I received this e-mail and I asked permission from the writer to respond on the blog.
Mr.Kearns your talk about heritage sounds so sentimental and one-sided that it compels me to write to you and ask what is so wonderful about my heritage? Assuming that one's culture is superior to others and then invading them and exploiting them is part of my eurocentric,racist heritage too .Its not only Nimphs and Fauns in the forest you know. Or pretending that other cultures,even those older than my own, are inferior,or,primitive,and then dismissing them,seems to be a factor that is creeping back into my culture. Just read any of the diatribes against modern art or primitivism in the Art Renewal website. There is more to art than knowing how to draw like a french academician or understanding perspective so that you can make paintings that look like touched-up photographs.There is more to art than being able to decipher a 19th century academic painting or not.In the end what really matters is whether the painting works or not,without the help of fables or the opinions of art critics or writers.The painting has to have that indefinable something...you know what I mean. One should understand one's culture in a well rounded sort of way and never loose track of the fact that one's culture is not the best,or the only one worth knowing about.And,if one wants to be a painter one should learn all about it's technics and the properties of the materials involved and never assume that the standard for good and valid painting is french academic art. To that I say Da Da! Keep up the good work and take care!
I am as you say, sentimental, enormously so in fact. So there I am, guilty as charged. I suppose I am Eurocentric too. I am from a European background, although my family is long enough in the states that I know little about the relatives who stepped off the boat into America.
I also take no responsibility for the writings on art renewal.com. except for what I wrote there. That was an article praising Bouguereau, for which I am responsible. They kindly have allowed me the use of images from their large online museum which has been an enormous aid to me in the construction of this blog. Their online musuem is a great service to those who want to look at historical Western painting before the 20th century. If you disagree with the viewpoint they have, and I do sometimes, their museum is still a wonderful contribution to the painting fraternity.
I don't care to argue whether my European heritage is racist or not, I stay pretty much out of politics in my blog and that qualifies, the web is full of politics of every stripe and I will leave that discussion to others. My purpose is limited to the discussion of painting, and traditional painting at that. To that end I present what I think is excellent within my cultural heritage. That is what I think is useful to the people who read it. I have on at least one occasion touched on race, that was when I was writing about Samuel Morse, I did that to present a picture of the man as an artist and for the historical edification of my readers, not as social commentary. People of many different political leanings, ethnicitys and nations read this blog. Sometimes I wonder about those guys in Indonesia, it must seem foreign to them, but if I were not useful to them they would not read what I write.
However I DO have a viewpoint, and it is my own and drawn from my experience and who I am. I am interested in carrying on a tradition that is a part of my culture. Every culture has people who do this, there are martial arts practitioners in Japan who unapologetically practice without feeling the need to include boxing in their art. Mongolian throat singers are justly reluctant to cover Sinatra. I am working within a tradition that is my own and familiar to me, for me to pose as expert on the art of another culture would be ludicrous, as I am not.
My point of view is from a tradition of painting that has existed in New England for generations. I contentedly work within that tradition. It is what interests me. Others have different interests and follow those. My teachers teacher was a student of Leon Gerome (William Paxton) so I have been handed down influence from the French Academic painters I suppose. But I don't use their methodology, there are painters today who do, and wonderfully, I should write about them. They are usually called Classical Realists and I have never felt that I was that. My training was of that sort under Ives Gammell but I diverged from that years ago. I do champion the work of the French Academics on occasion because I believe they were the among the very finest practitioners of the craft of painting. But I revere Rembrandt and Rubens far more.
I am continuing an artistic tradition that was handed down to me. Some things are a part of that and some are not. I see no great usefulness in my studying African masks or Arabic calligraphy (although I think it beautiful) to improve my painting. If I were a blues player I would not spend a lot of time copping polka riffs. I do look outside my own culture somewhat, I study Japanese prints, however Eurocentric artists have done that for centuries so even that is not a departure from my cultural tradition. I also look occasionally at the art of the ancient Greeks, particularly their ceramics and sculpture again that is usual within my own artistic tradition rather than a divergence from it.
If I did not feel that my own artistic tradition were the best, I would be compelled to leave it and adopt another, and when I run into something in another tradition that is useful to achieving my own goals I would be mistaken not to adopt it. But I do like western civ best. I think that when the subject is painting, no other cultures work approaches it. It is something my culture has done particularly well. While you may disagree, it is neither insane or illegal to hold that viewpoint.
There are many other viewpoints and they all have their defenders as well, a little research on the net will find them. I remember back when there were only three TV channels, and you had your choice of those. Then with the coming of cable we began to talk of narrowcasting, that is programming that was tailored to smaller chunks of the audience. Like the Fishing channel and all of those dreary sports shows. The internet has taken this a step further and I am an example of that, there is no way the Stapleton channel would ever work, there would be not enough interest, but on the internet the small number of people who are interested in my particular type of thinking can find me and the negligible cost of production and generally low expectation of literary excellence allow a place for me.
Traditions require practitioners to exist, in order for a tradition to continue it is necessary that some number of them adhere to it. I think it useful that some people are doing that. Many more won't, but it is a big jostling world with lots of people doing lots of different things. Your argument would call for a sort of universalist conformity, that we all should feel it is RIGHT to practice a kind of "world art". Many people will, but there is room for those who don't. In fact I get called upon sometimes to be more "modern" too. But as I am not interested particularly in that art, why should I adopt it? Isn't the idea that I should do my own thing, be independent? Why would I let the calls from others direct me to do that in which I have little interest? I have worked very long and hard to be able to survive as a painter, in return for that, I extract the privilege of doing the kind of art I want. A quick tour through the museums and art schools of the land would reveal that the modern or multicultural schools of thought are ascendant, dwarfing the tiny number who do what I do. They will survive without me. It is not essential that all artists should work from the same viewpoint.
Many people reading this blog (I will probably hit 18,000 viewings this month) no doubt disagree with my point of view but they read it because they learn about painting, and get some help in improving their own.What they disagree with, they will disregard. Besides they get it for free so they almost never complain. I am used, therefore I am useful.