Art's Eclectic Future: A Synthesis - Part II

Posted Apr 27, 2006
Last Updated Jun 21, 2012
...Continued from Part I

Art historians must continue elevating and equating their selected “modern masters” with the great artists of the past, such as Leonardo, Velasquez, Caravaggio, Vermeer and Rembrandt to maintain their value. How many times have you read in some art book or magazine that Robert Rauschenberg or Chuck Close is a “modern day Raphael”? Such comparisons bother me. As in a video store, we need different categories: comedy (or horror) should not be sold as drama. Artists like Arp, Miro and Nolde had no more facility than Charles Schultz in rendering the figure, and they all knew it. They were not competing with the masters. They were doing something different. Don’t compare. Disney cartoons are, in a real sense, a kind of art, but no one confuses them with serious classical art.

Modernism must be seen as a category of art unto itself, so as to be fair both to its integrity and the integrity of classical painting. De Kooning is not a modern version of Rembrandt! The same kind of unfair comparison could be made between the music of Brahms and Howling Wolf. Yes, they were both musicians, but Brahms was a highly skilled, expertly trained master composer and technician, and Howling Wolf, who could neither read nor write music, howled Mississippi Delta blues in a raspy smoldering voice over a simple repeating riff. By an overwhelming body of criteria, Brahms contribution to music and culture is light years ahead of Wolf’s. However, music is as diverse as art and you can always find dissenters. Those bored by classical music may argue that the direct emotional impact of Wolf’s words and images, no matter how untrained and crude, are more socially relevant than Brahms’s cerebral classics. I would have to disagree, but in any case, simply asking the question “who is better” is unfair. I love both kinds of music (and listen to both Brahms and Wolf when I paint). Direct comparisons should not be made. Put them in separate categories. It is the same with Picasso and Raphael. Don’t ask who is greater. They are not painters of the same kind of art and should not be classified as such. Yet many contemporary art critics do compare and equate artists like Leonardo da Vinci with Jackson Pollock as if they were masters of the same craft, with Pollock being more recent and therefore more relevant - and that ticks me off.

I’m not claiming that Leonardo is “better” than Pollock. My point is only that they are as different as apples and oranges, that preference is a matter of personal choice, and that these new “masters” don’t replace the old masters. Artists should be allowed to create whatever they like, and people should be allowed to like whatever they want, but the art establishment, that elite body of experts and critics who dictate culture and taste to the rest of us, insist that we agree that their modernists are as great as the old masters or risk being branded as uneducated and closed-minded. In other words, we must conform to their preference and opinion or risk being judged “stupid”. Nonconformists like me bristle at that kind of social pressure.

Unlike me, people in general have a tendency to conform to established opinion, even if that opinion contradicts their personal observation. They will see greatness if shown real vomit on canvas if experts tell them it is great art. This is called the “Emperor’s New Clothes” phenomenon after the Hans Christian Andersen fable. In the story, a vain emperor has renowned tailors create the most splendid wardrobe for him, but they tell him that the clothes are very special: only the enlightened will see their fabulous beauty. When shown the new clothes, the emperor cannot see them, but not wishing to appear unenlightened, he puts them on and compliments the tailors. When the emperor enters his court wearing his “new clothes”, everyone raves about the beautiful style, color and patterns of his invisible new wardrobe except for one small child, who blurts out, “Why is the emperor naked?” (The kid didn’t get the memo.) In the same way, a consensus of expert opinion will cause many of us to find genius in a dog turd if it is labeled “genius” in art books and magazines.

If many of today’s art critics consider artists who follow in Pollock’s, Warhol’s and Christo’s footsteps as the only “real” artists alive today, what do they say about artists who stubbornly continue to do traditional work? If contemporary classical painters are mentioned in the official press and books, we are derided as academic hacks, superannuated atavists, even plagiaristic counterfeiters for working in the old style instead of inventing a new art form every second. Mainly, however, we are ignored as if we don’t exist while extensive coverage is devoted to all the various post-modernists in the Times and the New Yorker. (We do get some specialized press and Internet coverage. Not much, but growing. The already mentioned Artist’s Magazine covers our work. To a lesser extent, so does American Artist Magazine. Web sites and organizations such as the American Society for Classical Realism and the Art Renewal Center ( promote this work under the banner of classical realism, but we are a tiny minority compared to the modernist art empire. For the most part, we’re still flying under the radar.)

Take the above example in the field of music. If you were a young musician inspired by the music of Brahms, and devoted your career to writing for full traditional orchestra in Brahms’ style, you would be criticized or ignored by today’s music critics. You would get some bad press, but you would not take as big a beating as today’s traditional painters. Except for John Cage, the breach between modern classical and older classical music was not the total divorce that occurred in painting. To illustrate, compare Tchaikovsky’s work with Stravinsky, the music is different, but not terribly so. Now compare Shishkin to Kandinsky. Only 30 years separate these two painters, yet their paintings are from separate worlds. Modern music did not change as drastically as modern painting. Still, if you compose music today that sounds like it belongs in another era, the critics will label you quaint, trite, hackneyed and irrelevant to the contemporary world, as they treat us classical realist painters. However, if you imitated Howling Wolf, you would stand a better chance of being accepted. Imitation is successful if you imitate an acceptable source. Painters today may continue the work of Pollock, Warhol, Fischl or Pearlstein, but may NOT be derivative of Raphael or Gerome, or they risk being ostracized by the reigning Establishment.

Another aspect to consider is the social pressure of contemporary art in relation to politics. Modernists brand those who dislike modern art as narrow-minded conservatives. To some extent they are right. Many political conservatives prefer traditional art to modern, and many political liberals are open to a wide range of expression. (As an exception to the rule, I am a traditional artist who is politically liberal.) However, liberals have as big a progressive bias as conservatives have a reactionary bias. Artists should be free to choose whatever suits the needs of their expression - but are they? Sure, conservatives sneer when artists choose to challenge them with experimentation, but watch supposedly open-minded liberals react to freshly made traditional art. Liberal empathy dries up when confronted with the deliberately old fashioned. Before all else, liberals believe in progress. Like technology or science, most believe that art must be on the “cutting edge” to be meaningful and relevant. Old styles of art relate to the centuries in which they were made. New materials and new ways of saying things have been invented since then. They feel that artists should take advantage of these improvements.

Nobody will argue that progress is a bad thing. However, are all new things necessarily improvements just because they are new? In some areas of human endeavor, for example, transportation and communication, the situation has progressed over the last century, but progress itself can have a downside. Improvements in transportation have introduced greenhouse gases worldwide, creating global warming. Globalization erases cultural identity as every race, creed and religion are homogenized and transformed into one ethnocentric super culture through telecommunication and the Internet. Yes, better nutrition and medical advances keep us alive longer, but the tremendous stress of urban sprawl and overpopulation enabled by these advances are gobbling up the last bits of our natural landscape. The world is always changing, but is it all progress?

What about art? Has progress been made? Certainly there has been change, but I don’t see clear progress. Compared to previous centuries, I view 20th Century art as having been a slave to constant and fast changing fads, with no particular one being much better or worse than another. Is pop art “better” than cubism simply because it is temporally closer to the present? Is abstract expressionism really superior to 19th Century romanticism? The progressive thinking, art educated people would like us all to agree that it is. Furthermore, since the art in museums show styles and techniques that have already been explored, the progressive minded people are sure that the next new wave can’t mimic those styles; it must be totally unlike anything that came before. They know that any art that returns to a more “primitive” form is not allowed. They are sure that those who persist in reviving traditional art should and must be scorned. Now who’s more closed minded: the conservative or the liberal?

Progress is a good goal as long as it is doled out fairly and we can account for the expense. It isn’t a free lunch. Without progress there is no hope for a better world, but I believe that progress can only be had by acknowledging and building upon tradition - not discarding it. In other words, alter the definition of modernism. Modernism was wrong to abandon tradition and should have incorporated it instead. What 20th Century artists tried to do was to unlearn everything and start again fresh, like a baby, and rediscover art for themselves without prior example. This revolutionary decision implied that 19th Century art was so wrong, so completely off track, that every bit of it had to be trashed and art had to be rebuilt from the ground up. This decision had near tragic consequences. By my generation, the traditional methods of painting and drawing were almost completely lost. Luckily, a few kept the secrets alive, and today academies are springing up in America and Italy that teach the old ways to a younger generation of artists. A real progress, founded in tradition, is once again possible.

The general public is not aware of just how much pressure is placed upon today’s art students to appreciate, understand and choose modernist art over traditional art. Being a traditional painter these days flies in the face of the current art establishment - not joining the modernist crowd is seen as a betrayal of accepted norms and social values. As a young man I was a modernist, but as I grew older I yearned to learn traditional painting, and after years of knowledge, practice and training, I learned. But what was for me an expansion of my horizons was not appreciated as such by fellow artists. At my BFA critique in 2002, a teacher at Southampton College criticized me as follows: 1.) How and what I paint has already been done. 2.) Given enough time and patience, anyone can paint a realistic likeness of observed objects like I do. 3.) Why bother with such a laborious process when color photography can faithfully reproduce detailed form effortlessly? 4.) What is the point of copying old worn out painting techniques instead of inventing a totally new way of painting like Pablo Picasso? Picasso was schooled in the academic tradition, he knew how to draw and paint the traditional way, but deliberately chose to paint differently. Real artists with something to say innovate new and daring signature styles.

I have thought long and hard about these questions. Let me try to answer each of these objections individually. 1.) Why do I paint the way it was done before? Why not? Writers use the alphabet and musicians use notes to create new works, why must visual artists reinvent painting when a highly effective means of communication for self-expression is already available to us? If other artists choose not to avail themselves of the traditional materials and methods, they are free to do so. But artists should be as free to choose tradition as to reject it. Why do I work the old fields instead of plowing new grounds? I answer that the harvest is not depleted, but richer and deeper, that I stand upon the shoulders of giants, and the concept that “newer is always better” is a myth.

2.) Anybody can paint like me. Yes - if they have the will. But the will is key. Talent aside, anything that requires study, practice, patience and hard work can be done by anybody - if they are willing to do it. I may be lazy in other aspects of my life, but not when it comes to painting. Never completely satisfied, I am determined to push and challenge myself to improve. Alas, my painting shall always be imperfect, but the struggle toward perfection has borne some reasonably decent fruit. Only those who wrestle with their own weaknesses and overcome them can paint like me.

3.) Why not take a photo instead? Photography is another field. Don’t compare it with painting. I paint from life and do not imitate photography. It’s best to compartmentalize and categorize these separate entities so that we are not forced to take sides. There are some great photographers out there, but my interest is painting. Painting is handmade - alive with the touch of the painter. No photographer can claim such intimacy with his creation. I can spot the difference at a distance. I have taken pictures, developed film, taken digital images, and seen museum quality photography - so I know what cameras are capable of. What you photographers do is creative, but you are forced to rely heavily upon mechanical processes and your machines become part of what you do. I rely on my eye, my brain, a pencil and a brush. Enough said?

4.) Why not invent a signature style, a novel approach like Picasso? Building upon prior example and developing a signature within traditional technique do not destroy novelty. There is a novel quality in each individual artist, but it’s subtler in realist painters. It is not the blatant, obvious, conscious affectation that one finds in the deliberate distortions of abstract artists like Picasso. I don’t have to prove that I’m different. Like Picasso, I was born different. You can’t put on uniqueness like clothing. It’s either in you or it’s not. Painting in the traditional manner doesn’t stop me from being me!

To explore further why I don’t find it necessary to invent Picasso-like novelties, allow me indulge in a bit of personal history. Researching the definition of modernism on for this essay, the Wikipedia article on the site lists both Captain Beefheart (Don van Vliet) and Frank Zappa as examples of modernism in music - names I knew well from my younger years! These two uber-freaks were my high school idols! I began to reflect on how much I have changed in 35 years. Back then, when the hair was long and the beard was dark and dense, I emulated Captain Beefheart’s painting style, which is similar to Franz Kline’s and Picasso’s, as well as emulating Beefheart’s atonal, experimental music, which is like nothing else on the planet. (Cezanne once complained, “My hair is longer than my talent”, which may or may not apply here.) Along with Zappa, the Captain was my major influence. You see, I was not always a defender of tradition. On the contrary, 35 years ago I was a fire-breathing iconoclast like Zappa - way more avant guard than Picasso ever was! I’m still proud of some of those achievements but I’ve changed. My conversion was not sudden, like St. Paul’s, but a slow progressive evolution. I grew.

My first oil paintings in 1971 were nonrepresentational. From 1973 to 1993, I emulated Salvador Dali in concept and process, without imitating his actual images. I used original concepts, but the similar dreamlike imagery made my old drawings so obviously surrealist that one cannot help seeing Dali’s influence in them. During the 70s I hung out a lot with this one guy, Bob Pollio. We had a band - actually a couple of bands. We were into Stravinsky, the Residents, Eric Dolphy and Charles Mingus - but most of all we were core Zappa and Beefheart addicts. We enjoyed looking at art books on Max Ernst, Magritte, and Dali. In film, we liked David Lynch’s Eraserhead. As the “shock comedy” team, Same Name Bob, we coauthored a play, No Brains for Lunch (1973) and recorded a lot of purely improvisational music. In all of our influences and artistic goals, we were thoroughly and unquestionably modernist. Our art was post-surrealist, as modern jazz and experimental rock were our music. Innovation and imagination were core and key to our world. Spurning tradition was ingrained. We would check ourselves and remove any obvious quotations from our material to insure originality. Our goal was to generate constant novelty through spontaneous recombination. We wrote down anything that wowed us or made us laugh.

In both music and comic material, we aimed for total improvisational coincidence. When it worked, it was like magic. At first we rehearsed stuff that we wrote, but it was not long before we abandoned the written score and freely played whatever came into our heads. It just sounded together. How did we do it? Was it the strange attractors of chaos theory working through us? -a linking of our collective unconscious? -or some undiscovered syncretizing power triggered by liberal amounts of inhaled cannabis?

Whatever it was, when we nailed it, it was undeniable, and it was art. However, for me, the problem with our method of working was twofold: 1) we set a very high bar for ourselves in demanding nothing short of total collaborative creative miracle every time we got together, and sometimes it didn’t click, 2) I missed the organization of pre-planned scores, that allowed for a framework of rules, revision and editing. Over time I moved away from limitless freedom and in the direction of structure, not only in music, but also in all my artistic endeavors. However, to this day, when we speak on the phone, Bob and I still engage in our stream of consciousness, free association games and laugh at the novel concepts we generate.

My painting slowly changed. In 1994 I abandoned the more obvious surrealism for photorealism. I took photographs of local landscape scenes and copied them. Around 2000 I began studying traditional still life painting from observation rather than photos. These traditional still lifes are my best work to date. Now Bob Pollio, whom I’ve kept in touch with all these years, is still doing music, although his output is more tied to technology and computers than in the old days. Bob doesn’t understand why I choose to represent only dull real objects in my paintings. (Translated literally, “still life” in French is “dead nature”.) He asks me, “Where’s the imagination?” remembering the Dali-like surrealist stuff I used to produce. Or the de Kooning-like scribbles inspired by the paintings of Captain Beefheart. Or the Dada-inspired “exquisite corpses” we used to draw together. You may well ask: “Why did I stop making the seemingly more creative art that I was so devoted to years ago?”

I changed because I slowly became aware of the paradox: pure freedom (like Jackson Pollock or Wassily Kandinsky) is restrictive and boring. Pure abstract expressionism doesn’t let you paint anything. For me, the exhilaration of freedom dissipates and the nonrepresentational work becomes more monotonous and less varied than the landscape painting it supplanted. Conversely, structure and rules set you free. Chess is a satisfying game, full of strategy and creativity, but without learning and abiding by the rules, all the fun of the game would be impossible. Imagine if every chess piece could move anywhere on the board. There’d be checkmate in one move! That’s no fun. Painting, music, and design need similar rules in order to express freedom. To be able to make objects seem to become real in paint, to make metal look like metal and glass like glass, to use shadow to give the illusion of 3D on a two dimensional surface, I find this infinitely more rewarding and thrilling than dripping nonobjective splotches of paint on canvas, but that’s just me.

Nothing is wrong with having an imagination, but pure imagination, without training and observation, produces results like the silly, cartoon-like murals of Marc Chagall (Dali infused both training and tradition into his imaginative paintings - and his work is therefore much more respectable than Chagall). I’m embarrassed to say that my old stuff looked a little like Chagall in places. When I worked from imagination, making things look real was hit or miss. (Usually I reworked the impression with a photographic reference.) One person even commented that my surreal drawings looked like “slick cartoons”, and they did. Observation is necessary to transform paint into an illusion of reality, because real things are too complex to render the exact chiaroscuro from memory. I can tell the difference between memory painting and observational painting. Even the Baroque artist El Greco worked from imagination, not observation - and it shows! If other artists don’t care if the objects in their paintings look real, good for them. I have no business telling them what to do. As for me, I used to fool around, but as I got older, I got more serious. Imagination now takes a more subordinate role in my painting, but I haven’t chosen this more sober traditional path for commercial reasons. I have not sold out. I don’t care what people like. I paint things that look real because I can.

There is much competition among artists, especially as public interest in every form of fine art has steadily declined over the years. Promoters of modernism know that their artists are incapable of producing crowd-pleasing kitsch, whereas talented illustrators like Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish certainly could and did. The popular Thomas Kinkade successfully produces kitsch today. It is in modernism’s interest to continue denouncing all contemporary representational painters by lumping us all together and excluding us from fine art status. This is totally unfair. All serious art should be considered fine art. Popularity or unpopularity should not factor in judging the intrinsic integrity of any genuine work of art

Would today’s art critics consider my painting fine art? Can traditional and modern art coexist and be equally respected? Can we get beyond the constraints of our current unilateral modernist thinking and create a genuinely new style of art? The solution is complex and difficult to address because each of us answers the question, “What is art?” differently, and we hold to our personal definition passionately and defensively. However, I believe that there is enough common ground to suggest some ideas that may help us get out of the modernist bind. First, I don’t recommend unlearning anything. For a couple of years now, ever since I learned traditional technique, I have been busy trying to excise the 20th Century out of me as if it were a cancer. I told myself to think only 19th Century thoughts. I kept trying to think humanism, not existentialism, divine plan, not lucky accident, so that I may learn how to see with a 19th Century artist’s eyes. But now I feel that’s wrong. I’m thinking in terms of synthesis instead of choosing one over the other. Integration of disparate, even opposing concepts should be allowed. Certainly the 20th Century had flaws, but it had things to offer that should not be discarded. To restrict ones thoughts to tradition only is just as limiting as restricting ones thoughts to novelty only. I remembered what I read on the errors of dichotomy in articles by the scientist, Stephen Jay Gould. In one article, he wrote about the “Nature versus nurture” debate, which asks, “What makes us who we are, our genes or our upbringing?” He argued that such is a false question. We are not simply one or the other; we a combination of both. To see complex systems in simple terms of black and white, or good and bad is called dichotomy. To learn how things work, humans must dissect, discriminate, and separate one thing from another - it is the nature of our brains to think that way. But it is also misleadingly simplistic. We all do it, even scientists, but we must always catch ourselves from falling into this simplistic trap. First learn the difference, then consider the synthesis. In taking sides, by becoming a champion of tradition against modernism, I fell into the same trap that the modernists are guilty of.

So let us look for specific solutions to the flaws in modernist art thinking. The first major flaw of modernism is the error of most human endeavors mentioned above: dichotomy. By simply formulating an a priori “modern = good, old fashioned = bad”, the error is embedded in all further thought, and we no longer think about it. Like yesterday’s newspapers, we put old things out with the trash and don’t look back. Modernist thinking capitalizes on this instinct by hiding its stylistic preference within the embodiment of newness. By linking a natural preference for new over old with modern over tradition, for random happy accident over controlled structure, for revolution over order, an open ended unending imbalance is created. No further investigation is possible because we can never look back. A freedom that is restricted to novelty only is not freedom at all. In fact, because non-derivative art bars research into all prior example, it is the most limiting concept of all.

The solution to this particular problem is simple: don’t dichotomize. We need synthesis where possible, plurality and tolerance where integration can’t happen. We need both modern and traditional thought. Plurality is freedom of choice. The best model for synthesis and plurality is the very art that modernism discarded: Victorian eclecticism. Fads were aplenty during the 19th century. Painting and sculpture were realist, romantic, and symbolist. In architecture, Etruscan and neoclassical styles were in vogue, but ancient Egyptian was hot too, so was Moorish, Gothic, Japanese, Chinese and Persian. Houses could be built with one room Gothic, another Etruscan, another Japanese. Style was like a costume ball; all cultures and eras were welcome. In furniture, there were the so called Victorian whatnots, charming conglomerations of many styles. When we think of Victorian houses today, we picture dilapidated haunted houses with spider webs, like the Munsters or the Adams Family. That’s unfair. It’s automatic social conditioning that makes us link these charming old gingerbread stick houses with ugliness. It’s the wear and tear, not the design that’s ugly. When those houses were new, they were modern: clean, freshly painted, and brightly colored. Why is it that we don’t imagine haunted houses of Philip Johnson design? I’ve seen some abandoned shopping centers on Long Island, 40 years old and modernist in design, but now gutted, crumbling, rusted and full of cobwebs. They are old enough to be haunted; yet the modernist designers continue to maintain the facade of freshness when promoting new versions of their aging style.

If we follow the more advanced and less restrictive eclectic model, as the Victorian artists did, we are free to recombine and create from all of mankind’s traditions. Of course, eclecticism does not guarantee “good art”. Every new creation must be judged on its individual merits. Both the chimera and the sphinx are fantastic conglomerates of different animals, but one is a monster, the other is a god. Some combinations work and some don’t. Plurality allows more than one kind of art to be given “fine art” status. Plurality in art is an idea similar to ancient Egyptian pantheism in religion. Egyptian civilization began as a number of towns along the Nile river banding together for trade and security, but there was a problem: each town believed in a different god. One town believed in the sun, another the crocodile, another deified the hawk; another even believed that god was invisible. Instead of insisting on their being only one god or even a chief god and going to war over it, they came up with the brilliant idea of a “cycle of gods”. Each god had its hour and its season, and all the citizens of Egypt believed in them all, even if they had a personal favorite. Their religious system was so egalitarian and democratic, it lasted 3000 years. Couldn’t we apply the same system of toleration to art, politics, and everything else? Insisting that modernism is the only way is like religious fundamentalism: everybody who doesn’t agree is damned. Proclaiming anti-modernism as the only way is just as dangerous. Sayyid Qutb, the executed Egyptian philosopher who inspired the current Islamic fundamentalist jihadist movement based his hatred for America on anti-modernism. Even though his critique of America is not all wrong, his hatred is wrong. He should have studied the tolerant religious model of his ancient ancestors. All who insist that their way is the only way to worship - or paint - or think - are fanatics.

Secondly, minimalism, beginning with the Bauhaus design school of the 1930s, and still going strong, poses severe limits and restrictions on design and composition rather than offering artists an expansion of freedom and choice. Minimalist design is basic, geometric and always strives for as little design as possible. “Form follows function” was the Bauhaus’ maxim, and minimalism adds: “Less is better”. Nothing with a hint of decoration is allowed. When I’m in these interior spaces, I feel ill at ease. I find such geometric fundamentalism unnatural. The ancient Greeks based aesthetic considerations on the rules of proportion found in nature, with “man as the measure of all things”. If we agree with them that what is natural is most beautiful, then the scientific principle of natural selection should perform a similar job as “form follows function” in design (with the difference being that culture follows the Lamarckian model, and nature follows the Darwinian evolutionary model). Birds need feathered wings to fly, but why are the patterns on those wings so decorative? Why do peacocks have such large colorful tails? Scientists answer than “sexual selection” overrides natural selection in such instances, but what do designers say? Would designers find the peacock too decorative? One feather would be too gaudy for minimalists. How can they call it bad design if nature does not? I agree that certain decoration can be gaudy and overdone. Designs of the Baroque Rococo are one example; excesses of “the gilded age” are another. These express a horror vaculi design model that I find truly ugly. Like the minimalists, I am for simplicity, for simplifying cluttered space. Japanese screens and Egyptian pyramids are simple in design, yet elegant and beautiful. My only objection to minimalism is simply that its rules of design are too extreme in requiring that everything be stripped down to blank walls and simple geometry. We would all do well in applying the golden rules of proportion and composition discovered by the ancients. Here, a simple balance between too little and too much design can and should be observed.

The third hidden bias in modernist thought is the assumption of the dogma of progress already mentioned. Novelty isn’t automatically better than what’s been done. Stephen Jay Gould wrote an article for Natural History Magazine entitled: “Abolish the Recent”. The article notes that paleontologists have divided the Cenozoic Period, the last 65 million years since the demise of the dinosaurs, into seven Epochs, with the last two being the Pleistocene, or Ice Age, and Holocene, or Recent. If the glaciers return, as most scientists believe, we are actually living in an interglacial period of the Pleistocene. That means the Ice Age hasn’t really ended and the Recent, which we have called the last eleven thousand years, is really an artificial construct. There is no Recent! It is sobering to realize that the concepts of “modern” and “progress” may be just as artificial - however useful they may be to us in the abstract. Steve Gould also taught that history is both an arrow and a circle, the arrow is the constancy of change. Progress is based on the arrow model of time. Change is constant, but is change for better or for worse, is it progress or regress? It depends upon your point of view (relativism). In cyclical time, time moves in a circle, like water moving through cycles of evaporation and precipitation. There will be historical periods where civilizations rise and fall. Knowledge can be gained or lost, but if it is lost, a Renaissance or rebirth of that knowledge follows. In this non progressive model, human knowledge of aesthetic beauty may be attained or lost, but like truth, its essential nature is immutable, and cannot be improved upon (absolutism). Again, as difficult as it is for our minds to consider, both the progressive relativist AND the non-progressive absolutist models of time are equally valid!

The fourth error is conformity. Social pressure to be part of the modern movement or any dominant movement should be ignored. As unique individuals, we are ALL geeks. Unthinking conformity among humans is very dangerous; in the past it has caused pain, even death. Our differences should be celebrated and encouraged. Diversity is a beautiful thing. The pluralist worldview allows some of us to choose modernist conceptual models and others traditional models to follow without prejudice. We are allowed our preferences. Tolerance of each artist’s different choices leads to greater respect for all our gifts. The idea that modernism must consign traditional art to the trash is as destructive as traditional artists seeking to burn down the MoMA. I no longer feel that my beloved traditional art must replace modernism to survive. Those of us who reach out to the past in our work are only looking for a place at the table with those who dream of the future. We can coexist. We only ask for equal respect as fine artists.

The American cultural melting pot best represents this all-inclusive idea. American jazz music, a hybrid of African and European folk forms, is totally distinct from the traditions it is derived from, yet it is rooted in both traditions. The same may be true of future painting. Some artists will maintain their own distinctive aesthetic and cultural differences; others will produce eclectic hybrids of traditional and modern art. The children produced from this intermarriage of tradition and experimentation will be all manner of variously mixed half-breeds. Barriers between the two art styles will break down. New art will no longer have to kill older art in order to survive. More than competition, cooperation and respect, those qualities that the first recorded architect, Imhotep, harnessed to build the ancient pyramids, will become the key to success. This new inclusive and pluralistic modern art will be rooted in tradition. Aspiring artists will learn from art history what has already been done, not to discard it, but to use this vast body of knowledge that has accumulated over the last 6000 years in order to build upon it, so that they may add their own unique voice to it...and so that they don’t have to repeat all the mistakes.


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