Sunday, April 27, 2008

Defining Culture

As an interesting follow up to the article on Habacuc's piece in which he ties a dog up in a gallery and starves him to death. I thought I would further solidify our case for the humane treatment of animals (unfortunately it seems necessary, though I would think that it's self-evident).

What this video exhibits is more than just a circus act. Though the elephant is probably trained, it's amazing nonetheless. But what this tells me is that the elephant is able to think symbolically. It is not attempting to paint what it sees, but is conceiving of what an elephant is from memory and reproducing a pictographic depiction.

In the study of Anthropology, culture is what divides man from animals and it is defined in several different ways. Though there is no absolutely agreed upon definition, these three traits are common in nearly all of them:

1. Symbolic Thought - the ability to understand and communicate meaning through abstract ideas.
2. Learned Transmission - the passing down of learned behavior from one individual to another.
3. Tool Making - The ability to see a raw material and alter it to suite your needs.

The Elephant is exhibiting at least two of these traits - learned behavior and symbolic thought. Other animals, especially primates, have been known to exhibit all three of these criteria.

There was a study done on tool-making crows of New Caledonia, in which a piece of food was placed in a clear tube. The only object available was a straight piece of wire. The crow bent the wire and used it to fish out the food. Similar behavior has been seen in chimpanzees who fashion tools out of sticks to fish termites of of mounds and other chimps who make spears to hunt Bushbabies. Another study was presented to a chimp where a nut was placed in a narrow glass tube next to a bowl of water. The chimp drank some water and spit it into the tube so that the nut floated to the top so that he could reach it. What's remarkable about this is that not only did he know that he could use water as a tool, he also knew that the nut would float!

Among primates, Gorillas, and most notably Chimps, have a been trained to communicate through sign language. They have been seen to not only learn from each other, but have the ability to understand and apply words to different contexts.

And this brings us to the specific issue: canine intelligence. A border collie named Rico in Germany has exhibited a vocabulary of at least 200 words. If that's not remarkable enough, he has also demonstrated the ability to learn new words from only being exposed to a new object once. Further, if you train a dog not to urinate inside your house, it goes without saying that the dog will understand not to urinate in your neighbor's house as well. This is evidence that the dog has abstracted the idea and applied it to similar contexts.

Now, to solidify my point. Elephants and crows have demonstrated several of the traits necessary for culture. Primates and dogs have demonstrated all three on the list above. Thus, the argument that I've heard, which claims that animals do not think or feel is unequivocally false. These animals have demonstrated culture. Thus, the difference between torturing a human being and a dog is non-existent and the law should be enforced equally. What's more, think about the fact that the very dog that Habacuc starved, likely understood much of what the viewers were saying and likely understood that it was intentional. This is the greatest outrage of all.

If you haven't already, please sign the petition to stop Habacuc.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The voice of elitism

Are you better than the average man on the streets? If you think you are, how does this effect your art? I have always thought elitism in art or anything else is a compensation - for what the person is compensating, I leave to your imagination.
In 1957 Mike Wallace interviewed Frank Loyd Wright. Here is a quote that I found very telling.

Wallace: …a pretty fair share of our audience tonight either can’t, or does not want to, understand modern art like the paintings of Picasso or modern music, let’s say by Stravinsky; possibly they don’t even know, don’t even want to or cannot understand you. What do you think of these people who either don’t understand or don’t care?
Wright: I don’t think they matter as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think they’re for me, so why should I be for them?
The complete interview is available here:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Observing Steven Assael at work

These are notes I took watching Steven Assael paint. Here is a list of the colors I noticed on the palette. There were more, but these are the ones that were used frequently.

List of colors:

Burnt Siena

Alizarin Crimson


Ultramarine blue

Prussian Blue

Cadmium green light


Burnt umber

Ivory black

Transparent oxide red

Holbein brown pink

Transparent yellow ochre

Yellow ochre

Cadmium red light

Cadmium orange

Cadmium Yellow

Naples Yellow light

Brilliant Yellow light

Titanium White

Steve makes these colors work by blending on the canvas. He would often take a beaten large fan brush and slap in a highlight down the length of an arm in pure white, which would seem too light until he uses mixtures of more or less cad red, ochre and siena and blends these without white loosely over the same arm. Next he might take a green and work out from the cool halftones in the same way. By this time he had subdued the intensity of the white and by painting all these colors over each other and mixing them together created a beautiful subtle color scheme with lots of broken color and texture. At this point he might restate his lights. This process is very loose with no respect paid to edges of form as these can be established later. Last he would model his darks. This was done with mostly sable brushes. He chose his dark color not for the way it looked but for how it would blend with the other colors already there. For instance alizarin crimson would create a luminous reddish haze when he used it. This would be great for the space between fingers or the transparent flesh in an ear but terrible for a cool blue area around the eye socket. In the cool areas he would often use a purple or a mixed dull greenish color with a bit of umber and a green or blue . When painting these darks he blends out from the darkest point I never saw him block in a chunky dark it was always a soft delicate subtle process where the finish starts to emerge.

Some frequent mixtures:

In the lights often Brilliant yellow light or naples were mixed with cad red, Alizarin or Yellow ochre for warmer colors and the same brilliant yellow could be mixed with a purple or green to cool the light areas. For richer color areas mixtures of naples or brilliant yellow with ochre, cad red or either of the sienas were used.
In the shadows he often would mix burnt siena and cad green, or burnt siena and alizarin for hot areas. Finally for the dark shadow accents he might use pthalo blue mixed with burnt siena and alizarin.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Upcoming Competitions

I am posting a list of upcoming competitions relevant for realist painters. The deadlines are all coming up in the next few weeks.

American Artist Magazine, Self Portrait Competition

American Artist, Artist of the Month

International Artist Magazine, Your Favorite Subject

Artist Magazine, Annual Art Competition

Slow Art, Strange Figurations

Lana Santorelli Gallery, Summer Nude Show

Oil Painters of America, Western Regional Exhibition

Artist of the Day Blog

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Of Art and Murder

In 2007, the 'artist' Guillermo Vargas Habacuc tied up a stray dog in a gallery. Over the course of several days, he and the viewers watched as the dog slowly starved to death before their eyes.

The Visual Arts Biennial of Central America has invited Guillermo Vargas Habacuc to produce an encore performance of this installation in 2008.

This act not only disregards ethics, morality, and international law, but it is a blatant affront to our intelligence. Freedom of expression does not apply here and I'll tell you why. "Conceptual art", by it's very nature, does not require a visual to communicate an idea. In fact, it is more clearly articulated in written or verbal form. Truly ask yourself, who looks at an installation and just gets it? Understanding the point requires either a detailed written statement or a Masters degree in contemporary art theory. "Conceptual art" is an elitist statement, with an elitist vocabulary to an elitist audience. But, I'll briefly explain it for those who aren't familiar.

It all began in 1917 with Marcel Duchamp. (Well, it began with Kant, but we'll start with Duchamp in the interest of brevity.) He found a urinal, placed it in a gallery, and entitling it Fountain, said that it was art. From Duchamp onward, the entire point of "ready-made" or "found art" is that the part of the artwork that is "art" is specifically not the object. Therefore the object, whether aesthetically appealing or not, is absolutely unnecessary. In fact, if one considers the object aesthetically it negates the entire point and the piece is therefore no longer art. Duchamp's and Habacuc's ideas would have been more effectively conveyed if they had limited it to a written form, much like Schrodinger's thought experiment with the cat in the radioactive box. If the idea is the art, and not the object.... why have the object?

Regardless of whether or not one thinks that placing an object like a urinal or shovel in a gallery constitutes as brilliant art, Habacuc treats this living creature as an object. If his point is intended ironically (irony - an overburdened and weak leg to stand on) to point out starvation, we do not require his 'great insight' to realize that starvation takes place. We do not require his insight to see suffering, pain, fascism, indifference, or death. These are all extremely obvious. So obvious in fact, that a drunken four year old could illuminate the concept for you if you're at all confused. Thus, adding to the suffering in the world only adds to the suffering in the world and does nothing to counteract it.

As social action, this piece is not merely impotent, but destructive. Now we understand that in some poorer areas of Latin America, dogs are regarded much as rats. There are thousands of them on the streets and they pose a public danger. However, in your mind, simply replace the dog with a rat. This does not negate the fact that what he's doing is simply starving an animal. Even if you remove yourself from caring about the animal, it's still conceptually banal and obvious and leads us down an incredibly slippery path.

In 2002 Damien Hirst made a conceptually similar statement in the Guardian:

Describing the image of the hijacked planes crashing into the twin towers as "visually stunning", he added: "You've got to hand it to them on some level because they've achieved something which nobody would have ever have thought possible, especially to a country as big as America.

"So on one level they kind of need congratulating, which a lot of people shy away from, which is a very dangerous thing."

You can see how very quickly how this definition of Art can become dangerous.

Short of any actual content in the "piece", the only thing left is beauty. And the only beautiful element of this entire "piece" was the life of the dog, which he destroyed. One might say that was his point - that is to say that the "Bourgeoisie" west lacks a grasp of "reality" - , and to do so, he hoped to mimic Duchamp. Overlooking the hypocrisy of such a statement coming from someone in the upper strata of an oligarchic ruling class, let's simply stick to the nuts and bolts of the argument. The goal of Duchamp's "Fountain" was to destroy aesthetic beauty and the institutions that supported it. Firstly, some philosophical idea on the nature of art is never important enough to sacrifice a life. Secondly, it negates the point of art, as art is about life. And thirdly, how many times must those who claim to be the 'avant garde' repeat the same tired stunt? Must we do this for another 90 years? Habucac's "installation" is at best, derivative, didactic, and a pathetic attempt at art. He would have to do much more for it to be anything more than the malicious act of a twisted and childish mind. In short, Habacuc has resorted to shock value due to the fact that he has nothing relevant to say.

But, I've got a brilliant idea - let's take it a step further!

Next time we'll take a homeless person, or better yet, a whole family of poverty stricken Central Americans and chain them up before a crowd of self-entitled, bourgeoisie elitists who will watch them starve while they drink their champagne and eat caviar. Or better still, let's just put the family into a pit with lions. It will be over quickly so that we don't exceed the viewers' 30 second attention spans and they can go home early and have their after-party in their mansions by the sea and croon about what a brilliant piece that was .....
oh I'm sorry, that's already been done before and it was called inhumane torture and public execution!

SeƱor Habacuc, do you understand the idea, or is it necessary for me to "perform" it to clarify?

This is wrong no matter how one defines "art".
Please follow these links to sign the petition:


Friday, April 18, 2008

Fragments of Humanity

From the show "Fragments"
By Blake Ward

Last night I made my obligatory trek to Chelsea to see the latest and greatest installment of chrome bunnies and iconccized household items being carefully scrutinized by a remarkably unchanging group of aging hipsters. They stand they criticize and they dribble free wine into the collars of their white turtlenecks. The night wears on and the atmosphere thickens. The distinction between the art and the spectators blurs and I find more pleasure observing a well heeled man in a tailored suit seriously scrutinizing a headless mannequin than I possibly could looking at the headless mannequin for myself.

Finally we take the elevator to the fourteenth floor of the Chelsea arts tower and step out into a dream. we walk into a room with a sprawling panorama of New York City and the Hudson river that is dazzling. I have come with two other artists Alexandra Pacula, and Fabio D Aroma, all three of us stop and for once were totally speechless. In this space were numerous small sculptures, active and restless fragments of nudes. They seemed healthy, vigorous, and alive, though they had been shattered. The show "Fragments" by Canadian artist Blake Ward and founder of Motive Art is Raising funds for No More Landmines a UK based organization dedicated to clearing landmines leftover from wars and making it possible for people to return to their land without risk of death or injury.

This show should be a challenge to every artist who sees it. Social change has been fundamental to modern art. Feminist art, political art, the freedom to do your own thing. Blake is an artist who is taking things a step further. He looks at the world and makes work that comments on it and makes a difference. Like Tom Wolfe's books his sculptures are a call to an art less self absorbed more and worldly.

Click here for a BBC story about the artist.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Advice from an art dealer

Dreamless Sleep, Robert Dale Williams
Collection of DK Anderson
I am an art dealer. When I walk around my home I come face to face with paintings I have purchased from my own artists over the years, some of which I now could probably not afford. Painting is my obsession. Ever since the first auction I attended in my youth where I tried unsuccessfully to buy a painting of a paratrooper jumping out of a plane. What as a dealer am I looking for in an artist? First I want to own the art. It must to be the art I would hang on my own wall and would want to buy if I came across it in a gallery. Every dealer has their preference mine is for art from the Nineteenth century and contemporary works that possess the same craft and humanity to be found in works by such artists as Bouguereau and Fredrick Leighton.

In order to succeed in the art world however an artist also needs to connect with his audience. They need to understand why they bought the painting so when their friends come over to visit they can confidently explain why their art is worth owning and they are not Philistines.

I make a point of having my artists tell their stories in my magazine World Provenance. If you are promoting your own work you must find a way to do this. Rehearse your story and have it ready at all times.

The work I like and deal in tends to have a strong presence, it does not sit back and fade into a room, it is forceful and everyone notices it. This makes it especially important for people to understand the artist. The more character your work has, the more explanation you should give the buyer. I find that artists often think they must paint soft or easy paintings to be successful, but this is not true. You just need to connect to your audience.
DK Anderson

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Been Caught Stealin

There is a bill currently before Congress, which would allow other people to take the copyright of your creative labors and use it for their own profit.

Yes, I tell you the truth, just as simply as that. They will take your art and give you nothing in return- no credit, no money, nothing.

Does that make you angry? I bet it does!

As if there wasn't enough exploitation of artists rampant already, they've decided to make it legal. Just like the infamous Patriot Act, of course they chose to name the bill something misleading: The Orphaned Artwork Bill. Doesn't it conjure up images of little doe eyed paintings lost and alone on the internet with no home? Well, isn't it so kind of the big corporate fat cats to put her to work doing something productive - lining his pockets for free. In fact, this is nothing short of art slavery! I do indeed think of my works as my children, and I'll be damned if I let someone send them to forced labor.

As of now, your copyright is legally protected internationally, automatically. You do not have to register. Here are the basic facts if this bill is passed. Everything produced within the last 35 years will be open game unless the artist pays a fee to "register" each and every piece produced, individually.

In time honored fashion, they're thinking only of the short term profits and not the long term effects of this legislation. The proposers of this bill don't seem to realize that if you force struggling artists to pay fee after fee to "register" their work, people will stop sharing their work and most will stop producing it. The artistic culture of this nation will shrivel up and whither like a rose in December. Not only will millions of artists loose their rights and ability to feed and clothe themselves worldwide, but every sector of the society will be effected. We depend upon the innovation and invention of creatives to fuel our economy.

Do you remember the writer's strike not too long ago? Do you remember how all of your favorite shows were gone? Do you remember how bad the movies were? Visualize this: 200 tv channels, all with only REALITY TV, badly done billboards, music like Britney Spears and The Backstreet Boys will rule every radio station, our new buildings will be simply boxes, our cars will all look like the Hummer, our businesses will stagnate, our inventors will be stifled, our chefs will suffer and all our restaurants will serve Big Mac's and diet Coke. Art is communication, and communication is the foundation of civilization.

Ok, maybe I'm being a bit apocalyptic here, but the last thing we can do right now is ignore this.

We need to shake our friends out of APATHY and TAKE ACTION!

Here are some resources that you need:

Please read this article from Animation World Magazine for the
complete picture of the critical situation we are in! Go to "Mind
Your Business" link. >>>
Animation World Magazine: Mind your Business: You will Loose All the Rights to Your Own Art

SIGN the Petition >>>


Listen to the audio interview on this bill >>>

Contact Elected Officials >>>

Another artist's "In the know" journal >>>

Friday, April 11, 2008

Odd Nerdrum Painting Process

Here are some photos of Odd Nerdrum's painting "Bleeding Heart" in progress. My friend Robert Dale Williams, who studied with Nerdrum, kindly sent them to me. I've invited him to participate on Art Babel, so hopefully soon, he'll be available if you have any questions.

Since this posting, I have studied with Nerdrum myself and will be returning this summer and fall to continue my studies. Feel free to ask questions, and keep checking the site as I will be adding more postings of my experiences in his studio.
-Richard T Scott