Watching “The Magic of Picasso” as a young artist was eye-opening for me. Such freedom and invention. This was final piece, and honestly, I’ve always felt it was a bit of a clunker, and anti-climatic, compared to what came before. Still amazing to see the process though.
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It’s one of the best known paintings of the Modern era. Expatriate Spaniard Pablo Picasso created Guernica in response to an atrocity that occurred during the Spanish Civil War, an episode that was a harbinger of the ruthless slaughter of the Second World War.
On April 26, 1937, the Condor Legion, a corps of German Luftwaffe pilots who had volunteered to assist the Nationalist forces fighting in Spain, launched a raid on the defenseless Basque city of Guernica. Multiple waves of airplanes bombed and strafed the civilian population of the town. The total number of casualties is disputed, but hundreds were killed.
An early experiment in the terrorizing carpet bombing later refined by the Nazis, the Guernica bombing demonstrated the callous brutality and effectiveness of twentieth century warfare, and the willingness to reach beyond the conventional battlefield to strike at enemies. The world recoiled in horror, but even worse events were yet to come.
Picasso was moved by the tragic assault to make what is probably his most famous piece of art. The work is mural sized, eleven feet high and over twenty five feet long, rendered in somber grays and boney white suggestive of the starkness of photojournalism. Although its initial reception was somewhat mixed, in time Guernica has become accepted as a powerful statement against war. As such, it is often referenced by those who emphasize art as a political act. This is an attitude very prevalent in establishment artists today.
Picasso was clear on his intentions about the painting as a statement, but what he put in the canvas is a different story. Is the impact Guernica has as art due to a political stance, or has it endured due to articulating more universal, human concerns?
What ideological side is there to be chosen amongst those tumbling ghosts and stricken animals? The power of the piece has nothing to do with a particular time or viewpoint. The details are an anachronistic mix, ranging from a sword to a lightbulb. The audience does not need to know anything about the Republic, the Condor Legion or white phosphorus to feel the horror.
We bring external knowledge to the piece, being aware of the circumstances of its creation. Apart from the title selected by the artist, there is nothing in that piece that makes it specifically about the bombing of a Spanish town or the power struggles of the 1930s. It tells a universal story of the tragic violence in life.
Don’t forget, our impressions of the Spanish Civil War, noble Republicans versus evil Nationalists, are largely a Marxist driven myth. Author George Orwell fought alongside the Communists there. What he learned from the tactics of his comrades informed his dystopian books Animal Farm and 1984; he saw their brutal totalitarian intentions in action. Orwell’s works transcend politics to act as dire warnings about the consequences of man’s covetousness nature run amuck.
We think of the painting Guernica as a political piece not because of what we can actually see, but because of what we are told about it. We are expected to squint through filters of received knowledge and officially condoned attitudes to reach the Correct conclusions. As a result, it’s easy for the painting’s presence as art to be diminished into mere propaganda.
“There are important distinctions between art and propaganda. Although both are forms of visual communication, their aims are completely different. Great art explores the mysteries of human experience. Propaganda seeks to influence an intellectual decision by stirring up obscuring clouds of emotionalism.
“Strong art reaches universal, shared experience by honestly presenting the results of self-exploration. Propaganda seeks to substitute that universal appeal with the presentation of ideology it assumes to be commonly held by all right-thinking people.”
Propaganda is distortion, intended to drive the audience into a pre-determined conclusion. It is far removed from the mysterious communion genuine art provides.
Despite the popular pose struck by many contemporary artists, who fancy they are bold rebels making a stand against injustice, the ideas advocated by most of today’s political art are actually advancing the values of the doubling dealing so-called elites they pretend to criticize.
The contemporary art scene was weaponized by the Postmodern deconstruction of reality, where The Narrative and the will to power matters more than truth. There are no consequences for hypocrisy in the Postmodern mindset. Any actions are permissible to the select few, as long as the correct ideas are publicly endorsed.
Enduring changes start in the arts. The power of art to define our way of life, to show us how to be, has been tragically underestimated. The Postmodern corruption I first observed in 1980s art school has seeped out and tainted our entire society. Our cultural institutions no longer provide us knowledge, education, real news, or responsible governance. We are enmeshed in an entire ecosystem of lies, sustained by the media, the academy, Big Tech, sellout corporations, and traitorous politicians. The monopoly is enforced by censorship and retaliations. You would think by observing the actions of the New Aristocracy of the Well Connected, our Constitutional Republic is dead; all that remains is for them loot and oppress the rest of us into oblivion.
One of the ways to counter this ruthless assault is with art. Not the bait and switch artifice which the establishment has pulled, substituting leftist activism for creativity. There is no chance newly created real art will receive institutional support these days. Based on the art world news I follow, the Inner Party has decreed the mission is now supposedly countering racism through the flaunting of blatant and despicable racist behaviors and attitudes. All the museum, gallery and artist sheep are dutifully baaing along. It’s all just another manipulative social engineering project, like everything the Cultural Marxists produce. This will do nothing but further alienate the people from the resources real art provides.
The elitist-driven degeneration of art into propaganda denies our society the inspiration to live up to ideals; the encouragement to think and feel deeply; the yearning to harmonize with truth and beauty. The establishment blocks real art from us because they know how weak we are without it.
We need art as the timeless experience which is as old as humanity itself. For, as President John F Kennedy noted, “We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.”
Elitists went scorched earth against civilization in their pursuit of unaccountable power. Their attempt to replace all means of communication with propaganda is supposed to keep us from noticing. Our credentialed classes react to truth like a vampire does to a crucifix. So that is why it will be important going forward to independently cultivate art which fulfills the John Keats insight about the visual expression of Western philosophy: “”Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
There is a huge opportunity here. Establishment mismanagement has driven the arts out of relevance for the majority. But the human need for it persists, just like all our other instinctual appetites. Creatives can contribute to rallying the human spirit in resistance against the darkness being imposed on us from above. What a glorious way to out-evolve our stifling, would-be rulers.
The elites can’t stand beauty because it shows their ugliness. They can’t stand truth because it exposes their lies. They can’t stand individual expression because it’s outside of their control. They can’t stand talent honed into skillful expression through dedication, because it reveals their own mediocrity, incompetence and laziness. They can’t stand art because it demonstrates the human spirit as created in God’s image, as creators articulating divine order.
The elites can’t beat real art, only suppress it. Let’s make it impossible for their propaganda to gain any traction by presenting a powerful alternative.
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 abook. Or a painting.
I am currently at work on my latest large scale piece-large for me being in this case 30″ x 40″. In my first post, I showed the first crude underpainting. In the second post, I started making additional drawing decisions. In the third post, I started bringing out suggestions of the original vision-the whale not just as an animal, but as a gilded cage of chaos.
The painting is coming along well (see above). But working as an intuitive artist, obstacles arise which could not be foreseen. I am presented an image in my mind; they come to me in a flash, complete. It becomes my task to translate that vision into a form that can be shared, filtered through my individual artistic personality. I paint my works directly onto the canvas, without preparatory drawings, all the better to take advantage of sudden discoveries and inspirations.
However, in art as in life, there are problems that come along with the opportunities.
Pablo Picasso, that human kaleidoscope, explained something like the dilemma I recently faced in my painting, when he talked about a visit he made to his Cubist colleague, Georges Braque.
“I remember one evening I arrived at Braque’s studio. He was working on a large oval still life with a package of tobacco, a pipe, and all the usual paraphernalia of Cubism. I looked at it, drew back and said, ‘My poor friend, this is dreadful. I see a squirrel in your canvas.’ Braque said, ‘That’s not possible.’ I said, ‘Yes, I know, it’s paranoiac vision, but it so happens that I see a squirrel. That canvas is made to be a painting, not an optical illusion. Since people need to see something in it, you want them to see a package of tobacco, a pipe, and the other things you’re putting in. But for God’s sake, get rid of that squirrel.’
Braque stepped back a few feet and looked carefully and sure enough, he too saw the squirrel, because that kind of paranoiac vision is extremely communicable. Day after day Braque fought that squirrel. He changed the structure, the light, the composition, but the squirrel always came back, because once it was in our minds it was almost impossible to get it out. However different the forms became, the squirrel somehow always managed to return. Finally, after eight or ten days, Braque was able to turn the trick and the canvas again became a package of tobacco, a pipe, a deck of cards, and above all a Cubist painting.”
He Was Only 5’3″
Braque and Picasso Get Squirrelly
So, in the process of trying to evoke a painting experience, something unbidden had worked its way onto Braque’s canvas. Or maybe Picasso was just messing with him. I wouldn’t put it past him.
But recently I had a similar misstep while working on In the Belly.
My wife, artist Michele Bledsoe, and I were working in the studio. She noticed I suddenly started raving and muttering at my painting; lost as I was in the moment, I didn’t even realize I was talking out loud.
What was the problem? While I was trying to render where my whale’s fin attached to his body, I was horrified to see an equally horrified emoji had appeared on my canvas (outlined in red, below).
Is There An Emoji For The Scream of a Lost Soul?
This could not stand. Mumbling about “wiping that look off your face,” I attacked the problem area with more marks and shading.
When I stepped back, I saw that I had succeeded…succeeded in giving the unwanted face eyebrows and a hat.
“I vanish while my paintings get applied to the canvas. I have the continuous experience of stepping back from the work to see it, and it’s like I’m stepping out of a trance. I’m constantly surprised by what I see has appeared on the painting, because I have no memory of doing it. Turning myself over to this receptive state allows something beyond my own capacities to take over. My best achievements are works done through me, rather than by me.”
The point of this post is, although I have the upmost respect for The Muse, sometimes she’s got a strange sense of humor. I’ve learned to laugh, enjoy the message, and move on.
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 abook. Or a painting. Please send any inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
As you work, the mood grows on you. There are certain images which suddenly get hold of me and I really want to do them. But it’s true to say that the excitement and possibilities are in the working and obviously can only come in the working.
Maurice de Vlaminck “The River Seine at Chatou”
When I work I always find something.
-Maurice de Vlaminck
Winston Churchill “The Beach at Walmer”
Human beings are of two classes: those whose work is work and whose pleasure is pleasure; and those whose work and pleasure are one.
Pablo Picasso “Girl with a Mandolin”
It is your work in life that is the ultimate seduction.
Wayne Thiebaud “Boston Cremes”
I’m a believer in the notion that artists who do good work believe in the ideas of extremes.
A key quote from the article, which amuses me on many levels:
“Toulouse-Lautrec’s pictures were described by Gustave Moreau as ‘painted entirely in absinthe’; he would stop at every bar in Montmartre in order to étouffer un perroquet (choke a parrot), in the slang of the period; and he had a specially made hollow walking-stick which held an emergency half-litre stash of absinthe and a tiny shot glass.”
Choke a Parrot
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec “At the Cafe La Mie”
For me, drinking and art making don’t mix too well. These days, I might have a beer while painting at night, but it’s a rarity.
Multitasking: Painting at the Bar
I have been to some of the art parties that are currently popular, where wine and paint both flow. Wikipedia calls them “The Paint and Sip Industry:” group painting lessons where adult beverages are served. I’ve had wonderful experiences at events like this. It seems to be a great way to get newcomers to art lose their tentativeness and really enjoy the process, without worrying too much about the results. These inclusive, sociable painting parties really fit the Remodernist dynamic that art is for everyone.
It’s a lot of fun, but a very different vibe than the slip into the state of intuition I work up into in the studio.
Something I have learned is moderation in drinking is wonderful; however, moderation in art is a travesty.
“The artist should be intoxicated with the idea of the thing he wants to express.”
“There is only one valuable thing in art: the thing you cannot explain.” – Georges Braque
Georges Braque (1882-1963) was Pablo Picasso’s co-conspirator in the controversial founding of Cubism, but their temperaments could not have been more different. While Picasso lived it up as a jet-setting, exploitative celebrity, Braque plodded along, living quietly and honing his craft.
Not only did Braque show an amazing mastery of composition in his paintings, the man had a way with words. He produced a series of maxims, statements on art and life, that could function as Zen parables or Koans, so elegant and simple they are in their observational power and often paradoxical presentations.
The art world could use more of the kind of patience, dedication and wisdom that Georges Braque brought to the exploration of his vision. Below are just a few of his penetrating insights.
“With age, art and life become one.”
“The space between the dish and the pitcher, that I paint also.”
“The painting is finished when the idea has disappeared.”
“Reality only reveals itself when it is illuminated by a ray of poetry.”
“Truth exists. Only lies are invented.”
“It is the unforeseeable that creates the event.”
“Painting is a nail to which I fasten my ideas.”
“Scientific perspective forces the objects in a picture to disappear away from the beholder instead of bringing them within his reach as painting should.”
“A painting without something disturbing in it – what’s that?”
Richard Bledsoe “A Thistle From The Heart” acrylic on canvas 9″ x 12″
One of my latest paintings will be exhibited halfway around the world in July.
The show is “One Love,” otherwise known as “Un Amor,” at the Festival Arte Sano X, being held in San Pedro de Alcántara, in Spain’s Andalusia region.
The names of these places are like poetry to me. Not only do they sound beautiful, they evoke images of a rich and mysterious past. Epic stories of the maneuverings of Romans, Vandals and Moors, Republicans and Nationalists. Song lyrics from the Doors and the Clash. Columbus set sail from this region. Pablo Picasso, an explorer of a different kind, was born and raised in Malaga.
In honor of Malaga’s most famous ex-resident, I created the painting for the show in a spontaneous manner. I was thinking of the amazing film The Mystery of Picasso, which was so influential on me as a young artist. Even as I improvised, imagery and order appeared.
It was very exciting to package up my painting, knowing where it was going.
Getting ready for the post office
In the best DIY tradition, this show was organized by Artista Eli, founder of Spain’s Malaga Stuckists art group. She generously invited an international crew of Stuckist and Remodernist artists to take part in a festival celebrating health and art.
It’s a good fit, for the cutting edge philosophies of these 21st century art movements are a great cure for sickness and lethargy of the establishment art industry.
I am so grateful to live in the age of the internet, which allows me to connect with inspiring people no matter where they are, and share our art around the world.The grassroots have gone global.
There are important distinctions between art and propaganda. Although both are forms of visual communication, their aims are completely different. Great art explores the mysteries of human experience. Propaganda seeks to influence an intellectual decision by stirring up obscuring clouds of emotionalism. Strong art reaches universal, shared experience by honestly presenting the results of self-exploration. Propaganda seeks to substitute that universal appeal with the presentation of ideology it assumes to be commonly held by all right-thinking people. But what if the audience doesn’t share the same convictions, or are indifferent to them? Then the art fails to connect, falls flat. The more blatantly political a work is, the smaller its audience will be. Our contemporary cultural institutions’ strident advocacy is big part of why the visual arts art are suffering such a crisis of relevance now.
EDIT FEBRUARY 10, 2021: The full article I wrote and linked to in 2014 was on a site which no longer exists. Read the revised, updated version here: PROPAGANDA VERSUS ART