"Newberry's work speaks to the senses, the intellect, and the passions of those who do not need the judgment of history to tell them what is great, but who can themselves make the judgment of history today." Stephen Hicks, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy
Progressing on my book Evolution Through Art, past the 10k in words, now in the middle of the 5th chapter, The Wizards. Here is a snippet:
For the artists that didn’t turn away they would have to cope with, defend, and manage resentment. For their art they would breath deep, fortify themselves, and let go of certainty and control and dive into a vast alternative universe; exploring where no mind had gone before.
I hope everyone is doing okay in these early stages of quarantining. Heartbreaking. Around the start of it I came up with the concept to write this book on aesthetics. I am dividing my time painting, writing the book, and, it seems, washing dishes.
I am writing my first book: Evolution Through Art. I have written the Introduction, and the first two chapters, about 4,000 words. Good early reports back from my copy editor who is a rhetorician! It is a story of how art plays the leading role in our evolution. It is a journey of profound respect and gratitude to the evolutionary artists that had the minds, substance, and courage to follow their truth. Often they fought against tremendous opposition from practical reality, their own arguments, peer pressure, philosophies, religions, and psychologically-impotent sadistic authorities!
I have been thinking about writing an art book filled with stories, anecdotes, speculation on prehistorical art, real life experiences, and the knowledge of what is it is like to strive for the sublime. Today I started with the title and listing chapter headings.
Psychological Aesthetics and the Exciting Fight to Evolve: Beyond Obstacles, Malevolence, and Ignorance
Leaving One’s Mark: Taming Powerful Animals Through Capturing Them In Art
Imagining the Next Step: Willendorf Venus or I Will See You Later Tonight
Safety in Group Think, Their Fear of the Unknown and the Extent They Will Go Eradicate Evolutionary Nudges
Wisdom, Truth, and Courage Within: Calibrating Perception, Evaluation, and Emotion
To Be or Not To Be? To Break Free or to Conform?
Tears, Love, and Visibility: The Alternate Universe
The Art Instinct: What Makes Humans Unique Animals?
Art is the Power That Religion Wants: Control the Artists you Control the Mass Psyche
Art Transcends Agendas By Touching Individual Souls
Power Without Wisdom Corrupts Completely: Michelangelo in the Quarry; Postmodernist Malevolence
Just finished this. Taking a little one week break, perhaps two, from painting on Model in the Studio, I am revisiting some small plein air paintings. A departure for me is that I painted in this dog into the landscape. Artistically I love what it did to the composition, creating a “<” axis from the highlighted glimmer to the dog, then to the bottom right corner. I also love the mood of it. In the past I have rejected doing animals because humanity is at the forefront of my mind. I love my dog, Frida, and she loves me, but she doesn’t even glance at my art. :(
Some very interesting aesthetic problems with philosophical implications are the size of the subject in relation to the canvas and what that subject is. I know this sounds highbrow but bear with me, or at least indulge me to share the kind of thing I think about when painting. Most of my definitive works feature humans and their size dominates the canvas–they feature prominently in the painting’s universe. Landscapes serve well as a back drop for human activity, or when it is just a landscape there is an implication that we as humans are looking at it through a window of our beautiful home, or a view from a hike, or day at the beach. Though, if you take a naked landscape literally, with no humans present, it could imply that humankind does not exist–a very interesting rabbit hole to go down. There are also the cases of massive landscapes with tiny itty-bitty people implying that humanity is insignificant to the awesomeness of the universe. But seriously, if there are no humans or aliens, the concept of a caring or meaningful existence simply wouldn’t exist. My conclusion is that humans are top dogs when it comes to the humanities and to our psychology.
Many friends have asked me if I have painted Frida, which so far is a “no.” I just can’t bring myself to do a dog portrait (though I did one as an 18-year old for a fraternity brother as a fine art major). It feels like I would be elevating them above humanity. But with this new mini series with smally painted animals accenting the comparatively larger landscapes, it definitely feels like a massive “YES!” It makes sense to me that animals figure in our universe but do not rise up to the stature of humanities uniqueness, which art, philosophy, language, politics, and spirituality matter. So it is official!–I have lifted the animal embargo and now feel free to paint animals as long as they are tiny enough not to upsurge humanity.
Michael Newberry, Idyllwild, 3/1/2020
Please feel free to share your thoughts on this, you must have some interesting ones.
“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, critique.” And no one represents this weakness better than Jerry Saltz, winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism for his article, “My Life as a Failed Artist.”
Jerry Saltz writes about his younger artist self: “In 1973, I was 22, full of myself, and frustrated that I wasn’t already recognized for my work.” But a few years later he had some great acceptance from the art world: museum purchases, a $3,000 NEA grant in 1978 money, reviewed in Artforum, exhibited with Barbara Gladstone Gallery and with Rhona Hoffman. He was ecstatic with the recognition, yet he had a nagging contempt for his art:
“But then I looked back, into the abyss of self-doubt. I erupted with fear, self-loathing, dark thoughts about how bad my work was, how pointless, unoriginal, ridiculous. ‘You don’t know how to draw,’ I told myself. ‘You never went to school. Your work has nothing to do with anything. You’re not a real artist. Your art is irrelevant. You don’t know art history. You can’t paint… No one cares about you. You’re a fake…'”
Roger Scruton’s excellent presentation Why Beauty Matters, a BBC production, has seen a resurgence, over a million views on this embedded YouTube video. Several people have forwarded it to me and I remember seeing it ages ago. In re-watching it I was struck by the coincidence of the same four postmodern works in his presentation and in my article Pandora’s Box Part III. I was kind of horrified that I might have subconsciously lifted them from him without being aware of it. I didn’t.
I was relieved that my article Pandora’s Box Part III was published in the Free Radical (magazine and online) in 2002, while this Scruton publication was released almost 8 years later in November 2009. The four works are canned shit, Manzoni’s Merde d’artista; empty room, Creed’s The Lights Going On and Off; a urinal, Duchamp’s The Fountain; and bricks in a room at the Tate by Andre.
Scruton discusses them at 5:25 to 5:48 and he says: “It has been interrupted in another way by showing that anything can be art. Like a light going on and off, a can of excrement, or even a pile of bricks.”
In a section from my article which I discuss the postmodern works I write: “Kant’s concept of the formless nature of the sublime is the ideological birthplace of the postmodern aesthetic that art, visual art, doesn’t need to be expressed through the means of representational painting or sculpture. In practice, this aesthetic opened up the floodgates of a nihilistic revolution in the 20th Century in which postmodern artists deconstructed art and/or substituted any object but painting or sculpture for art, i.e. arranged rubbish, excrement, installations, etc.”
Bemusedly, I was wondering if my article was the source for “It has been interrupted…” I am just having a little fun figuratively flexing my muscles showing that I have been ahead of the curve. BTW, Pandora’s Box Part III is a wonderful article touching on a few of Kant’s concepts of the Sublime how they are connected to some horrible postmodern works, and I optimistically share some magnificent contemporary figurative works.
The embedded rocks and still-green tumble weeds were flying towards my tennis shoe covered feet, my outstretched hands steering my downward trajectory were being cut to slivers by the crystal rock veins lining the 40-ft ravine incline—the unexpected push and gravity created a reckless momentum that my brother hoped would be fatal. It was not.
Never turn your back on some people, or they will destroy you.
The Eyes of Rembrandt
If light could kiss this would be the most loving, achingly sensitive kinetic caress. Shadowed waves rose and glided back to the recesses, like invisible currents of air witnessing a glint of moisture and a warming pulse. This is where goodness lives. In the eyes of Rembrandt.
Myths, legends, and stories infiltrate our collective and individual consciousness, and the same holds true for the visual arts. The myth of Icarus, who flew too high then crashed and burned, was mentioned by Apollodorus around 150 BC and has since shown up countless times in visual art.
Icarus Landing, Phaethon, and Ayn Rand
An interesting twist in the legend comes with my 2000 version. The concept was inspired by Ayn Rand, who rewrote the myth of Phaethon in Atlas Shrugged. In the ancient myth, Apollo gives the reins of the sun chariot to his son Phaethon, who is unable to control the flying horses or escape his destiny. Phaethon and the chariot threaten to crash and annihilate Earth. Zeus, watching, kills Phaethon with a bolt of lightning, forcing Apollo to retake the reins and right the sun chariot’s course.
In Rand’s version, her character, Richard Halley, composes an opera in which Phaethon brilliantly succeeds to steer the sun chariot to a glorious course. I loved the concept of taking a tragic myth and changing the outcome to reflect my absolute inner belief that magnificent experiences are the stuff of living. The chariot thing was too archaic for my modern sensibility, but with some thought I landed on the concept of Icarus. After flying wildly high, I thought, Icarus would return to Earth with gentle gratitude, lit by the orange glow of the day’s setting sun. I opted for no wings, just the outstretched arms. Appropriately I painted this while I lived in Greece, and I won’t lie, I loved scaling the rock cliffs in the buff, jumping from rock to rock, as my friend philosopher David Kelley can attest to.
(Authors note: This is one in a series of reviews of what is going on in contemporary museums of art. Like many of you I go to a contemporary art museum with an excited expectation that I am going to see today’s best living artists. Please keep that in mind after your read these reviews as it might seem that I purposefully sought out isolated freak shows–nope, just visiting the most respected museums of contemporary art and reporting what I see.)
The recently-established National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens gives us a look inside media manipulation with Pierre Huyghe’s The Third Memory. It is a documentary-like presentation about a notorious 1972 bank robbery in Brooklyn. The audio-visual installation, on loan from the collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
The Third Memory contains side by side two synchronized video projections that last about ten minutes, and reference materials and clips. The video projections juxtapose Huyghe’s reenactment/documentary-like reconstruction of a bank robbery that took place in Brooklyn, New York in 1972, and footage from Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975), a movie about that robbery. In Huyghe’s work the actual robber, John Wojtowicz, many years older and out of prison, retells, acts out, and analyzes the robbery on the sets used in Lumet’s movie. About The Third Memory Huyghe says it is “…the story of a man who was robbed, who was dispossessed, of his own image … the “author of an action” is given the opportunity to “speak up…in order to regain his place at the centre of the plot…”
The nude in art is one of the greatest means of expressing individuality. It bypasses the status of clothes and symbols and drives the focus towards character through body and facial expression. The nude asks the viewer to share their deeper, more personal thoughts about how they feel about who they are, their dreams, and their deepest beliefs.
Looking at Peter Schipperheyn’s Zarathustra we see a larger-than-life-sized man, arching back, and his head thrown back at an intense angle – the chin raised above the forehead. The body’s tone is taut, yet there is relaxed fluidity from limb to limb. He has the body of a world-class athlete, such as the current tennis great, Roger Federer. The most prominent gesture is the back of the closed fist meeting the open, extended hand.
An abstract aspect of this sculpture is the arc of the entire body – from the heel to the tip of the head. It conjures up the form of a bow, or of a tree limb a limb pulled back. This, combined with the smack of the hand, creates the sense of a springing force. The raised heel is understated, yet very challenging for the artist – it would be much easier to sculpt the feet flat-footed. The raised heel shifts the lower body forward, balancing the backwards arc, and enhancing the athletic litheness. This curve gently pushes the crotch forward, giving the sense of unselfconscious ease.