Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas to ALL in the military

Today is Christmas and I'm fortunate to be home with my own family. But there was a time when I was in the Navy and deployed to somewhere far from home during the holidays. Those days are over, but somebody else has taken my place on the deck watch, or the operations floor, or the thousand and one other places where military people must spend their time to keep our forces ready for anything.

So today I'm sending these Christmas greetings to all those who wear an American military uniform, wherever you may be. Thank you for taking up the challenge to serve this great country.

And have yourself a great Christmas!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Nonsense Spam

We all get spam, but I've noticed that over the past several months, I'm not getting as many offers to enhance my male virility or save money on prescription drugs. (If I'd followed up on even half of them, I'd be better endowed than King Kong and it wouldn't have cost me a nickel!) Instead, nowadays I'm getting nonsense. Real nonsense. This new breed of spam seems to be made up of random sentence generators, with titles like "themselves on the his heart because of pure heart to heal thyself ". Makes it easy to identify and delete, but I'm wondering, who would go to all the trouble of spam that doesn't do anything except clutter mailboxes?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Career Change

A few days ago, I received an email from a post that I subscribe to. The writer spoke of a friend of his named "Bill". "Bill" is a stockbroker, but isn't happy with his life. He see's Robert (the writer) making a lot of money selling his paintings and wants some of that action. "Bill" is thinking of quitting his job, leaving his wife, and going to live on an island for six months and just paint. In other words, he's Paul Gauguin. Robert said his recommendation was to take a leave of absence for six months and see if that's what the guy really wanted to do. The question to us was, what would we say? And, of course, I had something to pitch in. Here's what I said:

"Robert, your advice to "Bill" to take a leave of absence was good. "Bill" is obviously unhappy with his current situation and searching for something better. However, he doesn't have a clue to what it's like in the real art world.

Like many of your readers, I'm on my second career. I was a Navy officer for 22 years. My move into art was carefully planned: I studied with private artists and at Maryland Institute College of Art's continuing ed classes while on active duty. After retiring, I earned a BFA from a university with a very strong fine arts program. I've been an "emerging" artist since graduating three years ago, working my tail off to make paintings, get them in shows, and market like crazy. My studio is still in the red, however, and probably will be for another couple of years. It's a good thing that I have my military retirement and my wife has a good job. Without this support system, I couldn't have made it. Or I wouldn't be painting what I want to paint, which to me is the same thing.

To be monetarily successful in the art world, it seems like you have to be very talented and/or skilled (they're not the same thing), you have to create something that a lot of people want to buy, you have to have a great promotional system, you have to work your tail off, and you need a good bit of luck.

To be personally successful, you need to find a way of working that satisfies your inner demons. To do that, you have to be willing to ask yourself some really hard questions about who you are and what is important to you. And you have to answer them honestly, whatever the real answers are. Even then, you haven't even started the issue of making a living at it.

And regardless of whether you're striving for personal or monetary success, six months ain't gonna do it. That period might give him an idea of what it's like to really focus on something, and he might be able to build up a body of work. But he'll be just barely getting started: being a successful artist requires way, way, WAY more than that.

Before throwing everything away, "Bill" needs to understand what he's really getting into. Otherwise, he may as well try to make a million as the lead singer in a rock and roll band."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Botero and Abu Ghraib

There's an artist named Fernando Botero who's well-known for his paintings of cute chubby people. He's made a very lucrative career of them. His paintings normally have all the emotional depth of a Hallmark card, but sell like crazy.

Botero has now done a series of paintings on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. You can see them on the Marlborough Gallery web site. Frankly, I'm impressed. He takes his signature chubby people, but this time they're not cute: they're tormented, anguished, and in pain. The works address a deep and painful subject. There is a tremendous amount of feeling in these pictures. In stepping out from his normal shtick, Botero has hit a home run.

But Botero hasn't gone far enough. Frankly, none of us have. There have been quite a few artists who have criticized President Bush, the Iraq war, and American excesses at Abu Ghraib. I've been one of them. But in seeing these works, I'm struck by the fact that it's always the United States that's the subject of criticism. Where is the criticism of the Sunni and Shi'ite death squads? Time magazine just had an article on Abu Deraa, a Shi'ite warlord who's responsible for thousands of Iraqi deaths. One of his favorite techniques is to run a power drill into a live victim's head. Where, I ask you, is the art world's criticism of Abu Deraa? Where is the criticism of Putin, who's rolling back all the democratic gains that Russia has made since the collapse of the USSR? Where is the criticism of Hezballah for the war they started with Israel? I'm no fan of Israel, but the widespread condemnation of Israel for the destruction in southern Lebanon ignored the fact that Hezballah did half of it. You can pick almost any conflict around the globe, and artists probably aren't doing anything about it, except to criticize the U.S.

And as much as I can't stand Bush, he's right when he complains about the criticism of America over Abu Ghraib and other atrocities. If we're going to condemn atrocities, we need to condemn them ALL: American, Shi'ite, Sunni, Serb, Sudanese, all of them.

So Botero's work is great, as far as it goes. It just doesn't go far enough.