PAINTINGS: “The Determined Sailor” and the Art of Perseverance

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Richard Bledsoe “The Determined Sailor” oil on canvas 48″ x 36″

circa 2006

I must admit, there was a point I didn’t keep very good records. So I find myself uncertain of the exact timing of a certain troubled interlude in my life. The best I can reckon it, it probably ran from about 2004 to 2005.

I graduated with my BFA in painting from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1993. In all the years since, I’ve never stopped painting; but during this dark period, my production slowed to a crawl. I had become fascinated with working on wood panels, a  rigid, unyielding surface to paint on. When things were clicking I had made some really inspired pieces in this format, but during this ebb of my artistic energy I couldn’t overcome the resistance of the medium, and even worse, the resistance in my spirit.

I made some truly terrible paintings during this period. If I get really brave some day, I will post those incompetent, blighted images. There are a lot of unfinished panels, and even the ones I called completed are in no way resolved. I haven’t gotten rid of them. They live in my garage now, safely out of sight.

But worst of all, the visions ceased. The basis of my art, the fully formed pictures that come out of nowhere, the profoundly meaningful images that are revealed to me in unexpected flashes, stopped appearing. It was like losing the key to Wonderland.

It could have been the end of my art. Things were really that bleak and frustrating. But it’s not the way I chose to approach life, to be a passive recipient, battered by forces out of my control.  Once I saw the real jeopardy I was in, I took action.

I decided no more wood panels. I went back to first principles, and constructed a canvas  in the same format I had been taught in my first semester of Beginning Painting, back in 1991: a wooden frame 3 feet by 4 feet, the canvas stretched by hand, and stapled, and gessoed.

For the image I also reached back to an earlier time. I remembered an idle doodle I had once drawn in ballpoint pen on the back of a flier, during a dull afternoon of gallery watching many years before. That was the icon I needed now.

The result of this effort at renewal became the painting “The Determined Sailor.” This was how I felt then. There’s also some Popeye in there, and some Winslow Homer. So much gets poured into each painting, it’s impossible to summarize all the inferences and connotations.

The example of this sailor I summoned worked. I found my way back into my art. In time the visions began to creep up on me again. Now the problem I have is I have too many ideas, which is a great problem for an artist to have.

That was probably about 10 years ago. For several of those years the painting hung in my studio, but ultimately it sold. A lady who had overcome some major difficulties in her own life saw the image online, and was so taken with it she made it her computer screen saver.

Naturally her husband sought me out, and bought it as a surprise for her.

I miss the painting, but the way it found a new home and family remains one of the most touching experiences of my art career.

“A true art is the visible manifestation, evidence and facilitator of the soul’s journey. Spiritual art does not mean the painting of Madonnas or Buddhas. Spiritual art is the painting of things that touch the soul of the artist. Spiritual art does not often look very spiritual, it looks like everything else because spirituality includes everything.”

-The Remodernism Manifesto

 

 

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ARTICLE: The Death of University Arts Programs, Part 1: Eric Fischl

These days, prestigious artist Eric Fischl paints what he knows

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ARTICLE LINK: Artist Eric Fischl on art education priorities

The current status quo of the art world is dysfunctional and unsustainable. Aspiring artists are indoctrinated into the belief that path for advancement lies through the minefield of dogma higher education has been reduced to.

The reality of the situation is that the assumptions and biases of the elitist academic approach probably did more to create and sustain the crisis of relevance the arts are undergoing than any other factor.

The end of the current system is inevitable. What will take its place will be determined by those who can see past the dreary conformity that inflicts the credentialed creative classes.

Eric Fischl got his schooling during the hippie-dippie days of the deconstructive 1960s. As he puts it, “There were no classes that taught techniques, no classes focusing on the business of art, no financial counselors.”

However, he managed to overcome the obstacles of such experimental academic shenanigans to become one of the most noteworthy and successful artists of the 1980s New York art scene.

Coming up in an age dominated by abstraction and minimalism, Fischl managed to rediscover the power of human drama inherent in figurative painting. He specializes in the dark, seamy and sexual, but hey: there’s lots of drama to explore in those recesses of mankind’s frailty. His artistry punches through the tawdriness; he makes epics out of fallen humanity’s misadventures. He’s a very bold and generous artist.

Now Fischl has commented on the newest forms of higher education trendiness, and he sees the path of destruction they are on.

“…do you acknowledge that the nature of art making has changed, the pressures and expectations on young artists are different, so you adjust your methodology to address their reality?

“No, no, no, no, no, NO!

“Art education should not be a degree program. It should be dropped from colleges and universities—or at the very least, the tuition should be scaled in such a way that students are not burdened with debt in a field that cannot in any way guarantee an income commensurate with the ability to pay it down.

“It should provide a student with space, time, techniques, and critical standards, in a safe and competitive environment, so that they can handle and profit from being constantly challenged, broken down, debased, and ridiculed. Make damn sure that within this structure of frustration, confusion, and humiliation, they are nurtured by your profound sense of purpose, wisdom, experience, and your unshakeable belief in the meaningfulness of art.

“Art should be embraced as a journey. Result-oriented, not product-based. Understood as a process and a dialogue with history, culture, and time.

“For what it’s worth.”

-Eric Fischl

Just imagine the if the cry bullies of today’s college campuses ever found themselves in a challenging and competitive environment. The hysterical stampede for their safe spaces would be highly unsafe. Cue the helicopter parents, the SJWs, and the partisan hack media to launch their rituals of shaming and outrage.

It seems these days University art programs are more geared to training future cogs for the elitist sycophant combine than to teaching students the craft to express a personal vision. There’s already a legion of dolts out there that can’t tell the difference between a marketing scheme and a work of art; every year more graduate into a world that shrugged off contemporary visual art as useless long ago. The priorities  learned in these cloistered environments will work only in other cloistered environments. The goal is keep the art world small, isolated, and easily controlled.

This toxic combination of an extremely narrow niche field of endeavor, unethical professional cronyism,  hair trigger emotional status seeking, and rigid ideological conformity is just the way the arts establishment wants it. It plays into their status as power brokers. But it’s really no good for anyone else.

It’s entertaining in a way to watch the ivory tower crumble. Once we get the rubble of fallen reputations and squandered credibility cleared away, humanity can re-engage with the true purpose of art: the skillful communication of spiritual states and realizations that unite, not divide.

“Remodernism is inclusive rather than exclusive and welcomes artists who endeavour to know themselves and find themselves through art processes that strive to connect and include, rather than alienate and exclude.”

-The Remodernism Manifesto

Update: Welcome Instapundit readers! Please see other articles here for more commentary on the state of the arts.

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ART QUOTES: On Spirituality

“Spiritual art is not about fairyland. It is about taking hold of the rough texture of life. It is about addressing the shadow and making friends with wild dogs. Spirituality is the awareness that everything in life is for a higher purpose.”

-The Remodernism Manifesto

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Howard Pyle “A Wolf Had Not Been Seen In Salem for Thirty Years”

“Be it known that the spiritual world in outward appearance is entirely similar to the natural world.”

-Howard Pyle

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Billy Childish “Toni Kurz Descending”

“You have to have the guts to engage with your own spiritual journey, which is what life is for. It can be reflected in art, but art won’t take you there on its own. It’s not good enough. You actually have to use your inquiring mind and question yourself and the bullshit of things. You have to avoid getting tied up in intellectual and ironic gameplay, which will not liberate you. We want freedom, we want liberation, and you’re not going to get it in postmodernism. You’re going to get it through authentic engagement.”

-Billy Childish

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O'Keeffe-(hands)

Alfred Stieglitz “Georgia O’Keeffe, Hands, 1918”

“It is not art in the professionalized sense about which I care, but that which is created sacredly, as a result of a deep inner experience, with all of oneself, and that becomes ‘art’ in time.”

-Alfred Stieglitz 

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Paul Klee “Fairy Tale of the Dwarf”

“My hand is entirely the implement of a distant sphere. It is not my head that functions but something else, something higher, something somewhere remote. I must have great friends there, dark as well as bright… They are all very kind to me.”

-Paul Klee

COMMENTARY: The Great Tate Bricks Controversy of 1976

Andres

It’s a pile of something all right:

A vintage photo of Carl Andre’s “Equivalent VIII”

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“The sensation of these pieces was that they come above your ankles…”
-Carl Andre

“Art that has to be in a gallery to be art isn’t art.”

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I imagine the tour conversation depicted above probably went something like this:
CURATOR: “Behold, a three-dimensional manifestation of essential modular forms; a configuration of material purity actualized in an industrial aesthetic.”
PUBLIC: “But that’s just a stack of bricks on the floor.”
CURATOR: “You obviously do not understand art.”
In 1976 London there was some tabloid excitement about the Tate Museum’s tax-payer funded purchase and display of Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII-a group of 120 bricks arranged in a rectangle.
The piece was originally part of an installation in New York in 1966. When no one bought the work at the time, the artist returned the bricks to the supplier. He had to obtain new bricks for the Tate. It reportedly cost the tax payers about $12,000.00, the equivalent of about $50,000.00 today.  A real bargain, considering the seven figure boondoggles the art market currently traffics in.
This piece has since been vandalized with paint, mocked in editorial cartoons, and met with general bewilderment. This hostility is seen as a badge of honor by elitist cultural types.
But the limitations of material as message render the piece itself as dull and inert. Without lots of art blather to support it, the piece is simply a stack of bricks out of its normal context, without any inherent interest of its own.
Museums have only gotten worse since then. The poor judgement and self-serving cronyism of the arts establishment has made the modern museum into a void of overpriced. repackaged Dada. Sadly, Equivalent VIII and the way it was handled  was a harbinger, not of the direction of art, but of the power games and corruption of our compromised cultural institutions.
Carl Andre went on to be put on trial for the murder of his wife, artist Ana Mendieta,  who somehow fell out of a 34 story window during a domestic dispute over art career jealousy. Andre was cleared on the charges due to reasonable doubt.
The piece itself is still providing a trip hazard at the Tate Modern Museum.
Trip
carl-andre
“Art is the exclusion of the unnecessary.” – Carl Andre
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That’s a great perspective. Let’s start by excluding misplaced stacks of bricks cluttering up what could be useful museum space.