If Art is About Evolution WTF is This? The 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship Winners

josh-blackwell 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship Award Winners

At least Marcel Duchamp was clever.

Though he was a silly old cynic he knew how to play devil’s advocate and he didn’t mind throwing away any talent he might have had. His Nude Descending a Staircase has its interest, Duchamp took the concept of overlapping sketches and turned them into a painting. Hardly original because that honor would go the Chauvet Cave painters. He was honored because he threw everything away so he could disintegrate in to crustiness. A dream the disgruntled have at their most disgusting low points and which normal people watch in morbid curiosity. The 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship Awards for “Fine Artists” would be a tribute to Duchamp except the judges, referrers, and artists have no self-awareness. If they did they would not inflict their anti-humanism on the public.

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Did Thutmose Sculpt the Mask of Tutankhamen?

Portrait Study Of AmenhotepIII-Thutmose Workshop_Egyptian MuseumBerlin

Today in writing the sixth chapter of my book Evolution Through Art, the section on the great Egyptian sculptor Thutmose, circa 1350 BC, I was struck by the similarities of this sculpture of Tutankhamen’s grandfather, Amenhotep III and the famous Gold Mask of Tutankhamen. But I am wondering if the portrait study is not Amenhotep III but a life study of Tutankhamen?

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3rd and 4th in the Animal Lifted Embargo Series by Michael Newberry

Newberry, San Miguel, 2020, oil, 9x12”
Newberry, San Miguel, 2020, oil, 9x12”
Newberry, San Miguel, 2020, oil, 9×12” I taught a workshop in Mexico sometime ago, this was on the way to San Miguel de Allende from San Luis Potosi, originally there were no horses, I just painted them in today. Haha, before you complain they don’t look like horses, they are only 1/4″ high in the painting, I am not a miniaturist. I think they look cool regardless.
Newberry, Teton Twilight, 2020, oil, 9x12”
Newberry, Teton Twilight, 2020, oil, 9×12” This was from another workshop I taught, in Wyoming. The inclusion of the horse does something interesting: it completes the pair of trees in a nice rhythm. It also gives a jolt of life to the landscape. In a very tepid way I am giving a hint of romanticism to the landscape.

With this Animal Lifted Embargo Series, I am refining my hierarchy of subject values. Humanity is at the top, consequently, I paint/draw individuals filling the universe of the canvas or paper space. Animals are a far distant second place, recently insignificant, but I am now enjoying placing them in landscapes as minor players. It makes me feel peaceful and the experience of painting them feels a bit magical. If I made them the same size as humans (allowing perspective truth etc) I would be extremely uncomfortable with that.

Michael Newberry, Idyllwild, 3/7/2020

Book Idea: Psychological Aesthetics and the Exciting Fight to Evolve by Michael Newberry

Willendorf Venus c. 28,000 BCE – 25,000 BCE Discovere 1908 near Willendorf, by Josef Szombathy, Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Beyond Obstacles, Malevolence, and Ignorance 

Willendorf Venus c. 28,000 BCE – 25,000 BCE Discovere 1908 near Willendorf, by Josef Szombathy, Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
Willendorf Venus c. 28,000 BCE – 25,000 BCE Discovere 1908 near Willendorf, by Josef Szombathy, Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

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

Chapters

  1. Leaving One’s Mark: Taming Powerful Animals Through Capturing Them In Art
  2. Imagining the Next Step: Willendorf Venus or I Will See You Later Tonight
  3. Safety in Group Think, Their Fear of the Unknown and the Extent They Will Go Eradicate Evolutionary Nudges
  4. Wisdom, Truth, and Courage Within: Calibrating Perception, Evaluation, and Emotion
  5. To Be or Not To Be? To Break Free or to Conform?
  6. Tears, Love, and Visibility: The Alternate Universe
  7. The Art Instinct: What Makes Humans Unique Animals?
  8. Art is the Power That Religion Wants: Control the Artists you Control the Mass Psyche
  9. Art Transcends Agendas By Touching Individual Souls
  10. Power Without Wisdom Corrupts Completely: Michelangelo in the Quarry; Postmodernist Malevolence 
  11. Life or Death: Consequences of Integrity
  12. Freedom of the Sublime
Newberry, Where No One Has Gone Before, 2018, oil on linen, 64x46"
Newberry, Where No One Has Gone Before, 2018, oil on linen, 64×46″

Doggie at the Beach and an Aesthetic Musing

Newberry, Doggie at the Beach, 2020, oil on panel, 9x12"
Newberry, Doggie at the Beach, 2020, oil on panel, 9x12"

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.

The Age of Delusion: Jerry Saltz, 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism by Michael Newberry

Jerry Saltz, study for Canto 1
Dielh-Saltz-1976
Saltz circa 1976, in front of his drawings. Photograph by Carol Diehl

Those Who Can’t

“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, study for Canto 1
Saltz drawings for the inside panels of a Canto I altarpiece. Photo: New York Magazine. If this was the work of a 13 year old, I would have to dig deep for encouragement. You would expect a kid to be more fearless, less worried, and less tentative. If I were talking to the kid’s parents, I would tell them that the scratchy quality and ugly color sensibilities might be a reflection of chronic doubt and dull frustration. And if I were the parents, I would encourage the teen to spend time doing something that he had talent for.

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…'”

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