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Improving on mastery

answers for aristotle

This is interesting, from Brain Pickings, a quote from a book on intuition, Answers for Aristotle:

Research on acquiring skills shows that, roughly speaking, and pretty much independently of whether we are talking about a physical activity or an intellectual one, people tend to go through three phases while they improve their performance. During the first phase, the beginner focuses her attention simply on understanding what it is that the task requires and on not making mistakes. In phase two, such conscious attention to the basics of the task is no longer needed, and the individual performs quasi-automatically and with reasonable proficiency. Then comes the difficult part. Most people get stuck in phase two: they can do whatever it is they set out to do decently, but stop short of the level of accomplishment that provides the self-gratification that makes one’s outlook significantly more positive or purchases the external validation that results in raises and promotions. Phase three often remains elusive because while the initial improvement was aided by switching control from conscious thought to intuition—as the task became automatic and faster—further improvement requires mindful attention to the areas where mistakes are still being made and intense focus to correct them. Referred to as ‘deliberate practice,’ this phase is quite distinct from mindless or playful practice.

This reminds me of a point in painting where the painting is good enough, or at least as good as one’s work has been up to this point in my life, and there’s a fork in the road: either you consider it finished or you keep investing time in the areas where it seems to fall short, upon close inspection, but in ways that only I would probably notice. That seems like a self-indulgent or risky investment of time, since it isn’t clear that more work will make the painting more effective in the eyes of anyone else. Knowing what’s “good enough” is, in fact, part of what makes certain quickly executed paintings great. They do their work so economically that more effort would drain the life out of the marks already applied to the surface. I find myself at that fork in the road while doing a lot of paintings now. This passage from Answers for Aristotle also seems to point toward a period of mastery when you realize you can reliably do whatever you have chosen to do, up to that point in your painting life, but then you find yourself asking the question “This is what I can do. What it is I most deeply want to do with all these acquired skills?”

Art’s permission to stare

wallace shawn 2

Wallace Shawn

“I have an enormous appetite to see life as I know it presented in front of my eyes.

That seems strange—after all, why don’t I just walk out into the street? But the thing is that you can’t really look at things out in the street, much less in your own apartment or in your friends’ apartments. You can look in the theater in a completely different way from the way you can look in life. You’re allowed to really look at a play—even stare.

In life, you are a character in the scene. When you’re a character in the scene, you can’t really look at the scene. If someone’s talking to you, you must respond appropriately. You can’t just stare at the person. You can’t look at life with the degree of attention and focus that you can employ when you look at a play, because you have to participate. And the people you’re staring at would find it rude. But if you’re sitting in an audience watching a scene, you can focus your entire being on looking at that scene. It’s a very special privilege.

In . . .  Les Éphémères, they had a scene where a fisherman and his wife and some other people have taken their children on an outing, and they come home, and they put the kids to bed. The kids are already asleep—they’re very young children—and they carry them in asleep, and they put them to bed. It takes probably fifteen minutes, or at least ten. No talking. Now, I have very little interest in family life, in children, et cetera. If you said, We’re now going to do a ten-minute scene about putting children to bed, I would be bored before you even finished the sentence. But it was so true and so real and so interesting. It was beautiful, and I was moved by it.”

–Wallace Shawn, The Paris Review

Leonardo was a loser


difficult yearsGreat short video on working in obscurity. Leonardo: fail, fail, fail, fail, fail . . . success. “John Coltrane practiced the saxophone feverishly every single day for seventeen years before he got his first big hit . . . ” A previous video shows you a whole rogue’s gallery of losers in their twenties who eventually quit losing. “Leonardo got his big break when he was 46.”

Simple hearts

flaubert's parrot“Works of art . . . (create) about them a confluence of simple hearts, a community united not in what they are . . . but in the collective mystery of what they are not and now find embodied before them. Unfortunately, the democracy of simple hearts is founded on the dangerous assumption that gorgeous parrots, hewn from what we lack . . . will continue to make themselves visible and available to us. But this is not necessarily so. Flaubert is dead, and the disciplines of desire have lost their urgency in the grand salons of comfort and privilege we have created for the arts. The self-congratulatory rhetoric of sensibilite continues to perpetuate itself, and in place of gorgeous parrots, we now content ourselves with the ghostly successors of Marie Antoinette’s peasant village, tastefully installed within the walls of Versailles.”

–Dave Hickey, Air Guitar, “Simple Hearts”

Rain and light

Cozy/Rainy Day, Davis Cone, acrylic on canvas

Cozy/Rainy Day, Davis Cone, acrylic on canvas


Saint Bill

Saint Bill

Submissions until July 21 for the all-Bill Murray exhibition at Public Works in San Francisco. It could be so much better than much of what appears here. Opens Aug. 8.

Art vs. ideology

esq-soderbergh-lgFrom Esquire:

SS: It’s at the center of everything, this idea of narrative and stories. So I am always thinking about it: Is there another way to do it? That’s why I was so fascinated and obsessed with the cave paintings in France. I’m like, “Fuck, there it is. The first stories.” I draw a little bit and was like, “Somebody practiced those.” 30,000 years ago you have your forehead out to here, you don’t just pick up a piece of charcoal and do that. That was something that struck me as “Where’s the practice board?” The other thing that I’m interested in, which is tangential, but not unrelated… All art to me is about problem solving. So I’m obsessed with problem solving. Somewhere someone discovered something or somebody was tasked to figure something out and they did. What did they figure out and how? One of the things that I believe is true is the art model of problem solving is incredibly efficient because ideology has no place there. There’s only the thing and what the thing needs to be. When I look around the world and think why is everything working or not working, it’s because it’s entrenched ideology. You can’t solve a problem if you’re sitting down with people who say, “All these ideas are off the table because of what I believe.”


The Great American Interdisciplinary . . . (noun here)

Matthew Barney

Matthew Barney

I saw all of The Cremaster Cycle at the Guggenheim when the show was up . . . God, was it that long ago? My response was something like Bill Murray’s in Tootsie while he was watching the soap opera: “That is one nutty hospital.” My only reservation by the end of the five feature-length films was that I still didn’t know what the eye at the top of the pyramid on the back of a dollar bill is looking at, though I admired Barney’s attempt to cover just about everything else in human life. The rest of the exhibition taught me what the word vitrine means though I’ll probably never have a chance to use that word after this post. So far I’ve taken a pass on “River of Fundament,” a title that makes me smile, as I’m sure it’s meant to, though I really did admire Barney’s filthy Irish energy the first time around. Plus, like me, he grew up in Idaho, so I have to root for him. But being on Barney’s side is like putting money on the New England Patriots, isn’t it? (Go Bills!) This amused me:

“We hear about Matthew Barney’s six-hour film of Norman Mailer’s seven-hundred-page  Ancient Evenings, an unwatchable adapation of an unreadable book, and we think, Hey that might be great! It’s the American way.”

Adam Gopnik, “Go Giants”, The New Yorker, April 21, 20145

(I’m off to attend my son’s wedding in Mexico for the rest of the week, if we can trust United to get us there. We missed our originating flight this morning, which is why I was catching up on Gopnik.)

The 60s

Ed Ruscha, Dennis Hopper

Ed Ruscha, Dennis Hopper

Vernissage likes Polarities

diaper pins from vermissage

The Vernissage approved of my solo show at Viridian Artists, and to read their squib about it, you have to scroll down through images of Coca-Cola machines containing the bodies of dictators, from an exhibit at Unix Gallery. I was amused to see my diaper pins juxtaposed against images from a show containing an effigy of Generalissimo Franco. I’m relieved to know he’s still dead. It’s been decades since I was reminded of that on Saturdays. I liked the photography they posted of “Polarities”, along with the commentary:

Last week, our usual tour in Chelsea presented some fun surprises. Moreover, all the galleries we encountered presented entertaining works that revealed that ironic approach that we really, really enjoy. Viridian Artists Gallery presented a solo by David Dorsey . . . the space  filled with a series of . . . modern still lifes. M&M’s, a burger and pins here take the place of the more classical fruit and vegetables on canvas. An opposite experience . . . gorgeous but, somehow, wrong. The show played with the idea of opposites, portraying, in the same way, objects related to both death and everyday life.

Wikipedia: A vernissage (varnishing, from French) is a term used for a preview of an art exhibition, which may be private, before the formal opening. 

Still Life with Pomegranates

Jos Van Riswick, Oil, 2013

Jos Van Riswick, Oil, 2013


shot of solo show 3

I just got back from a long, lively conversation with probably the most accomplished painter in Western New York, Tom Insalaco. He called yesterday and asked to meet for coffee. He was dropping off a painting at Oxford Gallery and then heading to the Joy Adams lecture at Axom Gallery. So we met at Barnes & Noble. We talked about general cultural decline, the economy, the Pacific vs. the Gulf of Mexico, spastic young men in wheelchairs who make Tom nervous when they are in the proximity of great Dutch paintings, computer billionaires, Odd Nerdrum in prison for tax evasion, the Arcadia gallery in SoHo, the merits of acrylic vs. oil, but more than anything else we talked about Van Gogh and Vermeer. He’s reading the recent book which presents nearly a thousand pages on Van Gogh’s life plus the theory that Vincent was shot by two young men fooling around with a gun. I brought up the two great V’s because they appear to have painted with little or no thought to personal reward or recognition, as Tom himself has done, making a living almost entirely from teaching art. On the subject of Vermeer, Tom said the painter had at least one buyer who acted as a patron, but I maintained it was hard to believe he could have made a living from his work. Van Gogh stands as the finest example of devotion to painting without recognition or reward, and Tom agreed. “He wasn’t crazy. He was highly intelligent and well-read. He and the rest of his family wrote letters constantly to one another. He spoke four languages fluently. You look at the surface of those paintings, the thick impasto, and not a scratch, not a bit of grit—how did he manage to get them back from the fields without damaging them?”

He paused.

“But was it a fulfilling life?”

His remark reminded me of that Ingmar Bergman line from MORE

Mini me

Jens Lennartson with his army of tiny 3D selfies

Jens Lennartson with his army of tiny 3D selfies

Jens Lennartsson had a small company of miniature G.I. Jens created and sent out these action figures to promote himself as a photographer. A photographer I know here in Rochester has done similar things to promote himself as a writer, without the aspect of mass production.

Being a realist and all, I should create an inaction figure of myself.



Bill Creevy, Small Pear, oil on multimedia board, 5"x4"

Bill Creevy, Small Pear, oil on multimedia board, 5″x4″

From the First Street exhibition announcement:

Bill Creevy will show selections from his newest series of miniature oils on paper. Creevy’s imagery varies from intimate depictions of animals, to greenmarket finds, to vintage cars, to airplanes, to small scale panoramic landscapes. Though Creevy’s oils are quite small (many no higher than 5″), his paint application is assertive and open in the manner of the early action painters. Notable for their highly textural surfaces, luminous paint freely applied, and bold rich colors, these small confident paintings pulse with memory and glow with vitality.

Love his artist’s statement:

I like to do simple and straight forward paintings. My scale is small but my paint application is assertive. I let my imagination pick my subject matter and allow my paint strokes to go where they please. I give myself very few restrictions……


panorama 2 solo

panorama one solo

“Polarities”, my solo show at Viridian Artists, opens today. These are a couple shots I took after Lauren Purje and I hung the paintings on Sunday. It’s amazing how many emergency measures need doing at the last minute: one entire frame came apart at all four corners and had to be more or less reassembled securely, which we succeeded in doing, after a few false starts. I had to take another painting out of its frame, and off the stretchers at two corners, in order to tighten it, then reattach the frame. One other painting also had to be tightened, through less drastic measures involving a hair drier we bought on 10th Ave. at a drug store. I brought most of the other tools we needed, anticipating problems before I left Rochester, and Lauren provided the rest. There was a sense of fun in all of it, since so much work over the past five years had gone into making the work itself–any surprises in the delivery and hanging of the work seemed minor problem-solving exercises, rather than real work. Even though I drove the paintings 350 miles in what a friend called a “soccer mom” mini-van I rented from Avis. I informed her that it’s well known how Picasso lugged canvases to Paris in a Dodge Caravan. Really! (However, Van Gogh drove a Saab to Arles.) Here’s a video which I stupidly took in portrait aspect, offering what looks to me now like a keyhole view of the whole show. Reception is Thursday at 5:30 p.m. William Benton will perform on guitar.

Same as it ever was

Same As It Ever Was, Daniel Mosner, oil on canvas

Same As It Ever Was, Daniel Mosner, oil on canvas

From Proverbs and Commonplaces, Oxford Gallery, Rochester, NY.

Survival of the fattest

Gatherer, Doug Whitfield, oil on canvas

Gatherer, Doug Whitfield, oil on canvas

A bird in the hand from From Proverbs and Commonplaces, Oxford Gallery, Rochester, NY.

Art’s a poor excuse, but . . .


RICKY: It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing. And there’s this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it, right? And this bag was just… dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid. Ever. Video’s a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember… I need to remember…

 Now Jane is watching him.

RICKY (distant): Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it… and my heart is going to cave in.


LESTER: I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time… For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars… And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined our street… Or my grandmother’s hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper…And the first time I saw my cousin Tony’s brand new Firebird… And Janie… And …Carolyn.

I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst……and then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life…(amused) You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry…

You will someday.

–script for American Beauty


Still lifes and other oppositions

Jelly Bean Bullets, detail, oil on linen

Treaty: Jelly Bean Bullets, detail, oil on linen

It just occurred to me I ought to post this, since it’s about me and my solo show opening in a week at Viridian Artists. Blogs are so much work; you have to, like, stay on top of everything. Yellow Tail will be served. Cat Casual will play guitar, which is why I’ll be showing up.

DAVID DORSEY “Polarities: No Ideas But In Things”

JUNE 10 – JUNE 28, 2014, Reception, Thursday, JUNE 12, 6 – 8 pm.

In his first solo in his three years as a member at Viridian, David Dorsey’s painting dwells on humble objects or commonplace scenes that bear little conceptual weight, yet in the way they come together for this exhibit, he shows how they can evoke life’s vital oppositions: life and death, dark and light, innocence and experience. Each individual painting, considered alone, represents an exploration of purely perceptual concerns, exploring how all the most traditional elements of painting—light, color, form, and the physical quality of paint—can trigger an immediate apprehension of life as a whole, in ways that words can’t reach.

“I like to focus on things and moments that might be so common, they’re taken for granted, so that you have a fresh impression of what you might see every day,” he says. “Jelly beans. A white clam sauce jar. A cheap stainless steel cream pitcher I bought at Wegman’s. Dahlias I grow for next to nothing by wintering the tubers in my basement and replanting them every spring. The skulls would otherwise be sitting in a box forgotten, somewhere in a college lab. The diaper pins I store in the clam sauce jar. But bullet casings you can buy in bulk from Etsy.”

Completed over the past five years, these eighteen paintings express basic oppositions, sometimes ironically, sometimes literally. The ideas are secondary and usually arise after the work is done. In choosing subjects, Dorsey is concerned with perceptual qualities. As William Carlos Williams put it, “No ideas but in things.” Dorsey lives and works in upstate New York, has shown his work extensively in the U.S. as well as in Europe. He has won various awards, and his work is represented in collections throughout the U.S. He writes regularly about art at Manifest has published his criticism.

“Eggplant and Bok Choy” and “Still Life with Pocket Door” are painted so vividly with almost unreal, vibrant colors that they seize viewers’ attention, enticing with beautiful freshness. The living is cast against the long departed with his third painting, “Skull Unearthed Circa 1930,” a stark work of a pale room washed in clean light with a weathered skull propped atop a cardboard box. The quietude of the work is enhanced greatly by the single black audio speaker sitting silently on a shelf and the nearly toothless, gaping maw of the human remains. —Rebecca Rafferty

 In David Dorsey’s “Skull Unearthed Circa 1930″, the shipping box, scribble-marked “actual human skull”, presents the decapitated human remains in the . . . incongruous setting of a breezy open spring window. Study the sockets and cavities of the sculpted toothless mandible as the artist did in an intricately painted, multiple ridged landscape. One . . . is engrossed in the painter’s facility and fascination with his subject. –Marline Steel, AEQUI

Worlds apart

Worlds Apart, The Urbanites, Anthony Dungan,  oil on canvas

Worlds Apart, The Urbanites, detail, Anthony Dungan, oil on canvas

From Proverbs and Commonplaces, Oxford Gallery, Rochester, NY.