Friday, February 23, 2007

ABOUT Tuttle and Jensen; Through the Looking Glass and Back Again

I was thinking about Bill Jensen(above:LUOHAN/PERSONA; 2005-2006; Oil on linen; 28" x 23"), and something I had written about him almost fifteen years ago for Provincetown Arts (you can find it at It still largely applies. Actually it applies to a lot of things, but most of all it makes me remember how I feel about painting.

And then it made me think about Richard Tuttle. I only wrote about him once, really, about thirty years ago, and it wasn't much(I first wrote about Jensen for Arts in '81). I tried, foolishly, to go there, and I haven't tried since. Tuttle is a bear. So is Jensen, but he gives you more to work with. Tuttle doesn't, by intention. I get a chuckle thinking about the people who try to write about him. Tuttle does too, I'm sure. It is such a trap.

The word "about" is appropriate. Tuttle expressed disdain for the whole notion. "About" is circling around the cave instead of going in. About is a lot of what we get in this world. After all, who wants to go into the cave? Who wants to face the bear? I've always had a bit of the fool about me. A bit of the naive. I happily rushed in where angels(????) fear to tread. I went into Tuttle's cave, a few times, I just never wrote ABOUT it. I didn't want to write ABOUT it, and if I couldn't write it, I wasn't going to write at all.

So why write ABOUT Jensen and not Tuttle? Jensen is a painter. I was just writing ABOUT myself. And so here is what I was thinking this morning. Tuttle is always referred to as something of an enigma. Why? Well, duh! Whatever it is he does, as an artist, is that which cannot otherwise be realized. It is why he seems so inarticulate when it comes to his work. If he could really talk about it, he has failed. And he is very clear about this. He was clear about it thirty years ago.

The reality is if you are circling around Tuttle's cave(above:"20 Pearls:3 Blacks", 2004; acrylic on museum board and archival foam core with brad ;19 7/8" x 18"), you don't and can't know what's going on. You could apply this to anything and everything, but it is completely true with his work. I once said about Jensen either you go or you don't go, but at least something sticks. Some redolence, some residue. With Tuttle almost nothing sticks, and that is what gets people--that's what intrigues them, because although they may never go, but they are attracted to that kind of hard to get.

The thing with Tuttle is that you can't know, at least not the way people like to know. Tuttle doesn't know, and that is the point. If he knew he wouldn't have done it. It is the wanting to know, or the appreciation that comes from everything we don't know. The wow of it--the surpise--if nothing else both of these artists paint for that, they would just be happy to be surprised. If he "knew" it, well, then it was already "been there, done that." He was always interested in what he didn't know. It was the one thing we shared. He wasn't an artist to be good at it. He was an artist to hunt. You could say art was the paddle and canoe he used to move through the water, forgive me, the water that is life, and then maybe art is just the wake. Still, if it is the wake, you couldn't separate it from the canoe and paddle, or from him for that matter.

There are people who apply the experience of abstract painting to Joyce, you know, just read it, don't try to understand it, stop asking questions, just go, and let the experience of reading him wash over you. Then what you get is IT, and when you read it again, it might be different, but that is still it. Tuttle is the same. You go in the cave. What you get is IT. No about. Just it.

There are a lot of us who just can't be sustained by that. It is not enough. For the rest of us it is everything. The language of everything. Jensen goes there with paint like a landscape painter; he brings painting to the mystery while Tuttle just is the mystery. Tuttle gives us something more like the White Rabbit's fare. A tough pill to swallow; one... makes you larger, one... makes you small, and the ones that mother gives you...

What seems strange about Tuttle isn't strange at all, but we have been so trained to think in a certain way about not just art, but everything, that it looks that way. Of course thirty years later he doesn't seem so strange. Still, Tuttle is our modern day Thoreau. He's gone his own way, lights his own way, while we've followed the highway signs like lemmings, and made all the wrong turns over and over again. Jensen gives us postcards, maps, snaps shots from that some place else, almost like a dream, so that maybe we can dream our way there. With Tuttle we can be damn sure it's not going to be that pretty. Damn sure. No. Instead, instead he gives us example.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

TO BE OR NOT...Part 2; No Questions Asked

Hamlet made a mistake. He should have run away with Ophelia. Or just made the most of it. He was a disaster. He was a prince, so much was expected of him. But he should have suffered the slings and arrows along with everyone else, and been happy that "bee" didn't get in HIS ear. He made things worse, pure and simple, and if he had had more presence of mind than just to ask to be or not to be, he would have realized that he was already asking the wrong question. The real question was: when did I choose to become a victim, because it was his "outrage" that was really self-pity, and from there he was just on one long slide. Be lucky you're not a prince, of course. Get a life. Live it. Be. No questions asked.

Be. Bee. B. Hamlet didn't die, at least not in the beginning. His dad died. His father, uncle, mother, they had their issues. That is their business. Leave it alone. We get in a bind. We get in the middle. Life puts us there. We are at a crossroads. A big one. But if we're asking to be or not to be it really is too late. It is really a question of how we see ourselves and life. What we expect of ourselves and life. If we have been set up, maybe to be a prince, maybe we went to Harvard or Yale and a lot was expected of us. Little Princes. Maybe we really had a different dream, and maybe we needed to prove that our dream was worthwhile by achieving success, and getting the approval. Well, get ready. Very few artists ever seem satisfied with what they get. It's like money. We always want more. Satisfaction, of course, is a dirty word in most art circles. Losers are satisfied. And how strange is that? We're never supposed to be satisfied. That is so bourgeois. And then there is the asking questions thing. SOOOOO the right thing to do. You know, it's always: the questions are what count, not the answers. But really. Questions are like trying to untie the Gordian Knot. The reality is stop asking questions! Shut up! Just watch the movie! Just whip out your sword and chop the GD Knot in half. Quit being such a prince!

And then you can just BE. Afterall, the world doesn't have to be all Paper/Plastic. Just grab your food and go!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


They are the rule. Artists who work in isolation, in oblivion, without support, without feedback, without real hope. In the current climate, during wartime, it is even worse. We have a Republican White House that has stolen all messages of hope, and culture, and humanity, and made everything about fear. Art is nowhere in the mind of our government.

I have said many times that art did not come over on the Mayflower. They were hard times, severe times, times about order and survival. Dreamers not welcome. Of course. When there is a job to do, dreaming gets in the way.

Needless to say, dreaming is essential to art. Call it musing. It is older than history. Musing, dreaming, meant tapping into some greater consciousness. You got me. Dreamer. The kid sitting by the window in school. And when there were no windows and I was sitting right in front of the algebra teacher and looking right at her, yes, I was somewhere else, far away.

What is it about dreaming? We know what Einstein said about imagination--that it's more important than knowledge(but then what did HE know?). We know what Freud and Jung said about the conscious and unconscious mind--that our awareness was limited--that we are no more than 10 to 50 percent conscious(inotherwords--half conscious at BEST!). We know that it is somewhere we go alone, by definition. Somewhere vast. We might share dreams, but they start inside us, and if we do share them, it means that they were already there.

To artists struggling in isolation, despair, I say, keep dreaming, and keep doing the thing you love, if only for a few hours a week. Don't let go of your dream.

Because here is the question: when we have a lifetime of work that keeps piling up, and no chance to share it, show it, let people come to it and contemplate it, enjoy it, benefit from it, celebrate it, get it, eat it, just look at it, listen to it, take it in, respond to it, share in it, experience it, maybe even admire it; well, how do we go on?

I have a friend showing his work in a church right now, and he is thrilled. Would he rather be at the Whitney, well, that would be hard to resist, but he is sharing what he does with his friends and neighbors, and well, you can't beat that.

But back to dreaming, because that is what the artist has to look forward to. Dreaming and working. And not dreams of success, or recognition, or grandeur or fame. Not dreams of glory. Those are hard dreams to resist, especially when you feel like you've done something special. No, it is the dream of life, of love, of family, of space, of color, of light, of stars, of mystery, of connection, of flying, of water, of fire, of peace, of the garden, of the streams and rivers, of the clouds and birds, of the beyond.

Dreams are a part of life, make no mistake. It is precisely the absence of dreams that makes the world we have to face these days on the news and in newspapers so grim and mean. We count on dreams. Not just our own. We count on the dreams of others, of children, to imagine a richer, sweeter, more harmonious, more thoughtful, more conscious world.

So artists have no choice but to take heart in their dreams, and their lives, and their work. To take heart in being an artist, being able to be an artist, that that is its own reward. To allow their dreams, and their lives, and their to flourish. To dream, and to become. To dream and to become their dreams.

And how do you do that? Reality check. You support yourself like everyone else. You don't look for appreciation, you appreciate it yourself. You don't look for recognition, you recognize yourself. Like everyone else. If being an artist is its own reward, than appreciate and recognize that you have been well rewarded. That you are lucky. That you are living your dream. Don't expect any more reward than that. This should all be pretty obvious, but it isn't. Somehow from the getgo fame, recognition, glory, success, are built into the definition of artist, and we all bought it. Again, it has nothing to do with excellence, it has to do with getting ahead, because all that stuff has never been a measure of excellence, even though we are being told it is. History tells us otherwise. History tells us that art happens in all kinds of strange places. Forget "outsider," whoever coined that one should be tarred and feathered. And put in a museum.

Reality check: support yourself. Believe in yourself. If you can do that, maybe you won't have to choose door number three. Maybe you can live to a ripe old age and die sitting in your garden in a straw hat. Now there's a dream!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


My ten year old got it right off. REAL. To be or not to be REAL. Is it nobler to accept what is unacceptable or better to act the outrage we feel and fight it to the death to correct, change, or end it? Are there alternatives? Is this a fork in the road, a left or a right, or are there other ways to go? Of course that depends. Depends on the limits of the inquiry. Do we only have two choices, paper or plastic, and we have to choose one. Are we boxed in?

And if we are boxed in what do we do? Hamlet didn't do so well, did he. He ended up choosing door number two. What would a Christian do? A Buddhist? An Muslim? Is this the light bulb joke? Is this some kind of joke? Is this the absurdity of life joke? What would the Existentialist do?

Is it real to be noble and let what is and has been be? The Buddhist would say so. It is not faking it to accept that this is life. There is not only no shame in suffering life's slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, there is indeed honor in it. Of course one person's on and so forth. We are each tested in our own way on this. We all have our own Achille's heel, and we all have our own price. Only we can know what those are.

Artists, of course, have also struggled with these choices. How to be an artist? It is potentially a long and painful ride. Many artists, many famous and successful artists, have made the most literal interpretation. The obvious one. The question that Shakespeare wasn't actually asking. Not really. They decided to actually not be. To end it. To die. To kill themselves. To cease to exist. What about this? Did any of this have to do with the fact that they were artists?

Why have so many artists ended their lives? Is there one thing in particular? For the longest time I was naive about this. I have always been so grateful to be an artist that it never occurred to me that any of these people found their lives so unbearable that they couldn't go on. I just didn't know. I knew the work. I respected their privacy.

How many artists have been satisfied with their work and what came of it. That is the thing. We make things, and if we make something good we want something good to come of it. But of course this just doesn't happen. We are lucky to make things, and if we make something very good, we are very lucky, and if something very good comes of that, well then, that is beyond what can be expected. We must then consider ourselves very fortunate. But over and over we find that even this is not enough for some artists. And what of this pain? Can an artist just be happy to be able to be, to be an artist, to be alive, and able to translate, express, celebrate that experience, or is it our ineluctable nature to want more?

And more will be forthcoming...