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Manifest International Painting Annual 4

Manifest International Painting Annual 4


My copies of the Manifest INPA 4 arrived today, and when I saw the three boxes containing them I realized I went overboard while ordering and now own three hardbound and four softbound copies of the International Painting Annual. I’m lucky and honored to have had two paintings picked for inclusion in the book, which may be the finest collection of work I’ve seen in any Manifest publication. There’s a special emphasis on the human figure in this one, and it’s quietly rousing to see bodies and faces, as well IMG_5425as the human skull I contributed, rendered in so many different ways, filtered through so many different perspectives and sensibilities. It’s a humbling, but consistently thrilling, experience to leaf through the book slowly and take in so much amazing work. The competition picks three winners–an astonishingly talented Erin Wozniak first and foremost with her comparatively tiny, simple and yet utterly alive figurative painting. The rest of us are presented as finalists–a nice way of singling out the three most remarkable artists and yet still offering ample recognition for the 92 others picked for the book, selected from 1560 entries by 563 artists from 32 different countries.  This year, I’ve failed to get into the first four shows I’ve entered, which is how it goes some years, so the book arrived as a nice reminder that recognition is a cyclical phenomenon, coming and going on its own schedule, to its own rhythms. I’m going to post quite a few of my favorite paintings from the book over the next few weeks, with some brief comments. It’s great to read, up front, how Manifest is still gathering momentum, expanding its exhibition space and its programs, offering more and more opportunities for solo and group shows, simultaneously. If you want to see what people are doing with paint right now around the world, order a copy from Manifest. It’s well worth the price.

Going Mobile

My webmaster and I are upgrading this blog to be more mobile-friendly.  The changes we are making will make the blog easier to load and see on mobile platforms.  

Naturally, having the blog load fast and easy on desktop and laptop computers is always desirable.  That capability remains.

Just for fun, I'm including one of my recent paintings, "Old School, New School".   It seems appropriate.  New school in this case is a mobile ready blog!

Old School, New School


By the way, "Old School, New School" earned an award at the recent Watercolor Society of Oregon's Spring Aqueous Exhibition.  For more about the award, please see my "News & Events" page.  


The post Going Mobile appeared first on Margaret Stermer-Cox.

Fields of color

A Study of a Human Skull, David Oleski

A Study of a Human Skull, David Oleski

At our recent lunch, Rick Harrington reminded me of David Oleski’s work, and I returned to it, at his website, with pleasure. It’s gotten more subtle and complex in execution, and yet in a way even simpler in its effect, than when I looked a few years ago. It’s a remarkable way to start with Impressionism, especially Monet and Seurat, and somehow also evoke work from a century, as well, finding a home that somehow seems to link Mark Tobey with Morandi. I dread most greens, but he appears to have devoted countless hours to finding new ways to see that color. I like how his areas of color seem to sit quietly and stay where they are, without any sense that one area of paint is moving toward another, no hint of gesture, as if a realistic image of a pear has settled into simpler patterns, all the details disappearing like sediment into a map of peach, green, yellow, and ochre. It’s a mystery how he breaks up what he sees into the cross-hatches he’s trying now. His statement, below, suggests that he contends with something I’ve encountered–that many potential collectors see his work as decorative, since it’s beautiful and devoid of metaphoric content. It’s all perceptual, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an attempt to give vision a resonance that evokes something like wisdom and joy. It would look great in a room, but that doesn’t mean it’s decor. I like, in his statement, he talks so much about craft and materials.

I came to the realization that many people don’t really understand what it is that I do. I paint in oils, on stretched linen. These are the same materials used by some of the greatest painters throughout history, from Monet and Van Gogh to Rembrandt and Valesquez. I use non-yellowing linseed oil, and a non-yellowing white, so the colors will not darken with age, even after a century. I paint on the highest quality Belgian linen, which is stronger and will not become permanently stretched and loose like cotton canvas, and is more resistant to bacterial growth.

Next, read about my frames.

This is one of my frames. I have these custom made at a frame shop in north Philadelphia. They’re a dark cherry-stained poplar, and the corners are joined with splines for the strongest and cleanest joint possible. The final clear coat is a satin finish, to best showcase the tight grain of the wood. The frames have a three quarter inch face, and are two inches deep. Every painting I finish is framed with one of these fine pieces of woodwork.

I work on only one painting at a time, working continuously for session after session until it’s finished, and then I’ll use the back end of a brush to scratch my name and the date into the wet paint on the lower right corner. I only work from observation. When I paint apples, there are apples in front of me, when I paint tulips, I’m looking at a bouquet of tulips, and I’m racing against the flowers blooming and wilting with each passing day. I only work by natural light, so I have to calculate my sessions to either finish by sunset, or plan on another session. This process dictates that the painting will always be about observation, and I will always strive to capture how I see, not merely create a painting. The way I work is very thorough and meticulous, to match each color of a still-life and lay it down in a very specific and calculated manner. This is how I learned to paint in art school, and I continue to learn more and more about space and depth and atmosphere with each study that I finish.

All I do is paint, every day, bordering on it being an obsessive/compulsive disorder to either fixate on the current painting or obsess over starting the next one. This is all I do, every single day. My prices have steadily increased every year to maintain demand and assure the investment value of my work to my current and past clients. All poetic reflection aside, I believe what I do is valid and substantial in the eyes of history, and I’m creating a legacy that will live on for many years after I am gone.

Philip Burke at Burchfield-Penney

Philip Burke's Jagger

Philip Burke’s Jagger

Can’t wait to see this just an hour’s drive away. From ArtVoice:

few weeks prior to his exhibit entitled The Likeness of Being: Portraits by Philip Burke, which opens on Friday (4/10) at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Burke met with Artvoice at the office of L.B. Madison Fine Art near his home in Niagara Falls, NY, where much of the work for the upcoming show was being gathered in preparation for display at the gallery.

Moving quickly around a small, sunny room crowded with canvases stacked several deep against the walls, it’s clear that Burke is enthusiastic about his upcoming exhibit—the largest of his career. He points out some early works of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, commissioned for Vanity Fair magazine when it resumed publishing in 1983. The works are smaller—maybe 2 feet by 3 feet—done on cardboard canvasses. “You can see I was poor,” he laughs, “Not that I’m rich now.”

Journaling Retreat ~ Day 1 Afternoon

The aftermath of a frivolous, abundant lunch (where we get to make our own sandwiches and eat as much as we choose) found us pondering our afternoon assignment: Desire Mapping. With a wild collection of collage materials, giant atlases for us to dissect and paintbrushes as well, we each turned inside to depict the elements of what our perfect life and surroundings would look like.

First I had to determine what my priorities were. Like: mountains, rivers, wild, wide vistas, elements of the western United States, being an artist, continued learning and nature and women. Oh – and fearlessness!!! So I cut up a bunch of paper and danced it around my spread out journal pages. I never found an adequate image of an evergreened river’s edge so I watercolored it in first. I decided since I love warm colors, to have that red-orange as a uniting element and then, when I didn’t have those colors where I wanted them, I masked off with artist’s tape the area. Then painted it. Here’s my crazy, delicious Desire Map. I still feel very at “home” just looking at it. You might want to try it!!! T’will make you smile. Promise!!

The One

one_award_seal2From Manifest, check out the impressive prize this year for what has to be the most exacting art competition anywhere. Time to get to work:


$5000 award + solo feature exhibit of the winning work

Open to works of any media, any genre/style, any size…

We are very excited to announce that the annual Manifest Prize (ONE) award is increasing to $5,000. This underscores our non-profit organization’s strong desire to reward, showcase, celebrate, and document the most exceptional artwork being made today, and to do this in a non-commercial public context. Further, it is to incentivize the creation of excellent art. Manifest’s mission is centered on championing the importance of quality in visual art. This project is one aspect of the realization of that mission.

The entry process for the 6th annual Manifest Prize award (ONE 6) is now open.

There are no restrictions on submissions to The Manifest Prize. Artists who have been included in previous Manifest projects are always welcome to submit to any future project, including the Manifest Prize.

MEDIA: Open to any and all traditional and non-traditional visual arts media.

Submission deadline: October 1, 2015
For complete info visit:

The texture of nature

Kebler Pass, detail, with curio cabinet

Kebler Pass, detail, with curio cabinet

A show of Rick Harrington’s paintings opened a few days ago at the Vilona Gallery in Boulder, Colorado. Rick, and his son Todd, met me at the Gatehouse for lunch last week, followed by an hour-long tour of the Memorial Art Gallery. As a road warrior, Rick is my hero. He has logged many thousands and thousands of miles, tens of thousands probably, driving his work to juried fairs around the country. He works hard and then plays hard, too, fly fishing or whitewater kayaking somewhere within a drive of his shows out West and elsewhere. His painting and his immersion in these recreational ventures into the wild are two sides of one activity for him. Someone clever might be able to make the case that they may simply be one activity viewed from two different points in time. He says the process of exploring and interacting with nature, as a prelude to the painting, immerses him in the world, while en plein air painting makes him more of a static observer. His most ambitious work so far has been a series of large, quasi-abstract landscape paintings attached to windowed boxes full of natural artifacts he has collected from the particular place depicted in the painting. (It reminds me of Burchfield’s quirky, obsessive attempt to depict sounds and other non-visual sensations in his paintings, all in the hope of triggering a deeper identification with nature in the viewer). For the past sixteen years, Rick has relied exclusively on his painting for income. His wife, Darby, is a college administrator and a writer, and her steadier income has balanced the ups and downs of Rick’s. Since 2008, the battle has been tougher, but he’s still making it work.

We talked about the shows I’d seen in New York City, and Todd agreed that Donatello was not only one of the greatest sculptors in history, but also one of our favorite Ninja Turtles. Rick can be hard to hear in a crowded restaurant. He has had surgery twice on his vocal cords and his raspy undertones are in the Jack Bauer range, so you have to put down your smartphone and lean in and focus when he speaks. I asked him why he started doing these large landscapes after having so much success with his abstracted barns.

Curio cabinet

Curio cabinet

Rick: Five years ago or so I was looking at galleries, and they were responding more to the landscapes than the barns which was good as far as I was concerned. It would go really well, but at the last minute they would say, but we’ve got this other guy. I would look at what they were talking about. I wouldn’t necessarily see the similarity so much in the work but the similarity for the purpose of selling: the same palette, whatever.

They would say someone who would buy this of yours would buy this other guy’s.

Rick: Right. Which is not at all what I think about when I work. Selling. At the same time, I had to take it into account. That got me started questioning why I was doing what I was doing.

Questioning the barns?

Rick: No, just straight landscape. At the same time I had to deliver a painting down to the Hudson Valley and we stayed overnight and went to Dia Beacon. We saw Richard Serra’s work. There’s that piece like a ship’s prow that blew me away. Then we went to an upper level that had been a turntable where they used to turn locomotives around. When we walked in there, I thought God, I have to work big. Same way I felt when I saw Rothko for the first time. Back then I wasn’t a good enough painter to do it. The old saw is if you can’t paint, paint big. But if you paint big, and you can’t paint, it just sucks, really big. To paint big, it’s hard.

Scale makes it completely different in terms of the brushwork.

Rick: You have to paint so boldly. I’m determined to try a new application of paint. The marks I’m seeing in my head, I have to use big knives or cardboard with cloth over it to hold the paint. I want really big marks. It’s like painting at the outer edge of my ability. It’s paint as its own language. The idea really is, I want you to feel you’re inside the view.

Be inside the scene.

Rick: The ones I’ve done so far up to 12 feet . . . it’s frustrating. That the 12 feet isn’t large enough, that to paint even larger is so much harder, and that it’s all such a gamble–that’s the frustration.

You’ve seen Welliver’s work in person, right?

Rick: Yeah. It’s a constant battle. That piece I put up in that buyer’s home. That painting in that kitchen is four by five feet. It doesn’t look that big. It’s a huge kitchen.

It thought it was a dining room, from the picture.

Rick: That power of scale and then to me not only do you want the image to be compelling, as you move in, do you want the paint itself to be compelling?

Rick and I have had discussions of Walton Ford’s work along these lines. We’re both great admirers of his originality, and with Rick, Ford’s recurrent theme of humanity vs. nature strikes a basic chord. Yet both of us had the same reaction when we’ve seen the work at Kasmin—a reaction I’ve had to some of my own finished paintings as well—where, when you get up close, the way the paint is applied feels disappointing. It’s shorthand that works perfectly from a distance. Yet when you get close to the surface, and it sounds ridiculous to put it this way, but it feels as if he’s disrespecting the paint. In Rick’s terms, the paint isn’t it’s own language, but is completely subservient to the idea and the image Ford is creating. There’s no sensuous commitment to the energy of the paint on the surface—as nothing but paint. It’ll never be an issue for a collector or a critic, when it comes to Ford, but whatever felt lacking at that up-close range in those paintings, this is what Rick wants to be sure is present in what he’s doing now.

Rick: Darby and I went to a beer-tasting dinner with a college friend the other night, and we sat with a professor and a friend who are both psychologists, and we talked about what we all did. They said “what do you do?” I said I’m an artist and was going to let it drop, but Darb asked me to get my phone out and show them. One of them immediately—on the iPhone you can keep enlarging the picture–she said, “that texture is like you’re there. It’s like you’re in the woods.” It’s what Van Gogh was trying to do: to paint the tactile feel of being there. But to me it’s what I like about being outside, all that stimulus calms my head down. It’s what I love about kayaking.

Embedded in that little anecdote, with most of the connective tissue missing, is Rick’s argument for being a painter, as well as his hunger to do it. First, it’s a reason to be outside where the rush of stimulation feeds his A.D.D. sufficiently to calm his mind and reconnect him with the silence of nature. (Painting is one justification for going outside, probably down on the list beneath the fishing and the kayaking.) Second, to experience a place with such intensity that he can convey it in a number of different ways through the act of painting, not simply by getting a viewer to see a representation of the landscape as Rick saw it, but also to apply paint in a way that also conveys the energy of the natural world, as Van Gosh did with his brushwork.

So I asked him how he got from the larger landscapes to the boxes.

Rick: The question, why the larger landscape paintings? Why do I have a bag of rocks and bones with me when I come home from Alaska? When we first moved to South Lima out walking, I found this nice granite rock weighed about 80 pounds. Beautiful orange granite. I carried this rock home two miles. I could carry it 150 yards and then my forearms were so shot, I’d put it down. I’d say, “Take the dog. I have to get my rock.” What? “I’ve got this rock.” Walking along, Darby said, “What are you doing?” I would just drop it. You can’t even use your hands after a while it’s so heavy. I started thinking, wait a minute. I started shoving it under some brush. She said “What are you doing?” Hiding it. “Who is going to want that rock?”

I’ve always been a pack rat that way. Why? To anchor myself in that place. So I started working with that. Sketches, found stuff, casts I make, skulls and bones and rocks. I cast grizzly tracks. I take plaster with me and gauze and embed the gauze in the plaster. When I was a kid I used to do plaster casts of animal tracks. And they all got thrown out. I’ll be with guys around a campfire drinking and I’ll walk away to cast some tracks. You’re an idiot! The next morning though, it blows them away.

You were saying before that this whole series of paintings is a sort of an ecological campaign on your part. . .

Rick: Yellowstone. We were at Yellowstone. It’s like the first time you’re in Yosemite and you’re looking at granite cliffs as tall as Manhattan. You get to the point in Yellowstone, especially as a kid you get up at dawn. Hardly anyone who goes to Yellowstone does that. People are out there all afternoon but the animals aren’t there. They’re all bedded down because it’s hot. You have to go out early. So we had had lunch and walked into an exhibit. Came across a permanent exhibit of Thomas Moran’s work. He went on an early expedition to Yellowstone and he did a bunch of sketches and paintings, and they used those to help convince Congress to establish the park.

Suddenly you’re a Hudson River painter.

Rick: But with the AbEx influence.

I didn’t mean you, I meant anybody, looking at Yellowstone.

Rick: I can’t wait to go back to Yosemite. I took photographs but didn’t even stop to sketch. Photographs cheat the scale. The first time I realized that was when I was scouting whitewater. You take a photograph and look at it at home and you lose the scale. For a long time I was afraid to paint Letchworth Park. I was afraid of getting bogged down in the details. I came home from paddling one day and realized I could paint it. Part of it was just being ready to paint it. That was really my own evolution as a painter–the evolution of the way I interpret what I see.

Behind all of it is the hope that the painting can wake people up to nature.

Rick: That book The Last Child in the Woods. One possible response to A.D.D. is to take kids outside. To me kids are just like dogs. Wear them out. Coaching soccer you get kids all amped up for a game. I’d make them run laps before the game. Parents were complaining, “You’re going to wear them out.” I didn’t care. Show me a ten year old fit enough to play soccer, all you’re going to do is take the edge off. I’m a frustrated environmentalist. If you want to have a conversation that wins the average person, screaming won’t do it. My hope is, like with this Alaska painting, which still scares me to try and do it. I might put $500 dollars worth of paint into it. This last one, I like the paint. If I’m afraid of messing up, I don’t paint well. If I can do a painting compelling enough, beautiful enough, experiential enough, I hope it makes the argument to preserve a place. Many places.

You have to be in that little zone where you’re fairly confident but not quite sure.

Rick: To me it’s sport. You practice and practice and practice. Quit worrying and play. If you’re scared running whitewater, no. If you’re confident in your preparation you can be so fluid that you can be your best self. The first terrifying swim in whitewater I took, like Biblical flooding water. When I swam I got rescued by a power boat. Then I watched a raft, guy went through it backwards, didn’t take a stroke. He knew the path so well. And was so confident. Like any sport, all the practice builds familiarity, and you can leave behind the tension of performance and just play your best, but in a relaxed way, completely free of the concerns about making mistakes.

Afterward, we went across Goodman and wandered around inside the Memorial Art Gallery, and I’m always amazed at how extensive the collection is, how you can live in a community the size of Rochester and drive only a few miles to see a Rembrandt or Titian, Bellows, Porter, Kensett, Homer, Thiebaud. We wandered upstairs and paused briefly in front of a contemporary Chinese scroll painting. It reminded Rick of a dam that will be built in China and he started talking about the effect of dams on the environment—illustrating even more effectively how there’s no way to separate his devotion to nature and his devotion to painting. While we had moved on to a display of seppas, spacers for samurai swords, he was still talking about salmon and the ecological balance of a watershed that depends on them:

Dams are problematic on lots of levels, from the weight of the water behind a damn that size (and the affect that weight has on the bedrock surrounding it), to the elimination of the annual flood cycles, to all the consequences regulated flow has on the downstream ecosystem in ways that are never even thought of ahead of time. In terms of the environment, the Three Gorges dam will destroy a whole ecosystem. Politicians and business people want to say we can’t afford to miss those money making opportunities, but don’t seem interested in any long-term effects, the downside of development, which is often so complex and interwoven, so far reaching, that they can’t be imagined.

Dams disrupt salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest and in British Columbia with the decline of fisheries. Salmon provide a massive import of biomass from everything they eat in the ocean. All fattened up they return to their streams, where they die after spawning, and provide a massive protein dump–hundreds of millions of tons- that is the basis of so much of the food system in each river drainage. From maggots and worms up through bears, wolves. You can detect old salmon DNA in trees. The whole ecosystem developed based on that over centuries, and we decimated it in 75 years. Damns have all but eliminated the natural runs, for a host of reasons. The fry get damaged dealing with the damns downstream, and become easier prey in their weakened state – it goes on and on… to say nothing of the barriers to returning fish making it all the way back up to the spawning grounds. Runs in the Columbia system are thought to be about 5% of what they once were. Imagine how much food there would be if they were back to that level. And the hatcheries touted as the solution turn out to be even further damaging to the native fish, in terms of competition for resources, and possibly most problematic, homogenization of the species. Each creek, each river, has a strain of fish unique to it- affecting the timing of runs, the size of the fish, the path of migration, etc.- that keeps the species as a whole broad enough in characteristics to adapt to environmental calamities. We have narrowed it all down to whatever is most efficient to raise in pens, and dropped duplicate fish into all the streams. Primarily supporting the commercial fishing industry, where the big lobby dollars come from. Salmon farming is another topic all together.

A philosophy of art

KingstonTriopic (1)
Some people say I’m a no-count
Others say I’m no good
But I’m just a natural born travellin’ man
Doin’ what I think I should, oh yeah
Doin’ what I think I should
And I don’t give a damn about a Greenback a-dollar
Spend it fast as I can
For a wailing song and a good guitar . . .
The only things that I understand, poor boy
The only things that I understand.
When I was a little baby
My momma said, “Hey son
Travel where you will and grow to be a man
And sing what must be sung, poor boy
Sing what must be sung.”
–Kingston Trio

Danto’s paradisio

Lauren-Purje_Danto-Title-ImageThis piece from Hyperallergic is a great, accurate overview of Arthur Danto’s singular contribution to art philosophy. Reading After The End of Art was a liberating and crucial experience for me, though his conclusions at the end of the book were dispiriting. Essentially he asserted that, in the Sixties, art arrived at the end of the long history of its struggle toward greater and greater creative freedom. In that decade, and ever since, it was established that anything could be designated as a work of art, and therefore an artist could literally do anything as a means of expression. Everything was, and is, permitted, to echo Dostoevsky’s phrase, in a different context.

The question then becomes, why create art at all? If the need to push art “forward” toward something historically new is no longer possible, then why make art? Danto’s answer was that each individual has to answer that question, one person at a time, and that the answer to the question is baked into the artwork just as a philosophy of life is embedded in a person’s daily actions. Each individual has to explore and understand why he is creating something, in utter freedom–there is no obligation to do anything in any particular way. The work must justify itself, without relying on an historical context: no more schools of art to advocate one way of doing things over many others. (Danto’s point was that whatever virtues one way of doing things has over another, it isn’t because it’s fresher or more “contemporary” or new in the traditional sense or somehow an historical advance over what has come before.) His key insight was that Pop Art was the art movement to end all art movements, liberating all individual artists to do whatever they wished, and think for themselves, as individuals.

Whether Pop Art holds up now as something that’s still interesting, in and of itself, is another matter: he was thrilled by it because he saw it as a completely philosophical way of making art. It was a philosophical act, a statement about the nature of art, more than a finely crafted piece of work. What it implied–that art and life were now ultimately indistinguishablemattered more than any physical or aesthetic qualities it embodied. In essence, as this overview points out, it was as if Hegel’s “end of history” as the destination of the world toward a state of spiritual freedom actually happened in the world of art in a particular decade in America. In the political realm? Not so much. (Especially in those countries living under the political system that grew out of Hegel’s philosophy as a certain fellow by the name of Marx interpreted it.)

Here are excerpts from the piece, illustrated by my favorite Okie, if she’s still out there teaching. I think that’s supposed to be her up there doing her better-groomed distaff version of Jim Morrison  . . .

It wasn’t Warhol’s subject matter that shocked the philosopher, but its form. Whereas Warhol’s paintings of coke bottles and soup cans were visual representations, the artist’s Brillo box sculptures — silkscreened plywood facsimiles of actual Brillo boxes — were virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. If one placed one of Warhol’s sculptures beside a real Brillo box, who could tell the difference? What made one of the boxes an artwork and the other an ordinary object?

Do the Brillo boxes represent some sort of art historical progress? Was art history heading in a discernible direction? Danto’s investigations into history, progress, and art theory, coalesced into his best-known essay, “The End of Art.”

According to Danto, the commitment to mimesis (representation) began to falter during the nineteenth century due to the rise of photography and film. These new perceptual technologies led artists to abandon the imitation of nature, and as a result, 20th-century artists began to explore the question of art’s own identity. What was art? What should it do? How should art be defined? In asking such questions, art had become self-conscious. Movements such as Cubism questioned the process of visual representation, and Marcel Duchamp exhibited a urinal as an artwork. The twentieth century oversaw a rapid succession of different movements and ‘isms,’ all with their own notions of what art could be. “All there is at the end,” Danto wrote, “is theory, art having finally become vaporized in a dazzle of pure thought about itself, and remaining, as it were, solely as the object of its own theoretical consciousness.”

Warhol’s Brillo boxes and Duchamp’s readymades demonstrated to Danto that art had no discernible direction in which to progress. The grand narrative of progression — of one movement reacting to another — had ended. Art had reached a post-historical state. All that remains is pure theory:

Of course, there will go on being art-making. But art-makers, living in what I like to call the post-historical period of art, will bring into existence works which lack the historical importance or meaning we have for a long time come to expect […] The story comes to an end, but not the characters, who live on, happily ever after doing whatever they do in their post-narrational insignificance …  The age of pluralism is upon us … when one direction is as good as as another.

My disappointment with Danto’s book was twofold: as this piece points out, he suggested that art has meaning only in the context of a surrounding art world, with all of its assumptions about what to expect from art. Second, he suggested that the only way to appropriate techniques, styles, or schools of painting, from the past, was to present them ironically, as so many artists do now, from John Currin to Kehinde Wylie. He essentially, at one point, declared that a serious artist can’t simply paint the way Rembrandt or Vermeer did, because the work of those artists made sense only in the context of their historical period, with all of its cultural, philosophical and religious assumptions. If you paint another Night Watch, you’d better have your tongue planted firmly in your cheek. Really? Blake drew from the Gothic art of the past and created one of the most uniquely individual bodies of work in Western art, and it seemed to have more to do with universal and eternal realities of human life, as he saw it, and very little to do with anything else going on in art at the time, except for stylistic similarities to a few others, like Fuselli. The only irony in his work is one that he didn’t intend: the harder he strove to make his vision universal and timeless, the more idiosyncratic and personal it became. He wasn’t cleverly appropriating past styles and then presenting them with ironic commentary from some superior historical position: he was using them directly, honestly, sincerely, to convey exactly how he saw the world. It didn’t matter to him, or to us, that Sir Joshua Reynolds would have disapproved.

If Danto has been able to let go of philosophy the way he said goodbye to the notion of historical progress in art, then he might have prepared people to see the real imperative now: to become nothing but the person you are, in a unique individual way, as an artist. The greatest figures of the past for me are the ones who didn’t so much change the history of art as find a way to become themselves in paint, off in some little quiet cul-de-sac, while whatever was considered mainstream art at the time roared past, taking notice of them or not: Blake, Vermeer, Klee, Braque (after doing his bit for art history early on), Gorky, Porter, Avery, Matthiasdottir, Thiebaud, and, above all, Burchfield. Gorky and Braque in that list were figures who played key roles in the sequence of “advances” that led to the Sixties, but what makes them interesting to me are how idiosyncratic their work ultimately was: once Braque got past the theorizing of earlier Cubism, his work became unfathomably personal and mysterious, a luxuriant celebration of paint and visual experience that remains inexhaustible. In his Yale lecture, in the last year of his life, Porter talked about how the reality of life resided not in the general rule, but in the individual exception–what seems utterly perfect but could never have been predicted. It’s another way of saying, life is about irreducible human individuality, and painting should express nothing else.

So in answer to the question, why make art at all, I would suggest a modification of Dave Hickey’s heroic advocacy of beauty: make something you want to keep looking at. Make something others will return to again and again, wanting to see it. If it has implications that someone can write about or analyze or otherwise pick apart, fine, but that’s secondary. You don’t need art theory to know when you can’t take your eyes off something, or someone.

Next post: A perfectly serviceable philosophy of art, in my view, from the Kingston Trio.

Rabbit & Egg, Still Life Drawing

Which came first? :)

Just a fun play on the chicken & egg question.  

I've been working on my drawing stills.  I use still life set ups of my favorite odds and ends as subjects. I find it interesting and entertaining.  

Please enjoy! 

Rabbit & Egg, Still Life by Margaret Stermer-Cox


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