There is Still Hope

January 7, 2018

In spite of the severe downward turn in our culture — especially evident in our “modern” tastes in art — it is still my privilege to continue meeting artists who refuse to follow the latest trend in ‘isms’ and carry on the struggle with those elusive and inscrutable Muses that guide the hand in producing, not commodities, but genuine “art” that enhances life. (What an idea! Buying and/or collecting ’’art” for enhancement rather than investment!)

I know I use terms that several of my readers deem pompous and I must admit that many of my ideas come from extensive traveling and reading; I’m the product of lower-class, poverty-threatened folks from Brooklyn and my “culture” was largely gleaned from the streets of our neighborhood and, later (at the age of 12) on a dead-end road in the woodlands of the Catskills. Trips to museums, libraries, etc. were never on my parent’s calendar, nor were books a part of our lifestyle. Art was not on the curriculum of any of the schools I attended, so I had a great deal to learn. My first “awakening” occurred when I was drafted into the US Military and discovered that not all people were raised as I was raised or learned what I learned. Stationed a full year in Germany, and all I ever visited were popular beer halls! Later, and still in the Service, I discovered a library on the Canadian base up in the arctic (Fort Churchill) that I was assigned to for one year. As we were “guests” of the Canadian Air Force, we were closely monitored — so no alcohol (or women) — ergo, plenty of time for the well-stocked library available to all of us on “isolated duty.” Never having been much of a library-goer, it took me some time to learn my way around. Previously an occasional “Mickey Spillane” follower (when and if I picked up a book), I had no idea what treasures awaited me once I got used to turning pages. Having 365 “isolated duty” days on the tundra sans alcohol and women looking me in my oft frost-bitten face left me literally little choice — but once started, I voraciously ‘ate’ my way through, first the art history section, quickly followed by ancient history, world literature and philosophy.

Although rather haphazardly read at the time (I thought that Plato and Dostoevsky were contemporaries), all would be organized, expanded and clarified when I finally started college in my early 30s, concentrating on those very fields of study and finally receiving my B.A and M.A. in Liberal Arts. I taught English in Public School and a short stint at College over a period of about 14 years, then co-founded ART TIMES with my partner, Cornelia Seckel, putting my full concentration on art — writing Artist Profiles, and either reviews or critiques of art exhibitions. Although I never ‘took’ an art class, I was drawn to the subject since the only “talent” that survived my Brooklyn upbringing was being able to draw, sketching on the living-room floor long before I started school. So, already familiar with pen and pencil, after absorbing some art history I was drawn to learning about other mediums and the creators behind the work; hence ART TIMES and my profiling of artists. Living near Woodstock, New York, I had a veritable plethora of artists nearby to visit and started writing about artists some years before we founded ART TIMES in 1984, freelancing my work to various local newspapers and eventually, with ART TIMES as a base, broadening my scope to profile over 200 artists from the U.S. as well as from abroad — Germany, Italy, China, and so on. Supplemented by my critiques, reviews, traveling, lecturing and further reading, yes it is probably true that I sometimes come across as “pompous.” And yes, I am “set in my ways” — or passé, to many “modernists” — still quoting Bernard Berenson (as above) and his theory of “life enhancing” art, still inclined to agree with Oscar Wilde and his claim that America went from Primitivism to Barbarism without having passed through “Civilization.”

Yet, the real truth is that in spite of my last 40 years dabbling in “art”, the only inconvertible ‘truth’ I have discovered is that opinion rules and that no one has yet discovered an authoritative definition of “art” — me included since my “knowledge” is only based on endless page-turning and tramping around the world. Some, in fact, have even declared that “art” is dead! Not even my picking up of brush and palette knife some 20 years ago to paint landscapes, all I am “sure” of is that I try to “reproduce” three-dimensional Nature on a two-dimensional flat surface. So the “pomposity” is probably nothing more than a smoke-screen trying to obscure my ignorance. All that said, however, does not nullify my opening remarks, namely that I still have the privilege of meeting “artists” — who, more often than not, are struggling to come up with their own definition of what it is that they are doing — (I try to avoid the glib ones, who sound too much like salesmen and bloviating agents. Art, already a communicative language in and of itself, is largely un-translatable and meant to ‘speak’ for itself (humans were making pictures on walls long before they made words and sentences). In the opinion of Edgar Degas, literature ((i.e. words)) only did “harm” to art, and readily agreed with his friend, the writer Jules Renard, who wrote, “When I am in front of a picture, it speaks better than I do.”* So, to all of you still fighting the good fight, I urge you to continue ignoring all the gobbledygook. I wish you warm and pleasant Holidays and a continuing success in your struggle — you have certainly enriched (and enhanced) my life for a long, long time.

 *Cf. Julian Barnes “Humph, He, Ha”, London Review of Times, Vol. 40, No. 1., Jan 4 2018.

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Blog # 12 Rome, Beijing, Cologne, Swindon Wiltshire – England

October 18, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. 

Italy: Rome: Standing in the center of St. Peter’s, I have, perhaps for the first time, an inkling of eternity.

China: Beijing, Tianlun Dynasty Hotel, 50 Wangfujing Ave.: From my room in this luxurious hotel, I look down many floors below to where construction on the street is taking place. Workmen in what appear to be dress black suits, sockless and in tennis shoes, handling jackhammers, shoveling dirt. I am told that every day many thousands come from the provinces to work in the city. Where are the hard hats? The work boots? From the same window, I look down into a nearby hu tong. A different world! Hard to reconcile my hotel room with such squalor and cramped living quarters. I am told that many of these community compounds have been destroyed to make way for new prosperity. A way of life perhaps best gone. But how do they feel?

img_8321Germany: Cologne: During dinner at the Jarczyk’s, Heinz asked me if I liked opera. He was amazed when I told him that I had never been to one. He immediately rose from the table and went to the phone; I understood enough German to know he was asking about what was on and getting tickets for the four of us. That weekend, I saw Carmen at the Köln Opera Haus: a story about a Spanish woman written by a Frenchman with German “sub-titles” moving across the bottom of the stage. (At one point I had to smile at the running translation when, at the point Carmen is ridiculing Don Carlos for attending to duty rather than running into the mountains with her, it incongruously read “Don Carlos, du bist ein Dummkopf!”). At intermission, sharing champagne, I said to Heinz that I was still trying to get it together that here I was, a kid from Brooklyn, attending an opera in such plush surroundings. When we returned to our seats, he handed me the playbill with his finger indicating where I should look. There I read that the actor playing Don Carlos was from Brooklyn, and that the second female role was played by a young woman from Staten Island!

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England: Swindon Wiltshire: Came upon a “round-about” (traffic circle) that was a maze of entries and exits, so many that we circumnavigated it several times before we finally got off — of course, it was the wrong one. Told later that Swindon was the town where the roundabout inventor was born! I wonder if they ran him off!


Raymond J. Steiner owns up

October 7, 2017

ALTHOUGH IN RECENT issues of ART TIMES I’ve not contributed much in the way of profiles, reviews, or critiques on the current art scene, “art” is seldom far from my thoughts and interests in what’s ‘going on’ out there. I see the announcements, daily receive press releases and, though I avoid the telephone, my Publisher and Partner Cornelia Seckel keeps me apprised of the more than many phone calls from galleries and art-reps who advise me “you gotta see this show!” Truth is, I frankly don’t see or hear about many exhibits that I oughtta see. It’s true that my health and stamina are on the decline and I rarely travel other than to present myself to the growing list of MDs that I oughtta see, the market — and I emphasize the work market—rarely entices me to take up my time to travel there to browse their wares. Too many modern ‘isms’, trends, ‘hot’ exhibits, and such on the present art-scene leave me aesthetically, intellectually and spiritually cold and totally uninterested at the core. Don’t get me wrong—I know there are good artists out there (I know many of them and try to keep in touch), but the hyper-bloviating successfully keeps them in the dark and drowning in the deafening noise of ‘what’s new!” Those of you who’ve followed me through our 30+ years of publishing know my feelings about the deluge of political-based, gender-based, race-based, self-expressionist-based—the whole range of “ism”-based—‘art’ that has overwhelmed plain, old art-based art. I have always believed that art ought to be life-enhancing and not a mere political tool. Artwriters no longer dare to even define what ‘art’ is. Pundits such as Danto have already pro-claimed that ‘art’ is dead. So my dear artist-friends who still attempt to put heart, spirit, and meaning into your work, don’t stop fighting the good fight. History moves on…it always does…and genuine appreciation of culture will come back, and maybe I can’t travel much anymore and you’ve been left in the dark, but if not you than your work will see the future.

 

By Raymond J. Steiner


Taking Stock

March 12, 2017
Cornelia Seckel in July of 1984 laying out Vol. 1 No. 1 of ART TIMES. The porch windows served as a light board.

Cornelia Seckel in July of 1984 laying out Vol. 1 No. 1 of ART TIMES. The porch windows served as a light board

Although, when Cornelia and I co-founded ART times back in 1984, we did not set ourselves up as a not-for-profit entity, we soon discovered that de facto, regardless of our intent, it would indeed be a not-for-profit enterprise. For the 30-odd years we’ve been in ‘business’, beyond keeping ‘afloat’ and meeting our basic needs, our income over expenses has been extremely modest. Lately, however, we’ve ended up “in the hole” (as, in fact, a great many publications and newspapers have been failing for the same reason in recent years), not covering our expenses for some time, periodically supplementing ART TIMES with loans from our modest savings when necessary to meet our obligations.

More than once over the years — and especially during the last few — we’ve been asked why we stay in business. We look at each other, at the questioners, and mostly just shrug. But, Yes! Why do we continue? Our answer sounds a little corny — even silly, perhaps — but to put it into one word, the answer always was and remains: altruism. The word, derived from the Latin alter, meaning “other” (cf. e.g. ‘alternate’, ‘alternative’, ‘alter ego’, etc.) was perhaps not in our minds at the time, but the truth of the matter is that neither of us were typical “businesspeople” — Cornelia was a teacher, counselor, and networker while I was a teacher, poet, and essayist. So “making money” — beyond a “living” — was not foremost in our thinking/planning/creating an ‘arts journal’. Our primary goal was to create a forum for the arts, specifically a publication that would further, bolster, promote and broadcast the cultural riches of our region — a project that Cornelia would physically “make happen” and that I would edit and contribute to. After putting together a mock-up to “float” out into the world in the early summer of 1984, Voila! Volume 1, No. 1 of ART TIMES came “hot off the press” in August. We did it! The “artworld” was pleased and readily supported its production from the outset. Our resultant travels to art exhibitions, conferences, lectures, museums and culture venues across not only America, but to Europe and Asia as well, became business expenses that not only contributed to the success of ART times but greatly enriched our (and our readers’) lives. We saw places and met people that we most likely would have never experienced if not for our creation of ART TIMES.

However, as ‘enriched’ as we felt culturally by being able to support our travels, we never thought of including a regular weekly “salary” for either one of us, content to get along on covering the basics of every-day living.

Cornelia Seckel and Raymond J. Steiner. A toast as the last ink on paper issue of ART TIMES is done.

Cornelia Seckel and Raymond J. Steiner. A toast as the last ink on paper issue of ART TIMES is ready to go to the printer.

Altruism, although admirable…even desirable…is, however, not quite cutting it lately. Our resources have been rapidly dwindling, and in the Summer of 2016, in an effort to “stop the bleeding” we moved from publishing in print to a digital-only presence; by doing so we not only eliminated our major costs of printing and shipping, but the move also resulted in our getting our advertisers out to a global audience.

Still, perhaps a little bit of ‘business sense’ would have been helpful back then when we sort of rashly took the plunge. Thankfully, our readers and supporters have rapidly responded to our situation and we are so grateful both for their encouraging words and advertising dollars. Any guesses of what’s on the horizon?


Global Warming

February 14, 2017

OK­­­, THEY’VE BEEN back ‘n forthing for some time now about this “global warming” stuff with no indication that they’ll ever reach agreement. Does this cause it? Or this? That? Wait a minute! Does it really even exist? Some claim that it’s simple science. Others, that it’s ‘junk’ science—or no science at all. Well what is it? Who ought we listen to? What ought we believe? Since it’s still “up in the air” (pun definitely intended) ought we care at all? And, if we should care who or what do we point our finger at. An industry? A person? T he truth is, folks, that the case for global warming has long been settled at least as far back as Nineteenth Century France—to be exact, during the heyday of the plein airistes. Any dedicated studio-encased painter could tell you way back then that it was those nutty outdoors ‘painters’ opening their toxic tubes of alizarin crimson, cadmium yellows, Prussian (i.e. ‘fascist’) blue and sap green being brazenly opened in the ‘pure’ light of day, contemptuously contaminating the atmosphere. Those committed indoor artistes were not taken in by the fancy label of plein airistes—they were unabashed polluters of our air and the real culprits of causing the global warming of our endangered planet. They even exported their evil abroad, the so-called “Hudson River School” in America, for example, avid followers of this misguided practice. Surely, we all are doomed to the inevitable curse of being made ‘toast’! So there! Hereby resolved! Fini!

colors

LET’S SAVE OUR PLANET AND BAN OUTDOOR PAINTING!


LET’S MAKE “GREAT” GREAT AGAIN!

February 7, 2017

WELL, HERE WE go again…some “visionary” wants to put his/her name on the world stage, engraving his/her name “in stone” for prosperity. We’ve been digging up such graven stones for some years now— even publicizing them in more modern ways such as “histories” written in print, for example — but the “posterity” business seems to constantly elude both givers and receivers of the message. In other words, the invariability of our having to re-live “history” because we ‘forget’ it. Would that our present-day pundits would read a book or two before declaiming their stupidities to the world at large. Such ‘mouthers’ — at times called “wise men”, or “prophets”, or “soothsayers” – even “oracles” — have plagued mankind for, lo, these many centuries, with their silly utterances. Oh, would that they pick up a book and read. Let alone our present “leader” and his proclamation of ‘greatening’ again (Oy! Another prophet! — Is that the sound of knickers twisting that I hear across the land?). Meanwhile we have to listen to another sooth-saying pundit announce to us that such proclamation sounds “Hitlerian”! Really! Read a book for gawd’s (or, better yet, our) sake! If anything, it simply sounds redundantly and embarrassingly human! Centuries before that dim-witted Austrian yelled “Deutschland uber Alles”ˆ, ancient egoists had been chanting similar absurdities thousands of years ago…and their predictions (“proclamations”, “warnings”, “fantasies” “greatness” claims, even “Divinity” at times ((really bad times))…whatever)…were as valid then as they still prove to be—namely, nothing but bulls—t.

Dreams of former “greatness” will undoubtedly not only plague Putin, but scores of new blowhards as well. You don’t think that Iran ever hearkens back to the Persian worldwide empire? Or Italy to its Roman Empire days? Or Greece (now one of the weakest/poorest members of the E.U.) to “back in the day”? How about France and the hey-day of Napoleon? Spain — when its tentacles reached across the Atlantic? Brits and their colonial “Empire”? And how about Native Americans and their attempts to hold sway over our blasphemous ‘immigrant’ pipelines? Let’s not even talk about the “religions” and their claims of coming “on from High.” Oh yeah! Let’s make America “great” again! As one former would-be ‘leader’ once said, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘great’ means” — or something like that.

How about we try this time to make our species “great”? That’s never been tried yet. Instead of trying to make our tribe “great”, how about we begin to make mankind great by learning something about our entire history? How about we take a long, hard look at that word “great” – or maybe even the word “human”?

READ A BOOK!

 


Zero to One Hundred

August 18, 2016

(Some notes on the Saugerties Artists Studio Tour 2016)

 

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Raymond J. Steiner and a visitor during the Saugerties Artists Tour

Well, for those of you who already put up with my complaints (spoken or written. See, e.g. October 2013 Online “Peeks and Piques!) and frankly tired of it, here I go again. As I’ve done for about the last 10 years (+ or —), I — or more strictly, Cornelia — signed up again for the Annual Saugerties Artists’ Tour, allowing my inner sanctum to be once more invaded by visitors from near and afar over a weekend (this year, Sept 13, 14). An ‘isolatoe’, a hermit, a curmudgeon who cherishes solitude and isolation (why I live on a dead-end road in the middle of nowhere, for God’s sake!), I am never easy with more than one or two visitors at a time — and preferably none. Cornelia tells me there were about 50 people on each day…hence my ‘title’ above. A writer who enjoys daubing landscapes when the dreaded “block” halts my thought process (more and more often, I’m afraid), I am not entirely easy to ‘strut my stuff’ for the curious…my “oeuvre” therefore is merely a personal catalogue of my writer’s block “breakthroughs”, a ‘diary’ of sorts of where my head was at that time. As you’ve all heard ad nauseum, I’m a writer and NOT a painter… so I won’t bore you by droning on and on…again. Rather, I’d like to admit (full disclosure here) that almost every time I succumb to Cornelia’s urging (and threats of no dinner) I often am treated to some ‘upsides’ during the ordeal — collateral boons, you might say. For example, some old friend ‘pops up’, or a niece or nephew — in this case, a brilliant ex-student who himself became a teacher due (he says) to “my” ‘influence’. So, it wasn’t all downhill this time — in spite of the 3-day headache that followed the weekend (including right now as I write this thing). Anyway…a few of my ‘diary entries’ managed to sneak out of my sanctorum. I hope they bring the respite they gave me when I daubed them.

High Woods, NY, 8/17/2016.