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An Artist’s Notebook of Sorts

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20 November 2014

gratuitous image

No. 8,629 (cartoon)

I started with nothing.

Then you lost it all.

21 November 2014

Smart People Don’t Work That Way

Oliver is enjoying a new height—or is it depth?—of smugness after getting a job at one of the world’s most well-regarded technology companies.

“I like being paid a couple of hundred K,” be boasted, “but the best part is that I only work with really smart people.”

“If all y’all are so preciously brilliant,” I asked, “then why do you spend eighty hours a week commuting and working for someone else? That’s just completely imbecilic.”

That popped his pretentious little bubble, so I decided to twist the knife for good measure.

“In any case, I’m glad you’re happy working with people as smart as you are,” I said with a condescending smile.

Oliver and I went on to enjoy a pleasant visit after I shredded his braggadocio.

22 November 2014

gratuitous image

Adolph Hitler, Art School Reject

I’ve always hated art schools because I’ve met too many of the people who’ve been neutered there. Today I found my first reason to appreciate the institutions where promising artists go to suffocate: Adolph Hitler.

David Sedaris provided one of my favorite critiques of the worse than useless academies. “That’s the beauty of an art school: as long as you can pay the tuition, they will never, even in the gentlest way, suggest that you have no talent.”

I guess those miserable institutes were different a century ago; they couldn’t tolerate the pathetically inept painting of a dummkopf like Hitler. Had the bureaucrats accepted him into the legion of inept artists, tens of millions of people might not have suffered premature deaths.

I am reminded of this because today someone bought one of the butcher’s crappy little watercolors for a hundred and sixty-thousand dollars. They didn’t really pay that much for the mediocre painting; the signature, A Hitler, commanded the high price.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. When it comes to art, the signature is the buy-product; the art is the byproduct. His autograph would have commanded that much money had it been on a directive to kill all the Jews in Poland instead of an amateurish watercolor; that’s art!

23 November 2014

Adriana’s No Ignoranus

“I’m something of an ignoranus when it comes to these sorts of things,” Adriana admitted.

Her admission wasn’t an admission at all. I knew she was fishing for a compliment, so I gave her one. I told her she certainly wasn’t an ignoranus; I didn’t add that was because there’s no such word.

I also didn’t speculate on whether she was an ignoramus. By then, she was smiling a blissfully ignorant smile, so I just looked on enviously.

24 November 2014

Lewis Baltz

I met Monica at a party three decades ago. We went off to a corner together and talked for at least a couple of hours before she asked me the what-do-you-do question. It would be at least another decade before I could say “I’m an artist” with a straight face, so I gave her my stock answer at the time.

“I’m a worthless art photographer,” I replied.

“So’s my daddy,” she responded, “and he warned me to stay away from guys like you and him.”

I gave her a ride home; she didn’t invite me in. She took Lewis Baltz’s advice, alas. That memorable evening that I can’t remember was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

I just received a sad note from Monica: her father died on Sunday. She sent me a copy of his obituary in The Washington Post illustrated with a dozen examples of his work. I was astounded to discover that his work looked very much like mine. That’s completely false, though: the photographs he made forty years ago look a lot like my recent work.

I never realized until today how much his work influenced mine, or, to put it another way, how I adopted his aesthetic language and made it my own. In the weasel words of contemporary artspeak, his work informed mine.

Despite some visual confluences, no one would ever confuse my work with his. There are thousands of Ansel Adams lookalikes polluting the artistic landscape, but no one that might be confused with Lewis Baltz. That’s really art!

Lewis was brilliant with words as well as images; here are a few of his quotes I recall (with the help of my computer):

“I’m not interested in doing any darkroom work to alter the images. What appeals to me about photography is that it’s such a hands-off process. You’re given the image optically and you don’t have to do anything to it. It’s something found out in the world.”

“It’s obviously not very difficult to make a photograph that is attractive. Anyone who is reasonably skilled can do it again and again. What seems to be difficult is to make photographs in a systematic way that deal with an idea or a set of ideas. For me the isolated single image doesn’t do that.”

“I’ve never had much interest in making architectural photographs. What could the challenge be? It’s already there, perfect and complete. What can you possibly add to it?”

“Pictures of people are boring to me. It’s the most overworked cliché in photography.”

“A lot of photography that’s most popular is utterly escapist: user-friendly calendar pictures done in the context and scale of painting. The prevalent notion that that’s what photography should be doing reflects badly on the educational system.”

“Any photograph or body of photographs that is widely popular is almost automatically flawed. The qualities that make something flawed are probably not the qualities that one would ask of a thoughtful and demanding work of art.”

“I think being a photographer is a little like being a whore. If you’re really, really good at it, nobody will call you that.”

“I’ve never had any specific emotional response to any of my work, and I’ve never wanted anyone else to.”

“A photographer has about the same relationship to his public as does a philosopher. There are very few people who are interested and most of them are involved in the field themselves.”

Lewis was an extraordinary artist, but his creative work isn’t his greatest legacy. Monica is, and I’m delighted that she’s in my life.

25 November 2014

Cheating With Four Wheels

I dropped off Dr. Baca at the airport this morning and drove back to the city in her car. A million other people in the area were also driving an automobile; I’d wager that most of them are doing so in a somnolent state. (I never thought about this before I wrote the previous sentence, but I suppose California itself could be described as a somnolent state.) I was in an altered state since I usually go everywhere on my bicycle.

I motored to the grocery store en route back to the Archive and had the strangest experiences. I went up the steepest hill on Philo Farnsworth Avenue without exerting myself in the least! I parked the car far away from the nearest pole, and didn’t need the heavy, steel lock in my backpack to secure it! And I bought three heavy bags of groceries and a couple of cases of wine, something even I wouldn’t try on my bike!

Exclamation point exclamation point exclamation point!!!

When I got back to my studio and unpacked my haul, I felt bad—dirty, really—about the experience; I felt as if I’d cheated. The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on me; I cheat whenever I can, just never so blatantly.

I parked Dr. Baca’s motorcar in her garage, then opened a bottle of wine and became legally incapable of driving. Problem solved!


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©2014 David Glenn Rinehart

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