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Great moments in philately

Post #1466 • March 11, 2010, 12:32 PM • 177 Comments

The United States Postal Service has released a Souvenir Sheet commemorating Abstract Expressionists. (via) Artists included:

  • The Golden Wall (1961) — Hans Hofmann (1880–1966)
  • Romanesque Façade (1949) — Adolph Gottlieb (1903–1974)
  • Orange and Yellow (1956) — Mark Rothko (1903–1970)
  • The Liver Is the Cock’s Comb (1944) — Arshile Gorky (1904–1948)
  • 1948–C (1948) — Clyfford Still (1904–1980)
  • Asheville (1948) — Willem de Kooning (1904–1997)
  • Achilles (1952) — Barnett Newman (1905–1970)
  • Convergence (1952) — Jackson Pollock (1912–1956)
  • Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 34 (1953–1954) — Robert Motherwell (1915–1991)
  • La Grande Vallée 0 (1983) — Joan Mitchell (1925–1992)



Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2010, 2:03 PM

I saw the poster for these at the Post Office a couple of weeks ago. I spent my time on line trying to identify which artists were represented from the tiny stamp reproductions from across the room. Pollock and Rothko were easy, but the rest....

There's also a series of Hollywood cowboys. I found myself wondering if I'd have named most of them off the top of my head before seeing the stamps. I mean, Roy Rogers, yes. Gene Autry, maybe. But would I have remembered Tom Mix? And who the heck is William S. Hart?



March 11, 2010, 2:31 PM

Joan Mitchell does not belong on that list, but then, you know...

I remember Tom Mix. William S. Hart was even before my time.


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2010, 2:49 PM

I believe he was known for rustlin' brontosauruses.



March 11, 2010, 3:39 PM

As you say, Opie, Joan Mitchell doesn't belong.



March 11, 2010, 3:43 PM

If they had to have ten, Baziotes, Stamos or Frankenthaler would have been more appropriate.


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2010, 4:26 PM

I can see the consultant the Post Office hired on this project being told, "No women? But there has to be at least one woman! And an African-American. What do you mean there were no black Abstract Expressionists? Okay, fine, but you've got to dig up a woman."


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2010, 4:34 PM

And when the Irascibles appeared in Life magazine there was only one woman in the photo -- and she was neither Mitchell nor Frankenthaler. Of course OP knows who it was, since he saw the photo when it was first published on the stone tablets delivered to his cave via pterosaur: Hedda Sterne.

She's also the only one still living. She's a hundred this August. That may be why she couldn't have a stamp, since U.S. custom is only the deceased are allowed on stamps.



March 11, 2010, 5:50 PM

Hedda Sterne was not a terribly good painter. Jimmy Ernst is in the Irascibles photo too, and he wasn't any prize either. Merely signing a petition (which was the criterion for being included in that photo) does not great artists make.



March 11, 2010, 6:05 PM

Lee Krasner would have been more appropriate than Mitchell in terms of her dates. She wasn't as good a painter as Frankenthaler but she was better than Mitchell and also a contempory of the first generation of ab-exer's, like all the other figures in this stamp collection. Mitchell belongs to the second generation. I'm not ashamed to admit I know a little art history, Chris, even if it leads you to classify me as antediluvian. Jackson Pollock was my mother's generation, not mine, but there are plenty of books about him, which Opie may also have read in addition to educating himself on the web. Pollock was also Opie's mother's generation, I suspect (give or take a year or two).



March 11, 2010, 6:16 PM

I'm afraid it's quite beyond the capacities of the Postal Service people to be attuned to such things as first vs. second generation AbEx, let alone anything more subjective or subtle, relatively speaking. Yes, they surely consulted someone "in the know," but again, they were hardly equipped to pick the best adviser, and of course they took whatever he or she said at face value. The "we gotta have a female" business may well have come from the government end, but all they wanted was the gender, regardless of suitability for inclusion.



March 11, 2010, 6:24 PM

As for Baziotes and Stamos, they never had a chance. Too relatively obscure. Wouldn't want to tax the official art crowd too much, given their limited knowledge of even XX century art history. I expect many of them know little or nothing about a number of the names that did make the list.


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2010, 6:45 PM

The images I found for Ernst, Sterne, and Walker Tomlin don't look all that great. I don't think I've ever heard of any of them before or seen their work. In a way it's kind of sad. They got in the photo and then...we forgot them.

As for being pegged antediluvian, Piri, I would only throw such things at OP as part of a long-running joke around here. I only hope I look half as good as he does when I'm half his age, which I expect will be in eighty years or so.

I think you're right about Krasner. She would've been the right choice. Frankenthaler's really a Color Field painter, not quite an Abstract Expressionist, at least to go by what I've heard. Mitchell fits in stylistically but is later in time.

Mitchell's Wikipedia page mentions Grace Hartigan. What about her?


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2010, 6:50 PM

We talked about Grace about a year and a half back.



March 11, 2010, 6:58 PM

Mitchell is mostly a mess, albeit a lucky one.



March 11, 2010, 8:00 PM

Tomlin was one of the best, Chris, way better than Ernst & Sterne. He died very young and certainly would have continued to do excellent work.

Piri I might not agree with you about Krasner. I really don't care for her work. Mitchell hit a good one now and then. But it is a toss-up.

You are right of course about the dates. Mitchell was one of the succeeding generation and has always been known as such. (My mother was almost exactly Clem's age, BTW)

The astonishing thing about the life photo was that in 1950 it was somehow possible to assemble most of the best artists in one room, in their mid-careers. This might be a unique circumstance

Hartigan was good, respectable at least. She was in the 1959 MoMA show.



March 11, 2010, 8:31 PM

The astonishing thing about the life photo was that in 1950 it was somehow possible to assemble most of the best artists in one room, in their mid-careers. This might be a unique circumstance.

I think so too. What has replaced it is the idea that by assembling a group commonly regarded as the "best" (i.e., the "avant-garde" as recognized by everyone), the assembly seals the deal, as a reprise of the Life photo. So it gets repeated and repeated, over and over.


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2010, 9:19 PM

Nowadays we just assemble all the best artists here.



March 11, 2010, 9:39 PM

And of course the art world recognizes that.



March 11, 2010, 9:49 PM

The art world recognizes it's got a damn good racket going and plenty of suckers or opportunists to sustain it, at least for the foreseeable future. I don't think it even cares about actual respectability, only about being able to keep the game running and paying the accustomed dividends.



March 11, 2010, 9:53 PM

Yesterday Jack wrote, "I don't know, maybe I'm just getting even further "out of it," but the more I look at good pots, the more ridiculous official "fine" art looks." I have been feeling this lately, too, though I'm not that knowledgeable about pots.

I'm wondering what Jack thinks about the tea bowls that painter Phil Sims recently showed at Charlotte Jackson in Santa Fe.

I think what's missing from this list of Ab Exers on stamps is a sculptor, specifically, David Smith. That is a major oversight.

I cannot abide the knocks on Joan Mitchell; I have seen great painters by her from all periods of her career. Her late works are raw, energetic, joyful, risky. Maybe y'all don't like her work, but it's important to me. She wasn't hit or miss, or lucky- she had real chops.

However, yes, historically speaking, Krasner would have been the correct choice, and her work would stand up to the spotlight.



March 11, 2010, 10:04 PM

I think Hartigan is overrated, too, but in any event she's the same generation as Frankenthaler & Mitchell--in fact, both Time & Life did coy little stories on "les girls" in the 50s, mentioning all those three. This was when women artists were only classified with & compared to each other---it not crossing anybody's mind, in those far-off days, that a woman painter could even be better than a man.

As to Krasner, I saw a retrospective of hers at the Brooklyn Museum 5 or 6 years ago that included some pretty good work as well as plenty of bad. The brightly-colored stuff from the 60s and later is definitely sub-standard. One can understand how CG thought it was "hollow" & didn't want to give her a show at French & Co., even though she was making it a condition to which he had to submit if she was going to let French & Co. show her late husband. But some of the Krasners from the 40s are pretty nice, both paintings done when she was still a Hofmann student & the "little" pix of the later 40s, indebted though they are to hubby. Some of the collage paintings from the early 50s are also nice--one of the museum labels actually quoted CG saying they were good.



March 11, 2010, 10:10 PM

I'm glad Mitchell appeals to you, Chris, but I have yet to see a picture by her that I felt was organized & coherent. I'm sure your enthusiasm is genuine, but for me most of the people who tout Mitchell (& Hartigan) are doing so because it spares them the necessity of looking at Frankenthaler and admitting that, taken for all in all, she's better.



March 11, 2010, 10:26 PM

Chris, I don't know Sims, but most of those bowls look like they've been coated in formica and then slathered with resin. I'm definitely reminded of some cracking, peeling plastic stuff, and the shapes feel stiff, brittle and/or artsily awkward. I can't imagine anyone familiar with the real deal falling for this. It's not that one has to be Japanese to make good Japanese-style pots, but this guy's a dilettante.



March 11, 2010, 10:34 PM

Piri, perhaps we can agree to amicably disagree, but I have to say this: your authoritative assignment of motivation for preferring Mitchell over Frankenthaler is a generalization and, to my mind, a bit patronizing, an attempt to win an argument with a pronouncement. Looking at Mitchell has certainly not spared me from engaging with Frankenthaler, who I have looked at quite closely over many years, and who I have come to think didn't make a genuinely dynamic painting after about 1963 or so. But that's just my opinion, and your preference for her won't make me say something like, for example, your eye for Frankenthaler makes you blind to Mitchell. It's OK for you to state your preference without belittling the preferences of others. As an artist I get nothing out of Frankenthaler, and plenty out of Mitchell.



March 11, 2010, 10:36 PM

Thanks for the comment, Jack. I like hulking, crackling, awkward bowls, but am not sure what to think of Sims'.



March 11, 2010, 10:43 PM

Basically, Chris, I think this guy's approach, or rather result, is a synthetic-looking trivialization of what he's supposed to be emulating. He'd probably be better off doing purely Sims-style pots, whatever that may be. Based on this showing, he simply cannot live up to his chosen model.



March 11, 2010, 10:51 PM

Try this instead (click image to enlarge as needed):

Karatsu 1
Karatsu 2
Karatsu 3
Karatsu 4



March 11, 2010, 11:42 PM

Chris, there are wheels within wheels regarding the entire Frankenthaler-Mitchell issue, and I don't have the strength to deal with them all here. I will say that I think Frankenthaler's greatest years are from the 50s through about 1970 (although there are individual great paintings since, just as some of Picasso's graphics & sculpture continue their high quality for decades after the precipitous decline in his painting). There's what I consider a dynamite Frankenthaler from 1969 in the current "1969" show at PS 1 (just about the only good thing in that show). And, if you'll forgive me for saying so, I think I may have seen more Frankenthalers than you have. After all, my introduction to her work was the magnificent retrospective held at the Whitney in 1969.



March 11, 2010, 11:55 PM

Chris if you think Frankenthaler didn't do really good stuff until after 1963 I'd say your take is precisely upside down.

Some of her very early stuff is dynamite, and some of the paintings of the 50s had me running to my studio when I saw them.

I find most of the paintings of the 60s, the simple, broad field ones, kind of dead, including the very minimal one in Clem's collection (he & I disagreed about these) and, unlike Piri, some of the mid 70s paintings to be among her best.

I could not put Mitchell in her class under any circumstance. In fact, Mitchell for me is an "eye test". Most of her work is little more than paint agitation, and her colors were pedestrian to the point of sleepwalking.

Just an opinion!



March 12, 2010, 12:09 AM

I like some of the Sims pots but many of them have that overcooked quality which comes from emulating traditional forms too assertively.



March 12, 2010, 12:35 AM

paint agitation - That's a term that sheds a lot of light in other places as well, such as the "New New" and some other "formalists" that I'm supposed to like better than I do. The fact they are on "our side" notwithstanding.



March 12, 2010, 12:45 AM

I was choosing a show in 1985 and remember a guy named Jim at Knoedler's having his help bring out Frankenthaler after Frankenthaler and I just could not get a burn from any of them. I wanted to. If she had been included she would have been the biggest "name" in the show. All things being equal, "names" are desirable. But, in art, things never are.

And who - besides Jack - doesn't like a "name" every now and then?



March 12, 2010, 12:54 AM

Opie, I understand Chris as saying Frankenthaler didn't do any really good work AFTER 1963 - not that different than what you said except his cut off point is earlier.



March 12, 2010, 12:56 AM

Chris, can you say what you get out of Mitchell?



March 12, 2010, 12:59 AM

Opie: I think we agree. I wrote that I think Frankenthaler "didn't make a genuinely dynamic painting after about 1963 or so." In other words, the 50's and early 60's were the best; after that, dullsville.



March 12, 2010, 1:17 AM

Piri writes, "And, if you'll forgive me for saying so, I think I may have seen more Frankenthalers than you have. After all, my introduction to her work was the magnificent retrospective held at the Whitney in 1969."

Gee, Piri, based on two comments in a row, apparently you just can't resist making comments that are attempts at one-upsmanship, this one having no basis in fact other than that you saw a retrospective in 1969. That makes you an expert? How can you make such a claim? You don't even know who I am (in case you think I'm Chris Rywalt, I'm not). Why the need to "win?"

My opinion, based on a lot of looking (no, I did not see the 1969 retrospective), is that after the early sixties Frankenthaler's paintings are decorative at most, and more usually safe, dull, bland square yards of stained canvas.



March 12, 2010, 1:23 AM

... in case you think I'm Chris Rywalt, I'm not ...

It is getting strange around here.



March 12, 2010, 7:04 AM

Chris & John, you are right. I misread the comment by Chris.

Chris, if you are not Chris Rywalt it would be nice if you would indicate that somehow, with an ititial or something. We had the same problem with two Georges a while back. But please continue to comment.

John I think it would be quite possible to see a string of boring Frankenthalers. Her bad pictures are usually bland and lackluster rather than truly ugly.


Chris Rywalt

March 12, 2010, 7:28 AM

I was going to say something, and then I thought it was pretty clear, since I'm always Chris Rywalt with my e-mail and Website linked. Other people in the world are allowed to be Chris.

Most places know me as crywalt. I've been crywalt for so long, before we were married my future wife was known as drywalt.



March 12, 2010, 8:27 AM

baziotes would have been the best choice for the 10th pick instead of mitchell.

he was one of the pioneers and doing strong complete work very early for an abexer. he is also somewhat of a bridge from klee and miro if that counts for anything.

although it is very likely, can't say for sure if i prefer him to stamos, but i think he fits better on this list.

mitchell got the nod for being a female and her market prices.

if they were considering foreigners, jean fautrier would have to be strongly considered. great painter, who i think would be listed as an abexer.



March 12, 2010, 8:50 AM

Re. Sims pots: I like it that a painter exhibits pots, but as noted they're a little heavy handed, especially the glazes. The watercolors show a similar quality of not quite hitting the mark. That said, I could love a few of the smaller ones. I'd have to hold them first though to be sure.

wall of bodies by Yagi Kazuo sourced here


Chris Rywalt

March 12, 2010, 8:57 AM

And, hey, didn't anyone notice the lack of charm, wit, and lovable stupidity that characterizes my writing?


Chris Rywalt

March 12, 2010, 9:01 AM

They wouldn't have considered foreigners, 1, since these are United States stamps.


Chris Rywalt

March 12, 2010, 9:13 AM

Although, if one wants to pick nits, Hofmann, Rothko, Gorky and de Kooning were all foreign-born. De Kooning started out as an illegal immigrant. Maybe that makes them more American.

Rummaging around I think another reason Hartigan couldn't be included is she died too recently -- Postal Service policy is five years have to elapse at least (except for U.S. presidents). Frankenthaler and Sterne are still alive and therefore can't be on stamps, either. Mitchell may therefore have been the only woman eligible. And, of course, there had to be at least one woman.

Then again, Postal Service policy also states "Stamps or stationery items shall not be issued to honor fraternal, political, sectarian, or service/charitable organizations" and yet they're honoring the Boy Scouts of America this year.



March 12, 2010, 9:21 AM

And, hey, didn't anyone notice the lack of charm, wit, and lovable stupidity that characterizes my writing?

I did. I thought maybe you were on Qualudes or something. (Just having some fun other Chris).


Chris Rywalt

March 12, 2010, 10:03 AM

It's true, I'm much more mellow when I'm on my meds.



March 12, 2010, 10:10 AM

David, at the Sims link, it explicitly says that his pots were not meant to be functional, just objects to be looked at as art. That's part of his problem. He's not a good enough ceramic artist to pull that off.



March 12, 2010, 10:32 AM

For a very distinguished non-Japanese potter working in the Japanese tradition, try Richard Milgrim here. Sims is essentially out of his depth to the point of being vulgar, even tacky.



March 12, 2010, 10:58 AM

I couldn't resist:

Female Trouble


Chris Rywalt

March 12, 2010, 11:11 AM

"Get off the goddamn computer or I'll split your head open with the sword you bought on eBay, nerd! Desperate Housewives is almost on!"



March 12, 2010, 1:21 PM

Chris non-Rywalt, those who know me better than you do are aware that I've been writing about Frankenthaler professionally since 1969, when I did a major article on her for Time magazine. It was based not only upon the retrospective, but also extended interviews with her, briefer ones with her then husband Motherwell & her onetime boyfriend Greenberg, and being taken through the show by Eugene Goossen, the Hunter College professor who'd organized it. The artist liked the article well enough to put me on her mailing list. As far as I know, I'm still on it. As a result, I've have been notified of every NY show she's had since, and seen most of them. Since I started my online column 11 years ago, I've also reviewed most of these shows (not always favorably, either). However, she's never fitted any groove -- closer to color-field than anything else, but distinctively different from Noland, Olitski & Louis, and written about for the most part by non-Greenbergian critics. I wish more of the people who like Noland, Olitski & Louis could relate to the great Frankenthalers of the 60s. For me, they're very different from the lively, even frenzied canvases of the 50s, but have other, equally admirable characteristices: simplicity, clarity & dignity, even majesty.



March 12, 2010, 2:01 PM

Jack, I didn't catch that Sims says his pots are non-functional. In that case he needs to be way better than he is. Never mind.



March 12, 2010, 2:05 PM

re. Richard Milgram, potter. I came across a book about him a year or so ago. He's the real deal - studied and trained in the tradition, dedicated to his craft, blessed by his teachers, etc.



March 12, 2010, 5:08 PM

A little monkey business:

Kogo 1
Kogo 2
Kogo 3
Kogo 4

It's a small incense holder (kogo).


Chris Rywalt

March 12, 2010, 7:27 PM

Good lord that is ugly, even for a monkey.



March 12, 2010, 7:39 PM

Chris, people who live in Jersey should avoid the word ugly. The monkey rocks.


Chris Rywalt

March 12, 2010, 8:02 PM

This ape rocks. My ape rocks. Your monkey? It sucks.



March 12, 2010, 9:07 PM

Wait, you're into hackneyed Victorian curios by some heavy-handed (surprise!) German hack? My condolences to the wife. Heaven only knows what manner of knick-knacks you bring home.



March 12, 2010, 9:54 PM

This is very cool:

Shino yunomi

This (same potter) is an experimental gold lustre glaze which I'm very antsy about, but for some reason it reminds me of some Olitski paintings I've seen:

Gold Shino 1
Gold Shino 2
Gold Shino 3


Chris Rywalt

March 13, 2010, 11:05 AM

That statue, which I probably wouldn't own myself, was on display in the office of my beloved music director. A conductor's baton (which my director never used) was tucked into the chimp's arm. I spent many a pleasant hour with my future wife and the Professor talking in that office, while the ape examined the skull and The Three Musicians looked down.



March 13, 2010, 1:28 PM

Richard Millgram (4 pots).
In addition to great form and color, I think his work shows character.



March 13, 2010, 1:53 PM

David, only one pot shows up, but it's a fine one. Milgrim is obviously very talented, enough to be respected by Japanese connoisseurs.



March 13, 2010, 2:20 PM

There should be a previous/next button top right above the photo and the album is set for anyone to see, but who knows...



March 13, 2010, 7:20 PM

Seems to me that in all this excellent discussion about who should (or should not) be honored with a stamp, many are forgetting the awful Forever stamp. So many fewer people are purchasing the creative stamps that we have to unite to support the philatelist community, regardless of personal artist preferences. Isn't it just good the USPS is still trying to have at least a Souvenir Sheet?



March 13, 2010, 7:59 PM

The Postal Service obviously has problems, not least of which is a rather dysfunctional idea of what constitutes customer service. Of course, I suppose that's merely a reflection of the government as a whole.


Chris Rywalt

March 13, 2010, 8:28 PM

My Post Office is pretty okay. Always nice to me. Not really superfast or anything but they're all right.

Recently I've been using online postage. You weigh your package, print out the postage for it yourself, and just drop it off. Pretty excellent. It's slightly cheaper, too, although since I bump up the weight slightly (in case my scale, which isn't legal for commercial purposes, is off), the discount goes away.

Of course you don't get pretty stamps with online postage. Recently I was cleaning out my attic and found my stamp collection. When I was really young, maybe ten or even younger, I was into stamp collecting for a little while. My father's sister's husband's father gave me a pile of stamps one Christmas, and my father bought some starter kits and whatnot.

Going through them again I was struck by what I liked about stamps then, too: They're pretty. Whether they're wild four-color process stamps (at that point in time those were mostly foreign) or beautiful, tiny engravings, I like them. I really like small stamps. I found a bunch from the U.S.S.R. commemorating various spaceflight accomplishments which were especially extravagant.

I'm the kind of guy who can, at times, get caught up in the details of a dollar bill. I was on a field trip with my daughter and we got to use these cool fancy new microscopes so I was checking out a twenty-dollar bill when the guide called us to attention.

"I wanted to let you know about a few rules here in our lab," he said. "Rule one is: Any money under a microscope is mine!" I quickly snatched my twenty back.

Anyway. I like stamps, although not as much as I used to. I checked a random sampling from my trove on eBay and found they're worth precisely nothing. Well, the U.S. ones are still worth cover value, I suppose. I've got some 22-cent Christmas stamps I can't wait to use.


Chris Rywalt

March 13, 2010, 8:30 PM

David, I'm not getting any next or previous buttons. You only see them if you're logged in. I logged in under my wife's account and the links appear.

You're a handsome devil, my my.



March 13, 2010, 9:01 PM

My post office almost always involves an inordinately long wait (there seems to be no relation between number of customers waiting and number of employees helping them, even at what they must know are peak times every day). Then there are employees with attitude problems and/or weird tics like singing out loud, which annoys the hell out of me when I'm already pissed from waiting too long. Then there are screw-ups which entail an extra trip (or more) to the post office, which of course is treated as "Uh, too bad for you" as opposed to their problem, even though they caused it...



March 13, 2010, 10:31 PM

Chris, re. Facebook, yeah I suspected you couldn't get the whole album even though I set the privacy controls so anyone could see them. So it's anyone logged onto FB. I can upload a different way in future.


Chris Rywalt

March 13, 2010, 10:37 PM

I think we could see all the photos but you'd have to post links to each individual photo. It doesn't make sense to me that Facebook wouldn't put the controls up if the whole album is public, but then Facebook has a lot of little interface quirks.



March 13, 2010, 10:56 PM

I could easily post each link to the FB photos too. I thought maybe the page was distracting as opposed to uploading to my personal web page, but it's really easy to do it on FB. I like that I can post a lot of photos in albums in a place where there's some regular traffic. Thanks for the compliment, though I think I've long since made the transition from handsome devil to weathered hipster dude.



March 13, 2010, 11:05 PM

Now this is handsome:




March 14, 2010, 3:15 PM

The people in my post office, the Cherokee Station, are always very nice. The lines are often long, but that's because a lot of people use this post office, & it seems to be chronically underfunded. Last year the post office administration announced that they were going to try & close us down (in which case we would have had to use another post office, far away & even more crowded than our own). The people who work in our post office, and stood to lose their jobs, helped the local residents to sign & send in protests, and together we roped in our local Congress person & other elected officials, all of whom agitated on our behalf & us sign petitions, too. In the end, our post office was allowed to remain open, though no longer is it open late on Thursdays, which was the only time when it was reasonably quiet & you didn't have to stand in line.



March 14, 2010, 4:49 PM

Get a load of this (click images to enlarge as needed):

Vase 1
Vase 2
Vase 3
Vase 4
Vase 5



March 14, 2010, 6:23 PM

Actually I rather like it, bastard form that it is. Looks right out of 1911 Cubism.



March 14, 2010, 6:34 PM

All you earnest liberals should take notice that the USPO is a type specimen of Government Administration: system-wide mismanagement, followed by steadily increasing inefficiency, overgenerous employee benefits coupled with effective tenure, followed sooner or later by a larger economic crisis at which point the inefficiencies are preserved and basic services are slashed (closing units, cutting Saturday delivery, etc).

It is a pattern as old as centralized government. And we are about to do it to our health care system! Woe betide us!

Whoops! I said I wouldn't talk about politics. Sorry Franklin.



March 14, 2010, 6:58 PM

It's quite clear that at least some post office employees feel (or know) they can get away with highly questionable interaction with the customer, even if the customer were to complain. I've run into similar behavior from federal employees in other settings. It amounts to acting as if they're doing the customer a favor by doing what they're paid to do, being snotty and/or churlish, and generally conveying the impression that they don't especially care one way or another because they don't have to.



March 14, 2010, 9:22 PM

Oh opie ... Can't really believe that you wrote #76, you who value rational discourse that sticks with the facts so much.

When you go into a post office you can find out exactly how much they charge and exactly what services they will perform for that charge. Their rates are competitive with both UPS and Fed Ex. Some of their services are superior. For instance, they don't charge extra to deliver stuff on Saturdays and they have flat rate boxes no one else seems to have. This last Saturday someone mailed my wife a box too large to fit in the box so the post office guy came to the door, rang the bell, and waited until we answered it. Gave us the box plus the regular mail, with a smile. I don't know if that is "policy" or just because he is nice, but that's the way it has been for the 30 years I have been served by our local post office - except, of course, during the few periods when Saturday service was not offered.

If Saturday delivery is "basic" then why not Sunday delivery as well? Why do their competitors get to charge more for Saturday service? (Except Fed Ex Ground, which compensates for their no extra charge Saturday service by not delivering anything on Sunday or Monday.)

As far as tenure goes, we have had the same UPS guy (and he is good, don't get me wrong) for over 20 years. Meanwhile, there is no one left at the post office from 20 years ago.

As far as closing units goes, UPS has closed more units than I can count in Kazoo, though it has opened new ones, also more than I can count. I like the continuity of the local post office, which has moved just once since I moved here in 77. It's less confusing, but I use UPS and Fed Ex too, once I figure out their current locations.

When I look at the cars parked in the designated employee area at my local post office, I cannot think they are overpaid. The cars do not look like those of republican entrepreneurs. They do look like those of US civil servants.

In short, the USPS is one of the best parts of our government. My fear of the current health care legislation is that it will not come close to creating anything that measures up to the performance of the USPS. In fact, I still can't determine much about what the legislation will do, only what it will forbid. You cannot find an answer to simple questions like what procedures will be covered (like asking "what can I ship?" at the post office) or what won't ("what can't I ship?"). Nor can I find what it will cost. I don't believe the president when he says it will save $1 trillion anymore than I believed Greenspan in 2001 when he said the federal government would run an $800 billion surplus in 2010. But when I ask at the post office what the weight limit is on the small flat rate box they tell me 4 pounds and that's the unvarnished truth.

If the rest of the government would become as agreeable as the USPS I'd be a happy camper, and I'm an "earnest liberal" only some of the time.



March 14, 2010, 9:54 PM

Miami is hardly charm city, but it sounds as if some of you are living in a parallel universe.



March 14, 2010, 11:09 PM

The reason the post office is losing money has nothing to do with its efficiency. It's because so many people and organizations now use email instead of writing letters and credit cards over the web are used to pay bills instead of mailed-in checks. May I also say that in my experience people who work for private employers are at least as likely to be rude to customers as are civil servants.



March 14, 2010, 11:31 PM

Ok guys. You win.



March 15, 2010, 12:08 AM

I'd like to add to piri's comment that a lot of businesses are losing money as an effect of the "Great Recession", not necessarily their own inefficiency. Others, like AIG, are losing because of outright greed that put them in a hole too deep to escape from, even as they became too big to fail and too big to jail.



March 15, 2010, 7:44 AM

Again, your mileage may vary, but based on my experience with the post office, I most certainly do not want health care, or anything comparably important, to be run the same way.



March 15, 2010, 8:15 AM

Well, yes Jack. I have to say my long experience with the USPO, despite the pledge that these couriers will not "stay their appointed rounds" because of bad weather, has not been quite as benign as that of Piri & John.

And Piri, saying that "The reason the post office is losing money has nothing to do with its efficiency" is simply indefensible. The Post Office is a sleeping dinosaur.There is much to be sid for adaption to a changed business climate. We both remember a time when there was no such thing as UPS.

I must say, however, that the "one size box fits all" idea I have seen recently on TV is the kind of efficiency that should have been introduced 50 years ago.


Chris Rywalt

March 15, 2010, 2:44 PM

The Post Office runs at a loss. It brags about not being funded out of tax revenue but that's because the Post Office funding was removed from the federal budget some years ago and is now on the "black budget" which is as much federal budget as the "real" federal budget but isn't accounted for in the "balanced budget" arguments and so forth.

This doesn't make the Post Office bad as far as I'm concerned. We as a society might say, for example, that subsidizing shipping of magazines and eBay purchases and phone bills and whatever else is vital to American commerce and we're willing to make that sacrifice. And, really, the USPS budget shortfall is (almost certainly) a drop in the bucket compared to, I don't know, Halliburton and Blackwater-type coroporate welfare, to say nothing of all the state and local tax breaks given to automobile manufacturers and other big businesses.

The main problem with the Post Office, in my opinion, is that anything given to people rapidly goes from being a gift welcomed with thanks to something demanded and complained about. So we feel free to complain about the Post Office even if it's no better or worse than a private for-profit enterprise would be. Personally I've had just as much trouble with FedEx and UPS. And the only time I've ever had a package get destroyed was UPS.

My mailman is pleasant. My UPS guy is pleasant. My dealings at the Post Office are pleasant. It all pretty much works for me.

The second problem with the Post Office is volume. They deliver a bazillion objects a day and deal with a zillion customers through a squillion employees. The Law of Large Numbers states that, with those kind of numbers, anything that could possibly go wrong is bound to do so at some point or another. So there's always something to complain about.

I suspect this is what appears to be wrong with socialized medicine in countries like Canada and England. No system that large is going to make everyone happy all the time, so of course you can always find someone who's been hopelessly screwed by it.



March 15, 2010, 3:24 PM

Opie must have know what he was starting when he started it. Chris qualifies "what is wrong with socialized medicine" with "what appears". Nice qualification, and one that is important.

People who are expert in "public health" use what they call "outcome measures" to see how health care in one country stacks up against that in another. These tend to be factual and therefore accurately measured, as opposed to public opinion. The prevailing conclusion is that the United States is not first, second, or even tenth. We rank well below Canada, that bastion of evil, government controlled, socialized medicine. And Canada ranks somewhat below some of the even more socialized medical systems in Europe.

Myself I suspect this is caused in part because a significant number of our citizens can get health care only if they can pay out of pocket or if they visit an emergency room. Others, with insurance, receive less than optimal health care because they can't afford or simply avoid the various co-payments that are sprinkled here, there, and everywhere amongst the insured (members of the House and Senate excepted). So it isn't we lack the know how to be the best, we just lack the sense of charity and justice that is required to see to it that everyone benefits.

One of the worst aspects, in my opinion, is what we do to the children of the poor. No matter why their parents are poor, the kids are innocent of any blame, if in fact, there is blame. Even the act of being born is more dangerous in the US than it is in many countries that are 1). not as advanced medically as we are; and 2), are not as wealthy as we are. Our life expectancy is also less than first. The list goes on. It is not a record I can admire, though I believe we are probably at the top of the heap with regard to the basic technology of medicine. It is our soul that has a problem.

All I am saying is that when it comes to getting sick and hoping to get well, we are all equal.



March 15, 2010, 3:36 PM

"Given to people"? As in truly free? Are you serious? NOTHING that comes from the government is truly free, meaning somebody's paying for it, and it's ultimately not the government. You have exactly one guess as to who's really footing the bills, all of them. Sheesh.

OK, I'm opting out of this discussion now. It's out of place here, and it will only lead to unpleasantness that will change absolutely nothing. I have pots to study.


Chris Rywalt

March 15, 2010, 3:56 PM

I know it's not free. I didn't mean given as in "here's a free gift" so much as offered, as a service. Although, as I noted, the Post Office is subsidized, so the people who use it are in part supported by the people who don't.

A store with public restrooms offers those restrooms freely (sometimes to customers only) but obviously they're not free at all. Public restrooms cost money and someone is paying for them. But offer a public restroom and then close it later and see how upset people get!

Think of the protester holding the sign reading "KEEP GOVERNMENT AWAY FROM MY MEDICARE". Offer something to people and they rapidly will expect and demand it, misunderstand it, and complain about it, too. That's just how people are.

I didn't want to start a healthcare debate. I agree with John, though. Still, we don't need to argue about that here.



March 15, 2010, 4:01 PM

Jack, it is no more out of place than your statement about the dysfunction of the government (#65), attitude problems with postal employees (#68), federal employee problems (#77), health care and the USPS (#83), or when you issue a "sheesh" at Chris's positive remarks about the USPS (#87).

I like your malcontent style, but don't see any reason to leave it always unchallenged.



March 15, 2010, 4:05 PM

Chris, you didn't start the health care thing, opie did (#76).



March 15, 2010, 4:18 PM

You are correct, John, in the sense that I should have known better than to make any such comments here. And by the way, the "Sheesh" was not prompted by positive remarks about the postal system, but by the apparent implication that I was being somehow "ungrateful" for a "free gift" that is absolutely no such thing. Anyway, you all carry on as you like, and I will endeavor to exercise better judgment.


Chris Rywalt

March 15, 2010, 7:01 PM

Completely off topic: I have this book, Kant: A Very Short Introduction. I don't know why I have it but it's been knocking around for a while. I've read it a couple of times but I went back to it yesterday because I'm still annoyed at myself from the last time we were discussing aesthetics and it seemed I got my Kant wrong. Kant have that now, can we?

Small joke, sorry.

I was thinking I'd like to mail a copy to OP since I think he'd find it interesting. But then I bet he's got plenty of his own Kant-related books lying around.

Anyway, I just noticed the name of the author for the first time today. Well, maybe not, but I just connected the name of the author with other doings here on Artblog: The book's by Roger Scruton.



March 15, 2010, 7:05 PM

The change of topic is welcome. Kant say I know Roger Scruton.


Chris Rywalt

March 15, 2010, 8:05 PM

Roger Scruton is a British philosopher. We've discussed him before because recently he's become very interested in beauty, art, and why contemporary art sucks so hard. I mentioned in this space his video essay Why Beauty Matters. All of this after I read his short introduction to Kant but before realizing it was all the same guy. I Kant believe it!

Anyway, re-reading his introduction to Kant's work on aesthetics, I find I still don't quite understand it. But I'm in good company, because from the sound of it Kant wasn't too clear on it himself. Scruton writes:

The argument is very slippery.... Kant offers a 'transcendental deduction' in answer. It is only fifteen lines long and wholly inadequate.

To be fair, I'm hazy on a lot more than Kant was (as you'd expect) and this is just one tiny thing Scruton is picking on. But I find it amusing anyway.



March 15, 2010, 8:11 PM

So anyway, what do the Canadian sculptor types think of the object in #74? It was listed as Bizen, but I think the green vitrified glaze is wrong for that. It's much more like an Iga or Shigaraki glaze (I am now disputing attributions, you see). Fun with pots.


Chris Rywalt

March 15, 2010, 8:18 PM

I think your monkey may have cast that pot.



March 15, 2010, 8:18 PM

Here's a better shot of the glaze in question, which is only partial, as it's a natural ash glaze that's not actually applied but just "happens" during firing.



March 15, 2010, 8:20 PM

Chris, I have no time for peasants from Jersey just now. Go and read Kant some more.



March 15, 2010, 8:28 PM

Opie was right. It's so Gaudier-Brzeska.



March 15, 2010, 8:40 PM

Well, David, it certainly beats the hell out of some cheesy "ready-made" by a sophomoric prankster of indifferent talent (for visual art, that is, which of course explains the pitiful "retinal" crack).



March 15, 2010, 9:10 PM

It's hard to go wrong with Oribe:

Dish 1
Dish 2
Dish 3
Dish 4

This is probably a kashiki, a dish for sweets for the tea ceremony.



March 15, 2010, 9:17 PM

As for "why contemporary art sucks so hard," Scruton doesn't need Kant for that. I can tell him very easily: it sucks so hard because it presumes to be visual art without visual merit. In other words, it's an oxymoron. Like, duh.



March 15, 2010, 9:25 PM

Cubist analog (Picasso):

Woman Playing Mandolin


Chris Rywalt

March 15, 2010, 9:41 PM

Kant thinks you're a bozo.



March 15, 2010, 9:44 PM

Another exquisite old pot (18th century):

Cranes bowl 1
Cranes bowl 2
Cranes bowl 3
Cranes bowl 4
Cranes bowl 5
Cranes bowl 6

The crack, filled in with gold lacquer as customary, only makes it more beautiful.



March 15, 2010, 10:46 PM

The cranes bowl looke like an oldie, not just because of the crack and the patina but because it looks like it was made just to be a bowl. I love it.

David I was thinking of Picasso's "Head of a woman" 1909 but Gaudier-Brzeska isn't too far off.

Chris I wouldn't mind having "Kant for Dummies" if it is accurate. Understanding him in the original isn't easy.

Phew. Glad we got off the politica.



March 16, 2010, 7:37 AM

Chris, I'm glad to be reminded of Roger Scruton (#94) since I participated in that thread. It was a good one too. I'm reading a philosopher named Mark Kingwell right now. If I come up with anything relevant, I'll bring it up.



March 16, 2010, 8:37 AM

This may be excessive Japonisme, but I rather like this very plain, ordinary old sake bottle:

Tokkuri 1
Tokkuri 2
Tokkuri 3
Tokkuri 4

I especially like the drip in #2 and the natural glaze crack in #4.



March 16, 2010, 8:39 AM

Kingwell's "Opening Gambits" looked promising because he starts with a good description of irony, by way of Kierkegaard, then goes on to say that the art world is like TV - 300 channels and nothing to watch. He says the crowds swarming Chelsea are like people who say they only watch public television, with their mugs and member's cards. Also I recalled that I heard him speak at a furniture conference in Toronto 10 years ago.



March 16, 2010, 8:54 AM

Ingres (actually, etching after Ingres):

Child with Lamb (click image to enlarge as needed)



March 16, 2010, 8:57 AM

It's probably more like 3000 channels and nothing to watch, David. Oh, and for what it's worth, I don't watch any TV, not even public. Do I get a gold star or what?


Chris Rywalt

March 16, 2010, 9:02 AM

I can read the first few pages of that book on Amazon and while he may make some great points later on, he starts off on the wrong foot by projecting his own feelings onto the people visiting Chelsea: "On any given Saturday you may observe them, the pilgrims of art, haunting the long blocks of Chelsea in Manhattan. Rich and mostly good-looking, they are nevertheless a sad lot; in search of something they know not what."

The layers of references in just the chapter head -- "Art Will Eat Itself" -- and the first line -- "On any given Saturday", the rhyme of of "lot" and "not what" -- worry me. I'm intrigued enough to want to read the book, but I'm worried by this inauspicious start.


Chris Rywalt

March 16, 2010, 9:04 AM

Has it occurred to you, Jack, that if what you want to do is post images and links of things that interest you, you could get your own blog?



March 16, 2010, 9:36 AM

Think of me as a "content provider," Chris. Or think whatever you like. Franklin's got other fish to fry these days, and if there's more stuff to look at and possibly discuss that's of interest to some (even if not all), I figure it's not a bad thing.



March 16, 2010, 9:41 AM

Oh, and yeah, the world needs yet another blog like it needs more spam.


Chris Rywalt

March 16, 2010, 9:50 AM

At the rate you're posting things which have no bearing on the conversation(s) going on here, though, you could have your own blog. That way people who are interested in your content could read it there and people who are interested in the conversations here could read them here and anyone interested in both could read them both. This is why anyone who wants to can start their own blog. It's not hard at all.

Because what you're doing here, it's not content providing, it's hijacking. Franklin doesn't maintain this blog so you have a place to post your pots and etchings.

Considering your political leanings, as evidenced by rants about the costs of the Post Office -- among others you've posted over the time we've overlapped here -- I'd think you'd be above freeloading. Which is what you're doing. To quote you back at yourself, "You have exactly one guess as to who's really footing the bills, all of them. Sheesh."

Franklin pays to keep this site up, both in hosting fees and in his time and effort in coding it, keeping spam off it, monitoring the comments, and providing his content. It's not a free service. And yet you have no qualms about treating it as your own?

It's one thing when you put up the occasional item, especially when nothing else is going on. But today you're interrupting. Don't you see that?



March 16, 2010, 10:28 AM

The famously-polite Canadians have been silent until now, but perhaps we should send in some peacekeepers...

Joan Mitchell's got nothing on Joni Mitchell.

Speaking of Federal government appreciating fine art, what do you guys think of this article?

My favorite line: "Paul Volcker, who chaired the Fed from 1979 to 1987, may be the only chairman with museum credentials. While he was deputy undersecretary for monetary affairs at Douglas Dillon's Treasury Department, he would, on occasion, represent Dillon at board meetings of the National Gallery of Art. (The Treasury secretary is an ex-officio trustee.) So he knew a masterpiece when he saw one."




March 16, 2010, 10:45 AM

Not sure why I didn't think to share this earlier, but have you all seen this book.

You can download the full thing online for free or you can email the GSA and request an actual copy of it (again, totally free). I received mine the other day and it is really well made. I haven't looked in depth, but it seems to be a quality publication. I'm anxious to hear what you think about the artists included!


Chris Rywalt

March 16, 2010, 11:21 AM

Tom Otterness and Jenny Holzer are pretty terrible. I've never seen anything from Sol LeWitt or Martin Puryear worth talking about. I don't think Ed Ruscha's all that hot, either, and his contribution here does nothing to change my mind.

James Turrell is cool, however. I'm not sure his piece here is all that good, but I've liked his work before.



March 16, 2010, 11:34 AM

Interrupting what, Chris? You having a fit of pique because you're having a bad day? Who's forcing you to read my comments or open any image I post? Who's preventing anyone from discussing whatever? Has it occurred to you that at least some threads may run out of gas rather quickly and just sit there, useless, if nothing off-topic can be brought into the mix? Didn't Franklin say his posting would be light for a while, which means keeping the current thread going is better than letting it expire for the sake of "purity"? And when did you become Franklin? Take a pill or something.



March 16, 2010, 11:43 AM

Chris, While I agree completely eith your take on the artists in #119 I think you might let Franklin decide what is appropriate for his blog. I like the pots, as do others, and the dialog here does not always exactly hum along.

Jack, I wonder if the old-time sake consumers had to pay a bottle deposit.



March 16, 2010, 11:45 AM

Chris, yes I bristled at the generalizations regarding Chelsea goers - hey I'm in that crowd occasionally, and I have yet to discover Kingwell's bona fides for making such a statement. But he hits on a lot of people, which is O.K. When I get a solid sense of his bigger points, I'll report back - if relevant.



March 16, 2010, 11:58 AM

Some Canuck philately-come-lately...



March 16, 2010, 12:12 PM

Chris - Have you seen Puryear's work in person? I have to admit that I didn't get him either for the longest time. But then I saw his recent retro at the NGA and I am a convert. Not everything works, but man, when it does, it sure does. Of course, I am a wood lover, as you like to point out. Ha!

I think his retro traveled to NYC, if I'm not mistaken. Yep, it was Nov 07 - Jan 08 at MoMA.

As for your assessment of the others, I agree. Still, not a bad book for free!


Chris Rywalt

March 16, 2010, 12:20 PM

If you like the pots, OP, then you could just as easily read about them at Jack's blog, if he had one. And then he wouldn't have to keep interjecting his pots in the midst of other discussions.

As of yesterday, this is how the conversation here has run:

I mentioned Kant and Scruton.

David doesn't remember Scruton.

I remind David we discussed him before.

Jack asks about a pot he posted a day earlier.

I call him a monkey so he'll get the hint.

Jack does not get the hint and continues talking about the pot. Then he calls me a peasant.

David responds about the pot.

Jack ties in his pot with how bad contemporary artists are. Again.

Then he posts about a dish.

Then he ties the Scruton comment in with how bad contemporary artists are. Again.

Then he posts a Picasso which, he says, looks like the earlier pot.

I make fun of him again, once more hoping he'll get the point.

He does not, and posts another pot.

OP manages to get all these threads together in one post, commenting on philosophy, pots, and Picasso, not to mention metacommentary on earlier threads.

David manages to find the throughline in all this and gets back to Scruton, adding a note about Kingwell and his book.

Undaunted, Jack posts yet another pot.

David attempts to keep the discussion going with more on Kingwell.

Jack counters with an Ingres etching.

Then Jack adds a jab at how bad contemporary artists are. Again.

And then I start bitching about Jack's interruptions. Is it clearer now how you interrupt the conversation, Jack? Poor David's posts are separated by a vase, a dish, two pots, and an etching! In a dinner conversation you'd be the senile old guy shouting out non sequiturs from the sidelines. And when you do address the conversation at hand, more often than not it's to restate once more how bad contemporary artists are. We get it!

Being off topic is no sin in itself, but this aggressive pottery attack is too much. Like I said, a pot here and there, and etching or two, would be fine. But you're waging an incessant battle to keep your pots the focus of discussion. Over 24 hours after the Canadian sculptors declined to comment on your ugly vase, you prompted them to return to it. This isn't goosing a thread that's run out of gas, it's deliberately derailing it to talk about your own concerns. Which is what you could do on your own blog rather than cluttering up Franklin's page with your nonsense.

I also note you have nothing to say about my accusations of freeloading. Apparently it's bad when the employees at your local Post Office hang out on other people's dime, but it's okay for you.

I reiterate: The occasional pot, shunga print, or etching is no big deal. It's easy enough to click or not, to skip past it or not. In this thread, however, Jack, you've gone above and beyond. Rein it in already.


Chris Rywalt

March 16, 2010, 12:26 PM

J.T., I may have tripped over a Puryear or two here and there but I have to admit to not really knowing his work. I don't know Ruscha that well, either.

However, I spent some time in the company of Otterness' dreadful homunculi just last Friday when I transferred at the Union Square subway station. Horrid little things.



March 16, 2010, 1:33 PM

Chris, I am not and will not be accountable to you. You may think and do as you please. You are not the blog owner or censor, official or otherwise, and the position you're attempting to take is one to which you're simply not entitled. In other words, you have absolutely no authority to tell me to do or not do anything. I can assure you I have found fault of one kind or another with a number of your comments here, but I did not feel it was appropriate to be so rude and presumptuous as to become your editor or minder. I do not care to pursue this any further with you, not only because I owe you nothing, but because it would quickly become highly counterproductive.


Chris Rywalt

March 16, 2010, 2:02 PM

It is obvious beyond mentioning that I am not your keeper, minder or editor, Jack, and of course this isn't my blog. It is, however, well within my rights to say you're annoying me. And I can guarantee it's not just me.



March 16, 2010, 2:06 PM

Puryear is nice but very conventional, the "invoking nature" schtick is soothing & easy to take but I find it tame and shallow. Good but not good enough. They seems to be usually very well crafted

Ruscha's gunpowder (etc) words & phrases are clever, and I like the silhouette pictures, but he really is not a technically good painter and it shows up in the wrong places. Those gas station paintings are an example.

Chris, talk about taking over the blog... Good grief!



March 16, 2010, 2:51 PM

Wait a minute, Chris offers a specific, nuanced, and cogent criticism of one of your "regulars" and that constitutes "taking over the blog"? Right.

I know I am just a lurker, but I do read this blog many times per day -- much more than any other blog.


Pretty Lady

March 16, 2010, 2:52 PM

I did not feel it was appropriate to be so rude and presumptuous

Oh, the irony.



March 16, 2010, 4:06 PM

Chris, I intend this to be my final comment to you on this matter (and probably any other, as your gratuitously exhibitionistic rudeness is repellent; you had my e-mail). The solution to your issue is simple: ignore any comment you find of insufficient interest, as I do. If you think you deserve more than that, I'm simply not here to give it to you. Enough said.



March 16, 2010, 4:28 PM

Ed Ruscha is an interesting case. He is a certified citizen of the art establishment, though hardly at the top of the food chain, as maintained by them. He likes to say he is a 40 year overnight sensation, which describes well the effort he has put into building his career and leveraging the breaks that have come his way. Not everyone who showed at Ferris in the 60s has done as well career wise, nor art wise.

While he is often associated with words as subject matter (his brand, according to the system), in reality he has done whatever he wanted to do. The silhouettes that opie mentions are but one example. Throughout the decades of attack on visual quality, he has always insisted upon perfecting the visual in his work, no matter which "line" he was following - from amongst the many he maintains, some of which the public seems unaware and perhaps others few have even seen. I am amazed that he has done so well without buying into any of the various rhetorics that have passed through the what's in crowd. He doesn't rant against the consequent "isms" either, despite that most of them have been opposed to the visual aspect that is supremely important to him. He just keeps on doing whatever suits him and, somewhat like Clement Greenberg, is very generous to practicing artists, never prescribing what they ought to do, but very willing to offer his reaction to literally any approach. The preachy academicism found in the art press for the past several decades is not a language he ever speaks.

"Design" plays a major role in his painting, much of which he does with an air brush lately, despite his great technical skills in drawing. While he certainly isn't a "painter's painter" (like Thiebaud), I can't ignore what he does. Nor do I think it will eventually be "deaccessioned" from museums, like many of those who reside above him in the current hierarchy . He is one of the bright spots in art history since 1960, as it has been constructed by the art system.


Chris Rywalt

March 16, 2010, 6:10 PM

You make Ruscha sound really good, John. I just have a personal problem with people who use words in their art. Words introduce a whole level of brain activity which I feel is best left out of art. Balancing letters as graphic elements and meaning elements is so difficult, in my opinion, as to be nearly impossible.

Of course, I'm young. I might change my mind when I get older and have seen more art. But right now, to me, I'd rather art not even have titles, let alone words right there in the work.



March 16, 2010, 6:21 PM

Balancing words as visual elements vs. language is a cognitive skill that can be learned by most people. And fun. Give it a shot


Chris Rywalt

March 16, 2010, 6:24 PM

For the purposes of graphic design, it's a learned skill. And fun. I've done it myself. For the purposes of art, however, I think it's probably impossible.



March 16, 2010, 6:26 PM

Calligraphy and comics can be art, I think.



March 16, 2010, 6:32 PM

Everything you sy is true, John. Ruscha is serious independent artist who has a real accomplishment behind him. He is one of the very few artists that are worthy of being criticised.

There was a Ruscha retrospective here in Miami some years go nd I spent a lot of time looking at it. There were a lot of changes (which I think is a natural consequence of Modernism) and the show was very uneven.



March 16, 2010, 6:38 PM

And the god-like Paul Klee. Ruscha too, probably.


poor David

March 16, 2010, 7:01 PM

It's good to get your take on Ruscha John. He never did anything for me, but I still like the guy and the LA/Ferris history is something. I love Martin Puryear, and thought his MOMA show was smashing, but I'm a furniture maker, and I'm friends with his brother, Michael, who is also a furniture maker. I have to say that I love Jack's pots (obviously) and see them as a chorus to the rambling (though high quality rambling) that I enjoy so much here on artblog. What I like about the pots is it gives one the chance to think about the roots of art - one of my favorite subjects. 'nuff said.

I wrote a little something about Puryear on the furniture blog I occasionally write for.



March 16, 2010, 7:46 PM

Yes opie, you can sort Ruschas, but you can't walk away from them, like you can Hirst, Koons, et. al.

Chris, I tend to ignore what the words in Ruscha mean, which usually isn't much anyway. Sometimes I put myself in the mode that I don't understand English, and look at them that way. But there is an English Rock group led by David Stephenson who wrote a song titled "I Want to Hang Out with Ed Ruscha" that strings together various titles from his works as part of its lyrics. What is very fascinating about the song is the audible rhythm in the sound of the titles, at least the ones he selected. I'm not saying they are "poetry" but either consciously or unconsciously Ruscha pays attention to the metrics of how the words sound, no matter what they do or do not mean.

One of the common illusions of the art world for the past 50 years is that artists are oracles, and so when people inclined to believe that confront his word pieces, they start talking about "enigmas" to explain the fact there is not much meaning, illustrating, once again, the truth of Chesterton's observations about the nature of the clear well-lit prison of one idea. But they are happy enough, I suppose, to have an explanation they can associate with the work.

When confronted with statements like his book Twentysix Gasoline Stations was so predictive of the future role oil would play in our culture, Ruscha says he had nothing of that sort in mind when he made the book.



March 16, 2010, 8:03 PM

Chris, there is a lot of Bauhaus in Ken Noland, via Black Mountain, where Noland went to art school.

Black Mountain remains one of my ideals, as far as how to create a good art school goes.


Chris Rywalt

March 16, 2010, 8:08 PM

Arthur sez:
Calligraphy and comics can be art, I think.

I disagree. I think they're both their own things. I mean, here we encounter the haziness of English: Calligraphy is an art, and involves art, but in the context of fine art, visual art, the kind of art which includes painting and sculpting, plastic art, calligraphy is not art. It's craft. Very nice craft (I have a large collection of extremely cheap calligraphy pens I can never throw out) but still craft. Decorative.

Which, to me, is good enough. I feel no need to expand the definition of art to cover everything of worth. Calligraphy is calligraphy, and it's fine on its own.

Meanwhile comics, as Franklin has been learning, are their own art. They have their own special ways of interacting with the human nervous system which is very different from either writing by itself or visual art by itself. Somehow the two together become something else entirely. I like comics for that reason -- they transmit information in a very special way, entirely unlike movies, TV, or books, and very different from paintings (which I don't think should properly transmit information in that sense).

Art involving words and letters -- Jack Pierson, Ed Ruscha, that fool Roy Lichtenstein, often Warhol and so forth -- is not comics. Well, Lichtenstein obviously ripped off comics, but that's a whole other realm of discourse.

John, I've looked at word-based art, or art involving written characters, in other languages -- Japanese calligraphy, for example -- and all that happens is I get annoyed that I can't read it.


Chris Rywalt

March 16, 2010, 8:16 PM

When I think of Black Mountain I think of Bucky Fuller. He taught there, or anyway rambled amiably and somewhat incomprehensibly at some student-like people. He developed tensegrity and his geodesic dome there. It always struck me as a place I would've enjoyed.

Of course Bucky's story has been greatly simplified. Talk to Ken Snelson, one of his students there, and it gets very ugly and complicated. As of at least a decade ago Ken was still angry and felt Bucky had stolen his ideas. And also that his ideas are still only good for fine art, not for engineering applications. J. Hoberman would most likely disagree since he expanded and applied some of Bucky's ideas quite successfully.

Marlborough Gallery had a retrospective of Ken's work last year and I went in the hopes of talking to him but I couldn't find him. The idiot gallery employees couldn't even point him out to me since they didn't know who he was or what he looked like! I ended up talking to a guy who I thought might be him, but the guy was only stringing me along for a couple of minutes before letting me in on it. Then we kept talking but I never found Ken.

Anyway, it always sounds as if a lot of good idea mixing went on at Black Mountain in addition to whatever bad things may have happened.



March 16, 2010, 8:21 PM

In the context of words and visual art I love to look at Stuart Davis' paintings. Sorry but I think he was great.



March 16, 2010, 8:38 PM

Bucky Fuller taught at Southern Illinois University while I taught there. His only obligation was to deliver one - exactly one - lecture per year in exchange for a job, a large building in which to run his "World Game", and what seemed like a hundred GAs to help him with whatever. There were a number or geodesic domes scattered throughout Carbondale, and like the houses of Frank Lloyd Wright, they all leaked.

His yearly lecture usually ran for five or six hours.



March 16, 2010, 8:39 PM

I agree that the ambiguity of the term "art" can be maddening.

Comics and calligraphy may not be visual art in the sense that painting and sculpture are but I have no doubt that they can be beaux arts in the sense that music, literature, theatre -- and visual arts -- are.

Certainly a lot of comics are no more than popular entertainment, but I see no reason to deny fine art status to the likes of Krazy Kat or Maus. Likewise, I don't think that calligraphy is purely decorative by necessity.

Klee and Ruscha are visual artists who often use language as an integral part of their visual art.

Needless to say, introducing words changes the experience of an artwork in significant ways. But I'm not sure that it disqualifies you automatically from any of these categories that we're discussing.



March 16, 2010, 8:43 PM

These sorts of categories are no more than heuristics, anyway. It is the experience of the work that is primary.



March 16, 2010, 9:00 PM

Chris, I don't think any art form can be ruled out automatically, certainly not paintings with writing in them -- unless you're going to rule out Klee and Miro (to say nothing of Picasso's, Schwitters' & Motherwell's collages) along with Warhol, Ruscha & Lichtenstein, etc. That said, I tend to find Ruscha kind of academic, somehow, and, although I saw the Puryear retrospective at MoMA, it didn't do a whole lot for me. An artist-friend of mine, who also saw it, and would have very much liked to have liked it, conceded that it was a bit "craft-y."

I myself tend to get rather tired of cartoons & comic strips, at least when accepted into galleries & museums as high art (though I've long enjoyed "Peanuts" as mass-audience culture). I think comic strips in general employ visual cliches, and as such are indications of stale thinking, but someday I may see cartoon art that I like. As a matter of fact, the Newark Museum had a big show four or five years ago of newspaper comic strips from the early years of the 20th century, and there was one guy in particular -- can't remember his name, but he did huge, tall fantasy figures -- and was kind of fascinating. Also from this period, the show had early cartoon work by Lyonel Feininger, before he went to Europe & got involved with high art. Not bad. (The second part of the show was held at the Jewish Museum, and had all the more recent, more familiar figures -- Superman, Milt Caniff, etc. Much less interesting.)

As for the crowds in Chelsea (especially on Saturdays) they simply amuse me (life is too short to get angry at them). They remind me of the crowds who flocked to "watering places" like Bath and Marienbad in the 19th century -- the whole name of the game is see & be seen, make conversation, "meet people," etc. The art, such as it is, is merely a pretext for getting dressed up & going out to where they can mingle with similar fools. And occasionally even in such crowds are some few people who know what's what. I can remember running into Willard Boepple amidst the crowds viewing one of Gagosian's usual "stars."

I thought MC's piece about art at the Federal Reserve, though, was kind of sad -- not so much the Fed's executives as that dummy who wrote the article & "advised" the guys what to hang. Greenspan at least had the sense to like Mondrian, but the best the Goley woman could find as a more recent & available substitute was Ellsworth Kelly??? And she speaks of moving from Hudson River School to 20th century assemblage as "progressing." That ain't progress to me.

Chris, I must confess that very occasionally I too find Jack's pots a bit of a muchness, but if he wants to hang them out & at least some people who frequent the blog like to look at them & comment on them, who am I to say them nay? But I don't see why you, Chris, shouldn't also feel free to link us to some of your artwork sometime. Maybe Opie would like to look at that and comment on it, too.


Chris Rywalt

March 16, 2010, 9:19 PM

That's why I qualified my statements as being about my experience with words in art. They don't work for me. I'm not sure they work for anyone else in quite the way art should, but it's not really something I can prove or even argue about. It's no big deal anyway.

John, five or six hours was short for Bucky. He was known for going on pretty much forever.

Geodesic domes leak if you make them poorly. They require very tight tolerances (trust me, I've made some models) and if the manufacturing is off even a little bit, they don't come together properly. Also, the major sources for geodesic math were compiled by hand and had some errors in them. Geodesics are simply not designed to be made by hand.

Nowadays we have computers and can make domes much better than we ever did. Around here I see a lot of geodesics covering oil tanks and I doubt they leak.

I wanted to buy and build a dome home for a few years. Gave that up when I realized I wasn't going to have enough money. Ever. Not that they're expensive -- it's just that having a house built custom is more expensive than buying pre-built.

Of course, building houses one at a time was antithetical to Bucky's ideals. He imagined houses being made and sold like airplanes.

Sounds like he did a great job of getting himself quite the cushy position at Southern Illinois University. Good for him but you still sound a little envious!



March 16, 2010, 9:25 PM

Another cartoonist I like: Mike Lukovich. He's really clever (though I doubt everybody who reads this blog would find him as funny as I do, since his politics are on the liberal side).



March 16, 2010, 9:28 PM

Chris, what is the way art "should" work? Are we going to inject morality into art appreciation?



March 16, 2010, 9:32 PM


I think comic strips in general employ visual cliches

All art relies on conventions of some sort or another -- conventions that be called cliches if you are taking an uncharitable stance. But unless you are deeply familiar with a medium or genre, you are not really qualified to judge what is genuinely cliched.

Feininger's early comic strips are fantastic and they anticipate his later painting. He was doing them in 1906-1907 and they are proto-Cubist in the way he divides up the space and mixes perspectives.


It is a big deal if you're depriving yourself of Klee.



March 16, 2010, 9:38 PM

Not that all his work uses language, of course. But it does in a lot of it and so to grasp his art as whole, one has to be able to cognize words in painting.



March 16, 2010, 9:41 PM

Speaking of comics, there will be a new TMFOM tomorrow morning.



March 16, 2010, 9:42 PM

Feininger's Wee Willie Winkie's World in particular, which also anticipates the animistic narrative of paintings like his Bird Cloud.



March 16, 2010, 9:43 PM

Me, envious. Damn right. I had to work for my living. Bucky was hardly ever on campus. So he rented his own dome to a friend of my wife's. One night we visited the friend, got stoned, and listened while he demoed Tibetan bells. Whatever the domes were not good for, they were a great reinforcement for those bells. The shit probably helped out some too.


Chris Rywalt

March 16, 2010, 9:49 PM

This blog isn't the place to fish for compliments about my art. I envy Franklin for the critiques he gets here -- no one like John or OP (or even George) looks at my artwork blog; I have to make do with Franklin, and he hasn't posted anything in a while. (To be fair, though, commenting was broken on the site for a while and I didn't notice.)

You'll also note, Piri, that the very first comment guideline is "Requests to look at your site will be deleted."

Admittedly, when the conversation tended that way, I've linked to my paintings and drawings. OP's commented on them here and via e-mail. He once said my drawings were better than Chris Ofili's. For him that was faint praise but I like Ofili's drawings, so I was happy.

My most recent review, from a commenter on EAG's blog, was "Man, your paintings are hopelessly derivative and make me laugh whenever I think of them in comparison to your witty and sharp critiques." Comin' atcha on the back of the hand!

Anyway, I've found that most artist's critique (as opposed to criticism) tends to be advice to make your art more like theirs. Not very useful, ultimately. I'll have to muddle along on my own.


Chris Rywalt

March 16, 2010, 10:02 PM

Piri sez:
Chris, what is the way art "should" work? Are we going to inject morality into art appreciation?

Having just re-read Scruton on Kant's aesthetics I'm in a position to say that all judgments of taste involve a should. Taste always implies the idea that it's universal, that any rational being should derive the same pleasure from a given object that I do.

But let's not get too far into morals and all. I'm still no Kantian scholar. Instead we can go back to my definition of art from the thread the other day. That's the way art should work, as an arrangement of matter acting on a human nervous system.

Now, writing is an arrangement of matter, of course, but the exact arrangement is irrelevant to the communication: I can write "HELLO, WORLD" in many different typefaces, sizes, and styles, and you'll still understand its meaning as "HELLO, WORLD". The information content isn't strongly tied to the material form of the transmission medium. The words can, in fact, be misspelled, malformed, and even almost entirely effaced, yet it's still possible for you to read the message. So it's (mostly) independent of the exact arrangement of matter.

Therefore, according to my definition, writing isn't art. It's writing. Words aren't art. They're words.

(Of course writing is an art, writing is art -- just not a visual art, which is what we're discussing here.)

Therefore if I show you a painting with words in it, and you read the words (or have them translated), you're not having a primarily visual art experience, you're having a reading experience. Which falls outside my definition of art as defined earlier.

The pleasure isn't, in short, aesthetic, but intellectual. Conceptual. Ceci n'est pas une pipe.

I would therefore argue that, if you enjoy the experience of such a work, and you consider your enjoyment that of art, that you're incorrectly attributing your pleasure. You're not enjoying it as a painting, but as a joke or a philosophical conundrum or other conceptual, idea-based form.

Which is fine, but it ain't art.

We can argue my definition of art if you like.



March 16, 2010, 10:07 PM

re. artblog guidelines: Putting up a link to a drawing or painting of one's own occasionally isn't like saying CHECK OUT MY SITE HERE. We are visual people and we like to have something to look at. Opie said as much at some point - we look at the pots because they're something to look at and nobody else besides Franklin posts stuff.



March 16, 2010, 10:14 PM

Y'all lost me at U.S. Postal Something or other.

Not all the Canadians, or even Edmontonians, who make appearances here are sculptors. That perfectly apposite Jack Bush hyperlink came from a Canadian painter, for example. Nice one, dude. No one's asserting that stamps are art, though, right?

I don't much like that swirly vase, Jack. But I think the early cubist associations aren't far off. I've seen a photo of a very early cubist terracotta apple made by Picasso (I'm guessing 1905-07, even) that looked surprisingly like that vase, but without the nouveau lines. Even more like it than Head of Fernande. Well... I don't know... the vase's alright, I guess - the glaze looks quite good in closeup. No... wait while I put on my flipflops, I guess I don't really like it that much.



March 16, 2010, 10:18 PM

It's true in general that language (written language especially, I think) has a remarkable ability to transcend whatever material form happens to embody it. And in our culture, with most of what we read, the typeface and layout are indeed designed to be as neutral and unobtrusive as possible.

But I do not think this perspective takes into account cultures in which fine writing -- handwriting in particular -- is valued for its expressive and sensual properties. I am thinking of Japan and China in particular, though there are many others.

Poetry, which most people would consider a fine art, is valued for the ways in which sound is played off of meaning. I see no reason to draw up barricades between poetry, calligraphy, and painting. Or between meaning and artistic value properly so called, although that's a battle that I am unlikely to win here.



March 16, 2010, 10:25 PM

about words: Twombly never made much of an impression here as I remember, but I love the way he uses words in painting. The scratchy, left-handed scrawl is an interesting solution to the problem of how to use writing in a painting, the opposite of Ruscha's style in a way. He uses literary content that could be considered interesting - referring to classical and especially Mediterranean culture, maybe in a metaphorical way, but he seems well read, and I like those stories. I think he comes closest to the spirit of eastern calligraphy done by a western hand of any artist I know of. There is no equivalent to the way Japanese and Chinese calligraphy can represent both word and picture. You could say Twombly's words and pictures cancel each other out, both being indistinct. But bottom line, his picture give me a lot of ideas.



March 16, 2010, 10:41 PM

I was conned into going to a Bucky Fuller lecture as a kid artist once, when I was living in Princeton. The talk was gibberish. A grad student there sarcastically referred to his name with the initials reversed, but most of the audience was reverential. Typical.

I also went to see Robert Oppenheimer (who I knew slightly (I played in a jazz band with his secretary, who was married to a jazz critic) speak about architecture, of all things, at another time, but in the same venue. He spoke very briefly and was brilliant.

George Herriman was the best cartoonist, ever.



March 16, 2010, 10:41 PM

Well, I've argued the same way that Chris has in relation to conceptual art, but I guess my feeling is that every rule in art is made to be broken, and with Klee, Miro, Picasso, Schwitters, Motherwell et al. the works are art whether or not they have writing in them. It's all a question of emphasis -- does the work look as though it's made primarily to be read, or does it look as though it's made primarily to be looked at? Put another way: is the work in question visually appealing?



March 16, 2010, 10:52 PM

"...(I played in a jazz band with his secretary..."

Opie, what's your instrument?

As an aside, I'd like to see a Peanuts style strip of there's a project for ya, Franklin. God knows, you've got plenty of material to work with. It could be a good venue for the telling of pithy art truths, and, at the very least, caricaturing the regulars would be fun.

Maybe an April Fool's Day post...



March 16, 2010, 10:54 PM

Visual richness is primary in painting, but at the same time it is willful to ignore the fact that letters are letters and words are words. They carry aural significance. Usually they carry semantic significance as well. These forms of meaning are (or at least can be) valuable as they are in poetry.



March 16, 2010, 11:22 PM

The confuddled way we try to explain the differences between pictures and words (in words, no less) is endemic to this point in our art history. Thing by experienced thing, people. For art, the whole "a rule is proven by its exceptions" thing is a mistake, a ruse, a red herring - there is no rule in what constitutes art except that it agitates the art neurons, and art neurons are best likened to a kettle of fish (not herring).

Either art is or it isn't, to me; and if it is either it's alright or it's great or something in between, to me. (If it isn't good as art, to me, then it may be something else that may or may not be good, as that other thing. To me.)


Chris Rywalt

March 16, 2010, 11:44 PM

You've got it about right, Ahab, I think. When I say words in art don't work for me, maybe I should say they haven't worked for me yet. I think Twombly is pretty lousy, for example. I like to think I'm always open to being proven wrong. I would never want to exclude any class of art entirely from consideration. But it's silly to fail to note that things like video, writing in painting, Conceptualism, piles of construction debris, and holes in gallery walls have never worked for me, at all, even a little bit. Therefore I say that, most likely, they won't work in the future.

But you never know.

Arthur sez:
I see no reason to draw up barricades between poetry, calligraphy, and painting.

Well, I do. I'm perfectly happy with each of those things being their own things without having to get mixed up together, usually poorly, by some MFA who thinks he's blurring boundaries or erasing distinctions or calling attention to artificial categories or whatever. I've seen that slippery slope, and in fact we're all lying at the bottom of it, tangled up in a big heap, with your thumb in my eye and someone's ass on my foot, and I'm tired of it.



March 17, 2010, 1:34 AM

I too, think Stuart Davis is very good. Much more sophisticated than it first comes across. His color can be excellent.



March 17, 2010, 1:37 AM

And that's to say nothing of his knack for inventive design.



March 17, 2010, 7:37 AM

MC the artblog comic is a gret idea.

I played tenor banjo in a New Orleans revival band in college. We (not me, but the others) were pretty good, made a record, got work and had a good time, and once played in the intermission of a Louis Armstrong concert and got to meet him.



March 17, 2010, 7:47 AM

I couldn't find that Picasso apple online, Ahab, but I'd like to see it. I should look more into his ceramic work. What I've seen is probably from later as opposed to early in his career, and it generally has soft, rounded contours and looks rather Mediterranean.



March 17, 2010, 9:42 AM

Jack there is a web site I believe called "Picasso project" which is a kind of simplified catlog raisonne. You might check that out. I never heard of the apple either, and the date seemed too early for a Cubist sculpture.



March 17, 2010, 10:02 AM

Thanks, OP. I found it:

Pomme (1909-10)

I also found this (same date):


That site looks like an excellent resource.



March 17, 2010, 10:17 AM

That's excellent. I did not know about these. 1909 is the right date.


Chris Rywalt

March 17, 2010, 12:00 PM

I've mentioned that site multiple times as the one I used to follow along with Patrick O'Brian's biography of Picasso. The page moved recently, but in case anyone is interested, here's the top page: The On-line Picasso Project. It has essentially everything Picasso ever made on there. Early in his career old Pablo, always certain of his own importance, became obsessed with documenting anything and everything he created. When he was able to afford it, he hired a full-time assistant just to keep track of all the stuff coming out of his studio.

Which is not as bad as Bucky Fuller, who kept every single scrap of paper -- including dry cleaning receipts and even more trivial items -- calling it his Chronofile. Some poor museum or other has it now. He thought it would be an important artifact, the record of the entire life of one 20th century man. And it just might be. These days archaeologists are thrilled when they dig up an old corpse from a bog. Imagine if they one day dig up a warehouse full of dry cleaning receipts!



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