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

.

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

.

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

.

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″

.

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

Face up to the Butthole Surfers

.

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.

ARTISTS: Bill Lewis

Bill Lewis at his exhibition, “The Dream in the Orchard”

June 2017, Below 65 Gallery, Maidstone, Kent, UK

.

  “In our lives as creative people we can encompass every movement in the Arts from the days of cave paintings through the Renaissance to Modern Art.  However, we do this in a way that is individual to each of us.”

-Bill Lewis

.

Part of the thrill of being involved with the international art movement Stuckism is getting to interact with talented artists from around the world. Through the group, we start off with much in common already. Stuckism appeals to those with a passionate belief in art as means of communion. It encompasses an idealistic view of what the arts mean both personally and for society as a whole. It’s exciting to see how every person contributes their own vision within the framework of these principles.

I discovered Stuckism, and its overarching philosophy of Remodernism , during some late night web browsing. I worked up the courage to ask to be an official part of the movement in 2010, and was granted the status of the Phoenix AZ Stuckists. We’ve hosted a series of exhibits in Phoenix in the years since, including 2014’s International Stuckists: Explorers and Inventors, which featured 28 artists from across Europe and the United States.  Through the Stuckist group website and social media, I was soon communicating with people from all over the globe who had embarked on their own versions of the same artistic journey.

English poet and artist Bill Lewis  (see his website here) reached out to me initially about an idea we shared. He too saw Stuckism as just one facet of the broad potentials of Remodernism, a system of ideas that can renew our whole culture, a potent alternative to the deceits and manipulations of Postmodernism. I was amazed to learn this artist who was sharing his thoughts with me was one of the original members of the whole endeavor; in fact, was a big part of what had brought all those creative people together in the first place. For my part, I had one of the clearest episodes  of synchronicity in my life instigated by Bill. Something is at work here.

In his writings and art, Lewis is a story teller. He has a way of homing in on the significant expressive detail: with a gesture, an expression, an image created by either paint or with words, Lewis is able to capture the heart of the matter. I believe his spiritual sense of life and years of studying myth have trained him to look to the essence of things, and to present his discoveries with the proper sense of significance. The works are graceful because they are true. They are elegant because of the care shown in their creation. Despite their profound themes, these are not heavy and ponderous pieces.  They are enlivened with playfulness and rich colors. His poems use sly humor with great impact.

Bill Lewis ” Donde Esta Don Quixote

.

Bill Lewis “The Sleeper”

.

In 2017 Lewis produced a new book of poetry, “The Long Ago and Eternal Now” (Amazon Link Here). The work incorporates his own black and white illustrations.  It’s his second collection, and expresses his sensibility and interests in clear, evocative language. They say the way you do something is the way you do everything. When I look at the paintings of Bill Lewis, and read his poetry, I think of Magic Realism. Not just as a literary convention, but in the context of looking through the mundane and seeing the miraculous underpinnings of it all. It’s a gratifying experience to see the world as he presents it.

 

 

As someone who was there from the beginning of the ongoing revolution in the arts, Bill Lewis has much to say about how it has unfolded and influenced his creative work. In the interview below, Lewis shares stories and insights about his experience as a Remodernist poet and artist.

Question: You are one of the original members of both the Stuckist movement and its predecessor the Medway Poets.  How did you come to be involved with these groups?

Bill Lewis: First I should tell you how the Medway Poets came about. In the early 1970’s I was living in a little village outside of Maidstone (which is the County Town of Kent).  A small group of us formed a poetry reading group which met regularly at a pub called ‘The Lamb’, a Fifteenth Century building by the Medway River.  The group was called ‘The Outcrowd’ and the core of it consisted of me, my oldest friend Rob Earl and his wife Betty.

In 1977 I got onto the Art Foundation Course at the Medway College of Art and Design (as it was then called) in Chatham (one of the Medway Towns).  It was here that I met Billy Childish.

I invited Billy to Maidstone to read with ‘The Outcrowd’ and in exchange Rob came over to the Medway Towns and read with Billy and I at a gig at the college.  About this time Alan Denman who was a lecturer in English at the college, started a regular cabaret/poetry evening at a pub called ‘The York’ near Chatham railway station.  Incidentally, ‘The York’ was not only one of the roughest pubs in Chatham but in the whole of South East England.

At one of these evenings we met Sexton Ming who was one of the most eccentric and funniest poets I have ever met.  The night he first arrived it was raining really hard and he asked if he could read and Alan said yes, but before he did so Sexton asked if he could bring his mistress, Mildred, in out of the rain.  We said of course, the poor woman must be soaked.  Mildred turned out to be a broom handle with a papier-mâché head and a wig.  Later whilst Sexton was reading a poem her head fell off.  The audience were in fits of hysterical laughter.  This became a pattern over the next few years; you never knew what Sexton was going to do next.  Everyone I know has a Sexton Ming story.

Billy and Sexton got on really well and started to produce fanzines and booklets together.  Billy was in a band at the time called the ‘Pop Rivets’ which later transformed into ‘The Milkshakes’.  Very soon a Medway sound developed and in the next few years there were hundred of bands in the Medway Towns playing the Medway Delta Sound. Lots of people read at ‘The York’ but gradually it became clear to us that several of us could work well with each other as a group.

The last two poets to join the group were Charles Thomson and his then girlfriend, Miriam Carney. At this time we still hadn’t got a name for the group but as were starting to be asked to read at other local venues, we needed to get a name.  I came up with the idea of calling ourselves ‘The Medway Poets Group’ because at that time the Medway Scene was becoming well know outside of the region.  We didn’t have a “house” style as we were all into very different things. Charles was influenced by Betjeman and Auden at the time and Billy had discovered Bukowski and Fante.  With Sexton it was Zappa and Beefheart and I was reading a lot of Neruda, Ted Hughes and French poets liked Jacques Prévert.  Miriam’s poems were very personal and about her relationships.

Medway Poets

We had started to get some interest from outside the Medway area, especially when a well known poet called Richard Berengarten from Cambridge (who was writer in residence in the nearby town of Gravesend) brought his entire creative writing class over to see us perform.  In 1980 Richard got ‘The Medway Poets’ their first major gig at the Kent Literature Festival and in 1981 at the prestigious Cambridge International Poetry Festival.

Whilst we were performing at Cambridge I met Robert Parker Sorlien who was a Professor of English at the University of Rhode Island.  It was Robert who was to arrange some of my first readings in the USA.

The Medway Poets split up in 1982 not long after a television company called TVS made a documentary about us.  By then Charles and Billy were not getting on and it was clear that the group couldn’t function with their animosity towards one another.

In 1987 ‘The Medway Poets’ attempted to get back together for a tour that I arranged with Amnesty International.  We were supposed to read in five towns throughout Kent but by the third town old animosities broke out and so it was only a part of the group that finished the tour!

We all carried on working separately over the next decade.  During that time I was doing readings in support of Chile Solidarity.  In 1988 Carlos Rigby, a Nicaraguan Poet and storyteller, performed in London where he came across some of my books.  He ‘phoned me from the Nicaraguan embassy before he left London and suggested that I might like to witness what was happening in the Revolution.  My wife Ann had just been made redundant so we paid the mortgage for 4 months and took ourselves off to Nicaragua Libre.  Whilst there I gave several poetry readings, met and became friends with Claribel Alegria (the award wining Salvadoran poet) and Alicia Partnoy (the Argentinean Writer whose book ‘The Little School’ gave a harrowing account of her incarceration in a concentration camp during the ‘Dirty War’).

Darwin J. Flakoll (Bud), Bill Lewis, and Claribel Alegria. Photo by Anne Lewis

.

1989: Sandy Taylor, Bill Lewis, Alicia Partnoy, and Adriana Angel

 

.

I also met Sandy Taylor, the poet, translator and co-founder of ‘The Curbstone Press’.  It was Sandy who arranged for me to read at a literary festival in Connecticut. Sandy, along with Robert Sorlien introduced my work to an American audience. Almost every year in the 1990’s I would do a mini poetry reading tour on the East Coast.

In 1997, a miracle happened.  Having pursued our individual careers for a decade, ‘The Medway Poets’ managed to get together for one last gig at a literary festival in Rochester, UK.  Charles and Billy seemed to be able to tolerate each other and there was a brief period of entente cordial.

Reunion Tour: Bill Lewis and Billy Childish

In 1999 Charles and Billy started a group called ‘The Stuckists’.  The group got its name after Tracey Emin (Billy’s ex-girlfriend who was now one of the ‘YBA’s’) left and angry message on his answer phone telling him he was “Stuck, Stuck, Stuck” in the past as he still painted. The ‘YBA’s’ didn’t think much of painting and were more interested in post-modernist theory and conceptual art.

Charles approached me and asked me if I was still painting (because as you know Charles, Billy, Sexton and I were the members of ‘The Medway Poets’ who also painted), I told that I was but didn’t show my work as I was primarily interested in writing. He then asked me if I wanted to join ‘The Stuckists’ and I thought, why not?

‘The Stuckists’ had their first show in the autumn of 1999.  It was called ‘Stuck, Stuck, Stuck” after Tracey’s angry ‘phone message.  ‘The Stuckists’ were billed as the first Remodernist Art Group.  We thought there would be lots of other Remodernist groups emerging but what actually happened was that lots of groups calling themselves ‘Stuckist’ began to appear all over the world, in part thanks to the Internet.

Q: How do you create your paintings?

BL: They usually begin with an idea or image that I can’t get out of my mind.  I attempt to put that image down on canvas and then quite often strange symbols and figures appear.  I don’t always understand what these mean.  I think of my paintings as magic mirrors that reflect back to me the inner working of my psyche.  Sometimes it can take years before I understand what a painting means in its entirety. For example, one of my better known pictures entitled “God is an atheists and she does not believe in me” has a woman wearing a blindfold whist applying lipstick, at her feet, kneels a man, holding a menorah and a crucifix.  The woman is sitting on a chair and under the chair is a small white dog, a bull terrier.  Years after I painted it someone pointed out to me that ‘dog’, in English is an anagram of ‘God’.  This never occurred to me when I was painting the picture.

Bill Lewis “God is an Atheist and She Does Not Believe in Me”

.

Q: Do you feel your work as a poet influences your paintings?

BL: I don’t really think of myself as a painter.  I am probably the odd one out when it comes the original group of ‘Stuckists’ because I can go long periods without painting but not so with my writing.  I am always thinking about writing, working on things in my head even before it hits the page, but sometimes I need to see an image and I have to make it a visual image.  I have certain obsessions.  I think all artists, whether they write, paint, make films, are obsessive. The same images often crop up in my work.  I understand some of them but others are a mystery to me.  I actually don’t think I am a very good visual artists, whereas I do know that my writing is of a higher quality, although my friend, Simon Mills (www.simonmills-artist.co.uk) who is an absolutely brilliant landscape artists, tells me that he thinks my visual work is an extension to my poetry.

I think it is the poetry of things which is the truest part or reality.  I believe that reality itself is metaphorical. Once you understand that you can slide between metaphors you can avoid unnecessary conflicts.  The problem arises, of course, is when someone believes that their metaphor is the only true one and that metaphor is a fact.  A fact is of little use to me when it comes to art or poetry. I always prefer fiction to non-fiction because it is true and non-fiction isn’t.

Q: How do mythology and spirituality inform your work?

BL: I have studied mythology for about 40 years.  I am not an academic.  As I said before, my only further education is one year at Art College, but my study of myth has been extensive.

I discovered the work of Joseph Campbell about the same time that I read the work of the radical American theologian and Prophet Matthew Fox, who I later met and had many enlightening conversation with.  Joseph Campbell’s theory of a hero with a thousand faces is something that I have used in my illustrated lectures on myth and Matthew Fox’s holistic and inter-connected view of spirituality is very useful when coming up against the ecological disaster that we call the modern world.  I gave my first lecture on mythology during one of my poetry reading tours of the USA.  I was due to read my work at the University of Rhode Island and it was suggested to me that the night before my reading I might like to talk to a group called ARIL (The Association for Religion in Intellectual Life).

I was a bit nervous as I had left school at the age of 15 without any qualifications but Robert Parker Sorlien said that it was a friendly group and that my extensive studies did not need pieces of paper to validate them.  I thought to myself ‘I can talk to a group of students’ but when we arrived at the hall and they started to file in I noticed that the youngest were in their forties.  I turned to Robert and said ‘you have got a lot of mature students at your university’, he replied ‘No Bill, they are all faculty members, they are Professors’ … it was my baptism of fire but the evening went well! Since then I have given talks to a very varied groups of people.

I think all great art is spiritual.  I don’t believe in God in the way that most people would use the term but there is a mystery at the centre of all things.  Sometimes I call the mystery ‘the Universe’ or sometimes just ‘the Great Mystery’.  You can find this mystery in religion but not always.  I think we need more spirituality and less religion.  I think my personal view of reality can be summed up in a line by the Nicaraguan poet, Ernesto Cardinal.  He writes in his long poem ‘The Song of the Cosmos’, “When I look at a star, it is the star looking at itself with my eye”.

An installation detail from the exhibit

.

Q: What are your observations on the renewal of the Arts?

BL: I am not sure how we can have post-modernism because it implies that Modernism is dead and yet there are really great modernist writers still writing.  Jeanette Winterson, for instance, refers to herself as a Modernist and the late, great, Angela Carter also referred to herself in a similar way.  The fact is the Establishment never liked the idea of Modernism because Establishments by their nature are conservative.  They claimed that the writings of James Joyce made an end for Modernism this just isn’t true.  Stuckism and Remodernism for instance have within their rank and file Neo-Expressionists, Neo-Cubists, Neo-Surrealists, in fact, all of the styles of painting that came out of the Modernist experiment.  Modernism was not a movement as such but an umbrella for all the experimentation of art that emerged in the 20th Century.  In our lives as creative people we can encompass every movement in the Arts from the days of cave paintings through the Renaissance to Modern Art.  However, we do this in a way that is individual to each of us.  If you make a Cubist painting no other Cubist will have made a Cubist painting exactly like that before because it comes through your own personal intelligence.  The same goes for all the other styles and “isms”.  There are as many styles of paintings as there are human beings.

One of the things that I think Stuckism achieved is a renewal of interest in figurative painting which only a decade ago we were being told was dead.

One last point; most people think that Stuckism was anti-conceptual art but in fact we were conceptual artists but we painted our concepts instead of putting a found object in a gallery and sticking a piece of paper on the wall explaining why it was art.  Damien Hurst claimed to be a conceptual artist and yet in a recent interview he said ‘I don’t like art that makes me think’.  I wonder what kind of conceptual artist would say that.

Bill Lewis “Feathers”

Inspired by the novel “Night at the Circus” by Angela Carter

 

MUSIC: Theme Songs for Our Artistic Methods

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

The lyrics:

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

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

-The Remodernism Manifesto

MEMORIALS: On the Veteran Portraits of George W. Bush

George W. Bush “Sergeant Daniel Casara

.

Last March, one morning on the way to work I was fortunate to hear on the radio an interview conducted by Hugh Hewitt. Although he’s often profundly off base on his analysis of events, Hewitt has interesting guests. On this program he was speaking with former President George W. Bush, about a subject I find endlessly fascinating: painting.

George W. Bush’s book of paintings “Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to American Warriors” is a major best seller. It’s currently number one in many of the Art categories on Amazon, a reflection of people’s desire to support our veterans. However, it also reflects a positive response to a surprising development for our retired 43rd President –  his unsuspected creative talents.

Mr. Bush is characteristically humble about his work. He plainly states in the forward of his book he is an amateur: “I’m not sure how the art in this book will hold up to critical eyes. After all, I’m a novice. What I am sure of is that each painting was done with care and respect.”

I always say in real painting there is nowhere for the artist to hide; those reverent emotions towards the veterans the former President depicted are present in his paintings.

It’s an interesting story how Bush came to his art. “I had been an art-agnostic all my life,” he admits. However, as he was leaving office, he became intrigued by the dedication to painting shown by Winston Churchill. Inspired by Churchill’s essay “Painting as a Pastime,” Bush started working with a series of instructors to learn the craft. To his first teacher he stated: “‘Gail, there’s a Rembrandt trapped in this body…Your job is to liberate him.'” He was 66 years old.

The world was surprised in 2013 when hacker Guccifer revealed emails connected to the Bushes had been compromised. Unlike recent leaked Democrat emails, these messages were not full of dirty tricks, backstabbing, and fawning communications from reporters. However, the hacked accounts did expose George Bush paintings, including two sly self portraits in the shower and bath.

bush paintings

Out of the painting closet now, Bush started sharing his new passion openly. He disclosed he had painted pets and landscapes. At the advice of one of his teachers, Bush embarked on a series on world leaders he knew, including his own father:

George W. Bush “The Dalai Lama”

.

George W. Bush “Hamid Karzai

.

George W. Bush “George H.W. Bush”

.

The real focus of Bush’s post-presidency has been supporting wounded veterans.  Through the Bush Center Military Service Initiative, post 9-11 veterans and their families gain assistance transitioning back to civilian life. It was natural Bush’s two great interests came together. “Portraits in Courage” shows paintings of some of the veterans Bush has come to know. Proceeds from the books sales are going to support the Bush Center’s programs.

George W. Bush “Sergeant Major Christopher Self”

.

In addition to painting the veterans’ portraits from photographs, Bush tells their stories as well. He describes why they joined the military, how they served, how they were wounded in the line of duty. He then shares the triumphs and challenges each faced during recovery, and how he met them during his presidency and Bush Center events. These stories are not sugar coated; they acknowledge the true difficulties involved. But the overarching theme is inspirational, as the veterans speak of their determination and pride to be part of the United States Military.

There is much discussion about the gap between the experiences of the armed services and civilians. “But that civilian-military divide, I think Portraits of Courage may help bridge that by giving people glimpses into their lives, not just the painting,” Bush says; “… the stories are more important than the paintings.”

A notable example of these differences are attitudes about George W. Bush himself. While the civilian population,  agitated  by a relentlessly hostile media, turned very negative towards Bush during his presidency, he was always well regarded by the troops who served under him. As recently as 2014, 65%  of post 9-11 veterans stated Bush was a good commander in chief.

George W. Bush “Staff Sergeant Jack Schumacher,Sergeant William J. Ganem”  

.

Time has been good to the reputation of Bush, perhaps because the current White House occupant is the subject of persistent histrionic Establishment meltdowns. Now partisan media types think it’s okay to make some positive comments about Bush, while still pouring on the typical gallons of bile and venom. Even cultural critic hacks have been cautiously laudatory. “The quality of the art is astonishingly high,” the New Yorker mentions in their column of recycled insults. “An evocative and surprisingly adept artist who has dramatically improved his technique,” The New York Times grudgingly admits during their litany of blame. Fake news CNN headlined their 2014 article that Bush’s paintings show “his softer side.”

Filtering out the ideology, I agree with the critics. As a painter, I recognize the work that went into his paintings, the ongoing series of judgments needed to reimagine the dimensions of life onto a flat canvas. Bush seems to have developed the instinct for applying paint so that it communicates. The works are full of personality, mood, and incorporate real moments of finesse. Other more awkward passages just enhance their expressive power. As noted by the co-founders of both the Stuckism and Remodernism art movements, amateurs willing to take chances, to reveal their own shortcomings, are the ones who push us forward:

The Stuckist is not a career artist but rather an amateur (amare, Latin, to love) who takes risks on the canvas rather than hiding behind ready-made objects (e.g. a dead sheep). The amateur, far from being second to the professional, is at the forefront of experimentation, unencumbered by the need to be seen as infallible. Leaps of human endeavour are made by the intrepid individual, because he/she does not have to protect their status. Unlike the professional, the Stuckist is not afraid to fail.

-Billy Childish and Charles Thomson, The Stuckist Manifesto

In that previously mentioned Hewitt interview, it was exciting to hear former President Bush speak in terms I could relate to as an intuitive artist. It’s worth reviewing some of the words he used that showed me here was a fellow artist, working to coordinate his hand, eye, mind and heart, to share his vision of life and his connections to humanity.

George W. Bush Quotes About Painting

“The thing about painting is you never finish a painting. I mean, there’s always something, at least in my case, there’s always something I could do to improve, and so at some point in time, you had to have the discipline to say I’m moving onto another portrait.”

“A really good artist came to my studio with my instructor, and he said you know, I think you can paint. You ought to try to paint the world leaders with whom you served. And it was such an uplifting statement, because what he was saying was seek new heights. Try something different.”

“First of all, the painting has got a lot of paint on it. And, which I think conveys a sense of confidence in painting. The first ones I painted, the world leaders, it was real tight brush strokes. You know, I was trying to get it exact. And these are much looser. I think it’s a tribute to my instructors, and a tribute to time at easel.”

“…I don’t think the quest to develop a style that you can express yourself as fully as you want ever ends.”

“…painting is ahead of me for sure. It’s one of the great learning experiences, Hugh. It’s, you know, I think about it all the time. When I get back this weekend, I’ll paint. And I’m looking for a new project.”

George W. Bush in the studio

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

PAINTINGS: Climb, Climb

Richard Bledsoe “Climb, Climb” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 30″

.

Another 2017 painting. This one was begun long ago; the vision that produced this one was triggered by the lyrics of a Meat Puppets song, “Climbing.”

Climb, climb, I always climb
Out of bed in the morning on a mountain made of sand
And I know this doesn’t rhyme
But the clutter on the table has been getting out of hand

The image is not a literal illustration of the lyrics, but I appreciated the sentiment.

Back when I started the drawing came quick. However, piece then joined the works in progress stack of paintings stuck in the corner of the studio, where it lingered.

One of my mantras is there is nothing more inspirational than a deadline. When I was asked to be the featured artist for the exhibit “The Journey” at Desert Springs Community Church’s Call To Art, I knew this painting had to be part of it. Thinking about my own journeys in life got me very excited about finishing this piece.

I often describe painting as a series of interlocking contrasts: light and dark, abrupt passages and gradual passages, color against color. Another element I like to contrast is the naturalistic and the stylized. Here I put a very exaggerated figure into a rather subtle and realistic appearing landscape. Of course it is a green mountainside, which is not expected, but that was the vision I had. At my best I’m just taking dictation.

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

.

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?

.

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

.

.

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

.

.

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

.

.

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

ARTICLE: The Death of University Art Programs, Part 3: Ignorance as a Method of Critique

Professor Walter Gaudnek: He recommended an anatomically correct, if not politically correct, addition

.

“You should just paint a vagina on it, it would be much better,” Walter Gaudnek, the professor, is accused of telling an undergraduate last semester. “You can’t paint the Virgin Mary like this, she would be fucking pissed,” he added, according to a letter of instruction placed in his personnel file and provided to Inside Higher Ed via an open-records request. News of the letter was originally reported by The Orlando Sentinel.

-LINK to the ARTICLE: Critique vs. Harassment by Colleen Flaherty

.

So I don’t know how this guy beat the normal witch hunt that gets whipped up every time someone offends a special snowflake student with a questionable comment. Professor Gaudneck is getting off light, with a slap on the wrist it seems. Perhaps it has something to do with the bigotry of low expectations for university arts programs. In the article another art professor comments as far as standards go, “art is ‘a low-coherency field in which experts routinely disagree about even foundational principles…’”

With colleagues like that, who needs enemies? Low coherency indeed.

Perhaps there is some anti-Christian bias working in his favor here. Without seeing the student work in question, it’s hard to know the context of his criticism. If the thrust of the painting was a sincere religious effort, then of course the Academy would support deriding it. Who cares if the backwards Jesus people get offended? They are an approved target in the crypto-Marxist hellholes our colleges have become.

Gaudeck seems a pretty unremarkable establishment Post Modern artist, appropriating images from Classical artworks and redoing them as crude coloring book illustrations. He also seems to have an affinity for painting Hitler.

Walter Gaudnek: Again with the Hitler

Reading about this strange little controversy reminded me of my college art school experiences, and also filled me with dread. Back in the 1990s I experienced the decaying practices of upper level art education. I can only imagine what the bullying identity politics and virtue signalling of Progressives have turned university art programs into for today’s wishy washy Millennials. From what I have encountered, sophistry has completely devoured the credentialed art world, and inside that bubble, specious double talk stands in for artistic accomplishment.

I saw the evidence this was coming during my student days. In retrospect I can see the pattern. The older professors, trained under the more rigorous standards of an earlier era, tended to talk less, hanging back while we students engaged with our work, and only stepping in with technical pointers and observations as needed. It was some of the younger teachers, the adjuncts and the graduate students, who just wouldn’t shut up.

Instead of focusing on studio experience, the favored practice of this newer generation of instructors was to assign projects as homework, to be brought into the classroom for the grim slog of the never ending critique.

So many of my classes ended up falling into this dynamic. Imagine a group of more-or-less introverted teens and twentysomethings. These are visually oriented as opposed to verbally oriented people: aspiring artists. Because of their youth and lack of training, they are profoundly ignorant of solid intellectual concepts and analytical processes. This is not an insult, merely an acknowledgement of their level of maturity and education. They’ve come to a university to try to improve these deficiencies.

But ultimately it’s a bunch of inexperienced students, who are very engaged and passionate about making things-which happens to be very different than talking fluently about making things. And yet the expectation and the emphasis being placed by the teachers was on words, words, and more words.

These types of classes were very repetitive. Projects were usually not too structured, we were just expected have work to present in class. We’d bring in our pieces, pin them to the wall or set them up on easels, and sit in a ragged semi-circle to contemplate them. Then the speechifying would begin.

The critique model was very different than the group critiques I had taken part in during my beginning art classes. Back then the emphasis had been clear cut discussions of craftsmanship in regards to specific assignments. But now, what little guidance we received from the instructors of the upper level classes aimed our dialogs into the more rarefied atmosphere of Concepts.

Now this might have been productive if we had actually been led in discussions that allowed us to gain understanding of the meanings, methods, and purposes of art. However, the instructors were not much assistance in making this critique method practical. They were usually right there with us novices as far as the quality of their commentary went. Their blather was only distinguished by a larger vocabulary of buzzwords, a greater working knowledge of art history, and an air of dubious authority.

We knew we were supposed to be engaged in a discussion of the successes or failings of the work presented. But what it came down to was a bunch of mostly inarticulate kids trying desperately to sound smart and insightful about art, a subject which is historically infamous for being difficult to put into words. We sure didn’t know how to go about this, so we’d just throw out whatever and hoped it would connect.

It was usually an awkward and halting free for all. The mood was brittle. We’d take turns; everyone got their moment under the microscope. The discussion would go around the room. We were given the chance to make a brief statement about our own work, and then the rest of the class would comment.

We’d try a little of everything in response to the works we were looking at: offer irrelevant suggestions, go off on tangents, tell meandering anecdotes, make inappropriate confessions, hurl accusations, violate the rules of logic and decency in trying to make some obscure point, complain, change the subject, grand stand. At last the teacher would swoop in with some kind of cynical and pontificating final judgment, and we’d move on to the next victim.

This went on week after week, class after class.

Virginia Commonwealth University prided itself on being a school for so-called advanced art. Abstract, non-objective, and conceptual pieces were in. It became obvious it mostly didn’t matter what caliber of art work you showed up with; as long as you adopted the highfalutin jargon of the academic world to discuss it, it was taken seriously.

Just how to make all this this ill-informed opinionating into something usable was beyond me.

In the blind alleys we were directed into, the criteria being used to evaluate the works seemed on the surface completely arbitrary. But in fact, the more feeble the efforts were, the more opportunities it gave to launch into peripheral diatribes regarding half-baked sociology, aggravated psychology, convoluted technobabble and the like. This was the kind of talk that got these teachers really excited, subtly reinforcing that this was where our attention ought to be focused.

Rewarding certain behaviors encourages more of those types of behaviors. And so most students were dutifully herded into producing slapdash experimental works, and talking about activism, therapy and pedantic minutia, rather than trying to understand if an artwork functioned effectively on its own terms, as art. It was easier to adopt the lofty lecturing tone of the instructors, to curry favor by asserting the approved beliefs and attitudes.

Encouraging attitudes of grievance and victimization, or highlighting incidental matters of process or technique, does not lead to powerful art. But it does lead to the generation of thought police, dependent personality disorder types, and detached technocrats-all useful cogs for the Leftist machine. The indoctrination continues.

I participated in the tedious discussions, but I was always felt we were missing the point. We were not taught about how genuine art is made, or why. We were trained to substitute opaque discourse and tribal signaling for skillful achievement.

These endless deconstructive debates might not have done our art much good, but it was sure setting us up to take part in the approved modes of the establishment art world. They think if they pile enough words together, they can justify anything. However, they are profoundly wrong. Real art is self evident, and does not need to be propped up with a bunch of meaningless art speak.

 

We don’t need more dull, boring, brainless destruction of convention, what we need is not new, but perennial. We need an art that integrates body and soul and recognizes enduring and underlying principles which have sustained wisdom and insight throughout humanity’s history. This is the proper function of tradition.

-The Remodernism Manifesto

Click here for THE DEATH OF UNIVERSITY ARTS PROGRAMS PART 1: ERIC FISCHL

Click here for THE DEATH OF UNIVERSITY ARTS PROGRAMS PART 2: THE CORCORAN COLLAPSE