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Monday, October 3, 2011


by kees van dongen

The cold of winter is moving in. The 40s at night, almost 60 the daytime high. Mice are moving into the house. Caterpillar is at an age where she thinks mice are fun to watch. Sometimes during the day she lies on the ground near the birdfeeder and watches the birds. She used to eat them. Now that she's not going after birds, I feel it's safe to have birdfeeders. Otherwise a birdfeeder becomes a trap. Getting snowbirds, nuthatches, gray-black-white warblers, some black & white striped warblers, cardinals, towhees, chickadees. Used to get doves until the warblers started coming around. The warblers dart so fast and turn so unpredictably, I suspect the doves that are shy birds stay away from the swift warblers. Chipmunks run all over the ground under the birdfeeder picking up the leavings the birds sprinkle onto the ground. The squirrel that jumped onto it from a tree has stopped coming around, evidently disappointed by the little seeds.

Putting up the birdfeeder has changed the dynamics around the house. For several years I had a lot of birds, then 3 kittens were born here, I kept them, they ate all the birds and the trees around the house were without birdsong. Only one cat left and she's 14, uninterested in birds knowing she's not fast enough anymore. Now, it's a constant activity of birds flitting around. Since the warblers found the feeder, their flying tactics are amusing to watch. They have the acrobatic sense of flying of swallows. One will come flying in top speed from the woods across the road and with wings and tails spread they hit the air brakes and land on a twig or the top of the birdfeeder. The warblers crawl around on tree trunks like woodpeckers. Without tracing their family tree I'd say they have woodpecker in them, going by the way they move and walk around on tree trunks and big limbs pecking for tiny bugs.

The 20th Century saw a tremendous advance in science, learning about the other animals on the earth with us, the fish. The whole of life on earth has been studied all the way to running shrimps and bats on treadmills. Psychology has studied our ways. Anthropology tells us where we came from. Astronomy has made discoveries unthinkable before the 20th Century. We've just been through the greatest Renascence or Classical Age that's ever been on the earth. Like art in the 20th Century left the aesthetic of traditional thinking in the dust and went its own way with little to no positive attention from the public. Science left traditional thinking too, left the public in the wake. Now, at the end of the century when the renascence is over and the reformation that inevitably follows sets in, the public follows the mind of Karl Rove, comes up with the Tea Party to tear down all that we've gained in the 20th Century, because they don't understand it. Because they've been watching television all the time the discoveries of this most recent renascence were passing them by. Mary Tyler Moore Show was so more interesting than news about the Hubble telescope.

This reformation we've been going into, since 1980 when the Reagan team made a deal with the Ayatollah Khomeini team to help Reagan win the Presidency, is a result of sudden advances of knowledge in all fields of human interest. Art has become incomprehensible to just about everybody, even provincial artists, or maybe them especially. It's ridiculed on television whenever it's mentioned. Schools don't teach it because the teachers don't get it and their teachers didn't get it, so we skip that chapter. My Sophomore Lit professor didn't allow time at the end of the semester to cover the 20th Century. He stopped at The Great Gatsby. Anything since then was a blank for him. Sure, everybody has heard of Picasso, the guy that has eyes and noses going every which way. But that's it. Nobody much outside the art world has heard of Marcel Duchamp, who was far more an influence in Modern Art than Picasso. They were in Paris at the same time. I've seen it said that Picasso was the last 19th Century artist and Duchamp was the first 20th Century artist. I can see it, in that Picasso was in the tradition, breaking out of it. Duchamp was like there was no tradition. He thought so far outside the box there was no box.

The 20th Century was a tumultuous time. Look at art as psychic visions of the collective mind. Look at movies as collective dreams, dreams we have together. Now that the period of greatest discovery, a word I'll use for not being able to think of a better word, is in the past, it has taken us to where we are technologically now. Nearly everyone is asleep to how we got here. It's too great a giant leap for the popular mind to handle. Now we have the reaction. We have an entire nation of a popular television culture afraid of the word evolution. It's almost as bad a word now as nigger. It's not polite to talk about evolution. The republican wing-nuts don't approve. I'm most interested by the nature of this reformation in its religious backlash. Of course, it's the Baptists. The Baptists are dead set on there being only One Way through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Onward Christian Soldiers. Kill em all. Muslims are dead set on there just being one way, the way of the Koran. Duh, it's the same as the Bible with a few extra chapters. Kill em all. The Jerusalem religions. The Baptists wanting to pull us back because Jesus Christ is Lord. Muslims wanting to pull us back because non-muslims are infidels. To Baptists, Muslims are pagans.

It looks like this whole line of civilization called Western came through the waist of the hourglass that is Jerusalem, we've divided up into wars against each other, because at the foundation of each one is the Faith that there is Just One Way to the pearly gates. A man died and went to heaven. His guide was taking him around, introducing him to various ones. It was a big garden party, fruits and vegetables on tables. His guide explained the way things are in Heaven. He saw Hindus and Buddhists, Catholics and Methodists, Sikhs, folk religions galore. He noticed he didn't see any Baptists. He asked his guide why there were no Baptists. The guide said, They live in a big mansion on a hill off in the distance. They believe they're the only ones here. We don't bother them. All three of the Jerusalem religions share the Old Testament value of hitting solves problems. It's like when the three religions get together it's the war to end all wars. They're all so dead set on themselves and so full of hate for the others, this tension can only be burned off in war. And there's a lot of hate between the Jerusalem religions.

The art of the 20th Century has been the only thing that has ever interested me entirely. I didn't know it for a long time coming out of a Kansas tradition. Saw an interview with NY artist Robert Ryman, where he said he had never seen art until he arrived in NY from Nashville. The interviewer couldn't believe he'd had no exposure to art before coming to NY as a jazz musician in the 50s. He couldn't believe she didn't get it that there is no interest in art where he came from. The South for one thing, Tennessee for another, and Nashville for another. Aesthetically, coming from Wichita, Kansas, is about the same as from Nashville, Tennessee. Lotsa cowboy hats, cowboy boots and pickups, but not many Jackson Pollocks around or any big New York art. Out in the provinces the art world has passed provincial artists by and many resent it, many ignore it, many try to imitate it, all different responses. For my own painting, I figure I'm not in NY and I'm not in a city. I'm not in the running for artist of the year. I'm not in the running for anything. I'm painting for the people I live among. I paint them. They are my world.  

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