March 2010 Archives

Three Hours of #class


Chris Rywalt, Franklin at Class, 2010, Conte on paper, 5.5x8.5 inches

Chris Rywalt, Franklin at Class, 2010, Conté on paper, 5.5x8.5 inches

I attended about three hours of #class yesterday. Franklin all but requested that I write it up so here I go. I'm not sure it's a good idea (or a good investment of time) but I'll do it anyway.

What is #class? Basically, William Powhida and Jen Dalton took over Ed Winkleman's gallery, painted the walls with blackboard paint, put some tables and chairs in the middle of the room, and called it #class. Over the course of the past month they've invited various people in to talk, discuss, hang out, do yoga, draw on the walls, and so on.

Let me explain how I was feeling going in: I was a little uncomfortable. I was going entirely to support Franklin. I had no desire to go myself. I'd written bad things about some of the people there. I'd stopped speaking to some of them. So I went in expecting a negative atmosphere. I figured there would be some heated discussion, maybe some serious disagreements. I was hoping there'd be a fistfight, because that would be cool and old-fashioned, something that could go into the art history books, like when Willem de Kooning punched Clement Greenberg in the Cedar Tavern. So I tried to prepare myself mentally for it. I thought about what I might respond to various things people might say. I arranged possible arguments for topics that might come up. I tried to concentrate on absorbing other people's statements slowly, because I've found that I tend to accept what people say without fully grasping it until much later, and only then do I understand where we disagreed. So I wanted to make sure I thought more deeply about the conversation as it was happening instead of getting too caught up in the moment.

All of which turned out to be wasted effort because absolutely nothing interesting happened at all.

I arrived about a half hour before the end of Ben Davis' talk on "9.5 Theses on Art and Class". I recognized about half the people in the room: James Wagner, Barry Hoggard, Joanne Mattera, Man Bartlett (he had his furry hat on), Ed Winkleman, William Powhida, Jen Dalton, and of course, Franklin. Shortly after I sat down Piri Halasz arrived, introduced herself to me, and found a seat next to me. Ben was standing and mostly leading the discussion, which had wandered into whether the government should pay people to be artists or not.

I realized as I sat there listening that I actually didn't mind the very basic idea of #class, which was getting a bunch of people together to talk about art. Here I was, getting a chance to meet Piri, who I'd only known online, and seeing Franklin visiting from Boston, and saying hello to Joanne, who I like very much. Just putting people together that way, it's a good thing.

I realized what I object to about #class is the insistence that this be art. It's not art. It's talking. I feel no need to expand the definition of art to include a conversation, a shared meal, or a happening. Or I should say I feel no need to accept the expansion that's already been going on for the past sixty years or so. In fact I think it's a good idea to start narrowing the definition down again, throwing out things that have been dragged under the umbrella of art. And this group of people sitting around bullshitting? It doesn't have to be art.

You can go and sit through the hours of video of the event if you feel so inclined. At 1:12:45 you can see Franklin wave to me as I walk by the door (he had a view of the street from his perch) and at 1:13:04 you can see me walk in and sit down right at the bottom of the camera frame. From then on you can stare at my bald spot. Note that I pull out the New York Times crossword and completely fail to fill in any answers.

While I sat there I checked out the blackboards around the room. One of the attendees had brought in her kindergarten class earlier so the boards were filled to kindergartner height with drawings, all of which together had more charm, energy, intelligence and fun than anything anywhere else in the room. You know how the anti-art cliche is "My kid can do that"? Well, your kid can't, because she's too creative.

William Powhida, Ed's Rules, 2010, pencil, colored pencil and watercolor on paper, 14x11 inches

William Powhida, Ed's Rules, 2010, pencil, colored pencil and watercolor on paper, 14x11 inches

Ben's session ended and some people left and some stayed. William Powhida came over and introduced himself to me and I introduced him to Piri. He shook my hand. Bill said something to Piri about how we'd argued a bit online but that was closest we came to that fistfight. (I always want to be one of those people who looks at the proffered hand for shaking coldly and with scorn but it never works out. I always end up shaking hands.)

Somewhere in there Agni Zotis came in, which was kind of funny, since I only know her because John Morris rented her gallery space for the Blogger Show back in 2007. How she ended up at #class I don't know, except that maybe the art world really is a small place.

Also George showed up. I have no last name or link for George because I don't know anything about him, except that he wears a hat and used to comment a lot on Franklin's blog. We'd all argue and everyone else can't stand George but I don't mind him.

You can read Franklin's talk when he posts it on his site. His position wasn't a surprise, that conceptualism makes for bad art. He approached this by taking a satirical tone, saying that conceptualism is great, and then going on to explain why it's great, which is that anyone can make anything into art with no effort at all. Someone had written high up on one wall "IRONY IS: OFF" and Franklin, as he began, got up and erased OFF, writing in "ON".

I have to admit that I found Franklin's reading his essay off the paper to be less than exciting. His delivery wasn't helped by his occasional pauses for laughter which wasn't forthcoming. Piri and I certainly chuckled at some of it, and others around the room did at other parts, but I think there simply weren't enough people in the audience to have that necessary critical mass. The group was classroom sized, which is, I think, exactly the wrong size for a talk like Franklin's: You either need more people or fewer.

Things picked up after he'd finished reading and began speaking extemporaneously. That's when the Franklin I'd expected arrived, intelligent and witty and interesting. Unfortunately that's when everyone else got a chance to speak, too.

If you've ever attended a town council meeting, school board meeting, PTA meeting, recreation soccer coaches' meeting, Boy Scout camping trip planning meeting, or any other of the various meetings that dot the American social landscape, then you know exactly what the discussion period was like. I can sum up the problem in three sentences: Everyone has ideas. Everyone wants their ideas to be heard. Almost all of their ideas are stupid.

The trouble is most people pick up ideas the way they might pick up burrs on their pant legs as they stroll across a meadow. They don't know what they are, exactly, how they got there or what they do, and they don't know what to do with them, but they're willing to pluck them off and throw them at you. People think they understand these ideas but they don't; they've collected them somehow, can't really think about them properly, haven't fit them in to anything else, but will freely bandy them about as if they know what they're doing. They're so ignorant they don't even know they're ignorant. They end up dealing with concepts that have troubled the finest minds humanity has ever produced, but since they have no idea of any of the work that's gone into these concepts, they come to their own unfounded and inane conclusions and feel they've done some fine thinking.

For example, one fellow claimed that one plus one equals two might have some different meaning in another culture. One lady declared that ideas have aesthetic qualities, apparently having decided that she can just redefine the word "aesthetic" to her own liking. Bill started talking about a priori knowledge. All of this was covered by Kant in more depth than any of these people will ever comprehend. You can't argue with them -- the only thing I could imagine is telling them to go read Kant's Critique of Judgment and come back when they understand it. Personally I'm still working on it.

At one point in his opening essay Franklin listed several possible arguments a conceptual artist might use against a critic of their work. But he failed to anticipate the best argument yet, which is simply to claim that you're not a conceptual artist at all. Franklin carefully defined conceptual art as art which hinges its success primarily on its ideas. This passed without comment initially but later a few people objected to this. As near as I could figure it, at least three attendees felt that conceptual art was about more than ideas and wasn't what they were doing anyway.

Jennifer Dalton, Who's pissed at #class, 2010, Pencil on paper, 19x22 inches

Jennifer Dalton, Who's pissed at #class, 2010, Pencil on paper, 19x22 inches

Jen Dalton actually claimed -- and unfortunately the recording stops before this point so I have to quote from memory here -- Jen said, "I'm not a Conceptualist. I really care about how my work looks!" And I could only think, Oh my god. You really care about the aesthetic quality of your pie chart illustrating the percentage of male artists supported by their spouses? That means your work fails on every possible level! I mean, honestly, does Jen really believe that she cares about how her work looks the same way, for example, Morris Louis cared about the way his work looks? How do you argue against this level of delusion?

The answer is, you don't. You sit there quietly in the back, under the surveillance camera, and you say nothing because you realize it's hopeless. These people have burrs to throw around and they're going to throw them and what are you going to do? Throw your own? Better to opt out.

The high point, for me, was when Ed, apropos of nothing, while Franklin was talking, got up and wrote on the blackboard over Franklin's head -- I think this was after the video stopped recording -- "BEAUTY = PATRIARCHAL" and under that "COMPELLING = NOT" followed by ditto marks. This was after a couple of the not-Conceptualists discussing with Franklin got it into their heads that conceptual art isn't about being "interesting" so much as it's about being "compelling", although what the difference is, and what it has to do with the patriarchy, I don't know. The fact that "BEAUTY = PATRIARCHAL" completely undercut everything Franklin was saying about beauty -- that it's a human universal, that it transcends culture, that it's worth achieving, that it's the highest goal of true art -- didn't seem to faze Ed in the least. This is how you get a reputation for being even-handed -- by being very fast and subtle in your under-handedness.

Eventually the discussion wound down. Afterwards I got to chat with a few different people. Piri had left early to see a few shows while she was downtown but Joanne was still around. While we were talking one of the other attendees interrupted us. She'd mentioned she was working on her doctorate during the discussion so Joanne politely asked her about her thesis. I knew this was a mistake. The woman rattled off the title of her dissertation -- sadly I didn't record it for posterity -- and Joanne meekly replied, "That went over my head." I could've told Joanne it didn't go over, it went under her head. The title was that thoroughly, inexpressibly stupid. Well, what would you expect from someone with a homemade business card declaring themselves to be an "Ecological Artist"?

Anyway, in the end it didn't matter if the average IQ at #class approached room temperature. Not only did no one know what they were talking about, none of them had any ability to affect anything, either. You'd be better off attending a colloquy of capybaras on the topic "Towards a Clearer Understanding of the Steering of Ocean Liners". They'd have more basic comprehension of the subject and be more capable of affecting it.

Behind me on the wall was written something along the lines of "We've been accused of being whiny so for the last four days SOLUTIONS ONLY!" In that spirit let me offer this solution for everyone who attended any part of #class. In fact, this is my solution for anyone who is dissatisfied with the state of the art world, a bad review they received, or, really, anything at all. Here is my solution: BE BETTER. Not better than you were yesterday. Not better than you thought you might be. Not better than your neighbor or better than your mother expected. No. Measure yourself against the best and try to be better. You'll most likely fail, but that's okay. Keep trying. All that's good in the world has sprung from that one impulse: BE BETTER.

If I Had a Gallery (part one)


The atmosphere's been awfully negative around here lately. Stephanie likes to warn me that it's okay to let loose with some negative thoughts now and then so long as I eventually get back to the positive, what she calls "the good stuff". And it's been noted by a few people in my vicinity -- most notably Piri -- that art critics aren't remembered for the bad artists they savaged but for the great artists they championed.

After the past couple of weeks on this blog, then, I was thinking that I really need a winner. I really need to find a show of art I truly love so I can get some positivity out there. But it's hard to call that up on order. It's just not possible to look over the shows on One Art World and say, yes! That one's a surefire quality show! It doesn't work that way. Of course the fairs were in town but I have a four year tradition of not going and I'm not planning on changing that any time soon.

Something I'd been thinking about anyway was making a list of the artists I'd want to show if I had my own gallery. I would never have my own gallery, but if in some imaginary parallel universe I were to have one, I was thinking of which artists I'd want to show. It occurred to me that I could do this virtually by putting together a blog post showcasing my favorite artists and explaining what they do that works for me.

One thing I'm not doing, however, is just listing artists I like. That would be a long list because there are lots of artists whose work I've seen that I simply like. There are museum-level artists, dead artists, artists whose work I've only seen in reproduction, and so on. Such a list would serve no real purpose.

I'm going to be more specific than that. What I'm going to do is make a list of artists who I not only would but conceivably could show in my fictitious gallery. These are living artists, still working, still creating. Granted that some of them -- most of them, probably -- are out of my league, or anyway the league of this imaginary gallery I'm running. It's not realistic. Some of these artists are people I consider friends; some I've exchanged e-mail with; some I've met; some are blue-chip artists. I own works by some of them; some I couldn't afford if I won the lottery.

Above any of that, these are artists whose work has done more than make me think, "Oh, I like that." These are artists whose work I've experienced in person, and their work has affected me. Each artist has created at least one work which moved me in some way while I was standing in front of it. The feeling is indescribable and inexplicable, something beyond words, something that cannot be fully understood, only known.

To me, that's what art's all about.

[Note: This has taken me longer to write up than I imagined it could. So I'm splitting it into two parts. This is part one. Part two will be following soon.]

Inka Essenhigh, In Bed, 2005, oil on canvas, 68x62 inches

Inka Essenhigh, In Bed, 2005, oil on canvas, 68x62 inches

Inka Essenhigh

Inka Essenhigh's In Bed, painted in 2005, is an excellent example of why art needs to be experienced in person. Looking at a reproduction of this painting, computer-monitor sized, reduced, flattened, it looks like a pretty obvious take on insomnia, or nightmares, or anyway of someone being tortured while sleeping or trying to sleep. There are the window blinds, the bed wheels, some grinning critters twisting someone's guts. There are the sheets flapping and the sleeper writhing. It looks kind of literal, actually.

But in person it's another thing entirely. Standing in front of it you can only just get the painting between your outstretched arms, and then only if you're pretty tall. The painting completely dominates you and your field of view. And you're confronted immediately with a frenzy of activity, a swirl of moving lines, a sudden, shaking blast from the brass section. You might not notice -- I certainly didn't -- the literal elements of the work, which are actually small parts in relation to the structural elements. What takes over your vision isn't the strings marking those wild stripes as venetian blinds or the delicate curl of the sleeper's kidneys. What you see is a violent maelstrom of flapping calligraphy. Only if you stand in front of it for some time -- or walk away and come back to it, as I did -- do you start to focus on the individual, more recognizable, parts of the painting. Of course if you see the title of the work before standing in front of it you might catch on sooner. But if you're open to the pure visual experience of In Bed, it's like being washed away by a sudden cold ocean wave.

I haven't seen anything from Ms. Essenhigh in the past few years, not since I reviewed her 2006 show at 303 Gallery. Researching for this I discovered I only just missed her most recent show there and now I'm kicking myself. I haven't seen anything in the rest of her work to match the power of In Bed but a couple of them have come close; and I'd really like to see more reach this level.

Eric Fischl, Ten Breaths: Damage, 2007, resin, patina, and cloth, 57x93x124 inches

Eric Fischl, Ten Breaths: Damage, 2007, resin, patina, and cloth, 57x93x124 inches

Eric Fischl

It may not be entirely obvious that a painting needs to be seen in person but everyone can agree that sculpture needs to be experienced. Until you're actually walking around it, seeing how the light changes against the forms with your viewing angle, you're not seeing sculptural work at all. So I can't really expect you to look at photos of Eric Fischl's Ten Breaths series and get even an inkling of the feelings I felt when I saw them in Mary Boone's cavernous space.

That's a shame because the whole installation should be seen by anyone with a love for humanity. Each figure radiates tenderness, sorrow, pain, pity, and loss. Each one is infused with the fragility of being human, the essential brokenness of every person. Of course we can say Mr. Fischl communicates this through the surfaces of these sculptures: They're all corroded, lumpy, unfinished. Fingers melt together, legs trail off into nothing, anatomy is distorted, barely human. Individual features are indistinct. But that's just surface and it's superficial: Simple ugly half-forms aren't what makes these sculptures great. What makes them great is something ineffable Mr. Fischl infused into each one, a feeling of great empathy and love, a sadness for the weakness and suffering of each figure, and a palpable desire for transcendence.

I felt all that as I walked around the figures. The angel being blown out of Heaven, the frenzied dancers, the fleeing man, the tumbling woman just striking the floor, the Samaritan helping someone from where they've fallen, a small child standing helpless as another fallen person is attended to. It's easy to read all of this as a recasting, possibly an allegory, of September 11th, and that may be what Mr. Fischl was thinking and what he intended. But I believe great art transcends intentions, even the intentions of its creator; great art embodies more than anyone can possibly intend. That's what makes it great. And Ten Breaths is great art. I went in with no idea of its connections to anything -- no idea of the reception Tumbling Woman received when first displayed, no idea of Mr. Fischl's ideas behind the piece, no idea of what the gallery had to say. None of that is necessary because the sculptures tell you everything you need to know by being themselves.

I hope that one day Ten Breaths will be displayed permanently somewhere. It deserves to be experienced by many, many people.

Tracy Helgeson, Horizon Lines (One), 2008, oil on panel, 4x4 inches

Tracy Helgeson, Horizon Lines (One), 2008, oil on panel, 4x4 inches

Tracy Helgeson, Horizon Lines (Eight), 2008, oil on panel, 4x4 inches

Tracy Helgeson, Horizon Lines (Eight), 2008, oil on panel, 4x4 inches

Tracy Helgeson

I feel a need to defend the paintings of Tracy Helgeson and at the same time I feel a little bad about that. I personally try to say how I feel about an artist without making excuses or apologies. But Tracy herself would probably admit that she has a bit of a difficult time in the art world because of her subject matter and her success. Her paintings sell, and they're mostly landscapes, mostly of barns. The problem is that seeing her work in reproduction, and knowing what there is to know about it -- woman painter, living in rural upstate New York, doing gauzy paintings of rustic exteriors, sells well from non-New York City-based galleries -- one might be inclined to dismiss her and I think she's been dismissed many times over the years. It's too easy to say what she's doing is arts-and-crafts, not fine art, that it's kitsch (and not in that acceptable ironic way, either).

I feel bad about wanting to defend Tracy because her work needs no defense from me. All it needs is to be seen in person. When you have one in front of you all the words attached to the paintings drop away and you're left with the painting itself and all its wonderfulness. How Tracy gets so much into what is, really, a simple subject -- well, that's the mystery of art, isn't it? That's why people enjoy art, why they keep coming back to it. Because there's something there that can't be explained by biography or subject matter, something that can't be described by sales figures or encompassed by the address of your gallery.

These two tiny paintings are probably not what I'd choose to represent Tracy, and I doubt she'd choose them herself. I put them here because they're the ones I happen to own. You can see more of her work at her site. Again, I insist that looking at a Website isn't enough: If there's some way you can see Tracy's work in person, do so.

Tracy's paintings have a marvelous depth to them. Her darker underpaintings slip in and out of perception, hidden to varying degrees by her lighter, more realistic upper layers. She never reaches a level of full reality but instead maintains an almost dreamlike quality. The blue of a sky is never a solid cerulean but instead waxes and wanes across the painting, as the deep maroons and fulsome pinks of the underpainting peek through. Her vegetation is never a pure viridian as you'd find in an amateur landscape, but always tinted through with purples, blues, yellows. Her paintings always shade off at the edges with a hint of Rothko. And she usually finishes them with a varnish that saturates and unifies everything into one lovely jewellike whole.

I firmly believe that art isn't about its subject; in fact art isn't about anything. Art is how you feel when you stand in front of it. Tracy's paintings show us the truth of that.

J.T. Kirkland, Untitled, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 20x20 inches

J.T. Kirkland, Untitled, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 20x20 inches

J.T. Kirkland

Once again I'm representing an artist with a painting they'd probably not choose for themselves, and once again I have to plead that it's one I happen to own. In this case J.T. offered this painting free to a good home on his site and I was lucky enough to volunteer to adopt it before anyone else. He was giving it away because it's a direction he attempted but never followed up on, leaving him with a work nothing like anything else in his oeuvre. So using that painting here is a bit wrong of me, but I'm going to do it anyway, because, as I keep saying, the reproductions don't matter. What matters is the actual work. If you want a more representative idea of his work, go to his site, or, better yet, see it in person for yourself.

J.T.'s work is especially difficult to discuss because it's so minimalist it makes Donald Judd look positively extravagant. J.T. has pieces which consist entirely of a single piece of wood coated with slightly different textures of clear polyacrylic varnish. Yet in person his work doesn't seem minimalist, it feels rich. How this happens is, yes, the mystery of art.

The work which I've seen most is J.T.'s work with wood and holes, where he arranges pieces of various species of wood and drills holes into them in some pattern. It sounds cerebral, cold and distant, but in practice it's none of these things. J.T.'s sensitivity to his materials is such that in choosing them, arranging them, and arranging his holes, they all come together in a harmony greater than the parts. His work is subtle -- no one's going to faint from the sensuousness of it all -- but strong, like the insistent pull of a slowly flowing river. Or like the growing of a tree itself. Most artists, I think, have a love for their materials, a sense of their innate beauty, but few artists would allow their materials to stand so wholly on their own. Wood is itself beautiful, of course, but J.T. leaves us looking at the wood, his additions to and subtractions from it, and the whole combination as different levels of beauty.

Kung Fu Panda Land


Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda

I've told this story before but I'm thinking of it again so I'll tell it again, only shorter this time.

I have this very clear memory from my childhood. I must've been very young, no more than eight years old. Two doors down from me there lived this older boy, Steve. I got it into my head for some reason that I could physically overcome Steve and his friends. I'd decided I could beat them in a fight. I don't know where I got this idea, but it seemed to me that if I could meditate, do a mind-meld, like Spock -- only mind-meld on myself -- then I'd become great fighter.

So I went over to Steve's front yard where he was fooling around with a couple of his friends and I challenged them. They went along with it. I went to the side of Steve's house, performed my self-mind-meld, came out, and promptly found myself on the ground looking up at Steve. He helped me up laughing. I demanded to try again and got flipped onto the lawn again. I asked for one last try and got it -- and landed flat on my back. Of course. Steve was a lot bigger than I was. I was a little kid.

I don't think I was very upset by my defeat, just confused. I'd done the self-mind-meld! What could have gone wrong?

I learned something that day. I learned that wanting something, needing something, no matter how passionately or intensely, isn't enough. You can believe really, really hard -- you can almost sprain your belief muscle -- and whatever you're believing in still won't be true.

Now I have children of my own and I'm not sure if I wish a memory on them like mine. But in many ways it'd probably be good for them. Surely our culture has been trying to teach them an entirely different lesson. There is, for example, Kung Fu Panda. Now, far be it from me to put too much emphasis on a childrens' entertainment. My hope and expectation is that five years from now, ten years from now, almost no one will remember that Kung Fu Panda even existed. It's not a classic, I trust, which will echo down the decades. But it is a fine example, here, of the lessons we're trying, collectively, to teach our children.

The story of Kung Fu Panda is as simple as it is simple-minded. Recent poster child for failing upwards Jack Black voices Po, a large panda who, it turns out, is the Chosen One prophesied to defend the village against some super evil badass. The only trouble is Po is out of shape, incompetent and lazy. Dustin Hoffman's little rat critter tries to teach Po but to little effect. After many more lengthy minutes of pratfalls, spit takes, and topical humor, the super evil badass shows up and Po defeats him, not by outwitting him or out-lazying him or anything, but in a blazing kung fu battle. How does Po do this? By believing in himself. Despite the several well-trained super kung fu good guys in the vicinity, Po the panda is the best, because out of all of them, he has faith in himself.

I'm telling you this: If I were an Asian cartoon duck living in a little Asian village in an Asian-inspired movie (where the main heroes are naturally played by two Jews from California) and some Asian tiger super evil badass were bearing down on me, I certainly wouldn't want to be defended by the untrained fat guy who believes in himself. Give me the platoon with years of practice and experience any time. Likewise, if I ever find myself in a car accident, I hope to hell the firefighters and EMTs who show up have gone to a lot of classes, practiced intently and frequently, been to the sites of many accidents, trained under older, more experienced people, and in short KNOW WHAT THE FUCK THEY'RE DOING. If Jack Black shows up with his unshakable belief in himself and not much more, I'll be converting to Christianity and cranking out the Lord's Prayer mighty quick.

Which brings us, in roundabout, characteristic and I hope endearing fashion, to the topic of today's post, which is Roberta Smith's recent column, "Post-Minimal to the Max". Every other art blogger has weighed in on this and now so must I.

Roberta's call for a change in the art world -- particularly aimed at New York City museum curators -- strikes me as too little too late, among other things. But the bit that bugs me the most is possibly the bit that most people jumped on as the good part: "What’s missing is art that seems made by one person out of intense personal necessity, often by hand." Out from the woodwork poured the lice of the blogosphere wheedling in their little squeaky woodlice voices, "That's me! That's me! Intense personal necessity! I create art out of intense personal necessity! That's MEEEEE!"

Allow me to be the first person to tell you, then: Your intense personal necessity means nothing. Absolutely nothing. The universe doesn't care about what you need, no matter how intensely you think you need it. Too big for you? Let's zoom in then: The universe doesn't care, the galaxy doesn't care, the solar system doesn't care, the planet doesn't care. Your continent doesn't give a crap. Your country doesn't have half an old rat's ass for you. Neither cares your state, province, or województwo. Your city cares nought. Your borough couldn't care less. And your block? Well, maybe there's someone on your block who cares. That someone is you.

The fact is, whatever Kung Fu Panda tells you, believing in yourself means nothing whatsoever. Having a vast and firm faith in your ability to kick the super badass' butt will only get your own ass handed to you. Intensely needing to beat up the boys who live down the street from you will get you nowhere but flat on your back in the grass. You can do the self-mind-meld until your ears get pointy and you'll get precisely nowhere.


Unless you do the work. Intense personal necessity doesn't mean a damned thing but if you put in the work, you may get somewhere. If you take those kung fu lessons, if you train diligently and hard, you will eventually learn kung fu. You may never be a world champion. You may never be the best. But you'll be better than someone who didn't try, no matter how hard they believe in themselves.

Roberta thinks we'd be better off with more art made from some inner personal necessity. She's right insofar as we'd be better off with that than what we have now, which is a lot of art made for no good reason at all. (Although possibly a lot of it is inspired by self-love and self-aggrandizement and other words beginning with self- that your mother warned you about.) But we'd be a lot better off with art made by people who work at it, who respect the field, who spend their time looking hard and trying their very best to get better and better.

Working hard is no guarantee in art -- as Walter Darby Bannard likes to say, "There is no sweat equity in art. Art is art by its effect, not by anything that accompanies its making." But he'll also add that great art comes, not necessarily from hard work on an individual piece, but from hard work over time. Or, as my beloved music director Professor William F. Ondrick used to tell all his students, "There's no substitute for the work, not even genius."

The art world in general -- and certainly the New York City museum world in particular -- may be missing art that seems made by one person out of intense personal necessity, often by hand. But we sure as hell don't need it. What we need is damned good art, made by artists who care, not about their careers or their price tags or their auction results; and not about their own intense personal needs; but about art.


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