Archives for the month of: October, 2010

“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.” ~ Albert Einstein

I’ve been known to have my gripes about the institutional machinery churning out MFAs, and the economic chicanery of the commercial art world that promotes the idea that this degree denotes superior artistic talent, intellect or dedication.  As Jerry Saltz writes in NY Magazine, “These days, if a young artist starts out showing at Larry Gagosian it feels silly, misguided, out of scale, and odd — like the artist is in it for the wrong reasons.”

Yes, an MFA does denote a bigger debt load (or bigger trust fund), but we all know there are plenty of artists out there who have and continue to produce incredible work by following less traditional paths.  Let us not forget that the supposed indispensability of having an MFA is a fairly recent development for visual artists.  But that aside, while I may have reservations about certain institutions, my point here, and I promise to get to it, is to speak out loudly in favor of teachers, and the importance of all of us being very vocal and visible in supporting the role of arts in the public education programs for the nation’s youth.  (If you’re in NY, here’s a good place to start advocating for the arts.)

“A teacher’s purpose is not to create students in his own image, but to develop students who can create their own image. “~ Unknown

Don’t you fondly think of those who have formally and/or informally offered insights, guidance, opinions and encouragement along the way?  I speak from experience to say that you might be surprised at how much showing your appreciation might mean to them.

Here are a few of the people I have to thank:

Incredibly perceptive, sharp and frank Regina Granne, who taught me that looking hard and drawing well are indispensable abilities, but aren’t enough if one isn’t honing one’s thinking skills all the while.

Knox Martin, at 87 and still painting away, eternally mischievous, irrepressibly lustful, playful, and passionate – an unaffected cad of sorts.  [His current solo show at Woodward Gallery runs through November 13, 2010.]

The late Richard Pousette-Dart, irascible by association, though not in manner, whom I have to thank for encouraging me to look deep within and pursue my creative vision, for caring not a whit when it diverged from his own, and for telling me to use a bigger sketchbook.

The late Robert Beauchamp, an uncompromising painter’s painter, who made it undeniably obvious how sexy paint can be.

Bruce Dorfman, who taught me the difficult lesson of mining successes from self-proclaimed so-called failures.

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” (Albert Einstein, again.)

And I’ll leave you with some views from teachers’ perspectives:

A post by Julia Hensley on teaching and making art and a typographic video version of Taylor Mali‘s spoken poem “What Teachers Make.”

And if you want to be impressed more, check out Taylor Mali’s mission to inspire 1000 people to become teachers.  So far, he’s convinced 580, and counting!

My previous post, “Not So Fan-tastic,” describes my receipt of a “fan” letter in the mail from teenager Suzanne Lopez, requesting  my autograph on a blank, white index card she had enclosed.  Before responding to what was a decidedly unusual request, I did some research and found out that the identical letter had been sent internationally to many artists of all disciplines.  Well, the almost identical letter.  Suzanne revised her age randomly between 17, 16 and 15, and her return address changed often.

Today I received an email from Suzanne, using a different name, who was upset to find that I had publicly aired my skepticism.  I will add my rough translation of her message and the original French at the bottom of this post.  The few points I’d note before asking for your comments are as follows:

First off, I have no desire to alienate or criticize anyone who genuinely appreciates my work, or to get into a virtual pissing match with any professed admirer.  People out there have hobbies that are a whole lot weirder than collecting autographs, and I’m not passing judgment.  However, I would find it more genuine to receive a compliment from an adult who doesn’t feel the need to masquerade as a teen, more meaningful to receive one from someone who can remark even in some small way about how the work speaks to them, and maybe even someone who expresses enough interest in my work to subscribe to my email list before asking me for something, even if it is just my signature.

Secondly, if Suzanne is an admirer of mine and familiar with my work as she says, I’m  puzzled why she remains unaware of my gender and addresses me as Monsieur.  It is clear on my website’s home page, my bio/cv and reviews that I am not male.  One thing about her original letter that struck me as odd was that it was entirely impersonal – worded identically to those others had received, except for artistic discipline.  In her recent communication with me, she still says nothing personal or specific about my work, other than quoting “Dear   O  Applause!  to you.  I was impressed.  You’ve done it again!” indicating only that she’d seen the faux postcard on my contact page.

Finally, regarding personal addresses, my studio address is on my website, which is how she was able to contact me by mail in the first place.  I like the USPS and encourage people to contact me, but maybe she’s right that such info shouldn’t be generally available.  As a courtesy, I have removed Suzanne’s return address from my earlier post.

Though this whole thing makes me kind of sad, I mean no disrespect to Suzanne, who may indeed have an “Imaginary Museum” of artists’ autographs, enjoying a vaguely quirky hobby for over 35 years.  I hope she will continue to love art and discover artists she admires, and that she eventually finds a truly personal way to connect with people where she feels comfortable just being herself.

P.S. There is no international inquest, call for witnesses, or FBI involvement.  Just me and you, the true friends and supporters who come visit this little blog of mine.

Dear Mr. Sky Pape

I am writing you this message in French. I don’t know whether you know this language, but I think that having reliable detective talents, you know how to translate it or have it translated. I read with great surprise and some amusement the article on your blog about “Suzanne Lopez” and the letter you received in June.  Surprise and amusement because I never thought such an innocent letter could provoke an international inquest, along with a call for witnesses!  For as you will agree, you only received a letter asking you for an autograph, and you had total freedom faced with this request to respond or not respond. The request is not specifically illegal, and the intervention of the FBI may perhaps be a bit of an exaggeration [overreaction], even if we do live in an increasingly policed society: I am surprised that an artist would completely agree.

First, I will reassure you that there is no underlying bank card fraud or similar project. I believe that you would have already heard about it.  So, I will reveal the scandalous secret: it is just…a collection of autographs!  Amazing, right?  The “Imaginary Museum” is a collection of autographs.

One confession, still…Indeed, it is the only “scam”, the age is not true.  And I will tell you why.  This collection started when Suzanne Lopez was 15 years old…16, 17…and the letter has remained much the same since.  I “fixed” on that age, which was a good time in life.  And this collection started in 1973.  Do the math.  (At that time there was no Internet, and fewer amateur detectives.)

There.  This “truth” will undoubtedly disappoint you.  Whatever.  Know in any case that I don’t find it appropriate to give the world a personal address. Would you want a stranger doing the same with yours?

My collection does not include the autograph of Sky Pape.  Too bad.  I like what you make a lot.

Dear   O  Applause!  to you   .  i was impressed.  You’ve done it again!

Sincerely,
Suzanne Lopez

Cher M. Sky Pape,
Je vous écris ce message en français. J’ignore si vous connaissez cette langue, mais je pense, qu’ayant des talents sûrs de détective, vous saurez la traduire ou la faire traduire. J’ai lu avec beaucoup d’étonnement et un peu d’amusement votre article sur votre blog au sujet de “Suzanne Lopez” et de la lettre que vous avez reçue en juin. Etonnement et amusement, car je ne pensais pas qu’une innocente lettre puisse provoquer une telle enquête internationale, assortie d’un appel à témoins! Car, vous en conviendrez, vous avez seulement reçu une lettre vous demandant un autographe, et vous aviez toute la latitude face à cette requête de répondre ou de ne pas répondre. La demande n’est pas spécialement illégale, et l’intervention du FBI serait peut-être un peu exagérée, même si nous vivons dans une société de plus en plus policière: je m’étonne qu’un artiste abonde dans ce sens.
Je vais d’abord vous rassurer: il n’y a là-dessous aucun projet d’escroquerie à la carte bancaire ou autre projet similaire. Je crois que vous en auriez entendu parler. Alors, je vais vous révéler le “pot-aux-roses”: il s’agit simplement d’une…. collection d’autographes. Incroyable, non? Et seulement cela. Le “Musée imaginaire”, c’est une collection d’autographes…
Un aveu, quand même… Effectivement, et c’est la seule “escroquerie”, l’âge n’est pas le bon. Et je vais vous dire pourquoi: cette collection a commencé quand Suzanne Lopez avait 15 ans… 16,17… et la lettre est restée un peu la même depuis. J’ai “bloqué” sur cet âge, qui était une bonne époque. Et cette collection a commencé en 1973. Faites vos calculs. (A l’époque, il n’y avait pas Internet, et moins d’apprentis détectives.)
Voilà. Cette “vérité” vous déçoit sans doute. Peu importe. Sachez en tout cas que je ne trouve pas très opportun de donner en pâture au monde une adresse personnelle. Voudriez-vous qu’un inconnu fasse de même avec la vôtre?
Ma collection ne comprendra donc pas l’autographe de Sky Pape. C’est dommage, j’aime bien ce que vous faites.
Dear   O  Applause!  to you   .  i was impressed.  You’ve done it again!
Bien à vous,
Suzanne Lopez

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