..but the pharmacist’s wife, she was nice,
she was tired of bombs under the pillow and hissing the Pope,
and she had a very nice figure, very good legs,
but I guess she felt as I: that the weakness was not Government
but Man, one at a time, that men were never as strong as
and that ideas were governments turned into men;
and so it began on a couch with a spilled martini
and it ended in the bedroom: desire, revolution,
nonsense ended, and the shades rattled in the wind,
rattled like sabers, cracked like cannon,
and 30 dogs, 20 men on 20 horses chased one fox
across the fields under the sun,
and I got out of bed and yawned and scratched my belly
and knew that soon very soon I would have to get
very drunk again.
i wanted to overthrow the government but all i brought down was somebody’s wife Charles Bukowski
Most Postmodern artists like to take the view that the Romantics were a bunch of unbathed ne’er do wells out to rape and pillage innocents while self promoting the prowess of their genitalia. One has but to look at the press following the collapse of the (Media Romantic) 80s art stars to see this kind of anti-Romanticism at work. Even now, smug and content in our post-structural bubble, we still enjoy taking the occasional pot shot at Schnabel, the epitome of the POMO ROMO. When I was young Jules was a hero, and I still have a soft spot for his larger than life existence and hit-or-miss work – Palazzo Chupi or no. OK, I’ll concede that our widely held beliefs about Romantics bring up pictures of Jim Morrison, Prince or Joseph Beuys (go ahead insert your own wild eyed Modern Romantic.) But surely there has to be something redeeming about the idea of life that those personalities embody, something that we pedestrian Postmoderns might connect with?
Our fear (condecension?) for the Romantic brings to mind a scene in Mel Brooks’ movie Young Frankenstein, an OTT parody based on the very Romantic Mary Shelley’s classic tale of genius, morality and responsibility. At one point a local family hears that the Monster is running amok in the countryside once again. The resigned and frightened couple start to batten down the hatches. The husband, as he’s nailing a board across the window, says in a thick Germanic accent to his wife – “Ven monsters ist loose, boards must be tight!” And I think that line pretty much describes the art world at the moment. The whole fuckin’ place has been boarded up against rampaging Romantic Monsters in order to protect delicate POMO sensibilities from any threat of aesthetic carnage.
Fear, Stasis and Profit
There are many times these days when an artist’s life seems a bit skewed and out of whack, and this usually happens because money has somehow warped our daily realities. I understand that Art is just a job complete with its emails, phone calls, paperwork and contracts, but really, what could be more fucking stagnating when communing with the Muses? I also understand that few artists actually get to do these sort of “business-y” things while actually making a living from doing them. I mean, I know quite a number of artists that do these same things and haven’t made a frickin’ sou. Many of my friends who are still striving for success in the gallery business world try to fall in line with the moment. They keep their predilections to themselves, network proficiently, go to openings, glad hand with business cards and never, ever, EVER say anything untoward or critical of anyone who has a gallery connection. I understand this urge to hide one’s Monster. One must go along to get along – it’s called Politics. There are always mouths to feed. But after a while this kind of “professional” behavior takes it toll on any artist, makes that Monster growl a bit.
Most of us became artists because something didn’t fit. If we were good at “going along to get along” why the fuck would we have become artists in the first place? Seriously, did any of us truly believe that we could make a living at this very, very, very specialized “profession”. I was told in no uncertain terms by everyone that I came in contact with that I had the “professional” skills to make minimum wage. The stories of alienation and deprivation, the longing for acceptance that I still hear (after all this time) from my friends lead me to believe that many artists have learned the hard lessons about getting along and going along at the end of one mean-ass stick. Look, as we live through this strange and scary economic period, it sometimes feels as if the Monster isn’t outside, but looking back at us in the Mirror. You may ask – So what does all this have to do with the Romantic impulse Marko? Well I think it probably has more to do with that rainbow colored Monster in the Mirror – whether it’s green with envy, blue with melancholy, yellow with jealousy or red with rage – that Monster is getting harder to contain.
The other day as I was sitting in my studio – fiddling with the zipper on my neck, a score of half finished paintings waiting for me to make a decision – the absurdity of this moment became painfully apparent. Even if I finished these paintings I had absolutely no intention of showing them to anyone. Why? Well that’s complicated and personal, but my reticence at sharing has a lot to do with the fact that painting has become, at least for me, something very complicated and extremely personal. I was trying to explain this reticence to Paul Corio while making a right mess of my reasoning, I’m sure. Paul was kind enough to want to know what I had been up to and patient enough to listen to my Monster make incomprehensible guttural grunts. It’s in those moments of fumbling inexactitude that one instantly realizes the bad faith involved in keeping the solitary studio. After all why the fuck paint if one does not make one’s visions available to share? And this leads to yet another problem that the Romantic Monster must come to terms with at this stage of our Postmodern development. Irony is now so ingrained in our relationships that absolutely no one takes anything seriously, not unless there’s money to be made or a gun planted in one’s face (though at this point I think money has more juice than a glock – look how the bankers on Wall Street gravely injured this country.) The question is do we take our Monsters seriously, or more precisely, should we take our Monsters seriously?
What artist shuns success, acceptance, a show at the Guggy, money from Brant? And if you as an artist do just that, what kind of artist does that make you, does it make you a Monster? With so many striving for professional acclaim it seems sacrilegious to not strive. It’s as if you’re not holding up your end of the market game, you’re not playing “fair”. It takes hundreds, maybe thousands of artists to fail in order that one may succeed – that is how the corporate system works – thousands for one. It’s the same on Wall Street, all that money for the select few comes from somewhere, all that “success” comes out of the struggles of thousands, if not millions. And that brings us to our Bukowski moment. What happens when you’re part of the thousands, the millions? If Prince hadn’t been lucky as well as talented would he be working at the local college music department? If Joseph Beuys didn’t teach at a major university would he have had followers? If, if, if and if… it’s the lament of the Romantic, a melancholy melody that gently accompanies the wounded soul as it ascends into the golden light of heavenly acceptance. In the end I don’t think it’s the Romantic we disparage, it’s the failed Promise of the Romantic.
…men were never as strong as their ideas
Ah, this then is the double edged sword, or should I say the double edged pen? Nietzsche, the 19th Century’s version of the ball busting philosopher, was never as strong as his words, never as fierce as his ideas. He wound up seriously ill, insane and vilified as most great Romantic poets do. Byron, the rock star poet, would try to overthrow the Ottoman Empire, but instead, succumbed miserably to illness and bloodletting before the battle ever took place. Jim Morrison, off to Paris to write his unfinished Masterpiece, croaked in a bath tub, drugged, drunk, bearded and bloated. There’s always a huge gaping gap between the talk of what could be and the actualities of what is. Maybe in the end it’s the smaller victories that the Post-Postmodern Romantic should be looking for. Like Bukowski, maybe the post-historical rebellion is about the small moments when you can get your leg over. Maybe one can find a Romantic individuality through a small, dangerous, passionate connection. Maybe like the Monster, we go out and grab Madeline Kahn and have our way with her seven or eight times before boasting and bragging to the boys. Maybe the deep emotional involvement, the very personal physical action, should be about a kind of sharp interior dissent – a rebellious collusion between lovers so to speak. (Look what Picasso accomplished.) Maybe that is what we should be looking for both in our lives and in our studios. At least until the next text message…
I know that I’ve lost many of you at this point. There’s very little patience among polite company for such an elliptical discussion. There’s very little glory in talking down governments, institutions, markets, academies and “success” if the sum of one’s real world actions succeed only in bringing down a faceless somebody’s wife. But in Buchowski’s moment of nothingness there is the reality of his presence, the physicality of the moment, and the realization that the lost Romantic Monster will soldier on in spite of his weaknesses and failures. Maybe those weaknesses are the beginning of something larger and more powerful than men and their ideas. At least we can hope.
For more on the value of Romantic Monsters go here.
The nuts and bolts of of a new Romanticism to come…