Teachable Moment

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In the previous post I revisited my complaint about Ellsworth Kelly, who is representative, who perhaps even exemplifies, the false art that has become a staple of contemporary museums and university art history programs.  It has dawned on me over night that this topic brings with it the potential of a teachable moment.  So, I have decided to launch a kind of anti-Ellsworth project here, which can begin with Ellsworth (a topic that brings many viewers to this blog) but which leads toward what I hope can be a more fulfilling and genuine encounter with a living, everyday art.  Since I’ve always felt that one should begin wherever one finds oneself, I will begin this “tour” for the Ellsworth visitors with an Ellsworth Kelly-like idea.  Perhaps other readers may find something fun and useful in it as well.

So.  I was at Lowe’s hardward store this morning, and seeing the paint sample display I thought naturally enough about Ellsworth Kelly, my blog and my previous arguments.  Having already told readers that they could do their own “Kelly” pictures quite as easy as pie using hardward store paint samples, I decided to grab a bunch and do it myself!  Hardware stores are devoted to the “do-it-yourself” ethic, so it seemed entirely ripe and just and good to apply this ethic to art — even to the High Museum Art.  Let the art world learn something from the world at large, I say.

Above is the first result.  I took the squares and placed them side by side.  You can compare them with the Kelly image that I first posted here.  This one has fewer squares, they are all colored squares with no white or black spaces.  I arranged them quickly in what struck me as a pleasing harmony.  This pattern is more “raw” in comparison to Kelly’s chessboard-like image.  But then, I was in a hurry and felt that spontaneity has its own virtues.  Mine has shadows and messy elements of things not lining up perfectly.  I think they lend it character.

You can do the same thing, obviously.  In subsequent posts, I will complicate this project.

Creativity verses Ellsworth Kelly

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Vincent Van Gogh, back when he was a nobody, wrote eloquently about the dangers of putting over much confidence in “names” in art.  He was prescient.  Today the official art of the museums consists almost entirely of names — which is to say that the contemporary objects on display do not necessary strike a visual person as being particularly interesting to look at, yet we are urged to accept the objects as the highest forms of art.  And it strikes me as significant that the chief selling points of the objects is that they are purportedly made by “important” artists of our era, who are usually people that we’ve never heard of.

A certain kind of art is plausible only for audiences that possess a university degree.  No farmer from either Missouri or Bangladesh is likely to be persuaded that a uniform grouping of various colored squares is important to look at or to contemplate.  However, the same inartistic farmer might be very moved by the extraordinary skill evident in something like the precise rendering of forms found in Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks.

It’s obvious in the case of the uniform squares that anyone could produce a similar effect and equally obvious in the case of the Leonardo that one is seeing something rare, difficult, meaningful, enigmatic and skillfully made.

I’m discovering from my blog stats that a surprising number of people are visiting here specifically in search of information about Ellsworth Kelly, since my one previous post on the man has garnered the most traffic of any of my posts!  (Sigh.)  I’m guessing that these unknown visitors are students from classes in contemporary art, come hunting perhaps for useful quotes or information.

To demonstrate my willingness to be helpful, let me refer you to a video on Youtube of an interview with the not terribly interesting and now elderly artist.

The problem of Ellsworth Kelly, which needs to be explained only to educated people and never to farmers from Missouri or Bangladesh, is that he isn’t really doing anything.  It ought to be perfectly obvious, but your college professor is standing there telling you that the man is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and meanwhile perhaps you don’t possess the highest confidence in your own powers of visualization.  But you are being duped.  I’m sorry that there’s no kinder way to phrase it.

Ellsworth Kelly is a classic case of “what you see is what you get.”  His canvases are plain shapes painted different colors and hung on museum walls.  Anyone, however, can get their image on a museum wall these days.  At the top of the post I feature a lovely scene where my painting Lattice shares space with Joan Mitchell abstractions in an enormous exhibit at MOMA.  Lattice really holds its own, don’t you think?  And look how bravely the guard protects my painting, too ….

It would take a long post to explain what art does that Kelly does not do.  The range of things that genuinely comprise what art is includes a great variety of images and objects.  But certainly one short cut to a definition of art in purely practical terms is that it equals something that matters in your own life.  If my readers find genuine meaning in Ellsworth Kelly, if they look at his colored surfaces and find rapture, well far be it from me to dissuade them from whatever works.  But the more visually alert a person is, the more of sensibility that one possesses — whatever intuition of nuance and mood and evocative power stirred by seeing the ordinary objects of common living experience, the images that draw out our deepest feelings and thoughts — these are not, I think, found in his spare fabrications.

They are squares.  That’s what they are.  Somebody tell the professor.  But don’t believe me.  Believe Van Gogh who diagnosed this problem over a hundred years ago.  It’s the worship of “names,”  though even that doesn’t quite explain it in Kelly’s case. Here, it’s the odd worship of nothing.

I first discussed Kelly here.

The flowers keep growing

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The flowers that I began earlier this autumn are coming along slowly.  I took a siesta for a bit, but I get back to them from time to time.  The great thing about drawing a vase of fake flowers is that they are quite patient.  The only change that comes upon them is dust.  And it is far too minute to be decernible in my depiction!

I am coming to terms with the floral pattern on the cloth behind the flowers.  And it’s daunting the amount of visual “stuff” that lies before your eyes that you can contemplate and attempt to portray.

I think the picture has come a long way, yet there’s potentially very much that could be done still.  An earlier view of the picture can be found here.

Working in fits and starts

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I work in fits and starts, and recent weeks have been busy with distractions — some of them quite removed from painting and art.  (Unless you consider helping a child make a Halloween costume art!)  But I did get away for a few hours to make a drawing straight from nature — on a lovely autumn afternoon as the guest of this welcoming tree.  You can compare the drawing with a photograph below.

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I think it’d be fun to draw it from the photo, too.  And I may do so.

Or I might not.  I find that I’m often capricious when it comes to making plans.  I’ll call that artistic license!

Reflection and Epiphany

Evolutionary change would work from older to younger, from depths out of a cave and into the light.  Five times, still — do nothing.  Stay home.

Warm light, be still, do nothing anchored in the middle of a great lake as old as time itself — timelessly still like an eye that can see what is real, can choose what is true from what is false.  Rich in wisdom.  Kind in age.  I felt that the earth is good as it is.  That no change could make this crystaline moment any more perfect and full and ripe and good.

In the fall of my youth, a ripe aged autumn.  I chose. Change your voice, I chose.

Not as before, but as of old.

As old as old.