In Them Hoary Old Days...

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Posted by pancho from ( on Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 3:34PM :

...there was no studying art as we know it today. Today you go to art school and do whatever you feel like doing because that's what your teachers did.

In the old days you actually had to make it possible for your teacher to earn his living...or there'd be no "school".

You apprenticed in those into a working studio and learned from the ground up...and that meant making and mixing paints...making walls and tools and canvases...but mostly you learned by copying and copying and copying. That was to increase your skill and voice lessons for a stage's just the still have to figure out what to say...but at the LEAST you have to have the technical range unless you want to stutter in one key forever.

in 1969 Before I hopped a frieght to Seattle to see about art school at the University of Washington, I went up to Berkeley to meet Peter Voulkos who was teaching there at the time. I had with me the same photographs of the same heads I'd take to Seattle.

Peter Voulkos was at the front of the California School...what the hell that was I don't know. I know he became very well known for his ceramic work...gave workshops all over the world. He died about three years ago...old, grizzled, alcoholic, cancer ridden...with a gravelly voice that tore at your ear. He was wonderfully crusty and straight forward.

That day, in 1969, I timidly knocked on his studio door. It was a tin covered building ten feet from the train tracks. He lived there with someone I'm sure. The first room you went to had a beautiful billiard table in it and the walls were thick dark green curtains, all the way around. He came in without a shirt on, long hair, great Greek nose and features...whiskey bottle in hand.

We exchanged a few words then he looked at my photographs. He said he couldn't draw a hand if his life depended on that time he was casting huge bronze tubes and weldeing them together. But he gave good advice..he said I shouldn't apprentice with anyone...get a job in a factory or a gas station to support myself...and do whatever I felt like.

Years later just before he died we met a few times...Narsai knew him and we met at a restaurant once. I never asked him if he remembered our initial meeting...but he always looked a little harder when we did he had some vague recollection...and I left it that way. Maybe he looked at everybody that way by then.

There are no "Masters" to study with, not in any field. This age of ours isn't conducive to Masters...we want no one who will stride too far above the rest, certainly not in any "elite' field. Actors are the only aristocracy we admit to because it's pretty democratic...we all know you don't have to be particularly can happen to anyone, and really, how brilliant are you going to be "acting" anyway?

In art schools you pretty much do your own thing. Everyone is terribly worried they might be stifling the next Van Gogh. No one can tell any more what is purile junk and what presages genius.

This was brought home most notably when Lipschitz got Alzheimer's a few years before his death. At the end of an artist's career his most expensive works are put out there. Everyone knows each piece could be the last and there's a mad scramble...doesn't even make the galleries before some wealthy buyer snatches it up.

His gallery, acting also as his agent, was anxious to cash in on the old coot before he cashed out. The problem was no one could tell if the guy was blooey or still with us. Were his paintings the culmination of his long life as a "genius"...or just the dabblings of a withering, teetering mind?

With almost anything else you would know...but in art??? That was the delicious irony of the whole thing. If you held a painting of his non-Alzheimer days next to one of his recent ones when we knew he had the really couldn't tell. You could tell there was a difference...but was the difference an artistic one or a result of a loss of brain cells?

And we can never answer that question. Except that we KNEW he was losing it...and we were supossedly sane...or are we???

At the Modern Art Foundry in New York, first place I got a job, I had to retouch a wax sculpture before casting. It was a huge blob...I'm sure it was an artistic blob...but it looked for all the world like a huge dinosaur turd.

This thing was made by Lipschitz, who'd taken to sculpture as well...why not? I was so offended by the piece that I vandalized it...well slightly. On the underside of it I carved my first Arabic, "Farid".

The happy end to this story is that I wind up dead and obscure and it goes no further...or, I become rich and famous in which case whoever has that particular turd will have an even more limited edition.

There is so much to the art much more than an artists somewhere working away. That's another thing different the market rules the arts as well...ho hum.

Back to where I started. I started out pretending I was in an age of apprenticeships. Couldn't find anyone who had much to teach and didn't much want to do my own thing at the I went to New York and made the Assyrian masters there at the Met my teachers.

Now comes the really tough part. I have to go from having learned to copy really well, to doing my own thing. I'm now going to attempt to do what every kid starting out is told to do, the only thing they CAN your own thing.

Will it be a help...will it be a hindrance? I don't know. I DO know that I've somehow contrived to do it publicly, at least on this we'll all know, wont we.

-- pancho
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