I had the good fortune to major in art at Berkeley. I took classes from faculty members who were part of the post-war Bay Area Abstract Expressionist movement. My paintings reflect their influence.
What is the point of producing artwork in the present moment, or any moment? Western art history has evolved from illustrating the sacred, whatever that may have been thought to be at various points in time, to the present, where it is widely believed that there can be art without content, purpose or meaning.
I majored in Art and in Geography.
I have drawn and painted for nearly as long as I can remember.
I worked several years as an urban planner.
I cannot save the world. I can, however, produce works of art.
There is nothing more important for me to do than to paint.
Modernism is said to have ended sometime in the 1960s. Much that has been written about this alleged transformation is confused, if not nonsensical, and is, in any event, unhelpful to artists trying to situate themselves in the 21st century. A refreshingly useful exception is the work of Hans Belting, particularly The Invisible Masterpiece, and Art History After Modernism.
In Invisible Masterpiece, Belting chronicles the history of the idea of the masterpiece, and how its significance changed in the Renaissance as the role of art changed from religious explanation to individual expression. Belting describes the diminution of the importance of a tangible artwork to the point where it is claimed by some that a work itself is unnecessary.
He describes the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1913, and how it contributed to the commodification of the painting, a process aided by Duchamp’s mustache and goatee re-creation.
Belting also discusses conceptual art and other manifestations of what is sometimes referred to as post-Modernism.
Duchamp, in the end, reasserted the primacy of tangible works of art. He provided detailed instructions for the posthumous completion of an installation titled Étant donnés, on which he’d worked for many years. (Invisible Masterpiece, 329-32). I visited the Philadelphia Museum to view Étant donnés, and the supporting exhibition that depicts the production of the work. Click here to see the museum's description of the piece.
A work of any kind is currently considered acceptable, from painstakingly executed technically demanding pieces to ephemeral actions requiring neither technical competence nor creative risk. An artwork can even be imagined.
This period is, I believe, most accurately understood to be a continuation of Modernism, rather than, as is widely said to be the case, the end of Modernism followed by a succession of postmodern categories of artistic expression.
An example of the range of approaches an artist can take is illustrated by Alfred Leslie’s career, which extends from the end of World War II, to his death on January 27, 2023, in New York.
Leslie produced a large oeuvre in a variety of mediums — several series of large paintings (from Abstract Expressionist to hyperrealistic figurative), films, watercolors, and large digital paintings.
A supernatural source for subject or content is neither credible, nor is it susceptible to rational discussion.
This is not to say that art has no role in religion, quite the contrary. For much of human history, and apparently prehistory, art has been central to the practice and explanation of religious belief.
My point is to distinguish between the entirely human experience of the artist being inspired by religious beliefs or ideas, and the unverifiable attribution of a divine source for artistic inspiration.
For as long as I have thought about art, I have been aware of, and I have experienced, the subjective apprehension of art and artworks — feelings associated with experiencing art, which I have come to understand as a sensory experience of perception.
Sensory experience of perception is an aspect of religious practice. When one enters a religious building or site, they perceive physical, visual, and emotional, sensory phenomena. Artistic elements – whether images or texts – contribute to these experiences.
In Walter Benjamin: an Introduction to His Work and Thoughts (2004 in German, 2010 in English), Uwe Steiner describes Benjamin’s discussion of Critique of Pure Reason, in which Benjamin quotes Kant to the effect, “ . . . ‘that all speculative knowledge is limited to objects of experience,’ and that we can have knowledge of things only insofar as they present themselves as objects of sensory perception, that is, as tangible phenomena.”(my emphasis)
This passage elegantly and parsimoniously characterizes the act of apprehending artworks as I experience it — perception as a neurological process.
It occurs in the minds of artists and observers. It doesn’t come through the ether from Jung’s collective unconscious, nor does it arrive by the grace of a god, other deities, or supernatural forces.
It doesn’t actually come from anywhere. It is the active experience, at a particular moment, of seeing, hearing, smelling, and otherwise apprehending something. This palpable gob of sensations is an emotional, visceral, and visual experience.
Part of the problem is linguistic and cultural. Central European philosophers, artists, and critics, writing in German, have used a term that expressed spiritual feelings, but without a supernatural dimension.
Geisteswissenschaft, (dictionary definition – history of ideas) is described by George Lichtheim as, “an untranslatable term, since Geist carries metaphysical overtones very inadequately rendered by ‘mind’ or ‘spirit’.” According to Lichtheim, “What Geisteswissenschaft, ultimately implied was the identity of the reflective thinker’s own mind with the Mind whose manifestations lie spread before us in history.” (p. 16, George Lukcás. Lichtheim. Viking 1970).
My impression is that in the German-speaking Central European intellectual world, the subjective experience of apprehending art and nature encompasses a large body of discussion and writing not widely understood nor appreciated in Paris or New York.
These intellectuals, without trying to suggest supernatural agency, produced something in German that, when translated into English, sounds religious, and, as a consequence, is contrary to the sense of the original.
This aspect of Central European aesthetics provides a corrective to the regrettably sentimental, if not mystical, nature of much American thinking about art.
Artwork is the product of an autonomous artist who is not beholden to theocracy or the bourgeois/global market, who is not possessed of a desire to make socially useful art, nor is this individual trying to resolve dialectic tensions.
I strive to create paintings that are products of innate talent, works of art informed by study and practice, works that are mediated by an intensely militant individuality.
I do not rely for a living on the sale of my work.
I am a member of the Edgewater Gallery, an artists’ cooperative in Fort Bragg, California.
I was for several years, a member of the Arroyo Arts Collective in Los Angeles. I served on the board, and on the curatorial committee of the collective.
I served as a board member, and president of the board, of LA Artcore.