BOOKS: Used Book Treasures

Used Books

“What we read and why we do so defines us in a profound way. You are what you read, I suppose. Browsing through someone’s library is like peeking into their DNA.”

-Guillermo del Toro

I received a very special St. Valentine’s Day present from my wife Michele Bledsoe. For the first time in several years we attended the annual Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association Used Book Sale. On Sunday February 14 we spent the morning at the Phoenix Fairgrounds, going through an immense exhibition hall crammed full of super affordable used books.

We are thrifty people, so it worked out great Valentine’s Day was Half Price Day. Michele and I share a love of books. We’ve even written one together, “The Secret Kingdom,” which was quite an adventure in itself.

Once inside the VNSA Book Sale we both went to the Art section, excitedly showing each other new discoveries. Eventually Michele headed off to explore some other favorite topics, but I stayed, determined to see everything. By the time I left the section, I had already found so many books it was hard to carry them.

Art books are very important to me. Art is a continuum; what we are doing now in art right is part of an on-going story as old as humanity itself. I love to see what was done before, because real art is always remains relevant, no matter when or where it was made. I find it inspirational, plus exposing myself to all those pictures and ideas is crucial to the process I call “feeding the image bank.” I never know when what I see might trigger the visions so vital to my own work.

We found many other wonderful books that day, books on faith, history and nature, and some fiction as well. But the most exciting part for me were the volumes on art. All told, we probably spent less than $30 on an immense boost to our art library. I was very selective. I put much more back than I actually bought.

In review of my purchases, I can see now how what I actually picked was influenced by a growing concern in my life: the nature of the American artist. What is the art of this very special place, and what does it look like in these times? You’ll never find out by looking at the offerings of the art establishment. That’s why contemporary art is suffering a crisis of relevance. That is why Remodernism is rising to sweep away the corrupted old hierarchies and renew the art spirit.

Here is a list of our Art Book finds that day, and some notes on their significance. Listed roughly in order of size:

  1. Thomas Hart Benton – mostly black and white images from the American Regionalist painter
  2. Dali Jewels – color photos of jewelry designed by the great Surrealist
  3. Oskar Kokoschka – brief biography and mostly color images by the Expressionist painter
  4. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Symbolism – as a painter in the Symbolist tradition, I am very aware that at its best my art is full of archetypal meanings that come upon me from outside of myself. Like in a dream, I’m shown a picture that is full of significance. Afterwards, looking up the visions that appear to me is very educational, and help me understand what is being conveyed.
  5. Rodin: His Sculptures, Drawings, and Watercolors– Biography, commentary, and black and white images from across the range of Rodin’s artistic output
  6. Great Housewives of Art – a fun collection of domestic themed art
  7. O’Keeffe & Stieglitz – biography on one of the great romances and partnerships in art, between Georgia O’Keeffe and photographer/gallerist Alfred Stieglitz
  8. Alfred P. Ryder – A real score, a color and black and white illustrated book on one of my favorite artists, Alfred Pinkham Ryder
  9. American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America by Robert Hughes – another real score, a book I’ve wanted for years, by my favorite art critic. Even when I’ve seen it used at other locations, I considered it too expensive ($20+). Here I paid $3.50 for a pristine hardback version. I was thrilled.
  10. The Mode in Costume – drawings of clothing styles from 3000 BC to the 1940’s, when the book was made. This will be a great resource for me, as I love evoking history in my paintings, and outfits provide a powerful time reference.
  11. Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance – a lavishly illustrated overview of an exciting movement in the Modern Art era
  12. Russian Lacquer Legends and Fairy Tales – beautiful color photographs on the bold, graphic style of Russian miniature paintings
  13. Passionate Visions of the American South: Self-Taught Artists from 1940 to the Present – a wealth of information and images on Outsider art, including the amazing Thornton Dial
  14. An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art-full color book on a talented family of painters
  15. The Writer’s Brush: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculptures by Writers – as an artist who writes, it is very interesting to see the results when they come at it from the other way around

ARTICLE: I Do Declare-The Power of the Art Manifesto


Someone needed to say it: Manifestos have changed the world


ARTICLE: 10 Game Changing Art Manifestos

The article above lists, in roughly chronological order, samples from documents that made an effort to define some particular set of ideas that artists could agree on. Good luck with that.

The tone varies in each, from playful to serious, from inspirational to ironic; but each can be seen as form of taking a stand. They take the risk of stating: this is what matters, and how it is done.

Such expressions of conviction could feel out of place these days, if we listened to the dominant voices in our culture. We live in an era where our institutions encourage us to be muddled and malleable, all the better for the controlling elitists to manipulate us.

The art world is full of this mushy thinking. A great example is how so many SJW artist types preen over the perception they are somehow cutting edge and challenging. They are oblivious that they are espousing the same causes and attitudes being championed by the universities, all the major newspapers, the big three networks and the majority of cable stations, Hollywood studios, ensconced and entitled government bureaucrats, go-along-to-get-along corporations, the official leadership of every major political party pretty much, and the authoritarian brow beaters of social media.

Such rebels, to be in unquestioning conformity to the steady diet of propaganda that barrages us from every angle.

Like William F. Buckley described, “In the hands of a skillful indoctrinator, the average student not only thinks what the indoctrinator wants him to think . . . but is altogether positive that he has arrived at his position by independent intellectual exertion. This man is outraged by the suggestion that he is the flesh-and-blood tribute to the success of his indoctrinators.”

By all means, let the poseurs keep believing they are speaking truth to power. Their indoctrination was highly successful. The code has been cracked to make these puppets the manifestation of the slogan Ignorance is Strength.

I find the idea of the grassroots manifesto a powerful antidote to the poison of centralized control. Instead of following the top-down dictates of the New Aristocracy of the Well Connected, let artists lead by stating their own idiosyncratic observations as a catalyst for real change.

A manifesto is a great tool.   It’s a statement of observations, principles, and proposed actions that the audience can test for validity, and choose to accept or reject based on their own ideas and experiences. I found the Remodernism Manifesto a very useful summation of very real problems that exist in the art world, and some sensible and positive solutions.

When I started sharing it in the art community, some were appalled, and felt the need to lash out. The forces of reaction recoiled in horror from a clear articulation of opinions and values that contradicted their world view. “Shut up,” they explained.

Why the attempt to stifle free expression, and amongst artists of all people? Oh, that’s right; that’s the elitist strategy for dealing with dissent. Crush it, and preserve the monopoly.

We’ve all  become too complacent about the totalitarians in our midst. This needs to change. It starts in the art.

The response of the establishment is very predictable-the frantic attempts to shore up the status quo by means of straw man misrepresentations, futile projections, creepy attempts at personalized pyschodrama. All are efforts to reframe the narrative back into the familiar terrain of the art world bubble. There are elements out there that are very comfortable with the current limited appeal of the contemporary art world. It gives them little kingdoms to rule.

Lots of hearts will be broken trying to defend that dying paradigm though. Art is too important to humanity to leave it in its current state of technocrat mismanagement, and their carefully contrived echo chamber is crumbling.

There’s nothing pedantic about insightful critique and a call for action being stated in firm, direct language. We have been taught to call some objects art that aren’t, by people who are operating out of insidious and base self aggrandizement. A growing wave of people recognize that the current model for the arts is a corrupt wreck, and is ripe for renewal. As we share our discoveries, the wave continues to build.

So let there be manifestos and more. Make statements of intent, editorials, rallying calls, declarations, rants and poems and broadsides. Reformation begins when the scattered elements that perceive the coming way start to recognize their kindred spirits, and begin working towards common goals. Let our manifestos bring us together, and show that out of many, we have become one.

Hear: Charles Thomson reads the Stuckist Manifesto

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers! Feel free to check out other posts here on the state of the arts.

VIDEO: When Worlds Collide-A Python Talks Conceptual Art on Doctor Who

Tardis Art

Cameo: Wonderful affunctionalism

I’ve made no secret about my vintage Doctor Who fandom on this blog. Recent comments by comedian John Cleese reminded me when he made an art-related appearance on the legendary television series in 1979.

For his brief dialogue, story editor Douglas Adams served up a piece of art babble worthy of Vogon poetry status. Cleese and actress Eleanor Bron give the Doctor’s time machine, the Tardis, a critique that could straight out of  Saatchi gallery press release. (See the John Cleese clip from “The City of Death” at this link. )

Cleese: “For me, one of the most curious things about this piece is its wonderful… afunctionalism.”

Bron: “Yes. I see what you mean. Divorced from its function and seen purely as a piece of art, its structure of line and color is curiously counterpointed by the redundant vestiges of its function.”

Cleese: “And since it has no call to be here, the art lies in the fact that it *is* here.”

[Doctor, Romana and Duggan dash in and enter the TARDIS; it dematerializes]

Bron: “Exquisite. Absolutely exquisite.”

Pompous elitist art patrons like the ones caricatured here are real enough. They are the type of people that have given non-talents like Tracy Emin a simulacra  of relevance and a facade of a career.

The establishment rejects the self-evident principle expressed in the Stuckism manifiesto: “Art that has to be in a gallery to be art isn’t art.”

The elitist’s response is, “We declare it is art because we say so. We camouflage our unscrupulous power trip with lots of pretentious, pseudo-intellectual banter. We don’t care about art, we care that we are the only ones whose opinions matter.”

The art world is full of hopeful supplicants who will wage war on behalf of the most absurd cultural institution dogma, hopeful their conformity will be rewarded with crumbs of acknowledgement. Their whole identity is invested in acting as defender of the woefully inept establishment artistic status quo.

Sadly most of these acolytes would not acknowledge real art if it appeared – or vanished – right before their own eyes.

Bonus video clip: Cleese and the Doctor (Tom Baker) indulge in a little backstage skit with some Python bite.