Reflections on Five Years of Blogging for HuffingtonPost Arts and Culture

The past few weeks have been busy, so an important career milestone almost slipped by with my having noticed: May 13th was my "Five Year Blogaversary." On that date in 2010 my first blog appeared in the HuffingtonPost. Titled "Picasso's Recession-Proof Harem" it appeared in the HuffPost "New York" section, as the Arts page hadn't opened yet. HuffingtonPost Arts--now HuffingtonPost Arts and Culture--officially opened a month later on June 15, 2010 under the direction of its amazing founding editor, artist Kimberly Brooks.

"Picasso's Recession-Proof Harem" was the first of a total of 259 blogs (this one included) that I have posted over a five year span. That means I have averaged just under a blog a week over time. When I started, I had absolutely no idea that I was capable of writing so much or so often. Blogging has been a huge surprise for me: it has been a life-transforming experience and a door-opener.

Ex-voto painting by Matthew Couper

Matthew Couper's wonderful ex-voto painting, sent me to me as a gift early in 2011 does a great job of capturing the spirit world of my newfound avocation. Seated productively at my computer, a grid of red circuitry connects me to Mat Gleason--another early HuffPost Arts blogger--and also to an all-seeing eye and to a painting by my mentor, the late Nathan Oliveira. A head by Jean-Michel Basquiat--another art world frenemy--rises over the floor tiles to my left while my journalistic patron saintess, Ariana Huffington, raises a knowing eyebrow to my right. Christ, crucified for art, adds an additional touch of religiosity and devotion to the tableau.

At work in my office

Matthew's painting captures some of the imaginative and psychological forces that surround my interest in writing. A photo of me at work in my real office shows some interesting correspondences. I do spend a great deal of time leaning over my laptop, and a work by Nathan Oliveira--one of his "Tauromaquia" monotypes-- does hang in front of me as I write. A large model plane that I built and put too much work into to actually fly hangs over my head, a reminder of a hobby of the past. The energy that I used to put into making things seems to all go into writing these days. After recently re-organizing a bookshelf in my office to contain all of the catalogs and books I have contributed to over the past few years all the effort suddenly seemed tangible.

Art catalogs and books

The following list contains some reflections, notes and comments from five years of blogging:

  A few things I have learned: Every word matters. You never know who is reading your blog. Every blog is important.

  My favorite quote from an artist: "The bravest thing in the world is to take a position without a pre-planned fall back." - Kyle Staver quoted in "A Brother Honored"

My favorite reader comment: "Read it. Excellent. Loved the Mao." Steve Martin responding to my blog "I Don't Deconstruct" on Twitter:

Blogging is different from other kinds of writing: You wake up in the morning, drink your coffee, and blog about what you want to write about in the way that you want to.

Blogging is truly social: I have never had so many friends. Oh, and a few frenemies too...

Something I need to do again: The "Paintings and Palettes" and "Studio Visit" blogs were a lot of work, but a lot of fun too. Click here for one...

A common misconception. I have written predominantly about representational painters. For that reason, some people have come to think that I don't care for other types of art. That isn't true. I write about representational painting because there is simply so much good work out there that hasn't gotten the attention that it deserves.

Humor is important: You can say things with humor that you can't say another other way. A list of my satires can be found at this link. 

I'm often asked if I have a favorite artist: Yes, it is the artist I am writing about at any given moment.

Artists need to have their stories told: Interviewing artists has allowed me let artists tell their stories. An index of the 75 interviews I have conducted since 2010 can be found on my personal website.

Some Acknowledgements: I owe a great deal of thanks to Arianna Huffington, Kimberly Brooks, Kathleen Massara and Katherine Brooks (my editors). I owe even more to my wife Linda who has supported me, even when I have been writing when there is laundry that needs folding.

To my readers: Thank you for reading. There is a lot left to write... more blogs are on the way.

To All News Agencies: Obscene Auction Results Are Not Art News


Dear News Agencies, Newspapers and News Outlets,

This morning's news is full of reports about the sale of a Picasso painting for $179 million dollars. These reports are dominating the "Arts" pages of the world's newspapers and the "Arts" verticals of many websites. However, this is not an "Arts" story: it is a Business story.

Art is about expression: it was never intended to be an asset class. In the future, please report stories like this one in the proper section, which is Business. That way, real arts stories including reviews, profiles of artists and information about exhibitions will take their proper place on the Arts page. Stories about high-end auction results can and should be reported alongside stories about commodities transactions, the sales of corporations and fluctuations in the values of precious metals and pork bellies.

Stop confusing the public, as they are beginning to believe that art is something that should be detested. Thank You.

After Postmodernism: Michael Pearce Writes About 'Art in the Age of Emergence'

Postmodernity is being supplanted by a new emergent age, characterized by the internet's ability to bring together communities and give them the tools to organize themselves and express the truth as they see it. 

- Michael Pearce

Michael Pearce: photo by Harold Muliadi

After hearing a 2013 talk by theologian Philip Clayton -- The New Sciences of Emergent Complexity: Evolving Religion in an Evolving World -- artist Michael Pearce found himself tremendously excited. Emergence, a cross-disciplinary theory which deals with the way that higher-order complexity can arise out of chaos, presented a powerful new model for aesthetics. For Pearce, a figurative artist and one of the founders of The Representational Art Conference, emergence opened a dynamic alternative to what he feels have been the reductive and culturally erosive tendencies of Postmodernism in art:

Complexity and emergence offer an explanation for the positive experience of the art object, and fills the gap critiqued by Adorno as the great failing of aesthetic writing -- that there is no metanarrative in a world in which idealism has been crushed.

Art in the Age of Emergence
Hardcover: 195 pages
Published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing (January 1, 2015)

Serious discussions about emergence have been appearing in other fields since the postwar era, especially in physics, chemistry and biology. For example, in biology, emergence has been used to explain properties of life forms that go beyond explanation and transcend their component parts. In the words of one postwar biologist: "Life itself is an emergent property."

 More recently, In the field of theology, Philip Clayton has taken an interdisciplinary approach to emergence, and posited that emergence suggests a new approach to the problem of consciousness, which is neither reducible to brain states nor proof of a mental substance or soul. In his book, Mind and Emergence: From Quantum to Consciousness, he advocates emergentist panentheism and a Christian constructive theology consistent with the new sciences of emergence.

Michael Pearce's book is first major effort to use emergence as a model for aesthetic theory. Like Clayton, Pearce takes an interdisciplinary approach, weaving together quotes and observations by archaeologists, art historians, evolutionary biologists, philosophers, physicists, semioticians, and theologians. Partly a personal meditation, but also an exploration of scientific and philosophical ideas, Art in the Age of Emergence is intended to challenge the current orthodoxies of contemporary aesthetics.

In the book's first chapter, for example, Pearce argues for a new "authenticity" in works of art, which he feels is an antidote to the capitalist excesses of the contemporary art market. Pearce writes: The desire for authenticity is antithetical to the money dominated postmodern art world, in which those who purchase art are manipulated by cynical artists and dealers who exploit socialist pretensions but luxuriate in the benefits of a rampant, unregulated free market capitalism.

 Pearce's idealism will strike many readers as being gloriously out of touch: something which he would likely take as a compliment. As well-stocked as his book may be with elegant theories and interdisciplinary overlaps, Pearce is nearly alone among serious art writers in his taste and orientation. One of the book's insistences--that representational art is a favored manifestation of emergence--seemed worth questioning. I asked Pearce: "Why do you feel that Emergence works so well in relation to representational art? Wouldn't it work for abstraction too?"
Yes, it does. Emergent aesthetics support both abstraction and representation. But abstraction is only a part of the whole, not a theme that is superior to representation. To think that abstraction is superior to it is an idea that comes straight out of Kant, who thought that we could somehow detach ourselves from emotional responses to art and view it with "disinterested interest", with an analytical approach that distanced the work from the viewer. It's an idea that was promoted in the early twentieth century by modernists like Herman Broch and Walter Gropius, who were attempting to reinvent culture as a response to the horrors of the world wars. But the idea that we could detach ourselves from emotion dehumanizes us as badly as ever. Broch even said that beauty was evil! He wrote a lengthy essay about it, describing how kitsch led to it. He wanted to dispose of anything kitsch, and to get rid of sentiment. But sentiment is a thoroughly human quality -- what could be more kitsch than the mother holding a newborn baby? And how could anyone regard a moment like that without feeling the kitsch sentiment it inspires? To pretend that human beings can be detached from emotional responses like this is ridiculous. Again, I'm not saying that abstraction is bad and wrong -- but that it's only a part of the art we make as a response to human experience. We've tried to separate emotion from art for a century, but disinterested interest is a completely artificial imposition upon the way mind works. The emergent mind is founded upon sensory experience. If art reflects mind, then why would we attempt to deny the value and importance of sentiment in our art?
Art in the Age of Emergence is a dense book that is ultimately quite optimistic, and a genuine conversation-starter. In its postscript, Pearce states that "We are moving beyond the negative impact upon human consciousness caused by the first half of the twentieth century... We all know what an emergent experiences feels like: it is a moment of harmony, of wonder, of completion, felt both as a deep affirmative feeling of unity and as a physiological experience that takes place in the brain."

For Pearce's ideas to be validated his friends and admirers are going to have to make works of art that live up to his very high expectations. For the time being, Pearce is perhaps the only serious art writer in America who offers toasts to Bouguereau and looks to theology for ideas about aesthetics. He is already at work on another book which will deal with emergence and kitsch. For now, his ideas and enthusiasms mark Pearce as decidedly contrarian. Or course, in the art world taste can shift very suddenly and unpredictably. If things move in the direction Pearce feels they will, he will likely see it as a manifestation of emergence, something he noticed before everyone else caught on.