Should This Painting be Destroyed?

It turns out that this issue is too politically volatile to give perspective on.   I wanted to engage people in a discussion, and share some ideas I’ve thought a lot about, and which I thought were also a positive way forward. I didn’t intend to be in a war with extremists. I’m not interested in courting that level of capital negativity. I had to delete my post because of harassment from a radical, separatist, hate group. It’s just not worth sharing my views – which are the opposite of extremist or ideological, and thus an antidote – if it is going to make me a target of ideological, extremist, hate.

I haven’t let myself be silenced, really, or I wouldn’t be posting this. Now I’m saying that I can’t even talk about this issue, that’s how ridiculous people are being. Here I’m talking around it, and not touching on the specific trigger issues that make people go ballistic. I would also clarify that I don’t really say this is about censorship, for me, because that’s an alt-right argument, which is a bit of a red herring, because usually it is not the right to free speech that is objected to at all, but rather the very specific content of that speech. This makes any criticism of the most heinous speech automatically wrong, because it is instantly classified as an argument against free speech, which we mostly all agree we should have a right to. I was more interested in the actual content of the free speech and the criticisms thereof.

Norman Rockwell’s, “The Problem We All Live With”, 1964. Might be his best or worst painting, depending on who you talk to, but it’s probably not safe to talk about it. I can safely say it is technically, in terms of skill, a masterpiece.

It’s possible the threat was just somebody trying to impersonate such a group, but I don’t want to deal with those types of individuals either, which would most likely be people on the opposite side of the spectrum of hate, as they are also in the game of escalating hatred. However, considering how many hate groups there are in America – 892 and counting, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center – it’s probably legit. [See Wikipedia on hate groups here.]

Incidentally, these hate groups come in all flavors, their shared characteristic being  “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” While we generally think of these as white racist and separatist groups, of which there are plenty, the list does also include a formidable 180 black separatist hate groups. Anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim groups are “in” this season. Note that in the last few years, the number of hate groups has escalated. Most people recognize they are losing chances of opportunity, security, and prosperity, and not only looking for a scapegoat, but perhaps stealthily encouraged to do so by those who might actually be accountable for the state of whole economies, the destruction of the environment, and large scale war…

I don’t want anything to do with hate and supremacist groups, and that means ALL of them, and their rhetoric. I don’t want anything to do with perpetuating hate or retaliating against it. I also don’t want to see art destroyed. You can hold those two positions simultaneously. We could have had a constructive conversation about the ethics involved, even a friendly discussion.

I’m deliberately being vague about who was behind the harassment, or threat, because I don’t want to get involved with, or give ammunition to, any of the extremists on this issue, whatever narrative they are peddling. There are people who see other groups of people as automatically the enemy, and as “other”. It seems a natural enough component of human psychology to define ourselves “against” others. I don’t believe in this, but rather that this mentality is itself the real enemy. People who think they’ve awoken when they figured out who the evil “other” is, and go around telling people to wake up, are having a nightmare and trying to ensnare other people into it. You are dehumanizing people. There is no “other”.

Suffice it to say that I  think the polarization of people that is happening in America right now is a tragedy. I also believe it is a media-driven, click-driven, escalating, self-fulfilling prophecy, and people should be smart and honest enough to not take the click-bait.

I’m an anti-hate, anti-violence, anti-racism, anti-extremism, anti-essentialist, peace-loving artist. I want nothing to do with any ideological wars. All the radical, extremist,  ideologues itching for violence need to grow up, and look in the mirror.  When you look in the mirror you will see your enemy: and when you look at the enemy you will see yourself. [Nah, that’s not a quote. I just made it up.]

That might sound almost religious, and yet, those who most deny it are often part of a religious group. This dude I used to work with in a warehouse, and who I thought was a bit of a tough guy, and not so friendly, once said something that really impressed me, though he could have been quoting something he didn’t truly understand. Doubtless it’s a whopping cliche I just hadn’t heard before, but here ’tis: “religion is for people who are afraid of hell. Spirituality is for people who’ve been there”.

The understanding that there is no other doesn’t have to be spiritual either, not in some delusional, fantasy way. I can put together a philosophical argument with scientific evidence (brain/conscious science) to back it (that’ll be a separate post.). It’s just a matter of panning back. In brief, everyone has the same core sense of consciousness/being, which we consider our true identity, and the underlying field of being, which dwarfs everything else clouding it, is factually going to be the same in all of us. When you look in someone else’s eyes, you are looking in your own. The person is your same core being slapped into another body, and another context. You just switched avatars in a video game. Deep down, you’re the same player struggling to survive. This doesn’t mean someone else’s mind can’t be corrupt (just as yours can, if you let it), and that their actions sometimes don’t need to be opposed (ex., using the atom bomb, or knowingly, willfully, destroying the environment for profit). It is those actions, and the underlying beliefs that are the enemy. You can never transfer beliefs from one body to another, and seek to punish that body for the corrupted mind of someone else.

You might find that if you chill out, the intolerable social heat outside gets a bit less oppressive, and there’s suddenly a cool breeze out of nowhere.

Instead of joining together to fight real corruption and abuse of power, many are looking for innocent victims to make symbolic sacrifices of. If I was in a particularly agitated mood, I might suggest that hate groups square off against each other instead of going after innocent bystanders, but, that is encouraging a conflagration which could only make matters worse.

The new enemy is each other, in a new climate of “hate thy neighbor”. If this keeps up, the result will be that the working class and the poor will be duped into destroying each other and themselves while those in positions of power, who are abusing that power, will laugh their way to the bank, having taken candy away from babies (which is not to say that we aren’t responsible for our own actions).

Jessie Jackson famously said, “Keep hope alive”. Now people are saying, “Keep hate alive”. Maybe I’m just being nostalgic, but I prefer the older message.

Don’t forget to treat others as well as you should treat yourself, and treat yourself as well as you should treat others.

Cheers,

Eric


Relatedly, there was a time when I didn’t understand “Revolution” by the Beatles, because I thought revolution was a positive thing. I’m not talking I didn’t like the music, but I scowled at the meaning. The song struck me, at the time, as a bit reactionary. That was a long time ago. Now the song makes perfects sense, because there’s a real ugliness to a lot of revolutionary rhetoric. Note the lyrics below the video which I put in bold.

 

Revolution (The Beatles)

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out
Don’t you know it’s gonna be
All right, all right, all right
You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We’re doing what we can
But if you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait
Don’t you know it’s gonna be
All right, all right, all right
You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead
But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow
Don’t you know it’s gonna be
All right, all right, all right
All right, all right, all right
All right, all right, all right
All right, all right
Songwriters: John Lennon / Paul Mccartney

Cheers,

Eric

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13 thoughts on “Should This Painting be Destroyed?

  1. Eric, you are a [racial slurs deleted by moderator].

    Stop pontificating – it really is that simple.

    [propaganda link deleted by moderator].

    Like

  2. That’s too bad you deleted it. I came here from Galina’s blog and was looking forward to reading your post. I’m sorry you’ve been harassed. Deleting the post is sort of giving in to them, but I understand the desire for peace.
    I know what you mean about the polarization and division in today’s society, it’s ridiculously sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I imagine that the culprits think they scored a victory over me, and that’s a bit annoying, but they may have done me a favor. After Trump was elected I deleted my personal Facebook page because people were becoming too angry, even talking about preparing themselves for armed, violent conflict.

      Months later I seemed to have forgotten why I removed myself from that sphere, only to step back into the political battle-field.

      I wish people in America (thankfully I live overseas) would recognize how much of the hatred and demonizing is being generated by the media, and not fall for it. But, people are thinking in black and white, and “you are either with us or against us”, and “if you are not a part of the solution you are part of the problem”… The end result of this is that if you don’t subscribe to one radical agenda, you are automatically lumped into it’s opposite, even if you find them both about equally repugnant.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Like

      1. >> “you are either with us or against us”, and “if you are not a part of the solution you are part of the problem”… The end result of this is that if you don’t subscribe to one radical agenda, you are automatically lumped into it’s opposite, even if you find them both about equally repugnant.

        It’s tempting to say that this is an online phenomenon, but alas, not so. I live in Britain, and things got polarised last year since Brexit and the images of Syrian refugees took up the news schedules. I’ve found myself assumed to be the enemy simply because of my silence. Of course, I was brought to that silence by being talked over, gestured at etc. And that’s by people on both sides of the divide. Maybe there needs to be some kind of translation app that can turn rant and flaming into conversation?
        Try not to take the bad comments to heart. They can be filtered and I’m sure they’re dwarfed by the usual quantity and quality of discussion you get on and offline.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi Jeff:

          I can just imagine, knowing you as well as I do, as well as I can for dialoguing with someone online, that someone as articulate as you keeping silent on an issue is a deafening silence.

          Saner, or calmer, or more reasoned voices do not prevail here. People seem to ride on beliefs built of memes and talking points, which can be shouted if need be, in which case the louder, more threatening voices prevail. How true those beliefs are is not questioned. People are sure of their positions.

          It sounds like the polarization in Britain is very similar to the one in the States when Trump was elected. I deleted my personal Facebook page within a day or two of Trump being elected, because everyone was at each others throats.

          This fever pitch of polarization, animosity, and inching towards violence is not the place to think one can express ones opinion, and the rules of debate are going to be in effect.

          Same goes for discussing this painting.

          Glad to hear from you though, as it’s been a while and I was starting to hope you were doing alright.

          Cheers.

          Like

  3. Eric,
    Sorry about the harassment, I wonder if they even read the blog and the comments? I kind of think not because it was all level headed, constructive thoughts on a topic that us as artists should be the ones to talk about. I guess they would rather just have the angry, ignorant, racist types screaming into their microphones talking about it. They might feel they defeated you on this but it’s actually a defeat for all humanity. I will say that I do believe most people don’t agree with them, it’s just that people don’t want to open themselves up to their wrath.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. But it’s also a reminder to me to speak through my art instead. Can people be persuaded by a good argument if they believe something else, and if their beliefs give them a sense of belonging in a group? From our discussions so far, I think you may also know that if you don’t subscribe to any beliefs, it’s a bit like being an astronaut untethered from the space station, and drifting off into the void of space alone. If you don’t believe in anything, you don’t belong to anything, in which case, people aren’t going to change their beliefs unless they have an opportunity to change their sense of belonging as well. In order to change beliefs, people often change support groups,friends, jobs, and other relationships. Could I possibly persuade those who want to burn the painting of anything? What do I have to offer? A trip in the void?

      But I think art, because it is outside of spoken language, works in a different way that can speak to people. I’ve noticed that a lot of conservative dudes really dig “Rage Against the Machine”, and their lyrics are often very liberal. Music can get a message through to people even if they just sat down and read the lyrics they might not care for the ideas. And a painting or other image requires no common spoken language, so can work outside of the belief/belonging barrier.

      I recently wrote a short article about certain paintings by Roberto Matta which I really dig (post before this one, I think), and I did a bit of research on him, but, y’know what, I don’t give a flying hoot about his politics. I know he was reacting to the horrors of WWII, but I didn’t even need to know that.

      I think we’ve talked about Emile Nolde, and how he is a no-no, because he aspired to be a darling of the Nazis. Doesn’t mean he was for exterminating anyone, but it does mean he bought into some of the rhetoric. But I would never know that from his paintings, and I don’t think it really matters. It kinda’ sounds like he bought into the aspect of believing in some primitive, natural, primal, spiritual essence, which got tied in with the “volk”. I don’t see fascism in his art. So, it’s dangerous to judge artists by their political ideas, and I am not even interested in what Matta thought politically. Seems like he most likely pretty much has the same conclusions I do about war and related issues. I don’t need to hear my own views in an echo chamber. What interests me about him is he created a new imaginary visual realm in certain paintings, and that is perhaps the aspect of painting that most fascinates me.

      A lot of people nowadays see art as something like props (though that is a belittling term so I need to come up with a better one) for a (usually revolutionary) political agenda. I see it as an avenue for expanding the imagination and creating new vistas of reality.

      So, perhaps, in the future, if anyone cares about my art, they won’t really give a shit about my political arguments and whatnot, especially if they pretty much already agree with me.

      So, better to make art and – like a prisoner digging a secret hole in his cell with a pen cap, and slowly expanding it – break out of the mold.

      Thanks again for your comments and following my art and blog.

      Also, sorry I deleted your earlier comments, but I don’t want anyone else to be a target of the people that were harrassing me. But I think comments at this point are vague enough that it’s nearly impossible to superimposes some nonsense, like planting evidence, via which an attack can be justified.

      Like

  4. No worries about deleting the comments. I do think people can change their minds/beliefs if explained in the right way. It takes an intelligent person who is a good communicator, and hopefully that person is not like Hitler. True we don’t have anything to offer to fill the void, except being a lot happier as a person.

    I think a lot of people who consider themselves artists are actually not artists but activists or something similar. They think they are artists but I bet they couldn’t even tell you what art is. Here it is for anyone who wants to know. Art is a language. Just like English, Spanish, or Sign. It is the language of feelings. It is how a lot of people like myself express ourselves. I’m not eloquent with words so I express myself through my art. The greatest art of all time transcends time. We can look at it and get a feeling of what the artist was feeling thousands of years ago. Just like reading a book. If you look at early African masks you can almost feel what the artist felt getting ready for battle. Their are no secret codes to decipher. You look at it and you feel. This art is not the art meant for a few rich snobs or patrons. This is the art for everyone regardless of where you come from, how much money you have, color of skin, or anything else. It’s that simple, when you see it you know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think there’s a lot of truth in what you said. Maybe “form of communication” is better than “language”, since art doesn’t have an agreed upon structure and vocabulary, but I use “language” as well. When you talk about art I think you mean the art you most value. At this point in the art world, a lot of people dismiss my art out of hand as not only irrelevant, but as not even art, or not art that’s worthy of giving any attention to. So, these days, it would be ironic for me to say what is not art. My definition is a bit loose. I’ll let just about any creative enterprise call itself art, and then I just have my own likes and preferences. I’m cool with other people loving their Koons and Duchamp. I’ll take Van Gogh and Francis Bacon.

      I also like art that conveys feelings, and for a while this was the only art that spoke to me. Certainly in my own art I have often tried to create feeling, though with me that feeling is often a kind of awe, even a religious awe, without the religion.

      But what I really wanted to write back to you about was the problem of words and explanations with art, and this controversy over Dana Shutz painting is a perfect example. The placard, and extrinsic concerns completely take over. Words create a barrier to visual art. Sometimes they can really help to give us a little push. During a music appreciation class, a student piped up that “The Right of Spring” by Igor Stravinski sounded like “Planet of the Apes”. That was all the springboard I needed, and I could then really get into the music. But, really, it’s the sounds. I rather think people who insist on too much external contextualization of art must not be fans of classical music at all (or music in general), or are not able to triangulate their experience. I remember listening to a piano sonata by Schubert, and certain notes just really working for me. The other day I listened to Beethoven’s “Appassionata” and was blown away by it. Anything extrinsic to the music itself would just interfere.

      I think I come up with some pretty good titles for my art, but now maybe I will just number them. Language (and I mean spoken language) is a barrier to understanding visual art, as, again, this controversy proves.

      It’s funny. I was really passionate, and even angry, about this controversy, and now that I deleted my post, I’m letting go and not really giving a flying crap anymore. All those words, all that contextualization, can be dumped. Some of those critics live life and art through words. What an interesting challenge it is to NOT use words.

      Have a good one.

      Like

  5. Ya, form of communication is better. I guess I do have a pretty strict idea of what art is, but if art is a form of communication and our form is painting then we cannot tell someone who doesn’t understand our pictures they are only for a select few with refined tastes. It just means we didn’t do a very good job of getting our feelings across. I think quite often, and this is what bothers me is that their really isn’t any knowledge that exists to explain these works that we just don’t understand. Why is it believed that most people lack the taste to appreciate fine art? That’s saying people lack the ability to feel, like Hanna is saying. It’s been going on for a long time now so it’s accepted as truth, but people can get accustomed to eating rotten food, that doesn’t mean it’s good. I guess I just want people to be able to enjoy art like I do, but all of the phony art has had such a pernicious effect that it’s hard to reverse the course at this point.

    I also don’t normally title my paintings for the same reason. It leads people and that takes away from the experience I think. Also, would Starry Night be any less impressive if it was untitled?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good points. I was just thinking that the only time words convey reality is when they transcend their literal meaning. Other than that I am sorta’ down on language, and definitely down on belief.

      I think you have a very good point the problem of saying ones art is only for those who have refined tastes and know how to process visual imagery, which is something I think is true to a certain extent, and a problematic position to hold for just the reasons you mention.

      On the other hand the way I became a connoisseur of visual art and music is by looking and listening. It’s almost like exercise. You gotta’ build up to lifting the heavier weights.

      However, I always hope that the uninitiated could appreciate images I produce.

      So, you bring up whether it is the fault of the artist or audience if a piece does not register.

      It’s probably both and neither.

      When I am the art audience I think it’s my job to fathom the art. When I am the artist it’s my job to make the art fathomable.

      And, certainly I often fall short on the end of appreciating art. It takes imagination, knowledge, experience and so on.

      I used to have a rule, when I was a teen, about listening to music. I couldn’t judge a song as good or bad until I’d listened to it at least 3 times. Until then it might just be too unfamiliar. Certain elements would hook me, almost unconsciously, after more listens.

      With visual art, I don’t think people give it that sort of chance. They might give it a few seconds tops, as they cycle through images on their smart phones, almost as fast as they can manage.

      Another good point you bring up is that with the ascendancy of non-painting art, people have lost an appreciation for the genre of painting as a whole. On top of that they completely subordinate the painted image to their political agendas or other verbal convictions. Visual art has been, over time, subordinated to the word.

      This is not a good time to bring back painting either, but, what the hell, might as well try. I have a couple ideas about that.

      Cheers.

      Like

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