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: Mythmakers: Winslow Homer And Frederic Remington

Art world links which caught my eye…

“The Stampede” by Frederic Remington (1861-1909), 1908. Oil on canvas. Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Okla., gift of the Thomas Gilcrease Foundation.

Frederic Remington “The Stampede”

Two great American painters went through their artistic peaks around the same time, despite a great difference in their ages and locations. A 2021 exhibit highlighted what they shared.

Winslow Homer and Frederic Remington are both mythic American artists. Their artworks represent what – for differing groups of art critics and consumers – have come to be seen as defining products of an “American art.” Homer is seen to represent the East Coast, with his crashing waves and stoic Atlantic fisher folk, and Remington the West, with his roughneck ranch hands and romanticized Native American braves. While Homer’s work was slow to catch on at first, he became one of the most respected artists of his day, and he is now universally lauded among the arts intelligentsia as a centrally important figure in the history of American art. Remington, by contrast, enjoyed wide popularity as a young artist, but since his early death his reputation has fallen among the curators, critics and academic art historians who are the keepers of the canon. It is partly for this reason that the two artists’ work has never before been considered together in a major exhibition, despite their surprising number of commonalities. Seeking to redress that oversight – and, to some extent, both artists’ “mythic” status – the Amon Carter Museum of Art, Portland Museum of Art (Maine) and Denver Art Museum have co-organized “Mythmakers: Winslow Homer and Frederic Remington,” on view at the Amon Carter through February 28.

Read the full article here: ANTIQUES AND THE ARTS – Mythmakers: Winslow Homer And Frederic Remington

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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: Is Realist Art Still Relevant?

Art world links which caught my eye…

Scott Fraser “Lemon Spiral” Oil on board 44″ x 29.5″

Even though I tend to paint from imagination rather than life, I have the greatest respect for artists who can accurately depict the natural world. And I agree that realist art has an immediate impact to the audience. It’s good news if the art market is becoming supportive of actual skill and talent, instead corrupt Postmodern conceptual hackwork.

Sprick shared an illustrative anecdote about overhearing a snippet of conversation between a couple leaving a museum: “They were walking out of an exhibit of incomprehensible, conceptual stuff, within earshot. The man said to the woman, ‘I know that guy was a genius, but sometimes I want to know it’s good artwork just by looking at it.’ realism is self-evident and needs no explanation.”

Sprick believes realism remains not only relevant, but also flourishing in the twenty-first century.

“There’s no sign of loss of interest among artists with sincerity who want to be challenged,” Sprick said. “I don’t think realism is ever going away. There’s a groundswell of young people finding training outside universities, in ateliers, in private studios, with somebody who has gained academic skill and teaches others.”

Scott Fraser, Pencil Wreck. Oil on board. 25.5 x 18 inches.

Scott Fraser “Pencil Wreck” oil on board 25.5″ x 18″

Read the full article here: Art & Object – Is Realist Art Still Relevant?

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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!

The Artist in the Studio – Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning

Art world links which caught my eye…

Max Ernst - Wikipedia

Max Ernst “Ubu Imperator”

MAX ERNST - VISIONARY HALL OF FAME

Max Ernst

Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning | The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst

Dorothea Tanning in her studio, Paris | Dorothea Tanning

Dorothea Tanning

Dorothea Tanning. On Time Off Time. 1948 | MoMA

Dorothea Tanning “Time on Time Off”

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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 – In the Realms of the Unreal, a Fascinating Documentary on Outsider Artist Henry Darger

Art world links which caught my eye…

To all appearances, Henry Darger (April 12, 1892 – April 13, 1973) was an isolated, humble janitor. What no one realized until shortly before his death was he was the most prolific and intense outsider artist in America. In the Realms of the Unreal, a 2004 documentary on his life and works, also uses animation to bring motion to his mysterious art. The full film is available on YouTube.

The Trailer:

The full film:

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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 Christmas Tree Painting, Updated

 

 An update on a post from December 23, 2015

Our Christmas Tree: Our Work-in-Progress Tradition

It started in 2012.

It’s a little hard when you are adults, with no kids around, to find the proper level of Christmas decorating for the home.

To not decorate at all would be bleak. It would be an unhappy break from a lifetime cycle of excitement and fun around the holidays, as well as missing out on commemorating one of the definitive miraculous events in human history.

But to go for an 8 foot live tree with all the trimmings and a giant outdoor display seems excessive. There are other complications as well. Our cats were too intrigued by even the small artificial tree we used for a few years, leading to some unfortunate episodes. And we don’t even have an outlet on the outside of our house to plug lights into.

In 2012 my wife Michele Bledsoe came up with a great solution. We were both painters-why not make a painting of a Christmas tree that we could bring out for the holiday?

Inspired, we made a quick trip to the art supply store and got to work.

Tree paint 1

2012: I began with the star and some vague spots of color as a base coat for ornaments

Michele’s sister Sherry was living with us at the time, and joined in creating the tree and decorations. The idea was just to roughly block in the shapes at first. Then, every year at Christmas time when we bring out the painting, we would continue to work on it.

Tree paint 2

Sherry and Michele, adding details

Michele took on the role of clean up and enhancement. Since her paintings are so precise and intricate, she excels at getting images resolved.

Tree paint 3

2021 marks our ninth season of painting on the tree. There’s still room to add new ornaments, and plenty of opportunities to refine the elements we’ve already depicted. I imagine we will be working on this the rest of our lives.

When the tree is not on one of our easels, we put it on our family room floor, surrounded by presents. It’s been a wonderful tradition. And the cats don’t try to climb it.

Merry Christmas!

“Christmas Tree” acrylic on canvas 36″ x 24″ 2012-2021

Michele Bledsoe, Richard Bledsoe, Sherry

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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: If Famous Artists Doodled Christmas Trees…

Art world links which caught my eye…

Merry Christmas!

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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 Artist in the Studio – Willem De Kooning

Art world links which caught my eye…

image

Willem and Elaine De Kooning 1953

texturism:
“ willem de kooning, 1952. | via visualarmory
”

Willem De Kooning 1953

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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: Secret of the world’s most famous barmaid: It’s the priceless Manet everyone knows

Art world links which caught my eye…

Édouard Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, first exhibited in 1882, is the star attraction at the redeveloped Courtauld Gallery in London

Édouard Manet “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère” 1882

When I was in art school in the 1980s, and a class reviewed a slide of this artwork, we realized one of our fellow students was the doppelganger for the girl in the painting; even her hair color and style were similar. I think this pleased her.

Like all great art, this work is full of mystery. This article gives some interpretations:

It would have been highly unusual to make a barmaid, let alone a prostitute, the central focus of such an important painting in the late 19th century.

But art scholar and author, Kelly Grovier, points to myriad clues that Manet did just that.

One is the crystal bowl of sweet mandarins. Sex workers often signalled themselves by working as ‘orange sellers’ at theatres in Elizabethan England.

Her position at the bar, in between the bottles of Champagne and peppermint liqueur, and even that red triangle corsage at her breast that so neatly complements the logo of the Bass pale ale (more of which in a moment), suggest to some that the barmaid, too, is commodified and for sale.

Read the full article here: DAILY MAIL – Erotic secret of the world’s most famous barmaid: It’s the priceless Manet everyone knows

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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: Theme Songs for Our Artistic Methods

From June 11, 2017

Richard Bledsoe “At the Crossroad” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 30″

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I’ve written before about how vital music is in our studio, as the soundtrack of our art. Recently my wife Michele Bledsoe and I took our musical influences to an even greater intensity. One afternoon while we were painting, we identified songs that we felt epitomized the way that each other approached creating our art.

You see Michele and I have very different methods to the way we paint; we are diametrically positioned, which is why being a married artist couple works so well for us. Opposites attract. We both act as conduits in our artistic expression, but it’s very different forces that we channel.

Michele has spent years watching me paint in a kind of frenzied trance, taken outside of my normal senses in service of the art. While I paint I tend to pace, curse, pray, rant. It’s an ecstatic process for me; not just in the sense of happiness, even though it fills me with joy. It’s so intense I’m not paying attention to the way I’m behaving. An unknowing witness would not understand all my frantic swearing is actually a sign of overwhelming engagement, as I push further.

Michele’s song for me is “Crossroads” by Tom Waits, a collaboration with writer William Burroughs. The story it tells shows the sense of abandonment to the demands of creation, no matter the personal cost. There is nothing diabolical about what I’m going for, but the reckless commitment is there. I always say painting is my healthiest addiction.

Click the image to see the video “Crossroads” here:

The lyrics:

Now, George was a good straight boy to begin with, but there was bad blood
In him someway
and he got into the magic bullets that lead straight to
Devil’s work, just like marijuana leads to heroin;
you think you can take them bullets or leave ’em, do you?
Just save a few for your bad days
Well, well we all have those bad days when we can’t hit for shit.
And the more of them magics you use, the more bad days you have without them
So it comes down to finally all your days being bad without the bullets
It’s magics or nothing
Time to stop chippying around and kidding yourself.
Kid, you’re hooked, heavy as lead
And that’s where old George found himself
Out there at the crossroads
Molding the Devil’s bullets
Now a man figures it’s his bullets, so it will take what he wants
But it don’t always work out that way
You see, some bullets is special for a single target
A certain stag, or a certain person
And no matter where you aim, that’s where the bullet will end up
And in the moment of aiming, the gun turns into a dowser’s wand
And points where the bullet wants to go
George Schmidt was moving in a series of convulsive spasms, like someone
With an epileptic fit, with his face contorted and his eyes wild like a
Lassoed horse bracing his legs. But something kept pulling him on. Now
He’s picking up the skulls and making the circle.
I guess old George didn’t rightly know what he was getting himself into
The fit was on him and it carried him right to the crossroads
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 Michele’s mode of painting could not be more different.
Michele Bledsoe “The Great Fear of Falling” acrylic on canvas 14″ x 11″
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I have spent years watching Michele work tranquilly at her easel. She sits down and the art just begins to flow out of her, methodically, with great order. Layer upon the layer the intensity builds without interruption until she has crafted a mysterious and moving environment. She calmly renders complex compositions with profound depths and eruptions of otherworldly expressiveness.
 
 
What musician other than Ludwig Van Beethoven could reflect such a method?
 
 
My song for Michele is Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7 in A major, Op. 92, the second movement, Allegretto. It starts so quietly, but goes through cycles of growth until it is truly cosmic in scale. Such precision and feeling. That is how Michele makes her art.
 
 
There aren’t any lyrics, but there’s no need for those when the music speaks so eloquently on its own.
 
 
Click on the image to see the video for the 7th Symphony, “Allegretto” here:
What would be the theme song of your artistic method?
 

“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 Remodernism Manifesto

 
 

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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!