Thursday, August 12, 2010

My Eurocentric viewpoint, defended


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 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!

Signed; Socrates
Dear Socrates

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 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.


Chris said...

We find the defendant 'Not guilty', your honour.

Keep up your good work, Stape.

PS Now, I want to know why you only discuss art on your blog. There are so many other worthy domains of human endeavour you could give the stape treatment.

PPS Yeah, I know, I'll pull my head in now. Cheers

Teresa Lynn said...

I agree with Chris above.. We find the defendant "Not guilty"..
I really enjoy reading your discussions and your viewpoints. Keep up the great work.. much appreciated.

Gilhootie said...

I couldn't have said it better myself ( nor as well ). Bravo, Stape.

Philip Koch said...

In this day and age it's possible to draw from many traditions of art. Each artist has to search around and find the imagery and procedures that work for them.

Stape finds New England landscape tradition strike s chord within his heart and he should (and does) run with that. A lot of that same tradition speaks to me as well. Other artists, and the majority of painters at the art school where I teach, pursue a different paths.

I think there is big difference between what the governments of Europe and the artists of Europe have done in the last several centuries. Art and politics aren't interchangeable.

Two of my favorite artists are Edward Hopper and Rockwell Kent. Hopper was politically conservative according to Gail Levin, one of his biographers. Kent was a committed socialist. But I have enjoyed and learned much from the work of both artists.

Karla said...

I have never "heard" you put down other artists or art styles so I don't see what the problem is. To each his/her own as they say. What you have to say here extends well beyond landscape painting anyway.

So, I finally checked out the art renewal site you are always talking about. Wow! You can get lost in there!

I also did some scratching around and found your website with your art. Why don't you have a link on the front of your blog? You are just too humble at times. I tried to pick a favorite but just couldn't they are all so wonderful.

thanks again!

elijebrg said...

God bless you and thank you for what you do.

Linda Crank said...

Thank you...well said...

Lucy said...

Maybe the writer should examine his own need to feel slighted?

Mary Bullock said...

It is your blog - you can talk about what ever you want. No one is forced to read your blog - if someone doesn't like what you say, then they don't have to read it.

JAMES A. COOK said...

Well said STAPE. Spoken like a true master, of himself and his craft. I always understood the meaning of your blog from the begining and you help me out so much to be the painter that I want to be. I thank you and keep writing , you are a great teacher.
Your humble student ,

Mary Byrom said...

This is art we are talking about. Not universality, political correctness, etc. Art. And your choice of art is your choice. Your views are your views. That's why I read your blog. . Reader please be advised: read more blogs if you want other topics. The internet is filled with blogs on all the topics you can possibly wish for. There is only one Stapleton Kearns and this is what he writes and his experience in the world of art. Wonderful. Thanks, for all your hard work Stape.

Jerry said...

Short answer: I write about what I know. I don't write about what I don't know.

Steve Baker said...

Well said Stape. Another wonderful post. I do get so tired of hearing about how terrible the Europeans were, running around exploiting and conquering. It does show how little people know about history. We are not the only society to do this. In fact you'd be hard pressed to find one that didn't. We simply did it better than most.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Stape for sharing your expertise with those of us who are hungry for it. It was a fortunate day when I found your blog. Still reading back issues! Keep doing what you're doing!!! PLEASE.

Thank you again. From Joy: A fellow New Englander who now dwells in the desert SW.

Mike Thompson said...

I was recently on a 2 week painting/camping/fishing trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and the ONLY news I heard during that time was about a climber who let herself down The Diamond on Long's Peak with a rope that was too short and mysteriously discovered a helicopter rescue charge on her Master Card statement. Talk about refreshing.

If the rangers had harangued me about the latest crisis du jour, I would have pulled out my palette knife and slit my wrists. I went to RMNP for painting, camping, and fishing and got all three as expected without having to endure someone else's idea of what I should get out of my RMNP experience. Now that I am back to the slave pit, the latest crisis du jour is draining my soul even as I write this. But I can still escape to Stape's masterpiece and learn what he knows and realize that all is well, or as well as it can be. And, as an added bonus, I am a better painter, too.

When you get too tired to go on with this blog, Stape, you can always go out with a bang and give us the Stape Version (tm) of how things ought to be in the world outside of painting and art. Or even inside the world of painting and art. I can see you scolding us for being a bunch of whatevers, grabbing a six pack of cold Moxie, pulling the escape-shoot cord and disappearing out into the backwoods to paint the ultimate New England landscape painting before the Feds arrive to bust you for a string of obscure statutory violations because, well, mister, we just can't let you get away with that sort of behaviour. But we'd all forget that stuff as soon as we left your web page. That's what we get everywhere else we go.

Besides, next time, you can always demure and say you'll get around to THAT subject when you have time, say in March 2025. It just might be true, too.

kev ferrara said...

You seem to have something against robots, as I never see robots in any of the paintings you show.

Shame, sir!

willek said...

A Stapleton Channels is a terrific idea. All Stape... all the time!!.

Todd Bonita said...

I hope you lit a big stogey after writing this post...intelligent, articulate and honest. Well said.

Bill said...

I wouldn't confuse you with Art Renewal. They are a great resource for painters, but their philosophy is annoying - i.e., that you can "objectively" evaluate the quality of art and that the basis of that evaluation is that classical realism is the yardstick. I have little patience for the idea that if you like Bouguereau or Ingres, you can't also like Milton Avery or Jackson Pollock. There is probably some justifiable jealousy that classical realists have been shut out of higher realms of the modern art market, but that in and of itself doesn't mean that the celebrated artists' work is dismissible.

I don't think you need to apologize for working in the European tradition at all. No need to apologize for making beautiful things.

Deborah Paris said...

How very naive and dare I say, sentimental, of the writer to claim equality of all cultures and their traditions-except of course for ours which is woefully flawed. If we are not to have a point of view that reflects our own culture shall we adopt someone else's for political correctness' sake? And produce what? Contrived work which lacks even a shred of authenticity. Anyway,,,,

when the vast majority of what is being said about art takes the writer's view, why would he/she be offended by a few voices crying in the wilderness to the contrary-yours being among the most eloquent. Its not your job to explain what he/she should feel about our culture. Who cares? It is your job (because you have so generously volunteered) to tell us your opinions about art and painting in particular. That's why we all show up here every day. Thank you!

Richard J. Luschek II said...

USA, USA, USA!!!!!

Debra Norton said...

Stape, I have to add my "Amen" to all the others. Great post!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I AM guilty. But I am facile.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you also.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Art and politics aren't interchangeable.Thats astute.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The last thing I am is humble.I am an egomaniac. I think this blog is proof of that.

Stapleton Kearns said...

How do you pronounce your name?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Hey, thanks, hope you are well down there in Cincinnati

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think Socrates is OK, he just has a different way of looking at things that is standard in today's educational systems.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The overwhelming majority of people do not read my blog. No one read it before you however.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. I feel useful again!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, it is a lot of work, thanks for noticing.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You got that right!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am to old to run around and conquer anyone. My relatives may have, take it up with them.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. I am of course an adopted New Englander.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am keeping a close eye out for the feds.

Stapleton Kearns said...

All robots are shiftless and lazy, all of that confounded whirring nand obsequious mumbling. I can't abide them. I like to kick them over when I get a chance. Many are too stupid to get up again, those I spray with silly string.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I was filmed for a TV show a couple of weeks ago up in the white mountains. I might end up on the cutting room floor though.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, a big stogy does sound like a fine idea. A special health cigar.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't much care for milt. What kind of a parent names their son after fish sperm?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, thanks for showing up. The thrill of writing this is that so many people are reading it now. It is getting to be a high wire act.

Stapleton Kearns said...

New England! New England! New England! also USA!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you for the amen.

MCG said...

One of the most important things I appreciate about you Stape, beyond the deep knowledge and experience you generously share, is how comfortable you are in your well-buttered shoes. That confidence and experience seems to give you space to share and teach and joke on your own terms without some fear-based need to elevate what you do by diminishing other peoples work. Like Bill, I have the same philosophical problem with ARC; although I have sent many people there and have followed it almost since it's inception, I can't enjoy it fully or feel particularly good about a lot I've read there. I don't think a lot of the realist teachers and 'experts' I've run across understand that there are thousands of people like myself who appreciate a lot of work we've seen from, say, Giotto to Seville. While we are trying to learn to paint, being told our interest or appreciation for that work is misguided or even "stupid", creates a problematic existence for us. The representational painting world needs more teachers like yourself who let their expertise shine while also respecting other peoples subjective realities in terms of what they appreciate, even if you don't see it the same way. I wonder if you realize just how important and rare that quality you exhibit IS in an expert realist teacher in 2010. Much respect.

MCG said...

yeah i meant Saville. I shouldn't be allowed to type after 1 am

cooper said...

Enjoy your writings very much, they have been very useful, and very informing, if I wonted to know about another about watercolor or pastels I would go to another site. Keep doing what you do I look forward to reading every thing you write. Thanks again.

sharprm said...

Oh man another communist. Why post under the name Socrates? That's a little Eurocentric.

"Political Correctness is cultural Marxism. It is Marxism translated from economic into cultural terms.
Indeed, all ideologies are totalitarian because the essence of an ideology (I would note that conservatism correctly understood is not an ideology) is to take some philosophy and say on the basis of this philosophy certain things must be true – such as the whole of the history of our culture is the history of the oppression of women. Since reality contradicts that, reality must be forbidden. It must become forbidden to acknowledge the reality of our history. People must be forced to live a lie"