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 11 Lechlade – England, Basel – Switzerland, Paris – France

October 11, 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. 

5106179_1ed4fb43England: Lechlade: Visited “Shelley’s Walk”, a tree-lined path that skirts a weathered church. Story goes that it was on one of Percy Shelley’s perambulations here that he composed one of his poems (the name of which I cannot recall!).

Switzerland: Basel: I visit the town hall to see if I can find out anything about my grandfather whom I’ve never known, Jacob Steiner, who came from this city to New York sometime in the late 1800s. My German is faltering; the bureaucrat impatient. “Steiner?” he says with a snort. He points to several volumes. “Steiners!” he says. Without knowing which canton my grandfather came from, apparently it was like asking for “Smith” in New York City! All I had was my grandfather’s name, so I left knowing as little as I did when I came.

top-floorFrance: Paris: At the second landing of the Eiffel Tower, I cannot find the way to the elevator that takes you to the top. Walking up to two uniformed men, I hesitatingly ask (since I did not know the word for “elevator”), “Ou et le sommet?” Both men look at me for a moment and, with a smile, simultaneously raise their index fingers to indicate “up”. Properly embarrassed, I revert to English and ask how I might get there. Again, in unison, they then point to the elevator. (An odd thing for me was that when I reached the top, I could not bring myself to step over to the rail and look out. It was the first time ((but not the last — the fear reoccurred when I climbed to the top of St. Peter’s Dome with Piero Breccia in Rome a few weeks later)) that I discovered I had somehow acquired vertigo — a new thing for me!) Another time my meager French let me down (I can read the language fairly well, having taken the subject in college) was in St. Germain en Laye, taking a bus from the home of Isabelle and Bertrand to spend the day sightseeing in Paris. When the bus stopped at our corner, I stepped on the first step and firmly said, “Trois.” The driver looked at me and said, “Trois?” “Oui,” I answered confidently. He looked pointedly at Cornelia and me and said again, “Trois?” Annoyed, I again said, “Oui!” Once again: “Trois?” Before I could really make a fool of myself by insisting on “three” a kindly old man in a front seat leaned over, held up two fingers and said, “Deux”, pointing at the two of us. For some reason “trois” and “three” were synonymous to me (or at least sounded so) and who knows for how long the driver and I would have been “trois-ing” each other while the busload waited for me to be enlightened? Interesting that, by and large, my poor language skills were never an issue in any of the other countries we visited. Almost to a person, when people saw us in difficulty — in Spain, in Germany, in Holland, in Italy, in Belgium, in Beijing, Shanghai — wherever — they were quick to step in, help out and lead us onto the correct path.


AN OPEN LETTER TO ARTISTS

August 29, 2017

THE PURPOSE OF this letter is to acknowledge and to thank the many, many artists, both deceased and those still ‘fighting the good fight’ who have helped me over the past 40-45 years to understand and appreciate the process as well as the product.

Your influence began early, back in the late‘40s when I used to work as a handy-man in Woodstock, New York, clearing woodlots, mowing lawns, tending gardens for the summer residents, most of them artists who came up from the city to join the ever-growing number of plein-airistes flocking to the burgeoning art colony who wanted to spend their time painting rather than mowing their lawns. Even after the summer ended, teachers and students at the Art Students League of New York’s summer school a little way out of town, would spend week-ends and off-hours in town, most willing, even eager, to ‘talk art’ to interested listeners — even handymen at Deane’s, the popular diner on Mill Hill Road. Although neither a painter nor a student of the craft, I had from a child been able to draw, to replicate in pencil whatever I attempted to copy, and almost always carried a sketchbook with me — so ‘listening in’ to the conversations of ‘real’ artists was always too tempting to pass up.

When I began free-lance writing for local newspapers, I eventually focused on art and artists, profiling many of the “Woodstock artists”, spending hours at their studios or over the counter having coffee at Deane’s, listening to them presenting their views, art, journey, comments and work-habits eventually sharing them with my publishers.

Eventually, I grew more and more dissatisfied with the way my writing was being handled by copy-editors, layout people, and the ever-present errors (including the misspelling of the artists’ names in more than one instance) that were being presented to the public under my name. This led to my wife Cornelia and I co-founding our own arts journal — Art Times — in 1984. Over the years, I have since profiled over 100 artists both here and abroad. Some of my essays grew into introductions of monographs by various publishers and even into my own books on artists. Soon, I was interviewing artists in NYC and even as far as Europe and China. By being commissioned by Rosina Florio, past Director of the Art Students League of New York, to write a history of the League, the undertaking broadened my knowledge even further as many past and present League members added their stories to my growing warehouse of art-knowledge.

Through my experience with the Art Student’s League, I began hearing about other arts groups, some local, some regional, others national — even affiliating with some — for example the National Art Club in NYC after Will Barnet sponsored me, and especially The Salmagundi Club, a club that is nearly 150 years old and devotes its resources to artists and their art instead of sales and celebrity. Never much of a ‘joiner’, I was fortunate to become a member of the Artist’s Fellowship, which exists solely to give aid to artists in distress (probably the only meetings I enjoyed attending since each session ended in a specific and meaningful act — giving a hand up to deserving artists across the country). My associations with such art organizations expanded my knowledge of art well beyond any college courses I’d taken.

In 2005-6, I wrote a novel entitled The Mountain that attempts to trace the development of an artist (in literary terms, a “bildungsroman”). Set in the NYC and Hudson Valley areas it includes some history and background of Woodstock and its environs to ‘flesh out’ the influences on my protagonist, Jacob (Jake) Forscher (‘Jacob’ because he wrestles with the angel as do all serious artists, and ‘Forscher’ because, again like all artists, he is a delver, a seeker). The book came about after a conversation over lunch with the artist Jack Levine in a small restaurant in New York City’s Greenwich Village. As usual, the subject of art came up, and specifically Zola’s book The Masterpiece, ostensibly a book about his childhood friend, Paul Cezanne. I asked Jack if he knew of any books in English that traced the life and development of an artist. He could think of none that specifically did so, but several about artists in general. Thus the genesis of The Mountain. I chose the title to reflect Melville’s Moby Dick — in essence, the “Mountain” (Overlook, in the Catskills and visible from Woodstock) is Jake’s ever-illusive ‘white whale’, which he tries to ‘capture’ on canvas. His story, your story, is a fictional re-telling of what you taught me over the years — in fact, I felt very much like a mid-wife rather than an author in ‘creating’ my novel. The Mountain is available as a book on demand or kindle http://amzn.to/2pGX659

So, my artist readers, if it were not for sharing those early encounters, the prolonged studio chats, the stories, the exhibitions, the struggles, the insights, the life-sharings for my profiles and books — if it were not for you, dear artist (whether we met face-to-face or only through your art), the artwriter Raymond J. Steiner would never have come into being.

Therefore this letter and my deepest thanks for all of your contributions to my education and for helping make ART TIMES such a valuable resource for artists around the world for over 30 years.

Raymond J. Steiner


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!


Glimpses #1: Germany, Italy

October 2, 2016

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.

Ranging across some distance around the globe including Europe, Asia —and closer to “home”—Canada and Barbados, in addition to these ‘hosting’ countries, I’d like to acknowledge the following friends and hosts (as well as countless clerks, guides, porters, fellow travelers—in brief, all those unnamed but not forgotten people in Japan, the Czech Republic, Belgium and Austria whose helpful presence often eased the hassles of travel): Heinrich J., Konstanze and Christian Jarczyk, Jacky Sparkowsky and Jorg Iwan, Gaby and Norman Wittmer (Germany); Piero Augustus Breccia (Italy); Chen Chi and Zu Min, Jason and Crystal ((college students)), Xue Jianhua and Shao Li Ke (China); Ann Mamok, Rick and Jo Canning (England); Isabel and Bertrand Azema (France); Laslo Fesus (Hungary); Barbara and Ronnie Gill (Barbados).

A note to the reader: I have not included dates in separate entries since most of these recollections have been gleaned months — if not years — after their occurrence, not a few popping into my mind during sleepless nights long after I had returned home from my travels.

Included will be some of my paintings & sketches as well as some photographs taken by Cornelia Seckel.

Gardens as seen from the trains in Germany

Gardens as seen from the trains in Germany

Germany: On a train from Cologne to Berlin: small, enclosed garden plots, many with tiny buildings (for the storage of tools?), most with a sitting area containing a bench, followed by open fields and larger farms. Such plots also flashed by my window in China and Japan, each time before and after the environs of large towns or cities. Do city/town dwellers come out here to these tiny, well-tended gardens on evenings and weekends? Does man ever fully divorce himself from the land? Stop putting his hands into the soil? What happens when he does?

Italy: Rome: Waiting at a bus-stop. Having just missed a bus on our way to Piero’s studio (where we were staying), we put down our packages to await the next. How long? We notice a church across the street. Why not? We enter and are astounded to discover that it contains Bernini’s “Ecstasy of St.Theresa”. No signs to give a clue! How many other hidden treasures have I blithely passed by on my way elsewhere? (Note: Pier ((Piero)) Augusto Breccia is an artist I met in NYC and whom I wrote about in ART TIMES).


Zero to One Hundred

August 18, 2016

(Some notes on the Saugerties Artists Studio Tour 2016)

 

IMG_4631

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.

 


MERY ROSADO— To know her was to love her

December 2, 2014

TO KNOW HER was to love her — but then, I might be a bit biased. Over the years, as we got to know each other better, she became my “Puerto Rican Princess” and I, her “”Pseudo Rican Boyfriend”. It was hard not to like Mery — she was open, amiable, accepting, always welcoming as you entered her “Mezzaluna”, displaying a joie d’vivre that wasMery awe mtg infectious and heart-warming. I don’t remember when it was I first came to her Cafe Bistro Latina, but once was enough to hook me for evermore. After a huge hug, she would always lead me to a corner, out-of-the-way table, where she knew I preferred to be alone, most usually with a book open before me alongside of one of her delicious cappuccinos. Since I rarely varied my routine, people used to whisper about the ‘snob’ off in the corner — enough times for Mery, always the joyful host, named my favorite drink the “snobbucino” — which ever after became a widely known ‘joke’. “Snobbucino?” she would call out from behind the counter and I would invariably answer “Yes, please” from my corner of the Cafe. It didn’t take long for others — mostly friends of mine — to come to Mery’s and ask for a “snobbucino”; “Ah,” she would say, “you know my Boyfriend?” Even more than our cordial friendship, however, to the community at large — especially the creatives (artists, musicians, stand-ups, etc.) — Mery was known as a force for good. Restaurateur, Inn-Keeper, Real Estate Rep — even an erstwhile Wall Street Trader — to many she was a steady friend of the arts, opening her Cafe to open-mic Musicians and performers on the weekends and her spacious walls to artists’ exhibitions from near and far (I attended more than a few Opening Receptions at Mery’s, including two of my own). Her many friends — and the surrounding communities of Saugerties and Woodstock (some even as far as NYC and Pennsylvania) — will sorely miss Mery; I know that I surely will. She was one of a kind and an all-too rare phenomenon in the population of our world.