Archive for the Art and Happiness Category

This just in, from the St. Paul artist Walter Albertson (in response to my query regarding what about art are you thankful for):

Back when I was trying to get a discussion going on the MN artists forum, I posted a reply to an art pundit (not you) with who I was trying to spar with about topics involving being a better art businessman.
I said artists must be true to a feeling, an inner directive I called “verve” and if you depart from this for whatever reasons including practicality or business, you may loose your way. 

Then later, when reading an essay by Curtis White, (who I highly recommend) he expressed a similar concept although with more clarity and directness. I can’t quote directly here now but it was something like:

The value, or one of the values in art is awareness of the difference between feeling alive and feeling dead.

And that is what I’m thankful for in art.  That’s what I respond to in art by others and that is what keeps me going in my own art making.  Not always easy in a world seemingly at the mercy of mechanical thinking.

To follow up on my previous post, about what we are (despite it all) thankful about in art, I’ve posted an homage to Grizzled Art Warriors on the Thousandth Word blog.

Here’s a bit of the crux:

…make no bones, the range of committed and long-suffering arts denizens in this hardscrabble metro area of ours—without whom there’d be scant art worth celebrating today—while not terribly broad, is very deep. Just sit down and make a list, and you will see. My own list of local artistic heroes, whose grizzled tales I have often found myself drawn to, is split in two. It starts with dozens of artists who, while I don’t always love every work they make, are to be admired for surviving through thick and thin and continuing the battle. Then it moves on to those few purveyors and supporters of art—gallerians mostly—who’ve survived the wars from their front-line positions, under constant assault (mostly from needy artists) and with terribly unreliable supply lines to sustain them.

Once again, I invite anyone with thoughts or memories to share–about parts of the art world that you are thankful for, or grizzled arts figures that you appreciate and love–to do so. You can comment here on this blog, email me at, or comment on the Thousandth Word blog.

It’s a marshmallow world in the winter,
When the snow comes to cover the ground.
It’s the time for play, it’s a whipped cream day,
I wait for it the whole year round!…

It’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts,
Take a walk with your favorite girl.
It’s a sugar date, so what if spring is late,
In winter it’s a marshmallow world!

By now, you art lovers all know the story: the local (MN) visual arts infrastructure (and the national one too, including the museum where I cut my young, art-grad school teeth) is quickly crumbling. As endowments shrink and paying customers stay away, drying up the support money like so much Cobalt drier-spiked oil paint, staffs are being hacked at big arts institutions, longtime professionals are heading for the hills, museums are shutting down, and galleries are going dark.

But fuck it. It’s Christmastime, the most self-delusional time of year, when we turn up the lights against the shorter days, put aside every realistic expectation, and demand that people give us the things we aren’t willing to buy during the rest of the year. Ah, Christmas. So full of false promise, marshmallow wishes, and yum-yummy whipped cream exhortations of love! Now is when we lovingly proclaim how much we appreciate all the people and things in our lives—smugly satisfied that now we’ve done our yearly duty we can forget them until this time next year. In this spirit of Christmas, I thought it might be appropriate now to ruminate on all the things we appreciate about art. In a few days, I’ll post one thing I’m truly thankful about, in that Christmas-sort-of-way, as we approach the hinge of the year (meaning I’ll probably promptly forget about it, as is our way in this culture, soon as January 2 arrives).

If you’re thankful about something that has to do with art, you can post your holiday thankful wishes below (in the comments box). Or else you send them to me at:

My grandmother, Billie Sinclair (Noland) Barnes passed away on Wednesday morning, September 3, 2008, at 5:05 am Pacific Daylight Saving Time, after a long illness. She was 84 years old, and survived by her husband, John Wesley Barnes, son Jay, daughter Pamela, and three grandkids.

The poem posted below—which was originally posted on CAFA on May 15, 2008, just after the death of Robert Rauschenberg—was actually intended to be a tribute to my Grandma Billie, who had just become bedridden at that time. I’ve added an additional Postscript, in honor of my grandmother’s death, to the version I originally posted on this site. Enjoy.

The 1964 Venice Biennale

for Billie

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
Kenneth Noland’s paintings occupied half the American pavilion
at the Venice Biennale,
and Robert Rauschenberg won
the Gran Premio—
the youngest artist to do so to date.
As a result Europeans raged about America,
its Pop sensibilities
and its imperialistic designs—
though they didn’t riot like they would in 1968,
when I was two.

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
my parents met on a blind-date trip down to Tiajuana,
in Baja California,
and my mother’s mother,
my grandmother Billie Ruth,
celebrated the twenty-somethingth anniversary
of her divorce from Kenneth Noland,
whom she had met in Asheville, North Carolina,
during the Second World War
when she was just eighteen-years old
and had run away from her mother.

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
the esteemed Cardinal Urbani proclaimed a Biennale ban,
and the president absented himself.
Critics fumed too,
at Castelli’s campaign for the American.
“An offense to dignity,” said one;
“A general defeat of culture,” another.
But the artists could care less,
Chamberlain hopscotching across piazzas like a bear,
Oldenburg and his melting typewriter,
Cunningham and a safety pin to hold up his pants.

In 2007,
Forty-three years later,
long after half of these men’s deaths,
and after I had reached the age that Noland was at that time,
I would read about the Venice Biennial
and its embarrassment of riches,
about Rauschenberg’s combines
which had everything but Merce Cunningham’s pants.
And I would pause and consider
how things never really change—
unless you are a cobbler or a typewriter repairman—
and that is both a good and bad thing.

Then, in 2008,
In the spring of the year,
I passed through Captiva Island,
Where Rauschenberg kept his own council as he faded,
And my grandparents in California
Barked at hospice workers,
Accusing them of swiping their savings,
And treated their family like gold-digging strangers.
When my mother shunned Billie Ruth’s funeral in September,
I sent a note to the artist Noland—
Though he wouldn’t know me from Adam—
And he replied that he had fond memories of her.

On one of my other art-blogging projects yesterday, a guest poster published a fantastic piece, called “The Nester,” on the relationship between shitting and art-making, and how sometimes the most disgusting and deviant acts can inspire non-comformist, creative thinking. This is a particularly appropriate rallying-cry, I think, in this age of constantly diminishing returns in the culture. You’ve just gotta read this story; trust me, you won’t be disappointed (repulsed, maybe, or horrified–but not disappointed).

Here’s a sampling:

Artists have done themselves a great disservice in needlessly construing creative expression into the larger-than-life mythologies, brainwashing doctrines and pseudo-political advertisements that comprise the clusterfuck that art is today. We’ve created a framework for art that warps our hearts and minds into believing that art requires authority (galleries, museums, academia); precepts (formal aesthetics, airtight intellectualism); and high culture (icons, award ceremonies, magazines). We’ve convinced ourselves that art is an austere discipline and not the boundless, soul-searching siphon that can dredge out our deepest and most authentic creative desires. Unfortunately, art is just as much about popularity, ego, money, class, idolatry and condescending intellectualism as it is about using modes of creativity to purely and earnestly explore ourselves and our relationship to the universe….

Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that people go clog some toilets to proclaim their creativity. Rather, I am suggesting that we draw from the Nester’s example the conviction that we can and must treat our own creativity with the dignity it deserves. We need to stop making art that relies upon a toxic art world, to stop making art that tries to find a way into Artforum, and instead finds a way into the deeply transformative creative passion that burns in each of us.

Today’s edition of the Bullet Points of Failure (B.P.O.F.) gives up following, for now, all the local artistic hand-wringing that has of late been something of a preoccupation. Instead, today I strive to expand both inward and outward by bullet-pointing a few personal issues, as well as a few national ones.

  • On my other (yin) blog–about happiness and sunshine and art and drinks all around–I wrote a piece nearly a month ago (yikes! I’ve got to update that blog!) about the Nature of Happiness (and its Connection to Art). My motivation was responding to the artists who had been complaining about changes to a local artists exhibition program. I quoted former NEA chair Bill Ivey who suggested that art is best when not deemed a career-building enterprise, but instead is seen as “a way to pursue self-realization without forcing us to deny the materialist and competitive drives that pass for human nature in the West…” (See for more of Ivey’s thoughts).
  • Perhaps inspired by these two points, an alert reader, Louis Allgeyer, wrote the note below (which alerted me of a recently published Peter Schjeldahl review, which I hadn’t seen, that touches–much more eloquently–on notions put forward in my recent writing):


    Down towards the end of your nature of happiness piece you sort of ponder,where is it all going art-wise, which I think many do. Esp artists themselves, so that they can jump on the-next-big-thing (just like a stock
    broker). Esp artists who are tired of their usual self-gratification that isn’t gratifying and isn’t art.

    I hope you read the article “feeling blue,” by the other great midwestern art critic, Peter Schjeldahl, in the august 4th New Yorker magazine ( a swimmers head on the cover). He also seems to be having similar ponderings and seems to think he may see ( in a much bigger picture than the little show he is reviewing ) a “fashion auditioning as a sea change.” He goes on to predict what the next-big-thing might be, if history is any guide and if, “our particular civilization is (not)spent.”

    Naturally I like it because my stuff falls right in line so I am gratified.

    Anyhoo, I think it is an important bit journalism.

    Louis Allgeyer

  • Finally, Schjeldahl’s review–of “After Nature,” currently up at the New Museum in New York--is itself well worth bullet-pointing. He says the show “proposes a saturnine new direction in art…. Something is happening in artists’ studios: a shift of emphasis, from surface to depth, and a shift of mood, from mania to melancholy, shrugging off the allures of the money-hypnotized market and the spectacle-bedizened biennials circuit. (In fact, the underappreciated recent Whitney Biennial hinted at the mutation.)”

    And he continues: “the futility of artistic technique in the face of world conditions may constitute a subject for art as substantial as any other, and rather more compelling than today’s stacked-deck models of success… Existentialist standards of authenticity may be back in force, however fleetingly. How much can we bear of art that, like Sebald’s writing, glories in bottomless malaise? I expect we’ll find out.

    You suspect that a big change is coming when sensitive young people project (and, because they’re young, enjoy) feelings of being old. This has often signalled a backward crouch preceding a forward leap. I think of Picasso’s world-weary blue period, T. S. Eliot’s “Gerontion” and “Prufrock,” and the budding Abstract Expressionists’ wallows in Jungian mythology. The syndrome announces the exhaustion of a received cultural situation, whose traditions are slack and whose future is opaque. It typically entails nostalgia for real or fancied past ages that dealt—successfully, in retrospect—with similar crises.

    Viva la artistic failure!