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We live in a period of time when avant-guard is located in the rear and the accompaniment performs solo concerts.
Michael Zhvanetskiy

 

WARNING!

If you have never in your life asked anybody silly questions and are sure that youíll never do it, then you must be a chemically pure dead classic and you donít have to read this introduction. But if you are alive and not a clinical genius, this is for you. Luckily, people almost never read introductions. Thatís why I intend to spit on political correctness and please consider this to be an official warning.

 

1. THREE ARGUMENTS

If you like to hurt the feelings of an abstractionist, it will be enough if you hung his painting not looking at the signature. Three out of four times you will deeply hurt him. His offence on seeing the picture hung sidelong or upside down will be deep because the bottom line is, in fact, it doesnít make any difference.

A long-long time ago, art split into two opposite directions. One of them is described by the word art-ful, the other by the word art-ificial.

There exists the art of bizarre industrious fantasy, of such masterly performance, polished by years, that you canít take your eyes off it; there also exists the art of marketing, in which one canít determine whether all this has been brought from the rubbish heap or a museum. When this splitting occurred is hard to determine with mathematical precision but one has to admit that with the appearance of "experts" in art, the gift of painting has become something shameful, a thing one is likely to be embarrassed of.

I think one shouldnít say out loud that he doesnít like Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Cy Twombly, Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse or Andy Warhol. Yet, itís a shame to say that you like them when in fact you donít care at all or they make you sick the main argument of apologists of modernism is that THIS is exhibited in museums, costs millions and is a constantly growing in value.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote that if a scientist canít explain to a five-year old kid within five minutes, what he is as a scientist is busy doing, then he is not a scientist, but a charlatan. During the next 5 minutes Iíll try to argumentatively generate a doubt, if you havenít had it yet, or strengthen it, if you have had it, or arouse a storm of indignation if you canít altogether be re-hypnotized on the subject of art. Letís try to compare the three arguments.

Argument #1:

One of my clients in New York, having bought some of my works, showed me his collection of modern art. Having seen enough crooked hooks of Picasso, childish daub of Chagall and scribbles of Cy Twombly, I asked him cautiously: "Tell me, do you really enjoy looking at this?" He laughed, finished his second double scotch and said: "Do I look like an idiot? No, Iím not insane. Itís your picture I enjoy looking at, but there exists a status pleasure of being a member of the club of collectors of Jasper Jones, for example. To say casually that Iíve bought six more Chagalls and two Picassos. This is the pleasure of belonging to a successful exclusive cast. Besides, Picasso is an investment, and you are only a curious knick-knack". After September 11th not only he but also some of his acquaintances found themselves in a difficult financial situation. And when I asked him why wouldnít he and all his friends sell from the auction all their pictures and repair their business, as he is the owner of at least couple of hundred million dollars worth of canvases of "masters of art". He said: "Who will buy it now? If we rush like mad to sell our pictures, weíll immediately cause the market created by years of hard work to collapse. Weíd better go on presenting our collections to museums and get tax deductions, as we used to do. Sometime ago my grandfather bought

this, ó he pointed his little finger at gray-green spots in a golden frame, ó for 1600 dollars. And presenting this to the museum, I will not pay taxes for 1,200,000 dollars, thanks to the expertsí appraisals. This scheme of swindling our naive-patient taxpayers is so well adjusted. Number of gifts to institutions exceeded the real number of sales long ago. This rubbish is bought by either naive duffers, tempted by advertising disposed in depth and wishing to join the elite, or by professionals supporting and raising prices in their inner games. Mainly naive amateurs try to admire Miro, Klee, Giacometti or Moore; professionals, at their turn, make their money. They donít even think of admiring shares of "General Electric" or shares of Roy Lichtenstein or Keith Haring in the form of paintings. Let me explain very roughly but graphically: to make it absolutely clear. For example, if I sell you 10-pound bar of gold for 10 million dollars, then the tax man will haul us both over the coals, as the price for an ounce of this metal is defined at the auction to within the 4th figure after the decimal. This transaction is very suspicious. And if I sell you a "great" work of art (at a prime cost of 10 dollars) for 10 million dollars, then the expertís opinion will be enough for the tax man to wash his hands of it. Serious modernism is a closed, well-organized, well thought over and long ago monopolized investment market designed to increase net worth and avoid taxes. Romantic people used to be standing somewhere by their side but that was only at the beginnings of this business. Itís like the De Beers company selling diamonds. De Beers claims that diamonds are forever. Have a word with geologists and theyíll tell you that there is only one eternal thing ó its human silliness multiplied by marketing. They know for sure how many kimberlite volcanic pipes exist on the planet of Earth and know the price of 1 carat of diamonds ó approximately 5 dollars. The rest is marketing. For example, a genius Picasso has more than 30,000 originals and hundreds of thousands of prints. Just think, why should anyone promote and advertise Velasquez, Boticelli, Rembrandt, Breughel or Bosch? Not every Renaissance master has as much as 300 pictures that you may only admire; and what is there to earn the commission with if almost all of the 300 originals of the master are invariably and permanently placed in collections and museums? Or, if a Rembrandt gets into the market, letís say, once in 5 years, and the number of art sellers amounts to about 500,000 persons? McDonaldís restaurants earn more than the most exquisite and expensive restaurant on Fifth Avenue. Rembrandt is an exquisite restaurant. Picasso is McDonaldís. There is no doubt that the latter is more profitable than the former. Modern Art is no longer an esthetic riot and it is not food for spiritual needs of a man; itís fuel for a business-engine. Itís not something to admire, it is a complicated financial instrument to make money, connected with a very sophisticated legal system in many countries. Collusion by experts, dealers, collectors and of course, millions of those who, not having an opinion of their own, unthinkingly caught by simple but professional, accurately performed tricks. There certainly are masters among modernists. Salvador Dali, for example.† I earnestly take off my hat to Chagall and Matisse, they are great personalities, and their canvases made history. They deserve to remain in the worldís best museums and private collections. I admit them to be unconditional geniuses, but at the same time agree with you that my child may paint a picture no worse than most of these truly great personalities. It wasnít necessary for them to paint skillfully ó and they couldnít. For example, Hitlerís underwear will be sold at the auctions, though the fashion is no good and the fabric is far from being of high quality. A piece of history is important as such. Picasso and Chagall will always cost money. They are geniuses, the co-discoverers of the marketing scheme. There are a hundred of them, no more. But generations of their followers will go to the garbage heap. Itís the same as in business: a cunning man having stolen a billion, will pay for amnesty and will not be prosecuted, but the one who has stolen a crust of bread will go to prison".

Argument #2:

You must have seen the film "The Thomas Crown Affair". The teacher takes her pupils to the Metropolitan museum and shows a picture from which impressionism started. Children donít care at all about this ugly daub ó they can do no worse. Then the teacher had to use the last argument. She says: "OK, this picture costs 100 million dollars". Such a figure will justify any ugliness to the children, opening their eyes in admiration, saying in chorus: "Wa-a-a-aw!!!" It was not the beauty of the picture, but the sum of money, that produced the impression.

Argument #3:

If youíve a read a fairy-tale by Hans Christian Andersen about a naked emperor ("The Emperorís New Clothes"), you could learn that not only idiots can be convinced, but that for any wise man there is simplicity. Some psychologists carried out an experiment in a similar manner. Ten people were shown a little round white object and asked to describe it. Nine of them were actors and they described the object as big, rectangular and black. Every time the tenth was an ordinary man. Having listened to all this nonsense, he turned white, sweated, groaned, but when his turn came, he talked the same nonsense, stammering and nervously wringing his hands. When the scientists asked the last person why the hell he had called round to be rectangular, little ó big and white ó black, he turned his eyes away and couldnít explain anything clearly. In the Andersenís fairy-tale mentioned above, two cheaters were "sewing" a dress for the emperor out of air. The main thing was to warn everybody beforehand that the fools would not see the magic fabric and they would think that the emperor is naked. And the clever would see the dress in all its beauty. And all the retinue, seeing naked the belly of His Majesty, vying with each other, praised the cut, coloring and richness of the new emperorís dress trim. The idea of the old fairy-tail and the real scientific experiment is that a person is ready to act contrary to common sense and his own feelings, so he does not appear to be a fool. Kings of modernism are often naked and not just naked also old, warty, long since they washed themselves, bald, clumsy and backward. It is only a question of time before the exclamation of the boy will be heard from the crowd: "But the emperor is naked!" and detonate the bomb. And like objections that the Earth cannot be round (because every "expert" unanimously considers it flat) bothers not only me, but also Christopher Columbus like Galileo Galilei was bothered and George Soros was bothered by those who told him that one impudent Yankee could lower the value of the English pound. Ask a kid why he didnít manage to draw houses with straight lines, a man looking like a man and the trees like he himself would like it. Heíll answer honestly: "I canít". An adult cheater in his place will lie to you straight in your eyes: "I see it this way".

Well, do you still like perfect, subtle, fully made, deeply philosophical canvases of "grand masters" that are impossible to differentiate from kidís drawings? If you can spare three minutes more, Iíll tell you how situation all came about.

 

2. A VERY CONCISE BUT ALMOST FULL STORY OF WHAT IS REALLY VERY EXPENSIVE, BUT DOESNíT BECOME BETTER FROM IT

When people lived in caves, they desired with all their might to draw beautifully. Painters of ancient times also attained perfection in their arts. Itís from them that the Renaissance masters took the baton. In fact, in all the 19 centuries of our time, all tried to paint beautifully. Artistic skill achieved its highest point as a rather pleasant and delightful thing until a new marvelous stream of hooligans and at first even nice rebels appeared at the end of the 19th century.

At the beginning of the 20th century, there appeared a number of "experts" who said it was inappropriate if a viewer himself decides what he likes. If accounts in the Bible are true, itís due to such "experts" that the Christ was crucified.† It was these "experts" who sent Giordano Bruno to burn. They donít lack consistency, thatís for sure. There were thousands of experts sovietologists kept by the American government, but NONE predicted collapse of the USSR until it collapsed.

All in all, the most precious thing is your own head on your shoulders; if people begin to use it, the whole army of "experts" will have to start looking for a job. Some "experts" need such a kind of art ó where a viewer looks at the picture, doesnít understand a thing, and they explain to him with the help of astrologic-palm reading-fine art terminology what it means and how prestigious the new emperorís dress is. "High" art may be ugly and dull, may even not be art at all, but the most important thing is ó it must bring profit to the dealer. If one invests money into promotion of senseless scribbles and hammers into heads that itís better than Titian, and that only pitiful block-heads donít understand it, then only the most psychologically stable, who are in the minority ó wonít believe it.

According to dealers, experts and curators of modernism, "low" art is there, where they are not needed. There, where they can be easily done without ó and "high" art is exactly where they canít do without them. This business is built on personal interest and there is no objectivity of estimation at all. Impressionists who gave birth to modernism rebelled against the assembly line of the salon, but the same thing happened to them as to early Rock-n-Roll when it fell into the hands of sound recording companies. They begin making business on the rebels. The first modernists sincerely wanted to change the vain, arrogant, boring, pseudo-artistic, from their point of view, worl of candy-like salons. Instead of a candy demanded by the bourgeois, the rebels with their proudly raised heads proceeded to paint, letís say, a piece of shit. What has changed eventually? Now bourgeois demands not candy, but a piece of shit, installations, concerts, performances etc. And now modernists will be put to shame by commercial skills of any salon of the end of the 19th century, the salon rioting against what they had appeared be in the first place.

The basis of modernism is the contrast with non-modernism, in overthrowing of former ideals. That is, modernism is to a large extent based on the negation of its predecessors. Without pre-modernist art there canít exist any independent modernism. For centuries, artists have been creating fancy dishes for viewers to admire. Then there appeared modernists, and, instead of cooking, they started digesting the food created before.† The result of digesting is known to be a thing to be found in the sewer, which with rare exception, is presented by modernists as a completely new dish. Such a delicacy of, dung (elephantís, to be precise), was exhibited several years ago in the Brooklyn Museum. The idea then was strongly opposed by New York City Mayor Rudy Guliani, who considered the portrait of Virgin Mary made of manure unworthy of the money of tax-payers, not to be spent on promoting the dung-creatorís name, and he felt very possibly this same dung was an inappropriate donation to the museum, to avoid taxes. Modernism is fed by art, and, digesting it, gives out the stuff which post-modernism is fed by. So, post-post- modernism is fed by the second-generation dung and, consequently, is, in itself, the manure in the third generation.

I sincerely wish a bon appetite to those who are going to digest all this fascinating staff while creating their artistic product.

However to make people to admire the dung, it is necessary to get some help from experts first. Art has always been hindered by "experts" and "curators" ó fully buttoned solders of the system who determined the boundaries of the permitted. It was developed and promoted only by those who fought with such "specialists". "High" art used to be a mockery at bourgeois taste. But what is to be done if bourgeoisie adapted everything for itself, diversified, statuated, stuck on a label and put the works on the market? Modernism itself has become a synonym for conformism. All the "isms" in art reaching their climax might be called "marketingism" (mark-cretinism would sound even better). As soon as the STREAM appears ó chamberness dies, and individuality and freshness disappear.

 

3. THE MOST STUPID QUESTION

Most of all I hate questions like, "What do you call your style?" or "In what direction do you work?" Itís no problem to invent a pseudo-scientific term la "narrative descriptivism" or "anti-conceptual out-modernism", but for who and for what is it needed? The viewers taken in are taught to ask a question: "What stream (trend, direction) is it?" Gosh, itís no stream! What a difference it makes for you, if there is one person in the world who determines what you like and what you donít like, what is good and pleasant, and what is unacceptable and ugly and THIS PERSON IS YOU YOURSELF!

I think that for mentally healthy viewers the most important thing is their perception, and not mine, and not a fine art specialistís, not a curatorís, not a journalistís or a neighborís. You, yourself, are capable of having your own opinion, and it is the only true and correct one for you. If, in order to learn what he truly likes, a man needs advice from an "expert," then he is sick.

When I became an art student, I stopped painting my "childish" pictures where maps of fairy islands and my own fictitious heroes mingled with heroes of the books read. I proudly began to learn how to paint academically correct. Then one day, my childhood friend Igor Sudak came to see me. Naturally he asked me what I was engaged in at the moment. I joyfully unloaded a heap of portrait ó landscape ó still life ó staging routine, feeling justifiably proud of this evident progress. "Itís understood," said Igor, "And what do you paint for yourself?" I realized then that this school of drawing plaster heads, paraffin apples and naked bodies on the background of conventional drapery is simply a method to gain the professional painting skills; and itís my personal business what exactly to paint after I obtained the skills. I want to paint my own personal realities, and not the things only accepted, or things that are considered to be "proper."

A painter learns to paint staging and all the rest to return on a higher esthetic and a higher level of technical expertise to the things he wanted to paint before he got engaged in academic studies. Itís very important not to lose the childish feeling of awe in front of a white sheet of paper. However, while studying, many forget what they began studying for, like adults who forget that they once were children. When one gets bored with everything including diversity, the true originality is to remain oneself.

In my previous book, Balance of Contradictions, I recalled the story about a rabbi named Dzussi. He said: "When I die, God wonít ask my why I wasnít Aristotle, heíll ask me why I wasnít Dzussi." I want to be myself and think that such a desire is the main one for every person including an artist. Winston Churchill was good at painting and said once that the first million years in heaven heíll devote to painting. Do you know why this phrase was said not by Mark Chagall? He simply couldnít paint so well as Churchill. Being able to paint is such pleasure that there are those who couldnít resist it and learned to do it well even among modernists.

I disliked many things in modernism. Namely those things where one canít see any skills of drawing. I donít like this for the same reason as any doctor or scientist doesnít like palm readers, astrologists and other swindlers.

There is a boundary separating these two different businesses: the art of painting and the art of marketing. Iím sure that soon those capable of the art of driving, washing dishes and sweeping streets will also proclaim themselves artists. Imagine a "plumber-artist," assuring you that he is engaged in purely non-commercial projects. Itís his right but still Iím sure that the artist differs from the non-artist by his ability to paint, a surgeon from non-surgeon by his knowledge and his ability to operate; a mathematician somehow canít help knowing figures and multiplication tables, justifying it by the fact that he is engaged in mathematics in a conceptual sense. A musician who canít play his instrument and is devoid of a musical ear, canít be saved by his managerís assurances, that itís a highly conceptual approach. I donít want to reap the fruits of unbridled political correctness, because, as we know, it will pass away too. After long skirts short ones are sure to come into fashion, and after an artistic fashion of not being able to paint, being able will become fashionable again. The pendulum is a determiner of such notion as fashion.

Palm reading, conceptualism and astrology are cheating on commercial basis. If Mark Twain were to live now, he would jeer at the tribe of conceptualists and their followers. Modernism began as a piquant cheese with a mold, where the bits of mold emphasized the taste of the cheese. But the cheese disappeared quite soon and only the mold remained. Millions believing in it is not an argument for me. If these millions go in for cannibalism, fascism, fall into religious trances, believe in the rightness of Marxism or beauty of conceptualism, I donít have to agree with them.

Only those who are unsure of themselves must listen to "experts". Do you address "experts" while choosing your favorite dish, convictions, hobbies, friends or your wife? It happened historically that one part of bourgeoisie subconsciously doesnít believe that it is equal to aristocracy. There is a brilliant in its simplicity game, which is a metaphorically ó exaggerated and caricature view looks as follows:

Imagine a hobbling, constantly sweating, stinking, bald-headed, fussy, fat dwarf with constantly running eyes who has earned much money, but who has remained a laughing stock even for his own servant. Such a nonentity, who bought his count title, who is distinguished by nothing but his ugly looks and business grasp, who is an eternal laughing stock with an inferiority complex bigger than his huge capital, starts collecting pictures. He invites aristocrats, financially equal to him, those he feels inferior and proclaims, "I bought an amazing canvas, magnificent and refined, a real masterpiece. And a real bargain at that, only two and a quarter million. Just a gift of fortune." Untidily scribbled geometric figures with dirty streaks are demonstrated to his intrigued guests. All this rubbish invented by "experts" about innovative ideas, refined coloring, showing craftsmanship and composition is heard, and accompanied by the amazed glances of the guests. Being unprepared for such arrogant, pushing and categorical lies, they exchange surprised glances and, not willing to hurt the host and by uttering something politically incorrect, they nod. Itís here that the triumphant businessman says: "Well, Iím glad that you are such refined and understanding connoisseurs. Only the tasteless miserable, who are rough, dull and devoid of the feeling of the beautiful wonít manage to appreciate this masterpiece." "Who knows," his yesterdayís mocking opponent starts to doubt, "Maybe this disgusting dwarf with sweating hands and ever running, buttery eyes does have this feeling of the beautiful which I am missing?"

 

4. SUCH A THING AS A HEAD

If a man looks into a mirror he may find on his shoulders such a thing as a head. At first glance, this thing considerably improves general aerodynamics, keeps your hat superbly, is good to put glasses on, it balances the body, and nothing decorates the passports better than a picture of it. As a boxer from a well-known Russian joke said: "In addition, I use it to eat with." It looks as if very many people will be surprised that this "mysterious" object on oneís shoulders is determined for other purposes than the one stated above.

Those who are not swindlers, and those who havenít been cheated by these swindlers, understand that the art of Rauschenberg, Chagall, Warhol and Picasso is the art of positioning in the market with PR technologies, conveyer goods-money-goods and masterful marketing. Their professional position is, "itís my view". Itís truly ingenious and I step aside into the corner and take off my hat.

The art of Breughel, Andrew White, Bosch and Norman Rockwell is the art of imagination, fantasy and masterful professional skills. Their professional position is "this is how I can do it". Their position and philosophy belong to them and it is not invented by their dealers for them. To be honest, we had to say that they are successful combinations of both positions and one must give them their due.

There are two reasons why I respect Picasso. First, I respect success. Second, in his last interviews he personally jeered at his admirers and laughed publicly at those who considered him a great painter.

My personal observation proved that the worse one can paint, the louder and more hysterically he shouts: "Thatís how I see it!" and the more furiously he calls those who have all grounds to declare with dignity, "This is how I can do it" craftsmen and cheap shop-keepers. Seeing this, you understand that itís better to be a jolly, capable and joyful craftsmen than a dull, incapable conceptualist.

The principle choice of the artist is to gradually make his work simpler and simpler or more and more complicated. My New York friend Sasha Zakharov sometimes checks whether his work of literature is a success by the reaction of his girlfriend Yana. If while looking at the plot she starts weeping, it means that the work is a success. This is more objective then any expertís evaluation.

 

 

 

In form, all classical art is an illustration. An illustration to the Bible, to ancient plots, to real historic events, to myths or to the artistís imagination. This illustrative approach to painting and drawing has always been close to me.

In this book, I have presented my works of a period of nearly two years. A work of thirty-six pictures (a polyptyh of 36 parts) and 36 text illustrations for each was taken as the basis of the book. Thus, what I do may be called "counter-illustration" because the words illustrate the pictures and not on the contrary. My purpose is to provoke you to make up a better story than mine. If I succeeded, then you are my viewer, if not then you are a viewer of another artist.

 

And finally... I wrote this book deliberately in a manner that it wouldnít occur to you to fully agree with me.