March 16, 2017


Temerity is the artists' occupational hazard. And so in this blogpost, I hazard answers to the questions posed by David Salle in the recent Armory Live symposium. It takes some nerve to think I would be eligible to sit on the stage alongside artists picked by Salle.

With that said...

If we could go back to the apprentice system, whose studio would you want to work in?

There's not a single one that comes readily to mind. Slowly, a list arises, for artists yet living within the time I was a young artist: Rauschenberg, Hockney, Polke, Richter, Auerbach, Baselitz...

What's the difference between painting and illustration?

Illustration serves another, painting serves itself.

Philip Guston wrote, "Am I a genius? Am I a fraud? I am dying." Response?

I assume that many artists have the same feeling that comes to me when I chase a line of thinking in painting to the ground. You aspire towards some destination, guided by intuition. And after some effort, you reach your goal and you paint past it in subsequent paintings. There's a lull that arises as you prepare to reset your objectives. Am I a genius? Am I a fraud?

If your work were a person, what is that personality?

Representations of Christ on the cross, the one by Grünewald, or certain Spanish crucifixion sculptures, or Donatello's Maddalena. The personality would be the one in extremis as flesh becomes spirit.

Is there someone you would like to be in a two-person show with?

Frank Auerbach.

What is the most useful piece of advice you've received from an artist?

Rauschenberg came to a solo show of mine in LA, we had dinner together afterwards. He encouraged me to change with every show, every body of work. I remember thinking that although he changed a great deal, there was a singular quality that could be seen in everything he made. While I haven't emulated his advice the way he did, I hope that I have done this within the language of painting that I have created.

Have you learned anything good from a gallery or a curator?

I've learned that the best of them love art as I do and deserve to exercise their creativity within their realm.

Do you think your art is brave?


(Let one beat pass. Two.)

Bravery is needed when you strike out on your own. There's a tremendous herd instinct dominating the art world today. When I was young, I thought that art was a natural home for the misfits of the world. How wrong I was.

What's the importance of originality?

Everything. Isn't art history driven by it?

We have a much bigger art population. How much in it is good versus bad?

I tend to think that the number of of talented, brave and original artists back when the art world was young (40's to the early 60's) is roughly the same as the art world today, even though the contemporary population is immensely larger. There's a lot of dreck to sift through to get to the good stuff.

E.B. White wrote, "The writer's duty is to lift people up and not let them down." Response?

Architecture has a mandate that the architect not kill the client, meaning that like medicine, it has a responsibility to contribute to human flourishing. The realm of art exists in the imagination and its expression exists within a frame that defines it. Within that frame, we are free to find the uplift within darkness, and usually it is via this juxtaposition that we can see the light.

Last ten years, Identity politics in art. Do you think that focus has had an impact for painting?

Definitely, there has been an impact. Whether it has been good or bad is another topic. Generally, we have overshot the mark and are now beating the topic to a pulp.

Do you think that people who write about painting should demonstrate a basic proficiency in the medium?

Since writing is an art, the best art writers demonstrate great art while writing about it. To the question, it's hard to believe that a critic of any medium could willfully -or credibly- disregard the mechanics of the medium that they are writing about. But no doubt, this attitude is probably in the wild.

No hierarchy. John Cage said, "All sound is equal." Any reaction to that?

End state entropy, our dead universe. Scientists say that this will come aeons into the future. But this is now, our own long lived meantime, and any world view that is trying to convince us that we should build a world sans hierarchy is probably trying to assert their authority over us. A grift, in other words.

Short of this, it's useful to remember that all arguments employ artifice, and the ideal of "no hierarchy" is currently and into the deep future, an impossibility that thrives only in the imagination. Art is a bubble in the world, the edges of which is the frame wherein all is possible.

Why is it always painting that's dying?

Painting is like the sun. It's rays, we feel on our faces, plants grow. We looked for the stars beside the sun, so we blocked it out with our hand. And we found stars: Installation, performance, conceptual, and more. Other worlds. And it was good. But we forgot that the sun was there, even why it was there. Along the way, some of us forgot that our hands were held aloft. Others began to mumble, then cried: "Fucking sun! If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't have to hold our hands up to the sky! YOU G-DAMN SELFISH ASSHOLE! You keep the sky all to yourself! You hoard all the glory! DAMN YOU TO HELL!

Has it ever surprised you, the popularity of conceptual art?

What surprises me is the prescience of conceptualism. it hit me one day as I toured the DIA Beacon. The artists exhibited there were setting the stage for an information age that had yet to bloom decades into their future. They anticipated that art could be a set of instructions. (Sol LeWitt wall drawings.) Code. They were clairvoyant.

To the question, what surprises me is that artists worldwide haven't factored in the central conceit of the conceptual project: that art-as-code, art-as-a-set-of-instructions could exist without a physical medium of one kind or another. After all, don't we all well understand today that software requires hardware? All arguments require artifice. It's strange that we could be intoxicated with an idea to such an extent that we follow uncritically, even if it leads past the boundaries of its frame. Shouldn't we be alert to the problem of purity and extremism?

What did you do that was or is new?

Early on, my rap about my painting was that I found a hidden pull down menu in painting: the formal attributes of impasto. Today, I would amend this by saying that many other artists have exploited the physical properties of painting. What I think I have done is to systemize these formal properties into a lexicon in parallel with the other attributes, color and tonality among others.

Is Gerhard Richter a talented painter?

Very! But is talent enough?

"A writer should have a machine gun in his heart." Thoughts?

Artist, Soldier! I have written a few times in my weblog about the parallels between the art world and the military. Most artists think that the world of the soldier is diametrically opposed to the world of an artist. I suggest that there are sympathetic aspects to consider.

The quote suggests that ruthlessness is essential to art. I would agree. But there is also a question as to whom should we be ruthless. When we were in art school, we assembled a jury in our heads composed of artists that we admired. From this jury, we formed a whip to lash, to castigate or encourage. It takes an innate wisdom to avoid the tendency to apply the whip to other people in the world. This whip is meant for self flagellation, when we are alone in the studio.

Posted by Dennis at March 16, 2017 4:37 PM

1 Comment

great thank you

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