Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Blues

I have gotten pretty far down the last few weeks, hence the lessening number of posts. As a pick-me-up, my wife located a restaurant/bar that featured some local blues musicians; nailed down a sitter for the kids and off we went to drown my sorrows at the brew house, last Saturday evening. The restaurant where they were playing was part of the Santa Fe Brewery, so my initial reaction to the eight-beer sampler tray was a resounding “hell ya”. I’ve heard DWI laws in New Mexico are really stringent (first offense gets you a $1000 fine and an ignition interlock – which means you blow into a breathalyzer to start your car), so I was careful about how much I consumed, despite the tastiness of their seasonal brew. Instead this night, I spent most of the evening filling my gut with hot wings, barbeque sandwiches and sweet potato fries – which was very different from the time I watched Robert Cray perform in a bar on the Mississippi riverfront in St. Louis. At the end of that night, my wife had to carry me to the car after a dozen or so Newcastle Brown Ales and three hours of music in a room of only 100 guests with our table only twenty feet from the stage. That is still one of my favorite memories.

In typical local band fashion, Saturday night’s musicians started their set an hour later than scheduled. Once the Ryan McGarvey Band was onstage, however, the music began to flow and my groove started to improve. That is until I started to notice the dissimilarities between myself and my fellow patrons. As I looked around, I realized I had stepped into an AARP convention. There were exactly three people in the house under the age of 65. My wife, myself and this freaky-ass chick at the bar that was probably no more than 25 and yet desperately trying to pick-up one of our fellow senior citizen patrons (sugar-daddy, anyone?).

A woman in her early seventies, sitting at a table directly in front of me was playing the air guitar, while her similarly-aged husband/companion sported a rat-tale (remember those nasty hair additions from the eighties?) and did a very poor rendition of the now-famous “white-man’s overbite”. After a few minutes, they joined the rest of the over-65-crowd on the dance floor for some extremely clumsy dance moves. Now I’m not saying I’m Fred Astaire, but at least I recognized that fact and kept myself at my little round table with my wife, my hot wings and my microbrew sampler platter.

Now after giving a fairly destructive tirade of his audience, I have to lend lead singer and guitarist Ryan McGarvey some credit for ignoring his patrons and getting lost in some pretty good music. He wrote his own stuff, which with the exception of every song starting with either babe or baby within the first four words – it was good. His dedication to his art, made me question my own. Was this kid, McGarvey, committed to his work because he was barely more than twenty and he didn’t know any better, or was it something deeper?

My first real introduction to the blues came from my very good friend – the bluesman Don Haupt. He’s released two albums and was once scheduled to open for Ray Charles, but the show was cancelled due to an illness with the more famous performer – and a few months later the master died. Now playing for over fifteen years (at least seven of which was professionally), Don is the epitome of a classic Mississippi Delta Blues musician, complete with his National-brand resonance guitar. Then a few months ago I learned that he quit the music business. Granted, he has a rougher way to go than most artists - given his dedication to performing within a classic genre boasting a limited audience; but this guy is truly great at his craft. What could make him just quit? Was he bored? Did he not know how to keep the process of making music as interesting for himself as for his audience? Or was he just tired of fighting to survive? My scroll paintings remind me of his music because of the nature of their rarity. Some days, weeks and even months – I have trouble continuing what I do because I grow tired of having to defend or “sell” something I find myself attached to in such an emotional manner.

Fortunately, my wife knows me well enough to understand that something as dark and moody as the blues is the best weapon in her arsenal for bringing me out of a funk. But it was something else at that restaurant that seemed to work the magic I needed; the hilarity of the audience that night was beyond her control and we spent most of the evening laughing and being snarky at their expense. – DN

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Nowhere to Call Home

Katherine Dunham, who died this past weekend aged 96, "was one of the first American artists to focus on black dance and dancers as prime material for the stage... Though Miss Dunham's academic credentials as an anthropologist were impeccable, including a doctorate from the University of Chicago, it was her gift for seduction that helped most to pave the way for choreographers like Donald McKayle, Talley Beatty and Alvin Ailey." The New York Times 05/23/06

I briefly worked with Katherine Dunham, though I doubt she would have remembered me. I was 24 years old, the Executive Director of an Arts Council in Missouri and I had engaged her dance troupe to perform at various public venues across southern Missouri. She was spry and happy in her obvious pride for her troupe of young students. At the time, it never occurred to me that she was 90 years old.

During my four years with the Arts Council, I dealt with various levels of professionalism regarding artists. For instance, I remember a Mississippi Riverboat Band that required a “place to smoke their pipes” between performance sites; a classical guitarist that necessitated we provide a first-class seat for his guitar when traveling; and an upstate NY photographer that wanted our gallery to invest $2000 in a key-lock system just to “lock” each and every one of her frames to the wall for the duration of the exhibit. Needless to say, the frugality of Ms. Dunham’s East Saint Louis dance troupe has always stuck with me. She was probably one of the more famous artists we worked with, but she didn’t spend all her time reminding everyone of her “importance”, she only cared about her students having the best opportunity to perform.

Despite Ms. Dunham’s fame, she spent much of her life and money on her hometown of East St. Louis. I lived in St. Louis for a few years, so I can say with an adequate amount of knowledge that East St. Louis is a first-class dive. The fact that Ms. Dunham left that place, made her name elsewhere and returned – says a lot about our human desire to have a place “to call home”. Unfortunately, this power of “home” eludes me. I doubt I could ever return to the place I was raised and eek out an existence that would make me swell with pride. I enjoy my travels and value the interactions I have had with various new communities. Probably, the most important thing I have learned over the years is the uniqueness of every place that exhibits itself as a truly individual culture. At the same time, every place seems ripe with individuals willing to do anything to go somewhere else. What is it about leaving behind our origins that makes some of us feel more successful? What must occur for a person to return home with a sense of pride and fulfillment? Is the need to return home learned, acquired or just some freaky-ass form of genetic underwear that I simply don’t own? – DN

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Combining Travel Writing and Philosophy

The Painter and the Travel Writer

You looked to the words of Steinbeck and Least-Heat Moon.

I rubbed the oily hues deeper in my flesh.

Secretly studying poetry hiding as prose.

Looking to no one living – but one.

Masquerading in medicine.

Sleeping among the socialite donors.

Traveling across four seas to other cultures

Selling culture for convictions.

But I am writing now

and you take pictures.

There is still the stain of old hues on my right hand

and the ink of text on your left fingertips.

Many years ago, a childhood friend led me to see the depth of travel writing. He’s currently working toward his own graduate degree in English, though sometimes I believe he’d be happier just traveling and writing for publication. Although, who am I to judge, no matter what I do in life, I always find myself looking for something else. Even now, as I “live the dream”, I find my interests swaying elsewhere. Not necessarily for anything better, just different.

The last few years, I have found myself interested in books that find new ways to combine travel writing and philosophy. Pirsig did it fairly well in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Newsome did it from a more naïve perspective in Take Me with You, as did Least Heat-Moon in Blue Highways.

While it is not specifically geared toward the vein of travel writing, Purdue University offers a fairly new graduate program that combines English and Philosophy; the following is their description of the program:

The Purdue University Special Doctoral Program in English and Philosophy offers an interdisciplinary course of study on the graduate level leading to the Ph.D. degree. The program encourages the interplay between philosophy and literature currently animating discussions in such areas as social and critical theory, feminism, hermeneutics, narrative, semiotics, psychoanalysis, aesthetics, African-American studies, and cultural studies. In consultation with faculty, each student designs a plan of study to accommodate specific goals and interests. The program seeks to foster critical and independent thought while providing cohesive professional training.

What is the potential of this study? Is the Purdue program building writers or philosophers? Twentieth century writers that followed this type of path have largely been ignored in philosophy’s academic realm. Ayn Rand has probably had the greatest influence when it comes to combining philosophy and literature – but she is still rarely mentioned in college-level philosophy courses. Even the philosophical aspects of Kerouac’s “journeys” tend to be glossed over when formally studied in university English courses.

The philosophy I am most predisposed to pursue in both my life and work is the importance of knowledge from the perspective of travel. What manner can I best illuminate my understanding of these two concepts (philosophy & travel) – via writing or painting? Can I equally do both in a manner that is not wasteful of time or talent? Are there other examples I can explore to better understand my sense of direction? Are there others currently pursuing the same path? – DN

Friday, May 19, 2006

Trophy Art

Can art only be made by those that call themselves artists? In the ongoing argument of “what is art”, I often find myself leaning towards the concept that art is a representation of life whether it is an exact reproduction or a vague expression of concepts as they relate to personal experience. Saying that leads me to also believe that “good” art and “bad” art are still both equally qualifying as art. This approach allows me to appreciate various forms of conceptual work as well as more traditional painting mediums.

I know, first-hand, that a common practice among our soldiers, in Iraq, is the taking of visual trophies in the form of home movies and photographs of dead Iraqis. My initial response to this revelation was disgust. Where is the humanity in recording death and keeping it in a photo album on your coffee table? Where is the ethical maturity in video-taping actual battles in a war and running them through your Mac to edit-in music for a slick MTV-style presentation to share with your friends?

Having said all that… in its own sick and twisted manner – is this documentation art? The photos and videos are representations of actual personal experiences of the soldiers. Furthermore, the videos are explicitly edited and revised with the intent of public exhibition (even if it is a small audience). Andy Warhol’s “films” were little more than mindless porn, yet they are still often listed as “art”… is there much difference? Hollywood has repeatedly proven: sex and violence are inexplicably bound – consider that influence when looking at the homo-erotic undertones of the Abu Ghraib torture photos.

Is taking photographs of the dead enemy as despicable as I initially believed? I still think so. As an American hunter with a deer mounted above my living room kiva (fireplace), I have trouble thinking of the trophy as art. Furthermore, I have a problem justifying taking a human as a trophy. However, with contemporary trends in art leading to a blend of conceptual representation, I believe it possible in a hundred years, these current soldiers’ “documentation” could easily be viewed as art:

1. Although war is a continuous and eternal part of humanity, future generations will feel removed from the present experience.

2. I believe these soldiers in many instances are recording the experience of war (via the recording of death) as a form of self-medication. Hence, the recording of these events (however troubling) is a representation of how they cope with their unique experiences.

"You are who you spend time with, so you have to pick your friends wisely." – actress Maxine Bahns

The above quote comes from low-budget film actress Maxine Bahns (films include: She’s the One, Brothers McMullen). I have never thought much of Ms. Bahn’s acting ability, but I must admit that her quote really rings true; despite its basic appearance. Sometimes missing out on that kind of basic truth can affect an entire lifetime of a person or even a generation. - DN

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Privacy is a Basic Human Need

The debate over privacy vs. security has been raging in Washington and across the country recently, thanks to the controversial surveillance tactics being used by the Bush Administration. But in such a globally connected world, what is privacy, anyway, and can we really afford it? Bruce Schneier says the issue is far simpler than many people make it sound, and the obvious conclusion is that we can't afford not to make privacy a priority. "We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need."

The most common retort against privacy advocates -- by those in favor of ID checks, cameras, databases, data mining and other wholesale surveillance measures -- is this line: "If you aren't doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?"

Some clever answers: "If I'm not doing anything wrong, then you have no cause to watch me." "Because the government gets to define what's wrong, and they keep changing the definition." "Because you might do something wrong with my information." My problem with quips like these -- as right as they are -- is that they accept the premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong. It's not. Privacy is an inherent human right, and a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect.

Two proverbs say it best: Quis custodiet custodes ipsos? ("Who watches the watchers?") and "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." Wired 05/18/06

Even in painting, artists are subject to their own sense of privacy. We make choices throughout the creation process of what parts of our psyche to expose and what to hide. While it is true that we very often make unconscious choices to reveal certain ideas and previously undisclosed aspects of our lives; these public revelations still occur by our own hand. Giving away power over our own privacy is very much a loss of freedom. – DN

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Yesterday, I ran across two stories of political entities that obviously have lost the filter that sits somewhere between our brain and our mouth. The first is funny, the second is sad:

1. Cyprus ‘Utopian’ candidate promises free love

‘My new order will give people ... lots of love for all,’ fringe politician says

LARNACA, Cyprus - Costas Kyriakou is promising Cypriot voters Utopia and that means sex. A colorful candidate among a sea of suited businessmen and lawyers, Kyriakou says he is offering voters an alternative in the island’s May 21 parliamentary elections.

“My new order will give people ... lots of love for all,” he says. His nickname, “Utopos”, combines two Greek words which coined the term “Utopia”, meaning “No Place.”

A strapping man with piercing blue eyes, he draws on ideas from Plato and Christian apocalyptic scriptures for his ideal city-state where people live in communes and share everything.

But central to his Utopia is sex, a campaign pledge which draws guffaws of disbelief from deeply conservative Cypriots.

“I propose a regime of free love,” he declares.

“The men will see it as a system of free love, the women as a matriarchy ... they will be able to carry the sperm of the most handsome men, and give the child her name.”

Utopos, an independent candidate for the western region of Paphos, has hit the campaign trail running. Literally.

Sporting a black bandana, jeans and sandals, he has crossed most Cypriot towns on foot, chatting with locals and handing out his pamphlets.

Utopos, 48, quit philosophy school in his third year and is now a farmer. “I knew more than they did. I was against others trying to stuff my head with ideas.”

It is his second run for parliament, which he sees as a stepping stone to the presidency. He ran in the presidential election of 2003, where he won 0.44 percent of the vote, the highest figure among a smattering of fringe non-party candidates.

Utopos disputes this. “I received 73 percent,” he said.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

2. No sooner had Tony Snow finished his first briefing as the president's press secretary than Democratic activist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile was on the phone to April Ryan, who covers the White House for the Urban Radio Network.

In declining to discuss the NSA's alleged collection of domestic phone records, Snow had said he wouldn't "hug the tar baby" of commenting on a program the White House won't confirm or deny. Brazile wanted it known that several people called her to complain about that reference to an American folk story about a trap that's impossible to get out of — which has also been used as a racial slur. Ryan has obligingly filed a story about it.

A recent comment to one of my posts made an undeniable comparison between artists and revolutionaries as individuals with similar motivations; yet possibly inconsistent potential and/or direction. The politician described in the above first article definitely blurs the line between artist and humorous revolutionary. Unfortunately, the second article exhibits little inspiration from the new White House Press Secretary. Although the Cypress “Utopian” candidate is obviously extreme in his approach (not unlike Texas candidate-for-Governor, Kinky Friedman); I must admit that I find his tactics more inspiring than our own federal administration’s method of dividing the country by race and income. I don’t know how else to classify a reference to “hug the tar baby” when it comes from what SHOULD be our country’s most respected soap-box.

I suppose, I mostly find this concept interesting after consideration of my recent reading of revolutionaries in the Hemingway novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. Are we forever “stuck” with uninspiring career-politicians because the artist is too introverted to be a revolutionary of substance? What will it take for the “artist-as-revolutionary” to play well with others? – DN

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Time for a Hemingway-esque Rescue

In my early twenties, I went through the obligatory Hemingway phase that seems mandatory of so many youthful American males. With the exception of one novel, I read everything he ever published including a book of his by-lines from an early journalism career with various papers such as the Kansas City Star. As I began to make my way through his repertoire of writings, I faced the fear that one day I would run-out of “new” Hemingway material; so I set aside one of his most popular novels for a time when I would “need” a final Hemingway fix.

Now I’ve gone and done it. A few days ago, I opened For Whom the Bell Tolls. I have a habit of reading three or four books at a time, so it probably shouldn’t surprise me that I pulled this final Hemingway from the shelf. I’m also currently reading Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer, Common Sense by Thomas Paine (re-reading), Chris-In-The-Morning: Love, Life, and the Whole Karmic Enchilada by Louis Chunovic and Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder.

Maybe I just wanted to read about food. I always enjoyed the manner in which Hemingway took me on a culinary pilgrimage; over the years I’ve even created some of my favorite recipes for duck and escargot from descriptions in his books. While my grandmother instilled a taste for roasted duck, Hemingway made my absolute favorite food snails broiled in the shells with butter and shallots. I can eat them a dozen at a time and I proudly admit I’ve already passed the predilection on to my two young sons.

My wife became a little concerned when she saw me reading my “final” Hemingway the other day and she asked me – what does this mean? I really don’t know. Maybe I’m tired of the burden of intellectual tragedy that accompanies reading philosophy; perhaps I want a baser form of tragedy that comes from primal urges of masculinity and “men doing what men must do” as it can only be found in the every-man of Hemingway. Then again, maybe I’m just hungry. - DN

Monday, May 15, 2006

Where Do You Go To live Your Dreams?

“Dreams are necessary to life.” -Anais Nin

Anais Nin is most famous for her “diaries” of life among the famous writers and artists of the early 20th century. Ms. Nin recorded her private experiences and delicate interactions for nearly sixty years in a collection of diaries written with specific themes and allusions. Her public writing contrasted heavily with her private diaries and it is this personal approach that intrigues me both as an artist and writer.

In my youth, I was a fan of the “Choose your own adventure” style of quest books. I dare say, I blame those books for my early introduction to the freedom and risk of “personal choice”. Hence, I now imagine art (both visual and literary) as a series of personal narratives; though not just created descriptions of what has occurred – but more importantly latent possibilities for alternative realities. – DN

Friday, May 12, 2006


What is the point?

I look around and want to know where I fit in the world. Where are others that think like me? Who else wants what I want? What do I really want out of life?

The “dream” is to be left alone to make what ever kind of art you want without the worry of having to sell. I have that. I don’t know that it is enough.

The most popular “new art movement” to develop in the past 30 years is Stuckism. Over the past few years they have even developed an international following. Click here for a link to the website. I briefly mentioned it in one of my very first posts. The following is a description from their website:

Stuckism is a network of artists. It is not a gallery or an agency. If you are looking for someone to promote your work or to give you feedback, then this is the wrong place.

Stuckism is a DIY movement of independent artists, who agree on a core philosophy. It is pro contemporary figurative painting with ideas. You can get more understanding of this from the Manifestos, Paintings, Essays and Interviews. You aren't expected to agree with everything, but there's no point if you disagree with everything either. It's up to you to decide if you want to identify with this movement and if you feel your work belongs in it.

We do not assess work, as long as it is figurative painting, and if you want to affiliate, then you can. You can either contact an existing group, or found a group, which is usually better.

I don’t agree with everything promoted by the writings of this group. Furthermore, I don’t appreciate the work of over half the members’ pages I visited. Seemed to be a lot of “self-taught artists” that reject all formal education; while I do respect rebels that learn on their own (I consider myself one), I do not agree with across-the-board rejection of formal learning. The concept of closed-mindedness is wrong in all forms.

Their manifestos and such also lead me to believe that they would reject the work of a number of artists I hold dear, such as Jackson Pollock. Discounting his work because of his non-representational “drip paintings” is short-sighted in regard to considering his passion for the “process” of painting.

Having said all that, I am still intrigued by this group of artists. My own work most definitely falls within their boundaries of representational, symbolic, expressive and narrative. If I define myself by my paintings, are my paintings a cumulative definition of me? Is this group that my paintings identify with; though I do not – the right place for me?- DN


World Premiere Companionism Art Movement Event to be Held at the Portland Art Museum
World Premiere of a new art movement in a special event at the Portland Art Museum.

/24-7PressRelease/ - VISTA, CA, April 30, 2006 - The world premiere of the brand new art movement known as Companionism was founded by David Scotland, who grew up in the Portland / Vancouver area, and is based on a new kind of energy-effect that is imbued into the art.

The Artist's proprietary process for creating this first of it's kind art is being kept under very tight wraps until the event on the night of Thursday June 8, 2006 at the Portland Art Museum, when he will reveal the story behind the art, the ancient science behind the mystery of his artwork, why modern day scientists and doctors are both excited and baffled by its effects, and why top collectors in the art world are busy snatching up and collecting his art as fast as he creates it, and what the implications of his art may mean to modern politics, western medicine, the healing arts, the art world itself, and the larger global economy.

At the June 8th event the artist will create an original piece of art live in front of hundreds of guests. Hollywood star Tucker Smallwood and Portland / Vancouver TV and theatre veteran Linda Greep will perform a live reading of David Scotland's poetry accompanied by his energy music, during the presentation. The finished piece of art will be placed in another museum collection, the name of which will be announced the night of the performance by one of David's fellow performers, the art patron Sunny Chayes.

The Portland Art Museum was selected for this event because the artist wants to give back to the community he's lived in for over 20 years. During that time he had attended University of Portland, graduated from George Fox University, and studied music with Portland's top teachers Stan Trogan and Nellie Tholen.

The Artist is the son of Larry and Linda Greep - the latter who has performed in countless professional theatre productions in Portland for over the last 20 years, including creating Vancouver's first kid's TV show, "Kids on Cable," and becoming Oregon Public Broadcasting's pledge hostess of choice for OPB pledge drives.

The June 8, 2006 show at the Portland Art Museum is not without its string of firsts, or controversial dangers. For the first time in his life, the artist will be accompanied by his longtime energy mentor, Dr. Melissa Andersson, onstage for a post-performance "energy balancing" ritual that will have the artist demonstrating one of the effects the science behind the mystery of his art has, by attempting to break a steel-tipped arrow at his trachea...without puncturing the skin.

"My art speaks for real health for both the human energy system and external business 'systems' all of us must operate in every day. My art is about hope, healing, and the ethics of healthy electromagnetic energy - not the LEAST of which starts within our own minds and literally the human brain which has been PROVEN to be electrical because we can all get MRI scans to show this. I hope the people who need to wake up, will actually wake up," Scotland said.

The artist's passion continues with, "Because so many people need help, I'm on a mission. It's why I'm doing all this. I want to help as many as I can whether that's through supporting Habitat for Humanity, or exposing what needs to be fixed in today's crisis of American schools and education, consumer debt, healthcare, and other areas. So many people are being "killed off" and murdered needlessly whether it's through an educational, financial, spiritual, or literal death...and it's done entirely by people's own unwillingness to question what is going on IN THEMSELVES and then in the world.

WEBSITES for the David Scotland Event:

The entire performance is being filmed for feature films and a special documentary about the artist.

Artworks by the artist will be on display at the Albina Community Bank located in the heart of Portland, Oregon's Pearl District where works will be made available for purchase for a limited time only. A portion of the proceeds from the Albina Bank showing shall be donated to Portland Habitat for Humanity.

It seems to me that a new art movement shouldn't be so secretive and elitist (or wanta-be elitist). The purpose of taking art ideas and making a movement is to share the ideas (not just sell them) so that others take your philosophy and establish precedent in history. - DN

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Looking to the Future Should Not Forget the Past

A comment to my last post mentioned that artists such as me need to look to the future rather than be hung-up on the past (I’m generalizing the comment).

I agree that a rehash of past issues is fairly pointless when it is just for the sake of repetition. The approach I have attempted to create is one that takes into account the past knowledge and utilizes it for a contemporary purpose. The Impressionists did it with Japanese Woodblock Prints; Picasso did it with African Masks; and my favorite Beat Poets did it with Zen Buddhism.

The following is a description of Jackson Pollock’s use of classic cultural references, as “borrowed” from Wikipedia:

"My painting does not come from the easel. I hardly ever stretch the canvas before painting. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting." This is akin to the method of the Indian sandpainters of the West.

"I continue to get further away from the usual painter's tools such as easel, palette, brushes, etc. I prefer sticks, trowels, knives and dripping fluid paint or a heavy impasto with sand, broken glass or other foreign matter added.

"When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of 'get acquainted' period that I see what I have been about. I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well."

Pollock did observe Indian Sandpainting demonstrations at the Museum of Modern Art in the 1940's; he may have also seen Indian Sandpainters on his trips to the West, although that is debated. Other influences on his "pour" technique include the Mexican muralists mentioned above, and also Surrealist automatism. Pollock denied "the accident"; he usually had an idea of how he wanted a particular piece to appear. It was about the movement of his body, over which he had control, mixed with the viscous flow of paint, the force of gravity, and the way paint was absorbed into the canvas. The mix of the uncontrollable and the controllable. Flinging, dripping, pouring, spattering, he would energetically move around the canvas, almost as if in a dance, and would not stop until he saw what he wanted to see.

Whenever I consider my motivation for establishing or “simply finding” the next art movement; I think of something my friend “Ohio Greg” said to me more than once:

“Nearly everything you can think of has already been done by someone somewhere; if you have one original idea your entire life, then you are fortunate.”

I certainly want to look to the future to create a meaningful art movement that at the same time is viable enough to overcome the status of minor movement; but I also retain my appreciation for what those that went before me have learned. It is that very same appreciation of historical philosophical advancements in enlightenment that have allowed me to search for new ways of approaching the representation of life, without being burdened with re-inventing the wheel along the way. It is that search for future relevance that has led me to establish this blog as a way of collecting others with similar perspectives and questions about the direction of art, literature and philosophy. - DN

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Reaching Beyond Traditional Barriers

If real artists are all just enlightened technicians, with different approaches to our “craft”, then shouldn’t the next art movement simply define separations in philosophical approach, regardless of discipline?

Freud was detrimental to the surrealist art movement of the early 20th century, while many of the 19th century Transcendentalists were former theologians. Therefore, if a philosophical approach is agreed upon by “artists” in the visual arts, literature and even philosophy/theology/sociology – doesn’t everyone have something worthwhile to contribute? - DN

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Maybe Something Good will Come Of This

"Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." - Harry Lime in the film The Third Man

Speed is Everything, These Days

I entered art school with starry-eyed dreams of animation and comic book art. This was and still is very common for students of my generation and younger. I came from the first generation fully raised on a combination of television and home video games. Before we even entered school we played Intellivision and Atari 2600 at home. Once we entered school we traded Commodore 64 games via floppy disks and rented Nintendo games at the local video store. The idea of piracy was cool and I learned to “hack” software on the Commodore and buy “hot” Nintendo games from Jimmy Jones under the stairwell at the Jr. High for $5 each. I even recall trading copies of movies like “Beverly Hills Cop 2” with Michael Tucker, in the 7th grade.

Early in college, I outgrew my infatuation with comic-art, although I believe my style will always show a bit of its influence. I have more to say with my work than I feel can come across in a few humorous anecdotes or short films. I’m not discrediting others that work in that vein – I’m just saying it’s not for me.

Having said all that, I do believe that my “need” to work as an action painter comes more from an actual hands-on video-game-culture youth of fulfilling immediate satisfaction as opposed to an infatuation with Pollock via stories and pictures. I steal artistic influence from art history and contemporaries not because Picasso said it was alright, but rather because I practiced liberating electronic media in my youth. I wonder how much of the modern/abstract art movement was spurred by the advance of photography due to the need to “not compete against the new technological realism” and how much was an attempt to just find satisfaction while “speeding-up” the process of making art by hand? – DN

Monday, May 08, 2006

True Measure of Intelligence

In high school, one of my many jobs was in a bakery. It may very well have been this job that first taught me the variety of people offered in the greater-world. Before, employment, such as waiting tables, had always kept me with other kids my own age, whether they were in school or drop-outs. The bakery position was the first to actually mix me with adult workers, trying to survive in the world of bills and responsibilities. I remember the manager Mary, that believed young love was pointless and all problems could be solved with flowers; the training-Manager Joe and his shameless pursuit of women – of whom I later wrote a college English story; the short womanizing Don Juan-esque clerk, Paul that enjoyed singing, while he worked and seemed to win every raffle he ever entered, including one for a new car; and Becky, the short half-crazy clerk that bragged to anyone who would listen that her mail-carrier husband had raped her on their first date. Needless to say it was an eye-opening introduction to the blue-collar world.

But mostly, I remember John. He wore glasses and a shaggy beard that made him look twice as old as his twenty-five years. He was not quick-witted and as a smartass teenager, I did my best to exemplify this quality through practical jokes. For some reason he liked me, though. He did not work at the bakery for very long, but I do remember an after-work invitation to visit the apartment he shared with his girlfriend a week or two before he quit. We sat around his kitchen table, an acquisition from the Salvation Army thrift store and I engaged in my first philosophical conversation. Our discussion didn’t include recitations from Voltaire or platitudes of Plato. Instead, it was a simple discussion of life and the little things that made people like John and his girlfriend continue the journey. They moved all over the country always trying to find better jobs. Neither had finished high school, but John was planning to stay around my hometown long enough to complete his equivalency test. I must have sat at that table for four hours that night just listening to their dreams. They reminded me of the Joad family in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, always searching for something better. There is one thing from that evening that John said that I have never forgotten. He stated that his greatest fear was Alzheimer’s disease and if he ever developed it, he would want to die before it advanced too far. What made this guy fear the loss of intelligence, when he so obviously didn’t have that much to lose?

I treasure knowledge and learning and work to instill that same respect for scholarship in my children – and that’s the answer to why John with so little knowledge valued what he had. He respected intelligence – to whatever degree, great or small.

Rather than actual cleverness, intellect is instead simply an acceptance of respect to personal aptitude. He resigned from the bakery and moved to California, a couple weeks later, I’m not sure if he ever earned his GED for a High School equivalency diploma. John was without dreams of academic prowess or even business success, rather he wanted to use what he had to see the country while surviving along the way – an everyday Kerouac, without the downside of the intellectual’s common burden of depression (I’m not saying all intellectuals experience depression, just that its more common). The funniest thing is – despite the way he lived his life, I doubt John had even heard of Kerouac. – DN

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Conspiracy Deepens

Thanks to my friend Bren, for the link.

Dan Brown has announced the plot of his Da Vinci Code follow up novel, The Kinkade Code. In this startling new tale, Harvard professor of Religious Symbology, Robert Langdon, discovers hidden clues in the idyllic, bucolic paintings of Thomas Kinkade and uncovers an ancient conspiracy intent on littering Christian homes around the globe with mediocre works of art.

Click the above link to see where I "borrowed" it. - DN

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Collection of Phonebooks

I have an odd habit of collecting telephone books whenever I travel overnight to locales I find intriguing enough to consider the possibility of returning to live for a while. Last night, I was rearranging some furniture from the house to the studio and ran across my most recent stash of phonebooks which included: Jackson Hole (Wyoming); Calgary; Libby (Yaak Valley, Montana); Seattle and Taos (New Mexico).

Ironically, I never had a Santa Fe phonebook, but I’m now living fairly close to Taos. The Sangre de Cristo range’s high mountain rises north of that township are inundated with spiritual retreats and utopian-influenced communes. Occasionally, I wish I had taken the time, before starting a family, to experience a spiritual journey whether it was to climb a mountain and visit an ashram in India or simply spend a year or more somewhere like the Lama Foundation in San Cristobal, New Mexico. Instead, I vaguely recall a youth that encompassed an infinite number of college parties and various part-time jobs to pay for that lifestyle. My final year of college, I married (which now seems very young); but I do not regret the decision. I have had innumerable adventures with my wife over the past ten years. She has adopted my view of life as a continuous quest and equally treasures the excitement of each new move or simple geographical exploration.

A few weeks ago we took a day-long drive that looped me north of Taos into the ski valley. The road is called the Enchanted Circle Highway and sways only a few miles south of the Colorado border. There were moments throughout the drive that reminded me of Montana more than anywhere else I have known. Even now, I can clearly recall every detail of at least two herds of elk, just off the main road; the second herd I approached with camera in hand and snapped a few memoirs. Tragically, since my drive above the ski rim, that region has been ravaged by wildfire. Like most of the remaining beautiful wilderness in this country, the territory north of Taos is saturated with wealthy partial-year residents and it seems that one of the fools instructed his maid to toss hot ashes into a plastic trash receptacle. The can melted, the ashes continued to smolder and now the forest is wiped clean. I don’t know how many years it will take for the area to return to the former splendor as I recently experienced it, but it brings me both pleasure and pain to know that if I had not chosen to take a break from my painting and drive north, I would have forever missed out on that memory of a high desert forest that was eerily reminiscent of the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Blackleaf Wildlife Area that I so dearly miss from northern Montana.

Once again, it seems there is a certain joy to life that can only be discovered by living. – DN

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Government Support at a Price

"The Ann Arbor Film Festival could lose its state funding under a legislative amendment that singles out the annual event, and one lawmaker is accusing the festival of showing pornography." Ann Arbor News 04/30/06

Censorship… Public Funding for the Arts… Which is more important? Am I against censorship – Yep. Am I for Public Funding for the Arts – not really. The biggest problem I have with Public Funding for the Arts is the dependence it creates for non-profit organizations. In a former career, I was an Arts Council Director and non-profit Gallerist. I spent a large portion of my time writing grants and raising cash to fulfill the matching financial requirements of the aforementioned grants. Not long after I left for the greener pastures of art education, I heard that state-level funding for community arts organizations was drastically cut by nearly 90%, in Missouri. Why was it cut? - because it was the current whim of the newly elected state administration. The cuts caused state-wide closures of fledgling arts organizations. Many never returned.

In the grand scheme of a $200k festival, it's on about $13k that they are losing, so if the Ann Arbor Festival cut the state umbilical cord and spent the time for grant writing on fundraising and such, then they would not be held to the impulsive quirks of state legislators chasing the religious vote. Freedom of Speech always has more meaning when you have to work for it. Yes it is a right, but not a handout. Why should the taxpayers pay for one more thing they don’t believe in (we have enough of that going on with the current war). If every twentieth taxpayer supports funding for the arts, then let them donate individually to the specific programs they appreciate.

I do not receive public funding for my art, yet I produce whatever I want. If the state or federal government granted me money, I would then feel obliged to “not rock the censorship boat”. I’m not saying I want to produce borderline-pornographic videos as performance art – I just believe if someone wants to do that its their right, as long as they pick-up the check. Additionally, I question the project directors of such government endowment programs that take it upon themselves to laud over the art world as judge, jury and executioner (for those artists that feel one more sting of rejection). Why should some artists get what essentially equals an art world lottery ticket and others get another week eating cold hot dogs; just because of the whim of a few government appointed administrators (and possibly friends?). If you really want to level the playing field, reject the notion of government support at the cost of freedom of speech. – DN

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Totally Unrelated

Well, this is totally unrelated... but I laughed my butt off when I saw the pic so here it is:


Is the desire for immortality still alive? Is that what adrenaline-junky-athletes are really chasing when they skydive or rock climb without safety harnesses? Who was the last artist to pursue immortality rather than financial success? Does an artist have to give-up one to have the other?

I hold a theory of life that I have named the “trade-off theory”. In contemporary pop-culture terms, it’s not much different than Seinfeld’s “Even Steven” approach to life. While I don’t believe I can toss a twenty dollar bill out the window and find a replacement in my old jacket pocket; I do trust that if life gets really rough, then something better must be ready to payoff for me. Maybe it’s not just a “trade-off theory”, perhaps it’s really a masquerade for hope.

Much like every artist, I’m always on the lookout for a great exhibition opportunity, gallery representation or patron. But is the search for financial stability the answer to artistic fulfillment? Money can obviously pave the road to happiness, but can it force you on the journey? Doubtful. Otherwise, the vast majority of actively-exhibiting artists would not wait until the last few weeks and days before a show to actually prepare. So there must be something else that motivates artists to greatness. I’ve mentioned before the need for a muse and the ability to place ones’ self in inspirational situations; but there is something more that motivates my choices for painting genre. Immortality.

Out of the three above mentioned ways of achieving financial success (exhibiting, representation and patrons); I am inclined to believe that patrons have the greatest long-term influence over the art world and it’s respective history. Galleries basically developed from salons which were secular bastardizations of Renaissance Papal Patronage (think of combining the traditional art academies with the ancient church tradition of artistic commissions); the saving grace in all these instances were collectors or patrons. Renaissance artists had the Medici family to keep them employed when the current Pope would smolder into a temper-tantrum. The Impressionists had Gustave Caillebotte and Durand-Ruel when critics were flabbergasted at their technique. Modern Art has boasted some of the more prominent examples of patronage with collectors such as Peggy Guggenheim and Betty Parsons among its ranks.

If patrons are the path to success, what is the ultimate goal in art? A combination of ideas that complete the inner-mind of the artist must align in order that the work is made; when the work is pure then the process is rediscovered with every act of creation and the justification for sacrifice is ultimately judged in history.

I view sacrifice of sales for relevant painting subjects as a trade-off for inclusion in art history, then again maybe it's just hope.– DN

Monday, May 01, 2006

Holy Trinity of the Contemporary Art World

A new biography takes the measure of Clement Greenberg. "The power of critics such as Clement Greenberg in art or Edmund Wilson in literature -- both did much to shape elite and popular taste in the mid-20th century -- is hard to imagine today. Contemporary art is self-parodic and insulated against Greenberg's style of criticism, and art-world success is now determined almost exclusively in the marketplace, not on the printed page." Wall Street Journal 04/29/06

I spend more than my fair share of time harping on the illegitimacy of having critics decide the direction of the art world. Occasionally, I also meander into the territory of questioning whether or not the majority of art dealers are “qualified” to decide the aesthetic value of artwork based simply on sales figures. Those opinions are not as similar as they may at first seem. While critics often fall into the category of non-artists (not always, but still very often this is the case); they still maintain a level of professionalism based in a heavy foundation of specialized art knowledge, typically from some of the finest art history programs in the country.

Private Art Dealers or Gallerists often fall into one of three categories:

1. An Artist that desperately wanted representation, but couldn’t get it, so opened a private gallery and shows own work and work of friends. Very often, these galleries eventually turn into co-op galleries because the artist that started the exhibition space wants more time to actually “make art” rather than play receptionist to the space and work the books to figure out how to pay for those two cases of wine for the next opening.

2. An “I don’t know Art, but I know what I like” – type of art patron, that is uninformed enough to believe that a gallery is the perfect financially-secure first opportunity at entrepreneurship. There are unlimited examples of these galleries hiding within major art centers in the country. In extreme instances of ignorance these are the same people that “purchase” ownership ventures in “Thomas Kincaid” and other giclee-print-only galleries.

3. True patrons of the arts that started as collectors or even art historians/critics and take the time to understand the “process” of artists. They stay in the business, even in financially-lean times, simply for the love of art.

I pointedly am only interested in discussing the "private" galleries/institutions in this post. Thank God for that last one, because those are often saviours for artists. So how does this paradox play out? Between the critic and the gallerist, which is more detrimental to the art world as a whole? As artists, we often tend to introvert ourselves to the point of forgetting the “Holy Trinity” of survival in the contemporary art world.

1. Artists

2. Critics

3. Dealers/Gallerists

We need each other. Unfortunately, we also have a responsibility to our chosen profession (as well as the future notoriety of our individual works) to expose the hacks. I’m always on the look-out for the top echelon of dire individuals to the art world.

1. Artists that produce non-representational work simply because they were too lazy to ever take the time to learn (and practice) technical perfection.

2. Critics with a “power-trip” axe to grind.

3. Dealers/Gallerists that view the art market as a potential “get-rich-quick-scheme”.

I feel I probably only need to clarify the first one of those three. I have a deep-seated respect and adoration for non-representational art, half the marks in my scrolls fall into that category. But as a graduate of a college art program, I can attest to the ridiculous number of students that made non-representational art simply because it was viewed as easier than majoring in business. These were the same students that complained about “having to take life drawing courses” or “how they slept through those boring art history courses”. - DN