Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Time of Day, Revisited

Louise Fishman, MacDowell Series #10, 1980. Oil on canvas, 8 x 10


This is a story of fear and ignorance. My story; A New York story, circa 1979. I was doing some writing for ARTS Magazine. Richard Martin had given me an Uptown beat, which wasn't particularly exciting, mostly mainstream and old guard haunts. Robert Miller's space stood out as the exception. Nonetheless, I got around. On one morning I might get yelled at by Betty Parsons for not seeing something her way; and my way, some punk of a painter's, was in print(later I atoned). On another day in another venue a dealer might casually offer to pay me to write something, anything at all, about their show. Just your regular stuff. This story is about one of the times I went astray.

One afternoon when searching for something to write about, and feeling pretty bored, I found myself pacing around a group show at Oscarsson Hood. I was alone in a gallery full of preneoexpressionist paintings, and free to conspire with myself. Did I say I was bored? It was then that an awful idea occurred to me: I was going to look for the worst painting in the show. Instead of searching for work I liked, I was going to discover the one I hated. Wow! What a concept! And I had a winner! Yes! There it was, a little smudge of a canvas by Louise Fishman.

Of course, you can guess the rest. After really looking at the painting, I fell in love with it. I was more excited than I had been in a long time. I went on to visit her studio, and write two articles about her work, one under an assumed name.

I might have been too ashamed to tell this story if it didn't have such a happy ending. Ashamed for being such a little shit of a human being. Ninety-nine percent of what I'd written had looked for the best in what people did, and I considered myself an enthusiast above all, an artist supporting his brothers and sisters. So what went wrong?

At the time it was Richard Tuttle who would remind me that what I was really looking for was my own reflection, my own "dimension." That dimension was my own values, my own tastes, my own experience. As broad as they might have been, I was still limited by them, and I was justifying them on the grounds that they were founded on some kind of knowledge. I thought I knew. In twenty years of writing about artists and their work, I have learned that I do not know, and cannot know. That no one can.

So now what? You don't agree? You can't agree? Everything you've been taught has told you otherwise? I had the same education. With maybe a couple of exceptions. My mother was an artist with an eighth grade education who taught me to think for myself. A mind of your own was about the best thing you could have beyond a good heart. She was as intelligent, well traveled, and well read a person as you could hope to meet. She was also an art lover.

What I got from her was that you had to give in to a work of art. You didn't master it, you let it master you. Only by surrendering would the work surrender to you. Richard Tuttle talked about it in terms of walls; that our walls had to give way before the walls of the work would. If we don't surrender, the only things that we will connect with will be ourselves in some other form. By looking in the opposite direction that day I discovered something else. I have since tried to preserve that peripheral vision despite my own limited dimension.

I speak for every artist I know when I say that it hurts when someone we've shared our work with fails to take an interest in what we've done. No curiosity, no excitement, no enthusiasm, no touch, no connection, no response. It is like making food that someone has just left on their plate. If they are content to be married to such behavior on the grounds of taste, as though they were correct in some assessment, and somehow justified in passing judgment, then they are only lying to themselves. Ironically, they would want more for themselves. Who wouldn't? I was lucky enough for some twisted reason to give Louise Fishman's painting the time of day, when I wouldn't have otherwise. As a result, I grew about six inches in a heartbeat, and the magic that is art became mine. In the end, middle and beginning, that's all it takes. The time of day.

Addison Parks, June 1996;
Reprinted Courtesy ARTSmedia Magazine;Boston

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