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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