'Three Painters Witness Occupy Oakland and Occupy San Francisco' on youtube I recommend that you watch this eight minute video in its entirety before reading today's blog. Don't miss the images in the credits. Enjoy...
We all know that the rebellious young artists who gathered around Camille Pissarro in the 1870's and 1880's gave birth to the first modern art movement, Impressionism. But the radical political origins of this movement are not generally understood. 'Pissarro's People' at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco Legion of Honor highlights the radical ambiance within which this movement was born and the central role of Camille Pissarro, a life-long anarcho-syndicalist, in nurturing and shepherding the movement. Artists as diverse as Gauguin and Cezanne acknowledged their artistic debt to the man Cezanne referred to as the 'humble and colossal Camille Pissarro'
The democratic egalitarianism of anarchism inspired these artists to work together in a rare spirit of collegiality which enabled Impressionism to advance into virgin territory. Because these artists were comfortable on the street, among the people, their work shares a universality that continues to engage the public.
As international collectors swarmed the 'School of Paris', artists scrambled to create new 'isms' and modernism, nurtured on political radicalism, morphed into radical experimentation which remained vital up through Abstract Expressionism.
Pop Art marked the end of the original radical impulse and the beginning of an unhealthy union of the marketplace and art institutions.
The Triumphalism of the 'American Century' which led to the absurd assertion, in the 1990's, that we had reached the 'end of history' was anticipated in 1970's by art writers who proclaimed the 'end of painting' .
There is no denying the achievements of artists as diverse as, say, Walter de Maria, Christo or Andy Goldsworthy who confirm this narrative. But to characterize the activity of painting, which we have engaged in for thousands of years, as no longer relevant appeared to me, even in those days when I was studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, to be absurd. It strengthened my resolve to explore new possibilities within realistic painting.
Painting is a fundamental laboratory of the imagination. Painting from life, studying, absorbing, refining and communicating our experience in a direct, physical way opens our eyes to reality on a deep level. It refines our capacity for empathy which is the currency of art.
The unexpected emergence of the Occupy Movement is a sign that the country is finally awakening from the delusion of American triumphalism. The 'street' is re-entering the political dialogue. It is a good time to be out on the street channeling this populist energy.