March to May 2000
March 5, 2000
I’ve spent most of January and all of February writing the essay, “What’s Wrong With Capitalism?” This has consumed all my free time and writing time. It has also consumed my brain. It is depressing to think how enslaved we are to the capitalistic way of life. The essay helped me gain some perspective on how my own worldview is tied and chained to the whole worldview. It’s the stupid economy!
In late 1999, I had a show of Curvism art on display at a museum in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The show closed the end of January. Ezra and I drove to Sioux Falls on February 7 to pick up my art and drive it back home in a large U-Haul truck. No art was sold at the show. On Wednesday, February 9, I received a message from my art dealer Doug Flanders in Minneapolis, requesting that I come soon to pick up most of my art at the gallery because it hadn’t sold and they need to clear it out. So on February 26, I traveled to Minneapolis to pick up a van full of unsold art.
I am rich in art. My garage is full of art. My studio is full of art. My home is full of art. For a long time, I have been hoping to make an honest living with my art and hoping to change the world with my art.
Art! Again, I wonder what is the value of art?
When writing “What’s Wrong With Capitalism,” I came across the following story Thoreau
tells in Walden from the chapter titled, “Economy”:
Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. ‘Do you wish to buy any baskets?’ he asked.
‘No, we do not want any,’ was the reply.
‘What!’ exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate. ‘Do you mean to starve us?’
Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off - that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and by some magic wealth and standing followed, he had said himself; I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets, he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man’s to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy.
I, too, had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one’s while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?
Art! What is the value of art? It is a question that asks a lot of questions. Today I have no answers.
Today is a Sunday. It is 70 degrees outside and no snow. Either it’s a sign of global warming or an early spring has come to the upper Midwest. Either way, it’s a perfect day for a walk into the woods. Maybe if I walk long enough, I’ll find some answers to my questions. And maybe, if I walk far enough, I’ll be lucky enough to forget the questions. And if I keep walking, maybe I’ll lose my way and get lost. And maybe, just maybe, this time I’ll keep going until I simply disappear. Perhaps this time, I won’t come back.
Afterword March 5, 2000 9 p.m.
I came back. Of course I came back. I have a wife and kids who love me and need me. I can’t leave them now. Besides it was time for supper. We grilled hamburgers outside. In the process Amy set the briquette chimney starter in the garage on a box of magazines where a hot briquette must have come loose and glowed for an hour before starting a fire in the garage. We ate at 6:00 but smelled smoke in the house at about 7:00. It didn’t smell quite right. Amy went to double-check the grill in the back yard and when she passed by the window of the back door of the garage, she saw flames inside. She came running into the house hollering “Fire!” We called the fire department. I ran to the garage and went in through the front garage door. There were flames in the back from floor to ceiling. I moved two paintings and three boxes of drawings away from the fire. I grabbed the big fire extinguisher from the hallway and sprayed the flames. I ran and retrieved another extinguisher from the house and Amy found a third to use against the fire. A neighbor joined in with his two small extinguishers. We managed to squelch the large flames. The fire department arrived in two huge trucks, sirens blaring, red lights flashing. Ten
firefighters poured out of the trucks and into the garage. They used their extinguishers on the fire and hauled and shoveled the smoldering heap outside. Lots and lots of dark smoke flowed from the garage.
Boxes of stored stuff burned, along with a chair, Amy’s bike, my toolbox with most of my hand tools and electric tools all melted together, a dog cage, and other riffraff. The plastic surrounding two paintings melted to the frames. All in all, no real damage, perhaps $3,000 worth of replaceable stuff. A layer of ashes and fire extinguisher dust covers my art. Another ten or fifteen minutes more of burning and it would have been a different story.
According to the gallery and museum price insurance lists, there is over $150,000 worth of art stored in the garage alone. As to the question, what is the value of art? I still don’t have an answer—only questions.
April 2, 2000
It has been four weeks since the garage fire. It was worse than I first thought. Although no art was burned by flames, the smoke damage was nasty, wrecking seven paintings. Everything had to be moved out of the garage. My art was temporarily stored in a truck in the driveway; my other stuff was stored under plastic in the yard. Everything had to be cleaned, all my possessions and all my art, which was, thankfully, mostly all well wrapped. The inside of the garage had to be repainted. I wish I could repaint the smoke-damaged paintings as easily. The art stuff is now in the studio; all the other stuff is back in the garage (minus the two dumpsters of stuff I threw
out). Four weeks of my time, a part of my life, and lots of my energy went up in smoke. I am returning back to normal, a changed man.
Oh, what a burden possessions can be! Stuff. We Americans live a life full of stuff. And art stuff, is still stuff.
I am an artist. As an artist, I manipulate material, physical stuff to discover, symbolize, and communicate spiritual realities. In the process of creating art, art creates me. Art makes me who I am. I am an artist who lives the artistic life. The art itself does not really matter. The art creates the life that’s lived spiritually. The art itself becomes immaterial.
Art is just stuff, not much different from other stuff. The physical reality of stuff is subject to constant change, re-creation. No thing ever remains the same thing. Artists sometimes create things that they hope will have a life of their own and live after they are long gone, extending their own shelf life. But ultimately art cannot live, or live forever. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Stuff to stuff.
So, what is the value of art? The value of art is in the quality of the artistic life that the art creates for the artist. The art and the life of the artist can inspire others to try to transcend the purely physical, material world of stuff, to live more artfully and spiritually. It is, however, only by creating art that art can create an artist. Perhaps art and living the artistic life is as close to the spiritual as stuff can become. Perhaps it is only by attempting to create the spiritual that the physical can become spiritual.
The Art of Sorrow
April 16, 2000
My days are full of sorrow. I’m sad about all the sadness I see in the world. Sorrow surrounds me. Pain and suffering is everywhere, constantly continuing. For me, there is no escaping it and I can’t just blissfully ignore it. I’m not entirely sure how to live with it—without it killing my spirit. Ultimately I know that if it doesn’t kill me, it will make me stronger. But, oh, what a struggle.
Sorrow, sadness, suffering, and the struggle to survive and to spiritually grow. Let’s face it; it’s not easy to face, day after day, year after year. It is easy to give up and give in to the easy ways of not seeing, feeling, or experiencing the pain of sorrow. It’s easy to become oblivious. Our modern world has many effective tranquilizers and painkillers to help us avoid pain. I know, I’ve tried almost all of them. They all work, but only for a short time. They are all very addicting; however, all end up being dead ends and life killers. I can’t live that way. For me there is no way to avoid the pain of living in a world of pain. I am sad.
My work is full of sorrow. As a mental health therapist, I see sadness in the eyes and lives of others all day long, hour after hour. I intimately see the pain of alcoholism and drug dependence, domestic abuse, depression, anxiety, rotten marriages, and addiction to gambling, food, sex, money, things, spending, and risky thrills.
I see people who have loss and those who are lost, and others who never received what they needed. I see many who are victims of injustice. I see people who are victims of an unjust economic system and others who are victims of an unjust justice system. I see people who suffer
from physical as well as emotional pain. Everyone I see is suffering from spiritual sorrows.
I am a healer. I work to ease the pain and suffering of the people I see. I help people face their sorrows. I help people find hope and some happiness in a world that seems to have gone completely sad. Some days all the sadness and sorrow makes me sick.
I live in a world of sorrow. The world is constantly being destroyed and is constantly dying. The natural causes of decay and death are sad enough to deal with. It is, however, the man-made greed-induced causes of destruction, death, and despair that cause most of my suffering. The sadness of environmental devastation, worker exploitation, the conglomeration of wealth and power in the hands of a few, and the sadness of constant wars is killing me. The world feels so hopeless and I feel so helpless. How can I live in such a world of pain? What am I to do?
I am an artist. Art helps me to face the world of pain and to heal my wounded spirit. Art and symbolic living help me experience the quality of real joy and pleasure to counterbalance the vast quantity of suffering and sadness. Although art is magical and spiritual, it is no magic cure for all the spiritual pain I experience. I don’t expect art to save me from pain, suffering, or sadness. I know all too well the pain, suffering, and sadness that art itself creates. I know there is no escape.
Art teaches me to be creative with the sorrows of this life. Art creates. Art uses the awareness and the emotional energy of sadness and sorrow, struggle and pain, decay and death, to give birth to new living forms, to create new possibilities of order out of the chaos. Joy, happiness, pleasure, hope, wisdom, and aliveness can grow from and through the struggles of sadness.
As an artist, I hope to help the world heal the pain and suffering caused by people, upon
people, and upon the planet. There is no need for this type of sadness. There are no excuses. The cause is self-centered greed and the choice to be deaf, numb, and blind to all the sadness and sorrow caused by self-centered greed. I hope to use the art, philosophy, and story of Curvism to create awareness of the sorrows and joys of this life and to help create change in the way we choose to live with one another on this beautiful, precious, and endangered Earth.
Life continues. It is springtime in the Upper Midwest. Longer days, warmer days. Some rainy days. The color green growing everywhere. I love spring. Once again it offers another new chance at life: to change, to grow, to begin again. The journey continues.
So what am I to do? Art, of course! I choose to live creatively, hopefully, as an artist. What else am I to do, where do I go from here?
I have no new exhibits planned. When I last saw Flanders in Minneapolis in February, he said we would do another Curvism show next year if he’s still in the art business. He’s seriously thinking of taking an offer to be a curator in a museum. Twenty years as an art dealer and still in debt, art is not an easy way to make a living, unless you’re lucky enough to get one of those cushy curator jobs. I suppose many of them end up having to make a living by begging for money and donations.
I wish I could make an honest living with my art. That would be nice, ideal even. I am
however, more interested in changing the world with my art. That would be grand, perhaps even grandiose.
I do believe in the creative power of art. I’m an artist. Art can change the world and art can create a renewed world. God knows this world needs some changing and renewal. It’s springtime!
Lately I’ve been working on editing this journal and sorting through all my photographs. I believe I have a book here. I envision it as a book of stories and essays held together by the flow of the journal entries. The book could be richly illustrated with photographs, drawings, and art works. The book will tell the story of Curvism. I am hopeful.
The journey continues .…