Learning to Love What you Hate!

Cy Twombly Painting
“Untitled (Bolsena),” Cy Twombly

We all carry prejudice. Life experience teaches us what we like, as well as what we don’t like, so much. You probably have a favorite color. Prefer salty snacks over sugary ones, or vice versa. Maybe you like snug fitting clothes or want your garments to hang looser…no problem!

Basquiat Painting
“Untitled,” Jean-Michel Basquiate

I do feel prejudice can become a huge problem, if you’re an artist. I have artist friends who dismiss entire schools of art or bodies of work, because they don’t like that kind of thing, or worse, believe it falls below the bar they’ve arbitrarily set for what IS or IS NOT art. Here’s a rude awakening to any of you out there that find yourself in one of these camps, IT’S ALL ART! Yes, it’s all art, but within each art genre there is GOOD and there is BAD art! No one gains anything from BAD art, unless it’s a reminder to avoid going in that direction, but if you write-off GOOD art, of any school or collection, because it’s foreign to you or not your thing, you do yourself a disservice, turning your back on available knowledge: concepts, techniques, solutions, etc., that could inspire new directions in your own work.

Rauschenberg Assemblage
“Monogram,” Robert Rauschenberg

Ridding yourself of bias takes a change of mind and heart, but it’s worth it. I’ve considered myself an artist, since I was a little kid and I’ll admit, by the time I walked through the doors of art school, I’d built up quite a library of art prejudice. There was more I disliked, than I liked in contemporary fine art. But art school was a wonderful, true education for me. Here I could no longer choose what it was in art I would focus my attentions on. For the next four years my professors were going to make those choices, enlightening me to what was important in art and explaining why that was so. As if a blindfold had been removed from eyes, suddenly I saw how all the pieces fit together in the timeline jigsaw puzzle that is the history of art. I had a new library of concepts and solutions to draw from (excuse the pun) that helped resolve problems in my own personal work. With understanding and appreciation came a new appetite, there is now so much more visual information for me to digest, in art museums and the world at large.

Les Demoiselles Painting
“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” Pablo Picasso

As artists, we can’t afford the personal likes and dislikes in art that the rest of the population holds. We must keep our minds open and approach each new visual stimulus free of preconceived ideas, absorbing whatever it has to share with us. You don’t have to drop everything and register for art school to open your mind. The Internet has made gaining knowledge about subjects we don’t understand easy and instantaneous. The best place to start is with the art you like the least.

In time you’ll be harvesting information from Banksy as well as Caravaggio!

Judgement Call

Judging Photo

Among the many things discussed this weekend with 3 artist friends, during our 8 hour round trip journey to the San Francisco Bay area, was judging in art competitions. We belong to a local chapter of a San Francisco based art organization and had volunteered to transport our member paintings up and back from the annual exhibit held at our headquarters gallery.

We’re, all four, often asked to judge various competitions or to be involved with the selection of judges. I, personally, believe in a 3 judge system. Having a single judge, I feel, is unfair to the entrants, as it’s very one-sided, reflecting the nonobjective personal tastes and opinions of a single individual. While having two judges is a little better, with the decision making a bit more objective, the decision weighting is now just 50/50 and the two judges decisions can cancel each other out. A piece that one judge loves, can be knocked out of prize competition because the other judge doesn’t agree. With 3 judges, prize winning works are selected through majority decisions, each single judges judgement call is tempered by the judgement of the other two. I feel so strongly about the fairness of the 3 judge system, that I consider this in deciding whether or not to participate in a competition.

Ribbons PhotoAnother central topic surrounding our competition judging discussion was the importance of who the selected judges are: their background and expertise. Organizations have a lot of tasks on their plate when putting together an exhibit or competition and too often judge selection it made quickly, without adequate consideration, in an effort to mark the task done and move on to one of the other items on the list. The problem is compounded if you’re making the selection for an organization who offers competitions annually or even more frequently. In attempts to avoid using the same qualified judges too often, it’s easy to relax standards a bit, in the name of adding variety to the judging panel. Don’t do it! Who is selected to judge the competition is the single most import decision made in an art competition. Unqualified judges make for unfair, competitor head-scratching decisions.

Selecting judges with expertise specific to the flavor of your competition is another important consideration. If you’re mounting a representational art only competition, you don’t want to bring in judges known for their fantastic abstract work. If you’re including an abstraction category in your competition, you don’t want to only invite hardcore realists to do your judging.

While a lot of this is just common sense, when the calls for entry have gone out and you’re under the gun to get everything done before the posted show opening night date, it’s easy to use up the time necessary to consider and vet appropriate judges. You owe it to yourself, organization and competitors to never let that happen.

Little Known Facts About van Gogh

Self Portrait Image
“Self Portrait,” Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh’s work spoke to me at a young age (6 or 7) and I’ve continued the conversation with this very special Dutch artist my entire life. I first discovered his work in a Child Craft encyclopedia, one of the volumes in the full set my parents had purchased to support the new family they’d begun. It was the first of many books in which I’d learn about his tortured life and magnificent product over the years. With each tome new pieces were added to the complicated picture puzzle of his life.

Vincent never showed any special affinity, interest or talent as an artist before he decided he wanted to be one at age 28. 9 years later, at age 37, he was dead. Over just 9 years he’d taught himself, first to draw (2 years), then to paint, producing 2,100 works of art and establishing himself as one of the most influential artists in Western Art. Not so much a little known fact as a phenomenon often overlooked.

While it appeared the older Vincent was taking great advantage of his  younger brother Theo, in actuality it was a business arrangement. While Theo was supplying the funds that enabled Vincent to paint, all the paintings belonged to Theo and Vincent shipped them off to his brother, as soon as they were dry enough to travel.

Vincent was a kind, compassionate individual, in the extreme. In his earlier attempted vocation, as a missionary in Belgium, he ruined his own health, first giving away all his food and most of his clothing to the poor miners there and then sleeping on a bed of straw on the floor, after he’d torn all his bedding into bandages for the treatment of those injured in the mines. Uncomfortably with his sacrifices, the church asked his family to bring him home.

Sudden Shower Image
“Sudden Shower over Shin‑Ohashi Bridge and Atake,” by Hiroshige

Later, when he was painting in Arles and would pick up funds wired to him from Theo, he’d often arrive home from the post with just pennies in his pockets, having given the bulk of his newly received funds to the poor and homeless he met on the street.

From Hiroshige Image
Van Gogh’s copy of the Hiroshige print.

Van Gogh was heavily influenced by Japan’s reopening of trade with the West after 200 years of isolationism. There was such an insurgence of Japanese objects in Europe, that Japanese prints were found, wrapped around ceramic objects, used as packing. Van Gogh’s work began to include outlines, an element missing from Western painting for centuries, but a primary element in Japanese prints. His areas of color were greatly flattened. And something I’d never noticed, prior to recently reading a van Gogh biography translated from Dutch, Vincent eliminated shadows from his paintings. Shadows do not exist in Japanese prints.

Bedroom Image
“Bedroom at Arles”

Even his migration to the south of France, his attempt to begin an artist’s colony there, was, in his words in a letter to his brother Theo, the seeds of a “new Japan,” as he understood it. His “Bedroom at Arles” a depiction of his new monastic Japanese dwelling place.

Contrary to common belief, Vincent’s work was gaining notoriety during his lifetime and he was offered multiple shows in Paris. Unfortunately, he inflicted a great dilemma upon himself. On one hand he was desperate for financial success, to remove himself as financial burden from Theo, but afraid that the same success would ruin him as a painter. Afraid that popular paintings would dissuade him from experimentation and encourage him to repaint the same paintings over and over again.

Tough case!



How I Kept My Mother Out of My Art School

Chouinard Photo
Chouinard Art Institute, circa 1970.

I’d known my mother planned to attend the Chouinard Art Institute right after high school, study fashion design there, then set the fashion industry on fire, since I was a little kid. From the age of 8 or 9, I knew I was going to be an animator, working for Walt Disney, when I grew up, so discussions of Chouinard and Disney’s close affiliation with the school came up often.

My mother is a powerhouse, always involved with several complicated creative projects at once: oil painting, ceramics, PTA President, Den Mother, poetry, local drama, sewing, knitting, etc. You wouldn’t believe the Halloween costumes she designed and fabricated for me and my four younger siblings over the years: Hollywood quality. She closely followed the career of Edith Head, a Chouinard grad, by the way.

Disney died the year before I graduated from high school. My dream of animating for him died with this legend. During my senior year in high school, I started attending Saturday life drawing classes at Chouinard. One of my high school art teachers, Mrs. Pardoe, arranged and encouraged these sessions. At the end of the year, I applied to all the art schools Mrs. Pardoe recommended: The Art Center, Long Beach State and Chouinard. I was fortunate to be accepted by all 3, but chose Chouinard. It seemed to fit me best.

Many years after my graduation, I was reading a biography of my mother in a high end porcelain doll magazine. She’d added doll making and, more importantly, the design and fabrication of original doll clothes design to the many things she does. In the article she elaborated on why she never attended Chouinard, revealing a fact, that in all our one on one conversations about Chouinard, she’d never shared with me before.

Mom and Pop Photo
My mother and father, in high school.

Like myself, my mother had applied and been accepted to Chouinard after graduating high school. This was at the end of World War II. The art school told her, yes, we’d love to have you, but we have to put you at the back of the entry line, behind all the WWII GI’s returning from the war and entering the school through the GI Bill. They said they’d call her, as soon as there was an opening.

Months went by, then years, but finally she got her call. She told them she wouldn’t be attending. In the interim, she’d married my father and was now 8 months pregnant with her first child: Me!

She never attended Chouinard, but did get the necessary fashion design training she required at Los Angeles Trade Technical College and with my youngest brothers in high school, began an over 30 year career as a fashion designer, creating for some of the biggest labels in the industry.

I love you mom!


If a Tree Falls in the Forest & No One is Around…

Dixie Salazar Landscape Image
A landscape by Dixie Salazar.

Last Saturday night, July 8th, local gallery, Gallery 5, hosted an artist’s reception for master painter, poet, novelist and activist, Dixie Salazar, as introduction to her stunning one woman show there this month. The show is a milestone event, one, gallery curator, Jon Bock, has been attempting to procure for many years. Ms. Salazar embodies a major presence in the Central California art scene and securing a retrospective exhibit of her work for our small town, up here in the Sierra Nevada foothills, is quite a coup for the local creative community.

Dixie Reading Photo
Poetry read during artists reception © 2017 Jonathan Bock

Which is why I was puzzled by the poor turnout last Saturday night. In addition to gallery personnel, the guests were myself and my wife, two personal friends of Dixie and two other local residents. What gives? The show was well publicized. In addition to all the online marketing Gallery 5 did, on behalf of the reception, I know I personally, spread the word to local artists I ran into at art organization gatherings, in the final days leading up to the opening. There was live music, barbecue, drink and personal readings by Dixie of some of her exceptional contemporary poetry.

Was it the heat? The voluntary $5 donation to cover the cost of the barbecue? Dixie’s work suggests story, like Chagall, contains the color harmonies of Matisse, the liveliness present in the works of VanGogh and Gauguin, all uniquely synthesized through her personal brush. Did they not like her work?

Whatever the reason, while it’s too late to meet and pick the brain of this petite giant, too late to hear her read her poetry, the show will still be there until July 30th. I’ve seen it twice already and plan to return multiple times, before it’s gone. I urge anyone in the area with even a fleeting interest in art to not miss this museum quality show!


Keep Your Eyes Wide Open & Your Ear to the Ground!

MoMA Image

I’ve been the beneficiary of a great art education and had the added advantage of working alongside other artists most of my adult life. I’ve always been confident that I knew who all the important artists were, working currently and in the past. I’ve had great art history teachers, I’ve always been a frequent visitor to local art museums and when I’ve traveled, I’ve made visiting all available museums part of my itinerary. In fact, if it’s vacation travel, visiting the museums is always central to the trip. I’m also a frequent reader of significant art magazines and artist biographies. So when I learn of an important artist I don’t know about, I go into a state of shock. Say what!

In my defense, up until recently, my focus has always been on artists exhibited in art museums. My own work had been exclusively focused on abstraction, so my interest lie with Modern and post WW II Contemporary Art. I hadn’t paid much attention to the work in small local or regional galleries.

Niños Tomando su Bano Image
“Niños Tomando su Baño,” by Joaquín Sorolla

That changed recently, when joining a local art association, Yosemite Western Artists (YWA), reawakened my interest in representational art. You can learn more about that transition in my earlier post, “The Power in Painting with Friends.” Anyway, this revitalized interest in representational art has introduced me to some of the leading artists creating representational art today, artists to whom I’d never been exposed in the past. That, in turn, pointed me to the artists, through history, they feel are important influences on their representational work. Many of them are the same Modern Art giants that have, in some way, been effecting my abstract work: Manet, Degas, Monet, Cézanne, Lautrec, Van Gogh, etc., but others, like Anders Zorn and Joaquín Sorolla, I’d never heard of. Look at the color and brush work in the attached Impressionistic Sorolla painting, ” Niños Tomando su Baño.” Unbelievable!

What a treat! To find this cornucopia of new works to digest is like a childhood Christmas morning! I can’t see and study all these works, new to me, fast enough! I’m now on a quest to uncover all the other important artists to whom I’ve yet to be exposed. This all grew out of my recent association with YWA. Another, very important reason to become an active part of local art associations in your area.

I always new that education was a life-long undertaking, but I must admit, I was surprised to discover, that with all the attention I’ve given it, there were avenues in art history down which I’d never traveled. Bon Voyage!

Teach a man to DRAW a fish…

Art Tree Logo Graphic

I just returned from a trip to Santa Clarita, CA (a bedroom community just north of Los Angeles) to make a presentation at the ARTree, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization engaged in bringing creativity to youth and adults in the surrounding community. While the ARTree expands awareness and participation in the arts to the population in general, a primary goal of the organization is to fill the void left by cut-backs or complete elimination of the art and music programs in public schools.

My presentation covered the personal opportunities that presented themselves to me over my, now, 46 years as a professional artist. Through my partially scholarship funded education at CalArts, I was able to perform as illustrator, graphic designer, animation director, fine artist, art director, creative director, chief creative officer and even CEO, providing income for my family: opportunities that stemmed from a love of drawing as a child and the continued support of family and the art programs in public schools.

Sadly, at a time when there are more opportunities than ever before in which an individual can earn a very good living as an artist, our public education system has ear-marked art and music programs in schools as unnecessary disciplines and targets for trimming from the education budget. Through public outcry, school sports programs, also once marked for elimination were able to survive, while art and music were eliminated. Sports programs do perform a vital function keeping youth physically fit, teaching cooperation and team building towards a common goal, not to mention providing activities that engage the whole family and entire community, but I guarantee, a lot more public school graduates will have the opportunity to earn their livelihood through art, than as a professional athlete.

There has long been work for artists in the creation of illustrations or graphic designs for the advertising and editorial print industry (magazines), TV commercial industry, television and feature film animation industries, but the quickly expanding Internet and technology industry has increased the demand for artists. The ever increasing demand for web sites provides endless opportunities for artists, in their design and fabrication. Television and feature animation has gone from being a solely hand drawn and painted undertaking to a computer generated discipline, expanding the size of their creative teams 30 fold. If you doubt this, stay in your seat to read the closing credits the next time you watch an animated feature. Feature live action films, heavy in computer generated special effects, now have the same increased demand for artists. The computer game industry, as big or bigger than the feature film industry, employs myriad artist and new companies in this industry appear every day. Remember when I say computer games, that includes not only games played on computers, but those on dedicated game machines (Xbox, Sony Playstation, Nintendo), tablets, mobile phones and, now, smart watches: each separate efforts by separate creative teams. You get the picture, increases in the need for artists and increases in the use of new technologies go hand and hand.

While we’re unlikely to be able to quickly redirect our lumbering ship of state to toss life preservers to the drowning public school art and music programs, bringing them safely back on board, non-profit private sector art education organizations, like the ARTree, and local government Teaching Artist programs are there to fill the gap.

These organizations deserve your support, both as a financial contributor and, if possible, a volunteer: if not just to keep cultural participation, awareness and opportunity alive in our society, than to guarantee our populations are equipped and ready for the jobs that are available!