Kafka’s World


Richard Huelsenbeck
Arcadia Art Auction Results, Mar 2, 2013
Estimate: 3,500-4,000 euros; Price: 1,000 euros

“Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow on the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, at a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe.”

—Franz Kafka, from a letter to Oskar Pollak dated January 27, 1904.

Kafka’s writing his letter in a time very much like the present. Stanley Kubrick based his last great cinematic masterpiece , Eyes Wide Shut, on a work by a contemporary of Kafka’s, Arthur Schnitzler. The Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed completely in 1918. And Kafka above is writing about the empty culture filled with vapid entertainments on top of a totally financially bankrupt empire awash in unpayable debts and plunging into war. The Italian Futurists were as excited as could be by the mechanized future and agitating for WWI. Glorying in science, thy denounced the art of the past, tanks and airplanes and heroic warfare.

The Dadaists behaved like a pack of morons talking gibberish, just like the dadaists of today. Naturally the art critics revere the early Dadaists, paving way for the total idiocy that fill the high art museums. Brilliant writers of the time, like Stefan Zweig, are no longer read but their work is turned into caricatural, cartoon amusements by the lame-brained Wes Anderson.

Decadence is brilliant. Better that Western Art died in WWI, so that we can replace difficult painting with urinals and Dadaist performances. Is there any other kind of performance art than Dadaist performance? The myriad performers from Ray Johnson and Kaprow in the 70s to Abramovic and McCarthy are all just repeating Dada nihilism. Destroy Culture!

Culture today in our galleries and museums is in effect anti-culture. The Dadaists, Duchamp, Man Ray were not making art. They were making anti-art.

I just paged through the latest piece of art history dreck by Jed Rasula, naturally praised by all the avant-gardists of today. The book’s title is “DestructionWas My Beatrice.” It’s not only a loving portrait of the non-artists of Dada but hailing the genius of the big name artists of today… Basquiat, Rauschenberg, Johns and so on.

So I find myself living in a world just like Kafka’s, except fully technologized, fulfilling the dreams of the Futurist manifestos for destruction.

And of course, Jed Rasula, and all the champions of the thorough destruction of Art naturally are well paid academics and art writers, explaining to everyone why looking at a pile of trash on the floor is a profoundly worthwhile culture experience.

Also, quite naturally, a Warhol silkscreen will sell for tens of millions of dollars, but last I checked one can buy a piece of crap by Richard Huelsenbeck, one of the original Dadaists for a couple thousands bucks. Of course with Rasula pimping Dadaism I imagine that the prices have been getting ginned up. That’s how it works, after all. Anybody ever heard of Richard Huelsenbeck? Any of you artistes go to his work for fresh inspiration? Better get with it! Neo-Neo-Dada is just around the corner! It’s the latest thing! Just as fresh today as it was in 1916!

Our Neo-Dadaists (Andy, Jasper, Bob and Jean-Michel ad infinitum), while not saying anything that Huelsenbeck hadn’t already said back in 1916, use pretty colors. That’s the big American innovation to European Dadaism. And no doubt the reason that American Dadaism has great works of art that  sell in the tens millions of dollars for a single work.

It’s also certain those values will only go up and up as our brilliant civilization continues its technological march into the glorious future.

Another  Huelsenbeck masterpiece :

huels 2

Actually, it’s hard to find many Huelsbenbeck’s with a google search. Perhaps Mr. Rasula or one of his colleagues can get a publishing advance from one of the notable artbook houses to compile the catalogue raisonne and a 2-Volume biography of the artist allowing access to the depth of his thinking and life of artistic achievements. It’s a great art historical injustice that the artist who paved the way for the genius of Warhol and Keith Haring should be so shamefully neglected, while his works sell for what wealthy art collectors spend on lunch.

About trueoutsider

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15 Responses to Kafka’s World

  1. Piotr says:

    Hello dear trueoutsider,
    I have been reading your posts for some time, something like two-plus years now, and one thing comes to my mind. In general you are mostly right (collapse of true craft altogether with spiritual elevation), I think, however… Isn’t it like this: all the economic, financial etc. reasons, for which the galleries and its trendiness fever are in fact only one of aspects of (anyhow understood) culture? And it was all the time like this – Reneissance masters also worked just for their fee, for their patrons, doing exactly that, what was expected of them. And the real, unquestionable collapse of moral, or spiriual values of contemporary times is just quite another thing to think of. This collapse is – in my eyes – not in any part a special domain of today’s art-world. The art-world is just obediently following the Zeitgeist, as usual, don’t you think? Isn’t it that culture – in general – consist of such smart manipulations also, and spiritual flights too, the highest and the lousiest craft at the same moment, and just anything humans do, thinking, or not thinking on such etheral thing as „culture”?
    Anyway, thank you (a lot of thanks) for your blog – it is somehow indeed helpful to know, that someone out there also is concerned of the deeper-than-surface matters.
    Keep angry, and healthy.

  2. trueoutsider says:

    Dear Piotr,

    I greatly appreciate your thoughts and the questions. I’m also glad to hear from a fellow artist.

    I’ll do my best to give you my take on your questions, keeping in mind that I have all respect for your point of view even if it differs from my own. I’m not somebody sitting on high who has all the answers or complete understanding. As a matter of fact my thinking has altered greatly since I first began writing this blog in 2011. The research and investigation necessary to write my posts are what have given me insights I wouldn’t have otherwise attained. And the research has also been on top of a lifetime painting, studying painting, and being inside the art world. So most of what I write is from experience and investigation, not just off the top of my head “anger.”

    You write: “Renaissance masters also worked just for their fee, for their patrons, doing exactly that, what was expected of them.”

    The Renaissance painters resided in a sacred universe and many of them were devoutly religious themselves. They weren’t at all the kind of entrepreneurial artists of today working in a society that is thoroughly de-sacralized and materialistic. The world of the Renaissance was a spiritual world. The concept of art didn’t even exist then. Michelangelo, for example, was a devout follower of the priest Savonarola. Fra Angelico was a monk doing his frescoes for entirely religious purposes. These weren’t painters working for fees doing exactly what was expected of them. Michelangelo was painting his visions which were in service to God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. His “employer’, Pope Julius was the head of Christ’s church on earth.

    Michelangelo’s beliefs can be summarized by his own words in this poem of his “To the Supreme Being”:

    The prayers I make will then be sweet indeed,
    If Thou the spirit give by which I pray:
    My unassisted heart is barren clay,
    Which of its native self can nothing feed:
    Of good and pious works Thou art the seed,
    Which quickens only where Thou say’st it may;
    Unless Thou show to us Thine own true way,
    No man can find it: Father! Thou must lead.
    Do Thou, then, breathe those thoughts into my mind
    By which such virtue may in me be bred
    That in Thy holy footsteps I may tread;
    The fetters of my tongue do Thou unbind,
    That I may have the power to sing of Thee,
    And sound Thy praises everlastingly.

    Not just Michelangelo, but the rest of the painters of the Renaissance are within this belief system in one form or another.

    So are many post-Renaissance painters, like William Blake. The move from a sacred universe to the kind of secular universe we inhabit comes with Voltaire and the Enlightenment, where God is no longer the center of the universe. Man is. Blake, at the time, chastised Voltaire and his Godless rationalist universe in no uncertain terms in these words. Is Blake angry here?:

    Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau;
    Mock on, mock on; ’tis all in vain!
    You throw the sand against the wind,
    And the wind blows it back again.
    And every sand becomes a gem
    Reflected in the beams divine;
    Blown back they blind the mocking eye,
    But still in Israel’s paths they shine.

    The words “art” and “artists” were only used in the modern sense beginning in the middle of the 17th century. In the Renaissance “artists” were referred to as craftsmen (as recorded by Vasari). The person painting and the one constructing the elaborate frame were both craftsmen. In modern thinking the person making the frame is a craftsman and the artist is the person making the painting to be put into the frame. Unless of course, a Duchampian picks up a frame and puts it onto a pedestal. Or a former junk bond salesman like Jeff Koons floats a basketball in an aquarium, then its high art. But this, of course, is because the entire notion of art and artist has become entirely corrupted because what is art is defined by hedge fund managers like Steve Cohen and his ilk.

    I differ from you when you say that the art world is obediently following to Zeitgeist because Steve Cohen and his pal Charles Saatchi, are not the Zeitgeist. They create the Zeitgeist through lapdog artists who want to get into galleries and art museums, which they believe, at this wretched point of human history are the only places where art exists. In fact, the exact opposite is the case. The Saatchis and Gagosians and financial elite who fund the art sewage system insure that the only place art can exist at all is outside that totally bankrupt system.

    And I certainly wouldn’t say whatever humans think or don’t think on “ethereal things” is “culture”. Culture consists of the objects made, which embody the consciousness of the artist and the larger civilization. One doesn’t have to just look at the Renaissance. We can go back to the Greeks, Etruscans, Egyptians, Aztecs and so on to see what art was and how it functioned. We can also note that Post-Modernist art resembles it not in the slightest way inside the Art Fair World/Financial Casino.

    These cultures weren’t technocratic/rational cultures. A scientific culture isn’t an artistic culture. And we live in a world dominated by scientific/rational thinking that has no place whatsoever for any other kind of belief than the nihilism and anti-humanism that the Enlightenment has devolved into. John Ralston Saul has summed it up this way:

    “…the renewed and intense concentration on the rational element which started in the 17th century had an unexpected effect. Reason began, abruptly to separate itself from and to outdistance the other more or less recognized human characteristics–spirit, appetite, faith and emotion, but also intuition, will and, most important, experience. This gradual encroachment on the foreground continues today. It has reached a degree of imbalance so extreme that the mythological importance of reason obscures all else and has driven the other elements into the marginal frontiers of doubtful respectability.”

    In other words, art today is whatever kind of blabber or blabber has foamed out of the mouth of artists who follow Duchamp/Greenberg “rational” propositions for what art is. Greenberg, of all the possibly idiocy imaginable, based his reasoning (if it can be called that) on Immanuel Kant that art must be purified down to its essential being. Flatness. Profound thinking? Yes. According to our Post-Modernist Idiocracy. Duchamp’s brilliantly reductive reasoning gave us urinals and hatracks and half-wits on the order of Baldessari (see next post) spouting pure gibberish imparting what he (and presumably anybody stupid enough to listen to him) think are brilliant insights about “art.”

    Anyway, this is how I view it. If we disagree so be it. I’m not telling you or anyone else how to make art or what to view as art. I’m really just engaged in trying to clarify my own thinking about it and to understand just how it went in such an incredibly short period of historical time from the likes of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists to the likes of John Baldessari and Damien Hirst.

    I do take your point that this is the Zeitgeist of the time as über-Capitalism enters its final decadence. And that all artists have to suffer under it. I don’t, however, think they have to go along with it.

    All the best,

  3. Piotr says:

    I understand that your point of view and your opinion have to differ from mine, and I don’t even try to change these. My view on contemporary works is probably a bit less negative than yours – I am sure (enough is one exemplum to make a difference to me) contemporary artists (in brodadest sense of the word) do their best to fullfill what is in their eyes the proper destination of their lives. Ad maiorem Dei Gloriam, or better ranking in the bestselling gallery list race is just the same aim – only the quality of what is thought to be a reward is different. No need to say, with exclusion of the cynical „gold diggers”. It seems to me, that old alchemyst’s directions are alive today as centuries ago. Of course – the Cartesian turmoil made the proper way more difficult to see, especially for the younger generation, that was fed with 20th century marketing opinions and taught of the arrogance necessary in today’s races. I am afraid this generation seems to think it does not need anything more mature (however this, and in fact any, generalization must be false), but it does not make the finding impossible. I think, most of those, who proudly (never mind how justifiably) call themselves „Artists” do believe deeply in their appointment. It is a pity, that they find enough reason in flat, newest trends, but it does not change what was always the drive – the new, more courageous, more distant, more „more”.
    Your „anger” I am reffering to, seems to me rather the attitude than emotion – and I see it as perfectly understandable, though not neccesary – many artists and thinkers work, think and perceive contemporary confusion similarily to you, but with no anger and no lamentation – it looks as normal and natural (and silly), as always. Probably some hundreds years ago there were not so many „trends” and „fashions” in the domain of painting, sculpture, music and literature, but maybe because there were just less people than now, and – of course – intensity of information sharing was incomparable to modern, hectic news-hunt.
    Maybe the most irritable matter is confusion of gesture, or metaphysical deed, with the work of art – it is imposiible (in my opinion) to underestimate the gravity of Duchamp’s bad joke, but it has it’s place in history of thinking (solid – no matter how rude and stupid it was), but not at all in sphere of sculpture or „Art” anyway understood. But it was sold as „Art”, and from that moment such gestures are beleieved to be „Art” gestures. That seems to me a mistake spread with entertainment industry that absorbed all what meant „Art” just after postimpressionists. Probably starting from the Romanticism, the atmosphere of last Parisian Salons, strange rivalry of Jugendstil and late academics altogether added also to that twist.
    I do not consider the Zeigeist as anything made by anyone. I understand it as a resultant of forces that take part in specific phase of time. As such it presents itself rather horribly nowadays, yet, still less frightening than the ending of modernism that forecast both world wars. So, nobody „makes” or „is” the Zeitgeist. Everybody – willing, or not willing is just in it’s grip. And you, and me, and all Duchamp’s epigoni – too.
    And finally, I certainly agree the obvious observation of novelty of the term „art” and „artist”. Before first French invention of marketing power of gallery, works of art were made either for employer’s order, or as ecercise for such – in the most exotic civilisations too (well, there would be a huge handfull of exceptions…, but those exceptions comes not from the difference in approach of the craftsmen, but in approach of the modern viewer I think. Most of works were made without any notion of neither „art” nor even „craft” – just for pure joy of realization a brave idea). And then as well as now – the spiritual gratitude is the same – just a hint of the deeper sense. Are any of us in a position to really, seriously judge the validity of this feeling of the sense?

  4. trueoutsider says:

    Dear P., I’m having a lot of trouble understanding what you’ve written perhaps due to how you’re translating your thoughts into English. So I can’t even be sure if I disagree with what you’ve written or agree. What is your native language?

    Maybe if you just try to clarify this one statement, I can get a better sense of where you’re coming from and why we see things quite differently:

    You write: “It seems to me, that old alchemyst’s directions are alive today as centuries ago.”

    What “old alchemists”? Old Masters?… Where do you see any evidence of these “directions” being alive today as they were centuries ago?

    In the MoMA or Whitney Biennials?

    Without knowing where you’re writing from I can get little sense of how your experience of art differs from mine.

    I also have no idea how you’re using the notion of the Zeitgeist as you’re not using it according to the common or dictionary definition. Saying that you define it as “a resultant of forces that take part in specific phase of time” doesn’t make any sense to me. And according to the common/dictionary definition I certainly don’t see myself as part of the Zeitgeist, which I define as Duchampian type art, The Simpsons, Walking Dead and Breaking Bad… etc. What’s on TV or tumblr/pinterest sites is what I think of as the current global zeitgeist. Basically a form of mass insanity.

    I don’t see myself as part of it. As a matter of fact, I’m spending much of my life objecting it. But I’m not angry and in grief, as you and other readers seem to insist on seeing me.

    I think that people who read me as angry at Duchamp/Warhol/Rauschenberg are using that to avoid reading and thinking about what I’m actually writing. Thinking that I’m angry makes people consider what I’m writing to be irrational or obsessive. It isn’t. It’s quite thoroughly reasoned and researched.


    • Piotr says:

      oh yes, of course you are right on foreignness of my mother-tonque, but it does not matter too much. There are times it is alien even to me too. Let me keep it obscure.
      The alchemysts I mentioned are just those, whom you probably imagined before thinking of any questions. Of course, those creatures above the retort, endlessly in search of the White Tincture. The ending „-mist” comes a bit too close to „haze”, for me, but „-myst” gives some associations with the Mystai and they can open a gate to quite another dimension.
      As a matter of fact I’ve seen one (really, just one) drawing in MoMA, that really shocked me in the most positive sense, and, of course, it was a contemporary thing. (And, as i wrote before, one is enough for me to call off a generalisation).
      What shocked me was a tremble of the same kind, that was present at two meetings (in another time and place) with early baroque (and it was a surprise to me, for I wasn’t, and am not even now, very keen on this period in painting) French portraiture (one by Tocqué and the other by Rigaud), however the very experience was different. Those paintings were the three-way meetings: the artist, the model and the viewer were all present and equally alive. There was a conversation – wordless, and feverish. And intensity of this meeting was unbelievable.
      At the pencil drawing at MoMA (Celmins) there were only two parties: the almost insane, unbearable patience and insistence of the drawing (rather than the modestly absent artist, who seemed to me a mere tool for the drawing that demanded its appearance, that had to emerge), and the viewer. Extreme difference, but experience of equal intensity. No reproduction can give even the slightest idea of a possibility of such vivid presence of a living force.
      Old alchemysts had a lot to do with such experiencing and thinking of any form of art (of any work in fact), I think, in some (rare) occasions also with one’s own exercises. For it (working, or exercising, or whatever you would name it) is not „about”, or „for” any spectacular effect, or „catching” a mood, or even completion of any „great piece” – it is abut just doing it, in the best imaginable way, and consciously experiencing the process. And that is why I am reluctant to reject immediately even the most silly „masterpieces” of today’s „geniuses”. There always might be a scintilla hiding in the darkness of stupidity. Well, I am certain, the ability to discover, and to resonate with it depends mostly on the receptiveness of the viewer/audient, his/her attunement, and dozens of other momentary factors, so finding such spark can’t be taken for granted – in most cases there is precisely no such one (so that’s why I generally agree with your opinion on the ever-growing mountain of garbage of modern productions), but there is always a chance. The same is with one’s own work – the blessing is not the everyday guest, but looking for one is perpetual.
      I think the proportion was not very different in past centuries – a chance to meet a fruit of the real genius is tiny, a fraction of fraction in the total of work of all, whose works are preserved from given time. And the „sacred” atmosphere of museum does not convert mediocre work into masterpiece. But museums are giving us a gasp of hope, with so many evidences of a true effort to come closer to the Muses.
      And back to the Alchemysts again – the work is made with materials and tools, craft and wisdom, and even with recipes sometimes, but the work is made on the worker himself. He, or she, changes – a full person is object of the work. And this has not changed a bit for millennia. And the same is relevant to the work of art – any art, in my opinion.
      Being an outsider does not have to mean being a hermit, that is sure, and here is no neccesity for any mysticism, even if sometimes it leads to such paths. And I do not see those paths as errant.
      And this unfortunate word „anger” – to me it (your tone of posts) seems not obsessive, such approach must give rather an efficient fuel in your studies (even, and especially, if you study your thoughts). This agitation might dim the tolerance sometimes, I am afraid.
      Objecting the Zeitgeist is included within the Zeitgeist. That has become norm. Those amplified mass-trends, like those hardly known, live within this norm happily. The difference is only quantitative. The Zeitgeist happen to become extremely self-contradictory these times I suppose.
      Well, writing in alien language must offer some idiotic misunderstandings, but it does not make too much harm, I hope.
      Many thanks for discussion, and let me now read your next posts on stuff that excites you – it is illuminating adventure to follow your research.

  5. trueoutsider says:


    You’re reading all kind of things into Celmins that simply aren’t there. Celmins is just another Duchampian artist, in the sense that all of Duchamp and all of Duchampianism demands that the viewer invent stories about what is a thoroughly boring visual experience. Celmins wor is premised on just this kind of Duchampian boredom, as are Johns, Warhol, all of minimalism, etc. It’s a form of sensory deprivation art… Turrell, Flavin, etc..

    Duchamp wittily parodies it in his piece:

    Duchamp was an anti-artist. His premise was that art viewers, artists, collectors, dealers and son on were all morons. And he set about proving it. He’s perfect forthright in saying it if you bother to read him in whole, instead of in part. His work is an elaborate hoax. Warhol is also quite transparently candid that his work is a joke… Piss paints… Try googling Andy’s piss paintings, you’ll find all kind of art aficionados gushing rhapsodically about how beautiful they are…. And of course they’re beautiful, in the same way a Morris Louis or Helen Frankenthaler and all of Greenberg’s vapid abstract stuff is beautiful.

    I’d say the piss paintings are the one body of work by Warhol where he gets his Duchampian joke just right.

    It doesn’t get any more nihilistic and hateful than Warhol and Duchamp and yet for some odd reason, I’m viewed as the person who is hateful and angry … for what? Pointing out that Duchampian and Warhol are pissing all over you and you are loving every minute of it. The same with Baldessari and every other single conceptualist masturbating under the stairs or canning their shit or, as in Celmins case making a fetish object with no spontaneity, creative vision or emotion other than a kind of brain death… as she’s painting a photograph, Piotr.

    That doesn’t register on you? That there’s a bit of difference between a Celmins and a van Gogh, Monet, Bonnard, Corot, Delacroix…. and virtually every other landscape/ocean painter in the history of painting? That Celmins work is, in effect, a cancellation of every single quality that makes those part artists and their art works sublime achievements of the human spirit.?

    You really don’t understand that Duchamp’s work was a complete “fuck you” to the human spirit. To all the work of the preceding centuries? That artists like Johns, Warhol, Rauschenberg, Celmins and photo-realism and minimalism and all the rest of it are totally infantile, narcissistic bores compared to the tradition they’ve all been so eagerly demolishing, with the help of the 1 percent that have allowed this kind of bilge to triumph over everything vital and alive in the art of the past?

    Well… feel free to go on looking for the “scintilla of truth” in Contemporary Art and trembling like the Alchemists of old with a pencil drawing of a photograph. I don’t think there’s really much I can tell you or teach you, Piotr as you’re apparently intent on going marching along with the Emperor and his New Clothes… So, bon voyage! I’m not trying to chastise you or anybody else if that’s your preference. If you’re getting a charge out of looking at grid paintings and James Turrell light boxes and so on, by all means.

    Have you ever heard of sensory deprivation? Or the work of John C. Lilly? Try looking into it… as that’s what is being provoked by all this minimalist and abstract brain death art. Yeah… sure you can have your “spiritual experience”, just as Lilly does in his sensory deprivation tanks or do TM meditation.

    This isn’t what art is. It has nothing whatsoever to do with art. Doing TM or looking at a brain dead painting by a brain dead artist have nothing whatsoever to do with the tradition of Western Painting. They’re a parody of the art of the past, just as Duchamp spent his life parodying art with the greatest success as he was working with with a collapsing Capitalist decadence. Under these circumstances, Duchamp and Johns and Warhol are exactly the kind of artists most likely to succeed and triumph.

    If people want to go in for this kind of pseudo-spirituality by all means, be my guest. This is what it’s all about though:


    One won’t necessarily die from it in the physical sense… But brain death? Yes. That’s a virtual certainty,.

  6. johndockus says:

    Hi Bart:

    Is there any place I can view your own art? After reading your molten lava outpourings about the work of others for a time here, I’ve become curious about your own work. I wonder if your own work holds up to your own high standard. It must contain the values and qualities you assert are sorely lacking in so much contemporary art. I’d love to see it.

    P.S. Recently I got around to watching Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” and very much enjoyed it. Also, recently, I went to see an exhibition here in San Francisco at the DeYoung Museum featuring Turner’s late paintings. Really wonderful.

  7. trueoutsider says:

    The de Young has a drawing of mine in their collection. Ask them where it is.

  8. johndockus says:

    Unfortunately I don’t know your last name, Bart. Would your name be Bart Johnson? I looked it up on the DeYoung search engine, and a humorous drawing entitled “Workout” appeared. I googled Bart Johnson, and other wonderful drawings and paintings with a satiric edge, social commentary, with Pop culture references leaking in, appeared. I see the influence of Durer, maybe Bosch, and Dante’s Inferno, with also this gleeful and robust abandon I used to have more when I was much younger. The drawings share something in common with underground Cartoonists, and the spirit of George Grosz. Man, if this is you, Bart, this is great stuff! I really love it. Honestly, it wasn’t what I was expecting based on your writing here at your blog.

  9. trueoutsider says:

    Thanks, John. I greatly appreciate your words. In my experience very few people get my work at all or at least few are able to articulate it as you have.

    I don’t know that the blog writing is that relevant to my work, which I view as separate from it. And I certainly hope you don’t view my writing as advocating that other artists work in the way I do. While it might seem I have a kind of dogmatic insistence that there is only one way to work, it isn’t really the case. Much of the time I’m joking around, as with Piotr here. I simply don’t understand at all how people can stare at single colored objects or photorealist paintings and so on and have any significant or deep experience from them. For me, a deep connection to the world around me and my own inner turmoil/confusion drive everything. I wish people would look more deeply at the work that has deep content… Just stop looking at the contemporary empty work and look at Watteau deeply. Or pick any painters from the past. Even Mayan Art… Work that is complex and deeply rooted in life.

    So I also love a lot of other work that’s nothing whatsoever like my own, as anyone can see in the various appreciations of other work.

    What I’m totally opposed to is the totally dead and commercialized work that has taken over completely from work that is alive and responding to life, which is why I’m totally opposed to the narcissism of Duchamp and everything descending from Duchamp which has landed art in a situation of corporatized nihilism. Just as Duchamp, there’s nothing more entirely fraudulent than his heirs like Warhol or Hirst or Koons who spend their lives making repetitive and boring anti-art gestures while being funded by major corporate collectors who sit on the boards of the art museums that give retrospectives of their work.

    I’m trying to encourage artists like yourself whose work I find so interesting to not get caught up in the trap of trying to please current tastes,… that you can even make “bad” work… make mistakes… not be perfectionists … have an adventure in the work that’s your own and not somebody else’s. Stop reading art critics and thinking about making statements in relationship to art history because, in my mind, that’s completely over. And I don’t see that as some kind of terrible situation, as long as other artists don’t keep clinging to the notion of art history by making these dead repetitions of Duchamp or Frank Stella– i.e., art as a dead object.

    I’m always sincerely wishing you all the best.

    • johndockus says:

      Hi Bart:

      I looked at more of your work on-line. Fantastic. I just love it. I get a complex feeling looking at your work. You have this wonderful mix of things going on. There’s an element of graffiti in the spirit, a marking up what others usually idolize, an irreverence, the kind of angst and disgust and mockery but ultimate embracing of life which is peculiar to you – but also, if one looks closer, good draftsmanship, a thinking going on as each picture is developed. There are references to other works in art history. You seem underneath it all to have a deep respect, a reverence, for tradition. There’s this sense you could accomplish more traditional works of portrait or landscape if you wanted to. This is what makes your departures so interesting and poignant for me. You leave what “could have been” behind, and push forward and do what you can without turning false, merely imitating the past, or selling out. There’s about it all an, “To hell with it!” A despairing for tradition, a holding onto it, while you refuse to be silent or silenced, and you dare to go insane and manifest that.

      This is the one thing I could use in my own work: More devil may care, loosening up and just letting go. Believe me, I have insanities in me too. I’ve grown scared at certain drawings I’ve made which I haven’t shown anyone. This sense of the obscene. I do a kind of self-censorship, a sifting out, a filtering. To some extent it’s self-preservatory. I have this split in me. I want to be left alone, not make a cacophonous noise and draw attention to myself for the wrong reasons. In some way I resist you because deep down I think I share much of your worldview. I’m quieter about it, don’t feel a need to elaborate and be too wordy about it, but deep down I share certain feelings you register in your work. I feel glad and relieved and a sense of release looking at it.

      Looking at your work I see also Ensor’s satirical drawings and etchings, the spirit of them let in and you allow it to take you to places. Alice Neel too. Otto Dix. Max Beckmann at times. I might even mention Clay Wilson. You have this wild abandon I really admire, which brings me back to when I was a shy and introverted kid who drew strange or obscene or violent pictures at the back of class, and slipped them to my friends with a wry grin on my face; but at the same time, on another level, your wild abandon is controlled. On the one hand, a discipline is implicit in your endeavor, and on the other this sense of fun and hilarity and even joy in what’s subversive, a thumbing of the nose and sticking out of the tongue. I laugh at certain details, but I get another sense too looking at your pictures, something I feel in my guts. I really appreciate it, Bart. Looking at your work does me good. Yes, you could say it’s life itself stirring. The more I look at your work, the more it really does contain your character and – dare I say – your metaphysics with doomsday and apocalyptic accents. I like your pictures better than your writing here at your blog.

      Honestly, in your writing you beat a dead horse – you beat certain things to pulp. As a matter of fact, there’s also a pulp aspect to your work. I see your contentious writing as being this steel-jawed masticating machine which reduces what you throw into it to pulp, and then you make a paste with that pulp by mixing it with corrosive juices, and that’s what you paint with; or you burn it to ashes, and make your drawings with that black substance. There are chunks in your images spat out of the machine, or vomited forth. Your perversions and deformities are a delight to me!

      Sincerely, John

      P.S. I could write a lot more about your work. I do see all that’s operating in it, the complexity. Pardon me if I can’t as yet do it full justice.

  10. trueoutsider says:

    Hi John,

    Don’t see anything wrong with doing your own drawings and not showing them to anyone. I only have a very small part of my entire work online, and when I work I don’t think in commercial terms nor do I think of an audience. For one thing, Americans are completely fucked up about sex going back to the Puritan past. So we have this complete obsession with it at the same time its repression causes all kind of problems. The hysteria about LGBT being part of that. The art community also uses it to be “sensational” and that makes the art fraudulent in the sense it’s pandering or seeking a commercial effect. To me, exploiting or censoring “perverse” content amount to the same thing in that both are distorting whatever kind of visions one is trying to surface in their work.

    If you’re uncomfortable being identified with “perverse” content then don’t show it to anybody. I also think that the entire concept of the “perverse” is a matter of social conditioning and prejudice. Look at how bizarre and weird and “perverse” the insect world is as just one example.

    I was listening to Martin Rees, the astronomer, in a video where he said that human beings in the future will bear less resemblance to human beings of today than human beings of today bear to bacteria. Perhaps then part of my drawing are more predictive than anything else. Who knows, really?

    One of the things that irritates me so much in all the Juxtapoz/Tattoo art is how self-indulgent and boring much of it is as most of it’s either a masturbatory kick or a “shock the bourgeoisie” youth rebellion, which has at this point obviously become totally ridiculous as the bourgeoisie are now so totally decadent that they’re practically demanding that artists take it to whatever the next stage of “perversity” can be managed. When you have a middle class that’s coked up watching porno non-stop then it’s not a matter of shocking them so much as pandering to them.

    It’s hard not to have pulp elements or to be mainly pulp when you live in a decaying pulp society. We no longer have any kind of meaningful cultural values, and to make a kind of “refined” art is to simply be avoiding current reality and making kitsch that goes with the “refined” lifestyles of the middle class that wants to maintain its appearance of being “cultured” and intelligent. While all they manage to do is become pretentious bullshitters.

    All my work has come from social observation going back to the early 1980s when I moved to NYC… I’ve always drawn compulsively from life because I’m compulsively drawn to it. All the drawings you’ve seen have been done in coffeeshops, restaurants, etc. etc. That’s one way of addressing the self-censorship. Do some “perverse” stuff in a bohemian coffeeshop and see just how totally disinterested the vast majority of people sitting in there yammering away on smartphones or text messaging are in what you’re doing.

    The early social observation work was pretty straightforward but at some point began transforming into the “grotesque” work as I’ve seen society itself become more grotesque over the years. When I first started my drawings there wasn’t a tattoo parlor on every other urban block as there are now. And the Guardian wasn’t running a daily article on trans-gendered people. I have a nephew changing sex, for example. In some ways, what I find is that whatever I’m drawing as it moves forward in my imagination is very soon, if not immediately, observed in society.

    So I view my work as simply tracking what I see on a daily basis. It’s a witness to the my life and times. I can track my own personal history through my sketchbooks. But by and largely I don’t retrospect. I just get up and work … then if I have any energy left I’ll do a blog post, and the blogposts come out of trying to make sense of my life in the arts retrospectively.

    I don’t think of it as beating a dead horse, as the horse isn’t dead. It’s alive and well and joined by the other horses and horsemen of the apocalypse. The information about Duchamp is entirely new, as finding out from research he was a conman from day one and that’s led me into all kinds of other material about the kind of sordid material. The CIA stuff, once one starts pulling that thread, goes all over the place as when you find out writers like Orwell and the Partisan Review Left were on the CIA payroll it puts their work into an entirely different perspective.

    But I’m not trying to start any kind of “revolution” as I don’t expect anyone will have much interest in any of this as they’re perfectly content to live with their delusions of Duchamp being a great artist. And Greenberg promoting the greatest American Art of the century and any century, all from pure motives.

    About all I hope for is that a few artists, particularly younger ones will try to look at the real world instead of this pointless “art for art’s sake” mess. The real world is so much more fascinating….

    I also think that the artistic imagination is far more nourished and stimulated by looking at reality than it is by looking at art shows or even art books. After all, Turner and Rembrandt and Manet and van Gogh and Dix and Ensor were looking at the world around them and that’s what for me makes the art of the past so vivid. It comes out of the imagination of the artist, not this kind of totally vapid photocopying or graphic image making.

    The art of the past is endlessly fascinating to me, as it’s based on looking at and observing the real world, and transforming it in the artist’s mind. I see little art nowadays that is even looking at the real world, and far fewer artists able to transform it for that reason. They’re looking at TV and cinema and art books and tumblr/pinterest.

    Also I don’t feel much “anger” when writing that others apparently keep reading into what I write. I mostly find the artists following out of Duchamp and Greenberg to be ridiculous play actors. I imagine it would be similar to the feeling that a van Gogh or Monet or Ensor would have had toward Gerome or Cabenel. As Gore Vidal wrote, “Stupidity excites me.” I’m part of the general stupidity, of course, as I’m just as enmeshed in this insanity as anybody else. But I think what is viewed as anger has more to do with the huge expenditure of energy trying to refute the total bullshit of “artists” like John Baldessari or Frank Stella or Duchamp… as their bullshit has now become the culture itself. How on earth people wander around looking at and thinking this stuff , which is so extraordinarily tedious, and repetitive is fascinating and brilliant is a testament to just how far gone we are as a civilization.

    And I believe in Brandolini’s Bullshit Asymmetry principle.:
    “The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than [is required] to produce it.”

    Brandolini was an Italian software developer. (The small tract written by Yale (I think it was) philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt called “On Bullshit” has also been immensely clarifying for me.)

    Brandolini extends Frankfurt’s observations by noting how difficult it is to refute bullshit that’s become so thoroughly lodged into a culture or community. And order of magnitude is ten times the amount of energy than it took to produce the original bullshit. So while it might seem to you and others that I’m beating a dead horse to a pulp, from my perspective I feel as if the job is doomed from the start in that Greenberg and Duchamp have already had the malign effect of turning art into an empty posturing… and people will go on delighting and drooling in front of the Emperor’s New Clothes right up until the time that the global economy collapses.

    As it’s perfectly obvious to me that they aren’t the least bit interested in the junk they adore, but in the pomp and power of the Emperor himself.

    OK… back to work…

  11. trueoutsider says:

    Thanks for the piece. I enjoyed somebody else commenting on the current wretched moment of contemporary art. But I have to also say that I find the writer of the article himself just as vapid as what he’s decrying. If you read his “8. Cool is corrosive” you find out he thoroughly undermines his supposedly critical writing. He describes the “Cutrones, Harings, Scharfs, Basquiats: as “life-enhancing graffiti-inspired painters”. I find the artists working today just as vapid and depressing as I found Cutrone et al. The big difference is today’s Harings are not so thoroughly unskilled as the 80s crew. A lot of graffiti type art is now trained at animation schools or by academically-oriented teachers. Certainly most of the Juxtapoz artists (Ryden, Schorr, Coleman, Williams) are vastly more accomplished artistically then Haring.

    And this is what I’m referring to when I talked about animation and animated films, where the skills required are enormous and thus, while there is the same paucity of any kind of adult content, we’re at least treated to work that has its own splendid qualities when done with care and love. But, as I keep trying to emphasize, the seeds for this corruption were planted long ago and what we’re seeing is simply that fruition. We’re also seeing plenty of older artists who know better, and having behaved like lickspittles throughout the demolition of fine art, just sit idly by prattling on about “real art” made back in the “old days”… naturally by non-entities like Johns, Warhol, Abstract Grids, and photorealism which set the stage for art with either no content or infantile content.

    And I apologize if I come off as a kind of loud-mouthed Savonarola condemning everything and everybody. But it appears there are no older artists willing to show any kind of basic integrity or honesty as that would put at risk whatever place it is they think they maintain inside this entire rotten carny sideshow. The place I see them maintaining is one of total cowardice and sycophantic playacting.

    The entire 80s art scene was comprised of a bunch of talentless cokeheads being overhyped and promoted by a bunch of monied cokeheads. Along with the two election of Ronald Reagan they were the mirror image of the entire collapse of America into a kind of self-pleasuring fantasy playing narcissism where artists and collectors would pretend we were this vibrant creative culture. It was pure Hollywood culture. A Hollywood President. Warhol, Mr. New York/Hollywood of the 60s, provided the model for the New York/Hollywood actors naturally all sycophantically grouped around him.

    And we can note what else? That the author, Simon Doonan, is no less than a fashion commentator and creative ambassador for Barneys. Warhol and Pop were simply Madison Ave. and fashion window dressers (where Johns and Rauschenberg came from as well) writ large. Fashion Pop of a lower order than Walt Disney, but written about by the culture vendors churned out by the Ivy Leagues along with their Greenberg and Ros Strauss/Michael Fried pseudo-intellecual gobbledy gook to provide the necessarily unintelligible explanations of why it was all so profoundly important as the next big step in the history of Western Civilization.

    We can read about Oldenburg ripping off the mentally ill Yayoi Kusama for his soft pop sculptures and Dr. Feelgood and his liquid meth injections for Warhol and sundry to get as close an idea as we want of just how superficial and empty all of this was…. Or read Billy Name’s puerile reflections on the “glory years” and the tinfoil hoakum of Warholville. But regardless of just how impoverished all of it is, both artistically and intellectually, the art world and artists will just go on believing it was all a fantastic world of fantastically creative geniuses revolutionizing the entire world with their psychedelic dance parties.

    But I was there… And it wasn’t fabulous at all. It wasn’t fabulous then and it’s even less fabulous now. All it amounts to is the worship of power and celebrity. The American addiction, which they’ve passed on to the rest of the world. So we get a dose of it every day now with our mass murders and drug addictions and homeless and worship of military power.

    I was there, William. There was nothing the least fabulous about any of it. To say that Basquiat and Haring were “life-enhancing” is total bullshit. There’s little life-enhancing about promiscuous cokeheads reveling in their own narcissistic delusions of grandeur or the swarms of airheads flocking to see what that kind of pointless lifestyle is all about.

    Doonan is the mirror-image of Frank Stella who went on his tirades about MoMA/ becoming the Museum of Mickey’s Art when his only complaint was that they’d begun to show work that was a shade more lively than Stella/Judd’s lifeless and vapid graphic design pretense. All of it is lifeless in the sense that none of these New York artists were making work connected to any kind of real experience of the world, but simply coming up with a nifty graduate school strategy of the “new”. Do something that nobody else has done before. Did any of the post-Impressionists ever make a one color painting? Did they ever graffiti a building? Did they can their own excrement?

    Post War American Art amounts to the same thing over and over. All the various “new” strategies were spun out in rapid succession. Now all that we do is repeat all of it over and over because ANYBODY can achieve perfection with no skill or content whatsoever. And since, as Gore Vidal pointed out, we’re the the United States of Amnesia it will always appear as new, exciting and fabulous to each generation of art students who are seeing Graffiti and Pop and Slop, Bop and Op all for the first time.

    Of course, they’ll all make the necessary genuflections to John Constable or Manet or take-your-pick but none of them will make the slightest gesture toward actually trying to understand what painting is or what painting is really all about. Or how it’s been turned into hogwash, not just by critics and publicists and money people. But by the artists themselves playacting along with all of it.

    But this isn’t to say I don’t greatly appreciate your sending the article to my attention. And I wish I could see it some other way than I do. But having lived through it and then having Noonan describe the present as a “vapid hell-hold of investment-crazed prententiousness” while that’s as exact a description of the early 1980s that he’s glorying in, shithead that he is, I find it hard to not say anything.

    It’s phony. Totally phony. All of it. But it’s been phony for decades. The notion that somehow we’ve reached some new level of decadence is preposterous. The notion that sometime in the 2010s we slid from the infectious wonderment of Keith Haring and Ronnie Cutrone genius into the debauched Chapman Brothers redux. The “dorky uncool 80s” were not “a great time for art.” That was when the nails went into the coffin fashioned by MoMA through the 70s and 70s. That’s just the truth. As far as anything I read, I think I’m about the only artist in this country capable of speaking it. And that’s a sad a comment as I think can be made.

    Call me an idealist, but I think if artists can do little else, the very least they might take upon themselves to do is to speak to the truth of their experience of the world. And so I also have to admit to a kind of perverse pleasure in seeing all the things I fought against many years ago, as well as warning against, coming to pass. There’s a perverse vindication to it at least. But there’s also a profound disappointment in other artists playing in the pigsty who are not making a whimper of protest against their masters sitting in positions of power as they shit all over everything holy in sight.

    And so they leave it to the half-wits like Noonan, writing from Barney’s fashion department, to be the morals police of the art cesspool. And somehow think that they aren’t even more covered in disgrace by their silence than is a fashion writer like Noonan who at least writes SOMETHING.

  12. trueoutsider says:

    Having already written too much, I might as well add this link as it just appeared in the Guardian. It’s abou Lou Reed. The Velvets were Warhol’s house band and part of the decadence that made it all so exciting. There’s a new biography just out that bothers to explore Lou’s physical and psychological abuse of women. But I’m certain the fans of all things Warhol will no doubt find it just another of the Factory people’s endearing traits.


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