Arts Under Fire

From Alabama to Wyoming, the National Endowment for the Arts supports a wide variety of programs in every state of the union. Sadly, it may all be coming to an end.

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ABOVE: Current logo for the National Endowment for the Arts

Created by the U.S. Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is an independent government agency that, according to its website, “gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities.” This is done largely through the awarding of grants, and since its inception, the NEA has given more than $5 billion dollars to various artists and arts organizations across the United States (it stopped giving grants to individual artists in the 1990’s).

Predictably, the agency is not without its critics, and throughout the years, many have objected to its choice of grant recipients and sought to defund it. While the NEA’s budget has shrunk over time, it is rumored that the next federal budget will eliminate it entirely. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen.

By the numbers: 

Total net cost of Department of Defense for 2015: $573.6 billion

Total net cost of Department of Education for 2015: $44.7 billion

Total net cost of Environmental Protection Agency for 2015: $8.6 billion

Source: U.S. Government Statement of Net Cost for the Year Ended September 30, 2015

 

National Endowment for the Arts 2015 budget: $146 million

Source: NEA 2015 Annual Report

 

Cost Trump Organization paid to redevelop former NEA headquarters: $200 million

Source: Trump International Hotel – Washington D.C.

 

Funded by the NEA:

Snow City Arts Foundation (aka Snow City Arts)

$20,000 Chicago, IL

To support Arts Education for Children and Youth in Hospitals. Professional teaching artists will provide workshops in creative writing, music, theater, media arts, and visual arts for children and youth in pediatric units in Chicago hospitals that work in conjunction with each student’s creative interests and abilities. Workshops happen either bedside or in the hospital-based Idea Labs, which house art supplies, art libraries, musical instruments, and electronic media equipment. Comprehensive progress reports are produced for each student and are sent to students’ schools for credit.

Focus: HOPE

$10,000 Detroit, MI

To support the Excel Photography Program. Students from underserved communities in Detroit will learn technical and artistic photographic skills from professional photographers using digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras. An exhibition of students’ work with accompanying artist biographies and statements will be featured at the Focus: HOPE Gallery throughout the program. The culminating activity for this project will include public photography installations on abandoned houses in Detroit neighborhoods and a graduation ceremony for students.

California Lawyers for the Arts, Inc.

$35,000 San Francisco, CA

To support artist residencies in county jails. The organization will provide technical assistance, recruitment and training of artists, and program outreach to local law enforcement. It will work with local arts agencies in several California communities to enable the inclusion of arts programming as a rehabilitative tool in county jails.

Source: National Endowment for the Arts FY 2017 Fall Grant Announcement

Art World Outsiders

In the past, I’ve written about artists the public loves to hate. Today, I’m going to write about two the critics can’t stand – Jack Vettriano and Thomas Kinkade.

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ABOVE: Jack Vettriano, The Singing Butler, 1992, oil on canvas, 28 x 36 inches

Jack Vettriano

Born in Scotland, Jack Vettriano was raised in poverty and dropped out of school at 16 to work as a coal miner. He began painting at 21 and applied for art school at 36, but was rejected. His first success as an artist came in 1989 after two of his paintings were accepted and sold in the Royal Scottish Academy annual show. Since then, his work has consistently sold in the six figures, and reproductions alone have made him a millionaire. He claims not to care what the critic’s think, which is good, because they don’t like him very much.

“Vettriano is not even an artist. He just happens to be popular, with “ordinary people” who buy reproductions of his pseudo-1930s scenes of high-heeled women and monkey-suited men, and celebrities who fork out for the originals of these toneless, textureless, brainless slick corpses of paintings. I urge you to visit the National Gallery. Look at great paintings for a few hours. Now take a look at Vettriano.” Jonathan Jones, UK Guardian

“In a work like The Singing Butler the information hangs on the surface. There is little joy in the handling. You sense teeth gritted in the execution. The movement of the paint on canvas does not suggest self-knowledge or skill or the embracing or abandonment of history – in other words, the authorship on which the best painting depends.” Moira Jeffrey, The Scottsman

ABOVE: Thomas Kinkade, Victorian Christmas, 1991, oil on canvas, artist board, 20 x 24 inches

Thomas Kinkade

Born and raised in California, Thomas Kinkade received formal training at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and began selling his work through galleries in the early 1980’s. He later founded the Thomas Kinkade Company and began selling originals and reproductions through mail order and dedicated retail outlets. While this made him extremely wealthy, critical success proved allusive, and in 2012, he passed away from alcohol poisoning at the age of 54.

“Kinkade’s products have a consistent message: that if we want the feeling of living in a conflict-free world, we can buy it. The cost — as distinct from the price — of this feeling is mere denial of all one’s experience of citizenship, of human relations, of historical awareness.” Kenneth Baker, San Fransico Chronicle

“Kinkade calls himself the most controversial artist in the world, and arguably, he is both the most loved and hated painter alive. To his millions of adoring fans, he represents the triumph of populism and wholesome family values over elitism and intellectual snobbery, the victory of the heart over the mind. To his detractors, he represents the triumph of sub-mediocrity and the commercialization and homogenization of painting. (I can’t bring myself to describe what Kinkade does as “art.”) Kinkade is far from the first painter to mix commerce and creativity; Salvador Dalí, for example, wasn’t shy about self-promotion, or pimping his services to the highest bidder. But perhaps no other painter has been as shameless or as successful at transforming himself into a corporation as Kinkade. Kinkade’s detractors also dislike him because his work is fucking terrible, a maudlin, sickeningly sentimental vision of a world where everything is as soothing as a warm cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows on a cold December day.” Nathan Rabin, the A.V. Club

Tips for Taking Your Work to Art Shows

Over the years, I have taken my art to many venues, and in that time, I’ve learned to do so as efficiently as possible. Here is my current system.

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Before you make the work:

While you should make art in many sizes, the smaller the piece, the easier the transport. My work usually falls between 8×8” and 16×20” which lets me fit an entire solo show in a small car and lets my buyer take any one of my pieces home by subway or Uber (two common modes of transportation in the city). For shows in which I only have one or two artworks, I often take public transit.

After making the work:

Artist don’t mess around when it comes to striking (taking down), so the quicker you can pack and unpack the better. I wrap my larger pieces in bubble wrap (tape it and you can use it once or twice. Don’t tape it and you can use it forever) and place them in a 20×23” Ziplock bag with a handle. I can’t say enough about these bags, they can carry a lot of weight and they allow you (or the buyer) to pick up and leave super quick.

When transporting one or two small works, I employ a similar system, but for a larger show, I place several in a cardboard box with bubblewrapped cardboard dividers. This allows me to transport multiple pieces at once, and to take them in and out of the box without any additional wrapping. If I sell one, I can sandwich it between two dividers and tape it.

My Planning Process in 5 Steps

While the making of my work consists of many steps and varies greatly from project to project, I do have a fairly simply planning process. Here it is in 5 easy steps.

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Step One

Take lots of pictures

Tools: SLR and iphone

Step Two

Review images, upload favorites to computer and print

Tools: Computer and printer

Step Three

Use black and metallic markers to highlight any spots on the printed image that will not show well through tracing paper. Trace out favorite elements.

Tools: Black and metallic markers, tracing paper, pencil, eraser and ruler (if need be)

Step Four

Rework, add and subtract lines from traced image while thinking about how they will fit/interact with other images in the overall design.

Tools: Pencil and eraser

Step Five

Photocopy images in a wide range of sizes (make three copies of each) then print them all as a mirror image. Cut images out and mix and match them with one another while altering line work as necessary. Arrive upon completed design.

Tools: Photocopier, scissors, pencil, eraser, glue stick and ruler

The Art of Controversy

Every so often, an artwork comes around and rankles the feathers of many in the non-art crowd (artists and art lovers not so much). Here are two pieces that did just that.

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ABOVE: Andres Serrano, Immersion (Piss Christ), 1987, chibachrome print, 60 x 40 inches

In 1987, Andres Serrano submerged a plastic crucifix in a jar of his own urine and took a picture of it. Predictably, people lost their shit, and in addition to death threats, the work was either attacked when shown, or barred from being shown at all. Thirty years since its creation, Piss Christ still provokes strong reactions from the public (most recently, a print was attacked and destroyed in 2011).

“Several weeks ago, I began to receive a number of letters, phone calls, and postcards from constituents throughout the Senate concerning art work by Andres Serrano. They express a feeling of shock, of outrage, and anger. They said, ‘how dare you spend our taxpayers’ money on this trash.’ This so-called piece of art is a deplorable, despicable display of vulgarity. This artist received $15,000 for his work from the National Endowment of the Arts. If this is what contemporary art has sunk to, this level, this outrage, this indignity – some may want to sanction that, and that is fine. But not with the use of taxpayers’ money. This is not a question of free speech. This is a question of abuse of taxpayers’ money. If we allow this group of so-called art experts to get away with this, to defame us and to use our money, well, then we do not deserve to be in office.” New York Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato

“I thought he was saying, in a rather simplistic, magazine-y type of way, that this is what we are doing to Christ, we are not treating him with reverence. His great sacrifice is not used. We live very vulgar lives. We put Christ in a bottle of urine – in practice. It was a very admonitory work. Not a great work; one wouldn’t want to go on looking at it once one had already seen it once. But I think to call it blasphemous is really rather begging the question: it could be, or it could not be. It is what you make of it, and I could make something that made me feel a deep desire to reverence the death of Christ more by this suggestion that this is what, in practice, the world is doing.” Sister Wendy Beckett

ABOVE: Chris Ofili, The Holy Virgin Mary, 1996, paper collage, oil paint, polyester resin, map pins & elephant dung on linen, 95.9 x 72 inches

In 1996, Chris Ofili made a portrait of the Holy Virgin Mary that included pornographic imagery and real elephant dung. Although the painting had been displayed in London and Berlin without controversy, it caused a shit storm when it crossed the pond to be shown in New York City. Twice during the exhibition it was attacked but despite minor damage, it survives to this day. In 2015, Christie’s sold The Holy Virgin Mary for $4.6 million.

“Last time I checked, I’m the Mayor, and I don’t find closing down access to a public museum consistent with the use of taxpayer dollars,” Giuliani said. “People have an absolute right to express anything they want to express, but they do not have an absolute right to have that funded by the taxpayers.” New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani

“It certainly is true that the level of prudery is much stronger in the United States than in Europe and that includes London. It’s louder, more vociferous and more fundamentalist.” Norman Rosenthal, director of the Royal Academy

Goals for 2017

Each and every year, I sit down and write a list of artistic goals for the next twelve months. This year’s list is going to take a lot of time and hard work to pull off.

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  • 2016 was a year of transition as I moved both office and home. Now settled, I need to refine my studio practice to best utilize a new (smaller) space. Organization is a must.
  • After spending most of 2016 planning a large body of work, it is time to buckle down and make it all. Should take most of the year – if I’m lucky.
  • Now debt free, I need to create an art budget and stick to it. At the same time, I need to become more efficient with my materials and cut waste.
  • In 2015, I had my first solo exhibition and showed a collection of works I had made through the years. In 2017, I would like to have my second solo exhibition and show a new body of work for the first time. Venue to be announced.

Seasons Greetings

I would like to wish all my followers and their loved ones a safe and happy holiday season. Eat, drink and be merry. I know I will. Probably a bit too much.

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ABOVE: Pablo Picasso, Le Père Noël, 1959, lithograph

ABOVE: Norman Rockwell, A Drum For Tommy, 1921, oil on canvas

ABOVE: Andy Warhol, Christmas Tree, Published in Harpers Bazaar, December 1957

ABOVE: Salvador Dali, Christmas Tree, 1959, Christmas card for Hallmark