Tuesday, May 30, 2023


 Hi, gang.  I'm in Rome studying beautiful sculptures from antiquity.

This place would be a nightmare for Barney Bishop III because several of these sculptures have penises.

One thing apparent from these great sculptures is that each manifests an enormous struggle.

For example, artists struggled to escape mortality and the way of all flesh by preserving as much of tender skin and hot passion as they were able in permanent marble. 

Or, some struggled to escape the limits of two dimensions, with art that literally jumps off the wall:

Many struggled against oblivion, and the inevitable loss of our personality, our face, our individuality.  The  memories of our loved ones gives us the consolation of a few extra years but even that is soon gone.  In Rome we see miles and miles of busts of people hoping for a little endurance.

Some struggled to escape the limits of static material by capturing the freedom of motion in solid rock.

Artists today no longer have to struggle with these heartbreaking constraints. Digitization gives our work permanence. Video empowers us with motion, audio preserves our voices and our personalities, holograms give us three dimensionality.  In so many ways, artists have been freed from the struggle that bedeviled earlier artists.  

So what's the consequence of our freedom?

At the Villa Borghese modern sculpture is exhibited side by side with ancient sculpture, for comparison. Here are two sculptures by modern sculptor,  Giuseppe Penone.

They are exhibited accompanied by long, pretentious explanations by the artist. Minor struggles will invariably produce minor art. 

Saturday, May 13, 2023


 How do you like this painting of an "intense gaze"?

Yeah, I don't see it either.  

The face is a detail from the painting, "Picking Cotton" by Hale Woodruff, which hangs in the prestigious Yale University Art Gallery.

The curators of the Yale Gallery describe the "intense" face this way: 
The intense gaze of the old man at the center of Hale Woodruff's composition-- like a sharecropper or day laborer-- is amplified by the expressive character of the painting's active, thick brushwork, drawing the eye and focusing our attention.

If you think that's a stretch, art critic Sebastian Smee is able to impute emotions to Gerhard Richter's painting, "Betty," through the back of her head: 

“Betty,” he writes, "twisting away, evokes for me an impossible yearning: a desire to turn away from the din, the debacle, of political life and to dissolve instead — to bleed, to blur — into an intimate, apolitical present."

New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl, similarly transported by the back of Betty's head (or perhaps impaired by a stroke?) wrote that the painting is "the single most beautiful painting made by anyone in the last half century."

On and on the blather goes.  The sequepedalian word mongers at Phaidon offer us a long tiresome exegesis of "Betty," conjecturing that Immanuel Kant would favor Richter's "anti-sensibility."  They prattle:
For [Richter] photorealism has long been a project of rupture, the kind of performative desecration that served to uphold its own site of defacement. His faceless Betty is as much a testament to the “thingness” of painting as it is to interpersonal ephemerality.
It takes a lot of Kool-Aid to make it through this brand of art criticism.

For me, these descriptions embody the most dangerous snare underlying modern conceptual art: the snare of being seduced by fanciful verbal descriptions rather than the actual visual qualities of the picture.  As words and ideas become more important than physical execution, the quality of art increasingly rises or falls on the ability of some observer to find words about it. Unfortunately, eloquent people can come up with words to justify almost any position. The oleaginous Jeff Koons, lacking talent, has built an entire empire on his gift of gab.
In a more serious era, when art was less superfluous, the great Pericles gave a funeral oration to honor the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War.  He urged against valuing the greatness of heroes based on the rhetorical ability of some speaker who comments on them:
The reputation of men [should] not be imperiled on the eloquence or want of eloquence of [a speaker], and their virtues believed or not as he spoke well or ill.
If conceptual art is to be taken seriously, people who believe in the potential of conceptual art (and I am sometimes among them) have a special duty to resist flabby rhetorical excess.
I believe it's crucial to growth in arts, and even to the progress of humanity, that we struggle to keep an open mind.  Our ideas should remain broader than our specialties. But in the words of the Maharani of Jaipur, "Don't keep your mind so open that your brains fall out."

Thursday, May 04, 2023



Here are the top 5 reasons why I love this drawing by Tom Fluharty:

1.) I love these hands:

Fluharty is an artist who not only knows anatomy, but has formulated opinions about it.  Photo reference gave him the basic facts he needed about the position of the fingers, but after that the artist took over.  He plays with line the way a great guitarist might play guitar strings.

2.) I love this beard:

Look how brilliantly Fluharty combines lights and darks in this beard.  That thin line doesn't flow in a direction, the way most artists would draw hair.  Instead, it forms crazy static all over the place, before Fluharty comes in with a heavy line and chisels lightning bolts into the beard to give it some sense of order.

3.) I love this face:

Another great example of how understanding anatomy pays off.  Those dynamic lines whipping all over the place don't trace specific facial wrinkles but they create values which demonstrate knowledge of the skull, the eye sockets, the facial features, etc. far better than a painstakingly realistic approach might. When it comes time to enhance the design by distorting those ears, Fluharty knows exactly how far he can take it.

4.)  I love the muscularity of those bold lines:

Fluharty claims to be no fan of abstract art but these bold lines are straight out of Franz Kline.  Superimposed on a network of fine, curling lines which go in all directions, these powerful dark accents contribute vigor and confidence.

5.) I love the way this drawing uses felt tip markers:


Most illustrators today use markers because they're frightened of india ink.  They fear they can't control a dip pen or a brush.  But Fluharty appreciates the visual qualities of a marker-- even one that is beginning to dry out-- and fearlessly takes advantage of those qualities.  Ink-- not even a drybrush--could accomplish this effect, which contributes so much to the energetic feel of the drawing.

In an era of photo-drawing, semi-drawing, AI-drawing and excuses for not drawing, I think this is the kind of work that vindicates true drawing and puts all those excuses and substitutes to shame. 

Monday, May 01, 2023


Don't assume abstract painting is easier than realistic painting.  

True, an abstract painter never needs to worry about getting anatomy wrong, or failing to capture the light accurately.  Still, abstract painters have worries of their own. 

Consider this blast of a painting by Phil Hale. 


Hale knew what clouds look like and painted them beautifully.  He knew how golden sunlight looks on skin.  He understood muscles and tendons, he knew how to pose the human body like the rock of Gibraltar in the center of the painting.  Ahhh, but the hair-- that's the one part he had to invent from scratch.  

In his preliminary drawings for this very confident painting, there's only one element that Hale changed and changed again: the abstract shape of the hair.

 How would Hale know when the hair finally looked "right"?  

What is the right number of accents grave et aigu that should be spitting from his hair? How long should they be? Should they be straight or curled?  soft or jagged?  Nature provided no clues, so Hale was all alone on these choices.

The importance of this black abstract shape is clear from the fact that Hale made very different choices in other paintings and those choices had a significant impact on the tone of the painting, strongly affecting the "realistic" elements which took up 90% of the image.

Sometimes the black abstract shape swallowed up the head altogether...

If you're doing it right, it's not so easy to be untethered from mother nature.