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.

 


Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center

May 5, 2016

Fiery! Sexy! Soul-stirring! The Harlequin Cascade© dance floor at the Kaatsbaan International Center, Inc. at Tivoli, New York rang out in staccato vibrato as heel, toe and full foot stomps of steel striking wood beat out the rhythm streaming from strumming guitars, drums, wind instruments, voices — and yes, bodies — in full synch with the mood, the dynamics, and force of undiluted Andalusian passion that filled the packed auditorium. Although the stage, the hall, was filled with people, each stomp, each body thrust or graceful hand-movement seemed personally directed to me — meant specifically for my engagement, my eyes, my soul, my excitement (I couldn’t keep my feet still) — in short, the performance of Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana at Kaatsbaan was truly spectacular.

Frankly, I was probably as surprised at my reaction as I was delighted. I say “surprised” because I must confess that though I appreciate music and the visual arts, I rarely feel ‘moved’ by dance. I do enjoy classical ballet, but have little tolerance for watching people in long-johns flinging themselves across slippery dance floors or street ‘dancers’ spinning on heads or shoulders on sidewalks. So, not being a dance aficionado, I’m not exactly qualified or knowledgeable enough to critically assess the performance but I do know what it said to me! When the performers danced in unison, it was hard to focus on an individual — when solo, mesmerizing! The dancers — and musicians as well as singers — often engaged members of the audience with direct (almost confrontational) eye contact, as if inviting each one up onto the stage to dance — or challenge — them in performance. As comely (and sexy) as both the men and women were, it was hard to keep one’s seat. Carlota Santana and her troupe travel and perform around the world *— so if they are appearing in your area be sure not to miss seeing and hearing them.

Viva Carloto and her wonderful troupe of performers and viva Gregg Cary and Bentley Roton for their dedicated efforts to bring the culture of Dance to the Hudson Valley through Kaatsbaan!

*Performance at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) May 3-8

 


HUH?

December 20, 2015

MANY YEARS AGO, sometime back in the mid-eighties, Ted Denyer (a Woodstock artist) and I were walking and talking, wandering in the environs of his Mount Tremper studio/home, finally coming to a small bridge where we stopped and hung over the rail to watch the light play on the rippling stream that flowed beneath us. Eventually (of course), our conversation turned to art in general, pursuing the never-ending question of just what the word ‘art’ means. How to decide if it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’? How do we assess it? Who are the ‘genuine’ artists? Who are the ‘fakers’, the ‘charlatans’, the ‘wanna-be’s’? What does it mean, at bottom, to be an artist? Who’s to judge? Why must, or ought, we judge? And if we do so, by what criterion? By who’s principles or standards? The artist’s? The viewer’s? The critic’s? Won’t the artist be ‘biased’? We rambled on for some time and, at one point, Ted commented, “When a viewer goes to a museum or gallery and is ‘stopped’ by a certain painting, he or she usually pauses for a second-look. But when they step closer and note that ‘Oh, that’s a dock with some people walking on it…and there, a little off shore, are small sailing boats’ — when this happens,” Ted continued. “the viewer has stopped looking at the painting and is now looking at the picture.” “So what ‘stopped’ them in the first place,” I asked. “I’m not sure,” he replied. Then suggested, somewhat Jungian, that “Perhaps shapes, colors? Something that attracted some inner, instinctual predilection or past memory?” Hmmmmm. Well, reader, what’s your answer? Is it something deeply buried within our memories or genes that attracts? Something that ‘hits our gut’ or moves our ‘spirit’? Is it, as the artist may suggest, the technique? The play of lights and darks, the brushstrokes, the overall ‘composition’? The price tag? Around the same time that I was rambling with Ted, I visited another Woodstocker, Karl Fortess, a cantankerous curmudgeon whom I grew to like very much (kindred souls, I guess) and who was friends with the Soyer Brothers Raphael and Moses (who once did a portrait of Karl that I own and cherish*), Jack Levine, Philip Reisman and other ‘Social Realists’, and while visiting Karl I rather off-handedly asked him how long he had been an artist. Karl exploded. “Don’t call me an artist goddam it! I’m a painter! Nowadays, anybody can call himself an ‘artist’ and go out in the woods, pee on three trees, and call it his ‘thing!’ Today canning peaches is considered an artform for chrissake. Won’t be long,” he predicted, “that we’ll see macramé on the Woodstock Artist’s Association’s gallery walls!” Oh, he’s probably been spinning in his grave for some time now, since his prediction has proven oh, so right! So, if Karl wasn’t an ‘artist’ what or who is? Hard to tell nowadays since “artists” have learned that if you can’t make the grade you simply change the rules. You concoct a ‘manifesto’ or new ‘-ism’ so that your work can compete and then get some hypster to drum it up. Must we, in the end, depend on the critic to tell us what we ‘see’, what we ‘like’, whether or not what is displayed is really ‘art’ created by a bona fide ‘artist’? I was once at an exhibition of the Italian Impressionist Giovanni Boldini at the Clark Museum in Connecticut, when I overheard one woman tell another, “I know I shouldn’t like this stuff, but I love his work!” Shouldn’t? Huh? What many ought to realize is that all ‘criticism’ or ‘judgment’ — or whatever you want to call it — is nothing more than opinion (I’ve harped on this before, too). Granted that there is opinion and then there is opinion — when we feel that sharp twinge in our chest we probably head for a doctor rather than a plumber or our gardener for an ‘opinion.’ Some opinions are simply more valid, trustworthy, more grounded in study, education and reliability. Some people do know what they are talking about. The trick is to choose the right ‘expert’ to lead you, to inform you, to give you confidence in making up your own mind. All I’m suggesting – ‘opining’ if you will — is that fame, hype, and price are not always trustworthy defining factors when it comes to judging ‘art’ and ‘artists’.

*BTW: I also have a bronze head of Raphael sculpted by Rhoda Sherbell, which I also dearly love and cherish!


Selling Art

October 26, 2015

NOT LONG AFTER my novel The Mountain was released in 2008, I had been approached by several people — mostly artists — questioning why I had portrayed my main character, the painter Jake Forscher, as being so reluctant to sell his paintings. Why shouldn’t an artist make a living? Jake (nor I) object to an artist being recompensed for his time, his labor, his materials — but Jake (and I) question whether it is ethically correct for an artist to sell, or make money on, a ‘gift’ that comes to us gratis, so to speak. Like beauty, creative talent comes from outside of ourselves and not from something that comes purely out of our labor (although I really don’t know how much time, money and effort it takes to apply make-up or undergo cosmetic surgery in order to achieve celebrity or praise for how one ‘looks’ rather than ‘does’). Full disclosure, however: My wife does sell my paintings and has been doing so since I began painting about 20-25 years ago, and although I am not fully easy with her doing so, I have not refused to let her do so. For instance, I’ve been a participant in the Annual Saugerties Art Tour for about 5 years and have been present as sales have been made over those years. Yet, it still makes me feel somewhat uneasy seeing my landscapes being taken away, not only because they have come to me unbidden, but because they sort of serve me as a visual diary of how nature affects and inspires me. Often the urge to capture a moment of sunlight heightening a view of my surrounding field and woods often comes ‘out of the blue’ but also from a source that remains a mystery for me. Such moments usually come when I am having a case of writer’s block and need to unclutter my head of words — thus, a moment of an inspired depiction of ‘where I am’, a diary moment that begs to be visually recorded, a moment I can look back on in a future meditative mood. That someone else is ‘moved’ by these personal records is as confounding as it is pleasurable for me. Recent comments such as “your landscapes capture where the heart wants to rest* and “your landscapes sing!”* warm my heart — but ought I ‘market’ them? Sell them? Put a price on them? Take money for sharing what is not properly mine to sell as some kind of tangible commodity? Neither Jake nor I are unique in our feelings about selling what was never ‘ours’ to sell. Many, many artists I have met, profiled and/or critiqued over the years have shared their own misgivings. I recall one vivid memory of spending an overnight at Pier Augusto Breccia’s Rome (Italy) studio, when being wakened by the smell of cigarette smoke. Unbeknownst to me (or Cornelia who traveled with me), Pier came from home to his studio during the late night to make a painting that had suddenly insisted on emerging. We walked next door to his adjoining studio to find him sitting back from a large painting on his easel, smoking and shaking his head. When he heard us approach, he said, “From where does it come? It is always a mystery!” Breccia is world-renowned for what he calls his hermeneutical paintings. Yes, he sells them (at the opening reception we attended a number of years ago at the Palazzo Venezia more than 3000 attended!) but he still doesn’t know where they come from! And, neither do I! Still, art has been sold for thousands of years, and still selling since we’ve totally turned it into a commodity and treated it as a product rather than as an instance of creative insight. Not surprising, I guess, since we’ve denigrated the concept of “divine inspiration” and managed to turn colors and shapes spread (or poured) over a flat surface, piles of debris on gallery floors or urine in jars into ‘art’. Thoughts?

* Letters from Rebecca Monroe of Troy, Montana and Sara Jones of NYC, NY, respectively.