STUDIO: Painting in Progress 3

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Detail from the work in progress, “A Tale of the Forked River”

The process continues on my current 3′ x 3′ painting. The man in the foreground of the piece is still not completed. Since he is one of the key focal points I’ve pushed him to a greater level of resolution. Now I have to bring up the details of the rest of the painting to support him.

Over the last few weeks the painting changed from this:

FR1

To this:

FR2

Many of the changes are subtle, but in painting the most minor adjustments can make or break a painting.

As an intuitive painter, I’m not following a formula of how to paint something, and I’m not trying to reproduce some source material. I’m trying to discover how to make paint communicate the sensations of a vision I experienced.

This vision has something to say, and it’s my role to make sure the message gets through.

As the Remodernism Manifesto declares:

7. Spirituality is the journey of the soul on earth. Its first principle is a declaration of intent to face the truth. Truth is what it is, regardless of what we want it to be. Being a spiritual artist means addressing unflinchingly our projections, good and bad, the attractive and the grotesque, our strengths as well as our delusions, in order to know ourselves and thereby our true relationship with others and our connection to the divine.” 

See previous entries in this series:

Introduction: Creating a Canvas

Painting in Progress 1

Painting in Progress 2

ARTICLE: College, the Arts, and the Treason of Intellectuals

Fortunato

Richard Bledsoe “Fortunato” oil on canvas 20″ x 16″

DESTROYERS OF THEIR OWN RELEVANCE AND CREDIBILITY: With Friends Like These, the Humanities Don’t Need Enemies The Humanities is a broad term for cultural matters, as opposed to the sciences. This article by David Clemens details the challenges universities are experiencing from declining enrollments in these classic fields of college education. Though it speaks in detail about English and other majors, the arts also are discussed, and some shocking observations are made. Here are a few key quotes, although the whole piece is worth reading:

“Many valid reasons have been given for the national decline: impractical majors, classrooms ossified by multiculturalism and identity politics, and the proliferation of arcane theorizing that has replaced the reading of great literature. It seems that the liberal arts academy has lost touch with the past as well as the present. Sometimes it seems as if the liberal arts academy has lost touch with reality. I get that sense most strongly when I attend meetings of the Modern Language Association. A look at the Modern Language Association (MLA) yearly convention reveals an organization, and a profession, in deep denial… Students and their tuition-paying parents find such specialist jargon pompous and strangely unconnected from real life. The MLA understands this negative public perception but seems powerless to change. In the last two years, I attended two hour-long, agonized discussions asking why the “general public” doesn’t understand and appreciate how vital literary scholars’ work is. Maybe the reason is that such work is, in University of Virginia professor Mark Edmundson’s words, ‘unreadable.’ The Harvard report even admits that today, the humanities ‘serve only the critical function of unmasking the operations of power in language largely impenetrable to a wider public. Or even where they are intelligible, they fail to communicate their value to a wider public. They serve no constructive public function.’ Fewer and fewer students want to spend four years of time and treasure ‘unmasking power.'”

But the real fun of the article is when some insiders admit the education establishment’s emphasis on scorched earth indoctrination techniques have basically destroyed universities as a venue where the arts can thrive:

“David concluded that the liberal arts will likely have to retreat into scattered educational ‘monasteries’ for preservation. He even suggested that maybe we should stop teaching Shakespeare for 20 years so that he will be rediscovered and appreciated again. For now, the hegemony of theory and ideology has built a house that no one wants to live in and that seems beyond repair. The MLA is so mesmerized by leftist politics and jargon-filled theory that it can’t face why students are turning away and departments are shrinking (even when the MLA itself is also shrinking). A few years ago, Rosanna Warren, then Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers president, reflected on the exodus from the liberal arts. ‘Art will go on; it just won’t go on in school, if the schools continue to support this trahison des clercs. Personally, I am more interested in art than in school, so if art migrates to coffeehouses and basement apartments and libraries, so be it: it won’t be the first time.’ Such are the somber views of two of the humanities most ardent defenders.”

I had to plug trahison des clercs into a French to English translator. “Treason of the Intellectuals.” Wow. Turns out this was the title of a 1927 book by Julien Benda. Looking into this work I came across another article, by the the great Roger Kimball: The Treason of the Intellectuals & “The Undoing of Thought”. It includes this key quote, a perfect summation of the corrupted establishment art world at work:

“What Finkielkraut calls “the undoing of thought” flows from the widespread disintegration of a faith. At the center of that faith is the assumption that the life of thought is ‘the higher life’ and that culture—what the Germans call Bildung—is its end or goal. The process of disintegration has lately become an explicit attack on culture. This is not simply to say that there are many anti-intellectual elements in society: that has always been the case. ‘Non-thought,’ in Finkielkraut’s phrase, has always co-existed with the life of the mind. The innovation of contemporary culture is to have obliterated the distinction between the two. ‘It is,’ he writes, “the first time in European history that non-thought has donned the same label and enjoyed the same status as thought itself, and the first time that those who, in the name of “high culture,” dare to call this non-thought by its name, are dismissed as racists and reactionaries.’ The attack is perpetrated not from outside, by uncomprehending barbarians, but chiefly from inside, by a new class of barbarians, the self-made barbarians of the intelligentsia. This is the undoing of thought. This is the new ‘treason of the intellectuals.’”

Universities are a huge part of the problem society is facing. They have degenerated into accomplices of destructive trends that threaten the foundations of Western Civilization. They are so focused on abetting the collapse of culture that their teachings have no practical, positive application outside of academia. The treason of the intellectuals is to warp the objective, uplifting experience of rigorous education into a debased tool for political propaganda.

So I’m an art school grad. Maybe it’s changed since my day, but what I found when I suddenly and unexpectedly racked up enough credits to graduate, I had not been prepared for the real world. I was working as basically a handyman for the school bookstore, with a big loan to pay back, and no professional prospects. I ended up making my own opportunities, got involved with the local arts community, and I’ve been making art ever since. I’d be curious how many of those I graduated with kept at it. I question the need for a college degree for art, especially since much of university art system seems to emphasize learning to speak a bunch of rhetoric, instead of practicing sound craftsmanship and exploring insightful personal vision. I supposed this is in sync with the current establishment art world, a realm of sophistry, where the participants think spewing enough words and having the correct intentions can justify anything. When did art get enmeshed with grad school programs anyway? It must be a fairly recent phenomenon, and judging by the results, not a particularly fruitful one. The future will lie in more traditional approaches: apprenticeships, mentorships, shared experiences, and artistic community. An artist doesn’t need a degree, an artist just needs to make art.

ARTISTS: Legacy of a Lost Painting

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Vincent Van Gogh “Painter on the Road to Tarascon” (1888)

approximately 19″ x 16″

In 1888 Vincent Van Gogh moved from Paris, France to Arles, a somewhat seedy town near the Mediterrean coast. He dreamed of founding an artist colony there, a Studio of the South, where the strong sunlight made for vivid colors.

For months Van Gogh lived and worked on his own, exploring the city and neighboring regions for artistic subject matter. There were a number of picturesque Roman ruins in the area, but mostly Van Gogh painted humble still lifes, genre scenes and portraits of friends, very much in keeping with his common man philosophy of art.

In August 1888 Vincent casually wrote to his brother Theo about one of his paintings: “For instance, there is a rough sketch I made of myself laden with boxes, props, and canvas on the sunny road to Tarascon.” The image he referred to came to be called “The Painter on the Road to Tarascon,” along with some other similar variations on the title.

It was shortly after this time that Van Gogh’s life took off into tragedy and legend. The events he is most remembered for happened in rapid succession. By September he had moved into the Yellow House, a shabby rental property he has been using just as a studio.

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Vincent Van Gogh “The Yellow House”

A mania of creativity was upon him. He was working compulsively, neglecting his health, drinking to excess. But the momentum was powerful. Vincent created over 300 paintings in the months he spent in Arles, including many of his best know masterpieces.

The painter Paul Gauguin arrived in October, becoming Vincent’s roommate. But far from joining in artistic brotherhood, the two men were soon quarreling and estranged. Van Gogh’s behavior became increasingly erratic. It all came to a head, or maybe an ear, on Sunday December 23. After a bizarre confrontation when Gauguin announced he was leaving Arles, Vincent sliced off his own earlobe with a razor.

By March 1889 Van Gogh was confined in a hospital because of his strange behavior; by May he was moved to an asylum. The dream of a Studio of the South was over.

I’ve posted an image of Van Gogh’s self portrait in a sunny landscape above. Reproductions are all that are left of this work today. During World War II, the painting was plundered by the Nazis. The original  ended up being destroyed in a fire after the museum it was stored in was bombed.

Knowing what we know now about Van Gogh’s life gives this seemingly simple work an unexpected edge and atmosphere. He depicted himself as a lone traveler on a journey, hauling along all the awkward equipment needed to make his art. A misshapen shadow-self clings at his heel. It depicts a moment of hope right before it all went so wrong.

With the perspective we have of the course of Vincent’s life and the ultimate loss of this work, the painting feels like an existential comment of the loneliness and demands of the artistic life.

The painter Francis Bacon obviously got the same vibe from the  work. Had he seen the original? I can’t locate that answer, but it seems likely. Bacon was all over Europe before the war, a young man already passionate about culture.

In the 1950s Bacon created a series of Van Gogh homages, with the painter appearing as a grotesque ghostly figure, a figure of doom among all the rich colors and dynamic brushwork.

Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh IV 1957 Francis Bacon 1909-1992 Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1958 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00226

Francis Bacon “Study for a Portait of Van Gogh IV”

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Francis Bacon “Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh V”

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Francis Bacon “Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh I”

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Francis Bacon “Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh III”

This last one is especially significant for me. Once in the 1980s, when I was a teenager, I went with a crew of my punk rock friends into Washington DC. This was our version of a big city; we lived in the suburbs nearby.

 My family went to DC a lot for the monuments and museums, but because I was with my buddies we were exploring more than I normally would. We ended up going to the Hirshhorn  Musuem, which contained modern art, something I hadn’t really been interested in too much.

Bacon’s “Van Gogh III” was just one  piece in a room full of his works, but that was the one that mesmerized me.  I didn’t know anything about Bacon or the lost Van Gogh, but it didn’t matter. It was probably the first time a modern work gave me the deep stirring of inexpressible feelings great art evokes.  It was my gateway to contemporary art, and possibly even to my career as a painter.

Sometime in the early 2000s I made a painting I quickly realized was the offspring of these earlier works. I was setting out to do a series of paintings based on the Book of Ecclesiastes, the most existential part of the Bible. I’m not sure of the year; I should really keep better records. I also never made any of the other paintings I had in mind for the series. There’s some great images there waiting to be seen.

I had a translation that listed part of Ecclesiastes 12:5  as “and the grasshopper shall be a burden…” Reading this sparked the initial image. But the particular form it took on came as a surprise.

As I started to paint it, the figure in blue quickly evolved into Van Gogh blue; it became inevitable to evoke the man himself. Now the insect, which was part of the original idea, took on all new significances.

The story of Van Gogh and the destroyed painting and the distortions of Bacon were all stored away in my mind and came out before I was really aware of it happening.

In my version the shadow now rides, and has grown a spiny exoskeleton.

I think of the burdens of the artistic life; also, the fable of the grasshopper and the ants. Is being an artist frivolous?

The answer is no. But it’s a question worth asking.

Inspiration is contagious among artists. Catching a glimpse of the right image at the right time can lead to sunny paths of progress. But never lose sight of the corresponding darkness our passage casts.

Burdensome Grasshopper

Richard Bledsoe “The Burdensome Grasshopper” oil on wood panel 24″ x 24″

COMMENTARY: The Art World’s Disgraceful Double Standards

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“As artists, as writers, as thinkers, as Americans, as people who love freedom, and the entire West, we need to hit back. Not with violence, with the truth, with our art, with our writing. Once free speech goes, it’s over.”

-Bosch Fawstin, winner

I’ve written before on the distinction between fine art and propaganda. Long story short, art is a poor advocate for policy goals.

But one thing art is much better at is revealing the values and principles of the society that creates it.

Last week in Garland, Texas, there was an attempted mass murder at an art exhibit. “Draw Mohammed,” a display of cartoons, was the subject of a terrorist attack right here in America. Fortunately the gunmen were killed before carrying out their planned massacre.

You’d think such a significant event would be the subject of intense coverage in the media. However, any follow up reporting on what the jihadi group ISIS promises is the first of many attacks in the United States seems to have disappeared from the homepages of news organizations. It’s almost as if they don’t want to report what is actually happening. As if by ignoring it, it will go away.

When reality conflicts with the elite’s preconceived Narrative,  they will cling to the Narrative every time, and rely on their media mouthpieces to disseminate supporting disinformation. Right now the Narrative demands “nothing to see here, move along, all is well.”

Sadly, the establishment art world also acts as willing accomplices in this deception, acting in denial of the challenges our culture faces.

The masterful blogger Ace of Spades summed up the contradictory doublethink currently being simultaneously hyped by our cultural elites:

1. To speak of Islamist violence, or to suggest there is a problem in Islam, is racist, and hateful, and irrational, and “islamophobic.”

2. It is so predictable that Islamists will kill you if you say something “anti-Islamic” that victims of murder attempts can be said to have brought their attacks on themselves.

Various establishment figures have lined up to denounce those who would dare express an opinion that differs from the dogmas of the political class. There’s been lots of variations on “I believe in free speech, but…” This hypocrisy is given a veneer of respectability by claiming how out-of-bounds religion is as subject of criticism.

It’s funny. In the art world there seems to be one religion that is an acceptable target for boundary transgressing free speechifying.

It’s always OK to attack Christianity-in fact, it leads to fame, fortune and institutional support!

the-virgin-spanking-the-christ-child-before-three-witnesses-andre-breton-paul-eluard-and-the-1926

Max Ernst “The Virgin Spanking the Christ Child before Three Witnesses: Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, and the Painter” An early Dada effort to shock the bourgeoisie

Piss_Christ_by_Serrano_Andres_(1987)

Andres Serrano “Piss Christ”  There goes your taxpayer funding

Ofili

Chris Ofili “The Holy Virgin Mary” rendered with porn and elephant dung

Maurizio CATTELAN    La Nona Ora    1999Maurizio Cattelan “The Ninth Hour” A knee slapper for the art elites


So what is going on here? On religion, why does the institutional art world get so aggressive in some cases, and goes full fetal capitulation in others?

Some of it is fear, a grudging unspoken admission of the dangers radical Islam does actually pose to civilization by being willing to use violence to further its goals.

To reward a behavior is to get more of it. So the implication is to get the respect of the art world, there must be threats and destruction.

In 2011 a print of “Piss Christ” was destroyed by Christian protestors in France.

To all the finger pointers and apologists for the attempted “Draw Mohammed” slaughter, this would have to be an acceptable response, right?

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So is this what it takes?

Another factor in the art world dhimmitude is sympathy for anti-western values. The establishment has been encouraging restrictions on free expression for quite awhile now, using political correctness to stifle criticism of their agenda. The Orwellian attempts to control language have reached new heights lately with trigger warnings and speech codes.

Supporters of the elites always assumed their repressions were intended to bring about a smug secular society of docile drones.

Instead, into the vacuum they’ve forced into the heart of our culture there comes rushing a bloodthirsty creed of conquest straight out of the middle ages, coming to kill gays, oppress women, and enforce a state religion on everyone. Our so-called pragmatic leaders are behaving as if they were powerless against this onslaught.

By the way, some of these same  leaders and their oligarch masters wouldn’t mind ruling over a conquered, Islamified populace. They believe their wealth and power would grant them immunity from the demands of Muslim culture, while the people would be more subservient under the control of ruthless radicals.

But most damning in all this are those who are willing to stifle free speech just to fit in. There is a big element of snobbery at play here, as there always is in the tiny game of thrones the commercialized contemporary art world plays at.

The weak sister art world knows there’s lots of money and status to be gained for even junior members of the greedy power cult that dominates our government, media, and academia. So the art world conforms.

Yet again Ace summarizes nicely:

This is about class. This is all about class.

This is about, specifically, the careerist, cowardly, go-along-to-get-along mores of the Upper Middle Class, the class of people whose parents were all college educated, and of course are college educated themselves; the class that dominates our thought-transmitting institutions (because non-college educated people are more or less shut out of this industry).

It is a class which is deathly afraid of social stigma, and lives in class-based fear being grouped with the wrong people, and which is more interested in Career, quite frankly, than in the actual tradecraft of that Career, which is clarity of thought and clarity of expression.

Thus, our institutions of thought propagation are dominated by the very people who can be easily cowed by the Social Justice Warriors, and who will, therefore, adjust their speech in order to not run afoul of the thoughtless — and frequently lunatic — thugs of the censorious left.

The very people we need to be most immune to the menaces of stigma, and the blandishments of career advancement, are, due to the absolute primacy of the Upper Middle Class imperative of advancing one’s career and avoiding scandal, stigma, and controversy, the very people most sensitive to such distortions.

Here are the simple facts of the matter, with no need of maligning Ms. Gellar:

Ms. Gellar believes, as almost all on the right claim to believe, that free speech should in fact be free, but that speech is not in fact free, due to the intolerable threats of a determined and lunatic religious minority set on imposing their alien laws of blasphemy against us.

Ms. Gellar acts, as almost all on the right claim that we should act, in defiance of benighted, medieval religious zealots who would forbid her from acting by threat of violence.

Ms. Gellar was, along with all her fellow confreres, the target of an actual assassination plot by heavily-armed jihadists determined to murder her and others present for daring to act like Americans while within the borders of the state formerly called America.

These are the facts. We need not add more to these facts simply to Signal our continuing loyalty to the Upper Middle Class consensus that keeps us employed and welcome at DC functions…

Americans, acting under the influence of America, were fucking shot at by crazed religious cultists seeking to impose a cancerous religious lunacy on America.

One does not “support” someone’s right to free speech by name-calling them and advertising how far one believes they fall outside the smug Upper Middle Class (leftist-dominated) Consensus.

One supports free speech by supporting those who speak freely.

I am so disgusted by how so many alleged thinkers seem to care more about social positioning than actual thought…

Are we here to talk about ideas and principles, or are we here to secure position and advantage?

A woman spoke.

Men with guns shot at her for speaking.

Do we really need to take an “on the one hand, on the other hand” approach here…

The current dominant class, the class that controls the political-media establishment, is this Upper Middle Class, leftism-inflected consensus, and until people can begin seeing this and seeing past it, and until they can begin making their first loyalty to Idea and Principle, which are universal and eternal, rather than Class and Cult, which are nothing but happenstance and ego, we will continue having an “opposition” which continues genuflecting to leftist conformity rather than standing up for ideas.

I believe that far too many ideas we have are non-ideas, things we’ve never actually thought through, but are simply Class Assumptions, and that we are all too afraid to go against our herd, our tribe, and start questioning some goddamned Class Assumptions.

So here we are, at a very dangerous moment, when those who should be speaking out most strongly for free speech are trying to make censorship acceptable, and even hip. As the mask slips off of more of these fuckers and they indulge their inner fascist, the more important it will be that they be rebuked for their betrayal of human potential.

Founding father Ben Franklin gets the final words:

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

EXPLOITS: Stills From The Movies In My Mind

Two Doctors

Richard Bledsoe “Two Doctors” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 30″

How do artists decide what imagery to depict?

The possibilities are endless.

I often say before I start into a new work, “What am I going to paint? It could be anything.” Since I am an intuitive artist, working not from observation but from visions that arise in my mind, the potential subject matter is limited only by the freedom of imagination and the skill I have to render it visible.

Other artists might work in the great traditions of landscape, still life, portraiture, or figurative painting. I’ve come to realize that the visions I present are a blend of all these different explorations into a single unified image. I’m sort of a mutant form of a history painter, the genre once considered the highest form in the hierarchy of Western art, but much neglected in the modern and contemporary art worlds.

The difference is story telling. Rather than make a detached work of art for art sake’s, emphasizing merely formal concerns, history painting depicts a moment of drama. It shows action arrested for contemplation, rich in implications of past, present, and future activity. It injects the element of time, suggests consequences and resolutions are pending, and extends the liveliness of the art beyond the edges of the canvas.

I gained insight into the nature of my painting by going back to first principles, and what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I saw Star Wars in 1977 when I was 7 years old, quite possibly the perfect age to have seen that movie. I spent my whole youth wanting to be a film maker. And 10 years later, in 1987, that’s what I went off to college to try to be.

What I learned along the way during my college years was it was very hard to work collaboratively with all the people needed to bring together a major project like a movie. And not only that, in academia, for the most part the need was to act as a cog in someone else’s machine, working on someone else’s project.

Technological advances have made creative control at lot more feasible at the entry level these days, but this was the 1980s. Film was an expensive and unwieldy undertaking.

However, I made another discovery in college: painting. From the first moment I tackled a big surface as a student project I was hooked, although it took a long while and several changes of majors to understand this. But now I’ve been painting seriously for 25 years, and it remains as fascinating as ever.

I’ve found the way to show my vision and tell my stories without needing the resources of a film studio. As I’ve gained comprehension of my art, I’ve been clearer about what it is I do.

I’m showing you stills from the movies in my mind. The possibilities are endless.