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Beware Canadia

Post #1373 • July 6, 2009, 11:08 AM • 58 Comments

Two Fridays ago we had lunch at the home of Peter Barrett in Woodstock, where we shared a lot of fine conversation about food (including his recently acquired dried bonito filet, complete with traditional Japanese grater), painting, and how not to make yourself crazy in the art world. We spent an uneventful night in Oneida, NY. On Saturday we slowly crossed the border. (New immigration policies now make it harder for for potential terrorists, most of them trailing tiny aluminum prams with outboard motors, to wreak chaos upon the fishing stocks of Canada, one rod cast at a time.) We crossed over the North side of Lake Ontario, stopping Belleville for lunch at a café, where I had to decline an offer to play Go so we could make a timely arrival at our final destination: a massively extended family reunion of my in-laws, on the fifty-acre property just south of Lake Simcoe where biologically removed but consummately hospitable relatives make their beautiful home. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, goldfinches, and red-wing blackbirds availed themselves of the feeders while chipmunks rooted in the grass for spillage. That evening, in the sunroom, as ruby-throated hummingbirds zipped around in the light of dusk, nipping sugar-water put out for them right on the other side of the window, I finally got a Go game in against my brother, who wiped the board with me. He was playing at 3 Kyu at one point in his life, and against him I accept a 2:1 loss with a nine-stone handicap as an honorable outcome. Hell, I'm grateful to finish with live stones on the board.

We spent the night in a tent, something I have not done often and don't much relish. The next afternoon we packed up and drove into Toronto for a good long look at the Art Gallery of Ontario. On Monday, acting on a tip from sculptor and Modernist provocateur Ryan McCourt, we drove to nearby Kleinburg to see the McMichael Collection of Canadian Art. We partook of Soma afterwards. (Hat tip to Necee for that recommendation.) On our way back home, the US border guard, noting the car's Massachusetts license plate, refused to let us pass until I conceded that the Yankees are going to crush the Red Sox this season. On principle, I ostentatiously mulled it over before relenting. You don't prolong an argument about baseball with a New Yorker carrying a sidearm.

I have long admired the Group of Seven and associated Canadian modernist painters, but I have finally spent enough time with them for that admiration to grow to real fondness. In particular, I got grabbed by David Milne. The AGO has a Milne Study Centre with several rooms of his paintings, drawings, and a bit of ephemera. Imagine, if you will, Bonnard, living somewhere that snowed five months out of the year. Milne drew a similar sort of line, quivering with sensitivity, breaking off into rough trails as they meandered through the rectangle. But instead of modulating forms with a thousand variations of hue, Milne put down colors in thin slabs and left them that way. Instead of the eternal spring of the Mediterranean that sometimes yields to cold, in Milne we have the eternal winter of northern New York and Ontario that sometimes yields to warmth. Barely-tinted canvas would stand in for snow in his landscapes, which he filled with delicate, scratchy brushstrokes. You can't find a lot on Milne on the Web, even on the AGO site, which is a pity. But if you can afford it, the museum produced a catalogue for its 2006 exhibition of his watercolors, which subsequently went to the Met and got a review from Grace Glueck.

At the McMichael I discovered Tom Thomson. Thomson produced admirable larger canvases, but his oils on panel, painted cigar-box size, compare favorably with Constable's. The McMichael has a room dedicated to them, and they combine luscious, goopy paint with a palette that amalgamates Impressionism, Fauvism, and Expressionism. You won't find them online either, except here and there.

We overnighted in Buffalo and stopped in bewildering Utica for lunch. (You know that you're in a real Italian-American town when the daily special at the pizza joint is Chicken Riggie.) We rolled back into Beantown in time to get rained on with one last springtime dumping from the New England heavens.

(Explanation of post title here. I had this song stuck in my head for much of the trip.)

Comment

1.

Jack

July 6, 2009, 7:04 PM

So, where's the Canadian contingent? One expects all manner of knowledgeable commentary and insight here.

2.

opie

July 6, 2009, 8:50 PM

I make a habit of downloading good stuff from the auctions on artnet for my students to look at.

I was going through the May 25 Canadian auction at Sotheby's, not finding much, when my eye was caught by a painter who had a group of pix in the sale: Alexander Young Jackson, one of the group of 7.

I flipped by it anyway - they have that typical boring 1930's look to them - and I was running through the auction when another one really caught my eye so I stopped and downloaded it.

Then another one popped up that really got to me and I went back and downloaded all those in the sale and then went to Askart and found a bunch more, including a couple early ones that I swear stand up to Matisse's early Paris paintings.

This guy is GOOD, especially with color, but he is A real sleeper - in terms of painting prices they go cheap, some in the $20K range. Check it out.

3.

Peter

July 6, 2009, 10:05 PM

Had the child not been feverish (it got worse, and lasted five days) lunch would have been more extravagant. Good to see you, in any event. I hope you didn't catch it, whatever it was. If so, blame Canada.

4.

ahab

July 7, 2009, 9:10 AM

Fear not, Jack - we're never far away.

I'll pitch in on David and Tom and A.Y. (old pals, you see) when I've got more than a couple minutes to rub together.

5.

A.K.

July 7, 2009, 5:08 PM

So unaccustomed am I to seeing mention of Canadian art in U.S. art publications that I initially misread this title as "Beware Candida". Yikes!

Thanks for a great post. I'll look forward to Ahab keeping his promise of further discussion. It is a pity that neither Milne, nor the Group of Seven are much known or appreciated outside of Canada. Tom Thomson and A.Y. Jackson are the direct precursors to Peter Doig, and to another, much younger Canadian painter, Kim Dorland (whose work I adore, and who I hope similarly achieves great success outside Canada). Knowing the work of Thomson and Jackson provides valuable context in the reading of Doig and Dorland.

Tom Thomson's life was cut short: In 1917 his body was found floating next to his canoe in Algonquin Park, not terribly far from where you spent your holiday with your in-laws. His death was ruled to be suspicious and due to a head injury, not drowning...a juicy art scandal/mystery that has never been resolved. It all reverberates in Doig's mysterious "White Canoe".

6.

nan

July 7, 2009, 7:35 PM

Sorry- Its a bit off topic, but.....any thoughts on Bravos new reality artist show?

7.

Chris Rywalt

July 7, 2009, 8:28 PM

I argued about the reality show here and here.

Short version: It's a stupid idea.

8.

opie

July 7, 2009, 10:15 PM

"...provides valuable context in the reading of ..."

Sounds like the kind of thing we used to regurgitate when the prof caught us off guard in our English 301 seminar.

9.

Franklin

July 8, 2009, 7:56 AM

Well, kids, the CMS for Artblog.net officially crapped out on this morning, and is not recognizing new posts for reasons I completely fail to understand. Today's post is below. Artblog.net will be spending the rest of the week under the hood, no doubt.

The Biscayne Times printed a lovely writeup of my Miami gallery, Dorsch, by Victor Barrenechea. Barrenechea reviewed one of my solo shows a few years ago.

My untitled story for Inbound #3 was described by Xaviar Xerxes for ComixTalk as one of the highlights.

Two readers have sent in recent stories about Art+Research, which made the AFP and then got picked up by the Miami New Times and the CBC. I think they just want to see Opie rail, but my feelings about this one way or another are disappearing.

10.

Jack

July 8, 2009, 9:22 AM

Oooh, Franklin!!! Craig Robbins looks sooo like Sam Keller in that photo!!! I've got goosebumps!!! It's so completely, utterly fabulous!!!

Yawn.

11.

Jack

July 8, 2009, 9:27 AM

Still, I must get a pair of serious art-person glasses just like Craig's. As soon as my bailout money arrives, of course. I'll e-mail Obama and tell him to expedite things.

12.

opie

July 8, 2009, 9:51 AM

I am through railing about that absurd Art + Research thing. Most of my problem was not that it was any more absurd than half of what goes on in the art world but that the Univ. of Miami, whore that it is, demonstrated once again that they will do anything if someone waves a big enough check.

I suspect the reason they have put off launching it for another year is that the people invoilved don't have a clue what to do when a project threatens to go beyond the talking stage.

13.

John

July 8, 2009, 10:35 AM

When I worked with donors at my former university, I found that those who gave small gifts tended to just give them, while those who gave large gifts did with a lot more conditions, almost to the point it was more like a purchase. (There were exceptions to both tendencies.) I remember telling one donor who was bordering on asking for a curriculum change that those cost more than he was willing to put up. (Curriculum is not nearly as important in an artist's education as the people who teach it, so yes it was for sale - the people were not.)

Craig Robbins is talking like he wants to give a very large gift, but it will be to purchase a very different kind of education in studio art than U of M currently offers. It is a change both to the curriculum and the people who teach it. The fact the gift is delayed, though, suggests he is having difficulty coming up with the bucks or is not really sure he wants to do it, or he is still negotiating with the university for more stipulations and the university is balking.

I never encountered a donor with such sweeping requirements. If I were an upper administrator at the U of M I would not want to enter into such a deal. His $6 million may get it off the ground, but what does it cost to sustain and who foots that bill? And since it repudiates the people that U of M has selected and entrusted to provide education in studio art, it repudiates the university itself. Admittedly, it does not go so far as to outright replace the current people, but it implements a stark alternative to what they offer. Free tuition is impossible to compete with - apparently students do not even need to provide any services to the program, other than being present - and "presence" is itself shrouded in obscurity. Further, importing "art stars" that meet the approval of Robbins is very tricky to negotiate and an implicit breach of faith with the current faculty.

Even though I don't think curriculum is that important an issue, this one is not much more than mush. Once you say no one has to necessarily be present you are headed over the edge of the abyss. Granted, lack of presence seems consistent with art being divorced with from physical objects, but really, even Baldarsarri and Kaprow maintained a very active presence at Cal Arts because their PROJECTS, though not productive of objects, were nonetheless SOMETHING. To do "something" you have to be present. My old friend Wolfgang Stoerchle was hired to work with them and produced many videos. I have not seen them, yet doubt I would like them on any but a sexual level (knowing Wolfgang and his reputation) ... that said, videos (and performances) require working, not just "belonging", just as teaching requires, at a minimum, being present while students are present. (Shit, this seems so elemental I don't know why I am going over it. Guess it is because officials at the U of M seem tempted to abandon the bed-rock necessities of education.)

Whatever, I would not bet that the project actually gets done, not at this point, anyway. (I'm very conservative about making bets.)

14.

John

July 8, 2009, 11:11 AM

Opie, that "big check" is probably not big enough to cover the cost of what the guy wants. He is only making a down payment and expecting the university to fund and fulfill the rest of his dream/whatever. Seems that way, anyway. It is like if someone makes a down payment for you on a car you can't afford. (And perhaps not the one you wanted in the first place.)

15.

opie

July 8, 2009, 11:27 AM

All these things are true, John,and have been discussed, at least among some of the unconsulted faculty.

It is quite possible that it might not happen. Eductionally is it preposterous, of course. Our dean (who is leaving for greener pastures, as all of our better deans do) had a pretty jaundiced view of the whole thing, and our chair thinks it is ridiculous.

Our president, whom I understand is a friend of Robbins, is smart enough to see through it but may not care because it is being paid for and because it can be spun to look good on an annual report.

Art depts. are bottom of the barrel, "nonacademic" areas in many universities, as you know, there just for window dressing, and administrations simultaneously misunderstand them and feel they are free to play with them. That's what is hppening here.

16.

Jack

July 8, 2009, 11:33 AM

Well, apparently the vanity, I mean personal, museum idea was just too commonplace. This is the new, more sophisticated version.

Yawn.

17.

MC

July 8, 2009, 11:56 AM

I've only been to Toronto once, myself, recently, and I too was especially struck by Thomson's painting (and thinking about how, between stokes, he'd be gutting a fish, or something outdoorsy). On holiday in the states, I met a gallery owner named Lauren Harris who only had a vague notion of Canadian painter, Lawren Harris (so I sent her a cheap book on the guy, as an unofficial self-appointed art-ambassador).

Were the workers still working on the AGO when you were there, Franklin, or have they got the loose ends on their reno wrapped up by now?

I confess, I wanted Opie to rail about the Craig Robbins thing. I was very surprised to see it on CBC with a big colour picture, considering how often CBC prints articles on art that DON'T have any picture of the artwork under discussion.

18.

Jack

July 8, 2009, 12:04 PM

MC, art is one thing; fashionable art people quite another. Please get your perspective straight. Maybe you need to visit Miami. I'm afraid Alberta is just not sufficiently shallow, I mean trendy, for your benefit.

19.

Jack

July 8, 2009, 12:11 PM

[Ad hominems, speculations about peoples' motives, critiques of their fashion sense, and the like will be deleted. - F.]

20.

Jack

July 8, 2009, 1:46 PM

It's your blog, Franklin, but it seems to me that protecting the trendy-unto-death from jibes directed at their, uh, disorder, is not only unwarranted but a contribution (however unintentional) to the perpetuation of the problem. Still, we all have our issues.

21.

Franklin

July 8, 2009, 1:53 PM

Critiquing the way Robins styles his person is doing absolutely nothing whatsoever to promote better art. Thank you for your understanding.

22.

Jack

July 8, 2009, 1:56 PM

Understood.

23.

opie

July 8, 2009, 2:52 PM

Well, you're right Franklin, but Jack is such a good ad hominer...

24.

Jack

July 8, 2009, 3:58 PM

This would appear to be a philosophical disagreement, OP. I feel those who deserve scorn, contempt or ridicule should get it, especially if they operate publicly and their operations are not confined to personal matters.

As I see it, Robins is a very big boy very much out to get noticed, and his personal physical image is inextricably linked to what he's about. I was simply giving him the kind of notice I think he merits. But yes, I'm nasty, cruel and incorrect. Nobody's perfect.

25.

Franklin

July 8, 2009, 4:10 PM

The problem is that doing so affects Robins (or whomever) not at all, and the side effects of making these nasty and basically irrelevant statements fall to me, not Jack. I intend to run an honorable conversation in which the participants judge the soundness of ideas, not the personal traits of the people putting them forth.

26.

Jack

July 8, 2009, 5:45 PM

As I said, Franklin, understood. However, people's personal traits, which can certainly include how they purposefully style or present themselves visually, are all too frequently, if not invariably, related to their ideas. But again, I understand your position.

27.

John

July 8, 2009, 6:24 PM

So, back to the Craig Robbins proposal. $6 million seems like a lot, but I guess it is approximately the cost of funding a SINGLE endowed faculty chair, not a whole grad program with several faculty and 12 students on full fellowships.

If the U of M president takes Robbins up on the "offer" the university board could and should have a problem. Boards are more and more critical of presidents who can't add and subtract correctly, especially when the university comes up on the short end of the teeter totter. A recent president at WMU was canned for exactly that reason. When she was given a very negative evaluation by the faculty, the board supported her completely. But when she came up with a plan to save the university $500,000 that in actuality didn't save a cent and reduced enrollments by paying customers, they fired her.

When it comes to dollars, boards want somebody in charge who knows how to count.

28.

John

July 8, 2009, 6:36 PM

Opie, I cannot agree that art departments are at the bottom of the barrel. For instance, while I chaired at WMU we got four faculty (out of 21) promoted to full professor in a single year. The provost didn't like the idea at all, but went along, saying nothing like that had ever happened in the past and would never happen again in the future. So there we were, at the top of the heap in the academic reward system in a way that did real justice to the work of those four faculty members - instead of making them wait in an artificial line.

There are always opportunities that can be worked and leveraged. Your "art after dark" program of many years ago struck me as having such potential at your university. When you think of yourself as bottom of the barrel, you tend to lose sight of realities that pop up from time to time that are inconsistent with that point of view. Most academic units make progress an inch or two at a time. In the long run, playing as a tortoise will usually get you a lot further than bitching that you are not allowed to run like the rabbit that god certainly intended all of us to be.

29.

Jack

July 8, 2009, 7:58 PM

Gee, John, so the board ignored the faculty, who were in a better position to evaluate the president and rather more vulnerable to her deficiencies, and supported her completely. Imagine that. Until, of course, she became a financial liability. How curious. I thought that sort of thing only happened in the dog-eat-dog world of the hard sciences, not the liberal arts--so full of, well, liberality and philosophical enlightenment. Live and learn.

30.

John

July 8, 2009, 10:23 PM

Yeah Jack, they don't cotton to prezies who screw up with money. Otherwise its us against them. And ordinarily we lose. Whine whine.

31.

opie

July 8, 2009, 11:37 PM

A combination of hyperbole and personal experience, John. Maybe just the edge of the barrel.

When I was chair I played neither the tortoise nor the hare, and I certainly avoided a negative attitude - hell, I had to fight it in others every day. I put everything on a pure business basis because I thought that's what the administration wants. "Art After Dark" made money, among other things. In fact I modified the grad program so that it actually made a lot of money. Every idea was justified top to bottom, financially and educationally.

The problem was that the university does not run like a business. There was very little real support. I was able to stabilize the department but pulling it out of mediocrity was like swimming in Jello. Eventually others took over, deans & chairs came and went, my programs were junked and we muddled along.

32.

John

July 9, 2009, 12:30 AM

Art After Dark seemed like more than business to me. While very few can make really good art, art is still for everybody as long as they do it honestly. Or, to put a finer point on it, making art can be a good experience for a lot of people, after a little guidance to get them started. A really great art department should make that happen for those in the general population who want to take a shot. Your program was doing that and more than paying its own way. It is a shame it got left behind.

33.

John

July 9, 2009, 12:33 AM

Yes, universities don't function like businesses. They are more like huge children on giant allowances.

34.

opie

July 9, 2009, 6:24 AM

Franklin, is there anything you can do about that crap spamming? Some "clearing house" type thing on the net? I am all for complete freedom on the internet but some minimal policing wouldn't hurt.

John, "Art after Dark" was more than a moneymaker. It was a real "community outreach" and it employed all kinds of struggling artists, including many of our recent graduates. It also used otherwise unoccupied facilities during off times and got a lot of positive feedback from friends and associates of UM administration people. All in all it was a real "feelgood" progrm. I was fortunate to have a person on staff who made it her personal project so no one else had to worry about it.

Unfortunately the chair after me made it her business to squash out anything identified with my "regime", including good staffers. We still have a Saturday drawing class leftover from the program which is independently run by the instructor.

35.

Franklin

July 9, 2009, 8:18 AM

I have a 200-item list of attack sites, and the comment program screens text for them. As of this morning, it screens the URL field as well. You have no idea how much comment spam attempts to appear here and does not. I wrote an e-mail notifier that sent me a message when a comment died in the spam trap, and I unplugged it after getting forty to sixty of them a day for a month.

I ran a summer program at UM for six years that made money, used otherwise empty classrooms during the summer, and created a lot of good will. Aside from Opie and the fellow grad students I employed, I got nothing but grief for it. I finally pulled the plug on it myself when it became clear that the department was never going to hire me to teach or do anything else during the rest of the year.

36.

John

July 9, 2009, 9:25 AM

Franklin, the same provost who said there would never be four promotions to full professor in one year had a favorite slogan: No good deed goes unpunished. You proved him right once again.

That said, teaching studio to "the unwashed" has many rewards. I found the unwashed to be very responsive and less likely to complain they were bored with fundamental studio processes than "art majors". The "good will" you and opie speak about has a far reaching positive effect that is difficult to measure but impossible to dismiss if you are at all sensible - though dismiss is apparently exactly what happened to your efforts.

I have a friend still working at WMU, a full professor who is not in favor amongst the admins (who curiously consider themselves to all be avant-garde), and who was given two classes of "non-major" studio as a kind of punishment, to remind him how "old hat" he is in their eyes. Well, he loves those classes. If education were a business the CEO could ask why such an expensive employee was relegated to an area the department views as less important, but it is really just a bunch of middle-aged children playing Lord of the Flies, so no one cares. Ironically, rather than causing him to retire (the apparent plan), he will stay a few more years because he likes it. To ensure that he keeps getting the classes of the unwashed, he drops hints that he doesn't like them. Smart guy.

BTW, it was during my "regime" that the studio classes for "non-majors" were established. After I quit it was apparent they were not important to many and some were dropped simply because they were not offered once in a given five year period. But those that remain always fill, usually within days after registration begins. In my "regime" typical freshmen classes were 150, next September I am told there will be 40. Suddenly the classes for the unwashed look better, I surmise.

Art departments need to understand that undergrad programs are not populated by "great artists to be", even at the so called professional schools like RISD. Yet undergrad enrollments are what drive the machine (and faculty jobs). Studio for the unwashed is a fertile opportunity for all participants, one that does not involve the fantasy that by following trends one becomes a leader of "new art". However, I would not rule out classes in installation, video, performance, and the like. Give them all a chance and let the chips fall where they may. Forget careers and have fun.

37.

opie

July 9, 2009, 9:50 AM

I split my time between a 100 level class (which I love teaching) and graduate painting, writing & seminars. Noe of the inbetween appeals to me much.

Since we eliminated all but one 100-level prerequisite I get very few majors in my 102 class, but this has not reduced the talent pool at all. In fact (unfortunately) the degree and proportion of art talent is greater among non-art majors and when I spot a good one I encourage him or her to take some more art courses.

38.

John

July 9, 2009, 10:50 AM

Your experience with the talent pool outside the art majors mirrors my own, opie. It really is no surprise, once I think about it. There are many many students with talent for art that do not wish to bet their livelihoods on an "art career" so they major in something more reliable. Looking at WMU, there are many thousand entering freshmen each year, and now only 40 of them want to be art majors. It is clear that the possibilities in those thousands of "others" outnumber those in the 40. If art faculty want to teach to that talent, they must make room for it in the first place (sounds like U of M does that). Then they must settle for getting the best of it to simply take a few more art courses, rather than lock them out because they are not majors following some prescribed battery of art course sequences.

39.

John S.

July 10, 2009, 12:20 AM

I probably should follow the entire thread, but this has, unfortunately, become an emotional subject with me. Where the hell is art education going? It is difficult because we refuse to treat it like a tangible subject. This open endedness(?) has its place but has spoiled us into thinking that all is well, but what is there to say about the too many students that leave with an art degree worth nothing while they work in anything they can get there hands on to pay their student loans? Now I'll go back to read the thread, just had to get that off my chest.

40.

John S.

July 10, 2009, 1:03 AM

o.k. very insightful comments and with all do respects (which I am aware that much is merited amongst you) I wonder why all is so complicated. Why not just sit down/stand up and make art and be done with the idea that these degrees and schools are meaningful? If we must continue in the academic, then shouldn't the faculty be it before they teach it? If only this much became more of the norm, then the business model will take care of itself. The community will see the actual "proof in the pudding" and will enthusiastically send their would- be- artist into the art departments across the country. It seems like the struggles are based on a tentative, skeptical tax paying public feeling duped every time a smarmy barista with an MFA passes them their $4 coffee. What hard working population would want to continue feeding this system that simply does not have that many real results? Certainly the elitist (clueless, by nature (not meant as an insult)) have a firm grasp in many art programs across the spectrum, pushing art that just does not speak to the general population. LOL Rant over. Thank you.

41.

Biloxiblue

July 10, 2009, 7:58 AM

what is this about Bravo's new reality show? Please someone tell me more. I looked on http://www.picktorrent.com but couldn't find anything. Thanks!

42.

Franklin

July 10, 2009, 8:24 AM

Regarding the Bravo show: Google is your friend. I don't link to retarded projects like that.

John S., the bottom line is that you can learn a lot in a good undergraduate art program. An MFA is a tougher call; I explored the issue back in April. Both the university system and the art world foster a lot of nonsense, and some but not all of it would go away if taxpayer money were withdrawn from both enterprises.

43.

Tim

July 10, 2009, 11:17 AM

Re art school: "Let the writer (artist) take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him." (Wm. Faulkner, high school dropout) The secrets are in history (I mean precedence, not antiquity.). The library is full of books, etc. It's all free. Class dismissed.

44.

opie

July 10, 2009, 12:18 PM

Like everything, the person makes the difference. The problem with art teaching, and much other teaching, is lousy teachers in a lousy system.

Faulkner is OK, but in this instance he dismisses technique, which he himself was deep into (he used to fill walls with organized notes), draws a parallel between technique and theory, which is all wrong, and says that the good artist won't take advice, when the best artists I know practically beg for it.

He should have rethought that one.

45.

John

July 10, 2009, 12:34 PM

To reinforce what opie says about artists and advice: an ambitious artist will do ANYTHING to get better. That includes taking advice, especially from advisers you trust because you know them to be sharp, even though the advice is not always implemented. You can't choose to use, modify, or not use a suggestion unless you have some suggestions to choose from.

46.

Tim

July 10, 2009, 12:40 PM

Opie, who could've taught Faulkner his technique? My take on his remark is that he was saying that if an artist has to spend much time on technique, then he needs to go find something else to do. I have had this debate with people who did just that. They went nowhere and their work was about technique, mostly as a way to hide lack of content. That is certainly the case with most of the work I see today. Everyone techniqueing themselves right out of the picture. Technique in the way I'm talking about it is like learning to draw in a way which undoes one's own mark rather than bringing that mark to the fore.

As for the best artists you know begging for advice, does that mean you don't know any good artists? If they're already that good, advice about what? How to paint? How to draw? How to see? Hmm...

Your comments about "lousy teachers in a lousy system" are general. Could you be specific?

47.

Tim

July 10, 2009, 12:52 PM

Yes John, I can think of exceptions which prove the rule. A few days ago I asked the postman to come in and have a look at a picture of some rabbits I was improvising. He said "Hell Tim, them ain't rabbits." Then he told me what to do to bring them around and handed me my mail...bills.

48.

opie

July 10, 2009, 6:07 PM

This is partly a semantic matter, Tim.

Technique is how you do something, what devices and methods you use. There is, of course, such a thing as highly evolved technical skill used to make art that is barren and souless, but that is because the artist is no good. It has nothing to do with "technique" as such. That is just a modernist conceit. And it is one that has led us to despise craft and skill, which are still the basis for great art, like it or not.

I have worked with two great modernist artists, Tony Caro and Jules Olitski (Jules more than Tony). Tony, especially, welcomed people's suggestions. At the Barcelona Workshop in the late 80s we all made a sport of it. It was like John says, the really serious artist is hungry for anything to make the art better. It is all very simple and basic - "what do you think", "should I move this over here" and such like.

I made a regular habit of critting Jules's paintings in his Florida studio and ranking and doing which-way-up on the new pictures. I have a friend who does the same thing for me, and I return the favor, if it is that. A person with an eye is a precious resource. That's why we loved Clem so much.

As for lousy programs, I'd rather not name names. Maybe John will. He's retired.

49.

Tim

July 10, 2009, 6:49 PM

Opie, I get what you're saying, but I hope I'm not 'hearing' you suggest that Wm. Faulkner's comment about technique led to despising craft and skill. I don't recall his participation in the Great Dumbing Down. And, honestly, do you really believe that he was drawing a parallel between technique and theory? He was just saying that reliance on technique is nowhere, because the technique in any work is really not what does the talking. The essential ingredient, which can't be worded, can't be attained by technique or theory.

Of course one solicits comments from trusted others, if that's what you and John mean by advice.

50.

opie

July 10, 2009, 11:29 PM

You are not hearing me say any such thing, Tim, because I didn't say it. Obviously something Faulkner said is unlikely to lead to a widespread social phenomena. He was only reflecting something.

In recent times there has been a general denigration of craft and skill and technique because they have been unfairly associated with lifeless art. What I said was that it is not technique that is at fault, as Faulkner implied, it is artists.

A parallel between technique and theory is clearly implied in the quote. It is right there in plain sight.

You do not need to trust the person who gives you advice on your work. It's either a good idea or not. The character of the advisor is beside the point. You are the one who has to decide. Besides, a bad eye usually shows very quickly.

51.

Tim

July 11, 2009, 1:33 PM

Opie, I take Faulkner to be reflecting on his own experience against a backdrop of a knowledge of precedence. I don't believe he was reflecting a societal or cultural attitude.

Craft and skill have been denigrated across the board largely because audiences don't require it, and artists (wannabes) don't see why to bother and don't even know what bothering means, because nobody's requiring it of them.

I won't try to talk you out of believing that Faulkner was dumb enough to parallel technique with theory, but I can't think of any other examples where he made no sense.

Yes, the advice is what counts, not the person.

52.

John

July 11, 2009, 1:58 PM

For both Tim and opie: when a person consistently offers relevant advice, that person does indeed count. That's the person you seek out and pay more attention to. That's the one you trust.

53.

John

July 11, 2009, 2:13 PM

About technique: I have to agree that technique qua technique doesn't give you art. But neither can you get art without mastering the techniques that are necessary for the specific art you make. Pollock wasn't that good at drawing, but he was a hell of a paint slinger, which is what he ultimately needed to be good at before he could do what he did. It is a mistake to identify technique with depiction and ignore that everything having to do with making objects is a technique (not that either of you are doing that).

About theory: It is not necessary for an artist to be right about art theory, nor does it guarantee anything if he or she is right. Bad theories can lead into the abyss (abandoning objects) but don't necessarily do that. Christo, for instance, is something of a conceptualist and talks a lot of nonsense about the "sociology" of his installations, but draws beautifully. And his installations themselves are a mile ahead of Baldasarri's photographs of himself smoking a cigar.

As opie says, any time art is bad, the artists are the ultimate culprits.

54.

opie

July 11, 2009, 4:10 PM

This is become unnecessarily convoluted.

Tim, it is not a matter of my "belief". Faulkner said "Let the writer (artist) take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. "

The sentence containing "theory" is not a new thought; it continues directly from, and draws a parallel to, the reference to "technique".

John, of course you decide whom to to trust, in every part of life. My point was that if some jerk says "that should be green" the rightness of the suggestion depends on the rightness of the suggestion, not the jerkiness of the person.

55.

Tim

July 11, 2009, 4:38 PM

Opie, I still believe you're misunderstanding Faulkner's comments about technique and theory because there would be no reason for him to have meant what you claim. But, ok, we'll disagree on that one.

I think both you and John are correct about advice.

56.

opie

July 12, 2009, 12:09 AM

Good grief, Tim. You're the one who quoted him. That's what he said. It's right there in the quote.

Let's just leave it.

57.

Tim

July 13, 2009, 9:56 AM

Hey Opie, you say po tay toe, I say po tah toe... O let's call the whole thing off...

58.

ahab

July 13, 2009, 10:33 AM

Back to the Canadians... We're nearing the "comments close after one week" so it looks as though I'll not get to that comment about the Group of Seven and their heroes. Suffice to say that although they had painted some forgettable paintings - that drab 1930's style (some of which belong to the AGA here in Edmonton) - the boys still had remarkable chops. They could from time to time score a hattrick [knock 'em outta the park, fer yous suth'rners]. Thomson especially. I've seen some really great little J.E.H. MacDonald's, and not so many but still very good A.Y. Jackson's. Milne came a little in advance of the Group, and I like most of what I've seen of his. A lesser known, and less experimental, forerunner worth looking up was James Wilson Morrice.

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