Sunday, March 12, 2006

Art History

My career as an “Art History Teacher” is over. The “No Child Left Behind Act” has caught up with me. Not “Highly Qualified” to teach Fine Arts; my class, my students, and my lecture notes and materials will be passed on to another with the proper paperwork. I am now “relegated” to teaching History or Biology. As is always the case, I learned far more from the classes I taught in Art History than from the ones I took at the University. I am inclined to give a last lecture, or if you will, a last discussion, on what a dozen years of teaching Art History taught me.

Twentieth century Art, perhaps all Art, comes down to Rockwell and Picasso. Some summers ago, while prowling a secondhand store in Rexburg Idaho, I found a 1960’s *Life* magazine totally dedicated to Pablo Picasso. I bought it; along with a swivel chair for my desk at camp.

Back at School that fall, my magazine got shared around the Art Department and I had to go fetch in from a colleague. As she handed it back to me she said, “I just love Picasso!”

“No you don’t.” I replied.

She was indignant! “I do too!’’ she insisted, “I know what I like.’

“No, you really don’t.” I explained, “You’ve been told you’re supposed to like Picasso, so you say you do. It’s like a five year old standing at the pulpit at testimony time and saying, “I know the Church is true.” I could practically see her “mother” standing behind her.

She was angry with me for weeks. I finally apologized for hurting her feelings, but it was the truth that hurt!

In 1995, ten year old Alexandra Nechita astounded the world with the “genius” of her painting. She was proclaimed the “Child Picasso”. Nechita pumped out a Picasso every few days and sold them to California decorators for tens of thousands each.

A couple of springs ago *CBS’s 60 Minutes* amused viewers with an even younger Picasso prodigy. A four year old “genius” named Marla Olmstead that smeared out Picassos under the direction of her father. He father was an “artist” who couldn’t sell his own efforts. Again, the frauds were gobbled up as prices as high as $24,000. These young “artists” are more like Picasso than they, or the “art world” which worships them, would care to comprehend.

As one who has spent a life time aspiring to Art, I can understand what happened to Picasso. Picasso’s father painted pigeons and taught Academic Art. Pablo tried to learn the rules, but his malevolent habits and lack to talent presented an insurmountable obstacle to the creation of beauty. Picasso tried, in fits and starts, throughout his life to master the basic rules and techniques that would have made Art, but he never paid the price requisite to be an artist. Instead, Picasso discovered a substitute for mastery, fraud. He stumbled upon a “frantic relativism” that was searching for a physical manifestation; a rebellion against all order, including the natural laws of beauty. Picasso jumped on the bandwagon; he soon found himself in the catbird seat.

Norman Rockwell, in a deliberate choice, left high school to attend the Art Academy. His natural talent and desire to master the principles and elements of art soon enabled him to produce works of quality that were in demand throughout his life. Rockwell was never out of work; his creations captured the truth of human experience and the beauty of the human soul. Rockwell also met the fanatic relativism attacking the laws of art, the rebellion of modernism. His art stood as a massive barricade to the avalanche of rule breaking and denial of truth in beauty. The screaming of the driven mob, the testimonies of children, challenged his resolve but never daunted his genius.

With the Twentieth Century now history, many have been told that “modernism” and Picasso will be the artistic legacy of that age, that Picasso was the great artist of the era. But a careful study of Picasso’s efforts reveals the folly of a century that sought to find foundation in fraud. Norman Rockwell’s works will stand; not only representative of that century but as manifestations of the human spirit; created by a master artist who’s own soul is evident in the soul of his work

Picasso was told throughout his career that he was a master artist but Picasso knew he was a fraud; he lived and died a miserable man. Rockwell was told throughout his career that he was “just an illustrator” not a real artist at all but Rockwell knew he was. He lived a full and happy life.

As humanity matures, the recitations of infants will lose their sparkle, the truth will out. The older but wiser world will look at Picasso’s productions and see the fraud. They will look at Rockwell’s art and see the mastery; mastery of eternal laws and principals that testify to the truth and beauty at the heart of the Twentieth Century and the triumph of the soul of the greatest artist of that century, Norman Rockwell.


Anonymous said...

Well it looks like No Child Left Behind got something right.

Odd that you say - with some stern sounding authority that "Rockwell was told throughout his career that he was 'just an illustrator' not a real artist at all but Rockwell knew he was." Especially since Rockwell titled his 1960 autobiography "My Adventures As An Illustrator" and makes very clear that he feels the title fits him perfectly. I guess this is another wrinkle that you never bothered to investigate since it does not flow well with your myopic estimations of history.

In fact, Rockwell spent his life longing to create high art but never dared. It is a theme he himself mentioned many times in his life. Some one better qualified to teach art history might have known that.

Burn your notes Lysis, even the tireless and in depth research you did on Picasso with Life Magazine. Save who ever has "the proper paper work" the trouble. It is only kind.

Lysis said...


I would say that “No Child Left Behind” has gotten many things right. I am particularly pleased with the increased accountability of teachers and the improved performance of students. I am compensated for the loss of my Art History class by the five semester sections of American Civics I’ll be teaching. I am particularly gratified to know that the last thing many of the seniors graduating in ‘07 will be taught in High School is how to find the truth from themselves as they take up their responsibilities as the Rulers of America.

As for Rockwell, he understood some things you obviously do not; irony and sarcasm. As Rockwell demonstrated throughout his life, there is nothing “just” about being an Illustrator. His life and work as an illustrator provide great works of fine art. In his self- deprecating way Rockwell’s autobiography says, “I am an Illustrator” and since I am a great artiest that makes illustration great”. Many of the true artists of the 20th century made their way as illustrators. These include: Frederic Remington, Charles Russel, Winslow Homer, Howard Pyle, N. C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, J. C. Leyendecker (my favorite and Rockwell’s mentor) Charles Dana Gibson, Howard Chandler Christy, and James Montgomery Flagg, (The painter of Uncle Sam Wants You poster.) Rockwell knew he was the dean and master of this great tradition. Among my favorite Rockwells are his self portrait where he paints the self portraits of Rembrandt, Durer, Van Gogh, and Picasso, and then portrays himself masterfully three times in the painting. Another is his “Jackson Polik” which shows a bemused gallery patron looking at a Polik painted by Rockwell. The painting, a masterpiece, is a direct dare to Polik – Rockwell is saying, “I can paint like you – let’s see you paint like me”. He knew Polik never could, dream of it as he may.

So your claim that Rockwell never daring to attempt “high art” was made a joke by Rockwell’s actual works. One thing I did learn as an “Art teacher” was to judge artists by their work, not the childish testimonies of the agenda driven critics. In the case of the truth about Rockwell, I am at least more qualified than you. 

Don’t expect me to say amen to your trite little attack on Rockwell or on me, I can see your mother standing behind you.

Reach Upward said...

I have never studied art. I can only speak to what is meaningful to me and what isn't. Lysis has wonderfully captured how I have long felt about 20th Century art. Any Picasso-like work evokes something within me akin to becoming physically ill, while Rockwell's works speak to something comfortable and familiar within me.

One of my favorite forays into art was a visit to a showing of Charles Russell works. Among the works displayed was a letter he wrote to a friend in the U.S. while attending a series of art shows in France. Russell's sketches in the body of the letter are exquisite, but I also loved the homey dry wit of Russell's writing in that letter that added a depth to the artform that I can't fully describe.

My workplace recently remodeled its main lobby. It is no longer a faceless 1960s style building. Now it's a faceless 21st Century building that includes many modern art paintings that look like so much technicolor vomit smeared on canvas. It seriously detracts from the company's message.

I may be a rube when it comes to art, but I know what feels right and what doesn't. Some might argue that the stuff Lysis calls fraud is great art because it is thought provoking. Unfortunately the thoughts it provokes are akin to what one feels upon finding a container of three-month old stew in the refrigerator.

Lysis said...


One of the failings of those who see power in the works of the “Art Frauds of the 20th Century” is that they mistake nausea for emotion.

Silver Lining said...

I am glad Civics has made its way back into public education. I have been talking about the lack and want for an American Civics class for 14 years now. So, Lysis, I am sorry for the loss of your Art History class. However, I don't deny how utterly pleased I am about this new class.

Strategos said...

Concerning contemporary artists.

Many contemporary artists are complete frauds their works have no real themes or emotions. In fact one of the major themes of Post modernism is that the task of creating meaning is the job of the viewer not of the artist. I think it is possible for intelligent creative people to look at a meaningless piece of post modern art and draw from it an excellent truth or emotion, but the credit goes to the viewer not the artist, you could say the viewer is the real artist.

Concerning Picasso

I don’t think Picasso as much of a fraud as some of the artists his movement spawned. Art is communication, on that level I think Picasso could be considered an artist. His painting Guerin for example does convey emotion, there is pain and despair and the viewer feels that. Of coarse a child’s tantrum conveys emotion, but it could hardly be considered music.

Concerning Rockwell

Calling Rockwell an illustrator is like calling Tolkien a fantasy writer, or calling The Chronicles of Narnia children’s books. These titles are accurate and certainly not degrading, but Rockwell, Tolkien, Lewis, and all truly great artists transcend their genres and become universal.

Anonymous said...

Socrates: My meaning is certainly not clear at the first glance, and I must try to make it so. For, when I say beauty of form, I am trying to express not what most people would understand by the words, such as the beauty of animals or of paintings, but I mean . . . the straight line and the circle and the plane and solid figure formed from these by turning-lathes and rulers and patterns of angles; perhaps you understand. For I assert that the beauty of these is not relative, like that of other things, but they are always absolutely beautiful by nature . . . .

Cubism and abstract art are the expression of these ABSOLUTIST point of view in the aesthetics of the twentieth century -- Pablo Picasso pioneered many twentieth century artistic movements; CUBISM was one of the most important.

At least, according to Socrates, Norman Rockwell would be the relativist and Picasso the absolutist!!!!

However, It is absurd to BASH either of these two GREAT artists or their work. What is gained, on either hand, through such a factionalized and divisive interpretation of their contributions????

Both artists have been copied, and will continue to be copied, by children and plagiarists of all sorts -- nothing sinister in that; it is certainly the best kind of flattery.

A few corrections -- Picasso was an energetic an productive artist through the age of 91 (also, very rich). Norman Rockwell was equally fulfilled up until the time of his death (also very rich)

To belittle Picasso's technical accomplishment and merit is just terribly ignorant!

. . . another example of Lysis' penchant for creating arguments from ignorance!!!!

Anonymous said...

Abstract art is art of the imagination -- if Reach looks into HIS imagination and finds "puke" and "moldy stew", I think he will have been measured!!!!

Reach Upward said...

Perhaps so. I said I was a rube when it came to art. I admit that I find nothing beautiful and inspiring in most of what passes for modern art.

You accuse me of being unimaginitive. But simply because I find negative imagery instead of beauty in a work does not mean that I lack imagination. I simply imagine it as something different than you do.

I have yet to see any work of modern art that inspires the same kind of majestic feeling I get when walking through the lodge pole pines around the Lake of the Woods. But I have seen other art that does inspire this type of feeling.

So, go ahead and call me an uncultured swine. Given the context, I will wear the title proudly.

Strategos said...

I think, in its broadest sense, art is not about form or order or even beauty for that matter, art (like testimonies) is not in the head but in the heart. Most modern art, including Picasso, cannot be judged by it’s form, order, or perfection, in fact many modern artist deliberately disregard these conventions (either because of lack of talent or lack of interest) All art must be judged by its ability to spark a response within a viewer. Whether or not a response is sparked has very little to do with the artist and even less to do with what the art takes. Here are a few personal examples

1. For years I was unimpressed with Michelangelo’s David, I could tell it had form and balance, but to me it was just another statue of some naked Greek. Once by mere chance I happened to see a close up picture of David’s face and the anger mixed with powerful resolve spoke to me at that moment. Because of my state, either circumstantial or emotional, at that particular moment, I connected with that piece of art. It had nothing to do with Michelangelo’s artistry it was the emotion that mattered.

2. William Carlos William, a modern writer, addresses this issue directly in his poem The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

I have always been a fan of classic literature and poetry so for a long time I neither understood nor enjoyed this poem. Then one day it hit me, so much depends upon the wheelbarrow not because of what it is, not because its powerful or beautiful, but because in a brief moment for some reason it touched Williams, and inspired him to write. In exactly the same way the poem is not important because of what it is or how it is formed but because for a moment for some reason it touched and inspired me.
In another poem, This Is Just to Say Williams writes,

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

This poem IS nothing more than a note to his wife, but it CONVEYS his love, regret, and complete lack of real guilt. It’s the idea that is important not the form.

3. One of my dearest friends professes to be a great lover of music. However he has become so obsessed with form and accuracy, that he has developed distaste for music that he used to enjoy, music that he used to connect with. He looks at music not as a lover but as a critic. He cannot see past the form to the real emotion. The goal of a true modern artist, and yes there are many frauds, is to eliminate the form entirely so that the emotion can be seen more clearly.
4. To follow Lysis’s metaphor, but sadly to disagree with his conclusion, lovers of modern art know they like the art the same way a child can know God loves him. Not because they have studied and recognize the complexities of their faith, not because they can recognize and understand the order and beauty of the universe and God’s plan, but because they feel the emotion behind it. (I agree there are frauds, children who speak and do not understand) but those children or adults who really do feel and act not on bias or instruction, (these are things of adults and art critics) but on true feeling, can bare the purest and truest testimonies. From emotion, not form or training, come the truest art, the truest artists, the truest art lovers, and the truest testimonies.

Lysis said...
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Lysis said...
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Lysis said...

Pushing the wrong buttons has cost me a couple of hour of work. I will attempt my specific comments to Reach and Strategos in the morning, but I have some cogent articles I want to share highlights from tonight.

First – from *Newsweek*, May 1, 2000, an article by Rita Lazzaroni. (It speaks directly to some of Strategos’ comments.)

“Did A Car Hit It – Or Maybe a Train?”

“On a family outing several years ago, I drove past an office park were a bright red tubular sculpture leaned in front of building. “What’s that?” asked my then 4-year-old daughter, intrigued enough to remove her thumb from her mouth.”

“A sculpture,” I answered. “An artist imagined it, shaped it out of steel and painted it.”

“Did a car hit it?” my daughter asked.

”No,” I replied.”

“Then maybe a train?”

“At that moment I thought of the Hans Christian Andersen tale “the Emperor’s New Clothes.” The story of a monarch tricked into buying exquisite, invisible garments that he wears in a parade, until a boy declares him stark naked.”

“Since the car ride I’ve found myself wondering why adults don’t view art work with the honest, critical eyes of a child. Could it be that the grownups on review boards who approve public projects don’t want to appear unsophisticated? So they commission and give accolades to art works and buildings that any child (or anyone listening to his inner child) would readily say look ugly. . .”

“I recall my first visits to SoHo galleries and performance-art shows. . .”

“I quickly learned art-speak lingo. . .”

“It’s the privy language of the art world that keeps people unfamiliar with the jargon from challenging its concepts. Added to this is the reality that most people don’t want to be taken for rubes. It’s much safer to praise a work by a famous architect or artist than to risk ridicule by criticizing it.”

Secondly – From a Dave Barry piece from Oct. 6, 2002.

“Art to one person is, uh, vision to others”

“Today we have an important art news update from England . . .”

“As you may recall, the last time we checked in on the British art community, it had awarded a major art prize, plus 20,000 pounds (about $30,000) to an artist named Martin Creed, for a work titled “The Lights Going On and Off.” It consisted of a vacant room in which the lights went on and off.”

“Yes. He got 30 grand for that. Why? Because “The Light Going On and Off” possesses the quality that your sophisticated art snot looks for above all else in a work of art – namely, no normal human would ever mistake it for art. Normal humans, confronted with a room containing only blinking lights, would say: “Where’s the art? And what’s wrong with these lights?” . . .

“[Art snots] cannot stand the thought that they would like the same art as the stupid old moron public. And so . . . the art snots have made it their business to like only those works of “art” that are so spectacularly inartistic that the public could not possibly like them, such as “The Lights Going ON and Off”

“Which lead us to a story . . . from the London Telegraph. Here is the key sentence: The Tate Gallery has paid 22,300 pounds of public money for a work that is quite literally, a load of excrement.”

“Yes, The Tate Gallery, which is a prestigious British art museum, spent 22,300 – of British taxpayer’s money to purchase a can containing approximately one ounce of an artist’s very own personal . . . OK, let’s call it his artistic vision. The artist is an Italian named Piero Manzoni, who died in 1963, but not before filling 90 cans with his vision. According to the Telegraph, “The cans were sealed according to industrial standards and then circulated to museums around the world.”

“Now if somebody were to send YOU a can of vision, even sealed according to industrial standards, you response would be to report that person to the police. This is why you are a normal human, as opposed to an art professional. The art museums BOUGHT it. The Telegraph states that, in addition to the Tate, both the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Pompidou Museum in Paris have paid actual money for cans of Manzoni’s vision.”

Thirdly – An article by Kathryn Manzo in *Classical Realism Journal* gives me a chance to combine my contempt for the modern University system with a chance to ogle the naked emperor prancing about.

“In September, 1991, I was returning to New York City from France . . . I shall never forget the conversation I had with an articulate young man who sat next to me. I learned that he was full-time art student pursuing a degree in fine art. He told me that he was required to choose one of several art faculty members to act as his mentor during his four years of study. A good idea, I thought . . . The supportive mental picture I had conjured up quickly dissipated when he presented his next proclamation. “The faculty member I have chosen is an artist whose hands have never touched materials.” For a moment, the comment almost seemed comical had it not been so pathetic, for when I asked him were he attended school, he replied that he was a sophomore at Yale University! In that short instant I felt a rush of pathos as I realized that even one of America’s premier learning institutions had come to believe that the “emperor did indeed display a new suit of clothes.” . . .

“About eight years ago, I attended a lecture given by Mark Kostabi at the New York Academy of Art. For those who may not be familiar with his work, his paintings of juxtaposed, stylized mannequin-like figures were popular in the American art market in the 1980s. A few months prior to his talk, he and his production methods had been featured on a national news show. He used an “art factory” approach to creating work by employing assistants to aid him in his endeavors. Indeed, there is a historical basis for such an approach to “making art,” but Kostabi’s version of the guild master-apprentice system had its own unique flavor.”

“When the interviewer questioned him about his painting, Kostabi admitted that not only did he often not paint the works himself, but on many occasions he also had his assistants compose them as well! . . . During an open question-and-answer session after the lecturer’s talk . . . there were repeated supportive comments from the audience, I couldn’t believe that the serious artists who stood next to me could be so awestruck by his presence as to accept his point of view as valid. The sad truth was, that by putting enough money and hype into packaging, Mr. Kostabi could be positioned as a bona fide painter, even to an audience of prolific artists.”

“. . . I raised my hand and asked Mr. Kostabi how he could call himself an artiest if he didn’t paint or compose his paintings. I vividly remember standing in the back of a crowded room during the seemingly endless quiet and the orchestration of turned heads after I presented my query. Mr. Kostabi chuckled, looked at me and said, “I like that girl, she’s feisty.” Not to be assuaged with the attempt to dampen my inquiry, I told Mr. Kostabi I appreciated his comment, but to please answer the question I had posed. He said, “And sometimes I don’t even sign the paintings. But I am an artist.”

“. . . truth is the daughter of time. Years after the encounter, *New York Magazine* ran an article about conning the ultimate con artist. It seems that Mr. Kostabi was taking considerable litigious action against his former business partner. Apparently the gentleman had hired a group of “assistants” to create so-called original Kostabi works of art and was garnering a considerable sum by selling them abroad.”

Thus we see the fervent testimonies to Picasso’s children; who have been careful taught that if they are wise they will see the Emperor’s beautiful cloths. In reality they have been sold a load of dung.” Or should I say in “privy language” – “Pompidou”

Anonymous said...

Vegimatic Here

This is the second time I have seen this type of survey done with the same result in the last couple of months.

Poll: Republicans Are Happier Than Democrats
Wed Mar 15 2006 10:14:36 ET

The Pew Research Center recently updated a question about happiness that the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago has been asking since 1972.

In every asking of the question, ROLL CALL reports, Republicans have been happier than Democrats.

Republicans tend to be better off than Democrats, and that is one explanation for the happiness gap. But when the researchers controlled for household income, Republicans at all income levels were happier than Democrats at those same income levels.

As for ideology, conservative Republicans were happier than conservative Democrats, and moderate to liberal Republicans were happier than comparable Democrats.

I know this is off topic, put it was interesting that the PEW foundation found these results.

Maybe that is the best explaination of why the anonyomy is so angry and their responses are so funny to me.

Back on topic>>>>>>

Art as in beauty, truth, and goodness is in the eye of the beholder.

During my last trip to Chicago, I went to the Museum of Modern Art. This one I had trouble getting.

A room with different styles and ages of urnials. White ones, colored ones, new ones, old ones, clean ones and not so clean ones,(I wondered if someone got confused that this was art and used the facilities) The only issue I have the the using of TAX DOLLARS to create masterpieces such as this one.


Be Happy:

Be Conservative:

Anonymous said...

Latest national survery results by the PEW CENTER (Strats favorite!)

Bush's over-all approval measure stands at 33%, the lowest rating of his presidency.(It seems not ALL Republicans are happy)

Bush's job performance mark is not about the same as Democratic and Republican congressional leaders; 34% to 32% respectively.

The president's rating for handling terrorism has also declined sharply -- an 11 percent drop since February.

Bush's personal image also has weakened noticeably, which is reflected in people's one word description of the President --"incompetent" is the descriptor most frequently used -- (NOT HAPPY)

Strat still has hope. Obliviousness is a characteristic of BOTH incompetence AND happiness!!!!

Anonymous said...

Sorry Strat if any got on you -- I meant VEG!!!!

Anonymous said...


Vegimatic here again.

Did I mention Bush? I think not.

I know he ignores the polls so he probably is happy as well.

Did the survey mention Bush? No.

So here you are proving the survey right. You are unhappy. :-)

Or should I say WAH WAH.

I posted the results of a survey, you post an angry response with the results of another survey that really does not relate. A survey on a lifestyle, liberal vs conservative. And a survey based on one person. Hummmm does that relate?

Do I have to go out and find a survey not favorable to Hillary. Oops there have been several lately. I am not using them because they do not relate to the first survey that I posted.

Please take your Zoloft now and it will be ok.

Anonymous said...

Have the "happiness" pills for conservatives changed from OxyContin to Zoloft? -- I can't keep track.

To Veg, reporting PEW survey results about the state of ongoing conservative "unhappiness" is to post an "angry response" simply because there can be no conflicts within his obliviously happy world.

Here is another -- some people are very HAPPY when they are most ANGRY -- Lysis, for example. (I mean not to be disparaging)

Veg sounds like an excellent prospect for either the "happiness police" (Junior Posse) or a Walmart welcommer -- big smiling button and a mindless WELCOME TO WALMART!!!!

Anonymous said...

Vegimatic once again

Quoting Anonymous:

"some people are very HAPPY when they are most ANGRY"

That would be you Anonymous.

I know Lysis, I have known him for over 20 years and I am sorry, he is happy.

The only way I know you is through this blog and you have shown that you are only very HAPPY when you are the most ANGRY.

Now that we have that settled, let's talk about art.

Lysis said...

Here’s something for the eye of the beholder. The average of all polls puts Bush’s lowest rating at 38% - Clinton bottomed out, in 1993, with 36%. Clinton’s overall highest rating was 73% in 1999, just before he left office. George W. Bush, top score so far! over 85% in 2002.

Just so you will know; I am happy that President Bush continues to govern with quality in spite of the media ginned up polls.


You misunderstand Socrates entirely. The ideal form’s that Socrates sought through reason; logic and love of wisdom (wisdom is knowledge of truth) were not the lines and squares that Picasso scribbled down. Socrates’ forms represent the absolute laws as applied to each object in the world. Beauty is arrived at as any form approaches its ideal.


You are right; Tolkien is the Rockwell of literature. When, as James Joyce and Picasso are relegated to the dust bin, the true masters, who sought out and portrayed the ideal, will endure. While children crank out Picassos, and phone books pass for Joyce, the achievements of the masters will shine the brighter.


Opinion (not beauty) is in the eye of the beholder. As Anonymous has so amply demonstrated, opinion can be wrong! The truly beautiful will stand the test of time and taste. That is a definition of classic; that is a test of art.

Reach Upward said...

This has been an enjoyable topic. Lysis, thanks for the Dave Barry quote. I loved the column when I first read it. I still laughed heartily when I re-read it yesterday.

One of the elements that makes Barry's commentary so funny is that it rings true. Elitists appreciate anti-beauty as art because it separates them from the common folk. I'm afraid I will always find my art sensibilities with the commoners.

Anonymous said...

Abstract art glorifies an aesthetics of structure just as logic constitutes a science of structure. They are both interested in formalizing and ordring (the one the images of the natural world, the other the modalities of thought and discourse) and they have much in common. Perhaps it is not mere coincidence that the first decades of the twentieth century witnessed the simultaneous growth of abstract art and of symbolic logic. The five years preceding the first World War, when Picasso and Braque made their greatest contributions to the field of abstract art, also produced the epoch-making *Principia Mathematica* of Russell and Whitehead.

Anonymous said...

The above was by Albert William Levi -- sorry!!!!

Lysis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lysis said...

To all of course, but I thought this would particularly ring true to the comments of Reach and Stargoes.

From *Old School* by Tobias Wolf. I wish the entire book was as good as the two pages I will now quote you. It was a good read! But this is the precious and beautiful bit of art in the work!

[Background: Robert Frost is visiting the Private School (some were on the Eastern seaboard) were Wolff’s narrator is a student. Frost has attended a dinner in his honor, read some poetry, and is giving a speech. When he opens up for questions one of the teachers, a new school thinker pushing the agenda of the 60’s asks a question. It and Frost’s response make up the kernel of eternal truth Wolff builds his book around.]

“Your work, sir, Mr. Ramsey said, follows a certain tradition. Not the tradition of Whitman, that most American of poets, but a more constrained, shall we say formal tradition, as in that last poem your read, “Stopping in Woods.” I wonder –“

“’Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,’” Frost said, He put both hands on the pulpit and peered at Mr. Ramsey.”

“Yes, sir. Now that particular poem is not unusual in your work for being written in stanza form, with iambic lines connected by rhyme.”

“Good for you, Frost said. They must be teaching you boys something here.”

“There was a great eruption of laughter, more caustic than jolly. Mr. Ramsey waited it out as Frost looked slyly around the chapel, the lord of misrule. He wasn’t displeased by the havoc his mistake had caused, you could see that, and you had to wonder if it was a mistake at all. Finally he said, You had a question?”

“Yes, sir. The question is whether such a rigidly formal arrangement of language is adequate to express the modern consciousness. That is, should form give way to more spontaneous modes of expression, even at the cost of a certain disorder?”

“Modern consciousness, Frost said. What’s that?”

“Ah! Good question, sir. Well – very roughly speaking, I would describe it as the mind’s response to industrialization, the saturation propaganda of governments and advertisers, two world wars, the concentration camps, the dimming of faith by science, and of course the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. Surly these things have had an effect on us. Surely they have changed our thinking.”

“Surely nothing. Frost stared down at Mr. Ramsey.”

“If this had been the Last Judgment, Mr. Ramsey and his modern consciousness would’ve been in for a hot time of it. He couldn‘t have looked more alone, standing there.”

“Don’t tell me about science, Frost said. I’m something of a scientist myself. Bet you didn’t know that. Botany. You boys know what tropism is, it’s what makes a plant grow toward the light. Everything aspires to the light. You don’t have to chase down a fly to get rid of it – you just darken the room, leave a crack o light in a window, and out he goes. Works ever time. We all have that instinct, that aspiration. Science can’t – what was your word? dim? -- science can’t dim that. All science can do is turn out the false lights so the true light can get us home.”

“Mr. Ramsey began to say something, but Frost kept going.”

“So don’t tell me about science, and don’t tell me about war. I lost my nearest friend in the one they call the Great War. So did Achilles lose his friend in war, and Homer did no injustice to his grief by writing about it in dactylic hexameters. There’ve always been wars, and they’ve always been as foul as we could make them. It is very fine and pleasant to think ourselves the most put-upon folk in history – but then everyone has thought that from the beginning. It makes a grand excuse for all manner of laziness. But about my friend. I wrote a poem for him. I still write poems for him. Would you honor your friend by putting words down anyhow, just as they come to you – with no thought for the sound they make, the meaning of their sound, the sound of their meaning? Would that give a true account of the loss?”

“Frost had been looking right at Mr. Ramsey as he spoke. Now he broke off and let his eyes roam over the room.”

“I am thinking of Achilles’ grief, he said. That famous, terrible, grief. Let me tell you boys something. Such grief can only be told in form. Maybe it only really exists in form. Form is everything. Without it you’ve got nothing but a stubbed-toe cry – sincere, maybe, for what that’s worth, but with no depth or carry. No echo. You may have a grievance but you do not have grief, and grievances are for petitions. Not poetry. Does that answer your question?”

“I’m not sure – but thank you for having a go at it.”

“You wouldn’t have guessed, seeing Mr. Ramsey settle back with a smile, that he’d just been stepped on by Robert Frost in front of the whole school. He had been my fifth-form English teacher and though I hadn’t liked him I did find him interesting, just as I’d found his question to Frost interesting. But many of his students though him a pseudo [as in phony] for his high diction and his passion for complicated European writers. They had surely enjoyed this little show.”

So much of “Modern literature and art pretends to be “a special reaction to a NEW WORLD, in truth they are just lazy and agenda driven.


There is much beauty and truth in “abstract art” But it must be art; and as Albert William Levi says, beauty is based on form[alizing] and ordering; on approaching the Absolute Form. But Levi is wrong in crediting Picasso with any contribution to true art. Like many in pseudo-art and pseudo-philosophy, Picasso was a fraud. He appeals, not to those who seek truth, but to those, like the “pseud teacher” in the story above, who are pushing an agenda. All ones needs is a TRUE artiest, a master in painting like Rockwell; in literature like Tolkien; in Philosophy like C.S. Lewis or Socrates; like Frost in poetry; – and all the scribbling is reduced to kid’s stuff; all the words to cans of dung.

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Vacinnium Finch said...

We will find happiness as quickly as we are willing to enjoy living?

Last night we gathered in our friends' small basement apartment. My wife, our son, and I attended our first meeting of the Journal Writers' Club. We were elected as workshop coordinators. The meeting consisted of nearly a dozen people ranging in age from 14 to 30. We wrote together and shared, if we wanted to, from our journal entries.

Along with the fresh glazed donuts, the permiating laughter filled me, all the way home, through the falling snow, we were happy.

In an evening with our friends, a moment of reflection and creativity. We're we great writers? No. Was that the point?

Experession is perhaps equal to life. Our spirit awakens in reaching outward.

Beef Jerky said...

I just put a bumper sticker on my 4Runner that says, "Save the rainforest - burn a liberal." I feel so wickedly naughty, but in reality I only did it to combat the ridiculous anti-Bush bumper stickers I see on practically every car at the U. At times they are so far-fetched that I swear I can see the driver's mother sitting in the passenger seat....

Anonymous said...

One of the three main currents in the art of the twentieth century, aside from expression and fantasy, is CUBISM, the abstraction of FORMS. Certainly one of the greatest artists to lead the new century into this new mannner of depiction was Pablo Picasso -- Picasso began Cubism during the period between 1907-1914 -- effects of this movement were eventually felt in sculpture and architecture.

Once again Lysis would rather preach than teach -- we find out NOTHING about Cubism, Abstract Art, nor Modern Art from a recitation of his prejudices -- only a GREAT DEAL ONLY about Lysis' predilictions for Rockwell over Picasso and Frost/Tolkein over other nameless "pseudo poets and writers" Lysis would rather students be confounded with his bias than enlightened with information to make their own choices -- how elitist and anti-democratic!!!!

I do not agree that art is competition like "shirts and skins" and being chosen first. I relish Rockwell as much as Lysis without feeling a threat coming from an equal enjoyment of Picasso. Candidly, Frost is my favorite poet, but, I would be impoverished and ignorant to disdain other poets and poetry because of my love of Frost -- I like my "reach to exceed my grasp"

I don't know the context of the Frost excerpt, but if Lysis thinks Frost's poetry is a good example of "rigid formalism" overcoming "spontaneity" he's just incredibly unfamiliar with anything other than "Walking by. . . " Compare the rigid formalism of Keats "Bright Star" with the parody of formalism in Frost's response to Keats in "Choose Something Like A Star" (I really doubt Lysis is interested) Now Frost is known as a traditionalist, above some others, but I have found him anxious, very often, to "break form" for "voice"(spontaneity) -- Frost's "prose/poetry" is avant-garde enough, that "Death of The Hired Man" and "Home Burial" are closer in FORM to a PLAY than a POEM!!!! OK by me!!!!

Lysis said...

CUBISM is no more a current of art that Communism is an economic system. Both are frauds. Pablo Picasso was no more an artist than Lenin, Stalin, or Mao were leaders of nations. Picasso murdered art to maintain his fame. Mao and friends murdered their people to maintain their power. This makes Picasso the perfect type” of the twentieth century deceivers.

I am not rooting for “rigid formalism” only for art – in poetry for the ear and mind, in painting for they eye and soul. I am interested in both Keats and Frost – But the “driveway poets” and the “cubists” are canning crap.

Strategos said...

I taught a music class today there was an interesting quote on the wall

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows."
--Pablo Picasso

I think it pretty much sums up Picasso and his art. Simple, pure, or if you prefer childish and uneducated.

Lysis said...


Picasso might have been born an artiest, but then he grew up to be a fraud. Picasso knew the truth, he was speaking of his on fear, the one he realized.

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