I’ve sat on this story for a month because it is so unpleasant for me to discuss. However, I have to analyze this, and defend myself, because if I don’t, it may come back to haunt me. But first I must confess something. I compared someone’s abstract painting to an abstract painting made by a chimp named Asuka, 50 of whose paintings have been exhibited in Tokyo. What induced me to do this was the uncanny resemblance between the style of the two particular paintings. I already knew the painting by Asuka, because I’d posted it on my blog before. So, to make this amusing comparison, I searched for it, and in response to the artist’s Tweet of his painting, I uploaded the picture of Asuka and her painting. I wrote, “Kinda’ reminds me of this painting” and in order to make it clear I wasn’t being mean, “in a good way”.
I would have been better off had I wrote something genuinely hostile and insulting, such as, “Your shit looks like chicken scratch. Don’t quit your day job.” See if you can tease out why comparing an artwork to chicken scratch would be better than comparing it to a chimp that exhibited 50 paintings, and “in a good way”.
[Note that the reason I blurred out the artist’s work is to minimize chances that should he learn of this post, he will try to persecute me again.]
I continued going through my Twitter feed, and didn’t think much of it, other than that I’d made a funny comparison. However, I must admit that I hadn’t given enough thought to how an artist might take such a comparison personally. People have been juxtaposing abstract art by humans with abstract art by monkeys for decades, and it’s a bit of a sensitive issue.
Above: a newspaper article challenging readers to guess which painting is by Abstract Expressionist, Joan Mitchell, and which is by “Pockets Warhol”, a Capuchin monkey. This is, by the way, a very similar sort of comparison.
If you want, take a minute yourself and see if you can tell which is by the human and which by the monkey. The answer will be forthcoming. But first, have a look at Pockets in the act of painting.
And here is the answer to the quiz:
The painting on the left is by Pockets.
So, these comparisons have been going on for a long time, and it can be taken to mean something like, “a monkey can paint as well as you”. If that was my express intent, I would have added that the monkey in question was “three years old”. I mean, if you are going to go hard, you might as well shoot with both barrels. Just in case someone might take it that way, that’s why I’d added, “in a good way”.
Am I a hater of abstract art? Of course not. I love it.
One of my most popular posts is Sensational Non-Representational Art, in which I feature 10 non-representational artists I discovered from around the world on DeviantArt. And, for the record, the monkey paintings are non-representational rather than abstract, if we want to get technical. Abstraction is a process of distortion from reality, and applies more to styles like Cubism. Non-representational art makes no reference to imagery. I’ve made nonrepresentational art myself, and continue to do so on occasion.
Below, a spray painting I made in the early 80’s, when my favorite artist was Willem de Kooning.
And here’s one from 2016
I’ve written an article about Jackson Pollock: How art history got Jackson Pollock all wrong, and why it matters. My take is that he is appreciated less for his paintings themselves than for the notion that he was the first person to do action paintings, and on the floor.
But just to clear up if I think non-representational art is no better than a monkey can do, here’s a quote from my article of 2015:
So, the thing the artist misinterpreted is that I wasn’t saying a monkey could make his art, but pointing out the coincidental and conspicuous superficial similarities between the two paintings. My intent was to be amusing, not to put down the artist. But it is my fault that I hadn’t considered that the artist doesn’t know my relationship to non-representational art, or that it could EASILY be seen as me putting down his art.
And these aren’t the days where artists could openly criticize other artist’s work and get away with it. Francis Bacon famously said that Jackson Pollock’s paintings looked like “old lace”, and Dali called Piet Mondrian “Niet Piet”. Nobody had a heart attack. But this isn’t anything like that.
Even if I am a big fan of Abstract Expressionism, and have no issue with non-representational art as a fully legitimate and infinitely promising approach, there is the question of the artist’s particular contribution. And there my general policy is to never criticize an artist’s work unless they are multi-millionaires, set for life, and extremely overrated, in which case they have nothing to lose. I have slipped up and obliquely questioned the technique of artists who cynically game the system, or try to palm off extremely low-effort work (ex., applying one Photoshop filter], but those errors on my part are very rare. I actually have personal protocols I’ve typed up for interacting on Twitter, and they include never criticizing anyone’s work…
In any case, that was not the real issue, or rather not what the artist would take issue with.
He fired back almost immediately, calling me a “racist”, “alt-right” and “ignorant”. I didn’t think to screenshot the Tweets, because I didn’t know I needed to worry about it. I just thought the guy was overreacting, and getting nasty about it. I might be tempted to say here that he “went ape-shit ballistic”, but you will soon see why that would be a nail in my own coffin. While my tweet was arguably aggressive (though not really] his response was obviously and incontestably so. He also taunted me that he was “winning” with sales, and I was losing. I responded that accusing me of being a “racist” and “alt-right” was slander.
Let’s get out of the way whether or not I am an “alt-right/racist”. In 2016 I wrote an article here: The Sad Racist Specter of Richard Spencer. Since I am being publicly accused of being in league with this movement, my real stance on it is entirely relevant. Indulge me in reading the opening paragraphs of my article:
I went on to analyze his stance in detail, and why it is so reprehensible.
But now, someone has publicly tried to brand me as in league with alt-right/racists.
You may be wondering what the hell racism has to do with it. Well, I hadn’t paid attention to who the artist was when I tweeted the pic of Asuka with her masterpiece. I follow hundreds of people, and they retweet material from thousands more. I tend to look for works of art, and interact with them. Not as big on reading tweets. But It wouldn’t of mattered if I had noticed who made the tweet, because I didn’t remember the guy’s name. As it turns out, he’s someone I’d briefly wrangled with a month or so earlier, though I had immediately pulled out of the discussion to avoid a fight.
He had responded to a mutual Twitter friend’s Tweet asking a question “What is painting?”. His response was “all painting is Eurocentrism”. This struck me as overly simplistic, heavy handed, and dangerously political. I argued something to the effect that visual language was universal, Europeans had no monopoly on it, and it went back to the first cave paintings. He was having none of that, and got aggressive, at which point I wisely left the conversation.
I’m guessing that he doesn’t consider his art to be “painting” but perhaps, uh, “mark making”, which is, I gather, a more wholesome and authentic tradition than vile painting?
The problem, incidentally, with his notion that all painting is Eurocentric, is that it demonizes all the old masters as necessarily promulgating a pernicious belief system, while handily eliminating anything else their art might be about. Would we similarly argue that all Japanese woodblock paintings were celebrating Japanese imperialism? We would not, and it isn’t the case. In fact, both Japanese artists and European artists influenced each other, one of the most notable examples being Van Gogh’s copies of Japanese woodcuts, and the influence their flattening of the picture plane had on his art.
How could his art be Eurocentric while idolizing, imitating, and incorporating the art of the Japanese? I’m sure someone with enough determination to reach that outcome can cobble something together to support it, but I predict it will be tedious and highly debatable.
This is the same as arguing that Galileo’s arguments for heliocentrism necessarily supported the Catholic Church, which expressly condemned him for them.
The only way to do that is to fix European artist’s bodies to a dominant belief, in which case one is arguing that Europeans, and ONLY Europeans, are incapable of acting independently of the uglier trends of their society, and this is implicitly because of the inherent deleterious traits of their particular biology. Such a view is not only a horrible condemnation of Europeans and their assumed innately offensive characteristics, but more to the point, of artists in general. Artists have always been among the most critical of the more vicious and repressive movements in their respective cultures.
This using an idea in order to force reality to fit a particular unfavorable view is why I called the artist an ideologue. Well, just the most wide-sweeping example.
I gather that NOT agreeing that “all painting is Eurocentrism” makes me “alt-right”. I’m sure some of you are familiar with the conundrum where if people of a certain race, and ONLY that race, do not accept that they are part and parcel of, and culpable for, the most heinous historical crimes of individuals who share their superficial physical traits, and if they don’t accept that their race is the scourge of the Earth, than that is evidence that they think they are better than everyone else, in which case they should justifiably be purged as evil scum.
Let’s return again to my article slamming Richard Spencer:
Need I mention that my wife is Asian, and I’ve lived and worked in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand for the last 16 years, in which case I am hardly a good foot soldier for “blood and soil”? Also can speak basic Chinese, Khmer, and Thai.
The aggrieved artist mentioned in his tweets specifically that I was the person who ignorantly thought painting was universal, and while he thought I had targeted him out of a grudge, I honestly had no idea who he was when I shared the Asuka pic, or I would never have done so, as I’d already avoided the guy like the plague previously rather than engaging him.
A day or so later I got a notification from Twitter that I was banned for violating their terms of service, and the specific category was “hate”. I put together that the issue was the idea of a “chimp” and associating it with a person of color, because of the tweets which the notification displayed in a pop-up that had been reported. I didn’t see a photo of Asuka! It would be more accurate to argue that I was at all racist in assuming when I posted the pic that the artist in question was white. I had no idea that he was Latin American, from Uruguay. Our mutual friend explained this to me after the fact. And a quick search showed a small picture of him, and from what I could tell he didn’t appear black, but rather a light-skinned Latino. But I have no idea his genetic makeup and can’t say anything for sure.
And so my comparing the art of an artist to the art of a chimp was turned into me saying that a person of color [and I’m guessing he didn’t clarify that he’s NOT black] IS a chimp. That’s quite a sleight of hand. But it’s a bit more detailed than that, and deliberate misrepresentation was at hand.
I know through our mutual Twitter friend who contacted this artist about my being banned that he was indeed the person responsible for reporting my tweets, and that he said he felt “threatened”. This is telling, because when you report an offensive tweet, you have some choices.
I don’t know if he selected that I was threatening violence or physical harm and they concluded it was hate, or whether he reported it as hate, and just defensively spouted that he felt threatened. Either one is a very serious accusation, the first being ridiculous and hypocritical, and the second malevolent.
The idea here is that I hate artists of color, and threaten them with violence, in this instance because the artist in the protected group makes non-representational paintings.
I did write an article in 2017 about Mark Bradford, in which I stated:
So, I have written on my blog that a gay, Black man is responsible for, “among the most gorgeous abstract paintings that have been made” and is arguably “the greatest living abstract painter” but I “hate” POC who make abstract paintings! Riiiiiiiiight.
If you don’t know what Mark Bradford’s work looks like, here are a couple wall-sized paintings in a gallery:
Now, someone who is hell-bent on branding me as a racist-who-deserves-to-be-canceled might come up with an argument that I think black men are ONLY capable of abstract paintings, and I wouldn’t like or support their work if they addressed the condition of Black Americans.
Enter the contemporary figurative painting master, Kerry James Marshall:
Here’s what I had to say about his art in a blog post about beauty in art, from 2017:
Looks like I’m all onboard with Marshall putting black people into the museums.
I talked extensively about the beauty of the execution of the painting above, but the final sentence may be more pertinent here:
I might add here that, no, I am NOT virtue signalling. If I blog that I admire an artist, I am doing it strictly because their art merits it no matter who they are. I judge the artist by the art, and not the other way around.
We still have the interesting fact that Twitter banned me temporarily in agreement with the accusation of “hate” or “threatening violence”. And that is, it later occurred to me, because my artist nemesis chose to misrepresent our exchange. From what I can piece together, he first deleted his tweets where he called me ignorant, a racist, and alt-right, in order to appear the victim of aggression, and not obviously on the attack three-fold himself. Curiously, the tweets he reported did NOT include the one comparing his painting (favorably] to that of Asuka, which would have given the proper context. Instead, he chose my following tweets in which I used the word “chimp”– as in saying “I didn’t call you a chimp”, but it was not evident I was talking about his or the chimp’s art.
I’m working on memory here, because I didn’t think to take screenshots at the time, but I remember finding it odd he hadn’t included my initial tweet, which is the one that was supposedly so offensive. He also didn’t include my tweet accusing him of slandering me. With some reflection, I believe what he’d done, deliberately or not, was give the impression that I said that his race ARE chimps. I doubt that he clarified that he is not black. This is not to say someone wouldn’t compare anyone non-white to chimps, but from what I’ve seen of historical examples of flagrant racism in America, that sort of comparison was made to Blacks (and a special exception for president George W. Bush]. And so, “Looks a lot like this painting, in a good way” becomes “blacks are apes”. If you should ever hear that I compared blacks or Latinos to primates, that is absolutely a lie, and malicious slander.
But I’m extrapolating from evidence while relying on my memory. I wish, again, that I’d bothered to take screenshots. I was pretty upset at the time, and just wanted to move on.
Consider that if he were white, which I thought he was, or if I were not white, or if I had compared his art to chicken-scratch, or dog shit, he couldn’t have charged me with “hate”. There needed to be the combination of a primate, me being white, and him being in a protected class for the accusation to not be patently ridiculous on the face of it. It is the biology of my parents that put me in a special position where I could be fingered as the hateful enemy, and punished for it. I’m sure he was fully aware of that, and took advantage of it.
Twitter gave me the ultimatum to take the strike against me, allow them to automatically delete the tweets in question, and accept that I am guilty of violating their terms of service, in which case the ban would be removed within 24 hours, or else challenge it, in which case I could have a paragraph to state my reasons, and they would take a week to re-evaluate.
Not wanting to take a week away from participating in the NFT community, which is essential for building your relations and getting your work sold; and not trusting whomever looks at such claims to appreciate my side at all (in which case the punishment would stand, or possibly be worse), I decided to plead guilty, just like innocents in the movies, in order to get a lesser sentence. And so I have on my record that I am guilty of hate!!
But I am saying here, in great detail, that I am absolutely NOT guilty of hate, and that the charges against me are disingenuous, deliberately misleading, hostile in intent, exaggerated, completely false, opportunistic, and ironically this is because of the happenstance of the DNA of my ancestors.
I am also perfectly cognizant that in some people’s minds, any protestation of my guilt on my part is evidence of my guilt. That, however, should smack far too hard of Inquisition witch trials for anyone to use that tactic without feeling some pang of conscience.
My tweet, at worst, is the same as the newspaper article juxtaposing a painting by Joan Mitchel with one by Pockets Warhol. But even that is a stretch considering my love of abstract art.
To quote King Lear, “I am a man More sinn’d against than sinning.”
It may be coincidental, but ever since my accuser reported me to Twitter, I have had a truncated presence on the platform.
Note that I can’t share this post on Twitter because someone might report it as “threatening violence” and have me permanently banned as a repeat offender.