guidelines beyond size and media).
2. My work became more relevant to my life and I produce a truckload of it.

So does it matter where an artist lives regarding the work produced? Is my avoidance of the metropolis the best way to protect my “process” for making art? Pollock’s greatest achievements came after leaving the city for the peace of space. A friend, this morning, described my work as a journey. Does that mean that I have to continue my wanderings to continue the work?


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Art of Ads

"The Advertising Icon Museum, to open in the fall of 2007, will feature hundreds of toys, dolls, display figurines, cereal bowls, coffee mugs and ashtrays depicting almost a century's worth of fictional characters hawking everything from food and beer to household appliances and financial services. Electronic and printed displays will walk visitors through the evolution of commercial advertising in the United States and the importance icons have had in reaching customers, first in printed ads and later from the television screen." Kansas City Star (AP) 01/03/06

How influenced is contemporary artwork by the print or graphic media? My own work is obviously influenced by the WPA posters for National Parks and travel. But even before then, I, like most artistic children, had childhood fantasies of comic books and animation. I definately see tracings of this sneaking into my current process of paintng with inks (particularly black) and my use of contour lines.

Thematically, I've mentioned the movement of a core "Philosophy of Beliefs", but it seems to deride the concept of a stylistic unity. Is a stylistic unity needed in an art movement? If so, is it possible that this entire generation that grew-up on home computers, color television and video games could be overwelmed by the influence of graphic arts in their fine art production? - DN

Monday, January 02, 2006

Philosophy of Belief reflected in Art

My paintings are described as follows:

Searching for a distinctive premise in my work, I explore the culture of the communities that reside in shadow of natural wonders. I have taught myself to paint in a manner that unravels how average people instinctively utilize philosophy, religion and literature to deal with a beautiful environment that constantly attempts to kill them with weather, emptiness and wild hardship. The majority of my work never parades figures across the composition instead I paint their general presence or absence through the use of symbols. The representations are often displayed in the form of abstracted houses, orbs, ladders or tracks. Through the use of landscape, movement and symbolism; my work has evolved into a conduit of philosophy and literature as it affects the common person in an exceptional environment.

My present work thematically explores the cultural impact of over 6,000 Jews residing in the Santa Fe region and how they relate to the other resident cultures of the area as well as the natural complement of the New Mexico high desert to Israel . As a painter I am continually struggling to advance the physical attributes of my paintings beyond my training of the ‘technical skills of depicting realism'. Recently, I was overwhelmed by the following comment made by art critic, Jerry Saltz, in a recent ‘Village Voice’ article – ‘All great contemporary artists, schooled or not, are essentially self-taught and are de-skilling like crazy. I don't look for skill in art; I look for originality, surprise, obsession, energy, experimentation, something visionary, and a willingness to embarrass oneself in public. Skill has nothing to do with technical proficiency; it has to do with being flexible and creative. I'm interested in people who rethink skill, who redefine or reimagine it: an engineer, say, who builds rockets from rocks.’ That’s what I envision in my work; the ability to build philosophies from landscapes.

Now I am curious about the next step that binds singular artists together, while retaining their individuality. As I look at the most basic underlying feature of my work I discover my own "philosophy of belief". Even in Montana, my work made loose references to the impact of my own Judaism amongst the inhabitants of this foreign soil (foreign to me). That leads me to think of all the contemporary religious art (typically Christian) that I have long encountered. Rather than blatantly painting images of the biblical prophets, my own work is an impression of how my natural environment is affected by my core beliefs. My question is how many other artists are finding references to their core "philosophy of beliefs" creaping into their works?

Can this underlying theme of a muted "philosophy of beliefs"be a driving force in a universal movement? A theme that does not care about the actual belief itself, but rather the fact that it is present is enough. I believe it is possible that a Jew and a Hindu can make artistic decisions and conclusions in their work about a particular subject, simply based on their initial approach to creating the work as (the process) is influenced by their core "philosophy of belief(s)". -DN