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.

 

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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

ART QUOTES: On the Role of Risk in Art

Mark Rothko “Untitled”

“Art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take risks.”

-Mark Rothko

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William Baziotes “Amorphic Forms”

“This particular time has gotten to a point where the artist feels like a gambler. He does something on the canvas and takes a chance in the hope that something important will be revealed.”

-William Baziotes

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Kurt Vonnegut “Tout in Cohoes”

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”

-Kurt Vonnegut

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Graham Sutherland “Hydrant II”

“In painting, you have to destroy in order to gain… you have got to sacrifice something you are quite pleased with in order to get something better. Of course, it’s a risk…”

-Graham Sutherland

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Louise Nevelson “Royal Tide IV”

“The outside world pressures you into a mold, but if you don’t accept that – you gamble with life. Call it gambling.”

-Louise Nevelson

 

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

Artist Quotes About America

 

Thornton Dial “Don’t Matter How Raggly The Flag, It Still Got To Tie Us Together”

“If we going to change the world, we got to look at the little man.”

Thornton Dial

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Happy Independence Day!

In large part, the creative classes are saturated in globalist propaganda. The institutional indoctrination is very thorough, and of course most funding opportunities rely on conforming to the elitist gentry agenda.  Sad!

However, there are examples of artists who spoke their minds about the fantastic nature of the American experience. In the United States our culture is currently experiencing the death throes of manipulative, oppressive Postmodernism. As we enter the new era of Remodernism, the return of art as a revelation, expect to see more artists express the ethos of liberty in deeds, words and pictures.

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Andy Warhol “Van Heusen (Ronald Reagan)”

“I met someone on the street who said wasn’t it great that we’re going to have a movie star for president, that it was so Pop, and when you think about it like that, it is great, it’s so American.”

-Andy Warhol

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Thomas Eakins “The Champion Single Sculls”

“Of course, it is well to go abroad and see the works of the old masters, but Americans… must strike out for themselves, and only by doing this will we create a great and distinctly American art.”

-Thomas Eakins

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Arthur Dove “Me and the Moon”

“What constitutes American painting?… things may be in America, but it’s what is in the artist that counts. What do we call ‘American’ outside of painting? Inventiveness, restlessness, speed, change..”

-Arthur Dove

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Jacob Lawrence “The Migration Series Panel 58”


“Maybe…humanity to you has been reduced to the sterility of the line, the cube, the circle, and the square; devoid of all feeling, cold and highly esoteric. If this is so, I can well understand why you cannot portray the true America. It is because you have lost all feeling for man.”

-Jacob Lawrence

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Willem De Kooning “Dark Pond”

“I feel sometimes an American artist must feel, like a baseball player or something – a member of a team writing American history.”

-Willem De Kooning

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Georgia O’Keeffe “Cow Skull: Red, White and Blue”

“One can not be an American by going about saying that one is an American. It is necessary to feel America, like America, love America and then work.”

-Georgia O’Keeffe

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Jack Kerouac “Untitled”

“I felt like a million dollars; I was adventuring in the crazy American night.”

-Jack Kerouac

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Grant Wood “Stone City, Iowa”

“I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa.”

-Grant Wood

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Richard Bledsoe “The Pop Star”

Remodernism is the latest iteration of the American character: ordinary people working as explorers and inventors, optimistic, self-reliant and productive.”

-Richard Bledsoe

 

 

ART QUOTES: Taurus Artists

Joan Miro “The Bull Fight”

“The picture should be fecund. It must bring a world to birth.”

-Joan Miro

Joan Miro wrestles with sculpture

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I don’t believe the stars control our fates, or can be used to tell our fortunes. But life has proven to me again and again the time of year a person is born does seem to influence their personalities.

Why would this be the case? I have no idea. But my observations show me the universe is full of patterns, cycles, all evidence of the great underlying order beyond our limited human perceptions. The pseudo-science of astrology is the result of centuries of study on human behavior. Somehow we find echos of our souls projected out into a cosmic scale; around and around we all go, playing our variations of the 12 eternal roles manifested in symbols of animals, mythical beasts, and human archetypes.

We are now in the time of Taurus (April 21 – May 21). They are symbolized by the bull, a summation of their temperament: a powerful beast, earthy, persistent, often placid, but capable of being provoked into an element rage.

Taurus  Traits

  • Determined
  • Practical
  • Patient
  • Down to earth
  • Stubborn
  • Self Indulgent

Can you see the Taurus personality reflected in the work and words of these artists?

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Bridget Riley “Movement in Squares”

“It seems the deeper, truer personality of the artist only emerges in the making of decisions… in refusing and accepting, changing and revising.”

-Bridget Riley

Bridget Riley at work, 1963

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Salvador Dali “The Old Age of William Tell”

“Give me two hours a day of activity, and I’ll take the other twenty-two in dreams.”

-Salvador Dali

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Keith Haring “Untitled”

“My contribution to the world is my ability to draw… Drawing is still basically the same as it has been since prehistoric times. It brings together man and the world. It lives through magic.”

-Keith Haring

Keith Haring, at one with his work

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Willem de Kooning “Woman with Bicycle”

“I make pictures and someone comes in and calls it art.”

-Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning takes a smoke break

An Artist Against the NEA, Part 1: The Case of Karen Finley

Karen Finley: This is what you get when art and politics mix

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“All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

-Benito Mussolini

The wailing commenced as soon as the numbers appeared. After decades of threatening noises from concerned conservatives and fiscal hawks, a Federal government budget was produced that eliminated funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

As an American artist, I think this is a wonderful development, long overdue.

Defenders of the NEA make the usual accusations, conflating being anti-government intervention in the arts with being anti-art. They justify the expense by pointing out how little the expenditures are out of a budget now reckoned in trillions. And they make the great leap to define withholding state funding of the arts as censorship. All of these assertions dodge accountability for results. How has the NEA improved the artistic life of America?

The NEA was the creation of the corrupt President Lydon Johnson in 1965. One quick measure of the program’s success is whether the visual arts are in better condition now than they were then.

On the contrary, contemporary art is undergoing a crisis of relevance, with hardly any interest and engagement from the public. I would suggest it’s the top-down direction of arts development encouraged by the NEA and its fellow traveler, grant-giving foundations which have helped cause this great alienation. Far from encouraging a vital, thriving culture in the United States, the handout and non-profit mentality is propping up a sick and decaying model of art as an elitist virtue signalling endeavor.

Make no mistake, the cultural institutions supported by such programs hold the values and founding principles of America in contempt. It’s key for acceptance. The long march was so successful that the entry to the establishment now requires allegiance with globalism, Post Modern relativism, and Cultural Marxist deconstruction. It’s the partisans of these ideologies that get the funding and support.

The art world has been warped by the priorities of the subsidizers. If you want their checks, better get on board with their agendas. Leftists have to taint everything with their politics, their own petty little version of God, and their fantasy of the all powerful state as a benefit dispensing Utopia. There’s no way I want anyone subject to such delusions in charge of recognizing artistic achievement.

Many years ago, I had my own special encounter with a NEA star, a typical example of what elitist culture has to offer.

She’s nothing but a historical footnote now, but in the early 1990s performer Karen Finley was big news. She was one of the so-called NEA Four. These controversial artists were up for the federal agency National Endowment for the Arts grants, and came under intense political criticism. The artists had their grants vetoed, although they eventually won a court case about it, and got paid.

However, as a result of the firestorm the NEA ultimately stopped funding individual artists. At least Finley can take credit for helping end that particular abuse of tax payer resources. But at the time I encountered her all the legal maneuverings were still in flux. When she came to speak in Richmond, at Virginia Commonwealth University’s  sculpture building, Finley was still notorious as a casualty of the Culture War.

Finley is a performance artist. Her claim to fame was hooting obscenities while smearing her naked body with yams. I wish this was a joke or an exaggeration, but it isn’t. Of course it was all about gender roles and social critique and whatnot, so that made it Serious Art.

We students didn’t know what to expect. Would we be spattered with tubers? Should we wear raincoats like we were going to see a Gallagher routine? Anticipation ran high.

As it turns out Finley kept her clothes on, and no vegetables were applied anywhere unusual. I suppose a group of mere students didn’t warrant the full Karen Finley experience.

She addressed the standing crowd gathered around her from a podium. I can’t tell you anything she actually said, as nothing she said was memorable. But we weren’t there for an insightful or intelligent lecture, we were there for a Serious Art Performance. And after her remarks, still standing behind her podium, Finley let us have it.

A Serious Art Performance, to Karen Finley, apparently meant yodeling, rolling her eyes and whipping her head around for a couple of minutes.

It was an annoying and mannered display. I felt the burning sensation of folly receiving the institutional stamp of approval. If that was art, then I’ve seen plenty of schizophrenic meth addicts hanging around convenience stores dumpsters that must be undiscovered geniuses.

Coming from her, it was all so phony. Her actions didn’t seem passionate or intense at all. It was clearly a ploy, a unconvincing simulation of being in a shamanistic frenzy.

My problem with Karen Finley’s art wasn’t because it was immoral; it was because it was stupid. There wasn’t an issue with obscenity, the issue was the failure to present a genuine and creditable work of art. And this is representative of the cultural experience our Washington elites wanted to throw money at.

As a bit of compensation for the dumb histrionics, Finley did show us a few nude video clips. She apparently liked to strip down in museums and pose next to actual art. That was kind of funny. The University was obviously putting all our student fees to good use, bringing in talent of such caliber.

During her fifteen minutes of fame, Finley got to play cultural martyr. She became a symbol, the fulfillment of the art world’s conceit of itself as an oppressed band of brave rebels.

The fact that what she called her art was a contrived, pathetic display was overlooked in the rush to the barricades. Her stated political agenda trumped any concerns about quality.

Finley has drifted into obscurity now, safely cloistered away  in New York City’s Tisch School of the Arts (annual undergrad tuition over $53,000.00), still trying to spark some interest in her sagging shock art. Museums are willing to throw her an occasional opportunity. In 2014 she did AA one better, and came up with a 13 step program for artists whose “lives have become unmanageable because of art.” Here’s a helpful hint: I wouldn’t blame art for the need to seek attention through grotesque displays.

Finley serves as a nice bit of trivia and nostalgia, a walking wounded veteran of the culture wars. The establishment takes care of its own. What they haven’t been taking care of is our society’s need for real art.

The NEA has failed in its mission. They’ve squandered their credibility. We will be better served by trying to find new ways to express an authentically American culture, one than the bureaucratic ideologues of the NEA never believed in.

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“It is quite clear to anyone of an uncluttered mental disposition that what is now put forward, quite seriously, as art by the ruling elite, is proof that a seemingly rational development of a body of ideas has gone seriously awry.”

-The Remodernism Manifesto

“I was not expected to be talented.”

Karen Finley

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