Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Clyfford Still | Lefsetz Letter

I was in Denver for the opening of the Mission Ballroom.

But that’s a whole ‘nother story.

The following day, my friend John took me to the Clyfford Still Museum. Actually, I’m the art history major, but he seems to see more art than I do, hell, he’s a member!

You see Clyfford Still said that after he died, all his work should go to a city that built a museum solely to show his work. And that ended up being in Denver, spearheaded by John Hickenlooper when he was mayor.

That’s one of the things wrong with the debates, it’s hard to focus on accomplishments, everybody’s so busy tearing others down. If the Democrats want a centrist, Hick would be great. Biden’s just a faux pas away from blowing himself up, and is ten years older.

But this is not about politics, this is about art.

You’ve seen Clyfford Still’s work. You’d know it if you saw it again.

But this is not about the work per se.

There are two floors in the museum. The second contains Still’s paintings and drawings. The first contains mementos and documents from his life. Still was a pack rat, he kept everything.

In one letter, Still excoriated all the artists imitating him. He said it was all right at first, but then you had to go your own way. And the artists Still listed were and still are household names. You see art is about pushing the envelope, going on your own personal journey. Still was trying to be legendary. And on this journey…

He stopped exhibiting his work. COMPLETELY! Oh, he’d already made a splash in New York, but in the sixties, he sent a letter to his gallerist, and told her it was over, no offense, he just didn’t want to show his work anymore…BECAUSE HE DIDN’T WANT TO BE SUBJECT TO THE BLOWBACK, THE CRITICS…he was worried it would change his art, make him stray from his own vision.

Whew… Nothing could be more prescient in terms of today. You make it, people criticize it, and you’re wounded, or change to suit these people who may not like what you do anyway, and if you give them what they want, they still hate it.

That’s the conundrum.

There are fine artists and commercial artists, and there’s nothing wrong with the latter, but if you’re one of the former…

As Steve Jobs said, you should try to put a dent in the universe.

It’s a lonely pursuit, and oftentimes attention comes and goes, if it comes at all. But you’ve got to keep on trying.

Now in an era of wannabes, you’ve got to know when the experts/insiders first saw Still’s work, they were blown away, he got a show almost immediately. It’s always that way with art, people have a visceral response. And no one is interested in meh.

So, if you’re not getting attention, that does not mean you should stop, it just means if you’re a true artist you’ll keep doing it, irrelevant of whether you get any attention or make any money.

That’s what music is today, about money. Commerce. The focus is not on art, and we’re not getting much.

Oh, don’t get your knickers in a twist, of course there are great musicians out there, but the general belief is that you make a hit and then leverage your brand for an entree into clothing, perfume, selling…. We can’t stop hearing that Kylie Kardashian, I think that’s the one, is now a billionaire based on makeup. That’s a business story, that’s not art.

Art is a lonely road.

Clyfford Still Museum

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