Musings for August, 2015

“Carole, if the market is made up of art ‘pollution’, then why worry if it becomes worthless?
It is not the art that matters, anyway. I have a question though: could you please give examples of contemporary art that you consider worthy?”


We could say the same about music…If music hurts our ears, we can turn it off. If art pollution hurts our eyes, how can we snuff it out? I guess we can choose not to look at it, but It is still there!  Mediocre art in our face, over and over again. Does this not lower standards, for everyone?
I agree that the act of creativity, “making”, is for the artist, as important as the end result–for the artist. But if not evaluated, and carefully scrutinized by the artist, and maybe his dealer?, the resulting “facile” glut of art that clogs the market is pollution that lowers standards of the entire art world. The art that rises to the “top” is a tiny bit, of the top 1%, made by artists who actually attain important art careers. We must be careful to separate, here, the great artists from the “popular” artists that have risen to the top, driven by clever businessmen art dealers, etc. who were able to advertise the artists in their stables, and create a market that over the past decades, has become ever more expensive.
In my mind, examples of contemporary art that is “worthy” of greatness, have yet to be decided. We will only know this, as the history of art progresses through time. The geniuses will rise to the top over time. Those who last, will be those who have something important to “say”, and those who have changed the direction of Art History.

Meanwhile, we in the art world, can work on developing our “taste”.  Separate the mediocre, from the art that has the ability to make you see the world in a new way. Challenge your students to go beyond the facile, and the easy. Dig deep inside your souls and express the tough, and the best ideas of which you are capable. Do not accept average, for your clients, or your students. Keep striving for your greatest and most authentic expressions. Art is more than nice technique. Art is more than the ability to copy a beautiful landscape. Art needs to move us to feel deeply, it should move our minds to think differently, in expanded ways.

In my humble opinion, a Great work of Art, imprints on our brain, and stays, so that we can bring up the image of in whenever we think about it. In my case, I still remember the space, and the place I was in, when I stood in front of Picasso’s “Guernica”, for the first time. I was 21.  I still remember the museum in Holland, where I walked down a long corridor of Rembrandt paintings, with the giant Night Watch, at the end of the space. I stood in front of the beautiful glazes on the smaller Rembrandt paintings, and at 26, I was so moved that I cried. Experiencing these great works, were memorable life experiences, for me.  When did you stand in front of an art work, and become so moved, that it made you cry?

As for CONTEMPORARY ART,  I need to go back to the last century.  In the whole art realm, the 20th century is still contemporary.   I was educated during the era of Abstract Expressionism.  It was so difficult for me to understand abstraction, then, and to know why it had merit.  It took years and years of imbedding myself in this art style, to really understand and appreciate why it was great.  Art is subjective.  Art is personal.  Art speaks to each of us in a different way.  If I speak for myself, I fell in love with the works of Willam De Kooning.  He seemed to be the expressionist who went the deepest into this movement.  His works were luscious and painterly, and his color was alluring. The surfaces of his works were so inviting.  You felt like you wanted to touch them, and feel the sensuality he created by his troweled on swaths of paint.   It captivated my interest by its uniqueness, in those years.  His compositions were uninhibited, and not contrived.  They were open honest expressions coming from his soul, and not edited by his brain.  This was, for me, the epitome of abstract expression.

All art is about expression in some way.  Those artists who can reach deeply into their subconscious minds, and express without editing with their brains, are the best creators, in my humble opinion.


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We have removed the name of the artist, on the first painting below. I hesitate to criticize any artist, as I do not want any sincere artist to feel rejection, or negative criticism of his or her work. Every artist has a right to express themselves in the best way that they can, and who am I to discount any authentic, creative act?

However, after studying art and abstraction for a lifetime, there are some things I have to say about the quality of abstraction in art. I lived through the 1950’s, and was in art school in the 1960’s. We were bombarded with abstract expressionism. DeKooning was our hero. One can wonder why. Why did this man, who’s paintings were crude, huge, and often done on newspaper, with house paint, leave such an impact on us? Why do his paintings move us to such deep reactions? Why is he a great, great painter –Perhaps one of the greatest painters of the 20th century?

In looking at the two paintings below, I see why the purity of abstraction, done in the mid-twentieth century, stands head and shoulders above the abstract painting that is being done today. Today’s artists seem to be pursuing novelty, technical toys, and pat designs and colors. Abstract art today seems so contrived. Where is the gut wrenching honesty? Where is the artist’s soul expressed?

To use these two paintings as examples, one can see that the first painting is a “design”. Shapes and marks on a canvas, honestly made by an artist who is interested in filling the canvas with colors, shapes and lines that are pleasing to look at. For me, that is mostly all that is there. The title implies that these shapes may be inspired by music. We can see the rhythm of some musical composition. The overall impact of this painting is shallow. It captures my attention, but for a moment. It is much too easy to read.

Look at the second painting by Frankenthaler.  Seemingly a simple composition, at first glance, it draws me in, and makes me want to look more, and look carefully. I am intrigued by the shapes and the references to objects from my experience. Can it be a human figure splayed across the canvas? Are there references to landscape? Of what does it remind me?  Then, I take it apart formally. Look at the color…Look at the line. Look at the shapes, and the sizes of the shapes. How does this make me feel? The artist has given me so much to look at, on so many levels. What is the meaning? What is the poetry? Why is it so appealing? What is that small shape of green doing there? If one blocks out the green, the composition completely changes and becomes shallow, and contrived. The green clicks the composition into place, and completes the painting. The line drawn through the white shape is pure poetry. It adds visual texture to the work. It implies form. One sees the artist’s hand, and one is moved by the confidence, the sensitivity, and the complexity of this line. It says so much. There is mystery. What is the red shape? What does it tell us? Why is it there? It helps to lead our eye around the canvas. It points the way to the green, and the bottom of the canvas. It acts as a counterpoint to the very strong white shape that diagonally slices across the canvas. I feel the soul of this artist, and I want to look and look and look at this work. It is like a great musical composition that one wants to listen to again and again.

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An Icon for your city? An Icon for San Diego?

There are some very fine, distinguished gentlemen, trying to do a good thing for San Diego.

When I attended their recent talk, they emphasized that San Diego needed an “Iconic” symbol, that would represent our city, in the way the Eiffel Tower represents Paris, and in the way the giant arch represents St. Louis, Missouri. They presented their idea: Two very large shaped sculptures, in the form of abstract Sails . These would rise over 350 feet above our harbor, next to the popular tourist attraction, The Navy ship, USS Midway. They showed photos, and described the project. It would be made of titanium (Think Frank Ghery’s Disney Center, or the Museo Billbao in Spain). They would not turn or move, but would be a giant symbol for our city.

The design was done by an architect, not an artist. In my humble opinion, it is mediocre at best. What are they thinking? This huge, gigantic double shaped thing is not iconic at all. It does not even represent most of our city. We are about much more than sailing boats. The metal will catch the Western afternoon sun, and probably the Eastern morning sun, as well. Think of the glare! There are many high rise buildings behind this proposed sculpture. This huge thing will block so many views of the harbor, bay and ocean. Bad idea!!!

I agree we need a monumental icon for San Diego–but let’s rise above the mediocre. Let’s have a truly great artist come up with the design, the idea, the concept. There seems to be money already set aside for a good part of this project to be realized. Yikes! How can we relate to these important business men, that they need to consult with people of taste and understanding, before railroading through an idea which will bring our city down to mediocrity again! I was born here, and I care. Can’t we get a learned committee, or some art consultants who will select artists who know their stuff, to come up with an Icon that portrays our parks, our military bases, our beaches, our zoo, and our theaters and museums, as well as our farms and mountains in the back country of San Diego?

San Diego is truly a GREAT city.  Let’s not plop down a weak structure, tying to be a sail, to represent all of us.

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Is Art all over?

Every day I receive a “pile” of e mails from various art news letters, magazines, galleries, artists, and art consultants.

I see the same kinds of art everywhere. I see the same art that I’ve been looking at for decades. Is it true that nothing is original? Are new, and younger artists just repeating what has gone before?

Is most of the art in today’s world derivative? Where are the artists that make us think? Where are those that explode what has gone before, into art exploring new directions, and new ideas? Has the art world become just another place where hype is emphasized, for greed?

It seems to me that there is a lot of what I call “art polution” in the world today. Why do it, if you have nothing to say?

If you feel genuinely called to be an artist, why not stay very still for a very long time, and listen to your soul. Listen to what it is inside you that has something authentic to say to the world. Keep away from museums and galleries and art periodicals and internet art. Just make what expresses that which you need to say, truly, from deep inside you.

This is what makes the Mozarts, the De Koonings, the Jaume Plensas in our world:
true authenticity and a vision to create outside the accepted, contrived, media seen everywhere around us. Dear Artist, please be your true authentic self.

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of sharing an afternoon with one of the most gracious, Super Achiever, Artists, of our time: Martha Longenecker. Martha started out as a painter, and back in the ’50s became enamored with Pottery and Ceramics. There was a noted group in California then, in crafts and ceramics. Martha was part of this group, and she also traveled to Japan in those days. There, she became acquainted with the famous pottery master, Hamada. He took a liking to this charming woman, and she was invited back to Japan many times. Fast forward to the 1960’s, where I met Martha teaching Ceramics and pottery throwing, at San Diego State University. She was imbued with a passion and a spirit for aesthetics that was contagious.

She became a great influence in my life, and we mutually adored each other. Fast forward again: Martha retired from SDSU, and went on to found the Mingei Museum in Balboa Park, San Diego. She was the founding director, and a most wonderful, unique institution grew under her tutiledge. It is now one of the most popular musuems of Folk Art in the United States. There are many backers, and endowments from knowing individuals, who saw the amazing work she did, with the best of taste and quality. Truly the Mingei Museum is one of the treasures of San Diego, CA.

Martha is 90 now. I invited her over to visit, and to see the modern home I built on a hillside. I thought she would enjoy the view. She amazed me yet, again! Driving her own car, she whirled into my home, and drunk it all in, in a few moments. She was complimentary, and wanted to try sitting in the low Barcelona chair. I was worried that at her age, she would have trouble maneuvering. Not her! She sat, experienced the chair, and then said she would like to try sitting in the Corbusier chaise lounge. This is no easy feat. Once in it, it is difficult to get out! Martha would not be discouraged. In it she went, and loved the way it supports your back. She had no trouble at all, at 90 years of age, maneuvering that sculpture of a chair. I was very impressed with this, and with everything she said in the next two hours of our chat. She is charming, open, willing to share ideas, personal feelings, and enthusiastic to relate all the upcoming lectures, and talks she has been invited to give, at various insitutions around our state. She is being inducted into a local Woman’s hall of fame. She is really about 50 years old in her mind and in her actions! I was so impressed. What is it that keeps one enthused with life? What keeps us “outside” ourselves, as we grow older, not dwelling on how our bodies hurt, but what next, can we learn? How can we participate in the joys of our lives, even at 80 or 90 years of age? This woman gave me such an inspiring lift, yesterday…and her spirit that impressed me in 1965, is still there, inspiring and uplifting us all.

Bravo, Martha Longeneker. I hope you will live to 110!

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I had dinner tonight with an accomplished Architect in our city.  He is FAIA, and well respected in this community of one million people.  I was surprised to hear him say that at this end of his life, (he is in his 80’s),  certain things about his career are not as important as they once were.  Do we get “burned out”?  Do we lose our enthusiasm and passion for our creative projects? When do we turn from being adamant about getting the details “just right”, to being blase and accepting of deviances from our original designs.  One should not tolerate the loss of passion, and committment to excellence, in what ever creative work we undertake.  Never give in!  Never let up!  Always expect the best of yourself.  The paying client deserves our very best efforts, no matter how many years we have been creating…buildings, environments, works of art, novels, or whatever!!!   Always be the best you can be, and you will never have regrets.   Shhhhh from the art whisperer……

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