Wednesday, May 16, 2007

have you ever been experienced?



JD and I went to see the Alice Neel documentary at the Cinema Village on Sunday, and then we walked to the park and sat and talked about it for an hour and a half. Here are some thoughts:

Alice Neel was brilliant and an empath. She empathized with fish in a fishtank to the point of desperate tearfulness.

She was not a happy person, said she was "serving her sentence" rather than jumping out the window. But she left the world with dozens of incredible paintings. Maybe happiness is beside the point?

Each painting captured something about its era, but they also seem incredibly fresh and alive, even today... although I'm not sure why or even what that means...

There's an interview with Robert Storr where he talks about photography as a "morbid" slice of time, versus Neel's experience of a person over a longer period of time, the specific nuance and gesture of the sitter.

She did what she wanted to do in life, outside of prescribed gender strictures. She lived as if sexism and misogyny didn't exist, and in some ways paid a price for it.

She had several children fathered by different men; the kids suffered from neglect because mom was so busy with her painting... she maybe shouldn't have had kids?

She was operating outside of the mainstream of accepted painting strictures. The movie villainized ab-ex painters... to Neel it must have seemed like an unyielding, spattery wall that she couldn't breach.

Is it more important to contextualize your work & open yourself up to outside influence & change, or better to stubbornly stick to your vision, even if it's unfashionable?

Quick, Go see this movie.

24 Comments:

At 10:34 PM, Blogger The Capt'n said...

Thanks. This is good to read about, Slothy. She did her thing in a brutally choady scene, omg.
Re: your last question-
I don't know and have wondered about this for a long time, much of my life, in fact. I don't know, while people seem to want and need to fit in, and it is important to be within a movement, still I'm gonna say a person is probably at their best when they find their own way. Though it's probably the harder way to go.

 
At 10:45 PM, Blogger sloth said...

I know, capt'n, when I compare contemporary circumstances with hers, I feel like a total wimp. She was so unbelievably strong. Or crazy?

I don't know about the "outsider vs. insider" question at all. I teach the NIPS brats to be very aware of their contemporaries, but I wonder if I'm doing them a disservice? Argh, this film raised more questions than it answered...

Capt'n I thought of you last night, saw a teevee spesh on big-wave surfing. Those big, huge, fat waves... overwhelming.

 
At 10:50 PM, Blogger sloth said...

by the way, it's official: alex katz is a dick.

 
At 2:52 AM, Blogger The Capt'n said...

Re: alex katz is a dick. Check, affirmative.
Re: "outsider vs. insider." As someone beyond outsider, as in, "out of it," I can't really say I know anything actually.
Re: big waves. Whoa, they scare me even on the tee vee. Those people are crazy.

 
At 10:46 AM, Anonymous fb said...

thanks for your thoughts on this sloth & capt'n. It sounds really good. I need to see the movie i think before i can necessarily comment with any real weight. i am wondering about the unhappiness. was a.n. just super sensitive and empathetic to the point of not knowing how to protect herself? is this 'condition' one of the motivating reasons for her to make paintings? sometimes I wonder if the two are related. I know it is cheesy and cliched but ??

 
At 10:57 AM, Anonymous peeds said...

Thanks for the heads-up on this film. I must see.
I am all for following your own impulses and interests, as fashion is so fickle and it is hard enough to make work--you might as well make what really gets you excited. In my case, it keeps me from the crazies.

 
At 2:08 PM, Anonymous a cappella said...

Well put PD. Making it exciting for your eyes is the key. Can't wait to see what this doc and see her fend off the crazies. Maybe I will learn something. For now I'm going to fling some paint out my window.

 
At 10:26 PM, Anonymous sloths said...

fb, that is a really good question about empathy and the inability to protect herself. I don't know if the empathy led to the depression (or vice versa), but I think she lost herself in other people for the few hours that she was painting them. It breaks your heart to see someone suffering like she did, but I think ultimately painting nourished her in some way enough to make it worth sticking around.

I wonder about the happiness question... we're always told that it's the "important thing," but maybe it isn't true; if ol' Alice could make such amazing work while unhappy, and leave such a phenomenal legacy, then maybe whether or not she was happy when she was making the work is a moot pont. Maybe all this "chasing your bliss" thing today is bullsh*t... that would take the pressure off in a way.

 
At 10:27 PM, Anonymous sloths said...

hi peeds! your painting gets me excited, too... in the pants region.

 
At 10:31 PM, Anonymous sloths said...

capt'n, was alex katz ever a dick to you, in person? cuz if so, I'm gonna have to personally punch him in the nads.

 
At 11:36 AM, Anonymous sappy pd said...

Slothy, you are way too kind. I do have the bathing suit region in my mind as the perfect audience...
I think you ask an interesting question about happiness. But I think we only hear about artists who weren't happy, because that seems to be the way people think artists have to be. I think happiness is hard to define and it doesn't make for a good documentary or film if we see an artist skipping all the way to the studio with a toothy grin (unlees they get those teeth knocked out on their way home). But it is endlessly fascinating to look at an artists work and life and see the connections, or lack thereof. Sometimes I just want to enjoy the work and not think of what an asshole the person was, or how depressed, etc... Only because often I am surprised when the work takes me to a different place and makes me make think of other things that may have nothing to do with how the artist was feeling.

 
At 12:07 PM, Blogger JD said...

I'm glad you posted on this, Sloth, because I can't seem to stop thinking about Alice and her art and her life. I think she was a little bit loopy, but maybe the circumstances and limitations of the times she lived in vs. what she wanted to do (be a great painter) contributed to making her so.

She was a very imperfect mother, though I think she was a loving parent, and perhaps did the best she could (with no help from the dads). Of course, the question of "how good of a father was he" never comes up when discussing male artists of her caliber.

She made incredibly forward-looking and original portraits at a time when no one else was, and the artworld looked down upon her work. I think that's admirable, even heroic. But at the same time, I feel like work should "know" about contemporary art issues. . . it's a thorny question. Is it better to ignore the art world? Maybe so if you're a total genius, but not for most of us? Don't know.

One last thing: I now freaking hate Alex Katz.

 
At 5:00 PM, Anonymous sloths said...

Me too. Is there some way we can embarrass him publicly? Although I guess he kinda already did that himself...

 
At 9:41 PM, Blogger JD said...

I totally want to! Is that wrong? I want to kick his skinny little ass.

 
At 1:41 AM, Blogger sloth said...

Yes. Must cut! Must cut!

 
At 1:42 AM, Blogger sloth said...

JD you are right, where WERE the dads, anyway? I can't imagine what it must have been like to be a single & "unwed" parent in that era. She was a total maverick, socially & creatively.

 
At 1:42 AM, Blogger sloth said...

Hi peedids, I hope you are skipping to the studio with a toothy grin these days... and I would definitely go see that movie. I hope there's lots of profanity?

 
At 11:56 AM, Blogger The Capt'n said...

Hi Slothy,
thanks for having my back, but no, I've never even met the guy. So maybe it was unfair of me to chime in about Alex Katz's dickness based just on what I've heard, but whatever.
Thorny question indeed, JD. I think you're right about it being important to know what's going on & has gone on around you, but ultimately it's all about making it exciting for your own eyes, as pd said. It's so true! You people are smart.
Happiness as a life's goal: go for it! Seriously, I think it's important, and why the hell not, but in terms of an artist having to be happy or suffering, neither is more true than the other I don't think. Who an artist is as a person, and their personal circumstances, context, story, etc. can make it easier to understand their work, or make it just that much more interesting. But sometimes...I don't know...I almost don't want to know. Like for example, knowing that David Lynch is a Reaganite republican.
Also there's the whole thing of anonymous artists. And the old example of things like the pyramids being built by slaves. Isn't happiness a modern concept?

 
At 2:16 PM, Anonymous a cappella said...

So is Alex Katz in this doc being a dickhead? I haven't seen it yet. Or is it just assumed he is based on his insipid portraits of boring people? Or, he is secretly making fun of his subjects and somehow subverted the system becoming successful? Don't know. Never really inspired to look into it but if he is publicly being a dick, then thats the worse. Whats the deal?

 
At 2:16 PM, Anonymous corns said...

Hi Sloths. Thanks for this thoughtful post. The happiness question is interesting. A.N seemed to have lived a full life dispite herself, unlike someone like Bacon who killed himself with drink.

I dont think happiness is a great goal in and of itself, I think you stumble on Happiness on your way to other goals. I read one of the Dalai Lama's books a while back, it was all about our Western infatuation with Happiness eventually leading to misery. What I got from it was that Happiness is a selfish goal, but you might find happiness through practicing kindness and compassion. You are so right that A.N. used painting to escape from her saddness, one has to be totally in the present moment when painting, especially when painting portraits from life as decisions have to be made quickly and also, there is the distraction of another person. A.N. has a daughter who is a GREAT painter, she's got the magic touch. I can't remember her name right now. She might of had a shitty childhood, I dont know, but it's good she's here to make her paintings.

I think about that Outsider/insider issue with students too and not wanting to over-expose students to the trends of the day, but then I figure that if they are really good artists, they will have their unique vision no matter what.

Hope yer having a good painting day. xo

 
At 3:10 PM, Anonymous corncub said...

Ok, one more thing because I'm avoiding work.

I wonder if being happy or not affect your work? If I look at paintings I made from years I was really depressed next to stuff I made when i was feeling ok, I'm not sure I'd see the difference in the work. But empathy is different, it seems like a good trait for a painter to have. There is definitely a connection between empathy and depression. We are all empathic, empathy is how we socialize from the moment we're born. We feel the same feelings of other people, it all about mirror neurones in the brain. You react to actions or emotions as if you are expeirencing them yourself while maintaining a seperate sense of self. But depression screws with ones ability to understand the cause of emotions. A depressed empatic person would believe they are responsible for others feelings, in a sense, they do not protect themselves the way a non-depressed person would. They misattribute the cause of the saddness. Often they think they are to blame or responsible and there is guilt.

Interesting to think about A.N. as depressed empath merging with the person she paints. Maybe her mental condition is
perfectly suited to portrait painting as fb suggested

 
At 3:14 PM, Anonymous corny said...

Sorry, was that totally unclear?

 
At 4:52 PM, Blogger Reginald Primrose said...

Thanks for the news. I found the trailer on youtube. Post more painter videos please, shows, interviews, etc. Bring a camcorder with you when you go out. A blog with painter videos would be cool.
http://primrosetravelogue.blogspot.com/

 
At 1:49 PM, Anonymous aok said...

I agree with the capt'n. The harder way is generally the best way when it comes to forging one's own way although I have nothing against instinctive shortcuts. A friend of mines's son worked on this film. He wasn't familiar with Alice Neel before he was hired to assist.

 

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