Cultural Renewal May Not Be Pretty, But It is Beautiful: Punk, The Ashcan School, and Remodernism

Robert Henri “Snow in New York” oil on canvas 32″ x 25 13/16″ 1902

“Do whatever you do intensely. The artist is the man who leaves the crowd and goes pioneering. With him there is an idea which is his life.”

-Robert Henri

When I was a teenage punk, I was just having fun.

Only later did I understand I was participating in the messy but vital process of cultural renewal.

It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I was sixteen years old in 1986, living near Washington, DC. My geeky group of friends and I were performing the young male ritual of rebellion right next to an epicenter of an aggressive, controversial youth movement.

Only about a decade old at that point, the music and fashion sensation of punk had mutated into what was called hardcore. DC was the home of now legendary bands like Bad Brains and Minor Threat, and the excitement they generated spilled out into the suburbs.

I got a bad haircut and started wearing a black leather jacket and combat boots. On weekends my buddies and I left behind VHS movies and Dungeons and Dragons marathons and ventured into the big city, prowling the hip enclave of Georgetown.

We had a routine route, visiting the Exorcist stairs, Smash Records, and the Commander Salamander boutique. Mainly we walked the streets, feeling a thrill of immediate kinship whenever we encountered another band of promenading punks. We finally had something in common with some girls, too.

In time we started to visit the seedy clubs featuring shows with loud, fast songs and shouted vocals, while the audience danced by jumping around and bouncing off of each other. It was exhilarating.

Punk began when a bunch of self-starting kids, often working class, got bored with the bland, predictable culture being offered by the establishment. At the time there was no internet, and only sensationalized, derogatory mainstream media coverage. Hardcore punk was all underground and word of mouth, shared mix tapes and Xeroxed fliers. It felt like a conspiracy, like being initiated into something mysterious and special. We created our own alternative, and it spread.

I wrote about some of punk’s contradictions in my 2018 book, Remodern America: How the Renewal of the Arts Will Change the Course of Western Civilization:

Punk’s anti-establishment outlook put it on the radical side of things, but I never got how advocates of a movement that emphasized individuality and independence could turn to a politically leftist worldview. In the 1980s the Cold War was still raging, and a lot of the major figures of the punk world openly sided with the communists.
But looking at actions instead of rhetoric, it was clear to me leftists were the most vicious enforcers of the establishment in history.
Around the world, their whole political system as practiced demanded an individual’s submission to centralized power, the exact opposite of punk’s message.
It made no sense to me how any free thinker would ally themselves with brutal regimes who used constant surveillance, intimidation and violence to keep entire populations captive. The problems
of America, how we fell short of our high ideals, how we were easily distracted by crass consumerism, seemed minor compared to the literally murderous systematic oppression coordinated by greedy and
aggressive totalitarians elsewhere in the world.
I did not understand I had been recruited into a covert war which had been brewing for decades. The Cold War was being fought unacknowledged right in the midst of our placid existences, in the classrooms, on the television. Postmodernism co-opted the potentials of punk.
If I’d had more perspective then I could have seen the double standards in play, and understood their origins. But I was just a kid, lacking experience and insight. It was easier just to ignore the contradictions.
If punk meant being a nonconformist, I would follow my own conscience. I could reject materialism and unthinking obedience to authority without buying into audaciously misguided leftist dogma.
To me punk went beyond the music that sounded a certain way, a gaudy aesthetic, lapses into lazy nihilism, and a juvenile reflex towards sardonic defensiveness. Punk advanced quintessentially traditional American viewpoints: no respect for the unjustified hierarchies the powerful attempt to impose; emphasis on action and energy; commitment to justice and progress; and the desire for the liberty to pursue individual happiness.

When I look around today, at all the people with the dyed hair, tattoos, and facial piercings, I still remember how shocking such trappings were when my peers were doing it back in the day. It makes me reflect how art is a leading indicator for society-for good or ill. All the once-startling punk displays are bland and predictable.

Almost one hundred years earlier, there was another aggressive, controversial cultural phenomena going on in the United States, in painting. We’ve come to call it the Ashcan School.

Artist Robert Henri (June 24, 1865-July 12, 1929) was an inspirational artist and teacher initially based in Philadelphia; he later relocated to New York City. Henri (pronounced Hen-rye) was bored with the bland, predictable art being produced in the American art establishment at the time: either gentle, pale Impressionist imitations, or flattering Gilded Age portraits of wealthy patrons.

Henri mentored a group of journalist illustrators which included notables such as William Glackens, John Sloan, and George Luks. In an era before common photographic reproduction, newspapers used artists to create the pictures for their stories. These men were used to depicting the grime and grimness of newsworthy city life. Henri encouraged them to bring that real world engagement into fine art.

Like punk many years later, the Ashcan School was an alliance of freethinking individuals each following their own artistic vision, rather than an organized, regimented movement. The artists shared a Modernist urban sensibility, dark palette, gritty realist subject matter, and an appreciation for the common people. They made sketchy yet accurate depictions how life was lived at the time, instead of polite, idealized fantasies. As Henri put it, “There is only one reason for art in America, and that is that the people of America learn the means of expressing themselves in their own time, and their own land.”

This was considered to be bad taste. Like many other art movements like Impressionism or Fauvism, the title of Ashcan started as an insult. A reviewer sneered about the “pictures of ashcans and girls hitching up their skirts on Horatio Street.” The artists embraced the derision as a badge of honor.

The Ashcan School artists were also referred to as “The Apostles of Ugliness,” much as the punks were called “foul mouthed yobs.”

But the critics are missing something important: the ugliness isn’t the point. It’s the willingness to undergo the rough journey needed to renew the energy of life.

Something too constrained stagnates, even dies. There’s always something a little wild and scary about real growth.

There’s a difference between pretty and beautiful. Prettiness is a surface. Beauty is the substance. Pretty is an outside appearance; beauty is from within. Pretty is agreeable. Beauty is truthful, and as we know, the truth isn’t always pleasing.

Accepting yet refining the harshness of truth through creative expression is a transcendental experience. The joyous human offering of art can add significance to mundane squalor.

Right now, Postmodern establishment mismanagement has created a culture which is neither pretty nor beautiful. They need us to believe the squalor is the point, after all. Artists are needed as the pioneers which carry out the idea that life is wonderful and surprising, even if elitists call us trashy. Cultural renewal will be a little wild and scary.

The latest cycle of real change in the arts actually started decades ago, although the cultural institution-controlling elites do their best to suppress the news.

In 2000, two British artists, Charles Thomson and Billy Childish, were tired of transgressive yet still bland and predictable Postmodern art. They were brave enough to tell the truth: the galleries and museum were filled with objects that weren’t really art at all. They described a new cultural understanding called Remodernism, rising to take the place of failed Postmodern artifice. Their manifesto included this key proposition: “The making of true art is man’s desire to communicate with himself, his fellows and his God. Art that fails to address these issues is not art.”

Childish soon struck off on his own, and continues as a celebrated painter, musician, and writer. Thomson remained committed to cultivating Remodernism as a movement. Guided by his inspirational example, grassroots art groups were founded around the world.

I was inspired. In my own Remodern America manifesto, I wrote my take on what is happening now:

Remodernism reboots the culture. Remodernism is not a style of art, it is a form of motivation. We express the universal language of inspired humanity. We do not imitate what came before. We find in ourselves the same divine essence of love and excitement which has inspired masterpieces throughout history. We are strengthened by drawing on traditions thousands of years old. We integrate the bold, visionary efforts of the Modern era into a holistic, meaningful expression of contemporary life. Remodernism seeks a humble maturity which heals the fragmentation and contradictions of Modernism, and obliterates the narcissistic lies of Postmodernism. Remodernism is disruptive innovation applied to the moribund art world.

As for Robert Henri, his wisdom was captured in a great book called The Art Spirit. It encourages us to understand how important the role of the artist is.

As for me, I still pull out my Bad Brains and Minor Threat albums when the mood strikes me. It’s good music to paint to.

A version of this article originally appeared on The Masculinist, now on Substack

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I don’t fundraise off of my blog. I don’t ask for Patreon or Paypal donations. If you’d like to support the Remodern mission, buy a book. Or a painting

Learn more About My Art: Visionary Experience

My wife Michele Bledsoe has written her own inspirational book, Painting, Passion and the Art of Life.

Remodernism Video: BEFORE THERE WAS FAKE NEWS, THERE WAS FAKE ART

Visit other posts for more commentary on the state of the arts.

Please send any inquiries to info@remodernamerica.com. Thank you!

DAILY ART FIX: Richard Hamilton – Father of Pop Art

Art world links which caught my eye…

Richard Hamilton “Just what was it that made today’s homes so different, so appealing?” 1956

While the Postmodern movement of Pop art is considered an American invention, British artist Richard Hamilton was working on the same ideas earlier.

Long before Americans Andy Warhol or James Rosenquist became known for their pop art, Richard Hamilton was shaking up Britain’s art scene, introducing mass production techniques into painting.

After attending various art schools in London, Hamilton launched his career as a pop artistin the early 1950s. He was one of the leading figures in the intellectual and artistic movement called the “Independent Group.” It was the first to deal with phenomena such as advertising, film, and tabloid magazines.

Richard Hamilton “Interior II” 1964

Read the full article here: DW – Richard Hamilton: Father of pop art

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I don’t fundraise off of my blog. I don’t ask for Patreon or Paypal donations. If you’d like to support the Remodern mission, buy a book. Or a painting

Learn more About My Art: Visionary Experience

My wife Michele Bledsoe has written her own inspirational book, Painting, Passion and the Art of Life.

Remodernism Video: BEFORE THERE WAS FAKE NEWS, THERE WAS FAKE ART

Visit other posts for more commentary on the state of the arts.

Please send any inquiries to info@remodernamerica.com. Thank you!

DAILY ART FIX: Video ‘The Office’ Michael Visits Pam’s Art Show

Art world links which caught my eye

I did not watch The Office during its run. I do understand it was a popular culture phenomenon. It’s still used as meme fodder.

Recently I have watched some snippets and seen some funny stuff. And also, this poignant little moment.

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I don’t fundraise off of my blog. I don’t ask for Patreon or Paypal donations. If you’d like to support the Remodern mission, buy a book. Or a painting

Learn more About My Art: Visionary Experience

My wife Michele Bledsoe has written her own inspirational book, Painting, Passion and the Art of Life.

Remodernism Video: BEFORE THERE WAS FAKE NEWS, THERE WAS FAKE ART

Visit other posts for more commentary on the state of the arts.

Please send any inquiries to info@remodernamerica.com. Thank you!

DAILY ART FIX: The Most Significant Hans Holbein Show to Grace a U.S. Museum in 40 Years Is a Rare Chance to Bask in His Splendorous Paintings

Art world links which caught my eye…

Hans Holbein the Younger “Sir Thomas More” (1527)

I can’t imagine how much attention and care must go into transporting precious, fragile artworks around the world. But it can be done, as this amazing show demonstrates.

The Holbein exhibition actually debuted last fall at the Getty in Los Angeles, but that version and the one on view at the Morgan differ in significant ways. Some institutions only agreed to loan certain prized pieces for a short period of time, allowing for inclusion in one, but not both, shows. The Frick, for example, lent Holbein’s portrait of Thomas More to the Morgan, and his painting of Thomas Cromwell to the Getty. Both pieces rank among the portraitist’s best. 

All in all, the exhibition features loans from 10 U.S. institutions and collectors, and 13 from overseas. Roughly 60 pieces spanning the artist’s entire career are included view, 31 paintings among them. Particularly significant gets for the museum include Holbein’s portraits of Erasmus of Rotterdam (circa 1532), A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling (Anne Lovell?) (circa 1535–40) and Simon George (circa 1535–40). 

Hans Holbein the Younger “Simon George” (ca. 1535–40)

Read the full article here: ARTNET – The Most Significant Hans Holbein Show to Grace a U.S. Museum in 40 Years Is a Rare Chance to Bask in His Splendorous Paintings

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I don’t fundraise off of my blog. I don’t ask for Patreon or Paypal donations. If you’d like to support the Remodern mission, buy a book. Or a painting

Learn more About My Art: Visionary Experience

My wife Michele Bledsoe has written her own inspirational book, Painting, Passion and the Art of Life.

Remodernism Video: BEFORE THERE WAS FAKE NEWS, THERE WAS FAKE ART

Visit other posts for more commentary on the state of the arts.

Please send any inquiries to info@remodernamerica.com. Thank you!

DAILY ART FIX: Albrecht Dürer’s lesson for all of us today

Art world links which caught my eye…

Albrecht Dürer “The Virgin and Child with a Flower on a Grassy Bench”

Art gives perspective on life. This commentator contemplated Albrecht Dürer’s intimate depiction of the Madonna and Child and saw a universal message.

Although Jesus, more than anyone ever did before or since, knew what was coming.

It’s a drawing in old, dark ink of woman with curly hair, in a loose gown with a baby balanced in her lap. He is also curly-haired, and the ringlets make his little head look almost like an aura of the sun. The child stands on two plump, tiny legs, and the mother tucks him against her right arm, steadying his bottom with her left hand.

The curly-haired woman smiles. Not as if she doesn’t have a care in the world, but as if all she really cares about in this world is the child in her arms.

The child holds a flower in his left hand and looks out at the world we cannot see, past the loving clasp of a mother’s shoulder.

Read the full article here: NPR – Opinion: Albrecht Dürer’s lesson for all of us today

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I don’t fundraise off of my blog. I don’t ask for Patreon or Paypal donations. If you’d like to support the Remodern mission, buy a book. Or a painting

Learn more About My Art: Visionary Experience

My wife Michele Bledsoe has written her own inspirational book, Painting, Passion and the Art of Life.

Remodernism Video: BEFORE THERE WAS FAKE NEWS, THERE WAS FAKE ART

Visit other posts for more commentary on the state of the arts.

Please send any inquiries to info@remodernamerica.com. Thank you!

DAILY ART FIX: Artists Paint Artists-Edouard Manet ‘Monet in his Studio Boat’

Art world links which caught my eye…

Edouard Manet “Monet in his Studio Boat” 1874

I enjoy it when artists do portraits of other artists.

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I don’t fundraise off of my blog. I don’t ask for Patreon or Paypal donations. If you’d like to support the Remodern mission, buy a book. Or a painting

Learn more About My Art: Visionary Experience

My wife Michele Bledsoe has written her own inspirational book, Painting, Passion and the Art of Life.

Remodernism Video: BEFORE THERE WAS FAKE NEWS, THERE WAS FAKE ART

Visit other posts for more commentary on the state of the arts.

Please send any inquiries to info@remodernamerica.com. Thank you!

DAILY ART FIX: 10 CLEVER WAYS TO PAINT WITHOUT A PAINT BRUSH

Art world links which caught my eye…

The Good Old Potato Stamp

Although this article is aimed at kids, it could get an artist thinking. In the past, I fashioned a crude brush out of a small bundle of rubber bands. Created some interesting textures.

Think beyond the brush!

In art, the tools we use have a decent role in our creations and this is definitely the case here. Your kids will be delighted to see how shapes and patterns can create cause and effect from the very tool they use!

Read the full article here: HELLO WONDERFUL – 10 CLEVER WAYS TO PAINT WITHOUT A PAINT BRUSH

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I don’t fundraise off of my blog. I don’t ask for Patreon or Paypal donations. If you’d like to support the Remodern mission, buy a book. Or a painting

Learn more About My Art: Visionary Experience

My wife Michele Bledsoe has written her own inspirational book, Painting, Passion and the Art of Life.

Remodernism Video: BEFORE THERE WAS FAKE NEWS, THERE WAS FAKE ART

Visit other posts for more commentary on the state of the arts.

Please send any inquiries to info@remodernamerica.com. Thank you!

DAILY ART FIX: Ancient Chalk Sculpture is ‘Most Important Prehistoric Art’

Art world links which caught my eye…

The 5,000-year-old sculpture was found in an East Yorkshire grave, along with a bone pin and a chalk ball thought to be a child’s toy

In East Yorkshire, UK, a mysterious ancient carving was discovered in the grave of three children, along with other artifacts.

The barrel-shaped cylindrical sculpture is only the fourth of its kind known to have survived and still retains elaborate motifs purveying a British and Irish artistic style, which flourished at the time Stonehenge was built, curators said.

Read the full article here: BBC – Ancient Chalk Sculpture is ‘Most Important Prehistoric Art’

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I don’t fundraise off of my blog. I don’t ask for Patreon or Paypal donations. If you’d like to support the Remodern mission, buy a book. Or a painting

Learn more About My Art: Visionary Experience

My wife Michele Bledsoe has written her own inspirational book, Painting, Passion and the Art of Life.

Remodernism Video: BEFORE THERE WAS FAKE NEWS, THERE WAS FAKE ART

Visit other posts for more commentary on the state of the arts.

Please send any inquiries to info@remodernamerica.com. Thank you!

DAILY ART FIX: The Art of Memes 10

Art world links which caught my eye…

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I don’t fundraise off of my blog. I don’t ask for Patreon or Paypal donations. If you’d like to support the Remodern mission, buy a book. Or a painting

Learn more About My Art: Visionary Experience

My wife Michele Bledsoe has written her own inspirational book, Painting, Passion and the Art of Life.

Remodernism Video: BEFORE THERE WAS FAKE NEWS, THERE WAS FAKE ART

Visit other posts for more commentary on the state of the arts.

Please send any inquiries to info@remodernamerica.com. Thank you!

DAILY ART FIX: Corporate Flat Art Proves Big Business Is Infatuated With Ugliness

Art world links which caught my eye…

The Generic as Tyranny: Typical Globohomo Art

We see it everywhere. Imagery of featureless humans fulfilling the latest consumer impulses or obeying the latest social engineering commands. This article in the Federalist describes the mindset behind these icons of conformity. Thanks to reader Richard Patton for the link!

Consider one of big businesses’ oft ignored crimes against society; the soulless art frequently featured in their ads, often derisively referred to as corporate flat art, corporate Memphis, or even Big Tech Art… 

This unsettling ubiquity has given rise to a subreddit that’s dubbed it “globohomo art,” an abbreviation of “global homogenization.” Commenters condemn it as a style “mostly used by large companies and sociopolitical organizations that push for a globalized and homogenized society devoid of social and cultural identity.” While its widespread use and sheer ugliness has opened it to criticism and mockery, it’s struck a chord not simply for what it looks like, but for what it represents.

Read the full article here: THE FEDERALIST – Corporate Flat Art Proves Big Business Is Infatuated With Ugliness

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I don’t fundraise off of my blog. I don’t ask for Patreon or Paypal donations. If you’d like to support the Remodern mission, buy a book. Or a painting

Learn more About My Art: Visionary Experience

My wife Michele Bledsoe has written her own inspirational book, Painting, Passion and the Art of Life.

Remodernism Video: BEFORE THERE WAS FAKE NEWS, THERE WAS FAKE ART

Visit other posts for more commentary on the state of the arts.

Please send any inquiries to info@remodernamerica.com. Thank you!