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Banksy backlash, er, splash back

banksy vermeer

Girl with the Banksy Accessory molested in Bristol.

A new mural by elusive graffiti artist Banksy has been vandalised just 24 hours after it appeared on a wall in Bristol, his hometown. Tenant Ellie Morgan . . . said: “It’s a real shame and a bit annoying. Someone just snuck down, did it and then snuck off.”

Wait, what? Isn’t that Banksy’s M.O.?

Pop quiz, multiple choice: 1. Turnabout is fair play. 2. What goes around comes around. 3. Hoist by one’s own petard.

“Losing Your Head” at Manifest

Cow, oil on linen, 18.5 x 37"

Cow, oil on linen, 18.5 x 37″

I was happy to get an email a few days ago informing me that my still life of a cow skull will be shown along with ten other skull paintings in Losing Your Head at Manifest, in Cincinnati. I was startled at how small the selection was for this show, given the typical flood of entries, with only nine artists exhibiting:

Thank you so much for participating in this process and for your patience! Our jury for this competitive exhibit resulted in the final selection including 11 works by 9 artists. We received a total of 340 entries from 131 artists. Your exhibit is currently planned to be presented in our North Gallery, and it promises to be quite stunning!

I have Lauren Purje and Susan Sills to thank for the inspiration behind the three skull paintings I’ve completed in the past year and a half. Lauren challenged me to try a human skull–and the biggest challenge turned out to be simply getting my hands on one, which I’ve written about before. Once I’d completed and shown it, Susan stepped up and offered to loan me a baboon skull, which she’d come across on a trip to Africa, and gave me outright the cow skull I used  for the painting that will be shown at Manifest. The baboon painting just came home from a show at Minot State University, and the human skull painting arrived home yesterday from the Tallahassee International at the FSU Museum of Fine Arts. These vanitas paintings are uniquely challenging but also uniquely rewarding: conveying the complexity of the surface of a weathered, aged skull, discolored from time in the soil, brings an unusual sense of fulfillment when it turns out well.

SCA Participant: Artivism and the “Aha” Moment

Think back to the exact moment when you decided to become an activist.


Go ahead. We’ll wait.

Was it…


Because someone sent you a petition?
Or because a friend forwarded you an advocacy alert?
Or, I know: was it because you read a really great white paper?


Chances are, none of these inspired you to become an activist. So why do advocacy organizations persist in using these approaches?


The answer is: they are safe and tested. They generate the kinds of measurable returns that professionals love to see. And they are not likely to end in a spectacular failure.

We recently brought the School for Creative Activism to healthcare professionals through Open Society Foundations. One participant, Sacha Evans, describes her experiences including the “Ah Ha” moment of Artistic Activism and why it’s important to diversify approaches. Continue reading her blog post HERE. 

Thoughts on Dickinson

photo (18)

Bay of Sanary From La Cride, 1938, oil on canvas, 23″ x 28″

This image comes from an exhibition catalog published by Tibor de Nagy gallery for a show of Edwin Dickinson’s work in 1996. It arrived last week after I found it online, in new condition, with several good color reproductions of his work, though not as many as I’d hoped. It includes an appreciation by the poet Mark Strand, whose writing about art has been included in a number of art books I’ve bought over the years:

Edwin Dickinson may be one of the least known and least appreciated twentieth-century masters. The reasons probably have to do with the reticence of his best paintings–the quick, improvisational ones he called “premier coups” or “first strikes.” These small, gestural canvases manage, with uncanny ease, to combine airiness and precision. In painting after painting we experience a rightness of scene, a simplicity and directness in suggesting, say, the haze of a summer’s day, or the damp dispersal of seaside light. There is a softness about his paintings that seems the visual correlative of affection, an immediacy that seems a form of surrender to the view at hand. Dickinson’s scrupulous attention to atmosphere, to the feel and prescence of light, to what is most ephemeral in our daily lives, give his paintings an elegiac cast. They are intimate depictions of nature at its most elusive and beguiling.

From the Brooklyn Rail:

Throughout his life, Dickinson credited (Charles W. Hawthorne, an underrated realist painter) with teaching him “That plane relationships (i.e., subtly shifting tonalities) are more representable through comparative value than through implications of contour.”

From the catalog:

Anyone who wishes to elucidate the art of Edwin Dickinson (1891-1978) is confronted by a stubborn paradox: the painter developed and mastered two apparently contrary modes of expression, and skillfully mediated between them for more than fifty years. Dickinson’s first way of working was manifested in large visionary canvases, for which a painstaking understanding of three-dimensional design was demanded. Created from memory and imagination, each elaborate painting could take years to construct, and the artist never deemed any of them completed to his satisfaction. Dickinson’s second principal means of expression was manifested in several hundred landscapes distinguished by their air of spontaneity, liquid fracture, and vivacious handling. Painting directly from nature and out of doors, these canvases were created au premier coup, mainly in Western New York, Cape Code and rural France, each in one sitting. After a session of three or four hours, Dickinson considered a picture done and walked away from it . . .

Art vs. technology

Some light bedside reading.

Some current light bedside reading.

This past summer I was driving from Rochester to Chautauqua, to spend a few days helping Peter Georgescu put together a new book proposal, which turned out to be productive (and gave me a chance to work with Andrew Terrell, a very young former White House staffer who seems to know everything that’s going to happen in Washington before it actually happens.) On my drive, somewhere in the Southern Tier, using a podcast app on my iPhone, I stumbled onto a program that has since become something I regularly listen to while painting: Entitled Opinions, by Robert Harrison, a professor of French and Italian at Stanford. It’s an intellectual oasis, a golden island of conversation that constantly makes me whisper, yes, exactly to myself while I’m absorbing it. Its archive makes available ten years of programming, a buried treasure. I can’t wait to make my way through it. Harrison’s professorial post doesn’t reflect his depth of learning in a wide variety of fields: either he’s a very quick study or he retains everything he’s investigated from decades of research and reading. Many of his guests also teach at Stanford, or Berkeley, or at another school here or in Europe. He’s not only erudite but persists in thinking along lines that have been abandoned by many philosophers these days. As far as I can tell from my layman’s perch, philosophy these days wants to find a safe harbor in brain research, rather than interrogating the mystery of things in a way that does little more than ponder unanswerable questions. These days thinking about consciousness tends to regard it as just one more phenomenon to be objectified, on the assumption that human nature is yet another biological mechanism to be understood and eventually improved upon through some kind of intervention. In the podcast I listened to in the car, a conversation about Heidegger with Thomas Sheehan, the guest and host mentioned at one point a philosophy convention where all the Heidegger specialists huddled in one corner and talked amongst themselves, with little contact with anyone else at the event, an anecdote that made me laugh with approval. Good for them! That image probably offers a clear picture of how much weight Continental philosophy carries these days in American academia.

The discussion with Sheehan, who has a book on Heidegger coming out shortly, was primarily about Being and Time, Heidegger’s most influential book. I never managed to get through it in college, though I studied Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, which grew out of Heidegger’s work. Ever since then, I’ve dipped into Heidegger’s later writing, with special attention to The Origin of the Work of Art. And since I heard this podcast, I’ve reread that essay a couple times and delved into Heidegger’s essays on technology and other subjects. I also have a small stack of other books by or about him that I plan to read. I’ll add Sheehan’s to the stack, once it’s published.

Even though I happily rely on technology, such as digital photography, to make paintings, I’ve come to think that Heidegger considered the making of art as a way of apprehending the world contrary to our scientific/technological age, which seeks to make everything submit to human understanding and human will, to turn the world into a “standing reserve” of resources to be intellectualized and put to human use. (The great danger, for Heidegger, was that human beings themselves were and are becoming part of that “standing reserve.” How long, for example, will it be before we start picking from a menu of favored genetic code in the children we design?) Art, on the other hand, has no purpose for me other than to make possible an intense awareness of the world as it is–as a world–and, through that awareness, lay the ground for being human in a humble, receptive way that sometimes runs contrary to the notions of empirical truth that largely govern the way we think and live now.

Anyway, I hope eventually to plumb this topic, at greater length, in some other form, but in the meantime—in other words, last weekend—while watching the Buffalo Bills game, I transcribed much of the conversation from yet another episode of Entitled Opinions about Heidegger, a conversation from years ago with a young Stanford professor who knew the German philosopher inside and out. I hope Robert Harrison, the host, will forgive me for reproducing it here, as a way of promoting his podcast.

Harrison begins each podcast with a few words honoring his subject. In this case, he invokes Heidegger himself and then speaks directly to Heidegger:

The growing and unacknowledged anxiety in the face of thinking no longer allows insight into the oblivion of Being which determines the age. Heidegger, 1973, three years before he died. Oh Martin, if you only knew how complete and total the oblivion has become . . . it’s all just bricks in the wall now.

Yes, if only Heidegger could be here with us today. Would he be speechless or would he declare “I saw it all coming, the unearthing of the earth, the unworlding of the world, devastation of the bonds between people, the setting in place of an absolutely . . . biotechnical state that orders and enframes all things, all available energies and resources, putting them on standing reserve for general distribution and consumption. I told you when beings are abandoned by Being they lose their density and their power of resistance, their very thing-ness and fall prey to objectification, exploitation and manipulation. When Being withdraws from the world, the world becomes an unworld, no longer hospitable to habitation.” Heidegger might say something like that . . . but even he would be shocked and incredulous by just how monstrous the phenomenon of planetary technicity has become. The machine is everywhere with nowhere left to rage against it.

So what’s all the fuss about? The fuss is about being at home on the earth. In an interview, Heidegger declared that . . . human beings do not control the inner drive that compels us to amass more and more technical capability and enframe more beings in an ever expanding network of circulation and consumption. Technicity is not something that man masters by his own power. But what must be mastered? Everything is functioning. Production is up. People are well cared for. We are living in a state of prosperity. What really is lacking? He replied that everything is functioning, and that is precisely what is terrifying. Everything is propelled toward more and more functioning, and technicity uproots man from the earth. This uprooting is more or less complete in some places, less in others; but there is not a place on earth that escapes it.

In my humble but nevertheless entitled opinion, Heidegger is the most important philosopher of the modern era. He is controversial. I have both prosecuted and defended him in the past. I like to squabble as much as the next man, but squabble is not the best method for coming to terms with a thinker’s thought.

He introduces Andrew Mitchell, who also teaches at Stanford, who describes how he got into Heidegger.

I came to philosophy from literature. Everything that Grove Press published I would read. This led me to Nietzsche and Rilke. Through further reading I encountered the name Heidegger. I started reading and was quite enamored. When I first read What is Metaphysics?, Heidegger says “science proceeds in a certain way but nothing more, and thinks in a certain manner but nothing else. What is this nothing?” The scales fell from my eyes. I knew I would be reading him for a long time to come.

They talk about Being and Time:

RH: What is the meaning of Being, this word that we use all the time with the word “is” although philosophers have always asked what is the being of beings, what is the essence of what is, Heidegger says that the question of Being is a question that has laid dormant in the entire history of Western philosophy. He wants to reawaken this question of the meaning of being. But then he undertakes a massive analysis of this one specific being. . . us. Dasein is literally “being there” but it is the human being.

AM: Being and Time is an incomplete work. It’s a third of what Heidegger projected in its entirety. He abandons it for philosophical reasons. Being, for him is nothing abstract or general, but always something concrete. It takes place here. If there is a meaning to Being, that meaning is in relation to our existence.

RH: Dasein is the one being whose own being is an issue for it.

AM: Yes.

 They discuss Being and Time at some length, then turn to what’s of more interest to me, Heidegger’s later thinking:

AM: Around the time of his Contributions to Philosophy, I think what becomes more prominent is the role of history. Heidegger says Being and Time lacked a proper sense of history. In these works of the 30s, he develops a Being/Historical thinking. Metaphysics isn’t considered a history of an error or a lie . . . that covers a truth that must be exposed again. He sees this covering of metaphysics as essential to Being itself. Being is no longer thought of apart from concealment. He changes his conception of Being. Being for him comes to be a matter of withdrawal. Withdrawal is actually a way that things exist. They exist partially. They are not whole or discreet things but everything itself is opened into this space into the world.

RH:I like the way you put it. The withdrawal of being is constituent of things themselves in the world. I cannot fully appropriate other things. There is a resistance and opacity.

AM: That same distance is what allows us to relate to the tree, allows the tree to concern us.

RH: Without a distance from them, we cannot know things as they are. I think his Origins of the Work of Art is very difficult for people to read, but . . . for Heidegger artworks remind us that things are not radically available, totally at our disposal. The artwork shows that no matter how much I try to grasp whatever is being painted, or the statue, there is something that draws away from me. The power or the beauty of it is precisely that I can’t hold it in my hands in a tangible way—and it gives itself on the one hand, but partially. Any artwork that doesn’t throw into relief the extent to which things are available to me only . . .

AM:  . . . in this most utilitarian manner possible. That idea is shattered.

RH: (On the other hand) with technology . . . everything is radically available and disposable to us.

AM: He views this as the culmination of metaphysics. It has constantly misunderstood, overlooked this partial character of existence and seen complete presence. Things become . . . objectified into objects that are held to be discreet entities. Technology is the culmination of this transformation in things into sheer presences. Where in technology, everything becomes completely available at our disposal. He talks about it in terms of ordering and availability. The Internet is the perfect example of this. Everything is available, at our disposal. Everything is replaceable.

RH: You know I share your unease at that technicity, especially bio-technicity. I don’t think everyone shares that. I could play devil’s advocate and say what’s wrong with technology that gives us mastery and possession of the earth? What’s wrong with substitutability and the endless availability of things for our own consumption?

AM: This is an age-old response that has to do with the disenchantment of the world we could say. What we find so agreeable about existence is the singularity, uniqueness and specificity of it. It is precisely that specificity that we are able to share with others through communication with others. Technology which Heidegger also thinks is a way of thinking of the world in terms of (interchangeable) value. (One thing can be replaced by other things. Money for objects.) Once something has a value or a price it is replaceable by something else of an equal value. This drains the world of the very distinctions we would like to attribute to it. If we say God is the greatest being we degrade God by making God comparable to other things. Technology makes our existence into a homogenized, pre-packaged existence . . .

RH: He wasn’t a Luddite or the Unabomber. He believed that every major epoch had a certain mode in which things revealed themselves. Technology, the essence of technology, which he called technicity, was an epochal way that things are revealed to us as always at our disposal. The way things reveal themselves are not dependent on us, but on the history of Being, whatever that means. We have to wait for the era to change and somehow things will show a different side of themselves to us.

AM: The technological approach shortchanges ourselves as well. We place ourselves in a position of mastery. Everything is according to our will. In so doing that, we eliminate from our own reality all the wonderful passions and passivities of life . . .

RH: I think of something so much more sinister and diabolical than Heidegger probably could have expected. The way this enframing of all things is not just the world of objects, but now with biotechnology we are going right into the very fabric of life and presuming to be the total masters and play God. That’s how Heidegger understands technology, rendering concrete the power of God in the means of production and doing this with life itself. The moral issues surrounding biotechnology are so primitive compared to the complexity of the phenomena—how are we go to into the very constituency of the biotic and start playing around and recreating the world as if we are the masters? We know we are not. Yet there is a drive there of which we are not in control and for the most part are not even aware. You would have to conjugate it with Freud’s notion of the death drive to maybe do full justice to the demonic element of contemporary technicity.

 AM: . . . as if we are trying to secure ourselves so much from anything different from us, we end up erecting so many mirrors around us . . . we want to be all that there is. There will be nothing outside of us, no others.

Harrison recites the quote he recited during his intro into the conversation.

AM: For him, thinking is letting yourself be exposed to something beyond you in some way. It isn’t conceptualizing or comprehending in the sense of completely grasping something, but instead letting yourself be attuned to the matter of thought and not dominating it, but letting it be. Anyone who is in philosophy faces this anxiety. It is not a matter of calculating or reckoning. It can’t provide results. Any time it does it’s not thinking any longer. Being and Time is a book of thought. All it wants to do is ask the question of what is the meaning of being, and it can’t even get a third of the way there. That’s thinking. Thinking is a failure. It can’t be useful.

This conversation between Harrison and Mitchell is much longer and more involved, but is about as clear and direct as any discussion of Heidegger you’ll find in any medium. It’s well worth the time, as are almost all the episodes from the past decade that can be found at the program’s website. I’m sure I’ll be stealing and sharing parts of them, as long as Harrison doesn’t call me out on it. If it gives him a few more listeners, I’m sure he won’t mind.

The Big Draw

draw contest

The World’s Biggest Drawing Festival runs throughout October; you can read more here. You can sample a charming children’s book on drawing/painting/printing like the great artists from The Guardian here.

Ways of seeing

Eu09 Ponte Vecchio bridge over the Arno RiverPeople say that Florence teaches you to see differently — that as the soft light moves across the ocher buildings, you see colors you never noticed before.

It taught Kevin Systrom, a co-founder of Instagram, to see differently. He attributes his inspiration to a photography class he took in Florence while at a Stanford study-abroad program about a decade ago. His teacher took away his state-of-the-art camera and insisted he use an old plastic one instead, to change the way he saw. He loved those photos, the vintage feel of them, and the way the buildings looked in the light. He set out to recreate that look in the app he built. And that has changed the way many of us now see as well.

–T.M. Luhrmann, New York Times

Call for Applications School for Creative Activism: Advocacy Campaigns to Challenge High Medicines Prices

We’re pleased to announce a call for applications to a School for Creative Activism training session taking place this December, in Spain.

“Despite advances in medical science, affordable safe and effective medicines remain inaccessible to billions of people worldwide.” (Open Society Foundation)

We’re inviting grantees of the Open Society Public Health Program and their allies working on access to medicines to apply to participate in a 4-day School for Creative Activism (SCA) to be held in Barcelona, Spain on 15-18 December 2014.

You can download the application form here: SCA Call for Applications – Medicines Prices – Barcelona

Please note: this workshop is only open to grantees of the Open Society Public Health Program. Don’t worry, we’ll be doing more workshops in the coming months, so if this doesn’t apply to you this time stay tuned for future programs.


One last Strat


Little did he know he had only a month left to play it.


Selfie, Oil on Panel

Selfie, Oil on Panel

I’ve begun to have a deeper appreciation for deadlines. I’ve been painting on firm deadlines for a couple years now, first for a two-person show at Oxford Gallery in 2012, then a solo show at Viridian Artists this past summer and now another two-person show at Oxford in March, 2015. This last deadline is pushing me to do things I haven’t done before, such as work on more than one painting at a time, and it’s also motivating me to develop more efficient ways to paint.

There’s a certain optimum pace for developing a painting. Too slow and fastidious, and the life drains out of it. Executed rapidly, it can sometimes come alive in a rare way, but it’s an unreliable and risky way to proceed with something that might quickly fall apart—which are then wasted in a discouraging way on a deadline. When I attempt premier coup work, as Edwin Dickinson referred to it, and I know it’s going well, the propulsive momentum of the work adds a different kind of vitality to the image. The effort gets concentrated into a comparatively brief time, and the life of the marks vibrate with the pressure of that quicker execution. It’s the most difficult way to paint well, because much is at stake and there’s little “going back over.” I read somewhere long ago that Francis Bacon loved tight deadlines. He would do much of his work for a particular show at the last possible minute and hang the paintings still wet. It isn’t hard to believe, given the the way he pushed paint around. For him, it worked. Yet I love, just as much, paintings that take weeks or months to complete, and they convey something far different and more subtle, some hint of what Keats called “solitude and slow time.” I’m attempting to finish examples of both kinds of painting for the show next year. In either case, deadlines are giving me a greater sense of discipline, as well as a wistful sense of how much time I used to have to do other things. (On top of the daily painting, seven days a week, I’m also up early, working on writing projects that bring in the bulk of my income. I paint with the time left free—and I’m able to do it every day.)

I tend to work in successive shifts of three or four hours, with breaks for meals or errands. I’m learning to get more done in each of these windows of opportunity. I calculate exactly how much I need to finish on each day throughout a given month and then track whether or not I’m ahead or behind of my quota. I expect by the end of the work for this next show, I’ll be producing probably twice as much work as I have in the same period of time in the past. One thing I’ve observed, no matter how much I’m enjoying work on a given painting, I procrastinate before sitting down and picking up a brush. Once I do, and once I put down the first mark of the day, it’s as if I’m already at full speed. There’s no ramping up, no acceleration: I’m fully immersed on the step-by-step progress of making the image come to life.

On balance, deadlines are helping me take my work to the next level, not only because it’s making me refine my work methods, but also because there’s no way to adhere to them without bringing the most focused sort of attention to the process. That attention—a heightened awareness of what I see and what I’m doing—is what it’s really all about. It would be nice if I could bring it to my entire life.