Ep. 7 Kant’s Mathematical Sublime

Kant’s idea of the sublime is that it overwhelms our imagination, one example is the mathematical sublime in which the magnitude is too much for us to comprehend, like unlimited stars in the Universe. It can be argued that postmodern artist Christo’s Umbrellas fit the definition.

Paula Rego: Save it for the Therapist

Rego, Snow White and Her Stepmother

Paul Rego is an artist that has a great reputation in the western art world, with shows at such esteemed  places as Marlborough Fine Art, the Tate, and at the eponymous museum Casa das Histórias Paula Rego in Cascais, Portugal. She was made a Dame of the British Empire, and she has several honorary degrees, including one from Oxford. Her works, many of them large, are creepy, figurative narratives with distorted proportions, often dead colors, and intellectual rather than a sensory experience of light. Her works remind us of Lucian Freud’s ugly rendering of people and of Paul McCarthy’s myriad celebration of disgust, such as his turning Disney and other cartoon characters into self-mutilating, loathsome, and sinister monsters.

Continue reading “Paula Rego: Save it for the Therapist”

Pushing the Composition Envelope, Melissa Hefferlin Still Lifes

Effortless Complexity and Boundless Imagination

Decades ago, Melissa Hefferlin told me that growing up, whenever she did something wrong,  her scientist dad would sit her down with paper and pen to make columns of pros, cons, and alternatives to her bad behavior. She dreaded these episodes (apparently they took place fairly often). But they served her artistic mind very well, especially in composition.

Challenge to Picasso and Vermeer

Art is very complex with many elements such as color, light, form, emotion, imagination, subject, etc. But composition is the granddaddy of fine art. Composition in painting and drawing is the arrangement of contours on a flat surface. Two important parts of it are groupings and the balance of the entire work. To try to create something new in composition is a daunting task and throws down a challenge to Vermeer and Picasso. It seems that Melissa is unfazed by the project. 

In full disclosure, I mentored Melissa in the early 1990s, but I can’t claim any credit for her brilliance since then. 

 Groupings

Hefferlin, Journey of a Higher Hare, oil on linen, 36” x 29″

In Higher Hare, my photoshop markups below reveal the play of a triangular pattern in the cloth, table, and part of the wall. When an artist is composing they have some flexibility to accent patterns they see or sense, Melissa takes full advantage of utilizing these angles. Another artist might not see them and paint only what he/she literally sees, but that doesn’t create these almost music-like beats. 

Continue reading “Pushing the Composition Envelope, Melissa Hefferlin Still Lifes”

The Great Fraud, How Postmodernism Abuses Art

Michelangelo, Study of Haman for the Sistine Chapel, 1511, red chalk.

TuftsPUBLIC: Jenny Polak: ICE Escape Signs

Tufts University is running a protest against ICE–in the guise of being art. Everyone involved in this project may be well intentioned, but what does this have to do with art? The message of the protest has nothing to do with art, but as art it’s one I am disgusted by: the anti-conceptual degradation of art.

Art has a very special aura of the sublime, the ultimate, and the universality of a higher nature. The best in art is evolutionary. It elevates our knowledge, expands our emotional capabilities, and enriches our senses. For instance, Monet furthering our knowledge of colors of shadows and natural light. Michelangelo showed us what a fearless stance against huge obstacles looks like (The David), and he did so with his revolutionary means of transcribing touch to sight. And Polyclitus showed us how the science of beauty works through proportions. These artists and many more, both in history and contemporary times, amongst whom I am proud to count myself, contribute towards giving art profound meaning.

The Tufts project by Jenny Polak does two things that are now-classic postmodern sabotage. They use the esteemed status of art, made possible by great artists, to elevate a protest to a grander status. And by dedicating their reputation, resources, and their art department to juvenile protest posters scattered around the campus they suck the life out of aesthetic innovation, advancement, and the soul of art.

Michael Newberry
Idyllwild, July 20, 2019

Below is from the Tufts University website.

TuftsPUBLIC: Jenny Polak: ICE Escape Signs
Weems Atrium / SMFA, Media Wall / Aidekman
Various Locations throughout Medford Campus

JENNY POLAK: ICE Escape Signs is the 2018-2019 Tufts PUBLIC project, a program of yearlong, temporary public art projects designed for spaces outside the Art Galleries and throughout the school’s Medford/Somerville and SMFA campuses.

Jenny Polak makes site and community responsive art that reframes immigrant-citizen relations, amplifying demands for social justice. Originally from England, her work draws on her background in architecture and socially engaged projects, as well as her own family history of migration. She focuses on detention centers, racial profiling, and strategies for surviving hostile authorities. As an exhibiting artist in the upcoming exhibition Walls Turned Sides: Artists Confront the Justice System (coming to TUAG Spring 2020), Polak will work with the Tufts community to create a series of site-respondent signs throughout campus beginning in the fall as part of her ongoing series – ICE Escape Signs. A decentered public art project, ICE Escape Signs are designed for specific floorplans and draw attention to the fact that people are living in daily fear of being caught in a raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Postmodern vs. Evolutionary Art

The following is a version of my part of a joint presentation with Stephen Hicks given at the first ever Malibu Summit student retreat hosted by The Atlas Society on June 29, 2019 at Scorpiesse in Malibu, California.  

June 29th, 2019 at Scorpiesse – Stephen Hicks talks with Atlas Advocates at The Malibu Summit. 

An Impasse Between Creating and Destroying

The contrast between postmodernism and what I call “evolutionary art” is both epistemological, in the sense of how the art is made and the knowledge behind it, and metaphysical, what kind of subjects are important. Postmodern art is about seeking new means and content to challenge the very concept of art. Evolutionary art builds on the contributions of great artists and great art movements with new insights into human psychology and aesthetic means. Philosopher and The Atlas Society Senior Scholar Stephen Hicks, Ph.D, summarizes the difference this way:  it is the difference between a master making a stained glass window and the moron that throws a rock and smashes it!

Louise Bourgeois vs. Martine Vaugel 

Louise Bourgeois at MOMA. “Untitled” (1998), fabric and stainless steel at center

The postmodern works I am including are considered important by important art institutions. A defining moment and lifelong obsession of French-American postmodern artist Louise Bourgeois was the trauma of discovering her father’s affair with her governess. Bourgeois was a member of the American Abstract Artists Group and had her own salon called Bloody Sunday. She referred to her early to later work as “fear of falling…art of falling…and the art of hanging in there.” Not an abstract artist, not a competent drawer or sculptor, with no discernible standards of any kind, she didn’t use art as a means of personal evolution, to grow both technically and soulfully. Instead her works convey that she remained stuck in a regressive emotional intelligence state, which conveyed the only kinds of emotions available to a hopelessly incompetent artist – pain, anxiety, and confusion. 

A great example of her arrested development is this untitled head shown at her retrospective show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Clumps of wool clobbered together to form a cylinder base and a cotton ball-like head, which is then crudely sowed over with pink-flesh colored compression wrap bandages, wrapping the nose, stitched over mouth, and stuffed into the empty eyeball sockets. A cauliflower ear is formed grotesquely out of the same stuff. One has to call into question, not how pathetic her work is, but what is her motive for exhibiting it, and what are the motives of the critics, curators, and directors who give her a reputation that only the awesome prestigious power of New York’s great art institutions can give. Empathy for humanity may be in the press release, but there is a deeper motive that they may not want to examine. 

Martine Vaugel, is a contemporary French-American sculptor whose bronze figure and portrait sculptures are, in her words, the “expression of my love affair with the human spirit.” She is the founder of the Vaugel Sculpture Method, a method of clay modeling based on her knowledge of human anatomy and mastery of structure.

Continue reading “Postmodern vs. Evolutionary Art”

The Problem with Equating Form, Light, and Space with Being Old-Fashioned

A Newberry still life recreating how depth gives a feeling of movement between objects.
Olaku's use of twilight to convey depth, light, shadow, and reflections.
Abiodun Olaku, Conversations, oil on canvas, 2014. An excellent example of a contemporary artist integrating form, light, and depth. And notice the groupings of people, as if the more we look we will be able to hear their conversations. Compare this to famous postmodern artists below with their empty, flat, trash devoid of human empathy or perception.

Mediocre artists, forever disappointed that they don’t match up, have a hard time acknowledging history’s great artists.  Michelangelo, Monet, Vermeer, and Rembrandt are hard mentors. One way second-rate artists work around this is to change the rules of aesthetics. The most extreme case is postmodern aesthetics, which obliterates the importance of mastery of the medium, or using any medium at all, and believes shock concepts are the essence of art requiring no skill.

Continue reading “The Problem with Equating Form, Light, and Space with Being Old-Fashioned”

Secularization of Hell: The Illusionists, Curated by Michael Pearce at Studio Channel Islands with TRAC2019

Dream of Art History by F. Scott Hess

The illusionist exhibition at Studio Channel Islands in Camarillo, CA. April 6- May 21, 2019

Oh god, the exhibition is a living nightmare. I prefer the worst/best of postmodernism, at least Duchamp cleverly matched ends and means. But, with only a few exceptions, this show is about classical technique with creepy content. You can see the show online on critic Joseph Bravo’s Facebook page.

Sandra Yagi
Sandra Yagi, photo Studio Channel Islands

It would be horrific if we saw a woman opening her chest to let birds fly out or the dancing skeletons of a pair of baby conjoined twins! But the technique is so bland and plastic-like that it leaves us feeling nothing about Yagi’s subject matter.

Continue reading “Secularization of Hell: The Illusionists, Curated by Michael Pearce at Studio Channel Islands with TRAC2019”

First They Came for Black

Venus 3

Newberry, Venus 3, oil on linen, 46 x 26 inches.

First they came for black and removed it from our spectrum. Next to go were the colors of light and shadow. They said that color was a power in its own right, not to be used as a slave to luminosity. The real, they said, was freedom from restrictions.

They came for form, claiming that the canvas was flat. Next to go were proportion and spatial depth. They said that painting projected the outside world, like looking through a window was a lie. The real, they said, was that paint was paint and it shouldn’t look like something it is not. Continue reading “First They Came for Black”

Facing the Postmodern Art World

Facing the World, Self-Portrait, 1998, acrylic on canvas, 16” x 12″ Private collection

Poets and Artists published this on September 2nd, 2018.

Romanticist in a Postmodern Art World

In 1998, the year of the above self-portrait, I was living in my rented two-story Turkish house/studio in the Old Town of Rhodes, Greece, which overlooked the Mediterranean and the town’s minarets and domes. Two decades before, as a 20-year-old American, I had started my focused art journey in The Hague, Holland. Between Holland and Greece I moved every few years seeking inspiration from a different culture, a beautiful place, or from a big city’s energy. Everywhere I lived I produced my own pop-up shows, selling enough to keep painting. I tried both New York and Los Angeles a few times, knocking on their art scene doors, but my aesthetic was incompatible with contemporary art institutions. I was a romanticist aiming for my definitive works to have the feeling of a Puccini opera. Meanwhile postmodernists were rejecting art’s evolutionary developments and seriously trying to create from a preoperational cognitive state of mind like Louise Bourgeois. Others like Duchamp, Creed, and Christo sought to be radically original by using shocking, unlikely, and unrepeatable mediums for visual art. Continue reading “Facing the Postmodern Art World”

Making Sense of Kant’s Senseless Sublime

1051px-Giovanni_Battista_Tiepolo_-_Rinaldo_Enchanted_by_Armida_-_Google_Art_Project.jpgGiovanni Battista Tiepolo, Rinaldo Enchanted by Armida, 1742 until 1745. Was this the kind of work Kant associated with charms and sensual delights of beauty?

Originally published online at The Atlas Society.

Making Sense of Kant’s Senseless Sublime

In the last decade of the 18th century Beethoven composed his 1st and 2nd piano concertos, Goya etched the series Los Caprichos, Jacques-Louis David painted The Death of Marat, and Mozart composed the Requiem in D Minor and the great Jupiter Symphony. These works coincided with the French Revolution, and together they guided European culture away from the extravagant art of Rococo exemplified by the sweetly-colored paintings of Boucher and Tiepolo, with their floating florid nymphs, cupids, silks, and princesses.

699px-Jacques-Louis_David_-_Marat_assassinated_-_Google_Art_Project_2.jpg

Jacques-Louis David, Death of Marat, 1793. The period of the French Revolution marked a new period of art with more gravitas.

This was a paradigm shift from the superficial to gut wrenching passion, as if Western art was going back to its roots in the dramas of Aeschylus and Euripides; answering the big questions of what is the good and what is important while at the same time elevating the creative process by innovation and superlative skill. This wasn’t for the faint of heart. The artists would have to face inner turmoil and outer rejection as they attempted to get patrons to sponsor wildly dramatic depictions of death, war, and executions, which didn’t lend themselves to the decorative palace dining room.  Risking their livelihoods the artists bore down in this new direction. With this revolutionary spirit we can see the need for a new aesthetic to champion and reflect an Age of Enlightenment.

The Sublime the Absolutely Great
The year 1790, when Beethoven was 20, also marked the publication of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment. It famously compares and contrasts the aesthetic values of Beauty with that of the Sublime. The treatise identifies Beauty representing the lighter more sensual pleasing side and the Sublime addressing what is the “absolutely great beyond all comparison.” Kant wanted to free the Sublime from the constraints of art and launch it into the world of the mind unfettered by perception, form, or realization. Continue reading “Making Sense of Kant’s Senseless Sublime”