Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bigger is Better

Paul McCarthy's White Snow Dwarf
Day 12 (12/18/11)

Bigger is better, or so it would seem in the art world. The same train of thought which brought you the Hummer, Escalade, and Suburban is coursing through the world of art. If you have one battered stool you have junk or a piece of furniture from the art room but if you have stack of battered stools you have art. I must admit that I like most of Wiewie’s art. He is one of those people who can design even with old stools. I am not sure that it is worth thousands of dollars however. When I follow the same principle in creating art with junk on the bike trail I give it up for free. Don’t get me wrong, I also like some large art. Walking into a room and being accosted by one of Chuck Close’s works is an experience second to none but most people wouldn’t have the room to house one. Having the area to put one of these large pieces of art becomes the impetuous for their existence. It is another way to keep “high” art out of the hands of the little people. Another prerequisite for art to be worth millions, it seems, is shock value. Again, in Gopnik’s article he features three large sculptures by Paul McCarthy, pornographic renditions based on the Snow Whites dwarfs. Here we have the best of both worlds, it is large and revolting. I have never claimed to be a person of great intellect and perhaps if I was I would understand the obvious significance of dwarf with phalluses or Santa with a butt plug. Art of this type always reminds me of Charles Biederman’s statement from the 40s and I paraphrase badly; when the surrealist opened the door to feces and genitalia in art all art would become about feces and genitalia. It seems that in many ways he hit the nail on the head especially in regards to the avant garde. I have always defended shock art as a means of getting people to think but again does a large pornographic dwarf deserve a six figures price tag. I can go into just about any public restroom and find the same type of renderings on the stall. It is interesting that for all artists have tried to demystify art and bring it to the people it has managed to stay the providence of the wealthy.

Paul McCarthy's Santa with Plug

Monday, December 26, 2011

Twas the Day After Christmas

Day 13 (12/26/11)

Twas the day after Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring not even us because we are at the beach. It is not often in Wisconsin that people head to the beach on the day after Christmas but when it is forty three degrees and sunny you take advantage of it. Eileen was running out of stones to drill so we decided to try out our new hiking boots on the beach. We were surprised at how many other people had the same idea. There was even a guy out surfing, not very successfully I might add. It was a little windy but otherwise beautiful. We were able to get quite a few stones. P.S. The boots worked great. We will have to wait to try out the snow shoes.

Surfer Dude

Friday, December 16, 2011

“Why does art cost so effing much?”

Day 11 (12/13/11)
Christopher Wool "Blue Fool"
“Why does art cost so effing much?” I just read this article by Blake Gopnik in News Week Magazine. Perhaps it should have been titled why does some art cost so effing much while some can’t be effing given away?” The obvious answer is quality but that is not always the case. In this particular article Gopnik featured two works, one by Ellsworth Kelly that sold for 1.5 million and one by Ai Wiewie which sold for over half a million. I was not able to access the exact Wiewie but there was an illustration of the Kelly. I don’t mean to get into a critique of this work here since both artists have established their reputations. I do question though why this work can command millions of dollars while a lot of good art remains unsellable. My theory is that few people if any know good art from bad and rely on a few dealer/critics to tell them what is good. At a certain level critiquing art is easy. I could set out three pieces of high school art and have 25 students rank it and most would put them in somewhat the same order. This even seems to be true with most abstract pieces. When you get into the world of professional artists though all this changes, what appears to be bad is sometimes good and what appears good is sometimes bad. When I teach my students about critiquing I encourage them to seek value. This value can be found in the arts ability to tell a story or teach a lesson, or in its ability to make us think. I remember back a few years ago, after a trip to the Milwaukee Art Museum, a student was outraged by Christopher Wool’s “Fool”. After listening to her rant I encouraged her to research his work for her senior art report and see if she could find justification for his work. After hours of research and writing she was still not convinced and I teased her that perhaps the value lie in its ability to get her to spend so much time contemplating it. Value can also be found in an artworks esthetic quality or even its reflection of the artist. Even here though according to Gopnik the tables are turned, because of the nature of conspicuous consumption among the wealthy patrons, the less actual practical value of the piece the more monetary value it may have. Perhaps this is the real truth of Wool’s “Fool”, not only does it not have a great deal of practical value but is somewhat offensive which makes it a perfect choice for the conspicuous consumer. Incidentally, I noticed Wool’s “Blue Fool” went up for auction at Christies with a estimated value of one and a half to two million dollars. It sold for over five million.  As I said before it is not my intention to critique individual works as much as to critique the system that promotes the sale of these works for outlandish prices while many outstanding young artist can’t pay off their loans from art school. I realize that this is also true for musicians and actors, after all where would we get our bartenders and wait staff  if not for struggling artists. I am not even trying to say that we should not continue to buy art for millions, only that for every million dollar purchase they take a chance on a couple of thousand dollar pieces.  Again, I suppose this would defeat the purpose, since people may get confused when somebody actually has something esthetically pleasing that they didn’t pay a fortune for. Oh, the chaos that would ensue in the art world.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Amsterdam beach

Day 10 (11/13/11)
For whatever reason I have had a hard time keeping up with my blogs, it could be the busyness of school or the classes I have been taking or just a lethargic attitude, I am not sure. I have decided that for my own good I have to get back at it. In this post I am looking back exactly a month to reminisce over what turned out to be a magical afternoon. We had spent most of the day doing our weekend chores and thought we should go get some fresh air and of course pick up rocks. Since Eileen got her drill press picking rocks off from beaches has become one of our favorite pastimes. Soon I will do a blog with some of her jewelry. It was another one of those days that was just windy enough to really stir up the lake with crashing breakers. The sky was beautiful when we got there but continued to become even more picturesque the longer we stayed. You don’t usually think of sunsets on the lake since it is better situated for sunrise but that night the sky was just fiery red. It was an excellent way to end the day and perhaps the beach combing season.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lost Blogs

Day 9 (11/6/11)
Eileen needed more rocks for some jewelry she was making so we decided to head back to Algoma where we had found the rocks the first time. We thought since we had to drive past our son and daughter-in-laws place we would ask them to go along. We noticed on the way up that the lake was quite rough. Inland it didn’t seem real windy but once you got on the beach you knew why the lake was so rough. We probably would have spent more time on Algoma’s beach had it not been so windy. In spite of the wind we managed to pickup quite a few rocks. We then started working our way down along the lake. We stopped at Kewanee Custard Shoppe for lunch and then continued south until we got to Point Beach State Park. This place definitely deserves a better look during the summer. It has some of the most beautiful dunes and beaches. On a warm day it has to be a great swimming spot. But alas the sun was starting to get low so we had to head home vowing to get back next summer.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rainy day at Mauthe

Day 8 (10/30/11)
Yesterday the forecast for today was sunny and sixty some degrees. We went to bed thinking we would be taking the kayaks out one more time. When we woke up the skies were cloudy and the temperature was in the forties. We decided we still had to go do something so we jumped in the car and headed off to Mauthe Lake. We had thought about Parnell tower but after considering the wind we determined it might get nasty. It was a good call because soon after starting to walk around the lake at Mauthe it started sprinkling. We headed back to the car and grabbed an umbrella and then proceeded to go around the lake the other direction. For the most part it only misted. A couple of times it rained harder but not unbearable. We only saw two other people so we pretty much had the park to ourselves. We stopped whenever we saw rocks and built cairns. Tamaracks have become our new obsession in trees. We love the wispy yellow color. When we got back to the car it started raining harder and continued until after we got home. In spite of the weather a good time was had by all.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Algoma Beach Motel

Day 7 (10/1/11)

We had to deliver some art work to a gallery in Green Bay that we have been working with so we decided to make an adventure out of it. I had seen a sign on an earlier trip for the Algoma Beach Hotel so we thought we would give it a try since we had never been on that side of the peninsula before. Well, it sure wasn’t Door County and in most ways that was a good thing. Unlike Door County with its teaming crowds of people Algoma is a laid back rural community. Our only disappointment was the service that we got at one restaurant. When we came in we sensed that the waitress was annoyed that anybody had the audacity of showing up. It didn’t get any better either. Finally she apparently went to make a delivery and another lady, who we really liked, took over. Unfortunately after the other one came back she was supposed to take over again. We finally chased down the waitress we liked to get our bill and left. It had been two hours since we first sat down. We did give the nice lady a tip but told her not to share it with the other one. We had planned on doing a few more things that night but by the time we got done in the restaurant the town had pretty much closed down except for the bars. That worked out well however because we got to bed early and were up before the sun rose. This proved to be a good decision since the sunrise was awesome. We started walking north along the beach and stopped at a McDonalds for a quick cup of Joe. We walked as far as the lighthouse which we were told was the only red one in existence. Since then I have seen a photo of another one that a student painted. I guess maybe what they told us about it being one of the most photographed scenes in the America might be an exaggeration to. At any rate we had a good time and it was a beautiful day. After checking out of the motel we stopped by Von Stiehl Winery for some breakfast wine. We were pleasantly surprised at the quality and purchased a few of our favorites. We then started working our way south to Alaska along the lake. We can’t wait to return to the area to explore more.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


Day 6 (7/31/11)
Lately I have been fascinated with what an artist friend of mine called “under the bridge” subject matter. I have always sort of liked that idea of found objects which are sort of half hidden and usually not of the most esthetic character. So today I set out to make a couple of these pieces. I had been molding some add ins over last couple of weeks in preparation. Sometimes I do add in none paper objects but for these I wanted to keep it pure paper. I started with laying down a foundation by pouring raw pulp on to the screen. My pulp consists of old papers, in this case old Spanish test and worksheets blended with some kind of a binder. My preferred binder is wall paper paste but today I was using acrylic medium. After I poured the base I set in some molded pieces from a plastic container that had these really nice octagon shapes that reminded me of a honeycomb. Next I interlaced cords over the paper that would be pulled up later. After having all the cords strategically placed I started to pour on another layer of paper. Finally after about an hour of drying time I pulled up the cords exposing the layers below. This is my favorite part of my art. I love the fact that it is done outside and that much of the process is barely within my control. I often have little idea what I will encounter doing the piece and am usually quite inspired from beginning to end.
Grinding the Pulp
Adding Cords


Removing Cords

Finished Skin

Visiting Hummingbird Moth

The Work of Art

Day 5 (7/30/11)

Today I am going to drift away from biking and Guerilla Art and take a look at the “work” of art. This morning while cleaning the litter boxes my wife made the comment that she should be doing some work. In truth she had been working on her art all morning. Then, when I went to the post office and a young man from the neighborhood made a comment about supposing I was spending the summer relaxing. I answered with some flippant remark about being ready for school to start so that I could have a break. If I had said I spend my summers making art he would have felt that his suspicions had been confirmed. I got to pondering on why even we as artist sometimes see what we do as insignificant. Artists are a unique breed in that they can feel guilty for doing art work as well as not doing art work. I suppose it all comes down to monetary value. If I was selling my work and making money it would be easier to justify. At this point I am just putting them in the basement and running out of space to store them. When I first started doing Guerilla Art it was an attempt at creating art without having something I would have to store. The first couple of years went well but at a certain point rebuilding them over and over again started to take its toll. I tried to change the constructions each time but the materials kind of dictated the form and they tended to always turn out looking somewhat the same and it was a lot of physical work. By the time I was done with the larger ones I would be covered with sweat and dirt not to mention all types of biting insects. Most people wouldn’t have worked that hard to make money but for me it was a labor of love. I am lucky as an art teacher my teaching can pay for my addiction. Making art is indeed something that would be impossible for me to give up. It is the people who have to make a living off their art that I really feel for. After years of going to school and perfecting their craft they may or may not be able to make a living from their craft. In many cases these artist are forced into taking other jobs to pay the bills while burning the midnight oil to do their art. I realize that historically this has always been a problem. Who as an artist hasn’t heard the familiar, “But you like doing art” usually from somebody who is trying to get you to do something for nothing. For the most part I do like doing art but as I tell my students when they start to get bogged down, “Art is 25% inspiration and 75% hard work. Over the next couple of entries I am going to take a look at a couple of my paper pieces and the process (work) of making them.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Camp Life

Camp Life
Day 4 (7/5/11)
Most of the time we go camping so that we can kayak, bike or do some other type of physical activity. However, there is something to be said for just the simple pleasures of cooking over a fire, relaxing and enjoying your surroundings. This camping trip illustrated that premise. We had a great time kayaking and we even did a little biking until the heat, horseflies and impending rain drove us back to camp. The rain never did come down very hard or long but it did give us an opportunity to just sit around and enjoy camping though. After cooking up some chicken pudgy pies over the fire we finished it off with some dessert pies. All of this we washed down with a nice bottle of Merlot. We spent a lot of time being entertained by the nuthatches and chipmunks. There must have been a family of nuthatches in the trees over our Tepee. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that we had procured the tepee site again this year. Anyway, between the nuthatches putting on an aerial display in the trees and the chipmunks scurrying around our feet we had quite a show. We also took some time to build some cairns around our campsite which the chipmunks seemed to enjoy climbing. We decided to try to film them climbing the cairns so with a little persuasion and a lot of patience we finally got our shot. It was nice to just relax and although we enjoy the physical activities there is something to be said for just savoring the experience of camping.

No Chipmunks were hurt in the makeing of this movie.