August 31, 2004 (Tuesday)
A couple of things I was wondering about …

1. In those crowded blockbuster museum shows? The ones where you can’t see the art unless you’re over 5″9″? Why don’t they just put in bleachers, or something like it? Sort of like the tiered seating in front of the lion’s cage during feeding time at the zoo. Everyone could see the painting, and those of us who were so inclined, could sit on the top row, for as long as we wanted, chin in hand, and get lost in the art.

2. There have to be some new models for art patrons; some new ideas about how it could work. We have to quit thinking along the lines of popes and kings and start thinking about modern economics. What would happen if artists started selling shares in their output? Say, for the sake of argument, that you need $12,000 per year to cover art supplies, food and rent ($1000 per month.) Assuming you can produce at least one work per month, you could sell shares at $1000 each and the patron would receive one work of art for each $1000 invested. There are different ways to thrash out the details, but shouldn’t something like this help everyone flourish? Maybe even galleries could purchase shares and then sell the work for whatever the market would bear. How could an artist advertise something like this? Would it work?

And finally… one of the best art quotes I’ve read in a long time:
“Art is murder. Drawing is target practice.”

A business is permitted to operate for making a profit without any interference from the government is called Profit system. In every business, the people will expect for the profits. This is one of the products of the capitalist ideology.

Profit sharing is nothing but sharing the profit of the company to the employees by giving bonuses, incentives and performance based increment in salary. It is based on some rules also. That is, the company and the employee will have a predetermined plan that the profit will be split up into both with some decent ratio. Therefore, they both yield the profit of the business. In the United States, the employee’s profit sharing amount will be contributed to the retirement plan. We can see the reviews from the people about profit system by clicking HB Swiss.


– Joseph Barbaccia at Thinking about Art

August 30, 2004 (Monday)
This weekend I saw William Hall’s first solo show. He’s a friend, former student, and one of the hardest working artists I’ve ever met. His drawing skills have always been excellent, but for the last couple of years, he’s been practicing painting techniques. All of the pieces in this show were portraits of his pre-school students (his pay-the-rent job.)

About half the portraits were pastel or conte crayon on paper and the rest were oil, acrylic or mixed media on canvas board. The mixed media pieces (including the one at left, behind the artist) were given a rough coat of gesso, and underpainting in quin gold, and then a mixture of acrylic and Caran d’Ache water-soluble crayons. The final effect is much looser than these photos would suggest (click on detail at right.)

Unlike Helnwein or Hockney, William does not use projection, printed canvas, or camera obscura.
He takes photographs of his subjects and draws up. He has spent so many hours drawing that he can quickly and effortlessly render a likeness in pencil. Now he’s experimenting with other materials. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he’ll be working on in a couple more years. (Sorry, but most of this work was framed under glass, so it was difficult to get photos without reflections.)

August 27, 2004 (Friday)

Continuing yesterday’s theme (artists drawing from life) …

JT Kirkland at the blog, “Thinking about art” wrote about taking up drawing. He posted examples of his progress as he practiced, practiced, practiced, and he made amazing progress. But then, “after a couple of weeks I lost interest. I yearned to work with color and materials in a more free manner.” So he asks, “If a person lacks the ability to draw well, can he/she still be an artist? Must a person have classic training to be a good artist?”

It depends on your definition of “a good artist.” My answer would be that drawing forces you to spend quality time in direct observation, which helps you to see better, and see differently. If you’re a visual artist of any kind, that would seem like a worthwhile goal.

Audrey Flack wrote in “Art and Soul”: “When I’m working from a photograph, a transparency, or direct observation, I am always amazed at how much more I see as the painting progresses. After I think I have completely perceived a particular area, something else reveals itself. As the work continues, the level of awareness deepens. The process takes its own time. I have come to accept that time and not fight it. I know that when I begin my work, no matter how hard I try, I’ll never observe as much on the first day as I will on the last. Like life, the development will not be rushed, nor will there be full realization before completion.”

Here’s what a few other people had to say about drawing:

“Drawing is not form, it is a way of seeing form.”
– Edgar Degas

“Drawing is the most important thing.”
– Antonio Giacometti

“For me, drawing is the great discipline of art.”
– Alice Neel

“The man who has something very definite to say and tries to force the medium to say it will learn how to draw.”
– Robert Henri

(Previous four quotes from “Artist to Artist – Inspiration & Advice from Artists Past & Present” compiled by Clint Brown.)

August 26, 2004 (Thursday)
Here we go again… Sarah Boxer of the New York Times reports that “a fresh clash has surfaced over the painter David Hockney’s three-year-old theory that early Renaissance painters used cameralike devices to paint with perfect perspective.”

The way I first heard about this debate in 2001, it sounded like David Hockney was saying that Ingres, van Eyck, and other realist artists were tracing rather than drawing. This annoyed me. I figured Hockney can’t draw, so he doesn’t believe anyone else can either. I knew from experience that obsessively drawing every day enabled me to “eyeball” with photographic precision before I was 20. When I started spending more time painting than drawing, the drawing skill faded. Increased practice brings it back. I know other artists who can render perfectly without optical devices. It didn’t seem to be such a mystery to me.

But the more I read Hockey’s own words, the closer I came to his way of thinking about the subject. Not that I completely agree with him, but I think he’s right when he says that the introduction of optical devices changed the way we see. The fixed point of view of the photographic image is dominant in our culture (outside of fine art) and is accepted unquestioningly as “realistic” by most people. But it’s no more real than the multiple points of view in cubism, the moving point of view in Japanese scrolls, or the symbolic point of view in ancient art.

In December 2001, Sarah Boxer reported (again, in the NYT) on a symposium arranged by the New York Institute for the Humanities called “Art and Optics: Toward an Evaluation of David Hockney’s New Theories Regarding Opticality in Western Painting of the Past 600 Years.” It was apparently a rip-roaring debate, with no resolution. Art historians brought up the examples of Michelangelo and Raphael, who had no need for optics. Susan Sontag said that to claim there were no great painters before optical devices is like saying there were no great lovers before Viagra. Linda Nochlin brought out a dress she was wearing when she sat for her portrait by Philip Pearlstein, and said, “This is what I call scientific evidence.” Chuck Close joked that the symposium should have been called “Look Back in Ingres,” said he had learned that “some scientists are just as annoying as some art historians.”

This time the debate is centered around the chandelier in van Eyck’s 1434 painting “Portrait of Arnolfini and His Wife.” Hockney thinks the chandelier is too perfect and that van Eyck must have used optics. The scientists (Stork and Criminisi) say that the chandelier is flawed. So they hired a realist painter (Nicholas Williams) to eyeball a replica chandelier and render it as accurately as possible. The Williams chandelier was not perfect, but more accurate than the van Eyck chandelier. The scientists conclusion: a real master of realism can paint without real accuracy, but realistic-looking structures can be painted merely by eye, without the help of optical tools of any sort.

OK, so now the scientists have “proven” what artists have known for centuries. But so what? Optics are just a tool, and tools don’t make the art. So why are so many people so worked up about which artists used which tools?

August 25, 2004 (Wednesday)
Gottfried Helnwein, “The Child”, at the Legion of Honor, San Francisco

Yesterday morning I went over to the Legion of Honor to see the Gottfried Helnweinshow, “The Child”. After all the build-up and warnings about the darkness of his work, I was surprised at the beauty and humor I found there. There are some superficial similarities between Helnwein and Gerhard Richter, but while Richter is the better painter technically, Helnwein (more of a conceptual artist) has more heart. In both cases, they’re telling us the world sucks. But Helnwein also sees the good, the beautiful, and the possibilities for redemption.

This show is a mini-retrospective, with work spanning the last 35 years but focusing on one of his recurring themes: the child. There are colored pencil drawings, watercolors, mixed media paintings, and photographs. In some cases the preparatory photos for a painting are hung next to the painting. One watercolor of Hitler holding the hands of two little girls includes a bar of soap within the frame.

There are three madonna and child images, including his galley’s gift to the museum, Helnwein’s 1998 painting Epiphany II , “Adoration of the Shepherds.”

In this version, the shepherds are represented by Nazi youth. In “Adoration of the Magi”, the wise men are SS officers. In “American Madonna”, the child is pointing accusingly at a couple of cops. These large mixed media paintings appear to be photographic montages, printed on canvas, and then painted over. The Legion has placed the Helnwein show in galleries 1 and 2, which means the viewer walks past several 16th century madonna and child paintings to get there. If you didn’t notice them on the way in, you will on the way out. This is Raffaellino dei Capponi’s “Madonna Enthroned with Saints and Angels”, 1502.

Helnwein is represented in San Francisco by Modernism Gallery, and they will be holding a one-man show of his new work from November 4 to December 2004.
Kenneth Baker’s review of this show
Carolyne Zinko’s review of this show
Link to Helnwein’s demonic Mickeys and Donalds

August 24, 2004 (Tuesday)
I went to visit a friend in the hospital recently and was stunned to see an original John Arbuckle on the wall in her room. Real art in the hospital rooms? I was tempted to sneak around the rest of the ward seeing what was in the other rooms.

Robert Rauschenberg rode out hurricane Charley in his home on the Gulf Coast barrier island of Captiva. His concrete home-studio, built on 35-foot pilings, sprung leaks, but survived the 145-mph winds. Artwork lining the 120-foot-long concrete-floored studio was not moved and not damaged by the storm. A helicopter flew in the next morning to evacuate the 78-year old Rauschenberg, who is in a wheelchair and partly paralyzed by two strokes.The artist initially resisted leaving. He was flown to Fort Myers for a temporary stay during storm cleanup.

Thanks to ionarts for the link to Bush and Kerry positions on the arts (Friday, 08-20-04) at ArtsBlogging. My take – in both campaigns, the arts are barely on the radar. Bottom line – no real difference between these guys (in arts terms.)

Terry Teachout wrote about Hitchcock’s movie “Rope” and the paintings on the wall in the movie apartment. He recognized a Milton Avery, did a little digging and wondered:

“So how on earth did a Milton Avery find its way into the decor of Rope, along with a half-dozen other paintings that looked equally plausible? The Hitchcocks were interested in art, mainly by modern painters such as the Mexican David Alfaro Siqueiros and the Cuban Fidelio Ponce León. In later years, they purchased works by Raoul Dufy, Maurice de Vlaminck, Maurice Utrillo, Georges Rouault, Chaïm Soutine, Albert Gleizes, Milton Avery, Pierre Soulages, Auguste Rodin, Georges Braque’s “birds series” and Paul Klee, who he called once his favorite painter. Could it be that Alfred Hitchcock used his own art collection in Rope?” full post here


Terry Teachout also asked people to mention movies that show real paintings. So, here’s one of my favorites… I hesitate… because it has been the source of merciless teasing from my friends. Of course, I’ve made them all sit through it with me, multiple times. The movie is the 1959 version of “Dog of Flanders” with David Ladd, Donald Crisp, Theodore Bikel, and Monique Ahrens. It’s basically “Old Yeller” with art. But the art makes the difference.The young artist, Nello keeps trying to sneak into Rombouts Cathedral to see Rubens’ “Descent From the Cross,” (see image at top of this post) which the movie viewer keeps getting glimpses of, and finally at the end (along with Nello) we get a real look at the whole painting. Against all odds, the kid wants to be an artist, and it’s a dog story too. What’s not to like?

This just in – Chris at Zeke’s gallery sent me a great link to a site that lists art in the movies: Art Historian’s Guide to the Movies.

August 23, 2004 (Monday)
The open studio photo show this weekend went very well – plenty of visitors and Dave made enough to buy a new camera. The day ended with several of us sitting around a table talking about art, images, etc. Someone mentioned Walter Benjamin’s essay. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” I vaguely remembered hearing about it, but had never read it, so I downloaded it (it’s free online at many sites.) It was pointed out to me that I would benefit from reading it, in light of my recent troubles with eBay. I’ll be reading it later this week.

Earlier in the day I was talking with someone about rendering trees in paint and film. We spent some time looking at Rudy Burkhardt’s Maine catalogue. He’s primarily known as an urban photographer, but he made some amazing paintings of the deep forest. Take a look – the guy knew his subject, don’t you think?

Elsewhere on the web, I highly recommend a trip to “From the Floor” to read an extended piece about a visit to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, an earthwork sculpture at the edge of Great Salt Lake, Utah:
Thursday, August 12 – On the Way to Spiral Jetty (Prolog and links)
Monday August 16 – Back from Spiral Jetty (Current stats)
Tuesday, August 17 – Drive to the Jetty(Getting there requires a commitment.)
Wednesday, August 18 – Industrial Wasteland (The closest neighbors to the spiral Jetty are the decaying traces of industrial activity.)
Thursday, August 19 – Walking the Jetty (Up close and personal.)
Friday, August 20 – Perspective (About seeing the Spiral Jetty in the landscape vs a photo.)

August 19, 2004 (Friday)
The members’ magazine of the Asian Art Museum, “treAsures,” came in the mail yesterday – it has an interesting article on “Fakes, Copies, and Question Marks,” which is the subject of an upcoming show. The author, Donna Strahan, describes fakes as being made with the intention to deceive. Copies are made to represent the originals in situations where the originals cannot be exhibited. Imitations are cheap copies made for sale (gift shop items.) The story describes (with photos) four pairs of similar items and then presents the question, “Which is the fake?” They’ll be presenting about 35 objects (ceramic and bronze vessels and sculptures, paintings, and lacquer ware) drawn primarily from the museum’s own collection (!) The show will describe forensic tests used to determine authenticity, and explain the process the curators and conservation department use to examine art objects.

Thanks to Franklin at artblog.net for pointing to this fabulous comic strip about the art world – comic by Peter Bagge, titled, “Real Art – Mr. Grumpy goes to an Art Museum and Comes Out Belaboring the Obvious.”

I discovered a new (to me) art blog by F. Lennox Campello, called DC Art News. He has a couple of funny posts about “galleryphobia” and “print rack magnetism.”


I spent a big part of yesterday helping my husband Dave hang his show (open house, hereSaturday 12-6) in the halls that usually serve has a holding area for my finished paintings. So I’ll be busy the next few days, and won’t be posting again until Monday.
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August 18, 2004 (Thursday)
A few days ago I was doing some gallery hopping with friends (artists) David Steinhardtand Marie Ferrebouf. We stopped in at the Hackett Freedman gallery to see the summer still life show. I may have said this before in this space, but it bears repeating – the Hackett Freedman is a class “A”, great place to see and buy art. Besides the fact that they have a significant collection of art, the staff is friendly and helpful to everyone. We ended up hanging out there for about an hour. While we were there, the gallery was constantly busy with a flow of out-of-town and local collectors, tourists, and other artists. The glass doors to the back office were open and we stuck our heads in when we noticed some Guy Diehl paintings on the back wall.

Then I spotted a Robert Schwartz gouache on the floor, so I found a chair and settled in for a good long stare. Hackett Freedman staffer Francis reminded me that the San Jose Museum of Art is hosting a retrospective titled “Dream Games: the Art of Robert Schwartz”, from Sept. 4, 2004 to Jan. 23, 2004. They’ll also be printing a 220-page, fully illustrated catalogue that will include essays by Susan Landauer and guest essayist Barry Schwabsky. This is must-see show if you’re interested in narrative painting, magical realism, gouache and oil technique. His work is rarely exhibited and I believe this is only the second retrospective since his death. Bring your reading glasses (or a magnifying glass.)

When I looked up from my 20 minute immersion in the world of Robert Schwartz, I saw that David was talking painting technique with Guy Deihl himself. I had another look at that wonderful little Louise Nevelson sculpture (the one that looks like a sheila-na-gig) and then we had to tear ourselves away because the parking meter was already expired by 30 minutes.

We were talking in the car about artist blogs, journals, etc. and David mentioned that he was thinking of starting one to document his progress with a difficult and complex mural commission he’s been working on. He just got the blog launched last night, with postdated entries back to the beginning of the project. He’s calling it “Dailies” and I think you should all go over there and take a look at it. Click on “Take the Tour” to start at the beginning. His descriptions give you a hint of the arduous and complex nature of this job. Since he was on a roll, at the computer, he also started another blog, called “Diary” to record his “nightly doodles and drawings.”

August 17, 2004 (Wednesday)
I just heard that Dick Blick Art Materials has purchased the Art Store retail chain. That’s good news for me – I’ve been ordering from Dick Blick since the 60’s, and there’s a branch of the Art Store here in San Francisco (on Van Ness Avenue) which I guess will turn into a Dick Blick store in the next few months. But I’ll probably keep getting most of my supplies by mail. When I first moved here I thought, with all the big art supply stores in town (Flax, Pearl, Utrecht, University, Amsterdam, Douglas & Sturgess, et al…) I’ll never have to order my stuff by mail again. But it didn’t work out that way. These big art supply stores are good for wandering around, browsing, looking at and handing the newest art stuff.. If, however, you just want to resupply with the particular paint, brushes, and canvas that you always use, frustration awaits you. They (all of them) are inevitably out of stock for some of the items you wanted, which means repeat visits or going all over town to get everything you need. Try that a few times and resupplying by mail starts to look pretty good.

Speaking of art supplies and equipment, Carolyn Zick has a great slide projector story at Dangerous Chunky. I have seven Kodak Carousel Transvue 140 slide trays in the basement, but the projector died years ago. Wonder if the slide trays are becoming more valuable or less so? I’ve been coveting a digital projector for some time now, so maybe I should just get rid of the slide trays in any case.

And speaking of corporate mergers, did you hear that Ebay bought 25% of Craigslist? It’s a sad, sad, day…..

August 16, 2004 (Tuesday)
Regarding a Washington DC proposal to form an institute of contemporary art, drawing from the city’s best collectors… Tyler Green at Modern Art Notes isn’t too crazy about the idea:

“The art world is global, more so now than ever, and (this) idea is based on a narrow, artificial, regionalist construct. When the art world is becoming more interconnected, when group shows at even medium-sized institutions are filled with loans from two or three continents, why would we want something that is so internal, narrow and exclusionary? Why would DC collectors (and others) want their works seen only next to other DC-owned work?”

On the other hand, Erik at Eriks Rants and Recipes feels differently:

“…my basic point is that while the contemporary art world is global and completely interconnected, there is no reason to encourage that trend. I am more interested in what local collectors are looking at than what Saatchi finds compelling. A show of what lives in local collections is a fascinating measure of the community (and note that I am not implying any sort of sophistication index, I am simply curious: we might find that Chicago collectors prefer secondary colors, we might find that Portlanders favor figurative drawings, who knows? I would like to, as it helps flesh out a portrait of the community).”

Personally, I don’t see why it has to be one or the other. Yes, the art world is more global now. It’s fun, interesting and educational to see how universal art trends ricochet from one continent to another. But why can’t a little regionalism exist here and there at the same time? And why is regionalism so often disparaged? Regional art speaks more directly to a community.

Many works of art can be easily placed in either the regional or global context. Isn’t it the job of the curator to pick the pieces? Who’s to say they couldn’t get loans from collectors outside the area if they need to build a particular kind of show? A show from a single collector’s stash can be pretty interesting – it depends on the collector.

The bottom line is, if a group of people want to put together a space to show art, it’s a good thing.

August 15, 2004 (Monday)
I stopped in at the John Pence Gallery on Saturday, and caught the last day of the Peter Van Dyck show. He’s a young painter and this has the look of an MFA graduate show. There’s a little bit of everything – paintings and drawings, some landscapes, some figurative work, some still life, and a couple of self portraits. It’s all well done, and attractive. The still life compositions of tools in a workshop were most interesting. The tools are clean, carefully arranged, and have the air of a classic flowers-and-crystal still life. The incongruous subject matter is a little bit funny and refreshing.

Elsewhere in the gallery, I noticed with surprise that Jim McVicker is now showing at JP (he’s been with Hackett-Freedman for years.) JP had three of McVicker’s classic still life paintings on display, as well as a few small landscapes. The JP gallery is huge, and after spending quite a bit of time wandering in and out of rooms full of work by many young talented realists, displaying a range of bravura technique (plus Randall Sexton’s manic splashes) it was a relief to find myself back in front of McVicker’s “Still Life with Orchids”, “Still Life with Lilies”, and “Still Life with Sunflowers.” His work has a very calm, comfortable, stillness.
(Lots of pictures at the links)

August 14, 2004 (Weekend)
I got an email from one of the founders of the Stuckist movement almost immediately after posting my regrettably jokey post on Thursday. He said that the Stuckist Manifesto is a catalyst, not a dogma. If someone connects with the spirit of the Stuckists, they nominate themselves as Stuckists – they aren’t appointed. With his permission, here’s his letter:

Hi Anna

I would not say incoherent. Far from it – though you do quote something which is uncharacteristically more arcane, I guess, but not so incoherent. Fear of failure stops much creativity and growth. That point is addressed and I know it has given strength and inspiration to some people – not such a bad thing.

Futility of striving is an idea introduced into the text by my good friend Billy Childish and derives from his Buddhist studies. We all want what we haven’t got, so we are never here with ourselves. Our inclination is always ‘out there’ and that is where it stays. The more that energy and desire is contained within, the more whole we are in the now with what we are doing. That at least is how I interpret that sentiment. Not such a bad thing either.

I started the Stuckists with Billy and 11 other selected artists. When more people round the world responded we decided we would give Stuckism away – and said they could found their own independent group, rather as anyone can call themselves an Impressionist. We have no control or monitoring of these groups – it’s up to them. Some are active, dedicated and enterprising. Others are dormant. I don’t know what a ‘chapter’ is in the US, but if it’s something which is part of a centralised organisation, then we don’t have chapters.

Stuckism was started and is stlll run by artists without any consistent commercial or institutional backing. It has reached across the world with no resources apart from daring and ingenuity.

I think it is worth taking more seriously.

Best wishes
Charles Thomson
Co-founder, Stuckists

Stuckism International Gallery,
3 Charlotte Road, Hoxton, London EC2A 3DH.
Tel: 020 7613 0988
Web site: www.stuckism.com
There are over 80 Stuckist groups and 6 Centres worldwide.
Stuckism: it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

August 13, 2004 (Friday)
For most of my life, most of my days, and most of my waking hours, I have been thinking about art in some form or another. This obsession has become more pronounced over the past ten years. It’s hard for me to imagine a life without art.

Most of the people I talk to are at least somewhat informed about , if not enthusiastically involved in the art world. But every now and then I hear folks say that “many people have difficulty understanding visual arts, particularly contemporary art.” They say the situation is especially bad away from the coasts. Can this be true? Is it really that bad? Rachael at Honest Art Talk has felt that a vast majority of people don’t care about art, and she thinks it has to do with lack of education. Over at the Cassandra PagesMarja-Leena and others are discussing this and comparing the U.S to Europe.

All of the European advantages that were mentioned at Cassandra are present here in San Francisco: Plenty of art exhibits – some are expensive, some are free. All the museums have free days. Many community art organizations and lots of public art on display and being made. I’m not sure how much art is offered in the public schools, but plenty of after-school programs focus on art – I’ve taught at some of them. Whenever children come up to talk to me at public art demos, I always ask them what kind of art they’re taking in school. They usually have enthusiastic things to say and no one has ever said, “nothing.” There’s a high school for the arts, and several art colleges here in town. No doubt, art is seen as a commodity in the gallery district. But it’s also seen as culture in places like the Chinese Cultural Center, the Italian Museum, the Mexican Museum, the Mission Cultural Center, Precita Eyes Mural Center, the Jewish Museum, the Women’s Building, the Performing Arts Library & Museum, and other places. At events like my library talk last month, many people came up to talk to me afterwards and tell me about their own art experiences, as Sunday painters, or enthusiastic viewers. The same thing happens whenever I paint in a public place.

The situation just doesn’t seem so dire from here. Am I looking through rose-tinted glasses, or is San Francisco an exception, or is there just an excessive amount of pessimism out there?

August 12, 2004 (Thursday)

Ever hear of the Stuckists?

It’s a reactionary British art movement that claims to be “Against conceptualism, hedonism and the cult of the ego-artist.” I read about them a few years ago. I thought it was joke. They seemed too incoherent to be for real. Not that I don’t have a lot of sympathy for their position, at least what I can understand of their position. They’re pro-painting – that much, at least, is obvious. The Stuckism Manifesto is here.

Today I read an interesting interview titled, “Stuckist in New York City: An Interview with Narrative Painter Terry Marks.” The artist says, about Stuckism:

“In England, art is funded by the government more than it is here. Stuckist artists there banded together to oppose Serota [at the Tate Modern], the government, and Saatchi touting a supposedly avant-garde strain of conceptual art, which is not actually avant-garde any more. It was cutting edge in the ‘60s with Fluxus, including some interesting work by Yoko Ono among others. It was new then, but now it’s part of the establishment. That happens here too, since art galleries are in business to make money, and they believe that only certain kinds of art are fashionable and will sell.

Stuckism is not about being stuck in the past but about taking a different fork in the road. It’s been called Re-modernism in the Stuckist Manifesto, and takes the stand that Modernism started off well, but took a wrong turn and disappeared into pure idea like a puff of smoke. So we’re going back to take the untravelled fork-in-the-road to pursue art-making that’s more concrete and accessible to more people, and find out where that leads us.”

Sounded intriguing, so I went back to the Stuckist web site to take another look. But I found the same old stuff, like this gem:

The ego-artist’s constant striving for public recognition results in a constant fear of failure. The Stuckist risks failure wilfully and mindfully by daring to transmute his/her ideas through the realms of painting. Whereas the ego-artist’s fear of failure inevitably brings about an underlying self-loathing, the failures that the Stuckist encounters engage him/her in a deepening process which leads to the understanding of the futility of all striving. The Stuckist doesn’t strive — which is to avoid who and where you are — the Stuckist engages with the moment.

So I thought, maybe it’s a cultural thing – I’ll check with my local chapter and see what the artists here have to say. Lo and behold, the contact person for the San Francisco chapter of the Stuckists is silk-screen rock poster god, Frank Kozik?! So I emailed him. His response? He said Stuckism is “some odd British deal that I was asked to join and I did so as a whim.” As for what the local chapter was up to, he said, “I dont believe they actually do anything.”

August 11, 2004 (Wednesday)

Where do you get your ideas?

“Vision is always ahead of execution – and it should be. Vision, Uncertainty, and Knowledge of Materials are inevitabilities that all artists must acknowledge and learn from: vision is always ahead of execution, knowledge of materials is your contact with reality, and uncertainty is a virtue. Imagination is in control when you begin making an object. But as the piece grows, technique and craft take over, and imagination becomes a less useful tool. A piece grows by becoming specific.”
— David Bayles & Ted Orland, “Art & Fear”, Capra Press, 1993

It all starts with the vision. But where does the vision come from? I’ve heard it described as whisperings of the muse, messages from the divine, possession by the duende, static from the subconscious, or simply madness. I don’t know where my ideas come from, but I know how to cultivate them. I’m still struggling with the execution part of the equation. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be able to adequately convey a vision to another human being. Meanwhile, the ideas keep coming.

The hypnoidal state (the period between sleeping and waking, similar to the hypnagogic state or period between wakefulness and sleep) produces the most and best ideas. It’s possible to extend this state, either by spending more time in bed, or spending more time alone.

It is of course precisely in such episodes of mental traveling that writers are known to do good work, sometimes even their best, solving formal problems, getting advice from Beyond, having hypnagogic adventures that with luck can be recovered later on.
–Thomas Pynchon, “Nearer, My Couch, to Thee,” New York Times Book Review, June 6, 1993

In mid-18th-century London, Dr Johnson, who had nothing to be ashamed of as far as literary output goes, is to be found lacerating himself for his sluggardly habits. “O Lord, enable me … in redeeming the time I have spent in Sloth,” he wrote in his journals at the age of 29. Twenty years later, things haven’t improved, and he resolves “to rise early. Not later than six if I can.” The following year, having failed to rise at six, he adapts his resolution: “I purpose to rise at eight because though I shall not yet rise early it will be much earlier than I now rise, for I often lye till two.”
–Tom Hodgkinson, “How to be Idle”, Hamish Hamilton, 2004

Being more of a morning person, I tend not to lie in bed for long, once the sun comes up. But I keep a notebook and pencil by the bed for capturing the ideas and solutions that start driving by as soon as I open my eyes. The more productive time, however, is the time alone in the studio. Assuming there are no visitors and no phone calls, it’s easy to drift in and out of that nonlinear state that resembles meditation or dreaming.

According to neuroscientists Denis Pare and Rodolfo Llinas, the brain’s simultaneous 40 Hz ‘neural oscillations’, which are associated with consciousness, also occur during REM sleep. Given this, Pare and Llinas were led to the conclusion that the only difference between our dreaming and waking states is that in waking states, the “closed system that generates oscillatory states” is modulated by incoming stimuli from the outside world. In other words, what we call “waking state” is really an REM dream state, with a sensory topping.
–Gary Lachman, “Waking Sleep”, Fortean Times

This period of easy access to the subconscious (or muse, duende, etc.) doesn’t just produce visions of new projects, it helps direct and refine projects that are already under way. With my sketchbook and camera, I collect visual components. In reading and conversation, I collect conceptual elements. They all get tossed into the studio cauldron and, in a process that’s still a mystery to me, some good ideas appear. Which, as Bayles and Orland mentioned (at the beginning of this post) is just the beginning of the work of art.

August 10, 2004 (Tuesday)
My Favorite Art Books – I have a few hundred art books on my shelves, and I look at some of them every day. So I thought that maybe on days when I couldn’t think of anything else to write, I’d tell you about one or two. I’ll archive the entries on the “Art Book” page.

I’m starting off with a couple of books by Lewis Hyde that aren’t, strictly speaking, art books. They’re actually kinda hard to classify, which means you never know where you’ll find them in the book store. I keep them with my art books because I keep reading them over and over again for inspiration and philosophical guidance on living the artist’s life. The two books are:

The Gift – Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property
by Lewis Hyde, 1979 Vintage Books
0-394-71519–5

Trickster Makes This World – Mischief, Myth, and Art
by Lewis Hyde, 1998 North Point Press
0-86547-536-9

A few years ago Margaret Atwood wrote a terrific review of these books for the LA Times and luckily it’s still online (here.) A couple of excerpts:

“The artist belongs primarily to the gift economy; without that element of creation which arrives uncommanded and cannot be bought, the work is unlikely to be alive. The Gift is the best book I know of for the aspiring young, for talented but unacknowledged creators, or even for those who have achieved material success and are worried that this means they’ve sold out. It gets at the core of their dilemma: how to maintain yourself alive in the world of money, when the essential part of what you do cannot be bought or sold.

Hyde reminds us that the wall between the artist and that American favourite son, the con-artist, can be a thin one indeed; that craft and crafty rub shoulders; and that the words artifice, artifact, articulation and art all come from the same ancient root, a word meaning to join, to fit, and to make. If it’s a seamless whole you want, pray to Apollo, who sets the limits within which such a work can exist. Tricksters, however, stand where the door swings open on its hinges and the horizon expands: they operate where things are joined together, and thus can also come apart.”
By Margaret Atwood. Copyright © O.W. Toad Ltd. (full text here)

Lewis Hyde starts with the premise that a work of art is a gift and not a commodity, and goes on to explain the uneasy nature of the artist’s position in a marketplace economy. He leads the reader slowly and carefully to his surprising conclusion that “gift exchange and the market need not be wholly separate spheres.”

With “Trickster”, Lewis Hyde uses mythological trickster figures like Hermes, Eshu, Krishna, Coyote, Raven, and Loki, as well as historical and contemporary figures like Frederick Douglass, Walt Whitman, Picasso, Duchamp, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Mappelthorpe, John Cage to illustrate the value and necessity of trickster spirit (the “artus worker”) in any culture.

I highly recommend both of these books to anyone involved in the arts.

August 9, 2004 (Monday)
I was interested in this conversation between a curator (Chris at Zeke’s Gallery) and an art critic (Michel Hellman) – they discussed thematically unifying a body of work or a group show; the role of an art critic; how a critic decides which show to write about; and more. Some excerpts:

Michel: Well you know it is one thing to look at shows while being interested in art and just going browsing through the galleries and another thing actually having to find enough material to write a coherent article in a certain amount of words.

Chris: What is it then specifically with a generic exhibition that would make it easier for you to review, assuming the quality of the art is up to par?

Michel: A theme. I told you I like figurative art. I like cartoon art. But, if there was some kind of theme behind it then it would give me a way to approach it, an easier way. Because if I was write a review about this exhibit that you have up here I would write about the artist, biographical things, but there’s only so much that you can write about when the artist doesn’t have a history. Three pages is pretty long for an article. If it were a show with a theme about people using cartoons, or something like that, then it would be a lot easier to write an article about it.

Chris: Okay, then working on that line, what are the things that would make it almost impossible for you to write a review? Assuming the art is good.

Michel: Abstract art, it could be good art, an artist can be completely sincere about doing it, but if they are just putting abstract paintings that aren’t really related in some way in a gallery, then what do you write about? Oh this is nice, but why? And it’s all very subjective.

Chris: To me, art exhibitions are taking what you can get out of them. It’s the job of the gallery or the curator, to say to the reviewer “okay, you want a thematically unified set of work?” Give me 5 minutes and I can link these paintings here in a very linear fashion.

The complete interview is here.

I looked around the web, trying to find a review by Michel Hellman but, as Chris mentioned at the start of his interview, “being able to read everything that M. Hellman writes for them while on line is sketchy at best.” I couldn’t find anything in English. Even so, I was curious about the process and prejudices of an art critic. What most surprised me was how often M. Hellman seemed to prove the cliches about art critics. He depends on curators to present him with a theme, otherwise he has a hard time finding his way into the art. He doesn’t really understand abstract work, so he has a hard time reviewing it. At least he admits it (K. Baker of the SF Chronicle has the opposite problem – he doesn’t understand representational work, so he limits his comments to snide remarks whenever he’s stuck reviewing it.) The best part was near the end when M. Hellman said he wanted to be an artist at some point in the future:

Michel: I want to try to do art myself. That’s one of the goals I don’t want to be a full time art critic, well maybe, we’ll see what happens, but I like keeping it part time and keeping my options open.

August 7, 2004 (Saturday)
Art as commodity… in the news:

Which pictures sell?
by Michael Kesterton at the Globe and Mail

After many years of observing auction rooms, Georgina Adam, art market editor of The Art Newspaper has developed an uncanny knack of predicting which paintings will sell well and which won’t, writes Sarah Jane Checkland in The Sunday Telegraph. Some notes:

  • Paintings of women and children outstrip those of men — and the younger and more attractive the better.
  • Pets increase selling power, especially if they look cute.
  • Although “frontal nudes” do well, “back bottoms” often don’t. The principle applies to animals as well as humans.
  • Buyers tend to shun religious images, tear-stained widows, sick children and dead animals.
  • Pictures of toffs (ed: British slang for members of the upper classes) are preferable to images of humble toilers.
  • The presence of a body of water can be a major selling point, but only if it is calm.

Thomas Kinkade touches up his business legacy
by David Lazarus at the SF Chronicle

He hasn’t sold an original painting since 1997. Instead, prints of Kinkade paintings are sold in limited editions, their value enhanced for collectors by actual brushstrokes applied by a Kinkade-certified “master highlighter.”

“Some of the most important thinkers in the art world are now writing seriously about Norman Rockwell,” observed Vallance, curator of the Cal State show. “It’s only a short skip to Thomas Kinkade.”
more here, if you can stand it

The Art of Buying Art
By Barry Caine, the Alameda Times-Star

In May, Picasso’s “Boy with a Pipe” fetched $104 million at auction. Not bad for an original investment of $30,000. Granted, the owner’s descendants had to wait five decades for the windfall. Patience is a necessity in the art game. You had better have plenty if you want to invest in art, especially at the low end, meaning between $1,000 and $5,000.

Most experts say it will take a decade for your purchase to appreciate in value. And even then there are no guarantees. “A work of art doesn’t get better with age or worse in terms of artistic value,” says Harvey Jones, senior curator of art at the Oakland Museum of California. “It just comes in and out of fashion. “I don’t think age adds much to the quality of the thing. If it was good once, it’s still good, which should be encouraging to investors. But you have to sometimes wait 100 years.”

At least that’s a reason to keep on living.

Like the economy, the art market is on the upswing, the Wall Street Journal reports. New galleries are opening. Regional auction houses are developing a secondary market for lesser-known artists whose works sell for less than $5,000. Sales of works at that price level have increased.

If you are tempted to try your hand at the art mart, here are a few tips and insights to give you an edge and, possibly, land you a Picasso, albeit a small one.

Opinions vary, so don’t expect a consensus beyond: Do your homework, and buy what you like.

“…then live with it,” Jones says. “And don’t worry about investment potential. If you develop a good eye, your estate will probably benefit. Pay as much as you are able to get the best thing you like. And be prepared to keep it for a very long time.”

For more on “doing your homework,” read the full story here.

Going Overboard for Art
by Barry O’Brien at the Advertiser

For some, cruising the high seas means food and relaxation, but there is a growing trend for some who rate the on-board art auctions the most important incentive to cruising.

A Florida company, Fine Art Wholesalers, sold in excess of 500,000 pieces of art and memorabilia last year on some of the world’s major shipping lines, including the Pacific Princess on the Australian run. Auctions are planned for Pacific Sky out of Brisbane and newcomer Pacific Sun out of Sydney.

Onboard Art Director Frank Markram: “People are specifically coming on board to buy art because we have incredible prices for them. As one of the largest art dealers in the world, the company has phenomenal buying power. We can walk up to an up-and-coming artist and say ‘We’ll take everything we can see’.
more here..

August 6, 2004 (Friday)
Here’s an excellent summary (by Sylvia White) of what it’s like to live with an artist:

Living with an artist isn’t easy, particularly if you are the significant other. So, after living with and working with artists for over 20 years I’ve put together a few suggestions for you to share with your partners. One of the first things most non-artists have a hard time understanding is the concept of addiction and how it is related to art making. Most artists I know go through classic symptoms of withdrawal when deprived of their work environment for too long. They get grouchy, irritable, may suffer from physical complaints such as headaches, body aches and often times find themselves depressed for no reason. These symptoms miraculously disappear when they are given the opportunity to work again

The concept of “working” was a hard one for me to understand. Often times I’d go into my husband’s studio and see him sitting on the couch with the television on or listening to the radio…staring at his paintings. I’d been at my office all day, talking on the phone or busy with clients. This was not my idea of “work.” It wasn’t until I really understood the process of making a painting that I realized how much of the work is in just looking…thinking…imagining what it would be like to do this or that. Mental activity that to the lay person looks like relaxation. I could accept the fact that slathering paint around was work…but, sitting and staring, that was hard for me. What I came to learn was that the “looking,” is the hardest part.

Contrary to the common stereotype of artists as slackers, artists are incredibly industrious and hard working. In most cases, regardless of what they do for a living, they are working on their obsession 24/7. Acknowledging this, can help tremendously in understanding an important aspect of an artists’ character…and saving a relationship.

excerpts from “If You Are Addicted” by Sylvia White – the full essay is HERE.

I asked a few friends (artists and those partnered with artists) to tell me a few of the main characteristics of life with an artist and here are the anonymous replies:

– The best part is being in a creative environment – it’s invigorating, inspiring.

– All the dish towels end up ruined with paint.

– Now and then, say at the dinner table, they stare off into space and you know they’re making art in their head.

– You have to deal with clutter – lots of stuff around related to the creative process – not just art materials but lots of “intriguing found objects.”

– It can get lonely because of the amount of solitude the artist needs.

– They need a lot of alone time, so you better get a hobby yourself.

– When (the artist) tries to cook dinner, they are easily distracted (or wander off into the studio) and things get burned.

– When they don’t work as much as they need, they get insomnia.

– When they aren’t painting they get cranky.

– When they aren’t making art it’s hell on everyone.

– I used to think the worst part was lack of steady income, but you get used to it.

– There are financial strains from funneling the available money into art projects instead of home, vacation, or other joint ventures.

August 5, 2004, (Thursday)
I’ve never really understood boredom. And people who use boredom as an excuse for bad behavior really irritate me (as in, “There’s nothing to do around here, so we need a teen center, other wise we’ll just get into trouble.”) For as far back as I can remember, maybe around age four, I have had the sense that there are more things to explore, stuff to learn, and projects to complete, than there is time to do it all. You know the common saying that people who complain about boredom are boring?

Well, a parallel saying is people who complain about life being meaningless aren’t living a meaningful life. I thought of this when I read the August column by Jeanette Winterson, who wrote one of my favorite art books, “Art Objects.” She says,

“People who complain that life is meaningless, are not prepared to find meaning for themselves – they expect it to be automatically present. Nothing of value is automatic or inevitable – it has to be dug out, coaxed, sought, and when found, celebrated. It may be that creative people understand this, because for us, working at the problem of meaningless, is in itself, meaning.”

Later she talks about going to see an opera and says,

“Great plays can withstand all kinds of interpretations – just as music can. The challenge and pleasure for us as an audience is in re-visiting the places that we think are familiar, and finding that they are changed. When that happens, we change too.”

Which partly explains the appeal of painting “realistic” images of the places around me – my neighborhood, this city, the things that are utterly familiar to me. I try to inject a personal view of the scene or object, while still remaining within the bounds of “realism.” It seems to be working, as I often get comments from viewers that after seeing my painting of something familiar, they’ve never seen it quite the same way since.

August 4, 2004 (Wednesday)
Thank you, Tyler Green, for giving me a simple exercise and blog entry:

My 10 favorite artists, with a one-word summary of what I like best about each artist.:

1.) Alice Neel. Painting.

2.) Charles Burchfield. Synesthesia.

3.) Agnes Pelton. Transmission.

4.) Edward Hopper. Focus.

5.) Robert Schwartz. Craft.

6.) Paula Rego. Story.

7.) James Doolin. Animation.

8.) Vija Celmins. Iconography.

9.) Robert Arneson. Californian.

10.) John Register. Persistence.

August 3, 2004 (Tuesday)
I was inspired by the entries yesterday at Iconodual and Artblognet. They seemed to be related, and I was intending to write something for today about imagery, icons, and the consequences of suppressing sensory experiences… but I painted until afternoon, then went out and got involved in various adventures, getting home unexpectedly late… and my brain is too fried for coherent thought right now, so you’ll have to make do with some visuals instead. At left: Monday’s Sunset at the Camera Obscura. The Cliff House is still under renovation. It’s supposedly re-opening this month but it sure doesn’t look possible to me. Meanwhile, the Musee Mechanique is still at Pier 45 and here’s a shot of the carnival machine, taken yesterday:

August 2, 2004 (Monday)
It’s August, which means the fog will soon end and we’ll be having the best weather of the year. Many of the galleries are closed for this month, so it’s time to get out and see something new… look in some of those group shows at little out of the way places that are trying harder. I’ll be writing about these three places later this month:

1. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA)- “Beautiful Losers” (not that this is a small space, but it’s a group show and work by young artists) I stopped in here briefly last week and didn’t have time to give it my full attention. But I liked what I saw. Initial impressions: lots of painting and drawing, some installations, some video, vibrant, witty, original work. Great use of the space. Will check it out again in a couple of weeks.
Great photos of the show at SFArt Openings and at this site.

2. Newmark Gallery – “Cityscapes” by Larry Morace, David Holmes, Mary Proenza, Paul Madonna. Haven’t seen it yet, but it sounds like a good show – will let you know.

3. Steele Gallery – “Favorite Things” by Gordon Smedt, Tina Lauren Vietmeier, Kazaan Viverios. I keep hearing about this new gallery – time to see it for myself.