Great Moments in Art (1995)



 Arts granting agencies actually distribute monies fairly regardless of style or artistic point of view.


 Young Rembrandt van Rijn, with his artist friend, Jan Lievens, establishes his first studio in Leiden, Holland around 1625, beginning one of history's most epic art journeys.


 Two hundred and fifty-five years later, after indecision, travail and dismissal as an evangelist in the Borinage, a poor mining district in Belgium, another Dutchman, Vincent van Gogh, decides to paint, commencing his own epic quest.


 In the year 3542 AD -- in another galaxy, on a planet inhabited by beings more developed than we -- buyers, collectors and the art world, in a reversal of earthly practices, reject the artist who paints solely for the marketplace with the very shallowest surfaces of the mind, in favor of the artist painting from the deepest levels of the self.


 A miracle occurs in Paris in the 1920's... at least as far as Chaim Soutine is concerned. Albert C. Barnes, extremely rich from his formulation of Argyrol nose drops, later founder of the Barnes (Art) Foundation in Merion, PA, falls in love with Soutine's paintings, purchasing numerous works, thereby putting his stamp of approval on the artist. This amazing event, the dream of all artists, rescues the emotional painter from poverty and any questions about the validity of his wildly expressionist style.


 Predating Frank Sinatra's lusty assertion by 460 years, Michelangelo, refusing to follow Pope Julius II's pedestrian aesthetic suggestions, paints the Sistine Chapel ceiling "his way."


 A quirky earthquake, quite unusual in the narrowly defined area of its activity, splits the ground precisely under a series of tiny pots controversially commissioned as "art", and far too insignificant for their position atop the massive Squaw Peak Parkway wall. They tumble deeply into the flaming bowels of the planet, where they are immediately hurled back to the surface by disgruntled earth-god art lovers, but plummet downward again, never to return. Nothing else is touched. Scientists from around the world come to Phoenix to investigate this strange phenomenon. The tourist curio-trade reaches epic proportions. T-shirts emblazoned with "I FELL THROUGH THE CRACKS IN PHOENIX, ARIZONA" are huge sellers, along with broken miniature pots rivaling the plastic kachina and plaster saguaro trade. Everyone is ecstatic.


 Local publications actually write serious articles about serious artists and serious art. Scottsdale is aghast. The art establishment trembles. Fluff is out. What will we all do with the remainder of our pathetic little lives (and extensive inventories of commercialized art)?


 FLASH! NEWS OF NATIONWIDE IMPORT: the person on the assembly-line who plops that single, infinitesimal cube of white fat into each can of plain brown beans, miraculously transforming them into "PORK" and beans, has been replaced by a computerized robot from a major automobile manufacturing company. The future and integrity of the food industry are thrown into disarray.


 Camille Pissarro, the "nice guy" of the Impressionists, helps intensify Paul Gauguin's interest in art to the level of an obsession, leading the stockbroker thoroughly astray. Gauguin's wife, Mette, is mad as hell.


 After a lifetime, brief as it was, of trying to support, both emotionally and financially, his brother Vincent, Theo van Gogh is notified of the inevitable: Vincent has shot himself in the stomach out in the fields of Auvers, stumbling back to his room. Theo rushes to join him, spending their last hours together. Weeping inconsolably during the funeral cortege and burial of Vincent's sunflower-draped coffin, Theo, six months later, follows his troubled, beloved brother to the grave. He is buried beside him. So ends one of art's great, tragic struggles.


 The bravery of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec has never been in question. Born to nobility, he could have spent a safe, reclusive life on the family estate after suffering the successive leg fractures that left him dwarfed. Despite this impediment, Lautrec ventured boldly into the Parisian world of art, the brothel and cabaret to create bitingly vital paintings based on this milieu. But, he also made caricatures of his appearance and condition. His inner suffering took its toll. Lautrec drank himself to death at age 37.


 Just because some foolish publication in the foolish East foolishly praises the foolish pots stuck atop the Squaw Peak Parkway walls, doesn't change the foolish fact that these foolish pots were foolishly created and foolishly stuck there in the foolish first place.


 Why didn't Phoenix/Scottsdale become an art center the way Taos and Santa Fe did early in the century? Would the devastating summer heat be a factor, directing artists from the East to cooler New Mexico mountain climes? There is no Arizona equivalent of the Taos School, or such eminent art visitor/residents as John Sloan, Stuart Davis, Marsden Hartley and, of course, Georgia O'Keeffe; nor D.H. Lawrence's tragicomic sojourn in Mabel Dodge Luhan's circle. Or, is there a less-publicized Arizona equivalent?


 An electrician and floor-tile installer at an eastern museum become the next great art geniuses of the 21st Century. The electrician, trying to solve a wiring problem, leaves tangles of worm-like cables protruding from several walls, along with lunch-time sandwich crusts, candy wrappers and a beer can or two. The tiler, visiting the men's room before lunch, leaves plastic glue containers, dropcloths and hundreds of tiles partially in place and scattered on the floor. The curatorial staff is exquisitely titillated.


 A renaissance in art is declared, a spontaneously generated new movement, springing from the people, that will save art and society from the uselessness and futility of the decadent elite. The art world heaves a huge sigh of relief and cranks up the hype machine. Surely a few bucks can be made from this.


 Two and one-half years, that's too optimistic...eight and one-half years later, word reaches Phoenix. The museums and galleries are soon filled with trash. If it's good enough for the East, it's good enough for us.


Copyright by Don Gray



Don Gray Art  •  Art Essays & Art Criticisms

© Jessie Benton Evans - Don Gray

All Rights Reserved