COMMENTARY: The Art World’s Self-Serving Lies

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image by Scott Adams

BEING SMOTHERED IN THEIR OWN TANGLED WEBS: BBC News Roger Scruton’s “How Modern Art Became Trapped by its Urge to Shock”

Key quote from the article, a summary of how the contemporary art world conspires to inflate inferior productions and specious reputations:

“Originality requires learning, hard work, the mastery of a medium and – most of all – the refined sensibility and openness to experience that have suffering and solitude as their normal cost.

“To gain the status of an original artist is therefore not easy. But in a society where art is revered as the highest cultural achievement, the rewards are enormous. Hence there is a motive to fake it. Artists and critics get together in order to take themselves in, the artists posing as the originators of astonishing breakthroughs, the critics posing as the penetrating judges of the true avant-garde.

“In this way Duchamp’s famous urinal became a kind of paradigm for modern artists. This is how it is done, the critics said. Take an idea, put it on display, call it art and brazen it out. The trick was repeated with Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes, and then later with the pickled sharks and cows of Damien Hirst. In each case the critics have gathered like clucking hens around the new and inscrutable egg, and the fake is projected to the public with all the apparatus required for its acceptance as the real thing.”

Roger Scruton, the author of the article, is described as a philosopher, so perhaps he is a little more charitably nuanced than I’m inclined to be. He makes a distinction between fakes and lies, the difference being that fakes involve self-deceit, the perpetrators at least somewhat believing in their own falsity.

The destructive outcomes of such practices make me less interested in the subtle psychological machinations underlying the con artists of the contemporary creative class. It’s their results that matter, and they are creating by their consensus a world of garbage that undermines not only the culture industries, but society as a whole.

William Blake, one of the greatest artists of all time, understood the connection. “The foundation of empire is art and science remove them or degrade them and the empire is no more — empire follows art and not vice versa as Englishmen suppose.” Empire in this sense doesn’t refer to a specific form of government but more so a culture, the authority of a way of thought, a sense of shared values. Our post modern friends would refer to this as a hegemony.

But to post moderns nothing is true, everything is relative. They are victims of a kind of magical thinking, believing their attitudes, opinions and theories can alter reality. Presto, this awkwardly stuffed shark is now expensive art!

Most people see the lie in this, and scoff, or just turn away. The self-proclaimed cultural elites reassure each other that anyone who doesn’t buy into their shtick is an inferior who can be safely disregarded.

Only a prosperous and secure society could afford to coddle such a misguided and decadent educated class. But we’re arriving at the point such parasites are killing the host, and destroying the prosperity and security that made their silly mindset possible. The relativistic and deconstructive practices of post modern thought now infects our media, education, and government, and are eroding the functionality and foundations of civilization itself.

Just like the artists did, the wannabe ruling class is putting up ridiculous notions, calling them real, and trying to brazen it out. In each case they can rely on the clucking hens of the arts, academia, and the media to project the fraud at the public with all their might.

Scruton might soften these affronts with some credit for the self-delusion of the participants, but I’m not inclined to. The motivation for these assaults on enduring principles is the effort to gather unaccountable power into the hands of a few, and no good can come from such efforts.

The art world is just displaying symptoms of a vast corruption festering in our culture that must be confronted.

EXPLOITS: Prehistoric Inspiration

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From “The Age of Reptiles” by Rudolph Zallinger

I might not be able to say just why I became a painter, striving to create works of art. But in retrospect I can see the harbingers throughout my life that pointed out the direction I was going to be heading in.

Among my earliest memories is the collection of nature books my parents had. My favorite had a special feature: a page that folded out to show an entire vista of dinosaurs, placed in a fantastic prehistoric landscape.

I loved dinosaurs. I spent hours staring at that image.

I dreamed of becoming a paleontologist and hunting for fossils, because from what I understood paleontologists were those people who got to pay the most attention to dinosaurs-or at least, the fragments that remained of them.

Only much later did I find out that image I obsessed over then was a reproduction of “The Age of Reptiles,” a celebrated mural painted high on the walls of the Yale Peabody Museum. It was the work of artist Rudolph Zallinger; he created it in the 1940s, using the classical fresco technique of painting directly into a surface of moist plaster.

The mural measures 16 feet by 11o feet. Zallinger methodically prepared for the work with detailed sketches and preparatory drawings, but gave a moving description of what happened when he went to start on the actual fresco.

Zallinger wrote, “…at the end of October 1943 I mounted the top platform to start a line-drawing version of the whole composition. Vividly etched in my memory is my trepidation as I scanned that endless wall while holding a slender stick of charcoal in my hand, about to begin my work with a tool seemingly so inadequate to the task. However, I regained my composure and began what turned out to be a three-and-one half year project.”

Rudolph F. Zallinger working on The Age of Reptiles mural.

Rudolph Zallinger at work

These days our ideas have changed on the nature of the beasts; scientific advances now make the depictions of that mural inaccurate. But there is no denying their triumphant presence as works of art.

I can see now what moved me about dinosaurs could not have been satisfied in retrieving crumbling bones. I doubt I have the patience, meticulousness and endurance the field work of a fossil collecting scientist would have required.

What transfixed me from earliest consciousness was seeing those fabulous monsters shown as if they were alive.

Massive, muscular, with beautifully colored hides gleaming in the sunlight. Sharp teeth and watchful eyes, looking as old and predatory as time itself, filling a lost world with their awesome presence.

Now there’s no way to see such animals in reality; no way to take a photograph of them. And don’t even mention the slick, unsatisfactory blobs of CGI that clutter up a recurring series of mindless pop movies.

But such is the power of art that long before I was born, one lone man climbed up a scaffold, and with brush and pigments, made those beasts live again.

I loved dinosaurs. But what really fascinated me was a painting.

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Terrible Lizards, Beautiful Art

 

 

ARTICLE: The Art World’s Destructive, Defensive Irony

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LETTING THE FEEBLE PRETEND THEY DON’T CARE: Irony is Ruining Our Culture

Edgar Rice Burroughs has a line in “The Land That Time Forgot” that I didn’t fully understand when I read it as a child, but which I never forgot: “‘I don’t like irony,’ she said; ‘it indicates a small soul.'”

Little did I know that phrase would come to define the days I find myself living in, or that small souled, demeaning irony would become the default position of the very cultural institutions that are supposed to act as the caretakers of the experience of art.

Hardly anyone outside the creative class bubble pays any attention to the shenanigans being committed in the commercial contemporary art world. Those who do check out recent offerings in a gallery or museum quickly realize they haven’t been missing anything.

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Jeff Koon’s Balloons, inflated by more than hot air

Sad Shower in New York 1995 by Tracey Emin born 1963

“Sad Shower in New York” by Royal Academy Professor of Drawing Tracey Emin. Sad indeed.

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Damien Hirst: Again with the taxidermied animals assembled by someone else-but now with a toilet!

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Christopher Wool “Apocalypse Now” sold for $26.5 million. The apocalypse would be a relief at this point

What a massive failure of vision and purpose our establishment steered our culture into!

To embrace irony is to strike a pose of groundless superiority, to think social status is demonstrated by a jaded attitude. Like many attempts at bluffing and bullying, it is a defensive posture intended to hide tangible weaknesses. Isn’t that ironic?

Irony is the philosophy of sour grapes. Those who feel incapable of producing something with skill, meaning and significance like to act like they don’t want those achievements manifested in their works. But even worse, and more treacherous, to preserve their façade they must suppress and undermine the works of others who are striving towards some higher purpose or accomplishment. Sophisticated poseurs can tolerate no reminder of their own shortcomings. Irony is a form of passive-aggressive envy.


Key questions in the David Foster Wallace article: “So, to be more nuanced about what’s at stake: In the present moment, where does art rise above ironic ridicule and aspire to greatness, in terms of challenging convention and elevating the human spirit? Where does art build on the best of human creation and also open possibilities for the future? What does inspired art-making look like?”


The principles of Remodernism address these questions. We can take the divisive explorations of Modernism and redeem them, reintegrate the fragments shorn against our ruin into a healthy and fulfilling human act.  


It’s an exciting time to be an artist, and help the world move past the self-serving decadence the self-proclaimed elites cultivate. It’s time to call the bluffs, stand up to the bullying, and put the perpetrators to the test. Can their art survive outside the privileged cloisters they huddle in?  

STUDIO: Painting in Progress


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Barely begun

The painting has begun on my 36″ x 36″ canvas. I’m using Liquitex acrylic paints to try to make a vision I beheld visible to the world.

The idea was triggered was a simple conversation. One of my sister-in-laws moved to a town in New Jersey called Forked River. She advised us the correct pronunciation of the first word for the place was actually “For-Ked,” two syllables, which amused me somehow. It seemed so archaic and grandiose.

As I pondered this the image appeared to me-not a little town in New Jersey, but an occurrence in the wilderness of the mind and spirit. The title was “A Tale of the Forked River.” Like many of my paintings, it would depict the mysterious, an experience of the uncompromising power and strangeness of life.

I saw the color scheme of yellows predominating with black and white; ragged pine trees, a stony landscape, a crouching figure inadequately armed. All revolved around the presence of The Great Bear.

I wrote the title and a brief note in a book I keep to document the visions I have. There are dozens of entries in the book. I’ll never live long enough to paint out all the ideas I’ve had, and they just keep coming. Looking back I see I dated this one December 7, 2013-a day that will live in infamy.

It takes me weeks and even months to complete a work of this size. Because I’m an intuitive artist, I kind of have to feel my way through the painting-I don’t do preparatory drawings, I work it out on the canvas, which leads to many problems and corrections. But it also leads to discoveries.

This painting has only been worked on a few times so far. It’s at the phase my wife, painter Michele Bledsoe, refers to as a train wreck. The sky is full of light but the material objects are slow to take form. I’m putting it out there in this tentative and unresolved state to share my painting process.

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“A Tale of the Forked River” work in progress

STUDIO: Creating a Canvas

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A new world, waiting to be discovered

I received a Bachelor of Fine Art in in Painting and Printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University. Even while I was going through the program, I often stated I was educating myself, in opposition to the ideas many of the instructors presented.

These days Academia is not so much about education as it is about indoctrination, the training of young minds to embrace the warped perspectives, distracting self-regard, and paralytic sophistry of the elitist class. It’s doubtful whether there is any true value left in most higher education under the precepts of today’s politically correct university model, especially in the arts. However, I was able to take a few tangible lessons away from my college years which have continued to serve me well. One of the most important things I learned as a painter was how to build my own canvases.

It’s an elaborate process, involving lumber and quarter round, wood joiners and brad nails, a miter saw and a staple gun, gesso and sandpaper. It’s a big savings over buying prepared canvases, but that’s just one facet of it. There is a sense of thoroughness and craft I get from working on a support I built myself. I will use store bought canvases as well, but my most significant pieces were done on stretchers I’ve constructed myself.

I’ve just completed a new one, a three foot by three foot square. Over the coming weeks I will post periodic pictures of the work in progress. Since I paint based on visions that are revealed to me, I know the image I intend for this canvas. However, as an intuitive painter, exactly how that image will get created will be a journey full of surprises, missteps, corrections and sudden inspirations.

Artist Maurice Denis is famous for stating painting “…is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order.” This simplistic and materialistic view, while technically correct, manages to miss the point and power of painting. A real painting creates a whole new world to explore.

ARTICLE: Tracey Emin, 1984, and the Cult of Celebrity

Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' To Be Auctioned At Christie's

Tracey Emin with her “art”

WESTERN FREE PRESS: My latest article on the corruption and manipulations at the heart of our cultural industry, and examination of the possible motivations. Supporting observations provided by George Orwell.

“Tracey Emin is little known in America, outside of artsy circles. I get the impression it’s different in England, where she’s more of a tabloid figure, notoriously milking the old shock-the-bourgeoisie poses so dear to the moneyed culture elites. My Bed is simply a collection of Emin’s dirty linens and assorted refuse moved from her home into a museum, and proclaimed to be cutting edge art. This gesture was what first got her noticed as an art world player.

“My Bed can be seen as emblematic of the non-art favored by pretentious metropolitans these days, an unskilled accumulation of dingy objects supposedly transmuted into art by the alchemy of dislocation. In a home the collection of soiled belongings would just be low grade squalor. Move them into a gallery or museum, and the theory is the new context should apparently spark some amazing mental gymnastics of Questioning and Challenging and Transgressing. It’s a pathetic substitute for artistic achievement, but it’s about all the current ersatz-intelligentsia can offer up…

“The phenomena of a Tracey Emin is a codification of the worst traits in contemporary society: plutocratic influence hawking a type of nihilism, all tarted up with tawdry narcissism and brazen incompetence.”

Clink on the link to read the whole thing.

COMMENTARY: Starved of Inspiration, the Art World Plunders Outsider Art

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Henry Darger “Lagorian Rangers Calverian Girl and Boy Scouts”

IT’S ONLY TRICKY TO DEFINE IF YOUR STARTING POINT IS SNOBBERY: Defining Outsider Art In Anticipation Of The Outsider Art Fair

An Outsider Art article. I have mixed feelings about some of the efforts depicted, but a strong sense the elitist media and arts establishment miss the point here.

In this interview there’s lots of preening, power flexing, and mutual ego stroking on display: “I bought the fair…the press couldn’t stop talking about how the work was so great…the significance of blue chip galleries…I think we’re certainly always looking to enhance the stature of outsider artists.”

As if being noticed by pompous players like this equals stature!


It may mean money for artists, which is good, but it reduces the whole enterprise of art to trophy hunting and status symbols, hinging on the approval and acceptance by a self-important few. The interviewed operator pays some lip service to breaking down the insider/outsider art distinctions, but in the end it’s all about servicing collectors. The Art Fair discussed in the sycophantic interview is being treated as a means to provide the establishment stamp of approval to those who lack the credentials elitists usually rely on as a substitute for achievement.  


The cultural institutions have destroyed their credibility with decades of appalling mismanagement, hyping ideas that have caused a crisis of relevance in the visual arts. So now, to try and revive the sense of liveliness they have smothered in the arts with their useless theories and biases, they need to reach outside their pedantic formulas, and acknowledge those who are working from true personal need and vision. But to what end? Just to have another product to sell.


The so-called outsiders are being summoned by jaded cosmopolitans desperately trying to associate themselves with something genuine. It’s like they’re trying to buy a soul. The elitists learn nothing from the motivation of these artists, the wisdom that comes with creatively documenting individual insights into life.

Art isn’t just a commodity, it is a view into the spirit of the culture. The art usually pushed by our institutions have spectacularly failed to provide that visionary experience to the general audience.

Co-opting the authenticity generated outside of elitist presumptions doesn’t address the fundamental decay at the heart of their hierarchies.