Leaving My Nephew in the Woods to Think About the End of the World

Leaving My Nephew In The Woods To Think About the End of the World

Below is a post from a different blog last summer. In it I compare myself and others, as 18 X 24″  living artists, with Georgia O’Keeffe, a deceased person.

There are not many worse things to happen to a group of artists in a community than hearing the news that their mother museum spent $1.8 million on another dead artist. But they’re used to it by now. The living artists do not need another reminder that their work is worth peanut shells compared with celebrity dead art. The Cincinnati Art Museum perpetuates the market for “art we are told is significant.” Ask any painter why he paints, and it is not to please the mother museum. The latter gave up on the living when the money-love came to town. She doles out scraps to the living artist. Makes him competitive among friends in a business that is anti-business.

Local curators. Please eradicate global think. It is colonialism of art. The Saatchi Gallery posts photos of Max Ernst on a rocking horse in 1936 and three thousand people like it after a day. Granted they allow my post, and unlike most international museums, relegate it to a token space on the page. Still, in his time, Max Ernst was local. Shunned and despised by the majority of curators most likely. Just lucky to be in Paris, at the center of post WWI culture. My God if he was born on a farm outside Tulsa, there’s a good chance his hun-hating neighbors would have hung him from a tree before letting him paint what he wanted to paint. Present-day curators are pushing aside artist neighbors in a competitive national-international recognition quest doomed to failure.
Take the Cincinnati Art Museum for instance. Last May I read that they paid almost 2 million dollars to acquire an okay O’Keeffe. It’s a 24 x 18 incher entitled My Back Yard. Pretty in oil. A dry hill. Sacred like peanut butter and jelly for lunch. As good as any lessor painting gets. She woke up, wiped the sleep out of her eyes, made coffee, evacuated, and then painted a picture.
Mine shown here is the same size as hers but in acrylic. Not only does it have a more provocative title, but there is actual poetry, and perhaps a lesson to be learned. I am asking a reserved bid of $38.00 on eBay—the same price as a fancy iPhone cover, or a full tank of gas.
I believe that any present-day art historian on earth, the self-appointed gatekeeper to public conception of “what is art?” exists solely to poison the living artist. The Cincinnati Art Museum has a million and a half to spend. If it knew art, (which I believe with all sincerity it does not), it would take care of its local artists and use all monies to buy up their work for show after show after show. A hundred supported artists of city and countryside with accepted works that would actually benefit a community. Maybe then an old lady’s present day My Back Yard would be an oil study of a sunshiny piece depicting her morning at the Cincinnati Zoo. She would get her hundred bucks, and enough boost at self esteem to have herself a go at an Ohio River scene.
Artists do not expect immortal fame. They want to work for pay and pride in whatever locale chosen. The Cincinnati Art Museum is of Cincinnati and has as much moral right to an O’Keeffe as any undeserved billionaire has to it. It did not earn that wealth anymore than the starving artist earns a probable path to self-degradation and spiritual poverty. It mocks the people of its own city and state with an O’Keeffe. Who was this woman? Did she have any connection to Ohio? Nope. Then keep it in Santa Fe. Push it on their people.
I’ll take another approach.
All unknown artists just want to be oboe players in their hometown city symphonies. Paid to do their part. Any oboe dude worth his salt knows that a modest salary awaits if he will just work hard and practice daily. He understands that he will never become a dead Duke Ellington or living Mick Jagger. The city symphony knows too. So they hire him at $20.00/hr. His wife has a job at the college, and they pool their monies each week to pay rent and buy food. Their humble pride fuels a day to day replenishment of enthusiasm. The city symphony supports the oboe artist.
That is city music.
City visual art might have a sidewalk sale, juried show, or fundraising auction to show that it tosses a bone to the local artist every now and then. But unlike the cared-for oboe player, this is no equivalent full or even part-time job support for the sculptor or painter.
Everyone knows what the museum directors truly pine for—the art equivalent Duke Ellington or Mick Jagger to hang on their walls, to garner reputation (hopefully international), to authenticate their combined PhD’s into a giant, institutional glob of security for themselves.
I cannot accept this. I have Syracuse and Rochester to blame. The Everson and Memorial Art gallery directors are ignoring the living artists who stand beside them at local gas stations and super-duper markets. The former are jonesing for their O’Keeffe too. Each has a Picasso piece of toilet paper to show its superior art sophistication to the God host on Mt. Christie’s. They toss a bone to lowly locals once in a while. A hundred bucks here, a desktop printed award there…
And then five million for a Duchamp urinal or a Koons balloon.
Local artists of any city I give you the following advice…

Petition your curators to represent you. Invite the community to explore the art of its neighbors. There are traditionalists and dadaists and all expression and mediums in between. Convince the city museum director to sell the 50,000 pencil doodle by Picasso to the Smithsonian or National Galleries, or better yet, some hapless village in Spain where it belongs.

Now to Detroit and the bankruptcy of nations…
You have all heard of the “travesty” in the art world about Christies’ appraisal of the Detroit Institute of Arts? For goodness sake, what did they expect? We offer daily prayer to the Christies’ host while bored millionaires over value dead art, and likewise add to their own institutional riches, and yet we want to condemn those very auction houses when the phony treasure is taken away. I say sell it all! Get what you can. Let the art museum fail. It’s a dinosaur anyway. Something Carnegie-thinking industrialists thought up to reward their broken-backed factory workers. I offer a future that will be both bright and meaningful, and certainly put some pizazz back into art. And if this particular warehouse of art is evacuated, then there are plenty of cheap houses left in the Detroit market to choose from.

Back to Cincinnati where lies a solution to the problem. Its very auspicious existence in the downtown corridor creates the notion of what constitutes art for the community. I have been told over and over again by these self-ordained officiates how local artists are supported by local businesses. Ha! Nothing could be further from the truth. The latter want a photograph of a sunrise or a pastoral painting that is attractive enough and clean. Art that smells like the institution it hangs in. Hospitals and lawyer offices aren’t going to hang a urinal in their reception. Neither a Duchamp’s nor a Fred Jones’ toilet from across the river.
But a museum can and would if curators used their expertise to establish a proud local color. Then visitors to Cincinnati would seek the art its creative citizens have to offer, instead of what some dead influential Parisian thought was cool (and rich industrialist verified with his money) a hundred years ago. Cities across the nation would almost “compete” with their artists; just like professional football in Baltimore would never dig up a dead Johnny Unitas to quarterback. It seeks the fresh flesh… As should curators of galleries and museums. Art is alive. It breathes because the living artist who created it breathes. How much do quarterbacks make when they’re dead? Zippy, right? Same with artists. We are human. Any artist out there wanna wait until you’re dead to make an honest buck or two? Me neither.
Museums are competing with van Goghs. The people pay their ticket to see it, are taught by the museum to know what is worthy, some go to college to learn about the worthy and, like Pepsi-cola, that draws its advertisements all over the earth to establish mass bad taste, one day after long and arduous university study, have the position to determine for the rest of us what is art worthy, again and again in perpetuum.
Museums are accountable to their public when they pay over a million bucks for a small canvas well-rendered, but no more or less valuable than any old lady with a careful hand could create. “Ah,” says the curator, “but Cincinnati Sally, you didn’t know Stieglitz, so here’s your fifty bucks lady. Forget about your art. Leave that to us professionals. We know better.”
Stieglitz, Stieglitz, Stieglitz! Who cares? The only worthy about him today is if some starving artist dug up his bones and photographed a pastrami sandwich stuck in his jawbone. No wonder most art houses are struggling to exist. They are denying living art. They are throwing a bunch of coffins in Paul Brown Stadium and wondering why attendance is so low.

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