Archive for March, 2010

Stealing Lunches – Learning History

An artist must use recent and distant achievements in their art for education and inspiration.  You must know the work of your precursors on as many levels as possible.  You cannot not know the history of your art.  Imagine your art as an arena or as a schoolyard.  This schoolyard is full of upperclassmen and very tough classmates.  The quality of your work is directly related to how many of their lunches you eat or at least get a bite of prior to getting your ass kicked.

The worlds of contemporary painting and music are over-crowded with wall flowers, people who huddle along the fences minding their own business, doing their own thing –  things that are always hermetic, untutored, pale, boring, frantic, peculiar, lame, self-absorbed and unfulfilling.  Get out in the center, walk up to Picasso, grab his lunch sack, add some onions or peppers to his bologna sandwich and call it your own.  The next day go over to Van Gogh, grab his lunch pail, take out his peanut butter sandwich and add some sliced banana and call it your own.  Every artist of note has confronted a wide array of precursors – they all got their asses handed to them, got their noses bloodied time and again for their audacity, for their courage.  They collected battle scars from their encounters with the work that defined their canon.

You can always spot an artist who simply looked at a lot of reproductions or visited a lot of museums and failed to actually experiment with paint – it is as if they had no encounters with the schoolyard dominators at all.  You can tell which musicians huddled over by the backstop with a small circle of admiring friends while the big boys controlled the center.  The torch of one’s art must be taken from many other artists who may be alive or dead.  You will get clobbered but there is at least a chance for a measure of pride for valiant effort.  Muhammad Ali, a great artist of the boxing ring, got hit so ferociously and so many times that he was permanently injured.

Force a series of encounters with the contenders in your schoolyard or be doomed to mediocrity.  “Hey Beethoven what did mommy pack our little music man today?”  “Jackson Pollock !  Yeah you – I’m talkin’ to you – let’s see it – what you got in the sack? Ouch!  Jackson packs quite a wallop.  “You guys wait here – I wanna bite of that Hendrix kid’s apple.”  Go after your precursors one at a time.  Get into their heads.  Steal as many of their ideas as you can process.  Picasso said, when accused of stealing ideas from other artists, “I steal from everybody – I try not to steal from myself.”

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“Pencil” 24″ x 36″ – powder pigment- 2002

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“Woman with the Moon” 14″ x 14″ – acrylic – 2010

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“Toaster” – 8″ x 10″ – pencil & photo on paper – 1999

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“Tiger @ Seattle Zoo” – 11″ x 18″ – Flair pen on rice paper – 1968

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“Green Stockings” – 24″ x 36″ – acrylic – 2009

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“Girl in Red” – 24″ x 24″ – Acrylic on Panel – 2010

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“Swelltown” – A Parable for Our Time

The Parking Lot Analogy: You live in Swelltown, with only one big supermarket.  The parking lot holds five hundred cars.  A parking space is normally seven feet – six inches (compact) to eight feet (average sized cars).  One night the parking demon re-stripes the entire lot, making the spaces six feet – ten inches wide.  Upon first glance one would not notice the change.  The driving lanes in the lot were reduced a couple of feet in width as well.  These changes allow the owner to fit forty additional cars onto his lot.  In the following days and weeks there are far more door dings and dents than before.  People have to wait for a car to back out before they can squeeze to their car door.  All drivers have to be more careful navigating the lanes.  Tempers flare in this lot day and night.  The level of anxiety in town becomes so high that Swelltown’s only psychologist has to call for reinforcements.  There harsh words and  fist fights  every day in the new parking lot.  The store has a pharmacy and business is booming due to all of the new prescriptions for mood stabilizing drugs.  Those fifty new parking spaces have added handsomely to the store’s profit margin.  There have been so many lawsuits filed for assault,   reckless endangerment, and property damage related to all of the freshly dented cars, that several law firms from a nearby big city have opened branch offices in Swelltown.

The mood in town has turned from sweet to sour.  Nice people begin moving away.  The local real estate market gets white hot.  Lots of turnover.  Real estate agents are happy.  All of the new homeowners need interior designers.  The new homes need to be expanded to store more food to minimize trips to the horrible parking lot.  Architects are happy.  So many teeth have been damaged in the parking lot fights that dentistry is booming and cosmetic surgeons are thriving as they repair broken noses.  Luckily for the professional class of Swelltown, there is a more expensive boutique market where they can shop using traditional eight foot wide spaces.  They stay cool and calm as they prosper, vacationing at regular intervals.   Things have never been better for the professionals of Swelltown and things have never been worse for the remaining ninety-five percent of the town’s population.

The Parking Lot Analogy is an example of social convection in The Big Engine.  Some people rise in the economy but most people fall.  People rise and fall like warm and cool air in a weather system.  This human convection drives the economy.  Can you spot the weenies in this story?  The re-striping of the parking lot is a big red weenie with drastic negative repercussions for the nice people of Swelltown.  We didn’t hear much in the Swelltown Gazette about the re-striping because the supermarket buys the entire wednesday edition for its grocery specials.  Store owner to Swelltown citizen: “We’re fucking you six ways from sunday and if you complain we will sell you the appropriate pharmaceuticals to set your mind right.”  If you put on your weenie glasses, you can see a big red weenie dangling out of the butt of every single person in town from age six to eighty- six.  The re-striping weenied everyone but a select few  are making a killing on the misery of the good people of Swelltown.  Weenie accrual adds the negatives of psychic and financial burden that drag you down into a more stressful realm.  A synergy of loss is set in motion.  Play the game of Trace the Weenies.  How far can you track the negative forces in your life;  into your own past or out into your community?  You may not be the source of much  but you have the power to control it all.

Where do you see re-striping in your life?   You can quell personal demons until hell freezes over but if the lot is being re-striped, your bliss will be impacted.  Cell phones have drastically lowered the sound quality of the average telephone call.  This miracle device has brought third world phone quality to us all.  The financial meltdown of 2008, Bank fees, credit card fees, Telephone Company fees have re-striped our bank accounts.  The obliteration of small, locally owned businesses by national franchises and box retailers, has gutted most medium and small American towns.  Old news, Whew!  What a sad loss this has been.

The franchise revolution of the past forty years (documented in Fast Food Nation) has added a dismal homogeneity to these small towns.  It has enabled the centralization of the meat and potato industries, gutted labor unions and lowered the Common diet denominator to a point where it is alarming us all.  It is disturbing to see a full-page full-color advertisement in a national weekly news magazine for a drug that combats male depression that is placed directly adjacent to a feature article on the rise of male depression in America.  What a coincidence.


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“Runway 210” – 5′ x 7′ – oil on canvas – 1985

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“Stockings” – 24″ x 36″ – ink markers – 2000

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