Lester Goldman at Block


I discovered an old Lester Goldman painting in storage at H&R Block.  It wasn’t this same painting, but was of this period in his career, being a figurative piece from the early 70s.  In fact these two models were in it.  I think it says something about the national mood at the time.

I never knew Lester, who passed away a year ago and was greatly admired across the country.  Even so, I feel honored to have found the piece, and to have made sure it went in a prominent location.

A Young Man Dies in Iraq

I met him when he was 14.  His mother ran a day care where my kids went after school.  Like us, she was broke.  She was also overworked, with no husband.  Sometimes this boy, who was older than the others, got out of control.  Sometimes the day-care kids would mimic him.  This made the mother frantic, so one day I went to talk to the kids.

I remember them–boys all–sitting on the worn sofa with me.  I humored them, praised them, then grew stern, as they were wearing the woman out and I wanted it to stop.  They listened, especially this kid, since no man was involved in his life, and all boys need that, just as they need love, praise and discipline in measure.  Anyway they corrected their behavior, and life went on. 

That boy was too old to play on the ball team I coached for the younger kids, and too old to hang out with them.  He had his own circle of friends.  I rarely saw him after that; sometimes at the park or market.  We’d talk briefly, and he’d move on.  I knew he needed guidance.  And while I helped provide that for my ball players, or the kids in our social circle, he was beyond my reach.  Then, before I knew it, he disappeared into an adult.  Then he joined the army. 

He died two weeks ago in Iraq.  Roadside bomb.  It haunts me every day.  I still remember the kid on the sofa, and the hungry way he looked up to me.  Sure, I’ve helped dozens of kids since then, many of whom had no father, many of whom went on to have great success stories.  But it’s the ones you didn’t reach that hurt.  I don’t know as he needed my guidance; he seemed to be doing just fine on his own, and that was reassuring.  I just wish I would have had time to know him better.  Either way, I’ll go to visit his mother this week. 

The losses pile up in this war.  For what?  Profit, primarily.  This, among many other reasons, is why I wrote the script: to try and make a difference.  We’ll see if the Hollywood Machine will let me.   

Depression: The Artist’s Malaise

Not until I was well into my thirties, did I realize that I had been suffering from some form of depression since childhood. Depression was so much a part of my nature that I never bothered to examine it, or its causes. Instead I simply assumed that it would be my life-companion, that I was something of a freak, and that I’d just have to make the best of it. I hadn’t known anything different, and therefore had no reason to believe that I would ever experience a life lived otherwise. On top of this I was a bit neurotic, being a writer, but that seemed to level out over the years, as have many of my insecurities. As a writer, I’ve had the advantage of working out my problems through the millions of words I’ve written. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Well I’m not a freak, and never was. Neither are you. The truth is, most of the human race suffers from depression in one form or another. For some it’s merely an occasional bout, fleeting and brief; for others it’s of greater duration, making even the simplest tasks onerous; for still others, it’s so crippling that it makes life itself an impossible burden. Coming from a family of two suicides and its share of emotional illnesses, I suppose I know a little bit about depression of that severity.

In comparison to people who are severely, or clinically, depressed, my own case would have likely been considered mild. It never seemed mild to me—hailing from the background that I did, and the virtually insane adolescence that I experienced—but that’s because I was the one living it. It’s also because I, in my youthful bouts of self-pity, mistakenly believed that my life was hard to the point of being unendurable. Of course I had a lot to learn about that which is truly hard, and all the things that actually are endurable.

Does this mean that my difficulties were easy? No. There is nothing easy about being branded a “loser” as a child, emerging from a virtually insane adolescence, writing in obscurity for two decades, with almost no one to believe in you but yourself, and still raise a family, open a struggling gallery, juggle the threat of bankruptcy for years, care for all the people you must, daily battle your darknesses, and nightly gain what rest you can. That isn’t easy. Life isn’t easy. If it were, we wouldn’t learn a thing in the process of living it.

But there are far worse conditions to live under, and those are endured by the bulk of the world’s people, in the bulk of the world’s nations, every day: in China, Russia, Iraq… In comparison to those impoverished conditions, as well as the misery that so many people endure in our own country, yes, my case was indeed mild.

When did the depressions first begin for me? I think when I was about eight, when I first realized I didn’t really fit in anywhere (as most artists don’t), and was terrified that I never would. By the time I was thirteen, this condition made me feel unworthy. By the time I was fifteen, it, and other difficulties, drove me into bouts of erratic and destructive behavior. By the time I was eighteen, I’d resolved to deal with my shortcomings through hard work, aggression and arrogance. By the time I was twenty-one, I realized that the arrogance had backfired too, that I’d driven away most of my friends, seemed incapable of making new ones, and felt farther than ever from finding my place in the world. I couldn’t carry on a conversation, couldn’t seem to snap out of my inner darkness, and didn’t feel truly alive. What I did feel was unwanted, untalented, and without purpose. My depressions deepened.

This led to my first breakdown, which I experienced in college. I still remember the hallucinations, the killing despair, the inability to get out of bed, eat, or even answer the phone. Any thought of going to class wasn’t entertained, but thoughts of suicide certainly were. That is until I read Nietzsche: “The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets successfully through many a bad night.”

Why didn’t I take that final step? I guess in the end I realized I just wasn’t made that way, and decided to try to accomplish something with my life instead. So I finished with college and hit the road, structuring no career beyond that of the wandering artist, throwing everything I had into the writing basket. Unwise move? Perhaps, but ultimately there are no half-measures in art. It’s either all or nothing. That’s part of the insanity of it. It’s part of the beauty too.

That first breakdown shadowed me, and everything I did, for two years: it followed me to California, Alaska, and Connecticut, forever with me, never letting me relax. Then I had my second breakdown, in a dark winter in a cabin in New England. I won’t go into what happened that time, or how long it lasted, but a friend helped coax me out of it, and eventually taught me something about the worth of bearing one’s burdens with a certain stoicism.

That was in 1983, and that was my last breakdown. Now? I suppose I’ve been humbled too much, have accomplished too much, love life and art and people too much, to ever go down that road again. I’ve learned the essential trick of never taking myself too seriously. I’ve learned to approach life with humor and gratitude, as well as with a determination to never let personal events, or disasters, destroy my essential optimism—an optimism that has been earned through, and tempered by, considerable adversity.

How did I manage to leave the darkness and come to live in a world of light? I’d love to tell you that story, but that would be a book in itself. Besides, I’ve never fully defeated my depressions; I suspect I never will. At least twice each year I still go through a pretty bad bout, and each time it lasts for a couple of months. But from experience I know that the depression will eventually lift, and that I only have to be patient, and keep my artistic vision intact, in order to emerge from it. It helps too that I have many people who count on me, and who look to me for guidance and kindness. I suppose you could say that many of those people love me, but the only reason they do is because I’ve worked so hard in giving to them—a thing that I value even beyond my work (well, as much as my work, which is going pretty far for an artist).

Why have I told you all this? Because I want you to know that if this is one of your difficulties, you’re far from alone. Depression is a common malaise, even more common among artists. I mean look at what you’re up against: nobody needs your work; when you’re unknown, no one wants it; for years you’ll struggle to emerge from the amateur level to the professional, and even then people will be largely indifferent to the thing you create; you’ll have to surmount enormous odds to ever make a living from your work; you can’t walk away from it because it won’t let you; you have to create, even if it kills you; and the whole time you’re trying to give this gift of wonder to the world, the world doesn’t hear you because it, for the most part, doesn’t speak that language. Who the hell wouldn’t be depressed?

But take heart. Consider how fortunate you are to have your talent and vision, when many people don’t even know the deeper meaning of vision. Consider how fortunate you are to feel alive. That is nothing to be depressed about. That is cause for jubilation.

I know there is no general prescription for everyone’s private nightmares, and I would be a fool if I believed I could assuage them through the writing of this simple post. Still I urge you to solve your difficulties as best you can, whether on your own, with the help of a therapist, or just the support of those who are close to you. By doing this, you’ll grow stronger, and be better able to give to others–surely one of the primary reasons for our existence. From inner strength comes good work. Good work can also come from suffering, loneliness, heartbreak, and anger, but in the long run the best work will come from inner strength. Strive for that. You can attain it if you’re willing to pay the price of earning it.

Jurying the Brookside Art Fair


I was invited to help jury the 2007 Brookside Art Fair, which we carried out today. Think it’s glamorous? Oh yeah: 11 hours of viewing images in a windowless room, working straight through with few breaks, everyone exhausted at the end, hungry, ready to go home. Despite this, we kept the humor and energy levels high, no one complained, everyone remained focused.

How do you jury submissions? Simple: stay open-minded, treat every submission (1400 in this case) with respect, and don’t only jury on the basis of what you like. Sometimes disliking is important. So is intellectual assessment as opposed to intuitive–depending on the nature of the work.

Did I jury for this just as I would for a corporation or my gallery? No. This was for an art fair, and serves a different purpose. Either way, I’m sure it will be a success–again.

Too late to go swim laps now, damnit. Well, we’ll dream up something.

The Illusionist / Making the Rounds in LA

Watched The Illusionist with my wife the other night. What a relief to know that quietly intelligent films like this are still alive and well. Was really taken with the performances of Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, and Jessica Biel. Equally taken with the directing and writing. My only concern? There’s a dude applying for a job at my gallery who looks disturbingly like the villain in the flick.

What about my script? Still making the rounds in LA/NY. Don’t want to drop names, as that seems idiotic. It’s getting praised all over the joint, but no one’s stepping up to the plate yet. This could go on for the rest of my life, or end tomorrow. Well, I’ve plenty to do either way.

Robert Wright and the 2007 Kansas Inaugural

Red, by Robert Wright

I adore paintings that are powerfully direct, and need little description. Hence good old Robert Wright. Encaustic. Red. It doesn’t get much more direct than that.

The modernists at the 2007 Inaugural loved this piece. I’m not sure the masses did, but they probably wouldn’t like Ives either.

Where does that leave me?

Beethoven, Sebelius and Ives

My wife and I went to the Kansas City Symphony last night. Perfect evening for it: cold outside, heavy snow falling, a hush upon the city. Inside the Lyric it was warm and packed and full of symphonic magic. There’s something about a crowd in a concert hall in winter, especially when the woman beside you takes off her coat, reveals a beautiful backless dress, and settles into her seat.

Beethoven’s 5th, Sibelius’ Violin Concerto (amazing damn performance by Barnabás Kelemen), and something by Ives. Naturally I’m big on the former two. Have never been able to get my head around Ives, which makes me a disappointment to my Connecticut friends, but we all have to disappoint someone.

Friday Tips: Artist’s Biographies

Meant to post this Friday. Posted it Saturday instead. Apologies; busy week.

Artist’s Biographies:

If you haven’t yet accomplished enough to make for an impressive resume, you can simply write a bio, which can often be a mild combination of the two. Below I’ve listed a typical bio, this for a woman in my gallery–Kim Casebeer. Due to her relative youth, Kim’s accomplishments don’t yet rank with those of my older artists, but I know in time they will; her work has a sophistication that goes beyond her age. But for now she needs a bio that simply reflects her skill, and uniqueness, as a painter. Accomplishments of greater significance will come later.

Kim Casebeer
Kim Casebeer has been working as a professional artist since 1995. While her primary subjects are the Flint Hills, New Mexico, and Wyoming, her work focuses not so much on a particular place but on dramatic use of color and light. This has brought her to be placed in collections in San Francisco, Aspen, Kansas City, Phoenix, and several other cities. She is especially passionate about interpreting skies at various times of day and year.

Kim received a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Kansas State University, and is a member of the Oil Painters of America, the Pastel Society of America in New York, and the Mid America Pastel Society. In 2007, her work was featured on the cover of the book, “Not By Bread Alone.” In 2006 she was featured in an article in The Artist’s Magazine. In 2005, 2004, and 2003 she juried into the Pastel Society of America’s 30th Annual exhibition, held in New York.

Kim has exhibited in several juried competitions such as the Oil Painters of America Central Region Exhibit in Estes Park, CO; the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters in Jackson, WY; and the American Women Artists exhibit in Santa Fe, NM.

Kim has also been featured in numerous one-person shows and exhibits at Leopold Gallery in Kansas City, Galleries West in Jackson, and Meyers Gallery in Scottsdale. Her work is in several private, corporate and museum collections.

If you can glean any ideas of how to write your bio from this, please feel free to do so. And please notice that Kim has made a point of joining the various societies that reflect her media. This may not appeal to everyone, but if you can gain membership to an oil-painting, bronze-sculpting, or glassblowing society, it can only help your credibility, assuming that the society is credible. Believe me, if you ultimately want to make a living from your work, this can only help. But for all you more rebellious artists for whom there is yet no society–well, you probably wouldn’t want to join one anyway. So, form your own.