EMBATTLED VCU PROFESSOR WAS ONCE MY ART TEACHER. HERE’S WHAT I LEARNED.

All Aboard the Witch Hunt Band Wagon!

The College Mob Springs into Action 

The Death of University Arts Programs, Part 6

For years I have studied and commented on the crisis of relevance plaguing the visual arts. Malignant elitists are destroying the artistic experience, all the better to create a passive and befuddled populace. I’ve worked to expose the decadence and corruption of establishment art, but usually I’m analyzing distant events and actions. But now, I have a personal connection with an unfolding incident which perfectly illustrates the death throes of Postmodern culture. The destructive conflict playing out at one Virginia art school can be extrapolated out to changes that are taking place on a global scale.

This article from The College Fix lays out situation:

Students Demand “Complete Removal” of Professor even after the School Cleared Him of Racist Behavior

Virginia Commonwealth University officials suspended associate professor Javier Tapia last semester despite concluding that he did not racially discriminate against an unfamiliar black professor when he called security on her last fall. The decision prompted a lawsuit from Tapia and protests by students who want him fired.

Tapia, a Peruvian-born art professor who’s been at VCU since 1988, is heading to court in an attempt to force VCU to let him continue teaching while asking for $1 million in damages. A settlement conference is scheduled for June 11. Meanwhile, dozens of students have held campus protests to demand that Tapia be fired and that the school increase its diversity.

 

So a bunch of N-P-C students are demanding the firing of an Hispanic immigrant teacher in the name of “diversity.” The cognitive dissonance, it burns.

It’s shameful to see what’s become of my alma mater. I graduated from VCU, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Printmaking. I was there when Javier Tapia joined the staff. For one notable semester, he was my teacher. What I learned from him then, and what is happening to him now, is extremely educational, but not in the way you’d find in a syllabus.

It was a terrible experience when I studied painting with him in the early 1990s. I ended up basically teaching myself some powerful lessons. By opposing everything this misguided academician manifested, I ended up discovering my own way as an artist.

Javier had quickly built a reputation. Temperamental. Tough. Demanding. Aggressive even. His critiques were said to play out as fiery psychodramas, reducing hapless students to tears, counselling and changes of majors.

I signed up for this, on purpose. I was determined to learn artistic skills by traditional methods, trying to paint realistically from observation. This was not the trendy thing to do at VCU, which emphasized conceptual and abstract art. I was out of sync with most of the other students, who were producing slapdash experimental works. Despite my plodding development, I felt ready for a challenge. It didn’t go down like I expected it to, but then again, hardly anything ever does.

This was a studio class, meeting all day twice a week, all of us students painting together in a filthy classroom tucked away on the top floor of the gymnasium. The infamous group critiques only took place every few weeks. During typical sessions Javier would turn up late, after we had already started working. After depositing his satchel and coffee at the paint encrusted work table he used like a desk, he wandered around the room, selectively interacting with those who caught his interest.

I actually gained positive attention for the first class or two. I set up a still life I was working from: a collection of metal and wooden objects. Those first classes I was just doing what I considered the underpainting, laying in broad areas of color and vague suggestions of shapes, tinkering with the composition. I was working in greens and yellows for some reason, although nothing I was depicting was green or yellow. Knowing my own methods, I knew anything I laid down would ultimately be covered over as I refined the painting.

Javier was initially intrigued by the masses I was setting down, and visited with me several times on those days, curious about the direction I was going in. But as soon as I started to make decisions, drawing in the specific details and starting to nudge the picture towards realism, the interactions ceased. He preferred talking with the students whose works remained only broad areas of color and vague suggestions of shapes. Turns out he was a partisan for that aesthetic, and had no patience for other forms of expression.

Javier liked to have us all gather around his desk so he could lecture us. They weren’t actually so much lectures as they were harangues, delivered in tones of bitter disappointment. The topics were usually variations on how much better he had been than us, back when he too had been a mere student. We were expected to stand there while he monologued and just suck it up, waiting until he was done with us. Only then could we crawl back to our easels, beaten half senseless by his disapproval.

Finally the day came for our first group critique. It was just like I’d heard: hostile and belittling. The collective mind of the class took on the personae of the professor. We squared off like gladiators battling to the death, egged on by his imperious disdain. I actually got off pretty easy, only because when my turn came, Javier announced right up front he saw nothing in my still life. No one had much to say after that, and we rapidly moved on.

What Javier chose to linger over during that crit showed us what he was expecting from us all. His personal pet student was displaying a largish square canvas. During the initial weeks of the class this student had simply brushed the surface of this over and over with layers of thick brownish paint. Every now and then he’d draw in some geometric shapes, only to bury them under more impasto.

Apparently the pet wasn’t satisfied that this was enough texture, because he started to adhere ragged strips of torn canvas into the wet paint, plastering over them with more smears and gobs. The final result was an unsightly, scabrous beige void. This, according to Javier, was true painting. We probably spent three quarters of an hour verbally dissecting this masterpiece.

The ones who got it worst in this critique were those who were trying to work abstractly, but who fell short of Javier’s elusive standards. Why their work was worse than the clotted lump he praised I couldn’t tell you, but the instructor seemed to take their lesser efforts as a personal affront. He sicced the class on these students like a vicious pack; they in turn were gleeful at their chance to pass on the abuse they had been experiencing. It was an ugly display.

I’m familiar with the boot camp idea of tearing someone down in order to build them up into something new and better. Maybe this was the method Javier was going for, believing he was some kind of drill instructor of art.

However, the key component of this concept is the second part. Done effectively, the broken and rebuilt recruit should be in every way superior to the weak and naive shape they began in. Tough love is the secret fuel of drill instructor rage. The cruelty is actually compassion. The targeted viciousness awakens in others the toughness and strength that will be needed to survive dire circumstances.

But with Javier’s obligatory destination, his philosophy that paintings consist of incoherent mud and marks, to be served up with a lot of posturing, the end result was no improvement. It was ultimately a merely materialistic viewpoint he served, camouflaged with a lot of cranky analysis that lent a veneer of intellectualism. He was actually espousing a major strain of thinking in Modern art, advocating for a set of beliefs that had been in vogue since the early 20th century. In this school of painting, what was important was paint as a substance applied to a surface, and how blatantly it could be made to act like paint being applied to a surface.

Well, duh.

All Javier’s ill-tempered observations could be distilled to euphemisms for, and variations upon, “paint behaves like paint, but you aren’t making it fit my intellectual theories of paint-like behavior enough.” The professor’s emotional investment in this pedantic set of concerns was puzzling. He may have been intense, but what he was emphasizing was irremediably wrong.

What matters is not what paint is, but what it is used for.

After that first critique, the class meandered on, painting time interspersed with tongue lashings and bouts of mob savagery. Now about two thirds of the students were just wiping streaks and blobs onto their canvases, pandering for approval. They still got sliced and diced during the group discussions, all except for his canvas scrap golden boy, who could do no wrong.

I remained unpersuaded, and defiantly began another still life.

Javier made it clear I was a lost cause, and that kept the abuse directed at me brief. I just wasn’t worth talking about. The only comment he’d make to me during his classroom ambles was I needed better brushes. He said this several times. I understood he felt the problem was not actually my brushes, but what I was doing with them.

I’m glad I had my habitual punk nonconformity and suspicion of authority supporting me, otherwise I too might have ended up smearing paint around. But even though I was rejecting Javier’s priorities, it was still frustrating to be ignored. I was still so young, and so uncertain in many ways. I was basically left to teach myself, since he couldn’t be bothered or was not capable of guiding me on my own path as an artist. He just wanted everyone to do it his way. And for me, his way was a dull waste of time. But still, to labor under the hostility of someone so advanced in my chosen field caused great unease.

And then, I actually saw one of Javier’s paintings.

This was still pre-internet, or at least pre-my access to it. How different the world was, back when we did not instant access to information about everything and everyone! I had to wait until a faculty art exhibit to see Javier’s work. Strangely, he never shared it with us in class.

I turned out for the opening, a buzzing, energetic Friday night affair. I enjoyed the free pretzels sticks and cheese provided for the reception, but really was there for the art, to see the works of teachers current and past; I didn’t make a special point of looking for Javier’s piece. I was very surprised when I finally read his name on the title card under a large work on canvas.

His painting was inferior. Undistinguished, indistinguishable from the work of thousands of other contemporary painters-student painters included. A mass of orange with a few tentative streaks near the bottom. I can’t find an image of it, but it was of a comparable quality to this beauty I found on the web:

A Genuine Tapia 

Everything became clear. All the professor’s bombast and attitude was overcompensation for some very justifiable insecurity. His bluster was an attempt to conceal some extreme weakness. However, in painting, there is nowhere to hide.

Despite all Javier’s credentials, all that training, all those words, the preemptive strike of haughtiness he launched on us poor pupils, the domineering and disruptive dynamic he stirred up in his class, despite all that, he failed where it mattered most. When it came time to perform, and put brush to canvas, all the academician could manage was a sloppy blankness.

After witnessing the professor’s clichéd artifice on display for all to see, for the rest of the semester, whenever Javier went on his class room tirades, I listened with a smirk. Changes were happening in my art that amplified the hollow ring of his chest thumping, and rendered him even more irrelevant in my eyes. My patient discipline was starting to pay off on the canvas; I was discovering the visionary element that continues in my painting to this day, and I had achieved the technical skills to bring it out.

The coda of this special time was my final one-on-one critique with Javier at the end of the school year. Without his browbeat flunkies, he was subdued, sheepish even. I can imagine how difficult it was for him to have to talk directly with me. He had witnessed how I had completely disregarded his philosophy, but looking at my semester’s worth of paintings, the advances I made were unmistakable.

The professor muttered something about how my work had gone off in directions he had never expected it could. I think I responded with a blank stare that he was not willing to return. That was close to rapport as we ever came, and I took it for what it was worth. After all his hostility, I earned a B in the class. I considered this a major victory. I had a new direction to explore, new ideas to try out.

What I saw in this classroom back when I was young could been seen to represent the old school of the Leftism with dominates our institutions. The feeling of entitled power that comes along with a well-connected position of authority, defended with sophistry and attitude. But there is a new dynamic challenging the presumptions of the old guard, coming from the even further Left. A rabid, destructive element seeking to purge and plunder.

I didn’t approve of his ideas or methods. But what is happening now is just wrong. It is appalling how VCU has treated Javier Tapia during this controversy. Calling security on someone he thought was an out of place student would be a typically dick move from him, but it was just a simple misunderstanding. But grievance mongers got to monger, and now the Maoist mob wants blood, vengeance, and humiliation. The school found no racist intent, but that’s not good enough for the cultural arsonists. These chilling words from a student hack activist show the irrational totalitarian fantasies being nurtured in our institutes of higher learning:

“We 100% disagree with that conclusion. What many people fail to understand is that it is obviously technically impossible to prove someone did something because of the color of someone’s skin. It’s about embedded behaviors and implicit as opposed to explicit. It’s about the structures of this country and what principles this country and its institutions are built on.”

Of course the useless administrators have gone into the fetal position, and I don’t hold out much hope Javier’s career will survive this disgraceful injustice. I fundamentally disagree with him, but the right way to manifest opposition is by positive action of my own, not by driving for personal destruction.

As I describe in my book, Remodern America: How the Renewal of the Arts Will Change the Course of Western Civilization:

 

“Postmodernists will commit acts of senselessness and violence when top-down social pressure is applied. The Postmodernists have stolen the forms of religion to serve their aims. Original sin is now race, or carbon footprints. Indulgences can be purchased by reciting the catechisms of social justice. To prove loyalty to the cause, the SJWs eagerly throw blasphemers into the fire. Since they don’t know history, Postmodernists don’t see the predictable Marxist pattern that today’s obedient flock will be tomorrow’s barbecue.

The spiritual life of Postmodernism has been misdirected from transcendental and enduring values to ponderous politics. Nothing is sacred. There is no sense of continuity; only the needs of the moment matter. Where there should be a human spirit engaged with the eternal choice between good and evil, Postmodernists substitute slavish devotion to those who reduce morality to dominance.”

 

If there is actual justice-as opposed to the tyranny of phony collectivist social justice-Javier Tapia will be back teaching at VCU soon.

Who knows, maybe he will even learn how to paint.

 

Earlier entries in the “Death of University Art Programs” series

Part 1: Eric Fischl

Part 2: The Corcoran Collapse 

Part 3: Ignorance as a Method of Critique 

Part 4: The Subsidized Sedition of Establishment Art Schools

Part 5: Why Columbia Art Students Demanded Tuition Refunds

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COMMENTARY: Jeff Koons and the Establishment Art World’s Condescending Cult

 

Play D’oh! A Jeff Koons Pile of “Art” 

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“It’s a commercial world, and morality is based generally around economics, and that’s taking place in the art gallery.”

-Jeff Koons

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Part of what I want this blog to do is expose certain notorious figures of the commercialized contemporary art world to a new audience.

I’d like to help educate all you good people who, up until now, have been uninterested, alienated, or even hostile to the efforts of today’s networked creative classes, and their deep-pocketed supporters.

From what I see, the potential audience of the disengaged is practically everyone in entire world.

Elitist malfeasance has marginalized the visual arts in popular culture. Practically no one is paying attention to contemporary art other than a small bubble of artists, academics, institution apparatchiks, trophy-hunting high rollers, and those who wish to vicariously participate in their presumed sophistication.

Since most people have tuned out the shenanigans of this arrogant, decadent band of charlatans, you might be unaware of what the art world racket has been producing. You haven’t been missing much.

In this example, we have a major perpetrator of the corrupt art world status quo: Jeff Koons.

What’s up Doc? A Long Eared Galoot, and one of his Sculptures  

Throughout his career, Jeff Koons has racked up approximately $765 million dollars in sales. He does not make the pieces sold under his brand name. The actual work is done by anonymous skilled craftsmen. Koons contributes “concepts” that others execute.

And what kind of ideas has this mogul graced us with that have generated such windfalls? Treasures such as these:

Jeff Koons, “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” 

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Awww

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Jeff Koons, Poseur 

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Koons may be best known for a series of giant stainless steel replicas of balloon animals. An orange version of one sold for over $58 million. 

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Over inflated: Wiener Dog Art 

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Then there was the era in the 1990s when Koons married Cicciolina, an Italian XXX film performer. Koons commissioned a whole series of artworks featuring the couple engaging in hardcore sexytime action  (Warning: link is definitely NSFW). They were divorced in 1998; I can’t imagine why.

 

A PG-13 Version of Koons and His Porn Star Wife 

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Not everything is coming up inflatable tulips for the crafty con artist, however. Koons graciously offered to donate a monument to France for the victims of the  2015 terrorist attack: a 35 foot tall hand holding balloon flowers. He graciously expected them to install it next to the Eiffel Tower. The French not so graciously rejected this blatant attempt at product placement. Negotiations are ongoing.

 

An Indecent Proposal

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One of the top selling artists of this era of art specializes in obscenely expensive replicas of cheap toys, gimmicks, and smut. So what is the significance of this?

To understand, you need to look at one of the foundational conceits of art world elitism: the Marxist tinged struggle between the avant-gard and kitsch.

These terms rose to prominence in a 1939 essay by art critic Clement Greenberg. A devotee of the leftist Frankfurt School, Greenberg propounded his contempt for popular American culture. In my upcoming book, Remodern America: How the Renewal of the Arts Will Change the Course of Western Civilization, I explain Greenberg’s assertions:

“…he claimed the cultural world could be divided in two. The avant-garde (a military term referring to strike force troops, who go ahead of the main army) were forward-thinking sophisticates, whose radical creations were driven by a contempt for the tacky tastes of the general public.

“To Greenberg, the common people were too ignorant to appreciate the rarefied efforts of the avant-garde; these backwards types could only appreciate kitsch (a German word used for low quality art), a phony vision of art which tugged at middle class sensations like beauty, patriotism, and sentimental feelings. A Norman Rockwell painting on the cover of a popular magazine was the kind of thing that could make an intellectual like Greenberg retch.

“Greenberg declared, ‘…part of Western bourgeois society has produced something unheard of heretofore: avant-garde culture. A superior consciousness of history—more precisely, the appearance of a new kind of criticism of society, an historical criticism—made this possible.’ The consciousness Greenberg refers to as ‘superior’ just happens to be his own, as he proceeded over the next few decades presumptively acting as the ultimate authority on art.”

So how did the art world move from rejecting the tawdry stylings of disposable popular culture to glorifying them?

The secret is the art world cosmopolitans are still dripping with contempt towards most of humanity. What has been added is the soul sucking Postmodern gambit of irony. By celebrating the tacky, elitists are actually mocking their straw man version of what “ordinary” people are capable of. Our New Aristocracy of the Well Connected disrespect the intelligence and capacities of all those whose lives don’t revolve around relentless elitist status signalling contests.

They assume that all we can appreciate is tawdry junk, and so they are having a patronizing laugh at us by spending millions on art that carefully reproduces…tawdry junk. Now it’s avant garde to clone kitsch, which makes it totally different because of reasons. Isn’t it ironic?

If you think that sounds dumb, you would be right. Welcome to the inverse values of the nasty Postmodern world, where our betters try to force us to accept that bad is good and stupid is clever.

This isn’t about the money. The finances are just a side show for most art world participants. Big league art deals are exercises in money laundering, tax evasion, and insider trading, but not that many get into that high roller category. What is most concerning is what it says about those controlling our cultural expressions.

The real perk for most establishment art types is a sense of superiority. Supporting a hoax substitute for art gets converted into the gold of social prestige through the alchemy of Postmodern dogma. It’s yet another proof that our current crop of cultural elitists are really not advanced at all.

Elitists hype outsourced and infantile art because of their own limitations. They lack depth and real achievement themselves, so they can’t tell the difference. They embrace this failure of character as a badge of honor, and mandatory for admission to their tribe.

What Postmodern charlatans have been pushing for decades isn’t even art at all. It’s artifice, an empty mimicry of the outer appearances and gestures of art, without partaking of any of its true substance and significance.

The good news is Postmodernism is dead. It no longer captures the new dynamic spirit of the age. As I state in the upcoming Remodern America Manifesto:

“Postmodernism shows the folly which erupts when the spiritual center of life is denied. Shifting focus away from the soul gave rise to an art world floundering in obscurity, destruction, pornography, propaganda, excrement and carrion. Contemporary establishment art is treated as a wedge, a social signifier of elitist attitudes, and a decadent toy for the wealthy.”

The art done in the name of Jeff Koons typifies this hostile positioning. Its cuteness is a sneer at what suckers we are. The species of cultural rot inspired by Marcel Duchamp has become such a tired trope.

Remodern art restores respect for the general audience, and their abilities to have profound experiences. Remodernists understand art is for everyone. We can all be stirred by beauty, moved by emotional expressions, and gratified by the experience of truth. Western civilization used to understand how art provided those uplifting states. Our current cultural institutions largely fail to produce these positive outcomes; instead they want to pretend a multi-million dollar imitation of a party trick is good enough for us dolts. They are wrong.

The Remodern age will be the story of the dismantling of centralized power. An arts establishment which claims a sarcastic marketing scheme is a major artistic achievement is a juicy target for serious reforms.

Jeff Koons: Having a Ball 

 

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

ARTISTS: Remembering Steve Gompf

Steve Gompf April 27, 1963 – March 4, 2018 

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Steve Gompf was the first person I met in Phoenix that became an enduring connection.

It was the winter of 2000 – 2001. I’m not sure of the exact month. I had moved to Arizona at the end of October; after being in town a couple of months, I finally made it out to the First Fridays art walk.

Steve Gompf was in the basement of the Luhrs Tower. He was working the Artlink table, passing out maps. Young, thin, Steve Gompf, with shaggy red hair and a beard. I had been involved with an arts non-profit back in Virginia, so I was curious about Artlink. I pestered him with some questions. I don’t think we even exchanged names. Little did we know what the future held. I certainly didn’t realize I had just met a visionary artist, who would become a significant co-conspirator and friend.

As time passed I kept running into to Steve, as the art scene is its own small town within the larger city. He was at parties, he was at openings, and when I joined the Artlink board, he was there too. Eventually I made the connection between Steve and the wondrous creations he produced: the televisors.

These were Steve’s signature body of work. He presented them as if they were historical relics: antique televisions, manufactured between 1889-1928. That time range happens to be before there was any practical television technology widely available, and definitely before there were any broadcasts being made. But the specificity of the dates effectively reinforced the idea the televisors were pioneering examples of luxury goods from a bygone age.

 

The Televisors

Steve knew enough about actual antiques to reference the styles of different countries and eras in his televisor designs. The amazing thing was he managed to pull off these creations using the most random bits and pieces he scavenged from thrift stores. The televisors were assembled from candlesticks and dog bowls and lamp fixtures, and just about any other scrap of wood and metal you can imagine. He arranged all the parts meticulously into an illusion of sophisticated industrial design. I used to joke they were only held together by gravity, but it’s pretty much true. All those fiddly pieces were just in place due to a series of Steve’s willful balancing acts.

Steve embedded monitors inside these elaborate cases, and showed his own video creations on them. This is where things took a darker turn, which added more complexity to the televisor experience. His video imagery was sometime soaring and celestial, but more often it was like Hieronymus Bosch fever dreams, It was as if the televisors  were receiving broadcasts from Hades. Steve took the sequential photographs of Eadweard Muybridge, and re-animated them into a grotesque cast of chimeras wandering in some lost nocturnal plane.

Reanimated video stills 

 

This video art culminated in his epic “Parade: The Absolute End of the World.” He worked on this video for 8 years. It literally has a cast of thousands of his wild beings marching past in formation.

 

I Love a Parade: Stills from Steve’s epic video art  

We got to spend a lot of time with Steve and his art in the 5 years we were members of Deus ex Machina Gallery. Steve’s televisiors were always the stars of the show there. They were instantly accessible and fascinating for our patrons.

The televisors worked on so many different levels. They were sculptures. They were assemblage. They incorporated video and sound, They were conceptual in the best sense of the word, hinting at an entire alternative reality. And they were unapologetically beautiful.

An hypnotic televisor at Deus Ex Machina 

We had so many special moments at that gallery. Steve like to set off smoke bombs in the street and play double dutch routines on the sidewalk with invisible jump ropes. Once Steve got his hands on a top hat, and serenaded my wife Michele Bledsoe with his rendition of “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka. The lyrics of that song applied very well to Steve: “We’ll begin with a spin/Traveling in the world of my creation/What we’ll see will defy explanation.”

Michele and Steve: Pure Imagination 

Like the ornate videos he created, Steve was a complex hybrid of traits. He could be bawdy and bossy and boisterous. No matter what shenanigans he was up to, you just had to say, “That’s Steve,” and roll with it. His infectious, anarchist laughter was a clue to his driven nature; part Elmer Fudd, part Woody Woodpecker, coupled with wide eyed enthusiasm.

In his teacher mode, Steve was a master of the blunt but accurate critique. He was one of the few people that Michele felt like she truly learned something from. And to this day his advice drives my artistic production: he told me once you should always have a long term, a medium term, and a short term project going, all at the same time. This wisdom has become my own method.

As a gallery partner, he was committed and supportive. As a friend, he was giving and affectionate in his own particular Steve way. Our home is full of the thoughtful little gifts he came across during his Goodwill shopping. I shared his fascination with strange history; he was always bringing me topical books to read. He recognized Michele’s love of beautiful trinkets, so he brought her exotic objects of glass and brass.

Ultimately Steve was a worker, always so excited to push his art to new levels, and to share his own strange vision with the world. He loved to be involved in events and happenings.

I will always be glad, in one of our last exchanges through Facebook, I invited Steve over for dinner. He responded by sharing a trailer of a cool movie he was excited about: Embrace of the Serpent. We didn’t confirm the date, and I kept meaning to follow up. I thought we’d have plenty of time to work out the details.

We wanted to see Steve before his birthday. I was already mentally planning the menu. Only later did I learn that not too long after that message, he was gone. We did not find out until weeks later.

The New Times provided a thoughtful eulogy to Steve, that stuck one discordant note. It mentioned how his works made you want to question more. Although the idea that art equals questioning is a dominant  piece of dogma in Postmodern art, it is a misreading of Steve’s accomplishments.

Steve did want not his viewers to question. He wanted them to experience wonder, which is not the same thing at all.

We loved Steve a lot and learned so much from him. We will treasure the time we got to spend with him.

 

Michele Bledsoe “Portrait of Steve Gompf” acrylic on canvas 

 

A Celebration of Life for Steve Gompf

Sunday May 20, 2018 7 pm

Alwun House

1204 East Roosevelt Street

Phoenix, Arizona 85006

EXPLOITS: The Case of the Condescending Curator

*Update: Richard Bledsoe will be offline for an extended period due to an unexpected medical situation. I am Richard’s wife, Michele Bledsoe – and for the interim I will act as his hands and eyes. 

The following is a section from a major work-in-progress about art and culture Richard is writing. 

“It’s a fashionable world and even good artists go out of fashion.”

-Robert Storr, art world academician 

 

Through my early art school days in 1980s, while I focused on keeping up in classes and learning about the distant geniuses of the past, I was less knowledgeable about contemporary art. Although I was highly engaged with cultural interests, I didn’t know a lot about the art world yet. My punk habit lent itself more to musical trends, and film operates in an entirely different realm than the rarefied atmosphere of the art gallery.

It was my second year studying painting when consciousness of the dominant contemporary visual art scene started to seep in.

First of all, I was surprised to learn in my painting and drawing courses that painting was, in fact, dead.

To understand the logic of that idea requires understanding that the institutional art world is a fashion victim. Despite the airs of conviction and sophistication participants in the arts like to flaunt, the reality is many of them are desperate followers of trends, fads and cliques.

In this particular era when I was at Virginia Commonwealth University, the correct jaded and ironic pose to strike was that painting had run its course as an art form, that it was exhausted and had nothing left to say. We were meant to be embracing new means of expression.

In the early 1990s, while I was still at college, VCU imported a genuine New York museum curator for a lecture to demonstrate this for us. All that traditional stuff was passé, he inferred. He had seen the future; in fact he’d be one of the ones who got pick what the future would be. He was doing all us Virginia hicks a favor by coming to give us the inside scoop.

And what was the glorious destiny of the art world to come, according to this bigwig?

That’s right: political installation art!

If you don’t know what political installation art is, you probably haven’t been in a gallery or a museum for the last thirty years. This curator and others of his ilk created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Under their stewardship every serious arts venue has become saturated with various forms of propaganda instead of art. Political installations indeed became the future of art, because that’s precisely what the few people entrusted to make the decisions about such things for our entire culture wanted to happen. They were partisans for the Postmodern corruption of the arts.

A recent example of what happens when “art” gets political 

During his lecture at us, the curator displayed a series of slides. I forget exactly what they depicted; they were recent works from some Biennale or something. What the pictures showed were rooms full of trash, misplaced mundane objects, and pointless aggregations of random items.

Fortunately the New York intellectual was there to translate for us, explaining how what we were seeing were not presentations of craftless junk, but Important Statements on homelessness, nuclear disarmament, and gender roles.

I left this lecture baffled yet angry. If painting was dead, what the hell was VCU charging all that tuition for?

It wasn’t the money that made me mad. It was the sheer folly of it all.

There’s some idea floating around in pop psychology that if something makes you angry it means you feel threatened by it, that it’s a challenge to your preconceived notions, and it’s an opportunity to grow.

In some cases this is true. However, often I’ve seen that concept thrown out as an attempt at misdirection, to change the subject away from some blatant travesty or transgression.

If you don’t put your values and beliefs to the test consistently, then you can be vulnerable to the suggestion that the problem lies in you, not with whatever absurdity raised your ire. Next thing you know, you are on the defensive, filled with doubt, and ready to eat whatever they’re trying to feed you. It’s a horribly manipulative process, and the gatekeepers of our culture have made themselves masters of this kind of distraction.

The only defense is to know yourself well, flaws and all, and recognize Who the only true source of authority is.

We’re all far from perfect, but that does not mean we have to succumb to the devious machinations of the wicked.

I recognized this so-called art was a lie. I felt it in my bones. It was as instinctual as breathing. I couldn’t put it into words at the time, but I understood I was witnessing a betrayal, a coup, an assassination.

What I experienced was the entirely justifiable rage felt when witnessing an attempted swindle unfold, perpetrated by a type of huckster who wasn’t nearly as clever as he thought he was. It was the classic fallacy of the appeal to authority. This guy was some big shot curator, thus his declarative statements were to be supposed to be received as wisdom. But what I saw was some patronizing poseur projecting all sorts of ridiculous significance onto heaps of torn cardboard.

He was just about the most naked emperor I’d ever encountered up to that point. Unfortunately I would soon be exposed to many more.

 

COMMENTARY: 1962 – The Changing of the Avant-Garde

 

Andy Warhol, 1962

“As disturbing as it was, we continued with the Pop generation, which in the meantime has made its own reputation.”

-Sidney Janis, American gallerist, 1896-1989

*Update: Richard Bledsoe will be offline for an extended period due to an unexpected medical situation. I am Richard’s wife, Michele Bledsoe – and for the interim I will act as his hands and eyes. 

The following is a section from a major work-in-progress about art and culture Richard is writing. 

1962 was the end of the Modern Art era. Much like the Salon des Refusés ushered in the Modern Era in 1863, it was another art show that gave evidence of a definitive shift in the culture.

The influences had been gathering for years, before coming together in a definitive event. In this case the tipping point was an art show located in a temporarily rented store front – a pop-up gallery, we would say these days.

The International Exhibition of the New Realists opened on October 31, organized by New York City gallerist Sidney Janis. With this show, the Postmodern era had arrived.

International Exhibition of the New Realists, 1962

We’ve come to call it Pop art, the opening gambit of the generational shift in art and culture the Janis show encapsulated. It featured future superstars Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claus Oldenburg, Yves Kline, Christo, and many others.

The reigning dominant critic Clement Greenberg’s grip has slipped. His preference for abstraction had dominated the 1950s art world. After the exile of representational art, it was back with a vengeance, but also with a twist.

Pop art was easy to like. On the surface it was bright and playful; instant gratification art. It aspired not to inspire, but to be ironic. The recognizable imagery depicted was coming not directly from life, but was reproduced from the filtered and stylized presentations of industrial mass media: advertising, Hollywood, newspapers, comic books and television. From its inception, The Postmodern era was informed by the illusions, distortions, and manipulations these mediums employed.  Postmodernism is very useful for those who have something to hide.

But back in 1962, it was a scary Halloween for Janis’s existing stable of abstract expressionist studs. Some of the biggest names in Modern painting quit his gallery after the audacious show. Departing artists Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, and Adolph Gottlieb had struggled for decades in obscurity before the agendas inflicted on the art world turned in their favor. For a brief time, they were the pinnacle. But in the early 1960s a new set of ideas was rising.

The art on display in The New Realists show was not just another variation on Modernist priorities, another facet of Modernism’s typical fragmentation. The new way was basically a repudiation of everything the aging Modernists thought they stood for.

I select this Janis show as the Postmodern starting point because of its consequences. The changing of the guard was plain for all to see in the tempest in a teapot scale of the art world. The Action painters were driven to take action, but it was already too late.

Displaced: Philip Guston, Jimmy Ernst, Seymour H. Knox, Jr., Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko

EXHIBITIONS: International Stuckism-Quintus Gallery, Watkins Glen, New York

Richard Bledsoe “Petrified Forest” acrylic on canvas 20″ x 24″ 

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International Stuckism

October 13, 2017 – November 12, 2017, opening reception Friday October 13 

Quintus Gallery 65 Salt Point Rd. Watkins Glen, NY

Featuring artists from the UK, Spain, Greece, Russia, Iran, France, the Czech Republic, Australia, and the United States 

New York artist Ron Throop continues to make things happen. His latest project has been coordinating over thirty artists from around the world to share their visions in the latest display of the global art phenomenon of Stuckism.

The great analyst Carl Jung understood what art does. He stated, “All art intuitively apprehends coming changes in the collective unconsciousness.” Before the rejection of elitist presumption and incompetence became the consuming political topic it is now, in 1999 a group of UK artists started waging the same fight against the corrupt and out of touch establishment art world. The Stuckists were a harbinger of the dynamic which is remaking society. They are the first art movement of the Remodern era.

I’ve had the privilege of hosting a Stuckist exhibit here in Phoenix, with 2014’s International Stuckism: Explorers and Inventors. I’ve also participated in other international shows, like 2015’s Stuckism: Remodernising the Mainstream, University of Kent, Canterbury England.It’s an honor to show with these committed creatives. Stuckist free expression brings connectivity and joy back into a contemporary art world too often stifled by alienation and a sense of unjustified superiority.

Ron Throop sees art as a means for bringing people together. As he explains, “Communion has been one of my artistic goals for as long as I can remember. Expressive painting is a very powerful connector to people. We are an image and story-loving species.” To spread the word he has also assembled a book about the show, “International Stuckist Invitational at Watkins Glen,” available on both Createspace and Amazon.

Michele Bledsoe and I have both contributed to this show. It’s an exciting time, being involved in the renewal of the fundamental human activity of art making. We are very grateful to Ron Throop for his diligence and vision in creating this opportunity that demonstrates the grassroots are global, and growing. 

Michele Bledsoe “Assemblage” acrylic on canvas 7″ x 5″ 

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Richard Bledsoe “In the Trenches” acrylic on canvas 12″ x 16″ 

 

An Artist Against the NEA, Part 2: Subsidizing the Rich and the Art of Breaking Windows

Rene Magritte, an artist who understood the correct use of fallacies

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The hive mind of Washington, DC is all abuzz these days. A big part of their collective angst hovers around the idea that this time the Federal government is expected to produce an actual budget. It will the first one in years. Needless to say, everyone in positions of authority  wants to make sure an allotment of sweet taxpayer honey keeps flowing their way.

Whenever the topic turns to reining in out of control spending, the National Endowment for the Arts comes up. It seems like a reasonable cut to consider, since there are much more urgent situations which need funding. But to culture industry careerists, that’s just crazy talk.

Of course all the organizations who are currently latched onto that particular public teat feel entitled to remain there. Just ask them, they’ll tell you.Or just read some of the hundreds of op-eds that have popped up around the country as a lobbying effort. Most advance the notion that without the bureaucratic benevolence of Uncle Sugar, redistributor of wealth, there would not be a single spark of creativity left in America.

Most of the articles follow the same template. They plead that its a given that arts organizations are poverty stricken, that arts spending boosts the economy, that support is needed while artists produce quality culture enriching works. The NEA is desperately needed for these reasons.

What is the reality? Postmodern art worker types like to pretend there is no such thing as reality, that the world operates based on just what those in power decree. Cultural elitists behave as if their virtue signalling and theorizing acts as a shield against universal truths such as cause and effect. Accountability is something to be deconstructed and explained away. However, there are many questions to ask about the default assumptions of their assertions.

For a different perspective about need, this headline pretty much sums it up: Feds Use Arts Funding to Subsidize Billion-Dollar Nonprofits. The article shares the findings of watchdog group Openthebooks.com, and summarizes their findings about the NEA’s umbrella group: “The National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities issued $20.5 million in grants to ‘asset-rich’ nonprofit groups with assets of $1 billion or more in 2016 alone.”

For instance, Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute has received millions of dollars in grants for their swanky ski town film festival. And what is their estimated annual revenue from the event? $37 million.

Robert Redford: Like a Rhinestone Rent-Seeker

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New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is probably the top example. Since 2009 they have been awarded $1.22 million in grants and contracts from the NFA-H. And what are the Metropolitian’s assets estimated to be? Four billion dollars. That is billion with a B. There are other examples of the payola changing hands in the full article.

The Met: 4 Billion is not enough, they need handouts

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Why is taxpayer money being funneled to organizations that could easily be self-sustaining? Observation suggests it’s all part of the perks of the New Aristocracy of the Well Connected. It’s one of the ways the privileged class flatter each other, generously  passing out other people’s money. Would these powerhouse entities cease functioning without receiving kickbacks from the public treasury?

Of course not all arts organizations are stuffed with money like those insider superstars. What about the more local community efforts? How will artists be able to exist without qualifying for subsidies?

The pitfalls of those gambits are covered well in an insightful article from PJ Media’s John Ellis: The National Endowment for the Arts is Bad for Artists and Should be Defunded. He states:

“…It’s way past time to defund and shutter the National Endowment for the Arts.

“From the organization’s website, ‘The National Endowment for the Arts is an independent federal agency that funds, promotes, and strengthens the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation.’

“That mission statement prompts a few questions. (Well, the first one isn’t so much a question as an eye-rolling musing.): 1. Yeah, it’s easy to fund things with other people’s money, NEA. 2. How does creating a false market for art promote and strengthen creative capacity? 3. All Americans? Really, NEA? Are you sure that ‘all Americans’ have the requisite skills to participate in the arts?”

Ellis addresses the fallacies at the heart of the economic stimulation and quality results outcome arguments by referring to observations about human nature, and a well known flaw in logic.

“The first question/eye-rolling musing is countered by artists and those who hold the arts community’s purse strings that arts organizations provide an economic engine to communities (by the way, I could write a whole other article about the absurd, silly, politics that I saw first hand while I worked directly for a specific arts funding organization—and by ‘funding,’ of course, I mean that they took taxpayers dollars and with a kindergartener level of pettiness disbursed that stolen taxed money amongst their friends). The NEA and their supporters will trot out research about how many dollars are added to local economies due to things like theatres, symphonies, and museums. Of course, as almost every person with at least half a semester of Economics under their belt is screaming, the NEA’s argument embraces the broken window fallacy.

“The economic stimulus felt and supposedly generated by the arts community comes at the expense of other markets. Chances are, the tax dollars given to arts organizations would have been more effectively used elsewhere to benefit local economies. All that money pumped into the local economy by arts organizations would have been pumped into the economy anyway. The taxpayers would have decided which markets to support. And those markets would’ve naturally grown, strengthened, and added jobs and wealth to the economy. The National Endowment for the Arts model artificially props up mostly unwanted markets by using tax dollars that get funneled through inefficient and wasteful bureaucracies.

“Segueing into the second question, artificially propping up an unwanted market does not benefit the arts. It does benefit the people who work in the NEA office and the many local organizations that help funnel taxpayers’ money to arts organizations, though. What it does to the arts is create a marketplace that supports bad art. If you don’t believe me, buy tickets to your local community theatre’s production of Seussical the Musical. Besides the money you spent on the ticket, your tax dollars helped pay for that crap. In other words, even if you don’t buy a ticket, your hard-earned money is still being used to stoke the egos and fill the free time of wanna-be actors and directors.”

You oughta be thankful, a whole heaping lot. For the people and places you’re lucky you’re not.

Ellis raises very valid concerns about what exactly is coming out as the result of these appropriated funds.

Now personally, I’m an old punk rocker. Punk’s creeds of individuality, distrust of authority, and sincere belief in the transformative power of participating in your own culture are ideas as American as baseball.  I learned early to value passionate intensity in art, which can lead to less than polished accomplishments. I’m inspired by all sorts of creative expression by unconventionally talented individuals. My paintings tend to be dark and strange.

Richard Bledsoe “The Collective” acrylic on canvas 30″ x 30″

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My music collection is filled with albums that could strike terror into lots of people.

Face up to the Butthole Surfers

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In my time I’ve attended DIY art and music happenings in places ranging from bowling alleys to Chinese restaurants, from student living rooms to trailers in isolated desert communities. I’ve organized many events myself, looking to give artists a chance to share their creativity. A key trait linking all of these shows is the Y in DIY: do it yourself. Make it happen, with none of the strings that come attached from being reduced to a supplicant for crumbs from the tables of the powerful. If the effort is genuine, it will find its audience.

The hey-kids-lets-put-on-a-show exuberance that drives “amateur” dedication to the arts is at the core of the art movement Remodernism, This grassroots renewal of our culture is rising to destroy the elitist mind games of Postmodernism.The NEA is doing nothing but sustaining the current corrupted model, where to be deemed worthy you must conform to the establishment’s agenda.

Artists with integrity recognize that far from promoting the arts, a compromised, insular organization like the NEA is actually shackling free expression to their ideological biases. The true future of the arts is going to be determined by those who do not submit their productions for official approval. Art is about so much more than acting as a cog in the crony combine.