November 23, 2009

Separation of Church and Art

Striking Worker, Assassinated, 1934 by Manuel Alvarez Bravo
Photograph from the collection of The Getty Center Los Angeles

"Somewhere along the way, the Vatican's relations with the art world had clearly gone astray.

And so in an effort to improve the Catholic Church's engagement with contemporary artists - and perhaps put a gentler face on a contentious papacy - the Vatican invited more than 250 artists, architects, musicians, directors, writers and composers for an audience on Saturday with Pope Benedict XVI.

Sitting before Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" in the Sistine Chapel, after a choir sang music by Palestrina, Benedict urged them to embark on "a quest for beauty." In what he called "a cordial, friendly and impassioned appeal," he told his guests to be "fully conscious of your great responsibility to communicate beauty, to communicate in and through beauty."

. . . . . . . . 

From writings by the artist Sue Coe:

"If I get safe contraceptives I can paint romance not abortion.
If you create jobs I won't paint poverty.
If you remove your armies from other people's countries, I won't paint war.
If you remove prisons I won't paint the incarcerated.
If you remove bloody nuclear weapons from my garden, I will find time to paint the flowers."

. . . . . . . .

Instead of being worried about its own divisive nature, exclusionary beliefs, male-dominated agenda of control and profit, questionable political alliances, involvement in and support of mankind's conflicts and wars, and a very serious history of abuse issues ... organized religion decides to ask artists to embark on "a quest for beauty."

William E. Geist's November 12, 1983 article Residents Give A Bronx Cheer To Decal Plan always reminds me of Mayor Edward I. Koch's fiasco in authorizing New York City to "place large vinyl decals depicting shutters, potted plants, Venetian blinds and window shades over the yawning windows of abandoned city-owned buildings" in the Bronx in an effort to improve the image of the borough.

What do they say about putting lipstick on a pig?

November 20, 2009

Broken Bottles, Attempted Murder and a Chimichurri Truck

Film still from the movie To Kill A Mockingbird, 1962

After two days of initial jury selection (voir dire) and a five-day long criminal trial, the proceedings (and my first lengthy jury duty service) officially came to an end today. Like everyone else who originally received a summons, I honestly didn't want to take time out of my schedule to be in court. At the end of the trial and deliberations however, I can say with certainty that each of the twelve jurors understood the weight of the important decision that we had been entrusted to make. We also all learned to respect the court procedures and deeply appreciated the privilege of having been selected to serve.

There is certainly nothing pretty about multiple counts of attempted murder and aggravated assault. As well, there is nothing positive that can be said about deep lacerations, a stabbing in the eye, or in one policeman's words, a Washington Heights street "awash in blood." But what I was most impressed by was that the process played itself out fairly and in a structured manner. Everyone had a voice and understood what "beyond a reasonable doubt" meant. Twelve jurors of different ages, ethnicities, gender, educational levels, economic backgrounds, and most likely political leanings sat in the closed jury room for two days and calmly discussed the case, available evidence, and the words of the law. We were not always in agreement, but in the end the group was able to come to a unanimous decision and find the defendant not guilty of all four serious charges against him. I am not dramatizing when I say that it is one of the more memorable moments of my almost four decades of existence. I may have indeed found a renewed sense of hope in the system.

Tomorrow, I leave the very real world of lower Manhattan's criminal court and step back into the world of art - a world that in many ways is disappointing and has been overtaken by shallow attributes. It is not enough anymore and we are certainly not challenging ourselves if we collectively continue to cater to bullshit concerns and mere sensations. This is an open call for the arts to be serious and high-minded again. There's enough entertainment around. Let's take this damn thing we call life and see if we can make it better. - PS

November 13, 2009

Art Is Free, But It Is Not A Free-For-All

Abstract Painting, Blue, 1953
oil on canvas by Ad Reinhardt

Excerpts from Art-as-Art : The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt, Edited by Barbara Rose, first paperback printing by University of California Press, 1991:

"Reinhardt defended abstract art both as an aesthetic and as a moral cause. At a time when many American artists were still confusing abstraction with various kinds of representational art including illustration, Reinhardt spoke, as always, against any sort of compromise. For him, ethics and aesthetics were one.

... The self-proclaimed "conscience of the art world," Reinhardt was undeniably a moralist. For example, he objected to surrealism and expressionism not on aesthetic but on moral grounds. He thought of both as forms of primitivism, which he detested. Throughout his life, he believed that man's greatest task was to raise himself from his origins in primordial chaos to reach the furthest heights of the human spirit, which expresses itself through order. He believed that civilization was worth the discontents it brought with it. If our own civilization had fallen into the decadence of materialism and sensationalism, he looked for spiritual values in other civilizations, older and perhaps wiser than our own."

Red Painting, 1953
oil on canvas by Ad Reinhardt

Abstract Art Refuses by Ad Reinhardt, from "Contemporary American Painting" exhibition catalogue, University of Illinois, Urbana, 1952:

"... And today many artists like myself refuse to be involved in some ideas. In painting, for me no fooling-the-eye, no window-hole-in-the-wall, no illusions, no representations, no associations, no distortions, no paint-caricaturings, no cream pictures or drippings, no delirium trimmings, no sadism or slashings, no therapy, no kicking-the-effigy, no clowning, no acrobatics, no heroics, no self-pity, no guilt, no anguish, no supernaturalism or subhumanism, no divine inspiration or daily perspiration, no personality-picturesqueness, no romantic bait, no gallery gimmicks, no neo-religious or neo-architectural hocus-pocus, no poetry or drama or theater, no entertainment business, no vested interests, no Sunday hobby, no drug-store museums, no free-for-all history, no art history in America of ashcan-regional-WPA-Pepsi-Cola styles, no professionalism, no equity, no cultural enterprises, no bargain-art commodity, no juries, no contests, no masterpieces, no prizes, no mannerisms or techniques, no communication or information, no magic tools, no bag of tricks-of-the-trade, no structure, no paint qualities, no impasto, no plasticity, no relationships, no experiments, no rules, no coercion, no anarchy, no anti-intellectualism, no irresponsibility, no innocence, no irrationalism, no low level of consciousness, no nature-mending, no reality-reducing, no life-mirroring, no abstracting from anything, no nonsense, no involvements, no confusing painting with everything that is not painting."

. . . . . . . . 

Art-As-Art by Ad Reinhardt, from Art International (Lugano), December 1962:

"... The one assault on fine art is the ceaseless attempt to subserve it as a means to some other end or value. The one fight in art is not between art and non-art, but between true and false art, between pure art and action-assemblage art, between abstract and surrealist-expressionist anti-art, between free art and servile art. Abstract art has its own integrity, not someone else's "integration" with something else. Any combining, mixing, adding, diluting, exploiting, vulgarizing, or popularizing abstract art deprives art of its essence and depraves the artist's artistic consciousness. Art is free, but it is not a free-for-all."

. . . . . . . .

The Next Revolution in Art by Ad Reinhardt, from Art News (New York), February 1964:

"... The artist-as-artist's first enemy is the philistine-artist, the "all-too-human" or subhuman or superhuman artist inside or outside or beside himself, the socially useful and usable artist, the artist-jobber and sales artist, the expressionist-businessman and "action" artist, the artist who "has to eat," who has to "express himself," and who lives off, on, in, for or from his art.

The artist-as-artist's second enemy is the art dealer who deals in art, the private collector who collects art, in other words, the public profiteer who profits from art.

The artist-as-artist's third enemy is the utilitarian, acquisitive, exploiting society in which any tendency to do anything for its own transcendental sake cannot be tolerated.

Art-as-art has always been and always will be a trouble for philosophers, priests, politicians, professors, patriots, provincials, property people, proud possessors, primitives, poets, psychiatrists, petit-bourgeois persons, pensioneers, patrons, plutocrats, paupers, panderers, pecksniffs, and pleasure-seekers, for the reason of art's own Reason that needs no other reason or unreason."

Abstract Painting, 1956
oil on canvas by Ad Reinhardt

Unpublished notes by Ad Reinhardt, 1963:

"... A museum of fine art should be separate from museums of ethnology, geology, archaeology, history, decorative arts, industrial arts, military arts, and museums of other things. A museum is a treasure house and tomb, not a countinghouse or amusement center. A museum should not be an art curator's personal monument or an art-collector-sanctifying establishment or an art-history-manufacturing plant or an artist's market block."

. . . . . . . . 

Unpublished notes by Ad Reinhardt, 1966:

[The Present Situation In Art]

"Things are lousy. The avant-garde is arrears. Artists are selling themselves like hot cakes. Art is a good thing. Art education is a holy-schmo business. Artists are jobbing. The lousy government is in this dirty war. One doesn't know what one can do about it. The art critics are all corrupt. The art critics are the art curators and they're also the art collectors and assistant art dealers too. The good old art words are dead. Things are awful. Artists don't know what to do, they're repeating themselves, they're making movies. Artists make telephone directions for making art instead of making it themselves. Some people still think the mass media can explain things. Artists are like businessmen.

Things are great. The avant-garde is behind us. Artists are making out. Lots of money around. Art is a good thing, everywhere. You can do anything you want. Artists are free of expressionism. The old rackets, scumbling, fumbling, staining, straining, striping, stripping are all gone. The art critics are all corrupt. Artists are freer than they've ever been. There are bigger and nicer art books than ever before. Artists are working more and bigger and faster. Telephones have never been so busy. The mass media give more space to artists who are working that gap between technology and life."

. . . . . . . .

From an interview with Mary Fuller, April 27, 1966:

"... There isn't anything that doesn't go now. The artist community is completely dissolved and artists aren't even talking to each other. They're all geared to the public, at least intellectually. The pop artists exploded the thing. They really did. They really ran all those meanings into the ground. Pollock wanted to become a celebrity and he did. He got kicked out of the 21 Club many times, and de Kooning is living like Elizabeth Taylor. Everybody wants to know who he's sleeping with, about the house he's building and everything. He has no private life. But finally it was Andy Warhol. He has become the most famous. He's a household word. He ran together all the desires of artists to become celebrities, to make money, to have a good time, all the surrealist ideas. Andy Warhol has made it easy. He runs discotheques...."

. . . . . . . . 

Unpublished notes by Ad Reinhardt, undated:

-> A twinge of conscience is a glimpse of God
"If evil is not reproved, virtue is not praised"

November 9, 2009

Happiness Only Real When Shared

YouTube video posted by filip54852

Eddie Vedder's uplifting cover of Hard Sun from the 2007 motion picture Into the Wild (originally recorded by Gordon Peterson / Indio for the album Big Harvest, 1989).  

YouTube video posted by Adorablekitty06

"If you want something in life, reach out and grab it."

November 8, 2009

All The World's A Stage

Andy Warhol, artist, New York City, August 20, 1969 
Photograph by Richard Avedon

I was reading with much amusement Carole Lieff's November 5, 2009 Art Advisor Newsletter titled The Spy Who Loved Me: Pop 'n Art and in typical pull no punches fashion, Ms. Lieff writes:

Pop, Art, Leo Castelli and Andy Warhol became the Wizards of Nothing. Leo said, "I make myths." For Pop he conjured the "suffering artist," "misunderstood genius" or maybe even both. Warhol said, "All artists are also actors, I think."

Maybe because the writer Ayn Rand has been in the news so much lately (more on that in a future blog post), but Warhol's thoughts made me think of a passage from Rand's 1943 novel The Fountainhead:

I never meet the men whose work I love. The work means too much to me. I don't want the men to spoil it. They usually do. They're an anticlimax to their own talent. You're not. I don't mind talking to you. I told you this only because I want you to know that I respect very little in life, but I respect the things in my gallery, and your buildings, and man's capacity to produce work like that. Maybe it's the only religion I've ever had.

November 7, 2009

1-2-3-4 Monsters Walking Across The Floor

YouTube video posted by BobbyBenson85

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street, here's Canadian singer Feist reminding us in a lighthearted way of life's numbers game.

November 4, 2009

Practice What You Preach

Marriage License, 1955 by Norman Rockwell

Everyday, people the world over do the best they can to survive and live with issues of power, control, anger, hate, sadness, fear, destruction, denial, and divisiveness. With all these difficult challenges facing us, how can anyone be against the idea of two people finding love? If you preach love, you cannot be against love.

On November 3, 2009:

The Dollar Menu

There's a popular fast food commercial playing on television these days that asks "What can I get for a dollar?"

"Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pulled out a narrow re-election victory on Tuesday, as voters angry over his maneuver to undo the city's term limits law and his extravagant campaign spending provided an unexpected lift to his vastly underfinanced challenger, William C. Thompson Jr."

"The billionaire mayor had poured $90 million of his own fortune into the race, a sum without equal in the history of municipal politics that gave him a 14-to-1 advantage in campaign spending."

. . . . . . . .

Sigh. I think Charles Wesley Mumbere's personal journey from nurse's aide to king of the Rwenzururu Kingdom is a slightly more interesting read at this point.

A kingdom is a kingdom is a kingdom.

November 2, 2009

Mary and Mom and Hells Angels

YouTube video posted by Swordmaster10

Here's the lesser known gem Frank Mills from the 1968 Broadway cast recording of Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical. Shelley Plimpton's voice carries the beauty and uncertainties of an entire generation. 

November 1, 2009

We're Not Candy

We're Not Candy public service announcement, 1980s 
YouTube video posted by tchrcruter1

Well, Halloween 2009 has come and gone and seeing all those excited Trick-Or-Treaters in the neighborhood with overstuffed bags of candy brought this dandy ditty to mind. Enjoy!