Archive for November, 2008

Art for arts sake

Posted in art with tags , , , , on November 28, 2008 by barryshapiro

Someone named Mike Frick says that art is not about drawing, it’s about whatever you can get away with. He is not entirely wrong. I certainly understand the concept and in fact at times have supported that premise. The problem is that it leads us too often down the same old path to mediocrity and worse – just plain bad art. Look around, it’s every where.

I can also agree that there is more to art than drawing (and I am going to limit my comments to the visual arts and leave any discussion of music, dance, etc out of this particular conversation) but there has to be a basis, a starting point for the development of any fine art and usually it starts with being able to draw. Most bad art usually is not a matter of concept but of execution. Take Mike Frick for example. I do not know if the Mike Frick I Googled is the artist that commented on my blog but let’s assume he is. The work at is whimsical, colorful and illustrative. There is a definite style and a certain naive quality to it but you can see that Mr. Frick has studied his craft and he definitely knows how to draw. Whether or not you like his style or his images is besides the point. Compare Mr. Frick’s figures to that of Mr. Urban Picasso and you see the difference between a developed artist and someone who is in essence a novice.

Here’s a portrait of Johnny Cash by Mr. Frick and one of my own drawings of the same subject. Completely different styles and technique but I feel confident in saying that the thing we share, besides an admiration for the late great Mr. C, is a lot of time studying, developing and drawing. This is not random work, though it might be produced randomly and in a short period of time.

Johnny Cash by Mike Frick

Johnny Cash by Mike Frick

Johnny Cash by Barry Shapiro

Johnny Cash by Barry Shapiro











Now let’s look at Mr. Urban Picasso’s work which he promotes on ebay. I looked but could not find a portrait of Johhny Cash on his site so I grabbed this image:

drawing by Mr. Urban Picasso

drawing by Mr. Urban Picasso

I’m sorry to harp on Mr. Urban Picasso (my wife thinks I’m being to hard on him) but I think this is a fair visual representation of what I am trying to get across. Of course, art is subjective and in the eye of the beholder and all that crap but there is a difference and if you cannot see it than perhaps you never will. And if that’s the case you’ll keep on buying, or worse yet, making bad art.


A final look at Mr. Urban Picasso

Posted in art with tags , , , , , on November 25, 2008 by barryshapiro

Perhaps I was harsh but someone has to say these things. The work in Mr. Urban Picasso’s drawings is just not there. He may love to draw – and there is certainly nothing wrong with that…. I in fact encourage him to continue – it’s just that loving to draw and having a glimmer of talent is a far cry from having honed skills, ideas and developing your craft. The fact that is, Mr. Urban Picasso’s ego is fragile and hence his insistent self promotion is a result of that fragility.

Bottom line, if you love to create, to paint, draw, play music, sing, dance, sculpt, whatever your passion – learn the lessons of the masters that came before you. Study the life and art of a genius like Josef Beuys (Joseph Beuys 1921 – 1986) and begin to understand what the passionate, committed life of an artist is all about. If you want to be a commercial artist than work at an ad agency. If you want to be a painter than you have to work at it, study it, really live it.

Beuys in his hat

Beuys in his hatComposer John Adams

I’ve just been reading an autobiographical story in the August 25th New Yorker by the composer John Adams (“Nixon in China” “Doctor Atomic”) and his story is completely engaging. His passion, his creativity and his innate genius is all brought together by his academic approach. Not that he was a academic in the strictest sense. He experimented, pushed boundaries, made mistakes and floundered for long stretches. But all the while he was engaged in his art. The man who composed some seriously unlistenable music like “American Standard” on wacky instruments he created in his garage was also a student of Wagner, Schopenhauer, Bach and Mahler as well as Cage and Miles Davis. Like the music or not, one hears the genius in it.

I spend one day a week as a volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club teaching art to kids that range form 5 years old to 15. Most are not very artistically endowed. But they all have one thing in common – imagination. They have a need to express themselves. Those that will be able to use art to aid them in their self expression will be all the better for it. Those that cannot connect with that place inside them where art exists will have a shallower, less satisfying existence. You can see it at the earliest ages – art is passion and it makes all the difference. But passion is not enough to become an artist. I hope that Mr. Picasso can understand this.

If that were the case than there would be many more artists. I am not talking about Sunday afternoon painters. I am talking about ar worthy of hanging on walls in public spaces. Unfortunatley we live in a culture today where the keys to success are not talent and study but style, celebrity, marketing prowess and the desire to be famous. Mr. Urban Picasso shares more with Paris Hilton then he does with John Adams or John Currin. Or Elizabeth Peyton for that matter.

There is some realy great art out there. there are some great talents expressing themselves in all types of media. You just won’t find most of them on

Mr. Urban Picasso

Posted in art with tags , on November 19, 2008 by barryshapiro

Thanks for your response. You not only have limited talent but you also have a limited vocabulary. No surprise.

Who made me the art critic? Well, it’s my blog so I guess I did. That and a lifetime immersed in art, a BFA from Pratt and time spent teaching art. You’re crass commercialized work just doesn’t cut it and your eBay sales site references are sad. As I said before, enroll in a decent art program and learn to draw. Study the real Picasso before you try to immitate him.

Maybe there is some hope out there…

Posted in art with tags , , , , on November 13, 2008 by barryshapiro

In response to my posting I received an email from one Stephen Lang, apparently an aspiring artist who likes portraiture. He was kind enough to send some examples. He is obviously  not without talent and it seems that with study and work he has some great potential. I know nothing else about him but I am happy to post his notebook sketches here. Don’t know if they are pencil or charcoal but I think you will agree they have an intensity about them.

sketch by Stephen Lang
sketch by Stephen Lang

sketch by Stephen Langsketch by Stephen Lang

Journey to the New – why art sucks

Posted in art with tags , , , , on November 12, 2008 by barryshapiro

Well, I did make it to the city and I did go to see the Elizabeth Peyton show at the new New Museum. First I have to say that the New Museum is one of the best places to view art anywhere and the fact that it is on the Bowery, an area practically synonymous with extreme poverty and disenfranchisement is even more amazing still. 30 years ago when I’d go down to the Bowery it was to buy some junk or supplies in one of the old restaurant supply stores or to see an artist friend who was living on the cheap in some run down loft building. I remember Charlie Yoder had a loft right next to the Bowery Mission and you had to trip over the bums and their puke just to get in the building. Today it’s so trendy I thought I was in another world.

This is the best designed new museum I’ve seen including galleries in Washington, DC, Seattle, New Orleans and Denver right down to the bathroom tile. Bizazzi did the tile and signed their work. They also did the tile in the building lobby of my friend Andy Silverman so that must make his place a real work of art.

Nevertheless, the New Museum building is an absolutely phenomenal space for viewing art. It’s just too bad that the art that is there for viewing is not as interesting or as well executed as the building itself. The museum has not progressed much in that regard from it’s old SOHO days when it was championing the obscure and the marginally talented. The fact is that the chairs were more interesting examples of contemporary art than the art on the walls, especially the small ‘patio’ chairs on rollers on the 3rd floor, though I am not sure who designed them. I also liked the colorful Franz West chairs in the cafeteria. Nothing like comfortably sitting on your bum and looking at bad art. And that brings me to Elizabeth Peyton.

This is a pretty big retrospective covering about 100 small paintings and drawings of  rock stars and friends. Ms P is confusing to me – at first her work looks thin and sketchy, as if these are not finished pieces at all. On closer observation her work requires more of your attention. Her subjects want you to look at them and so you must. They are thin, shallow and vain – just as the paintings are. After a while the sensation of looking at them (the subjects) wears thin too and the experience fades. I was left just looking at not so well painted portraits of rock stars, dead artists and skinny boys and I saw no depth, no intellect, no life force, no real reason to see any more. the real audacity here is not in the work but in the fact that they chose to show the photographs that the paintings were derived from. EP has talent no doubt – an eye for finding images – but her visionis covered over like gauze and the only thing I was left with was “who cares!” Who cares about Kurt Cobain? Who cares about Sid Vicious? Who cares about Tony Just? Who cares about paintings that are not so interesting illustrations from less interesting magazine photographs? Who cares? Obviously the answer is downtown gallery dealers, the New York Times and some very unknowledgable collectors.

painting by Elizabeth Peyton

painting by Elizabeth Peyton

Elizabeth Peyton's Live To Ride

Elizabeth Peyton

EP Reading by Peyton

EP Reading by Peyton


I will say this for Peyton, she is consistent. The show covers a 15 year span and you can’t tell where she began from where she is today. In the catalog available at the show, the Curator Laura Hoptman calls Peyton “a painter of contemporary daily life, seen in sum, (giving) us an idea of the kind of people who have created our popular culture, and thus, an idea of our world over the past decade and a half.” Huh? Who’s life is she representing here? I don’t even think it is the lives of the subjects she paints. Probably it would be closer to say that what she is painting is an absence of life, a copy of a copy of some life she might have glimpsed while waiting in the dentists office. No soul, no mystery, no statement.

Well, maybe the collectors are just being smart and they are recognizing a trend toward the mediocre. Are we coming to a point where there just isn’t any emphasis on real skill? Have we lost the concept of the artist as gifted, as special? Has our mass consumer, computer generated society led us to a new kind of art for the masses? Was Andy Warhol right and everyone will be a star for 15 seconds regardless of talent or intellect?

Case in point is the other artist featured at the New Museum also with two floors of recent and not so recent work. Mary Heilmann, who is also featured in the recent Style Magazine in the Sunday New York Times, is very different from Elizabeth Peyton in terms of style, age and palette but very much like her in terms of how marginal and unremarkable her paintings really are.

painting by Mary Heilmann

painting by Mary Heilmann

painting by Heilmann

painting by Heilmann

Heilmann has been on the scene for a very long time but has never received the kind of acclaim of many of her contemporaries – until recently. I can understand why. Over-hyped? Overrated? Heilmann is a survivor. She’s hung in but does that make her a worthy example of the great abstract art tradition? Hell no! Her work cannot measure up to a Rothko or a Newmann say or a Flavin or a Judd for that matter. Or a Paul Levitt, another survivor who struggled for recognition in the cruel New York gallery scene for years. Levitt eventually succumbed to the financial realities and left for Hawaii. Heilmann stayed on and now has hit some sort of payday. Her exhibit is called “Mary Heilmann: To Be Someone” but who is she? By the way, I think those rolling chairs I liked so much may have been designed by her in which case I think she should stick to furniture making and leave painting to others more skilled with a brush.

But how did we get here? How has our evaluation of art become so degraded? Is it the computer that did this? If you call a pig a duck is it really a duck? Or is it a pig? Is it all really just a matter of agreement? We agree that this is good so therefore it is good. If enough people agree than that is the law of the land. Are we victims of art dealers who know nothing of art and everything of marketing and critics who know what sells magazines and can spin but have never experienced creating art?

On one hand my journey to the New was enlightening and enjoyable and on the other it was disturbing and disappointing. My feeling about Peyton was confirmed and my experience of Heilmann was kind of shocking. I won’t be running back there on my next trip to the City. Instead I will be scowering the galleries in places like Savannah and Sarasota and Portland looking for new art that fertilizes and inspires   the imagination.

I’m a rambling man

Posted in political with tags , , , , on November 12, 2008 by barryshapiro

It’s been a while since I sat down to write this blog and I feel anxious because there is so much I want to comment on but no way to get it all down. I’ve been distracted by work, the election, travel, health issues and my own personal financial crisis and at the end of each day I simply have felt too exhausted to do just one more thing.

First a comment about the election: YIPPEE!

Never before have I heard so many people say that they were proud in that moment to be an American. Never have I seen so many people with tears in their eyes because someone was ascending to the highest office in the land. After voting earlier in the week for the Obama-Biden ticket, Patricia and I arrived in New York City on Tuesday early evening. JFK was abuzz with excitement and restlessness. On the train into town a man who was on his cell phone turned to me randomly and said “He just took Pennsylvania” and smiled. I turned to Patricia with a stunned look and said “Obama just won the election. I cannot believe that this is happening.”

Of course it took several more hours before that prediction became a reality and as we watched on TV from our hotel room and sent and received phone calls from overjoyed friends and family, we celebrated in our own way and went to bed hugging eachother, at peace and awash in hope.

The election is over but the work has just begun. The damage of the Bush Cheney reign of terror will take a long, long time to repair and some of it may be irreparable. The cocksucker is still at it even now as a lame duck and of course the weaklings in Congress are doing nothing. But at least it’s a start. Now, hopefully Obama, assuming they keep him alive, can begin the  world wide healing process and lead us toward a better society – the society we often claim to be but fail to live up to. The society that does not torture, does not lie and slander just to win an election, does not rip off it’s weakest members and give it over to the wealthiest. A society that cares about the health and well being of it’s people – all people – and believes in education and most of all peace.

I wish Barack Obama luck. He’s going to need more than that but a little luck couldn’t hurt either.

When I returned to Florida it had been transformed into a Blue State. I can hardly believe it. I really had written this place off but now I have to eat my words a bit and say that I am proud of the people of this state for electing Obama and overcoming the stigma of the 2000 election fraud. Good job Governor Crist. There are so many things wrong with this country right now that sometimes I feel like I’m in a Phillip Roth novel. Civil liberties that have been taken away by the Bushies, the painful and costly war in Iraq, the financial bailout which is turning into a total fraud, etc, etc and so forth. Who knows where to start?

well, I believe that first we have to start by taking that bailout money from the banks and the assholes at AIG and get it into the hands of middle class mortgage holders who are in the shitter. Then we need to get the money (lobbyists) out of government. then we need to work with Russia, China, India and get our foreign trade and foreign policies in order (by the way those two things go hand in hand). And we must close Gitmo NOW. the faster we do that the better we will start to look in the eyes of the word.

It’s going to be a tough road but, as I see it, we just took a huge first step.