The Cult of Oblivion: CIA, Abstract Expressionists, and Kant

da Vinci, study of hands

Evolution and the Undermining of Art

From the cave paintings of the Horses Heads to figurative art today, visual art is about perception and subject. We artists, and our ancient ancestors, look at the world around us, focus on important aspects of it, digest it, then, in acts of passion express our view of humanity. Visual art is inextricably linked to human evolution; its best examples further our potential as human beings. Visual art refines our perceptions, explores our emotional potentials, and expands our minds. But for the last century art has been under attack.

In the mid-20th century these three forces––Kant’s philosophy, abstract expressionists, and the CIA––congealed ostensibly to champion freedom and originality, instead accomplished an undermining of art and consequently humanity. The connections and machinations are so complicated and obtuse it is hard to take them seriously, but it does make a difference in understanding them, at least in the sense of whether or not our culture evolves.

Progress is Not Automatic

There are a few things that are embedded in our DNA, like sex and consciousness, but art is one of the most powerful. It has been said that the human species doesn’t have instincts—that we have to make choices, make mistakes, and figure out future directions. We can implode, exploit wars, exterminate populations, and commit suicide. There are no guarantees that philosophers, experts, government institutions, and artists have it right. And we are only a few nuclear explosions away from eradication. It is a sobering obligation that we must choose and possibly be tragically wrong and sometimes be wonderfully right. 

da Vinci, study of hands

Da Vinci, Study of Hands c. 1474, in silverpoint on prepared paper heightened with white (chalk?).

Visual Science and Heart

This sketch by da Vinci represents everything great about humanity and art: skill, discovery, knowledge, light and shadow, science, empathy, humanism, beauty, and effortlessness. An interesting thing is that this work uplifts us and can inspire our farthest reaching aspirations whether for science or heart or both. Da Vinci’s near-contemporary, Vasari, wrote about him: 

“Leonardo’s disposition was so lovable that he commanded everyone’s affection… his magnificent presence brought comfort to the most troubled soul; he was so persuasive that he could bend other people to his will. … He was so generous that he fed all his friends, rich or poor… Through his birth Florence received a very great gift, and through his death it sustained an incalculable loss… an artist of outstanding physical beauty who displayed infinite grace in everything he did and who cultivated his genius so brilliantly that all problems he studied were solved with ease.”

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Want to Know What Your Future Is? Examine the Art You Like and the Art of Your Time

Newberry, Denouement, 1987, oil on linen, 54x78"

That is where you are heading. Very few people take advantage of the fact that their future is literally right in front of them. The future awaiting you is to be seen in the art you engage with. Will I have beauty in my life? Am I doomed to depression? Will justice prevail? Will I be happy? Will I be cut up by a chainsaw? Will I throw myself over a cliff or find exaltation in living in the present?

The nature of art is evolutionary–at its best it extends and elevates your knowledge, emotions, and senses. But just because it is our nature to live doesn’t mean we can’t reject life and commit suicide. Art at its worst––I’m talking about postmodernism now––shits on humanity, benevolence, authenticity, and love and leave us with nothing, or worse than nothing. This works both privately, in the deepest recesses of our souls, and publicly, in popular and institutionalized art of our time. In both cases you don’t have to be a victim.

Past all the noise, art as a beacon gives you a choice for your personal future: be a cynic embracing snark, apathy, and ineptness; or be the good person that embraces innovation, authenticity, and human potential. Duchamp, The Fountain (facsimile), the “original” from 1917 was submitted but not shown (probably trashed) by the Society of Independent Artists’ salon in New York. Newberry, Denouement, 1987, oil on linen, 54×78″. A masterpiece of integrating perception, color theory, heart, and our potential for meaningful human connections.

Take the Test

Block out some time to examine art you love and what is popular on social media sites and in contemporary art museums. Lots of people pick art that supports how they feel, you might feel angry or depressed so you could connect with rage art or emptiness. But the test is not how you feel. Rather, it is about how would you like to feel in the near and distant future. Do you really want to be angry your whole life? Die from loneliness? Or do you want to find your inner bliss? The art you surround yourself with pulls you into its path and acts as your future’s beacon. “Is that where I want to go?” In the same way you can see where your culture is heading. Just take a look at a social media site. Some of the things I see are a lot of horror-based art struggling to release hope in a dim distant light. The wisdom of Reinhold Niebuhr comes to mind: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” We can’t directly change the art of our time but we can do anything we bloody well want to with our own collection.

Since childhood, I have consistently chosen the path of artistic evolution. As an artist, I have sought and found an alternative to postmodernism, and I continue to test the limits of the sublime as I paint. Going against the grain has been at times a difficult choice, but the inner peace and joy of choosing to grow, learn, and mature is my reward. It is a magnificent place to be. Please join me in choosing evolution.

Michael Newberry, Idyllwild, 11/25/2019

Ep. 8 Tanya Ragir’s Hard Wisdom Newberry Aesthetic Evolution 11/18/2019

Ep. 8 Tanya Ragir Hard Wisdom Review Newberry Aesthetic Evolution

There is a magnificent show in the heart of Los Angeles on La Cienega through December 26th that will be one of the most humanist, empathetic, and beautiful exhibitions you will have experienced within the last decade. Tanya Ragir fearlessly dives into our hopes and dreams, regrets, loss, love, and even chaos. Her pieces are the answers to questions about how to handle pain, how to cope, and how to find meaning. My written review of the show here.

Tanya Ragir’s Hard Wisdom

ragir-hard-wisdom-12

LAAA | Gallery 825 in West Hollywood
The exhibition will run from October 26 – December 26
My YouTube 3-min video here.

Have you ever spent a melancholy morning walking on a beach or in the woods? Aimlessly contemplating little things like like a leaf, a struggling flower, or a stone, perhaps picking it up to feel its texture? Perhaps thinking about the pieces of your life, some that have caused you heartache? Maybe contemplating an odd feeling that nature can’t give you any answers?

There is a magnificent show in the heart of Los Angeles on La Cienega through December 26th that will be one of the most humanist, empathetic, and beautiful exhibitions you will have experienced within the last decade. Tanya Ragir fearlessly dives into our hopes and dreams, regrets, loss, love, and even chaos. Her pieces are the answers to questions about how to handle pain, how to cope, and how to find meaning.

It is not a show to be entertained by or to be blown away by, it is not a social event nor does it give you prestigious points–it is a quiet pilgrimage for the health and well-being of your soul. Ragir has picked up pieces of broken concrete, wood, and leaves merging them with sections of the female figure molded in ceramic clay creating one-of-a-kind pieces.

It strikes me the difference between a solitary walk in nature and visiting this show is that the sculptures are a conduit of communication–they are another person relating to your fragility, showing you respect and honor for your hardships, and gratitude for your gifts of beauty and kindness.

Please carve out a block of time, take a sabbatical, and visit this show. Your spirit will thank you.

Michael Newberry
Idyllwild 11/17/2019

Los Angeles Art Association
at Gallery 825

825 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90069
Phone: 310.652.8272

Email: gallery825@laaa.org
 

Gallery Hours
Tuesday-Saturday 10-5pm

Nude Reclining

Newberry, Nude Reclining, pastel on black paper, 20x30"

I drew this the other evening from a live model. It is play on Duchamp’s Nude Descending and I have thought of doing a painting with this overlapping concept, we will see. The concept is not new, it happens all the time with life drawers doing quick poses, or a continuous pose, when the model moves very slowly from one pose to another and artists draw it as quickly as possible with overlapping marks. It also happens with Renaissance drawings even with cave paintings, dues to running out of surface.

I just uploaded to my archive.

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”