COMMENTARY: How Obama’s Portrait Reveals the Failures of the Elitist Art World

In the Weeds: Kehinde Wiley’s Obama Portrait 

.As the United States clips along at the speed of Trump, the news cycle races by in a dizzying blur. Events rapidly recede without any time for real analysis. Such was the case for the big reveal of the official portraits of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Although it just happened on February 12, it already feels like ancient history. Yet this regrettable image is going to be cluttering up the National Portrait Gallery forever, so it’s worth understanding just what the tax payers had to subsidize.

The Michelle Obama portrait is just sad. A tentative, pallid non-likeness. The apparatchiks at the museum assure us that it is so popular it had to be moved to a larger display space. Perhaps a pilgrimage to it gives the same solace that some progressives get from the plastic Obama dolls they keep stashed in their purses. The artist who made this painting just seems to have attempted a task above their pay grade, and fell short. It happens.

It is the portrait of Barack that displays the corruption of the establishment. It’s a Postmodern mockery. As such it may be a fitting representation for Obama, but that doesn’t make it good art.

What makes this piece so awful? Let us count the ways.

Con Artist 

Kehinde Wiley

American artist Andy Warhol set the tone back in the 1960s by reducing his contribution to his own “art” to being a celebrity spokesmodel for a brand of products he did not produce himself. That inane example has become the ideal for the untalented Postmodern artists, like Kehinde Wiley.

Even when he made his pieces himself, Wiley did a form of artistic cheating, using a prevalent practice which undermines the integrity of the act. He took photographs and used a projector to trace them onto the canvas. Artists who use this shortcut undercut themselves and their audience by doing a paint-by-numbers routine to create their works. These artists have reduced themselves to a mere cog in a mechanical reproduction process, not creating, but taking dictation from their gadgets. They let their tools make their discoveries for them. It is an inferior mode of creation. Perhaps it explains some of the compositional errors in the piece, like the 6 fingers on the left hand, or the really awkward perspective on the chair. The projector must have gotten bumped.

As exposed by the Gateway Pundit, the Obama portrait even fell back on copy/paste for the backdrop; the same image was tiled repeatedly.

The lack of engagement comes through in the pieces. as the New York Times noted back in 2008, “…the Conceptual rationale behind Mr. Wiley’s paintings has tended to overpower their visual presence, which helps reduce them to illustrations. Like Norman Rockwell’s paintings they look better in reproduction than in reality.”

But Wiley can’t even be bothered to put in that much effort anymore.

.Outsourced to Forced Labor 

Beijing Studio: Dabbed more paint onto his clothes than the actual canvases 

.Wiley doesn’t even make his own paintings. Does he set up workshops in distressed American inner cities, where he could cultivate apprentices drawn from the disadvantaged youths he claims to honor?  No. He has a studio in worker’s paradise Beijing, China, along with other locations described as “global.” There he can pay cut rate salaries for assembly line production.

Wiley employs various strategies to defuse criticism about the practice. Sometimes he tries to get folksy:

“There’s nothing new about artists using assistants—everyone from Michelangelo to Jeff Koons has employed teams of helpers, with varying degrees of irony and pride—but Wiley gets uncomfortable discussing the subject. ‘I’m sensitive to it,’ he says. When I first arrived at his Beijing studio, the assistants had left, and he made me delete the iPhone snapshots I’d taken of the empty space. It’s not that he wants people to believe every brushstroke is his, he says. That they aren’t is public ­knowledge. It’s just a question of boundaries. “I don’t want you to know every aspect of where my hand starts and ends, or how many layers go underneath the skin, or how I got that glow to happen,’ he says. ‘It’s the secret sauce! Get out of my kitchen!’”

Sometimes he wants to brush it off with the jaded airs of an insider:

“‘The sentiments about authenticity in the public eye,’ Wiley tells me, with conversational casualness and an air of mild fatigue over having, once again, to explain this, ‘the discomfort with a large-scale art practice, comes from a myth in an artistic process that never existed. Rubens, Michelangelo: Both had large studios with many assistants. There is a long line of artists who work with other artists to realize a larger vision than is possible with one hand. Education in art history taught me this, as did being steeped in the reality of painting. My interest is in completing an image that is spectacular beyond belief. My fidelity is to the image and the art and not to the bragging rights of making every stroke on every flower. I’m realistic. It’s not romantic, but that romance never existed.'”

Conveniently left out of his analogy are all the artists who did indeed actually make their own art. Postmodern operators like to refer to workshops of the Old Masters as a precedent. It takes a lot of arrogance to claim any similarities between the incredible discipline and vision of renowned artists who have endured the test of time, and the second-rate novelties churned out now on behalf of stilted hacks. These days, all a Postmodern spokesmodel really needs to do is push the appropriate politically correct buttons.

.Vicious Virtue signalling

Classical 

Before the Presidential portrait, one of the things Wiley was known for were variations on an image from apocryphal Book of Judith. In that story a woman saves Israel by seducing and assassinating an invading king; it was the subject of many Renaissance artworks. Wiley (or his helpers) depicted this scene as a black woman holding the decapitated head of a white woman. “It’s sort of a play on the ‘kill whitey’ thing,” Wiley explained. How playful! The privileged insider art world sure is getting played, falling all over themselves to show how woke they are for racial violence.

.Sperm

Wiley gets additional virtue status points as a gay man. You might think there was no connection between which set of genitals an artist enjoys and the quality of their work, but the establishment art world knows better than you. Wiley makes leering references to his preferences in his works. The persistent rumors about his casting couch demands on his models aren’t relevant here. But Wiley does provide other hints.

When the Obama portrait was unveiled many made an observation that was dismissed as a conspiracy theory: that Barack had a big old sperm on his forehead.

Photo Credit: Vigilant Citizen 

The media denials were intense. “Wackadoodle,” said the Washington City Paper. “False,” and somehow racist, claimed Snopes. A picture circulated which claimed to prove it’s just an accurate rendering, but which doesn’t seem to support that point at all. The head of the alleged sperm is nowhere to be seen in the photo, and that’s what makes all the difference. But who are you going to believe, the media or your lying eyes?

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It becomes even more evident when research shows sperm is a Wiley painting trademark. It’s sort of like a Hitchcock cameo, but with semen. Back when the Village Voice didn’t have to disavow the allusion, they positively gloated over it:

“Wiley has painted free-floating spermatozoa across the canvas. The same goes for the bear of a fellow in Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps, which could be subtitled “(Through a Light Ejaculate Mist).’ And if the painted tadpoles aren’t sufficiently suggestive, several of the gilded frames contain sperm reliefs of their own. (Talk about painting outside the lines.)”

 

Wiley: Napoleon is coming over the Alps 

Who is the wackadoodle now?

Establishmentile Dysfunction

There’s more that could be said about this debacle, but enough is enough for now. In my upcoming book, Remodern America: How the Renewal of the Arts Will Change the Course of Western  Civilization, remedies are presented for the failures of elitist culture. As stated in the Remodern America Manifesto:

“Art is a more enduring and vital human experience than the power games of a greedy and fraudulent ruling class. The managers crashed the culture in pursuit of their agenda. They defend their usurped authority and privileges with doublethink, misdirection, and intimidation. Their time has run out. Reality is crashing back through their carefully constructed facades, and a time of reckoning has come. Enduring changes start in the arts. Remodernism defeats Postmodern desecration.”

 

 

 

 

 

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STUDIO: Collaborative Painting with Richard and Michele-Part 3

The Collaborative Painting Continues: Drawing it Out 

Once we started defining the composition, the painting moved rapidly. It is a small piece, 12″ x 6″, which happens to be one of Michele’s favorite sizes. Basically we were both arranging our own 6″ x 6″ squares, and making them harmonize. I tend to do my drawing filling in spaces with paint. Michele lays out the elements in line drawings. She learned to not start painting until her drawing is complete.

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  Here we’ve made a great leap forward, once Michele started laying in color, and I started to get detailed.

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Next up: completion.

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Read the series

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STUDIO: Collaborative Painting with Richard and Michele-Part 1

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STUDIO: Collaborative Painting with Richard and Michele-Part 2

STUDIO: Collaborative Painting with Richard and Michele-Part 2

A Collaborative Painting by Richard and Michele Bledsoe: Taking Form

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The collaboration continued. We very quickly determined the needed dynamic. We are opposites in so many ways.

Michele worked on the painting for much longer periods of time than I did. She is a meticulous, slow painter. She laid out her drawing in detail on the canvas, in raw umber, using tiny brushes.

I worked fast, laying in big areas, keeping the drawing loose and crude at first. I introduced color right away, covering over my drawing to build up new layers, using big harsh bristle brushes.

Yes, we are opposites in so many ways. We balance each other. To make this work in the form of a painting is an exciting part of this project.

 

It’s all a base coat, for now 

 

Read the series – STUDIO: Collaborative Painting with Richard and Michele-Part 1

STUDIO: Collaborative Painting with Richard and Michele-Part 1

It Begins: A Collaborative Painting from Richard and Michele Bledsoe 

It’s surprising it’s taken us so long to do this.

My wife Michele Bledsoe and I are both painters, but very different kinds of painters.

We do share a studio in our home. We’ve spent countless hours together making art. We work back to back, with the stereo in the middle to play inspirational music.

She sits at her easel. I pace around in front of mine.

Michele uses tiny soft brushes. I use big house painting brushes for much of my work.

She discovers her imagery through stream of consciousness dreaming. I am replicating the vision I was assigned.

She likes to focus on one work at a time, and linger over it. I have multiple pieces going at once, at different stages of completion, and I compulsively push them towards resolution.

Michele doesn’t know what she is going to paint when she begins, but she applies her masterful technique to it. I know the image I need to present, but I don’t know how I’m going to paint it out.

We are both wholly committed to our art, and we show it in our own different ways. Remodernism encourages dedication to individual expression, and the pursuit of excellence.

But what would happen if we decided to share our visions together on one canvas, just like we share our studio, and our lives?

We’re going to find out.

Michele and I recently began a collaborative painting. We divided it right across the middle, but we will each contribute to a unified composition, in our own unique styles. We will follow our very different methods and seek to make them harmonize.

I started off like I always do: covering the canvas with a flat layer of color. I don’t like painting on a white surface.

Michele started like she always does: establishing the drawing, as seen in the picture above.

I then put in my crude initial layout, and gave it back to her.

Establishing the basics 

We will trade the canvas back and forth until it is done, and post updates on this blog. It’s a fascinating artistic process to interact with each other in something as complex as a painting. Stay tuned for further developments!

EXPLOITS: In the Eyes of a Painter-and a Major Announcement

Oh the irony: The unfinished work “Self Portrait with 5 Eyes” by Richard Bledsoe

acrylic on canvas 36″ x 36″

 

It’s been an eventful two months.

October 4, 2017, started off great. My wife Michele Bledsoe  and I both had the day off of work. I had a 6 am Arizona time Skype discussion scheduled with a college class in Louisiana. I gave a presentation about the art movement Remodernism and my own artistic experiences.

After the Skype session, Michele and I followed up on a birthday present I had received: tickets to Scottsdale’s OdySea Aquarium. Animals fascinate me, and I was intrigued by the opportunity to see watery creatures right here in the desert.

It was a great time. We got there just as they opened; being early on a Wednesday morning, the place wasn’t crowded at all. The aquarium provided a whole multimedia experience. At an interactive exhibit, I stuck my hand into a frigid pool and petted a sea anemone. I marveled as its little tentacles wrapped around my finger. We watched a 3D movie that projected whales life sized. We took a ride in a revolving theater which rotated to show four different environments, full of amazing animals. Michele filmed the whole thing, and made a wonderful Youtube video of it, linked here: A Trip to the Aquarium Video. 

The marine creatures on display were beautiful. We watched rays, sharks, catfish, seals, otters, penguins, and crabs in action. There was huge, intricate installation of a coral reef, swarming with dazzling fish. The aquarium even featured a few rescued sea turtles. Several have a condition called “bubble butt.” Damage had introduced a bubble of gas inside their shells, and they can’t dive. The aquarium rehabilitates these turtles by attaching weights to them, which restores their equilibrium.

A sea turtle with bubble butt 

After the wonderful visit to the aquarium, Michele and I had a mellow day planned. We were going to go out to lunch, then spend a quiet evening at home, painting. I was trying to complete an unusual piece for me: a self portrait. I depicted myself in front of a strange geometric background I invented on the canvas. I’d been working on this piece on and off for months, and I was eager to finish it.

But first, I wanted to run an errand, and get new glasses. I’d had my current glasses for years, and I felt like I wasn’t seeing well through them anymore.

We went to a typical glasses place in the mall. At that point, everything changed.

When looking into the bright lights of the eye exam, I realized that I had no vision in about a third of my left eye. I only saw darkness.

The optometrist reviewed the results, and immediately set an appointment with a retinal specialist. Immediate as in, go straight to the eye doctor, right now.

We went. During the exam, as the doctors peered into my eye and reviewed their scans, they kept saying, “So close!” I finally asked what was so close. They explained my retina was almost completely detached, barely holding on. I needed to have emergency surgery. They would introduce a bubble of gas inside of my eye to try to hold it together. This made me think of the sea turtles I had seen just hours before. Life is full of the most amazing synchronicities, when you look at it the right way.

The surgery couldn’t be scheduled until the next day. More synchronicity seeped in during the operation. I was sedated but conscious during the procedure. They covered my face with a perforated blue blanket while they worked. The operating theater lights shining through the tiny holes blurred and shifted as I looked up at them, creating a uncanny replica of the blue and white background I had painted on my self portrait. I guess I knew what was coming in some way. As I laid there listening to the murmured conversations of the surgical team, images of coral reefs played through my mind, like the one I has seen in the aquarium, but darkened, like it was night.

After the surgery, the really fun part started. To heal, I had to spend a week lying on my right side. We were grateful it was the side, because often this type of operation requires spending a week face down. Imagine trying to lie face down for a whole week, we kept saying. That would be so hard!

I could see the bubble floating inside of my eye. Because of the way the eye flips things, it always appeared on the opposite side of where it actually was. I called myself the human level, after the tool that uses a bubble to test the straightness of flat surfaces. Around the bubble, the vision in my left eye was like looking through curved jello. Eventually this bubble will go away on its own.

The first follow up visits with the doctors went well. Then at the 2 week mark, they discovered my retina was pulling off again. I had to have a second operation, an even bigger bubble, and ended up having to spend 8 days laying face down. I don’t recommend this experience to anyone. We did rent some special equipment to make it easier.

I was even face down for our 14th wedding anniversary, on Halloween.

Happy Anniversary! 

Since then I have made steady improvements. I can now see over (actually under) the bubble in my eye, and the retina is still in place. We expect a full recovery. It’s been a very challenging time, but I went through it without fear or discouragement. There are several reasons why.

Michele was incredible through this whole situation, everything a wife can be: loving, supportive, encouraging, and creative. She took care of all of our business while I was most incapacitated, and took great care of me. I am so fortunate to have her.

Another reason was my faith. I knew I was in God’s hands, and He was looking out for me. In fact, I actually believe all this time, when I was forced to pause my normal frantic busyness, was a very special gift God granted me.

You see, for years I have been writing a book. On top of working, painting, volunteering, and generally having an active life, I’ve taken time after work and on weekends to formulate an extended analysis of the culture: how we arrived at the artistic crisis of relevance we’re undergoing, and how it can be fixed. I’ve worked persistently, but progress was slow.

I recognized an opportunity in this sudden, unexpected illness. If I was going to be home bound for an extended period, I would use the time wisely. I would finish my book.

At first I tried to work on our laptop, but I couldn’t manage it. It was a terrible strain to try and read.

So we came up with alternative method. Last Christmas Michele gave me a little recorder so I could easily capture all the ideas I’m always having. While I couldn’t read and write, I could talk. I started dictating my book into the recorder.

Michele transcribed my thoughts into the computer.

Eventually I got well enough to be upright again. In honor of my improvements, I made a one eyed painting. I recreated the anesthesia visions of coral reefs I had during surgery, and added a tribute to my constant companion the bubble, which is such a crucial part of my healing process.

Richard Bledsoe “Reef” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 30″ 

But even more significantly, I finished the first draft of my book. It still needs review, revision, and formatting, but the content is there. We  are self publishing, so we don’t have to jump through any hoops of publisher submissions or approvals. The completed work will be available in early 2018 on Amazon, and through other sources as well.

The book is Remodern America: How the Renewal of the Arts Will Change the Course of Western Civilization. I wrote this book for a general audience, not just the art scene.

Remodern America discusses what art is and why we need it. It explains why Modern art happened. It reveals the current destructive Postmodern culture, and the corrupt establishment that created it. Best of all,  it describes Remodernism, the new ethos which will replace failed, deceitful Postmodernism.

I will continue to give updates on the publishing status here on this blog. Stay tuned!

As a sneak preview, the following is the introduction of Remodern America. It sets the stage for the contents of the book. Please spread the word. Enduring changes start in the arts, and a big change has already begun.

 

Remodern America: 

How the Renewal of the Arts Will Change the Course of Western 

Civilization

Introduction

What is the spirit of this age?

History will recognize this as the era the general population of the United States realized the governing class and its connections, far from acting as responsible public servants, had mutated into an elitist ruling class.

These elitists decided amongst themselves that, due to their superior intellects, credentials, and social status, they deserved to control how everybody else lived their lives. This mission of conquest was camouflaged with egalitarian rhetoric.

In exchange for the burden of managing their inferiors, this New Class exempted themselves from the expectations they imposed on others. Those underlings who supported the ascendancy of these would-be rulers received some special considerations as well, a semi-privileged status-but their greatest reward was to bask in the reflected glory of their masters.

The elitists had a plan, and it almost worked. Over decades, the institutions that sustained American culture have been infiltrated, their missions transformed.

Government, media, education, the arts-the occupying elitists within dedicated all resources towards undermining sustaining Western values, all to better serve the consolidation of unaccountable power. They used their influence over the various means of cultural communication and expression to exert pressure at all levels of society to embrace collectivist goals, distorting the concept of equality.

As part of these maneuvers, art was pushed into a crisis of relevance. Elitist malfeasance has marginalized the visual arts in popular culture. In doing so, the New Aristocracy of the Well Connected block access to powerful resources. They deny our society the inspiration to live up to ideals, the encouragement to think and feel deeply, the yearning to harmonize with truth and beauty. As a result, the mass audience has turned away.

People instinctually reject the superficial and nihilistic contemporary art championed by an imperious would-be ruling class. We currently call this covert corrosion inflicted on the foundations of Western civilization the Postmodern era.

A small sect usurped disproportionate power over the course of the entire nation. Now the terrible results of the corrupted establishment’s agenda are clear. Under their reign we are less prosperous, less safe, less free.

The elitists ran out of credibility and resources before their work was complete. Now we, the people, must to make sure they run out of time as well. The dominion of the deceitful despots must be demolished throughout the culture, on all fronts. Around the globe challenges are rising against the longstanding world order. The story of the 21st Century will be the dismantling of centralized power.

As always, this course of history was prophesized by artists-those who are intuitively aware of the path unfolding ahead. Their works become maps so that others may find the way. The new directives emerging in our culture must be acknowledged. Enduring changes start in the arts.

The entrenched interests are desperate to deny the uprising, but denial won’t stop us. The Postmodern era is finished, but it won’t go quietly. The vast project of reconstruction will commence as we dislodge the failed status quo.

What is the spirit of this age?

This is an era of joyous insurgency and new beginnings.

Welcome to Remodern America.

-Richard Bledsoe

 

Bold Talk for a One Eyed Fat Man:

Richard and Michele Bledsoe 

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers! Please visit other posts for more commentary on the state of the arts.

STUDIO: A New Painting in Progress, Part 5-Completion (The Work Must Speak For Itself)

“The War You Will Always Have With You” acrylic on canvas 36″ x 36″

Richard Bledsoe

The months went by and the painting progressed. I dedicated as much time as I could to it in between all my other obligations. And finally the time came when I stepped back and didn’t see anything left to adjust.

The painting is done when it speaks for itself. If what I put into it cannot be seen, no amount of explanation can fill the gaps. Here is what the spirit of this age looks like to me.

New paintings have already been done, and others are in process too. The work continues.

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” 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.”

The Remodernism Manifesto 

 

Earlier Installments:

A New Painting in Progress, Part 1

A New Painting in Progress, Part 2

A New Painting in Progress, Part 3

A New Painting in Progress, Part 4 

STUDIO: A New Painting in Progress, Part 4 (Why Painters Go Mad)

Work in Progress: “The War You Will Always Have With You” starts to stare back

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I have a saying that is only partially in jest: “Insanity is an occupational hazard  for painters.” Look at art history, especially during the Modern era, and the trend is pretty evident.

Now I happen to be a very sane and stable individual myself. At least I think I am. But I can understand why going through the process of creating art opens the psyche up for derangement.

The smallest dab or gesture on a painting can make it or break it. My wife Michele Bledsoe  and I are intuitive artists. We work it out on the canvas, trying to convey the contents of our minds without relying on preparatory sketches or source material. When it works, there is the thrill of discovery.

The problem is we never know in advance what the smallest dab or gesture might do to the entire composition. Until I see it myself, I don’t know if that little adjustment will make the canvas sing, or drag it into the abyss.

Fortunately painting is a very flexible, forgiving medium. Mistakes can be fixed. Lots of my painting process consists of reworking elements that just didn’t work well enough.

I had been working on my latest major painting, “The War You will Always Have With You,” for about 2 months before I had that eureka moment. I gave my lion pupils, simple little circles of white, and it was like suddenly there was another presence in the room.

The art was looking at me even as I was looking at it.

Since I took the photo above, I have completed this painting; it took about another month.  My next post on the subject will show the finished piece. But even after 25 years of painting, I am still amazed how a little change takes the art abruptly from raw to finishing touches.

I don’t buy into the romantic myth of the crazy genius. Real mental illness is a drab and frustrating experience, an obstacle to where great art really comes from. That’s why I’m glad to be a Remodernist artist. It’s a much more integrated and healthy philosophy than the fragmentation of Modernism, or the deceptions of Postmodernism.

“The Remodernist’s job is to bring God back into art but not as God was before. Remodernism is not a religion, but we uphold that it is essential to regain enthusiasm (from the Greek, en theos to be possessed by God).”

The Remodernist Manifesto

Earlier Installments:

A New Painting in Progress, Part 1

A New Painting in Progress, Part 2

A New Painting in Progress, Part 3