“Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem, in my opinion, to characterize our age.” Albert Einstein

I believe that “perfection of means” has become one of the most important goals in art today, at great expense.

If you ask most artists and art gallery owners, they would say that “originality” is one of the most important goals in contemporary art. I would like to talk about originality because I believe this has to do with our confusion of goals in art. Is there not more than one kind of originality?

One kind of originality is the originality of method, material and production techniques. Contemporary art is full of examples of this kind of originality. Just look at all the different uses of materials, the reinvention of techniques and appropriation, the very clever hybrid combinations of material and method. Rarely does one find a painting painted with paint and a paintbrush anymore. In this way, contemporary art is uniquely original. Very interesting manipulation of materials: glass, wax, burlap, vinyl, lines made from bullets, massive and surprising installations, and much much more. Reinvention everywhere. Take a look at Contemporary Art Daily.

The second kind of originality is the originality of idea, concept, story. Just look at most contemporary art and you see irony, sarcasm, environmentalism, social and political statements, stories of all kinds, contemporary culture and social awareness, mind teasing ideas. Very interesting concepts. Take a look at Contemporary Art Daily.

The third kind of originality is not so common. It is the originality of spirit, deep feeling, involvement and need. It is a very personal originality. It is the originality that comes from knowing oneself well and honoring one's gifts. This kind of originality depends on vulnerability, risk and emotional commitment, an originality that comes from gradual effort, doubt, struggle, and inner yearning. Contemporary art mostly overlooks this originality that comes from an artist’s deep self. It takes too much time, work and uncertainty.

Ideally, an artwork might include all three of these originalities. Too often art today lacks the most important originality and suffers from too much mind, material and “perfection of means”. For art to be authentic and honest, an artist has to reach deep into one's original self. Only then will the "means" of material and method truly have the force of a deeper purpose.

Why does contemporary art tend away from the personal, heartfelt, deeply honest and authentic originality?




Contemporary life would like to take the artist out of the art, and it shows in so much of the artwork of today. The art is clean, looks good on walls, is well crafted, of interesting material and has lots of twists. It has been sufficiently “defamiliarized” so it won’t be recognized or connected to the history of art. It will appear “New”. New is in. However clever, much of art today feels antiseptic and devoid of the artist’s spirit. Although much of contemporary art does stir up ideas of social consequence and mental infatuations, it feels trite, limp and without the personal depth of authenticity.

How many times have you stood in front of a contemporary art piece and wanted to like it or liked it at first but on the second viewing realized you had been tricked. How many times have you come away from a gallery exhibit and felt empty but said, “that was interesting”, with no intention to see it again. My wife thinks we should have a new phrase for much of contemporary conceptual art. We should call it “interesting art”. I like to think of it as “mind art”.

“Interesting” art does not necessarily nurture one’s soul. I believe quality artwork has a true authenticity (by way of the artist) that emanates from honest direct felt work. I believe there is a direct relationship between the artist’s life, his search for meaning, struggle, discovery and consequently our (the viewer’s) appreciation and recognition of the same searching, struggling life spirit. By honoring and feeling the artist’s personal authenticity in the artwork, we recognize in ourselves the same longing for honesty and directness.

Yes, of course we will not always agree on a particular artwork. Some seeing/feeling this spirit, some not, but lets trust our ability to see, to feel and to know this authenticity when we come to it. Too often we are told which work of art is good based on what is in the galleries, what sells, and what names are big.

One of the reasons so many people are afraid of art (poetry too) is because they are not taught to trust their instincts. Another reason is they were never given art appreciation classes, and like most education, were shamed into believing authority. Just like contemporary art with its hollowness, we must put our artist selves back into the art appreciation and trust our felt perceptions. A big order for a society that does not honor the authenticity of artists, children, and free thinkers.

An example of Authenticity (Image above)

The other day, while looking at classical Greek sculpture at the Acropolis Museum in Athens, I came across a 1.5 foot tall female torso from the Erecthion Friezes. There were about 20 fragmented figures in a row, but this particular torso spoke louder. What was that voice I recognized, I asked? Then it came to me. I recognized some force so authentic that I did not know whether to weep or shout. I felt the artist’s spirit so deeply so completely. I was breathless. I cannot fully describe it but will tell you words that came to me during this experience. Yet only a fragment of the complete body, I felt such completion, such fullness. I felt essence, something eternal and timeless. I felt a strong sexual energy, something so feminine in it’s stone fragmented form. In the torso’s simplicity, I felt the restraint of the artist. This restraint released even more energy. Amplification in limitation and economy. Embedded in the stone, I felt such a personal stamp of unique concentration from the artist. Here was a burning fragment, yet so complete because the artist was such a full human being. Clear, simple, direct, essential, and above all, authentic.

When the artist is more authentic and knows what he absolutely cherishes, he will make art more true and more powerful. We will recognize such clear authenticity in the artwork. It takes tremendous courage for an artist to love something so much, to open himself to such risk, such largeness and then to express it with such competence. This is the gift the artist leaves for us. Are we willing to embrace, see, feel and honor that authenticity in ourselves?

This is not a contemporary trait because the new, the being different, the sarcastic, the appropriation, the fashionable, the idea, the social meaning, the “defamiliarizing” of art have the dominant sway. It’s not fashionable to be authentic. How long can we afford to dam up our authentic spirit?



I find that it takes far more courage to love a person, a thing, or a painting than not to. Love, like enthusiasm, is not for the lazy. There is no way to get from here to there without care and attention. A painting never works unless we bring that courage and care of attention to it, to the process and to ourselves.

The real question is do you REALLY know what you love?


Something Extra

What is the something extra in a painting? Why does a particular painting stick out as special and very fine when another one doesn’t?

I think it may have something to do with one or more of these elements: the quality of attention, the care and commitment, the sexual energy, a certain wholeness, the authenticity of the artist or …..

Every artist knows that some paintings work just right and others do not. Every artist hopes to create an especially fine artwork. Most artists throw out more than they save. Or at least I hope they do. But, some paintings have that something extra. They lift you up higher than the rest. They are unique in their intensity, fineness of execution and resolve. They sing from within. It is almost like some force has been so concentrated and intentional that the artist is at a loss to explain, but so very thankful for the gift. Usually after long work of trial and effort and hours in the studio, usually after many failures and half successes, usually after frustration and disappointment, there can come a release, a breakthrough, a realization. Something is revealed, something comes together, something is born.

We live for those moments.


The Whole Mind

"Is it your position that we should dematerialize the images and approach the piece as a total abstraction?"

Yes, I think that is what I am saying. Perhaps the word would be to desubjectize the images whether the writing/print, a couple on a bed or a flower, and ask does it (the shape, mark, color, etc. ) work in the scheme of the whole. It's too easy to get fixed on a subject. Of course, figuration is a way to invite the viewer into the painting and has an important place. I have absolutely no problem with using real objects and subjects in an artwork if they are integrated, in harmony and add to the piece as a whole.

I know it is not the way many artists/viewers would think nowadays. So much art today is about the meaning of the writing, the importance of the couple on the bed, the hanging on to this or that.

I am more interested in what a painting does to me as a sonata or poem does to us. This is not to say I am not for understanding how this is accomplished. Much like the AB EX painter, I am interested in how the painting is built. Focusing too much on subject can get in my way. If the subject is integrated into the whole, I'm happy. I see no need to stop and interpret the writing because the interpretation might stop me and I will get locked into story. I am interested in a different kind of story. The story of the making of the artwork. The story of my feelings, deep vibrations, connections, relationships, opposites in conversation....

Poetry seems more like what I mean. You read a poem. You feel something powerful in the surprising juxtapositions and associations. You are moved, and not sure why. Then comes English class and dissection of the poem. Your analysis makes you feel powerful and important, but the poem has lost its first spirit, its mystery, its energy. I'm for interpretation but a larger kind of interpretation. One that helps us understand our soul in relation to "other". Most interpretation is made to massage our private ego mind.

I think many people in the art elite would say I am old fashioned and stuck in the past. So be it.

Of course when you approach a painting like Sean Scully's rectangles, there aren't exactly the same kinds of things happening as in a Hartigan, but there is still the paint handling, the color choices, a similar art spirit and mystery that embodies his work. He is a painter's painter like Hartigan.

I guess I am for turning off the mind in whatever way I can. I know my mind is linked to my ego and my ego must not get in the way of my creating art or loving art. Or, if not turning off the mind, making it subservient to feeling. I was just reading last night in Seven Life Lessons of Chaos: Spiritual Wisdom from the Science of Change by John Briggs how Apollo is the God of art and reason. I think there is something to the fact that art/aesthetics is full of reason and order. Most people think that because art tends toward feeling and creativity that it is not rigorous. However, art seems most rigorous in the areas of reason, order, right thinking, exactness, clarity. Creativity flourishes when deep feeling and deep thinking combine. So when I talk about turning off the mind, I mean the "academic" mind. Alice Miller had it right when she called it "poisonous pedagogy".

Actually mind and heart and spirit are so closely aligned in great art, poetry, prose, etc, that ...... one's breath is taken away!



What is it that makes an artist realize a painting? What does realized mean? To me, it is when a painting feels complete, full bodied and substantial. I was looking at two Grace Hartigan's the other day. One of the paintings felt undone, unrealized, begun but not finished. Some reasons were that the white areas lacked character, the shapes were too similar and my eye went from one area to the next without enjoyment, variety and nuance. It was more a duty than a pleasure. But, the other Hartigan was alive and full and of one mind, one fine mind. We could tell that the act of completion was fully realized because our hearts became fuller the more we moved from area to area. The strokes were similar in their intention but unique in their activity. Shapes varied in softness and solidity. Elements were rich and nuanced. You felt you could return over and over and be thrilled. As thrilled as it was in the making.