Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Meaning of Paint

A Profile in the recent New Yorker has stimulated a question.  It is a portrait of Hans Ulrich Obrist, a curator of a London gallery and a powerful figure in the world of “Art”.  He is skeptical of painting because he thinks it is difficult to do meaningful work in that medium.  One of his favorite artists is Marina Abromavic.  A recent exhibition of hers was an empty room which she occupied.  Participants were invited to join Ms. Abromavic to combine their psychic energy with hers.

The question then is, “What does the world do with the hundreds of artists who like to paint ?”  I say, even must paint.  The “Art” world  is consumed by the manufactured art of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst and so called c art, where whatever the physical expression, an explanation is necessary to give it its meaningfulnes.

 The nouveau riche seemed to follow the leadings of intellectuals and powers in the “Art” world such as Mr. Obrist and pay millions for this art that they may or may not like, as a statement that they are part of this cutting edge thrust of “the New.”

 Thus the “Art World” has become a stratospheric arena that has little to do with those who just paint.  An article in the NY Times told of artists who live in Miami, who are not benefitted by “Basel Miami”, where the Lear Jets of the wealthy fly in from around the world to be told what is hot this year, but do not go beyond the haloed booths of that exhibition to look at the art in the local galleries.  Is no-one interested in finding budding artists on their own?

I know I will be called a vender of sour grapes, but I am not yet senile, and I am not stupid.  I find the so called meaningful meanderings of the intellectual, conceptual explanations to be vapid mind games leading nowhere, and much of the art is cold with no craft or sensuality.

What then is the world to do with all of those who must paint?  Perhaps a new catagory can be created.  Let those who inhabit the world of “Art” continue to live and play their intellectual games for even more big money, and create another art world where artists are not competing in the commercialism of the “Art” world, a world where collectors are really looking to find an artist whose work they actually can’t resist.

I don’t know what to call this world.  It isn’t “Art”, and it isn’t just craft.  It‘s a world where painters are mostly ignored and paint because they love to and must.  Maybe we could call it “The Hidden World of Paint.”   

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


The first chapter of Ken Follett’s “Fall of Giants” tells of the horrendous introduction of a Welsh teenager to his first job working in a coal mine. The terrible conditions reminded me that my grandfather, for whom I was named, worked in the mines in western Pennsylvania. He died when I was four or five, and I only have a faint memory of him. He, and his brothers immigrated from Scotland via Ireland in the late 19th century. I remember being told that he had been a mine superintendent. But Follett’s book made me think that he must have begun working in a mine as had the fictional Billy Williams. ! !
The miners in Pennsylvania and West Virginia were virtual slaves when I was young. I would see the gray barracks-like housing on the bleak hillsides. They were paid just less than they needed for company housing, rent, food, and other needs, all purchased at the company store. The result was that they were in constant debt to their employer, and unable to get free of financial imprisonment. Not many people today remember John L. Lewis, whose union fought the mine owners for better conditions for the workers.!
The book made me wonder how my grandfather made his way to this country. How he must have worked his way up from the depths of the mine to become superintendent. And how he and my German grandmother successfully raised four sons and four daughters. I was told that this self-educated immigrant was a voracious reader. He read books that would help him keep up with his college-educated children. Wherever the family moved, he would start the local band and the local soccer team.!
I have his cheap violin hanging on my living-room wall. My aunts and uncles were bright and successful for the time. One became an electrical engineer, two were educators, another a nurse. and my father became a professional musician.!
So much family history has disappeared. There is no way, now, to find what happened. I don’t think my grandfather was a saint. My father talked of physical punishment. This trait would have been passed on to my father if my mother had not stopped it. My grandmother lived much longer, but she never talked with me about her life. She was a small woman and it is hard to imagine that she had borne eight children. She was always alert and aware of the happenings in her family. My aunts and uncles lives are material for another blog.!
I have just finished a fictionalized history of New York City by Edward Rutherford, and now am launching into Follett’s similar version of the 20th Century. Perhaps I should recreate my grandfather’s life.!