My Son’s Movie

Here’s the trailer for my oldest son’s independent film, Between Blood & Virtue.  It’s posted on You Tube, I believe.  He’s still working on completing the film itself, but a trailer is a very good start.  I couldn’t help posting it.  Please bear in mind, he and his friends made this at age 18.

Karen Gutfreund, San Jose Artist

Standing Figure _1.JPG

Standing, by Karen Gutfreund, Mixed Media on Board

I met Karen Gutfreund while giving my seminar in Palo Alto.  In fact I met many great people who have since written.  I was very impressed with Karen’s work, so showed it to a client in Boston.  They haven’t responded yet, but whatever they might happen to think of it, I like it a great deal.  I’m most drawn to her abstractions, but posted this image of figure just for fun.  Coarse yet elegant.

Santa Monica Pier, Santa Fe Next

IMG_1450.JPG

IMG_1452.JPG

While in LA, I took the boys swimming near the Santa Monica Pier.  There were several gay couples on the beach, with no shyness about their mutual affection.  This was a surprise for the boys.  I mean they’ve known gay kids in high school, and their mother and I have always emphasized open-mindedness, but they’d never seen men making out in public before.  It was something of an education.

The only bad thing about the CA trip was we didn’t get to spend enough time in NM.  Think we’ll head for Santa Fe next month.  I have business to do there anyway.  That’s a good enough excuse. 

You know, after all the struggles of the early years, the art biz is turning out to be a pretty good way of life.  But I wouldn’t repeat the first decade for nothin.

Crap, I’m 50

Shaw_George-001.jpg

Turned 50 this week.  A friend who beat me to it, good old Jeff Novack, said, “Don’t worry, man.  The trade-off in wisdom gained is worth the gradual loss of youth.”

Yeah, well I don’t doubt the wisdom part applies to Jeffrey.  Ain’t so sure about me.

Maybe I can pull off that eternal youth thing, like George Bernard Shaw above.  But he’s got two things on me already: vegetarian and he didn’t drink.  Well three actually: he was also a genius.

Wonder Bread vs. Seven-Grain II

wonderbread1.gif californiaclubhamsandwich1.jpg

(Note:  This is the conclusion from last Friday’s Post.) 

When I was in grade school, my only experience with art was when, two Thursdays a month, the volunteer “Art Lady” would come to our class, and in an uninspired nasal tone, discuss Monet and Van Gogh.  She looked tired and bored, and frankly bored us, but at least she was trying, which was more than the district was doing.  The Shawnee Mission District, in which I was educated, spent a lot of money and time promoting athletics, while budding artists—writers, painters, musicians—were left with the dregs of the budget (the district has done a much better job since). 

My mother sensed the injustice of this, and tried to give us a cultural grounding that she herself had not received.  This was at the same time–1967–that she discovered yoga and meditation, when fried food and red meat began to disappear from our diets, when concepts of positive thought were reinforced to us on a daily basis.  Her journey, and the one she took us on with her, is a curious tale, but I have no room to discuss it here.  I’ve done that through a different book, Cool Nation, that likely one day will see print.  In fact it covers the crazy journey of my whole family—the innocence of the early ‘60s, the intervention of the Vietnam War, the draft, the resulting disasters, the drug addictions, suicides, and eventual redemption.  That is a different story.

But that quiet woman, who our Leave It To Beaver neighbors thought nuts, gave us an opportunity to explore individual growth and creativity that we otherwise would have been denied.  I’m not saying that it didn’t come without a price, only that it opened a door.  It was also at this time that all Wonder Bread disappeared from our house, replaced by the seven-grain that she bought at the health food store in Westport.  It was not long after that, in 1970, that she made each of us read Jonathan Livingston Seagull and related books.  She even asked my father to read it, which he did, then tried very hard to keep from mocking it, at which he failed.

My father, a bare-fisted contractor from the Ozarks, was mildly shocked by these changes, but did his best to change in pace with my mother, hoping that if he did, it would save the marriage.  It didn’t, a heartbreak from which he never really recovered.

Why do I mention this?  Because in cities all over the country, at that same time, other men and women were making similar discoveries for themselves and their children.  If they hadn’t, the renaissance we’re currently enjoying would not be taking place.  Many of them did it at the price of ostracism, cruelty, and damaging gossip from narrow minds.  But for those who understood the worth of integrity and growth, none of those things mattered as much as the opportunities for change.

Even then, this notion of rebelling against a conformist society that was so unenlightened, was limited mostly to the middle class and universities.  In the inner cities, especially among non-whites, the impact was minimal, since those people were largely concerned with all the civil rights they were being denied.  They had bigger, more pressing, fish to fry.  These cultural changes would gradually be felt there too, but it would take decades for the substance of this to have any impact.  And even then—meaning now—the impact for non-white artists has been minimal.  

If you think it’s hard for a white artist to succeed, think of what it’s like for a black or hispanic artist, especially women.  Hard?  Hell, it’s nearly impossible.  Why?  The art world has for long been the province mostly of white males.  I don’t know that this restrictive imbalance has necessarily been the result of any intentional plan; more I think it’s the outgrowth of how our society is structured.  I mean, I don’t know a single white artist who would intentionally wish to deprive a non-white artist opportunity.  But still the deprivation is there.  Later, I’ll get into this fact in greater depth, and what many people are doing to try and change it, including myself.

But back to that house in the Kansas City suburbs, to my mother the seeker, my father the loving redneck, and the confused children they raised.  Had it not been for the sacrifices of my parents’ generation—during the Depression, World War II, and after—we, the succeeding generations, never would have had the leisure or means to explore this new art world.  Had it not been for the questioning nature of women like my mother, we would never have known that that world existed, and would have morosely gone on eating Wonder Bread for the rest of our lives.  My hat is off to that generation on both points.

Were they art collectors of any great magnitude?  Rarely.  They were rightly concerned with prosperity and safety.  Had I gone through the same hell that they endured, I would have been no different.  Their idea of art was a framed poster, or a cheap engraving of an English fox hunt.  For them, The Depression was still quite real, and for those who saw battle in the war, the nightmares never ended.  Just because they didn’t discuss it, didn’t mean it wasn’t there.  Art had no real relevance for their lives.  The members of their generation who were passionately interested in abstraction, impressionism, or figure, were so rare as to barely be visible—understandably so.

How do I know this?  No only did I grow up among this generation, but when I opened my gallery, I tried to sell art to them.  I tried to sell it to them as private collectors, corporate collectors, any kind of collector—often with negative results.  They would look at the work, maybe compliment it, usually criticize it, then drive off in their Cadillacs.  

Few of them understood that their refusal to become involved in the arts, instead of allowing themselves to be intimidated by same, was holding back the cultural growth of an entire nation.  And laud them while I do, I never once forgot that this was the same generation who did their level best to crush the Civil Rights movement, and all attending movements–at least the majority of them.  I admired these people, and was grateful for their sacrifices, but never was I deluded into believing that they were The Greatest Generation.  There is no such thing.  Along with their valor, I remember their bigotry, their harshness, and their general lack of involvement in their own kids’ lives.  They were certainly a great and heroic generation, with both their virtues and their flaws–like any generation.  And I will always laud them.  Without their sacrifices, I would never have had the privilege to become the writer, and art dealer, that I am.

But that generation is gradually passing.  Now the reins of the country are in different hands.  This generation, again because of the sacrifices of those who preceded them, tends to be better educated, more interested in the cultural world around them, and less inclined to be shocked by nonconformity.  I mean Cadillac recently ran a series of TV ads with background music by Led Zeppelin.  Cadillac?  This should tell you something.  The generation now in charge is juiced by the suggestion of nonconformity.  Even if their lives are conformist in nature, they don’t want to be seen in that light.  In fact the byword for everything now, even at the executive level, has become Cool—for better or worse.

What does this mean for you as an artist?  An entire new market has opened up, facilitating the renaissance that is now taking place.  This means that no matter where you live, you can develop a viable career that works with this market, grows from it, and sows mutual benefit.  How?  Oh I’ll get into that in plenty of depth later, but first I have a few stories to tell…

Japanese Translation?

アートビジネスを粘り強く成功するためのガイド

 P1060040.jpg

「情熱とともに賢明で洗練された実用的なガイダンスと知識。率直な内容は夢中にさせる。」-ジム・リーディー氏 カンザスシティーアートインスティテュート彫刻学科

「この本はおもしろく、価値の高いガイドで、アーティストにとって熱望させる内容である。文献は知ってくべき作り上げるプロセスである。」-マレイ・デッセナー氏(ペンシルバニアアカデミーアンドファインアート、絵画講師

A friend of mine in Tokyo, Sachi Noto, has begun a translation of Artist’s Life.  She sent me the first section, part of which I reprint here.  Of course for all I know this is lifted from a Jackie Collins novel, but Sachi says it’s the real deal, so I believe her.  She works in some software joint called SMRJ, but is an artist at heart.  Highly literary. 

A Japanese book tour?  I told her to wait until my new book comes out.  Whichever book, I wouldn’t mind having sushi in the country that invented it–after I climb that Fuji thing.

Steel, Glass, and the Ghosts of Armordale

IMG_1572.JPG

Shot this yesterday at Union Machine over in KCK.  These guys fabricated an armature last year for our glass installation at University of KS Hospital.  They’re doing more for us this year, only this ugly beast isn’t an armature.  It’s an overhanging structure that will be invisible, yet from which a graceful ribbon of stainless will hang.  From that we’ll hang 3000 lbs of blown glass.  I’ll name site and project later.

Sound complicated?  Let me tell you, after meetings with the artists, engineers,  architects, fabricators, and suppliers, it is.  Just glad to get it done right.  Those rednecks at Union, who remind me so much of my dad and his shop, do everything right. 

My old man’s shop was in Armordale, in the Kaw Bottoms, not far from Union.  He taught me a lot, from welding to framing to loving and cussing.  His assistants–Harlan, Eugene, Kermit –were hard on me when I was a teenager, but in a kind way.  They’ve all passed now, yet I think of them every time I go in that shop.  Without all they taught me, these projects would be more daunting and much less fun. 

Anyway, it was good talking this thing over in the morning sun: the rural accents, the smell of welders, the bad coffee, the jokes.  Those guys always love coming to see the artwork when it’s done, often with quiet pride.  We love showing it to them.  Somehow, I get the feeling that my dad, Harlan and the others are with them–and just as proud. 

Matt Kirby’s Lunch and Learn at Block

New Picture.png

While I was in CA, good old Matt Kirby taught a Lunch-and-Learn at H&R Block regarding his sculpture, The Bean Counter.  How did this piece come into being?  Well I mentioned to Matt, “Why don’t you make some Rube Goldberg thing that counts a bean when you turn a crank?  I mean it’s an accounting firm basically; they’ll love it.”

He said, “Great idea.  How will I do it?”

“I ain’t gotta clue.  You’re the genius, not me.”

As I’ve said repeated times, any bonehead can come up with an idea.  It takes true talent to make the idea work, as in this case. 

The piece is far more complex than it looks.  Every object, whether sculpted or found, has meaning.  The beehive is an ancient Egyptian symbol for prosperity.  The antlers are a similar symbol from Nordic culture.  The quote from Emerson speaks for itself.  The random journey that the bean takes with each revolution is like life itself.  The numerical sequence that the bean drops through adds up to pi.  And all this just scratches the surface.  Also note, the piece is 5′ square, same proportions as the Block logo.

I gather they loved the performance.  I was at Stinson Beach digging the water and avoiding Great Whites about the time he gave it.  Oh well, I’ll be sure not to miss STRETCH’s gig in two weeks.

Friday Tips: The American Renaissance Now, and What it Means for You

wonderbread.gifcaliforniaclubhamsandwich.jpg

Wonder Bread vs. Seven-Grain

(Note: This is excerpted from a book I’m working on now) 

When I was growing up in the Midwest in the 1960s, cultural life, if it existed, seemed to me like the Wonder Bread we were expected to eat: bland, devoid of originality, lacking in passion.  For years I thought this was confined to my part of the country, but as I began to travel in the ‘70s, I learned it was a national malaise.  Then when I went on my book tour in 2006, speaking in 60 cities from New York to LA, I learned that the malaise had existed in even the more “sophisticated” regions, from Westchester to Orange County.  Only in certain pockets in certain cities—The Village, Central Chicago, North Beach—had it been any different.  Oh every city had its art movement, no matter how small, but the impact this had on the rest of each city was virtually nil.  These were isolated enclaves whose participants were generally written off as weird.

Now however this country is going through an artistic renaissance unlike anything in its previous history.  In fact the same can be said of Canada and Australia, and to a lesser extent Western Europe (they’ve already had their renaissance).  Now in every region—the Midwest, the South, the Far West—artistic creation is assuming a life of its own outside New York in all the arts, not just visual.  In fact this has been going on since the late ’90s.  What does it mean?  For painters and sculptors who for years were told that if they weren’t showing in SoHo, they didn’t count, the story has changed dramatically.  

The art world is no longer centered in New York, but as been dispersed across the country.  In Austin, Tampa, Columbus, San Diego, and hundreds of other cities, new work is being created that could easily pass muster in New York.  Furthermore, collectors in each region are beginning to realize the new sophistication that is growing in their regions, and are participating—though not without encouragement from the galleries.  Ditto regional art centers, high schools, junior colleges, universities, arts commissions, and virtually every other entity involved in the game.  

These organizations, and the people who staff them, have worked quite hard at effecting this change for years.  The beauty of it?  Their efforts are paying off, though history may not recognize the fact for awhile yet.  With or without that, you can benefit from this renaissance now.  That’s why dealers like myself have labored such long hours, and risked so much, in promoting the artists of our region: we were tired of being frozen out by the closed world of New York.  Fine, we created our own art world, and are now poised to benefit from it.  So are you. 

(I’ll finish this section next Friday.)

Gloria Baker Feinstein and Her Blog

nelson3jpg.jpg

 Embarrased.jpg

Well, I only recently realized that someone around here is blogging as much as I–and doing a better job of it (just don’t say I admitted it).

Gloria Baker Feinstein covers a range of topics on her Blog.  Needless to say, her photography looks pretty amazing too.  Above are two of my favorite shots: one of the recently expanded Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, the other of some cute kids that she photographed for Operation Breakthrough.  Quite some woman.