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?


…and Winter will be cold as — usual.

September 9, 2016

Well, Spring has sprung, Fall has fell…and Winter will be cold as — usual. Fall, or Autumn, or Indian Summer — whatever you choose to call it — is my favorite time of year up here in the Catskills. I can breathe freely, imagine I can see forever in the air’s clarity, and generally find it the Season to “get it together” since Old Man Winter has mostly kept me indoors these latter years — to sit, to read, to mull, to assess, to look back, to sink even lower into my much-loved solitude and get myself prepared for the next phase of this thing called “Life.” My “doings”— especially those related to my editor/artwriter duties for ART TIMES — have been severely curtailed for some time now — so many exhibition receptions I have missed, so many worthy artists still to be profiled, so much…ah, well.

Perhaps I may even get out to try to capture just-one-more autumnal scene of magical color on a small piece of canvas before the cold sets in, the snow covers all, and I plump up the pillows on my easy chair…another pipe dream, I guess, since here I am in my 83rd year and haven’t managed to do a painting that really “gets it” yet. My usual excuse is simply, “I’m a writer — not a painter!” True, but then I haven’t managed to capture the mysteries of Nature — or of those artists who do get it — in words either.

The “human condition”* sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. Anyway, the dénouement can’t be that far off — I’ve already put in for a front-row seat. Hope I’ve earned the privilege of that much-vaunted overview promised by our theologians upon our “phexit” (physical exit)…however, I’ll be happy with that 6th-century Chinese (Han Yu) poet’s observation: “Better a long-dark silence, than a life full of lies.”

* The best description of which I found in Gaius Plinias Secundus’ (more commonly referred to as “Pliny the Elder”) Chapter 7 of Natural History.

(High Woods, NY. September 2016)


Chi’s Traveling Easel

June 19, 2013

I DON’T REMEMBER when it was, but one day while visiting Chen Chi at his studio in the National Arts Club, Chi passed along his traveling easel to me. It was probably not long after I began painting again after a forty-year hiatus, during which time I wrote about but did no painting of my own. (I had been discouraged from ‘creating’ by a professor at SUNY New Paltz who, after a cursory riffling through my portfolio, declared firmly that what I was showing him “Was not art!” It was my first year; I had just been discharged from the military, and, at that time, knew nothing about ‘abstraction’ ((he was a Mondrian aficionado)) and so I drifted from an ‘art major’ to a ‘lit major’ after this one and only class.) More than a dozen years ago, with the help of my friend Susan Silverman, I picked up the brush again (but mainly the palette knife) and learned through her to concentrate on ­plein air landscape painting. Anyway, Chi had explained that he was “too old” to paint outdoors anymore — he also confided to me that he was also a bit afraid to be out painting alone in Central Park — and gave me the box. Similar in construction to the well-known “Julian Easel”, it had all the necessary fixtures that characterize the usual ‘traveling easel” — in fact, in spite of few differences here and there, almost a twin to the Julian I purchased from Pearl Paints at Susan’s suggestion shortly after she took me under her wing except that Chi’s box had no manufacturer’s name on it — only a small, black, printed “459” stamped inside and a few of his paint smudges outside. Over the years, I’ve alternated using them on my outdoor excursions, sometimes feeling that when I used his, that he was hovering nearby sharing ancient wisdoms with me or guiding my palette knife to go here or there … or sometimes to “stop”. I still have both sitting in my studio, side by side, each “loaded” for my next attempt at capturing “light and time” in my landscapes. But, back to Chi’s gift. The easel is only one of many gifts Chi gave me, the most important being his wisdom, his company and his friendship over the years — yet, there stands the box in my study, which since his death, I’ve stopped using. Not sure why. I have several paintings of his — a recent addition, an early watercolor probably done in the 30’s or 40’s (it is undated, but signed) generously passed along to me by the family of the artist W.H. deFontaine — and several of his books which periodically attract me, most recently his small Two or Three Lines from Sketch Books of Chen Chi (my favorite) which he inscribed to me back in 1994. Two or Three Lines is a treasure trove of drawings, thoughts and observations made by this most extraordinary man that I sometimes linger over and re-read. I feel Chi walking alongside me on our NYC jaunts as I turn those pages — but something else happens when I see that traveling easel waiting for me to sling over my shoulder. Doesn’t make any real sense — and I am far from being superstitious — but I simply cannot open that box. And though I often ‘feel’ his presence when I study his paintings or read his words, it’s something lurking in there that is so much more profound — and which I have been so far unwilling to let free. Silly, I know, but so compelling that I’ve not been able to use that box again. It sits, still fully “loaded” and now with some of my paint smudges mixing with his … waiting in my study with no place to go.


WILL BARNET: IN MEMORIAM

November 20, 2012

Will Barnet signing copies of “Heinrich J. Jarczyk: Etchings, 1968-1998″ at the National Arts Club, NYC. (L to R Will Barnet, Raymond J. Steiner, Heinrich J. Jarczyk)

YES, HE WAS an artist — an American Master, at that — but, for those who were lucky enough to know him “up front and personal”, they know that Will was much, much more than that soft-spoken, elderly gentleman recently honored by the President in Washington, D.C. I was one of the lucky ones to get “up front” and personal with Will — first, back in early 1987, when I interviewed him at his studio at The National Arts Club (his Profile appeared in our pages in July, 1987), that initial occasion leading to many other one-on-one conversations over the years. In fact, it was only shortly after my first meeting with him at The Arts Club, that he proposed me as a member, an association that had proven to be a boon for many years. It was through Will that I first met fellow members Everett Raymond (“Ray”) Kinstler and Chen Chi, both of whom would also become “Profilees” in ART TIMES (Kinstler in 1988 and Chi in 1989). Yes, being a friend of Will’s was a rich experience for sure. When I was asked by Rosina Florio, late Director of the Art Students League of New York, to write an “anecdotal” history of that famous school (she “absolutely” did not want a “dry as dust” narration), Will was one of the people she directed me to interview for “some great anecdotes”. A teacher at the League for some 50 years (he also did stints at Cooper Union, Yale, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, among others), Will graciously invited me to his daughter’s home up in Maine for an afternoon’s “chat” where he regaled me with one League story after another, and more. We somehow got around to talking about the “artworld” in general, and, in particular, art criticism. I asked him how (and when) he thought art critics managed to get such “clout” in present days, given that image-making predated written language (the ‘stuff’ of today’s critics) by thousands of years (Georgio Vasari ((1511-1574)), incidentally, is usually given credit for being the first bona fide art critic). Will did a little frowning and mind-cudgeling and finally looked up and said: “One word is worth a thousand pictures.” “Wha’?” I managed. It was the first time I’d ever heard that old saw turned on its head like that, but he soon explained (Will was nothing if not erudite and able to hold his own in displaying his considerable knowledge about art and its history). “This country was pretty illiterate back in the day, but after World War II, that all changed — many dischargees, unwilling to go back to farms, factories, and ditch-digging, opted for college when they found out the Government would help, so, almost overnight, America’s literacy rate boomed. Women, of course, followed in their male’s footsteps and, lo and behold, the written word became almost sacrosanct…trouble was, however, that though people learned to read, few ever learned how to read art. So, they depended on the word to clue them in on anything they didn’t understand — including — you might say especially — the arts. They turned to the pundits for guidance — what book should I read, what music should I listen to, what movie should I go see — which artist’s work is worthwhile taking up time to stand around and look at? Enter the critic. So, like I said, ‘One word is worth a thousand pictures’. It doesn’t matter if you have a thousand paintings stacked up in your studio unless some critic gives the ‘word’. So, the public figures that if an artist is being written about, well then, he must be worth seeing. It’s gotten to the point now, that people are more willing to believe what some pundit saysthan what some artist creates. In fact, they don’t trust their own eyes, their own judgment about what’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’. They only trust what they read about an artist. And that’s a shame! Ever go into the Met and see how people ‘look’ at art? They look through their ears and not their eyes.” A shrug and a long sigh. I certainly got the point – for sure, he taught me how to be a better critic, a better artwriter, and to be wary about my judgments. In addition to being a good friend, he was a teacher — and I’ll never forget how much he taught me.  Indeed, he went even further to help me along the way, even contributing his thoughts on printmaking for my book on the Cologne-based etcher, Heinrich J. Jarczyk— after having invited me and the artist to his studio where I taped the interview before publication. And, as for his own work, he never slowed down, never stopped learning about his craft (still so obvious when I reviewed his show at the Alexandra Gallery in June of 2002). I’m sure there are a great many “out there” who can contribute their own personal thoughts and memories — the “official” laudatory obituaries have already hit the presses and delivered to the public. Believe me, they only tell part of the story.


PROFILE: CORNELIA SECKEL

January 4, 2012

For the past 35 years, I’ve been writing profiles of notable people — painters, sculptors, musicians, conductors, singers, playwrights — even a mime  — but until now, never a publisher. This one has been long overdue…

AT THE AGE of four, Cornelia Seckel announced to her mother — and the world — her then and future stance: confined to bed with chicken pox, she said to her mother in no uncertain terms, “Dammit! I want to go out!” Bucking the odds seems to have been her modus operandi from the very beginning — a determined and confident risk-taker, her parents had long recognized — and advised others — that she was a self-reliant, headstrong challenger from the very beginning. Raised by socially-conscious and community-active parents in Queens, New York, she learned early on to direct her focus and interests toward improving the world — so much so, in fact, that her parents (her father a lawyer, her mother once a legal secretary and then teacher) were often taken aback by her precociousness. The oldest of four children, she “took charge” early on, directing not only her younger siblings, but often — too often, according to them — her parents as well. Since the day she demanded to “dammit” be let out, the word “No” would not be allowed as a deterrent to whatever path she would choose to follow.

She carried her incipient interests in furthering the quality of life into her school years, taking courses in a variety of both education and liberal arts programs through her college years — a B.A. in Speech Education at Queens College, CUNY and an M.A. in psychology and Curriculum Development at Michigan State University — teaching speech correction and English as a second language at Grover Cleveland High School in Bedford Stuyvesant (between Brooklyn and Queens) and English, Literature, Speech, Dramatics, Reading, Communication Skills, and Life and Job Survival Skills at Sexton High School in Lansing Michigan. Although married by the time she was teaching in Michigan, helping to put her husband through graduate school, Cornelia took on extra-curricular activities such as volunteering with a substance abuse prevention agency (S.T.R.I.D.E.) and working at the Listening Ear Crisis Intervention Center doing counseling, training of new volunteers, and maintaining the resource and reference files.

Her marriage ended in 1976, catapulting her into a larger world of different problems and cultures to face.  After backpacking through Europe, she returned to the States and, living out of her Volkswagen station wagon, began to gather deeper insights into both herself and a society that was just coming out of the hippie philosophy of free love, free living and free choices. Although “peace and love” were the call-words of young people criss-crossing the country, she soon discovered the dark side of freedom when it degenerates into licentiousness. Driving to a rainbow gathering of “love and peace” in Arizona’s open spaces, she was raped by two men who appeared to be fellow travelers. Though the assault took its toll on her psyche, Cornelia Seckel was made of sterner stuff; she escaped from her assailants after breaking the knife they held on her with her bare hands, drove to the nearest police station and reported the crime. Not willing to leave Arizona until she had testified at their trial to see them incarcerated, she then decided to head her Volkswagen back East, trusting to her inner resources and a life of both learning and teaching to get her through and past the ordeal. While visiting Woodstock, New York exploring new places to live, the axle of her car broke and she knew she had come to the end of her travels. Here she would put down roots and fortified with new resolve, settle down to new commitments, new friends, and new community projects to which she could add her now considerable experience and knowledge. Armed with a world of new understanding, her rape now a carefully and deliberately contained “life lesson” that she would not allow to undermine her innate trust in people, she scouted her new environs for ways to apply her skills, her knowledge, her self.

Taking a job as a Career Counselor at the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce, provided her the stability and wherewithal to make it possible for her to purchase an old country farmhouse a few miles outside of Woodstock, where she could wait, as she puts it, “for a real partner to show up in my life”. Now, on her very own 2-acre plot of land where she could indulge to her heart’s content in her love of gardening, she could really “put down roots”. As part of her job at the Chamber, she became part of a group that set about designing a program to provide career counseling, direction, information, resources and opportunities for students. Called the “Shadowing Program”, Cornelia soon became the Director (The Shadow Lady” to the students) and had an office at the Kingston High School where she matched students with professionals that they could “shadow” in order to learn more about the career they were considering after graduation. It was during this time that she designed, developed, and implemented a “Career Day” that quickly became a statewide model. It was also at Kingston High School that, in 1980, she found and married her “real partner”, Raymond J. Steiner, an English teacher who had a classroom directly across the hall from her office.

Although the job provided her an income, it was far from satisfactory insofar as utilizing all of her hard-won skills and she was soon involved “after hours” in several community organizations. Though she found outlets for her energies by volunteering for Family of Woodstock, a Crisis Intervention Center (where she served on shift work, training new volunteers, developing training programs, and on various Board positions), as a spokesperson for CHILD FIND and as a national consultant to Friends of CHILD FIND (both organizations committed to locating abducted children), as well as founding the National Organization for Women (NOW) Chapter in Ulster County, serve two years as Board Member of the Women’s Studio Workshop, serve as a member of the Drug and Alcohol Abuse sub committee of the Human Relations Committee of Ulster County Community Services Board and — finally — run for County Legislator, canvassing the county for votes (being a woman, a Democrat, and a Jew, pretty well excluded her from holding a political office in a largely Republican Conservative milieu), she still felt her talents, expertise and energy to be underused.

When not applying herself to making her mark on society, Cornelia was also a hard player — dedicated to get as much out of her “down” time as she was at getting down to business. Catching a 6’2” sailfish at the age of 14 — the only one on board that day who made such a haul — set her on a path of deep-sea fishing that she continues to this day. Part of a group of women who “hit the briny” as often as they can, Cornelia has garnered awards and trophies that — along with her mounted sailfish — adorn her office. If she can’t fish, then you’ll find her in her garden, an 80’ by 80’ plot that reaps her not only strawberries, asparagus, raspberries along with whatever she plants each spring, but a peace of mind and a place to “let it all go”.

Cornelia laying out first Issue of ART TIMES July 1984

Cornelia Seckel laying out the very first Issue of ART TIMES, July 1984

It would be her husband’s desire to leave teaching to become a full-time writer that would serve as the final piece in the puzzle of her search to realize her full potential. Finding himself dissatisfied with the handling of his free-lance writing by other editors and publishers, he brought his problem to Cornelia who, taking her own Career Counseling to heart, and, true to her four-year-old self, “took charge.” One can almost hear the wheels turning in her mind: “Dammit! I want to …!” This time, however, it was to methodically and determinedly set out to create not only a socially conscious product that would allow her to follow her own vision of an enriched and satisfaction-filled future, but also a way to solve her husband’s problem. In 1984, Cornelia Seckel created a vehicle in which to stretch their talents to the utmost — she and Raymond co-founded ART TIMES, a literary journal and resource for the fine and performing arts — a decision that, with Cornelia at the helm, took little time in its inception, its planning, and in its fruition.

Knowing that Woodstock, nestled in the Hudson Valley/Catskill Mountain Region, was an arts-rich environment since the early 1900’s, she first had to learn why the area had no local publication that served that community. She had learned that there were several attempts at such a magazine/journal over the years, but that each had failed because there was no controlling vision that oversaw the project. Too often such endeavors were run by not-for-profit organizations that answered to a board of overseers. The first step, then, was to create a corporation with herself as CEO (the person with the vision and the final say-so); Raymond would serve as Vice-President. In early May of 1984, she went out into the community to search out other publishers to learn all of the ins-and-outs of the business. She had attended an “All Women in Business” conference in Poughkeepsie and discovered many ready-to-help conferees, particularly one, Merna Popper, publisher of Women’s News in Westchester, County. Beginning her rounds that day at the conference, she had begun with “I’m thinking about…” and before she was halfway through was declaring, “I am going to publish an arts magazine”. A trip to Merna’s business for a crash-course in how to put a newspaper together and a follow-up the next day at Walden Printing in Walden, NY to learn what they needed in order to fulfill her vision was all it took. Now it was time to fully bloom.

In spite of naysayers — and there were many at the outset (they didn’t know that Cornelia could not hear the word “No”) —ART TIMES, Volume 1, Number 1, was born in August 1984 with Cornelia as Publisher (finally running her own show), and Raymond, as Editor (who would now have control over how his writing would be handled) with 10,000 issues on the way. Once launched, Cornelia entertained no thoughts of failure, a confidence quickly confirmed by her selling enough advertising to pay for the costs of the first (mocked-up) issue, with each year (soon up to 26,000 issues per month) following the same pattern. Almost immediately, her vision, her net-working skills and drive led to a one-of-a-kind publication that gained attention not only locally, but eventually globally, her current online presence attracting nearly 600 visitors a day, a million+ “hits” a year.

Cornelia describes her publication as having “two personalities: my nature as a resource person with business skills and Raymond’s philosophical and literary background.” ART TIMES addresses all of the arts, serving as a resource for both established and upcoming artists, with an Opportunity Column and a Calendar of Events that includes hundreds of activities and venues in the Northeast Region of the U.S. Essays on the arts by hand-picked writers, poetry and short fiction have been staples since its beginning. Subscriptions are mailed across the country and, indeed, across oceans with copies going to England, Germany, Italy, Russia, France and Russia. The publication’s focus has been “the long view”, avoiding coverage of what has been called “the flavor of the month.” Indeed, Cornelia has seen many publications devoted to “cutting-edge” art fall by the wayside since ART TIMES’s ­near thirty-year presence, simply because what may be “hot” this year may not be so the following year. In effect, such publications almost invite failure since their reason-for-being is so short-lived. So successful has been the editorial policy of ART TIMES’s “long view” and high literary standards that it has maintained a devoted readership both here and abroad, ensuring many years to come.

As her publication flourished, so did Cornelia’s reputation as a “do-er” who knew how to get things accomplished — she became the “go-to” person for a host of groups and organizations that wanted to tap into her talents as a resource person and networker. Early on in her publication’s history, she had a weekly segment on the WAMC Public Radio Network called “Culturally Speaking” (now incorporated into each online and printed issue) in which she spoke about organizations, exhibits, plays, concerts — in short, any cultural institution or event — that crossed her desk. Her efforts did not go unnoticed, and soon she was invited to cover cultural events not only across the States, but also in places like Singapore, Canada (Quebec, Montreal), China (Beijing, Shanghai), Germany (Cologne, Berlin), Italy (Rome), Belgium (Leuven), and even to attend the International Cultural Summit at Versailles, France. It would not be long before she was asked to serve on Arts-Related and/or Advisory Boards, hold Honorary Memberships in others, and serve as juror or judge of art exhibits throughout the Northeast of New York State — and beyond. In the 10th year of ART TIMES, she received an Executive Chamber Citation from then Governor of New York Mario Cuomo. This has been followed by recognition, acclaim and awards over the years from such organizations as All Women in Business, Ltd, Pastel Society of America, National Association of Women Artists (NAWA), Ulster County Chamber of Commerce, and the Movado Children’s Foundation. Recognizing the value of such acclamations, she began her own Art Times’ Cultural Achievement Awards, awarding them to deserving organizations for several years. For the past four years, she has served as co-chair of the Woodstock Arts Fair.

A valued member of the National Association of Women Artists (NAWA), The Salmagundi Club, the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club, Artist’s Fellowship, Inc., ArtTable, Inc., Pen & Brush, Co-founder and member of Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), National Organization for Women (NOW), the American Association of University Women (AAUW), and the Society of the Silurians, Cornelia Seckel has more than proved her determination, her abilities and, most of all, to disregard the word “no”.


A new book you might want to look at

May 4, 2011

RECEIVED A NEW book a few days ago and wanted to share a few thoughts about it with my readers. The book, i sold Andy Warhol. (too soon)* is written by Richard Polsky, also author of I Bought Andy Warhol, written some years back. Polsky founded Acme Art in 1984, an art gallery in the Bay Area of California — the same year I co-founded ART TIMES with Cornelia Seckel. He had begun his career in the art world a couple of years earlier; I had been writing artist’s profiles about the same time, writing for various publications since about 1980. So — generally speaking, then, our “art world” careers are commensurate in duration — but that is where any similarity between our experiences abruptly comes to an end. Oh, we both traveled the world a bit in our “art world” careers — I’ve been to Germany, Italy, England, Ireland, Holland, Belgium, Spain, France, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and China for exhibitions, art studio visits or for giving lectures — Polsky to probably many of the same countries — but, again, not at all to the same places or to visit the same “art world” denizens. For one thing — and it’s important — is the term “art world”. I’ve kept it in quotes purposely, since — although there are plenty of ‘definitions’ — there is no clear or consensual agreement of what this “world” consists of. Even more troublesome is the word “art” — something that no one today seems to agree on. In regards to Polsky and I, there seems to be absolutely a glaring gap between what he considers “art” to mean and what I mean by the term. And as far as our “worlds” are concerned, we may well be referring to different planets. Polsky is dealing in the “world” of — what he calls — “high-end” art — a term he seems to like since he uses it often in his book to describe “high-end” dealers, “high-end” collectors, “high-end” buyers — in brief, “high-end” movers and shakers in his “world” of “high-end”, if not “art”, then surely of money transactions. To my mind, Polsky seems to only consider “art” as “art” when it translates into “high-end” prices. This “world” is far indeed from the one I’ve inhabited for the past thirty-or so years — especially since my “world” is heavily influenced by Oscar Wilde’s astute observation between “cost” and “value”. I have had some brushes with Polsky’s world — a visit to Sotheby’s (where I felt like an alien — and was, I suppose), a visit to my home by a dealer in “high-end” art who blandly stated that I had “shit” on my walls (“shit”, I suppose, was his way of saying “low-end”) but these, as I say, were merely brushes with a “world” I had no desire to inhabit. The artists I know, have written about (and have hanging on my walls) are, I suppose “low-end” since none (as far as I know) have brought in millions of dollars. Polsky, incidentally, tosses around millions much like our government tosses around trillions — most certainly an alien planet to me. So, I guess I’ll just have to plod along in my “low-end” benighted world with artists who can only dream about millions. Still, you might like to pick up and read Polsky’s book — it certainly engaged me — even if, at times, it made my hair stand on end and my teeth grind. One thing’s for sure — I could not have survived as many years in his “world” as I’ve done in mine.

*Other Press LLC, NYC, 2009. 269 pp.; 5 ½ x 8 ½; Where to See Artists; Sources. $15.95 Softcover.


LANDSCAPE PAINTING

October 21, 2010

I PAINT LANDSCAPES —not as a professional, but as an avocation, as a way to relieve the stress of occasional writing blocks, since, as most know, writing is my profession. And yet — though only a kind of relief, an outlet for frustration — there is a deeper intent in my painting of landscapes. Obviously, if it were only a diversion, then why not still lifes? Or portraits? Or street scenes? The answer is that the painting of landscapes — though I’ve only been making them with any regularity for the past dozen years — holds a greater claim on me, reflecting an ongoing love-affair with nature that has gripped me since my move from Brooklyn to the Catskill Mountain/Hudson River Valley when still a boy of 12 (in the summer of 1945, in fact). I’ve written elsewhere of that 40-acre, wooded plot in West Hurley, New York and how it affected my evolution from boy- to manhood, of how I’d learn to love, respect and fear the mysteries it held that persist to this day. My landscape painting — my personal replications of nature — attest — even, one might say, pay homage to — that life-long love affair.

I’d recently been interviewed by a high-school student who, armed with 20 questions prepared by her teacher, questioned me on my painting — and especially of my painting of landscapes. Although I’d been interviewed many times about my writing, this was the first time that I was asked about my painting — and the process was interesting in that it made me seriously “see” myself as a painter — something I’d rarely done in the past. And, though I explained that I was not a painter — a professional painter — being surrounded by my landscapes in my study sort of made my protestations moot (at least to the young lady interviewing me). She persisted with her 20 questions — and I tried my best to answer them — and whatever the process did for her, it certainly opened my eyes to acknowledging some truths about both myself and about my “hobby”. I knew that I painted from nature because I loved nature — but had never really delved into it as I did that day as she pointed to this painting or that, and “why’d” and “how’d” and “when’d” me on those that attracted her eye. Generally, (I told her) I paint when moved, usually outside and alla prima, and, once done, set aside whatever I manage to produce until the next time I’m “inspired”.

In trying to explain these steps to another person, I found that, in fact, I was often clarifying (or obfuscating) as much for me as I was for my interviewer. What “moved” me? Why that scene? Was it in the morning or afternoon? And, so on. I tried my best to explain that, since my primary occupation was writing, that I needed both opportunity as well as “inspiration” and, that mostly, it was the way light played with form, showing me both color and shadows — etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Gradually, however, glibly answering her questions in the same manner that so many artists I’ve profiled over the past 30 or so years did for me, it dawned on me (mostly after she’d gone and I could mull it all over) that (I am sure, like those artists I’d interviewed) none of these answers really answered anything.

Still, the question remains: What is it about nature that has captivated me for all these years? And why has the painting of landscapes become such an all-engrossing activity since I resumed painting after a forty-year hiatus?

What draws me to nature is not merely its beauty — it is its mystery, its underlying enigma. There is not only form and color — there is geometry and equations, forces and balances, tension and accommodation, conflict and resolution, constraining laws that say, “You can grow that high, that densely; reflect that color and absorb this one; spread that far and no farther; shine forth here and shrink in darkness there; flourish here and struggle there; shimmer now and stand stock still then.” I know that if I can understand Nature’s laws, then I can understand me — my laws, limitations, potentials. If I am made in His image, then it is that image and that image alone (are we not all unique souls? Does the oak strive to be a maple? The rose, a lily?) that I must uncover, discover, live up to. I can no more follow your path than the sycamore can aspire to become a hemlock since I — like all natural beings — have been allotted my own. We do not all go to a store and buy the same size hat. So, why ought I follow someone else’s path? Accept their answers? Ape their images?

I am told, that it is written in the Koran that if one wants to speak to God, then one must go to the mosque; but, if one wants to hear God’s answer, then one must go to the desert. Having no desert nearby, I have substituted my woods — and, I have indeed received some answers — at least to my questions about my path.

Thus, in the process of my interview and discussing individual paintings with that student, I could glance around my study and evaluate some of the answers I have received — not to share with that student (since we can not given that it is between the Creator and the created), but to my own inner understanding and enlightenment. Some of my landscapes I had actually seen for the first time as answers — at the time of painting, I was simply too involved in the process to “stop and smell the flowers” — I had missed the fact that each of my paintings revealed just a bit more of the mystery, that each held a kind of ‘magic’ for me if not for others, if only in that one small portion of the canvas, e.g. a tiny spot of light glancing off a stone wall, a leaf, a blossom or that murky shadow alongside a tree-trunk. In many cases, the rest of the painting existed only for that one infinitesimal touch of paint, acting as a ‘foil’ for the answer — if only I took the time to see it as I was doing during the interview. In fact, it suddenly became clear that I was not painting “trees”, or “fields” or “mountains” or “woodland streams” — in short, that I was not painting mere landscapes. I never had any doubt of the mystery — of the presence of the hidden “answers” — only that I would be able to discover them! But then why should God try to trick me?

In his Art and Artist, Otto Rank wrote that early artists were the first priests, the first to penetrate “God’s” answers. It was the cave-wall scribblers that were pointing the way to his fellows on how to discover “purpose”. History, however, tells us that early shamans, diviners, seers, priests and prophets had discovered this fact about nature but, instead of sharing it with their followers, chose to keep it hidden, to hoard it as ‘privileged’ knowledge that only they could interpret. They built elaborate rituals and systems to divert attention, made laws and taboos, dangled ‘salvation’ and threatened ‘damnation’ to any who would question their authority or break their taboos.

Today’s true landscape painters — the ones not painting only what their eyes can see on a certain day and in a certain place — carry on that ancient tradition of listening to God’s answers. And, if you listen and look, you might start carving out your own path…

Raymond J. Steiner

High Woods October 2010