Justice can be found by taking cerebral baby steps. It’s never far from the truth, which any child or enlightened adult can reveal instantaneously if confronted by a wrong. Law, on the other hand, is determined by a toddler with mouth sewn shut, glued to a Rube Goldberg ball, and sent rolling from the better part of a day (a minor traffic ticket) to upwards of oblivion or longer (premeditated revenge killing). The tremendous apparatus of law was constructed by the children of wealthy planters and industrialists who raised an outlaw nation on the strong backs of recently descended Africans and dirt poor Ellis Island immigrants. Law made slavery, the Civil War, tenement houses, and 400 homicides in Chicago last year. Today the government snubs its free citizens with constant monetary reminder of oppression’s dark past. Law works ’round the clock for the owners of a society, both antebellum and modern. Yesterday the planter class. Today the banker class, skeevy private plane persons who are probably not too far removed ancestrally from the planter class. Hence, slave owners in our wallets. People who owned/own people. Presidents who owned less people before becoming President, and then got to be head of state, and bought more people to make themselves richer. They were dirty privies. Yesterday and today.
Many established university historians make the argument that these men were products of their time, as if every one born American had a 3/5 person to call their own. White women and men without property, and all little farmer girls and boys not of Africa were burdened by the same good fortune wrought by a slaver economy. No. Not even close. A majority of dark people were owned by a small “planter” class of Caucasian men, who needed a culture of racism and prejudice to reap their private goodies.
Yet no matter how crisp and clear my hindsight, arguments above do not justify pasting these “men of their time” on today’s currency. We have a diverse freer nation now. The land is ours, inherited by revolutionary thieves, who themselves inherited it from metal working colonial squatters. So why are they still “owning” our coinage? Have no other good men and women been born from their usurpation? Why people anyway? How about the woodchuck, turkey, pickerel, or pike? How about a purple mountain majesty, a geyser, a Great Lakes chain? Canada trades a loon and an English Queen. Freakish. But at least no slaveholders.
So, to the above piece. Three presidents who owned (and got rich) off slaves. I painted a lectern because I think all good Americans need some educatin’ from time to time. I took a $1, $20, and $2 bill and glued them to the top. I carefully cut out the heads on each and lobbed them over to Frederick Douglas to juggle. I replaced the cut out holes with heads of decent and good people from revolutionary America. Phillis Wheatley where Washington was. Absalom Jones in place of Jackson. Finally, Benjamin Banneker to replace Jefferson on the forgotten, yet still circulating two dollar bill. I also invisible-inked the money with a fact about the slaveholding history of each. A black light reveals the truth. For instance on the twenty dollar bill one who possesses the necessary equipment will read the following: “Jackson was paternal with his slaves although I do not think he fathered any.”
On the left side of the lectern is Washington holding the true meaning of the Declaration of Independence. Phillis Wheatley was a poet who did not general the death of anyone nor own another human being. Leave it to the hyperactive painter to misspell her name. Sorry Phillis.
On the right side is Jefferson, excited in the prospect of ravaging young girls. He will father a child with one of his slaves. Kind of like the guy in Cleveland who stole three girls off the street and locked them in his basement for ten years. Benjamin Banneker was not known to be a serial pervert, and he authored a beautiful almanac.
On the front is Andrew Jackson, the most vile, with his face burning off in Hell. Absalom Jones was a clergyman who tended to plague victims during the Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1794. Coincidentally, George Washington, featured on another panel of cowardice, hightailed it out of the infected city and didn’t come back until all the bugs were dead.
There are three shelves in the lectern, each depicting slave quarters at the estates of the currency Presidents. They read respectively:
Mount Vernon B&B—Sleeps 18
A slow day in Monticello (notice the empty whipping post)
Winter at the Hermitage—Old Hickory let us cook his old horse
I plan to show the lectern at my local art association. I will invite the history and economics departments from out state college, and local school districts. There is so much our children can learn from our money. They never asked for the hero-making of lessor men. Why do we give them these dead racist kings? I wish to see a just currency replacement before my grandchild’s first lemonade stand. These Presidents are historical. Each has an importance to history. But they were not good men. Intelligent? Yes. Crafty? You betcha. So was Adolf Hitler. I forget now… Which euro honors his triumphant legacy?
Not too long ago at a poker night excuse to drink beer I was stuck in argument with an economist friend of mine about the U.S. tax system. At the time I knew a young man, just a year out of high school, who, upon graduation landed a job in a local factory making shoe boxes. It was the first year he had to pay federal taxes and Uncle Sam was expecting 17% of his income (it already took a big piece bi-weekly, but wanted more to make up the difference). My friend the economist thought that 17% actually might not be enough and suggested that maybe this young dude shouldn’t complain so much.
I was nonplussed. All I could blurt out was something like “That’s a lot of rent money to extort for another aircraft carrier!” I would hope that my friend got my meaning, but I believe it was lost to him. I don’t think he knew offhand the actual percentage of U.S. budget getting doled out to the military (few facts are surmised these days without iPhone back-up), but I’m sure he knew from private living and teaching experience that it comprised an eye-popping chunk of the treasury’s mother-load, and then some.
Worse, he probably went home and thought dualistically about my politics, as many often do—that I must side with evil if not the good. The “either/or’es” —you’re either with us or against us. The people who despise the out group and distrust those within. A very lonely club devised long, long ago by the first man to ever use the goodness of another for personal gain.
What I meant to say on poker night was that I would expect to pay 95% of my salary if I believed a government was using this money to help care for my family and yours.
All caps following, and I seldom use all caps:
IT DOES NOT.
The players think they got us by the sneaks. That in order to be good children we must pay our federal tax or else face the consequences. And the super majority of us will pay, no doubt about it. It’s scary not to. Good Americans, like good Germans before them, do not like to break the law. The players assure us it ain’t all that bad—each person is well represented by an incorruptible congressperson overseeing an arbitrary block of 600,000+ people, or, as in the case of one of my senators from New York, a massive baying herd of over eight million people.
I think you can tell where this is going.
Because we have no say in the money and how we are “protected” by decision-makers in Congress, then I declare that institution unlawful and illegitimate.
So, I believe we have an out-of-control state run mafia that does not show the slightest indication that any day now it will turn itself in. What to do…
I do not advocate insurrection—even while Congress legislates to kill off Americans. I do not think enough of us are angry like people of the past who were starving and therefore prone to anger. How many of us have a smart phone contract? Raise your hands.
See? We’re not truly angry resistors. Neither to Trump mafia nor Obama mafia. Actually in the great line of time, the super-majority of us are just ineffectual political wussies. It would be okay if some of us weren’t going out and copying our negligently homocidal legislators with horrific crimes to humanity. That’s what happens with disenfranchisement. The desperate with nothing to loose start hammering away at those whom they think win all the time. Even folks like you and me, working check to check, yet still attempting a check to power, even in the most limited ways.
Both Democrats and Republicans are ignoring a single-payer system—they take our tax money and provide insurance companies with sick, paying, animals. Both are guilty of watching our families get sick and die with our own money. The game being played now is refereed by Big Insurance and Big Pharmaceutical (“Big” is their word, not mine. I believe there are no tinier humanoids in the land).
I can explain this painting and therefore exonerate myself from the partaking of any violent radical acts in the future. I have my alibi, and owe much of its construction to the first career I could obtain while coming of age in crazy county, U.S.A. Whenever I’m given a bloated piece of anger meat, I let it rest for a few days. Then I marinate it in acidic thought and reflection, turn the burner up high, and sear in all thoughts worth keeping. I never take anger out of the kitchen and yet I rarely dine alone (Thank you wife and Internet). Onto channeling my next career as painter, which hard copies an illustration of a bloated Kentucky senator making decisions with the money I put aside for upcoming life and death. I don’t like his ideas. So I paint a dynamite auger into his neurocranium.
Works for me!
I can do this because I’m an artist and not a killer. I wish no final future for this man different from one of my very own mother. A peaceful, non-painful demise. I’ve smeared the end of the dynamite auger with an instant-acting opiate releasing ten times the strength of the most non-lethal morphine injection.
Again, artistic license. What else can a poor boy do?
I need to explain the genesis of this painting. It began in my mind long before brush touched board—actually, at dusk the day before I got up from bed on a harried-to-be morning with my plein air materials set at the door ready to go. I would teach myself to paint in the light of day. A month or two, whatever it took of daily jaunts out into nature to record what I sat down to see—my eyes, arm and left hand making interpretive copy of what was already right there in front of me. I walked down to the lake like an intense van Gogh, but unlike him in so many ways as to render me the most simpleton fool tool to the greatest of painting’s idiots. I set up on the rocks and commenced painting the view. I wish I had a picture snapped behind me. What was coming out on the canvas looked very similar to this photo taken last year.
I was set up outside on a beautiful spring day intent on painting my wish to keep the rain at bay. There is an expression from days gone by that if you can throw a cat through the clouds, then it will not rain. Meaning that somebody’s great great aunt heard that if a cat can fit inside a patch of blue sky, then she would not have to carry her umbrella to the corn fair.
My attempt in the photo didn’t last much longer. Seconds after the picture was taken I brushed over the board in heavy grays and black. I didn’t feel good about painting what I saw. So I finished the day enjoying the outdoors with my family and friends, and went home thinking of weather folklore. The next day in the studio I set up the largest canvas available and for the next week, commenced painting with my thoughts and only what the canvas beheld in front of me. Here is the result:
I had no luck in the wild, but was thoroughly satisfied abiding by my own genius.
This post’s title painting was the forth and final attempt to paint a scene I saw on Monday morning. While there, painting the view, I had three unremarkable failures. I could have titled them: Straining, Impotence, and Self-doubt. For the rest of the day I felt awful, a great sham, a delusion unto myself, and a guilty criminal to loved ones who believe in me. What a heavy load. I scribbled the board in grays and blacks, and laid off painting for a day in order to follow through with promised summer chores, thinking often about my failure. And then at some point yesterday afternoon, Matisse popped into my head. Rather, words once uttered by him. I paraphrase: “I don’t paint what I see as much as what is in my mind.” Then a mantra silently repeated over and over again while making dinner, visiting with the family, and finally settling down on a hot night.
Up in the morning, down to the studio. I could not paint fast enough the scene of a couple days ago. Plein air just doesn’t work out for me. Maybe nature is what it is and only some form of torture can come to those who attempt imitation. I would rather paint the cat with a red halo being thrown out to the clouds, than struggle with strokes that make me feel like I’m having a stroke. So finally I can say after many years time, in matters of plein air painting, I know what I do not know, and that is a milestone joy worth toasting a glass to. Here’s to you Mr. Matisse!
“I’d Rather Rendezvous With This Sexy Italian Newt Than Wait Around Here For Tasteless Billionaires To Win Again” 2016. acrylic on discarded press cleaning sheet, 7 x 17″ (In private collection of a friend)
Repeatedly, I suffer bouts of intense self-doubt that usually presages a light epiphany of sorts. I get a new idea or a reaffirmation of a past philosophy, and all is set back right with the world. Always temporary though. Another self-doubt monster will invade my pshyche in due time. It never fails to torment again and again.
Last night was bad. I won’t go into it, because the good idea that transpired has charged me back onto a positive path.
For some unknown reason, the life of my great grandfather sprang into my mind this morning. Henry Throop lived in the central New York area all his life. He was born in 1880, raised in Lebanon, N.Y., attended Colgate when it was still a prep school, went to Cornell to study civil engineering, married, and settled in Syracuse, where he worked as a railroad engineer, and then on his own as independent engineer/contractor until his death in 1956.
I use his life often in writing and conversation to juxtapose today’s culture to the one of a hundred years ago. Was it a better time? Who knows? I can say with certainty that Henry was a very mature twenty-something year old. He kept a journal—observations and day to day life for the most part, and also an expense account book, showing where every penny went. This morning’s idea was to use this account book to revolutionize the way I intend to sell my work.
My Silver Dollar Campaign
I have had it with business and art. It doesn’t work. The moment the painting gets offered, haggled, denied, etc, on the market exchange, the entire culture of the thing created gets violated. I lose all semblance of its original innocence as soon as the money door opens. Only once have I made a painting thinking about money, or a sale. Here it is:
“My Heart’s Desire Is That One of You Is Drunk Enough To Buy This Painting” 2014. Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 16″
I was invited to a rock concert with some friends where there would be a section of the parking lot cordoned off for vendors. I painted this the night before, and had it sold before we finished putting up the tent.
It is stated in my great grandfather’s account book that on September 14, 1907, he purchased the following for one dollar:
2 loaves of bread
1 dozen cookies
pound of butter
and a haircut…
A dollar in 1907 had the spending power of about $25 today, without the haircut (some small luxury to prove how contemporary inflation experts always seem to get it wrong). So, about $40 today would buy these goods Henry bought in 1907. A dollar was a dollar and it purchased what forty more dollars could buy today.
I love the silver dollar because it has an ever changing value on the money market. For several years I have watched its value move between about $15 to $35. And it’s just a dollar! It also feels good in the hand, and I bet many of them in a small pouch attached to my belt (a lá Rimbaud), would feel even better.
Henry’s items I listed above are worth any one of my paintings. No one is buying the luxury items I have made available. So I have sweetened the pot in order to avoid the money exchange problem for the rest of my life.
I will amass silver coins!
From this day forward, any one of my paintings not hanging in a gallery can be bought for a silver dollar. Not what a silver dollar will buy, but exactly one, shiny silver dollar. I don’t want to barter anymore. I want to jingle coins in a pouch. I have set the value, and it is universal. Any size. Any painting not in a gallery. Of course, the buyer must pay for frame and also shipping on top of the silver dollar. I have some very big paintings. If they were purchased, I would have to charge a handling fee. (Quite a bit of work goes into hiring a tractor trailer to pick up at a residence). Frames, shipping and handling could be exchanged in paper currency, however, the painting itself—always just one silver dollar.
Now imagine the creative time we could have. No more of that embarrassing “real” money exchanging hands. You can stop at the local pawn shop on your way to my studio and deal with the proprietor. He or she will certainly have silver dollars to sell you in trade for the paper money. Get it. Heck, get two, and stop by to pick out any painting(s) you want. If framed, I will price it fair, and you can give me the paper money that I will spend on groceries, or a dress for Rose at the second hand shop. I will mark your name, painting, and date of purchase in a little cardboard envelope, and if I make it to seventy-five, cash in on retirement fried eggplant sandwiches once in a while, thinking of you and our shared human experience.
(Please note: I can only accept silver dollars, and not paper money of what a silver dollar is currently worth on the pretend money market. I made the effort of the painting. Now you can go the extra mile to pick up the actual silver dollar).
Please think about this, and spread the idea far and wide. There must be some painting that you like for such a fair price. Think of birthdays, upcoming holidays. I am just so exhausted from these encounters with the self doubt monster. It’s time to kill the money.
Several of my recent paintings can be found here. I look forward to jingling coins in a pouch.
“If I Knew Then What I Know Now About Arrogance In The Arts, I Would Have Stayed On The Floor And Played With My Balls” 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20″
My gut feeling (which is often art) tells me day after day that many, maybe even most, college and university art professors are not artists themselves, although they craft pictures or statues from time to time. They are more like non-believing ministers of obsolete dogma in a practically defunct religion, like radio preachers, pretending a common and vogue Christianity to make a living. I would feel sorry for them if so many weren’t so damn arrogant.
But is it truly arrogance?
I guess not. Though sometimes their mannerisms come off that way. Can creative people even be arrogant? We are often self-loathing, sure, which can breed a tendency to be catty in some social situations. I used to think that my local college art professors stayed away from my painting exhibitions because they were arrogant. Yet lately, after much thought about it, I believe it’s carefulness born from avarice which goads most of them to ignore my invitations so rudely and so often. And “carefulness born from avarice” can never be art. At least “new” or “relatively inspiring” art. Art must bring people together. Therefore college art professors are not artists, per se, but rather, as any institutional job description would verify, players of art. They get paid to teach, some even by example. They may make wonderful images, sculpt beauty, perhaps manipulate digital media with more attention than ancient monks manuscripted. But none of these makers of things can be artists until they bring people together. Not by the force of tuition. Rather, through the oftentimes painful expression of their own intuition.
In my small city we have an art guild renamed an association some time ago. It is supported through yearly memberships and a rent-free grant from the mayor and city council. Every spring for the past twenty years it has hosted a juried exhibition open to entries from anyone living in New York State over 18 years of age, provided he or she thinks the art worth a $30 entry fee. There are perhaps 30 fine and digital art professors employed at the college. Usually the juror is selected from this learned group—most are credentialed with terminal degrees earned in their mid to late twenties. The juror gets paid a modest stipend, judges the work to be entered, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Best in Show, and up to five Honorable Mentions, all receiving small cash award, starting at $300 for Best of Show.
Rarely do these professors themselves submit their work to be judged. Though several give direction to their students to apply.
Now why is that?
Because few of them are artists. Anyone can make art—kids, students, moms, dads, celebrities, even cats I hear. But artists must bring people together. Even if it’s just a group of other image-makers in a barroom or a poker game. The writer in isolation can make art if the work completed gives meaning in expression to other human beings. But if he doesn’t get out once in a while with other expressive writers to be human among them, then nada as an artist. Art must bring people together.
I believe that many of these professors apply for grants and/ or exhibition opportunity from international institutions, in order to build resume and chalk up apparently concrete accolades from the most abstract and subjective of endeavors. If life looks good on paper, a better retirement package ensues. A big thing among art teachers these days is to “go on residency”, and institutional applications want “professional” credentials listed, a several page C.V. (stands for “critic’s viciousness”), because institutions cannot judge originality and meaning in expression—only individual people(s) can do that. I think the institution of college or university stifles originality across all disciplines, as a matter of fact, but when it makes sensitive, creative people (would-be artists) into ladder-climbing automatons, then that distortion of art and art principle cannot help but be passed down to pupils.
How dare these professors send their students to have work judged locally, and yet not join the same game out of mutual respect!
And yet, I still do not think it is born from arrogance.
Maybe fear. What if the student won Best in Show? How would that reflect on the professor’s residency application? I’d say very well if said professor was applying for a residency in the art of pedagogy.
Another point to be made. Art professors are not artists until they show their art at every possible opportunity. Especially locally. My goodness, where do these people think they live? In Brussels? Melbourne, Australia? A 3-month long prestigious art retreat in Appalachia?
No, of course not. They live and buy eggs at the same Byrne Dairy I do. And yes, I even send my exhibition invites to the Byrne Dairy cashiers, yet they too never attend. At least I don’t expect them to stop by and look at my paintings. But I do expect those who teach art to support image-makers like me who, whether their position in life admits it or not, secures their jobs into the next generation. Artists make the art history of the future. I bring people together. I create hard copies of expression and show them to the local clan. In an ancient representation of clan I would be considered clan artist. Those making private cave drawings to be seen first by other clans of far away would be shunned like bad medicine and banished from the clan.
I could go on. I want to make it clear to the art faculty at my local college. Shame on you! When we cold share a beer, listen to some music, discuss art and art artifice like human beings gathered together at local exhibition parties, very few of you are anywhere to be seen. Off building resumes that nobody but you give a damn about. Your students will be showing their work, and the work of some artists like me will be there too. I hope your students detect the irony, and take a path less traveled by, to become artists themselves one day. I believe college art professors could make a revolutionary change to the face of any modern art. For god’s sake man, you all have summer’s off and can afford materials! However not one clan in Melbourne, Australia, or Prague, Czechoslovakia wants to see anything you do. Their institution might, but everyone outside of it knows that the institution is very broken, and that up to this point, a whole heck of a lot of art is created in universities, but very few artists are made there.
P.S. Here is another read about the broken art university system. It is what it is.