I won’t get fooled again

In 1966 I figured out how to use acrylics to simulate tempera with the depth of oil, and was using this method at the School of the Art Institute in 1970. Many people expressed admiration while one girl was really pissed at me, since I unwittingly used a photo lab that was under construction as studio space, getting paint all over.

I overheard some of my fellow students asking our instructor how I did it, and he replied, dismissively, that “all I did” was use expensive sable brushes, a cartoon, ink wash shading, grisaille and glaze. I was in, I felt, in no position to ask for more recognition, having been denied admission to SAIC three years before because of my academic grades by a fat slob in SAIC’s admission office.

You have to cultivate people, avoid speaking truth to power, and build a reputation but my family always believed you should conform, be silent, work hard, and be good at what you do. Well, last August 31, I had my hopefully last demonstration of what happens when you do this: let go with one hour’s notice after five years of great classes, six days a week, being told it wasn’t a termination, just a contract non-renewal.

[Fought that using Hong Kong’s Labour Relations department and won. Working two new jobs four days a week and much happier.]

Today, the prospect of recognition as an artist is close to zero…hell it is different from zero by an infinitesimal amount (which means it is zero). This is because I’ve lost forty years trying and failing for recognition, something for which as a narcissistic personality I have more than usual need, in a completely different field.

But this is freeing, since I only have to paint as best I can, and use other skills to hustle for some sort of living. At the same time, I can self-promote cheaply using the Internet. In 1970, you had to have a friend with a camera photograph your work. In 1982 you could get one of those old instant Polaroid cameras and watch the snapshots develop, but I was using these to take pix of the children instead…they loved watching the chemicals develop.

But younger artists need to learn to develop their careers. An excellent source of advice is Elizabeth Briel, who put together my one man show in 2007.

You need to learn how to bullshit about your work. In 1970, I was so shy that the instructor discovered he could say cruel things and get away with it: “thees hand looks like a bunch of zee grapes” and “eet ees foolish to use a computer to preent a table of divine proportions”.

Zee hand looked, in a painting that is probably in a midden somewhere in Seattle, like zee bunch of grapes because it was chopping downward to make a point. And, of course, I was a pioneer in using the computer in the arts.

The problem is that if you have a passive aggressive shy personality and you are a narcissist, people will walk all over you. And if your family thinks “being successful” is being a lawyer who defends corporations’ rights to screw their employees, or being a medical billing clerk, well, you’re toast.

Learn how to listen to criticism and use it. Elizabeth doesn’t like many of my works, especially my “Barbie Dolls” as she calls them, supermodels drawn exclusively from my fevered imagination, and my own kynesthetic sense in my own workout practice. But this only means I need to be better as regards the supermodels, use live models where possible, and, when she likes something, it means much more.

You are as an artist the Unknown, flying into the Unknown. If you’re writing a computer program, you know what the final result should be: it should work, and be elegantly written as source code.

But when Glenn Gould sat down at Columbia to record the Goldberg Variations, I don’t think he fully knew what he wanted. He knew what he didn’t want: the harpsichord sound of antiquity which would situate Bach in an ancient church and not speak to us. He also saw the notes on the page and happened to have the perfect hands and body to deliver these notes without rubato or mush. And then he worked hard.

But that doesn’t begin to explain anything, for the spaces between the notes are just as important: the microtiming. In the legs of Peter’s Crazy Aunt, there are a number of subtle depressions, in the back of the lower leg, under the patella and when the leg becomes a foot. Accurate anatomy cannot begin to scientifically describe them statically since they are the product of movement. Nice girls who look like her won’t pose for me since they make more money working as models at IFC, and photographs (like CDs) conceal as well as reveal.

Therefore I have to transmit the feeling in my own legs through my hand to the canvas which is really, really weird.

“Edward G. Nilges in special shorts, 3 Dec 2010”


2 Responses to “I won’t get fooled again”

  1. Good advice for the neophyte and aspirants. I tried to hawk my primitive line drawing cartoons for 35 years until I got an editor and made $150 He has 50 more on file but sometimes cannot raise enough money to fund his very high quality quarterly. I had my teaching job so it was a delightful hobby with that “someday” hope. One very, very prominent cartoonist did respond to an expression of frustration comment of mine by saying there are probably just a few dozen people in the US that make a living at this and that if you can pull in $500 to $2000 a year your are doing well until you have the fortune of becoming a super star. Of course every cartoonist’s hope is to make publication in New Yorker which is the ultimate. Sadly nowadays the cartoons are the mags only redeeming quality. You can look at the portfolio of hundreds of rejected cartoons they provide. I can’t believe the astonishingly fantastic art and humor that remains unrecognized. Mt blog only 4 months old and after 10 days an editor in Australia wanted to publish one of my cartoons and now he has a dozen on file for future issues. From just this post I see you are talented to paint with words too.

    • spinoza1111 Says:

      Thank you! My assumption is that I shall not succeed in gaining fame at this late date. However, I find it necessary to paint and write anyway, and live by my other skills modestly.

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