Sunday, April 15, 2018

vp180413 Bill Ritchie’s Mistake 

Friday the thirteenth – I’m not a superstitious person, but it was unlucky for me that I made a mistake when I was a young man. My mistake was to take the word of the UW on face value and put my trust in its code of ethics.
The institution is a monolith of bricks and mortar and inert, therefore it has no consciousness. The buildings are the result of hard work and craft following the vision of social and government bodies and put in place, in this case, largely by taxpayers. It’s a project taken on in good faith through the American democratic process.
However, once erected, it’s populated by a cross-section of society—crooks and prophets. While the written words in its lofty goals and mission statements ring true to American values, the practices that ensue in the name of teaching, research, practice and service are left to chance.
Chance occurrence got me the UW job and saved me from Johnson’s conscription. Chance occurrence is the subtext of my short career at the UW and will probably characterize my life. For example, on April 14, 2018 two things occurred, by chance on the same day that illuminate my career.
It was by chance I had communication with two graduates from the UW—one was a telephone conversation with a retired art history professor who was a video art student in my class; the other was an artist who took one drawing class from me in the first years of my work.
The first—the art history professor emeritus —was an example of what was best about my teaching years, the kind of person I was fortunate to have met as we again engaged in college-level discourse. We touched on living issues, with mention of key figures in philosophy: Novalis, Hermann Hesse and Joseph Cornell, for example.
The second former student—the one who was in a drawing class I taught—sent two postcards. On these cards he explained (I might say instructed me) that I should forget his bad conduct when he was in my class and handed in a drawing giving me the finger. “I was in my drug-addled days. Put it in the past,” he wrote.
The two extremes—the first the kind of graduate worthy of the PhD and with a long teaching career behind him (and capable of decades more productivity), and the second the kind that made my tenuous, early years of teaching a daily Hell.
The UW art school proved to be a mediocre school. It’s a wonder that the history student had a successful career. As for the other, he muddles through an art world that illustrates that Walter Benjamin’s observation that art became not the pursuit of culture, but of politics.
It was politics that kept me from kicking the drawing student out of my class as there were faculty who were looking for a controversy to help terminate my career, and politics was the way. Once out, I’d be drafted—not by another college but by the army. More than one student drove me crazy with pranks and distractions as I tried my best to teach well.
By the time the history major enrolled in my video art class, I had got footing on a pathway that, ironically, got me fired in the long run. I did my teaching and research assiduously—inspired in great part by the high-quality students I met and whose demands for honesty I fulfilled.
The fact was that the UW was, and is, a mediocre art school nonetheless drew in gifted and serious people gave me joy to be part of it. As it happened, from outside the university I was encouraged in every way—grants, recognition by renowned artists and academics and my family. All this despite my youth and my middling educational background.
I did the best with what I had. In my political naiveté, I didn’t know the lengths to which the faculty would go to hammer down one who raises the bar higher than mediocrity allows. Now, however, I have lost some (but not all) of my naiveté because now I must now write my autobiography and face the fact that I, too, am mediocre. It’s finals.
There is something to salvage, however, like a second-hand art career which other people—young and old—may find useful. Like something useful you find in a thrift store, there are examples in physical evidence stored in our home and art gallery—evidence both of success and failure, and I kept a lot of it.
The ineffable remains of my former students’ achievements may find a new life. The second student bought one of my craft works, a Mini Halfwood Press, number 27. He can send it to a foreign country as as gift to a Colombian woman who is striving to educate people there and who cannot afford to buy my press new.
The historian can write a book about the generation we experienced at the UW which, truly, was a hurricane of new ideas in visual and performing arts and whose leaders are continuing to produce, including himself by his book. That period has been overlooked by less insightful writers in the Pacific Northwest.
In the former I would be able to show people in other nations—twenty of which I have contacts in thanks to the Halfwood Press business—the Americans are not all crazy, selfish fools, that there are among its artists some good-hearted and generous ones making amends for the flawed education system of which they took part.
In the latter’s work we would have a valuable document to serve as a warning to incoming creative people—both Americans and from abroad—as to the dangers of ignoring the value of honest, hard work and scholarship necessary to reconstruct what decades of tomfoolery and chicanery has almost destroyed in the US and abroad.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

180404 Fallacy of the Inkubator 

My dream of a printmaking center incubator is based on false assumptions. I projected my vision on a group that doesn’t exist, like searching for a lost tribe in a magical land.
Call the land Emeralda, but recognize it’s imaginary, a figment of my imagination. Repeatedly I am confronted with the reality that my contacts are far from qualified to share startups in the printmaking world.
The printmaking world I envisioned may have had a chance to develop from the UW program, but there was no one among the faculty who desired it. My show of strength and commitment to innovation and new ways of thinking only diminished those around me.
I raised the bar too high, capping off my demonstration with a trip around the world to prove the validity of my great notion. The faculty was cowardly and too comfortably ensconced in mediocrity to care; I only showed their weakness and ignorance.
Ignorance in the sense of “ignore-ance.” So I had to go. To stay was dangerous to my health, actually—like the young, green cucumber thinking to stay young among old pickles in a jar.
So, as Elmer Gates concluded at the end of his life, it had to be that way.
Now I am finding that in the wider community, too, cowardice and benign comfort has dulled the enthusiasm of those around me to the point that no one wants to be part of the growth industries I think are connected to the printmaking world.
No one wants to start a printmaking channel on the Internet or TV. No one wants to share in a halfwood press factory. No one wants to start up a sip ‘n print. Seniors printmaking, young printmakers – all these potentially profitable businesses are possible, but no one wants to discuss it, let alone sustain interest in trying.
There was, generations ago in the pre-1980 period, enthusiasm for taking new routes to success and a handful of people I happened to meet in the art school took those routes. They were lucky and found a growth economy and atmosphere of permissiveness. Their outrageous art work was in harmony with the industries of growth and experimentation and they struck gold.
The academic soil at the UW is depleted. The success of the tech businesses is at a plateau and scattered worldwide. The US’ national mood is one of defeatism and permissiveness.  Our government is moribund.
Where do I go now? I will not withdraw into myself, although it does appear that I am. As Muriel Strode said, “I will not follow where others have gone. I will make my own way, and I will leave a path.”
The fallacy of the tenets of an International Print Center Inkubator is evident, but it is still possible. Pressure may grow to make it real. It may not be here on my avenue, but somewhere.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

180331 Bored meeting 

The audience would be quite bored looking at slides and listening to some old man droning on about his art—art he made in a bygone era, art of questionable value. It’s an image of women wearing strange headdresses.
The people in the audience, especially those who are twenty-something and checking their smart phones, are restless. They’re waiting for this to end. One of them, in the back, gets up quietly and heads for the door.
“This drawing is valued at $1,049.76,” the speaker says.
The one in the back hesitates and turns to look again. A thousand-forty-nine?

“The colored pencil drawing measures 24-by-18 inches, or 432 square inches. The most recent market value of the artist’s work is $2.43, therefore the value is $1,049.76. It represents 432 shares in the International Print Center & Inkubators development.”
The above is fiction, of course, and I am the speaker, droning on about my drawing.
The drawing has a back story which may or may not interest viewers. It’s a story about an art professor exercising his imagination and trying to make life drawing more interesting to contemporary drawing by emulating theater and film costumery. He fashioned headgear for the model to wear. It was a lightweight affair made of cardboard and tinfoil. Was it effective? Are the drawings more interesting than they would have been as drawings of women’s heads?
Who can say? The point is, there is a back story, and the drawing is the only testimony that it ever happened. The reproduction above, a hasty snapshot made in my gallery by my wife and daughter, is testimony that it exists, and proof that there was—back in 1967—such a drawing session. That there is a digital file now, poor as it is in terms of production quality, is a step toward validating its existence, its authenticity as an original work in the world of original drawing from live models.
Enhanced as it was by the head gear is a small indication of the artist’s intent toward making the drawing a better work of art by adding a narrative element.
Most important of all, the action continues from the day in 1967 that it was made, in the idealism and optimism that art exists at all persists in that it can be repeated in digital form. I am thinking of Robert Rauschenberg’s observation regarding repetition of works of art—that unless the work is repeated again and again, the art work doesn’t exist at all. There is a language of art, he said, and to understand the language it must be repeated.