Posts Tagged ‘Art’

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In a world daily ripped apart by violence, hatred, and pain; a world where religious zealotry and irrational dogma routinely takes precedence over love and respect; a world where individual achievement is routinely sacrificed on the altar of conformity; Newberry and his art shine like a spotlight on the all too often ignored values of individual human existence and the power of striving for personal greatness.

Every day, I live in the presence of an array of pastels, prints, and paintings that help me remember how beautiful and noble it is to strive to be one’s best. These are “Our Newberrys”. These are our inspiration.

I remember how touched Patt and I were when, as a show of compassion and concern following Patt’s breast cancer surgeries, Michael called to tell Patt he was naming one of his female nudes in her honor. That was not about money or publicity or the “trader principle” of his Objectivist ethics.  That was simply an expression of love from one individual human soul to another. We remember that to this very day.

I love the non-representational works, the Judaica, the sculpture, and, really, every piece in my collection. I even love my own glasswork and photographs. But, only Newberry reminds me, every day, that my individual human life has intrinsic value. For that I will always cherish his art and his friendship!

This rather reminds me of the old days when the Taliban was destroying the priceless, irreplaceable artifacts of Buddhist culture. This time, for about the same reason, ISIS is hard at work destroying the precious history of Assyrian culture. Once again, religious extremism is working hard to destroy everything that doesn’t happen to be part of their particular ideology. Violent dogma at work. So…. let’s have a look:

Needless to say, you don’t go out and buy some new ancient Iraqi artifacts. So, like the Taliban before it, ISIS is killing not just humans but history.

What a pity.

It’s difficult to believe that it’s been over a month since I posted the first part of this piece. In the interim I’ve dealt with mom’s broken hip and a week in London, among other things. None of that is really an excuse, except to say that I’ve been crazy busy. Oh well. Back at it.

James Turrell often talks about his work in the context of Plato’s parable about the cave. I’m sure you know that one. Those kept prisoner in the cave can only see the shadows of what’s outside in the real world. They think that the shadows ARE the real world, not knowing that there is a larger, more vivid, much more complex world outside their cave. They don’t know that because their concept of the world is shaped only by what they perceive. Personally, I hate that parable; not because of what it says about sense perception but because Plato uses it to describe his notion of underlying forms and I’m SO not into Platonism.

But, I have to say that when Turrell uses the parable to explain the concept that we are living in a place far more wondrous than what we actually perceive, I get it. Personally, I draw a hard-line when the implication is that we live “in a reality that our mind creates” because that leads down a subjectivist rat hole that has historically led (IMHO) down a very scary path. I refuse to believe that we create our own reality: reality is not a social construct or a linguistic construct or a perceptual construct. Reality is reality. Existence exists. That is my belief system and I’m sticking to it.

Now, the part of the equation that I DO buy into wholeheartedly it the idea that what we commonly consider the totality of reality is subject to the sensory limitations of our perceptual apparatus. To me, the profound power of Turrell’s work is that he forces us to confront the perceptual and cognitive limitations and to look deeply. I don’t want to burden that thought with New Age pseudo-spiritual fluff. Feel free to do that yourself. But, I see this work in a more objective way,

You see, I feel that awareness of subtlety and attention to detail are tools for cognitive tuning, living as fully as possible in the world, creative success, and the ability to maximally experience joy, beauty, and wonder. And, the more joy, beauty, and wonder we are able to glean from our experience of the world the more fulfilled we can be as individuals. Turrell’s work, by encouraging us to look more deeply than typically possible, makes us more aware, makes our experience more nuanced, and positions us to have a deeper, more fulfilling life.

That’s a pretty bold statement and, just to be clear, it came from me not from Jim. I’m not sure he’d describe his work the way I do; but I’m sure he’d approve of my assessment. And… It’s my assessment that leads me to the aesthetic value I see in his work.

Although teleology is something that much of 20th and 21st century art has forsaken, I still believe in the old notions of direction and purpose. I know, I’m old-fashioned. In many cases, artists have “purposes” with which I disagree. I’m okay with that. What I’m not okay with is intellectual activity that is purposeless. If you make violent art to sensitize the viewer to the horrors of violence, I may not like it, but I’ll respect it. Conversely, if you make violent art just for the sake of violence, I’ll look you in the eye and call it valueless.  The point is that art have a purpose.

My own belief is that the value of art comes when that purpose is, in one way or another, directed toward making we humans better for having experienced it. In the case of my friend Michael Newberry, the purpose of his work is to make us see the greatness we can achieve and the capacity we have for joy. I love his work because it has that purpose. At the diametrically opposite extreme, consider Alain Resnais’ film “Night and Fog”. The purpose if the file is to make us see the utter depths of depravity we can fall to when a nationalistic genocidal machine is allowed to grow from a history of antisemitism and the capacity the Nazis had for bestiality. I love that film, although I can probably never watch it a second time, because it has a purpose. The purpose is painful, horrifying, and tragic. But it strives to make us better by making us wary of the depths to which we can fall. Terrifying as it may be, we are changed by watching it; hopefully made just a bit more empathetic and compassionate.

But what about Turrell?

Okay. That brings me to the aesthetics of nuance. The work of James Turrell makes us better human beings because it makes us pay attention to subtlety. By experiencing Turrell’s work we wrestle with perception, we experience surprise, we watch, we wait, we look, and we see. In each case, we exercise our cognition and we tune our senses. We stand in a museum looking at a hole in a wall and some fluorescent tubes. Big deal, you say. Damn right it’s a big deal. Because, if you give yourself time to experience that light, to let it work it’s magic on your visual cortex, to become sensitive to its subtlety, you may just walk out of that museum and notice a flower you’d otherwise have missed, see a sunset you might have otherwise been too busy driving past, hear a bird you might not have noticed, smell the aroma of the bread at the bakery you walk past, touch a stone whose texture you may have missed, experience a smile that might have gone unnoticed, feel just a bit more intensity in that night’s orgasm, LIVE just a bit more fully than you lived before…

…Just maybe… the world will seem a little bit more blessed with  wonder.

That’s an aesthetic worth experiencing.

The key point here is simple. Leon is confusing “scientism” and “postmodernism”. This is an especially odd confusion because those 2 things are exact opposites. He seems to equate “scientism” with an extreme reductionist positivism. It’s not that either. So, I agree that postmodernism and positivism are both bad for the humanities (IMHO of course), neither of those is what “scientism” is.

Why Evolution Is True

On August 5 this 3½-minute video, featuring Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, was put up on YouTube. Leon edited several of my own pieces for that magazine, including my attack on the compatibility of science and faith, but now finds himself attacking the incursion of science into the humanities. Given his attitude towards accommodationism, at least as evidenced in his encouraging me to publish my critique of religion, I was surprised to see this.

This video is, I believe, a reaction to Steve Pinker’s article on scientism that was published on the evening of August 6, but had been in galleys for a long time. My guess is that Leon knew Steve’s piece was coming and wanted to go after it.  After all, I’ve never seen Wieseltier put up a video like this.

Leon is not strident here, but I think he’s mistaken in nearly everything…

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I first saw a substantial exhibition of Jim Turrell’s work in the late 1980’s at the Temporary Contemporary in Los Angeles. I became an obsessive fan of his work on that day.

I remember vividly the piece that turned me into a Turrell follower. I walked down a darkened hallway and turned to my right. A couple of people were standing in a room but otherwise I was alone. At the far end of the room was what looked like a glowing painting whose color shifted from red to blue across the length of the panel. I could not see any lighting that would explain the intense glow of the painting. Perhaps it was painted on a translucent plastic sheet and backlit. I did not know.

When the other visitors left the room I sat down on the floor against the rear wall and in silence I experienced the “painting”. After perhaps 5 minutes, I was unable to determine exactly what I was looking at. So, I approached it. The closer I got to the piece the more confused I was about what I was seeing. I walked up, within inches, of the piece and reached toward it. To my surprise, I was able to place my hand within the space of the piece and to realize that it was neither a canvas nor a translucent panel. This was not a painting at all. It was a cutout in the wall, lit from within the open space by a set of florescent tubes. My senses said it was solid; reality said it was nothing but light.

This was not a “well-lit” piece, it was a well-lit “nothing”. It was nothing become something through a sophisticated use of geometry, light, and perception. And… the material substance of the piece, its medium, was neither geometry nor light alone. It’s “medium” was the interplay of light and perception, the interplay of stimulus and neural response. It’s medium could not even exist were it not for light, vision, and neuroscience. At its most base level the piece could not exist without billions upon billions of bio-chemical synaptic conductance changes. That can be said of almost anything, but in this case, without that brain activity, the piece would have been, seriously, nothing. That was the late 1980s.

Fast forward to July 2013. Nearly 25 years have passed since that day I first experienced Jim Turrell. In the interim the magnum opus, Rodin Crater, has moved many tons of Earth closer to Turrell’s ultimate vision. His fame has grown exponentially. One no longer has the privilege of simply walking directly up to his pieces and placing a hand within. In fact, unless one forks over $25.00 per visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, his work is rarely even accessible.

It is the general inability to see collections of Turrell’s work that makes the LACMA show so significant. You might gather that I’m disappointed at the museum’s elitist view of the show whereby they have priced a lot of visitors out of the market and financially prohibited many would be Turrell enthusiasts from even seeing his work. Then again, I’m that free market capitalist dude that keeps saying we should just let the market work, so I’m being my own sort of elitist jerk for complaining. If the market will bear $25.00, so be it. But, for what it’s worth I think it does Turrell and the museum a disservice by charging what they do.

Let’s set aside the $75 that it cost for me and my 2 companions to get in. We did it. We saw the show. So, free market economics says that if I think the price is a problem we are part of it. Onward.

The LACMA Turrell Retrospective consists of 14 spaces and a “contraption”. The latter is a full body immersive experience that is booked solid for the rest of 2013, no doubt by patrons to whom $25.00 is the least of their worries. So, I did not get to see it. The 14 spaces are prints, 2 projections, a series of holograms, several spaces and corner constructions, a video and documentary exhibit on Turrell’s Skyspaces, models, and a documentary and photographic exhibit on Rodin Crater. All in all, it was a comprehensive show that provides a fabulous introduction to every aspect of Turrell’s ouerve.

Since I began by commenting on a light-painting, it should not be a surprise that my 2 personal favorite pieces are “Raemer, Pink, White” of 1969 and the 1992 piece “St. Elmo’s Breath”. Both of these pieces are similar in that they blur the distinction between physicality and evanescence. One must spend time with these works. When you do, they are powerfully emotional. Unfortunately, and I must say that I found this truly rude, the show was so busy that after 5 minutes of viewing pieces who’s signage specifically says to view for “5 minutes MINIMUM”, the security guards kicked us out of one of these spaces to make room for the waiting visitors. So, gone are the days of the 80s when I could “sit with a Turrell” for the time necessary to gain a full emotional response.

In my second part of this post I will describe much more of Turrell’s aesthetic and what I like about it. For now, let me just say that LACMA has staged a breathtaking overview of  Turrell’s work; one that demonstrates the breath of his art, the depth of his mind, and his devotion to showing us how to more intensely, more lovingly, perceive our world. Even at $25.00 per person it’s a must see show!

I was at the Portland Art Museum this past weekend to spend some time with the sculpture of Gaston Lachaise. I realize this might make me a bit uncool, but I did not really know his work aside from the super well-known pieces like “Standing Woman (Elevation)” and some of the derivative pieces.

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I always thought of Lachaise as the sort of sculptor who strove to create a type of idealized femininity. I was wrong. In my mind I was equating the concept of the “ideal” with that of the “universal”. It is easy to see from the following photos that Lachaise’s exaggerated proportions have very little to do with the “ideal”. As for  universality, that is another matter entirely. When I look at these sculptures, I may not see the “perfect” body but I do see powerful representations of “the feminine”.

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It took me a while to come to terms with what I like and don’t like about these pieces. Compositionally, I love many of them. And I think they communicate layer upon layer of messages. For example, I love the “lightness” and almost goddess-like power of Standing Woman. What I have problems with is what I perceive as a lack of “the heroic”. I expected these large-scale sculptures of  goddess-like women to have a sense of heroism as one would find in a Greek statue. These pieces are often describes as being heroic and that is not what I saw. It took me a while to get used to what I was seeing. But, when I did, I was able to come to terms with it.

I eventually realized that I was wrong in my fundamental knowledge of Lachaise. As I said, he is not trying to IDEALIZE femininity; he is trying to UNIVERSALIZE it. For example, my western image of a perfect body, an Indian image of a perfect body, and an African one are all different. Lachaise is not trying to represent MY ideal; he is representing a universal archetype. Lachaise is not representing the “perfect” figure. He is representing one that describes essences. Breasts that are far out of proportion, exaggerated thighs, intertwined body-parts; all represent something almost Jungian. Much to my pleasant surprise there is a fair chunk of emotional power in that.

There are a few pieces that I particularly enjoyed. First is this sensual message of tenderness. It is not like the bulbous breasts and butts of the female forms. It is subtle and quite moving.

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Second are 2 much more abstract forms. The first is called “Dynamo Mother” and is an exciting merger of many feminine concept. The other is pretty self-explanatory. I have some issues with it because, even as an archetype filtered to its most base language, the notion of “feminine” is orders of magnitude more complex than a couple of breasts and a vagina. Then again, perhaps a subset of archetypal femininity is archetypal female sexuality and, in that case, you can’t fault the guy for being blatant! Still, I hardly think 2 breasts with the female organ between them is a tribute. I’d call it degrading – especially in early 20th century art. Degrading as I see it, this piece has a certain male honesty to it. I don’t you… you decide.

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Are these latter 2 pieces really representative of womanhood? Are they masculine sexual drive imposed on female anatomy? Are they erotic? I’m not really sure yet.

Mark Rothko was born in 1903 in Dvinsk, in the province of Vitebsk, in Russia (This is actually now in Latvia) but spent his school years, beginning in 1913 and ending at our very own Lincoln High School, here in Portland Oregon. He was also an early member of our Jewish Community here and was an active participant at the Jewish Community Center. Rothko left Portland to attend Yale (which he found too “WASPish” and racist) and, though he left that school after a couple of years he chose to stay back east and not to return to Portland. It is in New York (where else?) that he established himself, partly at the New School, partly just because that was the largest center of American art (though as a California kid I always want to dispute that). He became one of the greatest and most celebrated painters of the 20th century and one of my own personal favorite artists.

The great painter died in February of 1970 but February of 2012 brings him back to Portland in spirit. Because Rothko is one of my favorite artists, because we share a connection to the Portland “art scene”, because I will soon have the opportunity to meet his family, and because (to my mind) the Portland Art museum’s upcoming Rothko Retrospective is one of the most significant modern art events in the Pacific Northwest, I will be blogging about Rothko on several occasions over the next month, or so.

Here is some of what you can look forward to. (1) I’ll discuss my opinions about the role of Nietzsche’s philosophy in Rothko’s work. (2) I’ll try to make my case, to my friends who don’t like 20th century abstraction, about why I love Rothko and why that love is consistent with my personal philosophy of art. (3) I’ll share my experiences at Rothko Chapel in Houston and the personal significance of having taken my young nieces and nephews (now, long since grown) to experience that space. (4) I’ll share my upcoming  experience when I am blessed with the chance to meet the Rothko family. (5) I’ll tell you about the experience of spending an extended time sitting alone in DC with Duncan Philips collection of Rothko paintings. (6) I’ll likely ramble on (and probably not always accurately) about aesthetics, spirituality, color theory, and space. (7) I’ll tell you what I think when I see the PAM show. And, (8) God only know what else will pop up. One thing that I won’t discuss is what happened on February 25th, 1970. That is  the domain of psychologists (of which I am surely not one), philosophers (of which you all know I am a rank amateur), and those who knew Mr. Rothko personally (sadly, not me).

I was 10 years old when Mark Rothko died. But, I have deep acquaintance with his work through my art school education, the luck of having Rothko Chapel in my wife’s home town, and the shared love that my aunt Joey and uncle Mel have for his work [Oh yeah Aunt Joey… Item number 9 will probably discuss why Rothko’s work is powerful enough to make an art lover cry 🙂 ]. For those reasons and others, Mark Rothko is a great influence on me. In the upcoming posts, I hope to help you understand why.

Stay tuned!

It was 1978 when I began to attend California Institute of the Arts as a music composition student. From the standpoint of money making capacity I’m quite certain that was not the best decision. I’d probably have lots more money if I’d done something like a business degree at Harvard (a program and a school which I’d never have gotten into anyway and at least I acknowledge it). But from the standpoint of critical thinking skills and the broadness of experience, I will never regret the time I spent at that institution that I so deeply love.

I don’t know now, but 30 years ago CalArts was an entire institution devoted to modernity. Dancers danced modern dance. Filmmakers made experimental animation. Painters were abstract painters. Theater directors directed modern plays. And, in the music school we had no Jazz program but we had a world-class 20th century music ensemble, an amazing percussion program, 3 analog electronic music studios, and some of the world’s most respected faculty like Mort Subotnick, Mel Powell, Nick England, Lucky Mosko, Barry Schrader, Lee Hambro, and on and on. In other words, we were ALL about contemporary art.

One of the greatest things about CalArts was that you could not get out of there without learning about disciplines other than your own. You couldn’t get a music degree just by studying music. You virtually HAD to be interdisciplinary in some way. In my case, I spent part of my time in the film school with Gene Youngblood, Michael Scroggins and Ed Emschwiller; and some of my time with John Brumfeld and his “Topics in the History of Photography” class. I also had the very great honor of working together with, the now well known conceptual artist, Stephen Prina on a project that the institute funded precisely because it was interdisciplinary. But, in addition, one of the basic premises of the institute was that, regardless of your specific discipline, everyone had to take these classes called “critical studies”. That meant that you couldn’t be a filmmaker, or a painter, or a sculptor, or an animator, or a dancer, or a musician, without knowing the basic history of every discipline in 20th century art. This is why CalArts was such an amazing place to learn to be a critical thinker. I remember well that the first paper that I ever wrote for a critical studies class was (very pretentiously) called “Anti-Teleology in Modern Art”. Of course it did not take a genius to discern that the 20th century was an entire generation devoted to the destruction of teleological art. That was easy. What was more difficult and more surprising was to learn everything else that had been destroyed during that century. I think it’s telling (in, to my mind, a bad way) that the 2 texts I most remember from those days were called “Marxism and Art” and “The Social Construction of Reality”.  Just the titles of those 2 textbooks should tell you where I’m heading here!

Among other things, the greatest mode of “destruction” of the 20th century was the transformation of the romantic notion of “art as inspiration” into the ultimately postmodern notion of “art as an anti-realistic, anti-rational expansion of creative process”. In painting for example, Picasso, was arguably the greatest master of composition in the 200 years surrounding his life. But, 20th century aesthetics let that fact be, not only necessary but also, sufficient for him to be considered a great “artist” not just a great “painter”. In literature, Joyce’s “Ulysses” (which I admit that I love even though I’m using it as an example here) is considered a great “novel” even though it purposely has a trivial plot about trivial people on a trivial day in a trivial world and is built from virtually incomprehensible language. By virtue of contemporary aesthetics, Joyce’s “creativity” and “imagination” (both arguably valid aspects of Joyce’s work) permitted those characteristics to be, not only necessary but also, sufficient for him to be considered a great “artist” not just a unique “writer”.  Later in the century, John Cage’s 4″33″, better known as “silence”, was actually considered, by virtue of 20th century aesthetics, to a viable piece of “music” even though it was nothing at all. (now I have to admit that it’s the one piano piece that I can play well. But…. who cares!) Along the way, many very beautiful things were created. But, in the 20th century, “beauty” was an “artifact” not an “objective”.

This brings us to the words “not” and “objective”. Which brings us to the word “subjective”. Which brings us along a path from a Kantian to a Post-Structuralist worldview. Which means, I propose, that the 100 year transition from beauty and inspiration to ugliness and manic-depressive, cynical, despair is the result of the intellectual flow from Kantianism to Post-Structuralism – or stated more personally – from Kant to Lyotard and Derrida and Foucault. I’ll honestly admit that I like much of the art that has occurred along the path. But when we’ve ended up with people preserving sharks in formaldehyde and calling it art, I have nightmares about the future.  I’m not sure whether philosophers would call these phenomenological nightmares, semiotic nightmares, hermeneutic nightmares, or aesthetic nightmares. But they scare me and, for better or worse, I blame that fear on the acceptability of irrationality, of subjectivity, and of philosophies that promote constructing reality based on linguistics rather than on sense perception. In other words most of what I fear is the fault of Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault, and their followers.

In part 2 of this post, I’ll share what the Post-Structuralists say and do and, specifically, why I don’t like it. Stay tuned.

Since 1980 I’ve had the desire to experience a whole array of emotionally charged installation and video art. Since 1988 I’ve had a continuously growing collection of pastel and pencil drawn nudes hanging on my walls. Since 1989 I’ve had a personalized Oregon vehicle license plate that says “R MUSIC”. Interestingly (at least to me) is the thread that binds together those 3 seemingly disparate aspects of my life. To understand the thread, you need to know why each is important to me.

Let’s begin at the end – with the license plate. I moved to Oregon in 1989. I had California plates that said 3DGRFX because working with 3D Graphics is what I did for a living. When I moved to Oregon I wanted to make a change to, not only my state, but also my identity. So, I changed what the plates said. For a long time I did not know what to put on those new plates. Then, one day I was going to lunch with a friend and the car stereo had been turned up quite loud on my drive in to work. As soon as we got into the car, the Opera “Tosca” went blasting through the parking lot. My friend turned to me and said: “turn it off! Turn it off! I hate that kind of music!” I apologized for the volume and then said: “hey, lots of people don’t like opera; but Patt and I LOVE opera so Opera is what plays in MY car. This is our car and this is our music!” That was the very instant that I decided on my new plates: R MUSIC.

The nudes represent a less silly story. I used to hang out in Los Angeles at a place on Traction Avenue, called “Al’s Bar”. One day, one of my downtown friends brought a postcard into the bar and showed it to me. It was a painting called “Denouement”  by an artist who lived across the street. I was stunned by the uplifting beauty of the painting and I had to meet the artist. While I could never afford to own Denouement or any of his other major works, we did become friends and I did start buying his pastels.

As for the video and installation art, all I can say is “read my last blog post”. Several times in my college career I saw video work by an artist who’s work I could neither afford, nor take my eyes off. The artist came to teach in several video art classes that I took from Professor Gene Youngblood at CalArts. He is my favorite artist and I still can’t take my eyes off his work.

So… who are these 3 guys and why do I consider their work to be contributing factors in my own personal philosophical, emotional, and psychological development? The first question is easily answered. These 3 guys are Giacomo Puccini, Michael Newberry, and Bill Viola. The second question is relatively straightforward but is not as easily answered. The simplest answer is just that each of these artists focuses like a laser beam on the thing that I personally find most powerful in art and in life: EMOTION. But that’s a rather banal explanation unless coupled with the rationale. So, here goes.

The word “emotion” can mean many things. In my context, it really refers to something more broadly called “The Passions”. Honestly, I know very little about intellectual history prior to the 17th century so I won’t pretend that I know where the categorization of the passions began. What I do know is that in 1668 Charles Le Brun cataloged 22 of them based on facial movements. Three and a half centuries later, today’s master of emotional communication, Paul Ekman, is still working on understanding them. What I also know are two things that are entirely personal and subjective. I know that I respond very strongly to highly emotional art. And, I know that the art I personally find most powerful is that which helps us to develop our ability to see or hear deeply and with sensitivity. So, if I was writing a manifesto (right… in my dreams!) I would say that the purpose of art is to provide audiences or viewers with tools that cultivate their mindfulness, and sensitivity to the subtle beauty of all that surrounds us. Each of these artists provide me with exactly that.

Puccini often took everyday experiences, rather than heroic Wagnerian characters and subjects, as the basis for his operas. This neither implies that Madame Butterfly is “everyday” nor does it imply that I like Wagner. Both are untrue. What is does imply is that Puccini understood the subtleties of ordinary life and was able to portray them sensitively. More important was Puccini’s ability to write extraordinary melody in a way that evokes enormous emotion. The man clearly understood the power of melody to express every subtle aspect of every possible emotion.

In a very different way, Bill Viola understands emotions on a very subtle level. He wants his viewers to experience these emotions but he also wants to heighten out awareness of them. Bill’s work serves to make us aware of how life is lived and experienced and how we emotionally respond to that. Not every emotion that Bill wants us to experience is positive. As much as he want’s us to know what love and ecstasy are like, he also wants us to understand things like sadness, fear, death, loss, grief, confusion, emotional conflict, anger, and everything in between. That’s why Bill can create a piece like “The Passing” which eloquently examines the spiritual, emotional, existential extremes of human birth and death; concurrently juxtaposing them.It’s why he can create something like “I do not know what it is I am like” that does the exact same thing with the natural world. It’s why a viewer can sit transfixed in an installation of “Five Angels for the Millennium” and feel uplifted. And, it’s why “The Passions” can effectively juxtapose everything from “Man of Sorrow” to  “Emergence” in a way that maintains philosophical integrity. Bill doesn’t only want us to be uplifted. He wants us to know what every emotion feels like and, through experiencing his work, to become sensitized to those emotions and to be better able to recognize and wrestle with them. All of Bill’s work reaches it’s pinnacle in “The Passions” because all of those pieces deal with what John Walsh calls “Emotions in Extreme Time”. The pieces were not shot on video. They were shot on 35mm film at an extremely high frame rate. The result is that we viewers need to spend time with the pieces (you can’t just walk by them). But, when you do, you experience the most intricate subtlety imaginable. You learn everything about the emotion expressed in the work. For I guy like me, who values emotion as the most affecting component of art, nothing is more powerful than Bills most recent work!

Like Viola and Puccini, Michael Newberry’s work is about emotion. Somewhat different from Puccini and drastically different from Viola, Newberry’s work focuses on a only a subset of the passions. That subset, however, is the core of both his aesthetic and his beliefs about the purpose of art. Michael DOES have a manifesto and it’s not the same as what I said mine would be. I have a broader range of art that I would call “good” than Michael does but that is because Michael has very solid, rational, consistent beliefs about why he does what he does. So, much of the art I like, Michael does not like because it does not meet his standards for what he believes art should do. I had a conversation with Michael recently, about Picasso’s composition. Michael sad this: “Picasso is one of my favorite painters but he is not one of my favorite artists“. I’ve never discussed Viola’s work with him but I have the feeling he’d feel similarly.  Michael has an aesthetic that is strongly rooted in Romantic aesthetics. To him, the most important thing that art should do is to help the viewer or listener understand his potential for greatness; to make the audience see their human potential; and to make them have a desire to be the best, most productive, most glorious humans that they can be. Michael does not try to work with the whole gamut of emotions. Many of Le Brun’s 22 passions are exactly the opposite of what Michael wants his work to express. What he wants is for his viewers to see intense love; pure, unfiltered, unimpeded ecstasy; and the feeling of joy brought to its ultimate heights. Unlike Viola, or even Puccini, Michael does not want his work to have anything to do with fear, anger, disappointment, sadness, or death. Where Viola wants us to see everything and to be forced to deal with our own responses, Michael wants only one thing: to show you your highest, greatest, most amazing potential and to make you strive to achieve your own.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to all three of these artists. To Puccini I owe my love for some of the most passionate aural experiences one can ever have. To Viola I own my love for visual experiences that forever change ones perceptions. To Newberry I own a house full of some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, the daily renewal of my desire to strive to be my best, a constant reminder to take the personal responsibility for achieving (or not) my goals, and the acknowledgement that it’s okay (dare I say mandatory) for one to nurture one’s own joy, happiness, and love.

What my favorite artists would think of each other, I don’t really know. I’m pretty sure that Puccini would love Newberry’s painting and, at least, the most recent of Viola’s work. I’m certain that if Viola saw Newberry’s painting he’d feel he’d found a kindred spirit. I know that Newberry loves Puccini because we’ve spoken about it and listened together; about Viola’s later work I guess that Michael would respect it and love (or come to love) “The Passions”. Each of these guys would have a different view of how the others meet the aesthetic objectives of their own artistic conceptions. But, that’s why they are all great artists. Their artistic conceptions each differ but, unlike so much of the terrible art that has been produced in the last 100 years, what make each of these aesthetics unique is their unadulterated nobility.

As for me, I am just a lover of emotionally charged art with a bunch of pastel and pencil drawn nudes and a silly “R MUSIC” license plate. But the thread that binds together those really important parts of my life is passion. Today I live more passionately, more compassionately, and with greater mindfulness of our world and our human potential because of them.