Thanks to perspective, Professor Ted is the largest figure in the picture, on the right
Photo by Leslie
2nd rewriting Tuesday, February 21, 2017
An Artist’s Statement is suddenly as much a part of the soul of an Artist as a Sabbath or Sunday sermon is for the devout, for about the same reason. I recently was required to create one, also a Biography, in connection with an exhibition of my art, entitled “A Retrospective, My 87-year Life in Art,” held at the university whence I had graduated in 1948. Back then a biology major aiming for medicine, I was at heart an artist but didn’t know it. As electives I took Renaissance History and mechanical drafting (some day I was going to build a house), not art.
In my day the place was merely a small Bible college with only a token art department. In 68 years since then it has evolved into a sprawling modern university with a culture and theology to match, even for the schools of religion and biology. And of course the art department, now boasting of an impressive art building, more art majors than we had biology majors, life classes and all, and a splendid exhibition gallery with LED track lights that actually focus on the right places on the walls, funded by (and named for) an elderly much esteemed affluent patron. Under the direction of a young, curiously attractive, born-modern curator named Ted, who personally installed the LED lights and focused them, the gallery has seen only modernist exhibitions, quite good ones, I’ll have to say. But the patron felt there should be at least one realist exposition, mine.
Prof. Ted informed me that a Biography and an Artist’s Statement posted on the gallery wall are standard nowadays. Likewise standard the content of the Statement. It must not offend prevailing values. So I whipped one out that was as inoffensive as last Sabbath’s sermon and a lot shorter than the opening prayer. Ted, now my new best friend, was satisfied and posted it. Satisfied that he was satisfied, I went back to the keyboard and for many months, on into 2017 and my 88th year, belabored a Statement that would satisfy me. Presented with curmudgeony breeziness if not jokes like sermons nowadays moving congregations to chuckles, it is as long and in spots as hot-under-the-collar as an old-time sawdust trail amen-amen sermon, a segment of it being a rant against end-time modernism as offensive as my friend’s sharp Inner Eye had feared. I'm not a big fan of prevailing values. It follows the circumcised version.
But first the bland Bio. Sensing no possible ideological risks in it as long as the 3rd person was used, and a good dramatic tension in my dual careers plus the poignancy of old age, Dr. Ted unleashed Dr. Kime to let it all hang out.
BIOGRAPHY: WESLEY KIME 1929 -
Heedless of the maxim, “no man can serve two masters,” Wesley Kime has pursued with equal faithfulness two demanding careers, medicine and art, rather as in biblical times a wife and a concubine, or as a circus juggler juggling an egg and iPad. It never came near divorce but neither did it quite work out as a marriage made in heaven. He never felt fully at home in either art or medicine or fully accepted in either. And though he gave both his best, in his judgment he did not do the fullest justice by either. Other than that, it was bliss!
Art for him has been an uninterrupted life-long affair, while medicine was but a 50-year occupation that drove art underground where art didn’t put up the storied fierce underground resistance as much as peaceful collaboration. After Kime had, at age 65, slammed the office door behind him, art at last came out of the closet and took over full-time. His career had been medicine; his life, art.
Kime’s mother, a girl from an impoverished Oklahoma farm, was talented in art and briefly took painting lessons (before Kime can remember) from Paul Lauritz, one of the then-active legendary Golden-Era California landscapists. Also interested in a great many other things besides painting, she had, by the time Kime remembers her, moved on. Besides an awe of Lauritz, her two main contributions to her son’s art were a library of advanced art texts and anthologies, which young Kime discovered and copied, and regular visits to the old L.A. Exposition Park, which at the time (the 1930s and ‘40s) was the one museum in town for everything from mummies to Lauritz.
In medicine Dr. Kime was trained to the gills, 19 year’s worth of study: college (Occidental College 1 semester, premed and 1 art course; this “Bible college,” BA, biology major, no art.) Then med school; army service at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology during its heyday; two separate specialty residencies (and board certifications) at USC, Harvard’s Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Washington University; a subspecialty research fellowship (renal physiology and disease), not to mention regular postgrad conventions and workshops. School over, he taught and lectured med students and residents all his career. But in art largely self-taught.
However, Kime did have a whiff of formal art school training at the teachable and invincible age of 23 at Otis Art Institute, a duly famous art school accredited for training professional artists. But, Kime acknowledges with a sigh, not for him. He was there only one quarter for a couple of night school classes set up for gas station attendants and housewives, while interning at the neighboring 3000-bed L.A. County General Hospital, where house staff working conditions were later described as grueling and inhuman. At least as profitable were DVD demonstration by Burt Silverman or Richard Schmid if studied a couple of hundred times while exercising on the treadmill, as Kime has.
Kime likes to say his de facto full four-year art school was his Medical school. He grades the school as A+ for handling a pen and pencil, F in charcoal which is standard in art schools but begrimes white coats. Quickie (45 minute) watercolor plein air painting can be worked into the schedule, but not the much more demanding and impossibly messy oil painting. Flailing a 3” brush at an easel in pharmacology class is awkward. Experience in sketching live heads is superior to formal art school but pathetic for full figures, and exposure to cadaver anatomy is unexcelled but wanting as Michelangeloean or superhero musculature. Medical school professors exist in a universe not even parallel to that of art, are innocent of art metaphysics, or Bohemian creativity and lifestyle, and are delighted to be used as role models, not sketching models.
Using shirt-pocket pens, on anything from lecture notes to the backs of Grand Rounds protocols, from paper towels to napkins at restaurants or tithe envelopes at church, or the palm of his hand or a tortilla shell as last resorts, drawing was the unbroken thread of Kime’s life in art. Starting in toddlerhood before he can remember and never stopping even as other little boys advanced to more mature things like girls and tether ball, sketching continued and burgeoned during medical school and the practice of medicine, and tapered in old age, coming to a halt just a few months ago thanks to a cataract in his remaining good eye (the other eye had long been legally blind because of macular degeneration). Flash cataract surgery is scheduled.
Preschool and early school-age drawings were detailed copies of everything from art deco wood-ducks from Applied Art by Loomis to advanced Art Anatomy from The Human Figure by Vanderpoel. Starting around the 5th or 6th grade, rather than gazing out the windows at things seen only by his inner eye like winged dragons and Spanish galleons manned by mermaids, as arty kids are expected to do, he gazed at what he could see with his eyes. Medicine would put him under lifetime house arrest, so to speak, where he would see only people, for his purposes only their faces.
Drawing faces came to take on a happy life of its own. Whether classmates or pew-mates, anybody in the same room, whether classroom, church, or tortilla parlor, served as unposed, unwitting, not infrequently dozing, or frowning, subjects.
At first detailed, blocked in, and belabored in the full classical academic manner, these sketches of necessity, considering the restlessness of his unwitting models, became 15-90-second flashes, fearlessly snapped flourishes materializing as “that’s him!” faces. Kime says G.K. Chesterson, a theologian writing about art, best describes his flash sketches as “art, like morality, is drawing the line somewhere.” All together Kime supposes he has done – a very rough guess – 10-20,000 people sketches, pitched unsorted into cardboard boxes.
Kime didn’t flash-sketch classmates just to flash his work to everybody to flaunt his odd talent. Kime liked to think no one suspected that his pen was yielding other than doodles, which in such a soporific setting was countenanced. Never once did a professor or committee chairman tell him to knock it off and pay attention, or even frown, nor did a classmate giggle. Much later Kime liked to quote Andy Warhol, whimsically out of context, “Art is what you can get away with” in Tumor Board.
Early on, Kime himself dismissed his drawings in class as only doodlings. Then he saw sketching as preparation for the full easel oil portraits he would do … some day. Recently when Curator Ted recognized Kime’s sketches as ends in themselves and devoted a whole wall to featuring an aliquot of them, Kime’s first reaction was disappointment that his magnificent framed oil seascapes weren’t hung there instead. But then Kime began to comprehend Ted’s curatorial insight. Thanks to Ted, Kime realized that if not classed with the finished pen drawings of a Dana Gibson, his 15-second works could well be among the best in the annals of art.
Unposed, unwitting people have not been his only subjects. He has had two periods of drawing or painting professional posed live models. The first was at age 13 or 14, in North Hollywood where he grew up. At that time Hollywood studio artists were abundant and would get together in evenings and hire models, clothed in deference to young Kime. Also, young Kime had advanced only to charcoals. The other was in his 70s, when his oil painting phase was in full swing, at the Cincinnati Art Club. Lots of nude models. But by then the very old man had become enamored of faces and shrugged off the chance to paint the rest.
His lifetime of flash line sketching rendered him both better and more poorly prepared for formal portrait painting than art school-trained professionals. Better by being so swift. At the CAC he could dash off rather finished and creditable portrait and be out of there by the 2nd break. And better able to catch the quintessence of the model and fleeting nuances of expression that distinguished that particular person from all others. But the breakneck speed of flash sketching introduces the danger of their falling into frank caricature, disadvantageous in achieving flattery, as rich portraitists must.
At any rate Kime’s delayed full-blast oil painting phase endured for nearly 30 years and yielded over 500 paintings, notably portraits but also seascapes. He considers the magnum opus of his whole life in art a series of 70 oil portraits of the LLU faculty, a 15-year project, unlike that possessed by any other medical school. He has been called the portraitist laureate of LLU.
In both medicine and art Kime has received the usual ration of awards. In medicine several “Teacher of The Year” awards. His alumni association set up a special “Iner S. Ritchie” award just to honor Kime’s contribution to his medical school through his series of faculty portraits, and, Kime chuckles, to acknowledge his moxie in juggling both fields. In art he won 5 consecutive Art Club Sketch Group blue ribbons in 6 years, beating out his retired art-school easel-mates, embarrassing him to the point that he considered disqualifying himself from further competition. But he won only 2nd place for Seascapes in International Artist; an abstraction won 1st place.
Plaques and honors presented at galas and banquets he accepted with dispassionate humility bordering on indifference. But the present one-man exhibition of actual paintings in an actual gallery complete with reception with a token tray of Coca Cola and neatly arranged chips of cheddar cheese, is, he exclaims dabbing at a tear, the absolute most overwhelming award possible. Even without brie, cauliflower and chardonnay, he proclaims the exhibition the crowning event of his life. Chardonnay, even cauliflower, aren't, he acknowledges, his predominating values anyway.
Back in the self-assessment mode, Kime suspects that nature gave him more potential in art than medicine. Though his art is, as should be apparent in this retrospective exhibition, superior as realist art to that of most, it is not, he decides squinting his trusty literal eye (the one remaining good one), quite of the quality he suspects he is capable of. If he had been trained at, say, Ecole des Beaux Arts and studied under Carolus Duran instead of at a School of Medicine pursuing art under cover, and had always practiced art full time in an appreciative and equally artistic collegial setting, and had good agents to promote his oeuvre and name…who knows?
“Are you sorry you took medicine?” the doctor is often asked. Absolutely not! Medicine, certainly the study of medicine as a science, especially biochemistry, and embryology, genetics was even more exhilarating than the color wheel and the Golden Ratio. But to fully live medicine, a physician must love to heal people. It turned out that, to his regret, he loved to sketch and paint them, sometimes while he was taking their medical history. But that art was not, as is generally the case, merely a hobby, Kime has no regret whatsoever.
In summarizing his 87 years of life in art, Kime says, “If my life in art began before I can remember, it begins to end as I begin to forget. If in youth I couldn’t explain why I painted, in old age I cannot explain why I don’t. I just don’t. Well, yes I can. Old age, that says it all. Old artists never die, they just scumble away.”
OFFICIAL ARTIST’S STATEMENT AS POSTED
Over a long lifetime I have found that when drawing or painting either portraits or plein air landscapes, whether sketches or finished paintings, I am comfortable in pursuing verisimilitude and detail in the classical realistic style, usually rather tightly, sometimes loosely. If I have a role model he is Singer Sargent.
On the other hand when I have had occasion to design a house or pursue a sculptural project, I have favored a generic, “timeless” modern style, which I define simply as nonideological simplicity as an end in itself.
UNOFFICIAL, OFF-THE-WALL OCTOGENARIAN ARTIST’S STATEMENT
I started my long journey in art just doing it, without ado. I never heard of an Artist’s Statement until I was half way through my life. At one man shows, which I remember being taken to as a small child, a short biography was standard, as I noted when I was old enough to read such things, but a Statement, no. Or was I so eager to get to the paintings, and so young, that I skipped the printed stuff?
In any case, a Statement that probes the artist’s whys, feelings, occult and blatant messages (preferably political), and ascents or descents into the heights or depths, is now an established fixture of gallery culture.
But octogenarians – I’m 88 – don’t write art Statements. They write their memoirs, dedicated to somebody special. But since my life has been art, an artist’s Statement it’ll be, though hardly the standard kind. Something of a hybrid of memoir and Statement, it features an anthology of opinionated cadenzas as personal as anecdotes. I dedicate it to professor Ted.
“I just did it” as the core of my statement once sufficed, but, come to think of it, sounds like something not so humbly said by, or of, a genius. But “just doing it” is not as singular, or as laudable, as it sounds. Is it not true of every dewy newborn power, from making art to making out, from making protests to making a difference? Touted as the age of idealism which implies depth, youth is in fact the age of mindlessly just naturally doing it. That’s the way I, and most kids born into religious families, do their religion. It was when I became a man and was clobbered by philosophical polemics and downright scoffings, notably in religion and art, persecuted if I may embellish it, legendarily resulting in disavowal or apologia, that I awakened and responded with my heady if reactionary rebuttals. My art arousal occurred upon retiring from medicine when I segued into the fulltime study of art as intensely as I had studied medicine a half century before, but not as a just-doing-it student focused on passing tests but a scholar sensitive to, eager to pounce upon, issues.
Unapologetically I declare myself a realist. My style is WYSIWYG – What You See Is What You Get. Just by looking at anything in this gallery you should know what it is, and its message. I would think that telling you what your eyes see framed on the wall would be an insult to you, and your eyes. Of explanatory inscriptions that take you longer to read than to look at the painting, and more creative, you are spared. That is to say, I’m a generic realist. But not a 70MP photo-realist. Not an academic brushstroke-free Beaugeaux realist, but a Sargent realist, a pre-decadent Impressionist-realist, a hyperkinetic bravura realist heavy on the impasto and palette knife and glazes. But I eschew black.
So I’m a WISIWIG-er (What I See Is What I Get). And I see shifting backlit clouds and shafts of light beaming through and creating light shows playing upon the comfortably rounded spring-green California grassy hills. I see reflected light from a blouse subtly modifying and enlivening the shadow cast by a chin, which is darker and more sharply outlined just at it’s origin as the jaw. If God created nature and man in it, and declared it good, it’s good enough to paint as my eye sees it.
So what I see is central to my art. What I see with the literal eye is what I feel. I see backlight clouds and hills and I feel an urge to, well, stand up and stretch out my hands and breath deeply, like the “Wanderer Above The Mist,” a painting by the 19th century romantic painter Caspar Friedrich. Clad in frock coat, Caspar’s “Wanderer” has become the poster boy of sublimity. Note he’s just standing still, looking, looking, feeling and feeling…and posing – not beating his breast and bellowing. He belongs to the ages and public domain, and so many publications. My favorite is the cover of Paul Johnson’s book (which I’ve reread a couple of times), The Birth of Modern.
Having been there myself, I reckon that of realist painters it is the landscapist, beholding scudding clouds and breaking waves and folded hills, who experiences the most sublime sublimity, and of realists can write the most soulful gallery Statements. But portraitists, which I wound up being, do also experience their own kind of indoor thrill upon contemplating a fold of jowl. Sargent did, at least as a young painter just starting out. Alas, after a career of it he famously sighed, “I paint no more mugs,” whereupon he went outside and painted landscapes, of which he never suffered angst. To me a head remains as exciting as a headland.
You see, Inner-Eyed modernists do not have exclusive ownership of ebullience. Even realists experience a kind of elation, – the romantics called it sublimity – of a more, well, sublime (Hemingway would call it “honest”) and more self-controlled, productive sort than paraphernalia-enhanced Inner-Eyed paint slingers.
But for me when confronted by a sublime landscape it is not enough simply to stand there leaning against a walking stick. Anyway, I’m glued to a cane; will that work? No. It’s got to be a brush. And I cannot just stand there, myself a picture of sublimity. Instead I must …Do something with it.
Not altogether whimsically I suppose my urge is analogous to that of the bare foot maiden dancing across the meadow gathering spring blossoms, or the hunter crouched at a quiet pond magical in the twilight with a v-formation of mallards against the golden sky. He simply must BANG them all dead. A real estate developer, beholding virginal green rolling hills, driven to survey and parcel it all, from east to west, and construct 3000 identical 3-bedroom FIOS ready houses, a dozen Walmarts and a constellation of Starbucks. Farmers of the several cultures would plant vast fields of soy beans, chardonnay grapevines, or marijuana; greeniks must cover the landscape with groves of 120-foot windmills and banks of solar panels; frackers must frack. Protesters must occupy the earth with forests of signs, megaphones, megadecibels drums, and dumpsterfuls of litter and paraphernalia; the EPA must regulate the eco and all that in it is; the Taliban will simply blow it up. Or if confused by pop-modernity, one simply stands and bellows.
But I, I must... I must consume the scene as a sweeping whole, a panorama, the whole composition (not in detail; I’d make a terrible bird watcher). I must absorb it, open myself to it and take it all in like a whale swallowing oceans of plankton en masse, greedily – and then give it back. I must absorb it through my eyeballs and every pore of my skin and disgorge it all onto canvas.
Mercifully for the subjects (especially young females), when I paint a portrait or figure the urge to “consume” is less compelling than banal technical questions. Should I use a #4 sable or a #14 bristle? But after that decision is made (I went for the big bristle), the old-fashioned word “sublime” better expresses my feelings than moony manifestos. It isn’t ecstasy that I experience but joy, a very quiet and lonely sentiment more associated with the vocabularies of the KJV Bible and Oxford don. My joy is in, yes, just doing it, more in the doing of it than in the honor and fame and possible wealth that what I have done could bring. Thus even if my opus magnus, the over 70 oil portraits of the LLU faculty, be consigned to storage and boxes and seen only by my own inner eye and no literal eye, it remains for me my joy, just for having done it and for the memory of doing it, and the prospect of moving on to another canvas.
Yes. So if I once thought art was merely bandying brushes, and for me still is, I’ve learned that for much of the art world it’s more about brandishing concepts or swords or flame throwers. It’s about fulfillment, consummation, or that old favorite, the soul. But seriously folks, it’s about generating fame, patrons, clients, agents, likes on facebook, and income, proudly or shamefacedly. The most rarefied theoreticians say art is about message, the human condition, even saving the planet, and so on. Art is the frisson of agony and ecstasy; about reaching out to, or outraging, others, or naught but a happening or event. Art is a pleasant way to make an income or as an excuse not to, or kill time or, not so pleasantly, the bourgeois.
For many years I’ve been collecting art quotes, one by one until the Google tsunami struck. Here are a few of my favorites, 1-liners or out-of-context bytes from elaborate tomes, a mishmash of such contradictions and nonsense as could have been Jackson Pollack's inspiration, and symbolic of the cosmic dust in which some modernist art is mired. “The highest use for art is to write Artist’s Statements about.” – anon. “Frankly, these days, without a theory to go with it, I can’t see a painting.” –Hilton Kramer. “Conceptual art is not to be confused with Concept Art Or Philosophical Conceptualism.” ¬– Wikipedia, undertaking to clarify or confuse, in art what’s the difference? Yours truly has declared, “Art is what fills the blank spot on your wall or soul or tops off your septic tank.” "To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits.”– Giorgio DeChirico. “All profoundly original art looks ugly at first.” –Clement Greenberg, who should know (Abstract-Expressionist / Jackson Pollack activist). “All profoundly creative art looks at first ugly and then trendy and then…yawn….kitschy.” Anon and on and on. “All art is quite useless.” ―Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray. “Art is what you can get away with.” ―Andy Warhol. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” – Rhett Butler.
“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one” ―Stella Adler. “Art is to console those who are broken by life.” ―Vincent Van Gogh, who should know. “We have our Arts so we won’t die of Truth.” –Nietzsche. Nice if grim try, Adler, Van Gogh, and Nietzsche. But more comforting is whimsical art, of which Picasso’s 3 in-line hieroglyphic eyes is arguably the archetype. And Pablo himself turns out to be a philosopher at least the equal of Yogi Berra, proclaiming: “Art is a lie that tells the truth.”
For all of that, the more advanced theoreticians, mercifully a rare if rarefied breed, have bestowed upon the modern mystic creativity, sensitivity, spirituality of art a life of its own that transcends, and is liberated from, mere brush and canvas, marble and mallet. Liberated from the easel and plinth like Plato’s soul liberated from the body by death, mystic creativity, sensitivity, spirituality waft off into the dusty, vaporous cosmos, there to generate social and political and spiritual messages that shower back upon the earth like comets. Thoroughly judgmental, these modern ferments, doctrines, and dogmas comprise the criteria for pontificating what art is and isn’t. And those criteria, the patented intellectual property of the extremists, turn out to be as inclusive and fixed as admission criteria at a 19th century millionaires’ country club.
The breakthrough that enabled this apotheosis of the metaphysics of art has been evolutionary mutation of the literal eye into a vestigial organ, like the appendix or dewclaw, condemned for suppressing the vital inner creative forces, aka the Inner Eye, apotheosized and duly capitalized. So the literal eye, undeserving of capitalization, has atrophied, or been plucked out as per Matt 18:9, for the same reason therein given though totally inverted. Thus liberated, the artist or art theoretician commune directly with the Inner Eye to divine not a he or she but his/her/its essence, which turns out to be consummately ugly a la Rouault, or as whimsical as philosopher Picasso's three opaque fish-shaped eyes on a fish-flat face. Not picturesque humankind, but the human condition as Hollywood and novelists show it and original sin as orthodox theology annunciates it. Not a man’s nobility or a woman’s beauty, but humanity’s dehumanizing oppression by fat-jowled cigar-smoking capitalists and the pig-nosed cops, is discerned and inversely glorified. Glorified? In that context not the right word. “Celebrated” is more familiar on the street or at galas.
Me, I contend that an ideal quality which art should glorify is beauty. That’s easy for me as a realist to say because I’m looking at real things with my real eyes, built to see a woman’s eyes as beautiful -- maybe enhanced a tad by the inner eye or Photoshop, both properly bridled. Meanwhile a Gopnik has decreed that a Mark Rothko is creative art worthy of SoHo and MoMa, while a Sargent isn’t even art, presentable only at garage sales.
Keats and his Romanticist eye had a point. Beholding a Grecian urn bearing a fine drawing he murmured poetically, “beauty is truth, truth beauty,” inexorably entwined, despite Picasso and Nietzsche. Inner-Eyed metamodernism owns ugliness; beauty is owned by literal-eyed realists.
Inner-eyed art is a burgeoning thing, like a fungus. The latest art-fungus I’ve had the nerve to poke at (it’s actually about 20 years old now) transcends any specific message and is meant to be a free-standing art form just for the shock and awe and heck of it, chugging out chemically pure offal, obscenity, and blasphemy as putrid, corrupt, revolting, and downright evil as human creativity and spirituality can concoct, even with herbal, pharmaceutical, and satanic assist. As close as the most celebrated of these trolls, er, geniuses has come to stooping to the mechanics of visualization is the employment of every body fluid as media, readily at hand, and as pigment real clotted blood (real? what’s with this sudden urge to realism?), rather than Winsor Newton synthetic alizarin, which you have to send off to Jerry’s Artarama.com for. But the designation of this sucker-punch movement is whimsically anticlimactic, rather as an overnight fungus looks like a cute animated Disney icon: “Transgressive Art.” Drug companies come up with more creative names for pills than that. Ask your doctor (please, not me).
Mercifully, like a rare lethal fungus hiding deep in the woods behind a fallen tree, or in the Saatchi Gallery, it is unknown except to a nidus of exoterati and a handful of curious Googlers rewarded with upset stomachs.
As universally known as the nobility of patriotism or the righteousness of the heart of the saint once was in the sublime Romantic era, is the new paradigmatic persona of the artist as constitutionally psychotic or worse, much worse. Being cultured and civil, and only a dilettante at fine wine and mythology of antiquity, a Sargent could never be a true artist even if he daubed like a certified crazy. Van Gogh is the poster boy. Now, I’m as non-mainstream as anybody I know personally, but doubt that you just cannot be a true artist, certainly not a genius, unless depraved, degenerated, drugged, destructive, demoniac, suicidal, haunted, troubled, or otherwise bad ass.
I’ve heard it put without the boiling over, and nicely boiled down. It was at a “demo” by a E.J. Robinson, a fairly famous realist seascapist. After splashing in a loose preliminary layer he turned to the audience and took a minute to announce that “If you stop at this point, not possessing the skill or inclination or patience to go farther, you’ve got a modern painting. It’ll be acclaimed and really sell in Beverly Hills. If you can proceed to the finish you’ll wind up with a realist painting. It’ll be dismissed as not really art, and wind up on eBay.” Now that’s the pithiest quote in my collection.
I do accept, my dear professor Ted, modern art as art and sometimes downright darn good art if not, to use the technical term, fine art -- if defined my way, a lonely way indeed. I define modern art simply as simplicity as an end in itself, pared of all ideological baggage. Thus liberated my kind of modernism focuses simply on artistic principles, such as composition and coloration, which, carried to its logical apolitical extreme, is simply abstract, and that's fine. Thus defined, and if I’ve closed my literal eyes to the posted Artist’s Statement and the exhibition catalog, I could see Stella’s giant gently striated X or Claes Oldenburg’s 2-story clothespin as well crafted rather interesting decorative art, in the same league as an Art Deco stairwell, Disney's "Snow White," or Toys "R" Us. And thus defined I've indulged in pure modern myself, notably in designing our modern redwood house in Ohio, ideally custom fitted to the Ohio woods but outrageously alien to the local building culture. So anomalously modern that it was tough to find a builder to build it. As the filial of our septic tank bunker, I made a welded sculpture from ¼” rusted sheet iron, far too abstract for Henry Moore, as per my seascapist’s dictum (I didn’t know how to take it any further). My gala award was when a UPS man from Tennessee, with an accent as deeply Southern as our house was modern, just stood agape at the door, package frozen in his arms, and murmured, "ah HAY-yant NEV-ah SEEE-en NUTH-in LI-yak THEY-us!" O modern art, dear modern art! We're kin, distant kin but kin. O why did you have to go and turn yourself into a hate crime! Can't we all just get along?
Having let off steam, and at 87 (now 88) grown mellow, and never driven by my Inner Eye to passionately go where no man has gone before (which for too many turns out to be much trafficked rehab unit), I strive, no bones about it, to go where the Sargents went, and the Silvermans, Schmids, Carl Samsons, and Lauritzes, have gone.
To be fair and balanced, I acknowledge that when I tour a large, comprehensive art gallery I march on through the medieval and colonial American sections; pause just long enough in the 18th and 19th century French Art sections to chuckle at the kitsch (where is Thomas Kinkaid when we need him?) of a Fragonard and marvel at the technique of a Bouguereau; stop and seriously study from a right distance the optical trickery of the not-yet-degenerated, pioneering French Impressionists like Monet and Sisley who applied their daubs scientifically to magically enhance reality; take time out for lunch (kale with feta cheese salad, hold the cilantro) at the gallery café; then advance to the American late 19th century and early 20th century and put my face right into the Thomas Dewings and Grant Woods; and finally linger in the Sargent-Zorn-Sorolla wing until closing time.
I review my life in art and realize that I have over the years indeed developed my own philosophy of art, no thanks to a Ruskin or a Picasso or a Clement Greenberg, or any art appreciation course, or to John Updike or Tom Wolfe (novelists who also effusively essayed framed art). And no thanks to any quote, especially this one by Leo Tolstoy, another great novelist-artist presuming to theorize all art, from his essay “What Is Art?”: “Art is not … the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God.” Yet perhaps of all quotes Tolstoy’s turns out to best reflect my philosophy of art, by declaring the exact opposite.
I owe my personal philosophy of art to this school, as it was 68 years ago, a small Bible College. And I took bible classes, not art.
Art is from and centers around God, who gave us all that is seen by the literal eye, and me the use of it, and the Inner Eye to boot. If wise men have declared it is art that gives escape from, and consolation for, calamity, capitalism, cops, and the human condition, and fills voids in our soul and fulfills the soul’s destiny, I say it is God who does all that, through, among so much else, art, which He created along with swans, constellations, and orchids, and me and you, dear gallery goer. For escape, consolation, beauty, and life, and art, He has promised to take us where no man has indeed ever gone before, which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor entered into the heart of man,” a quote to end all quotes.