Gabriel Roberts

Truth is Beauty

Category: Writing

Happy 2017

It’s 2017 and here we are. Obliged to take the next step into tomorrow, and make some resolutions! Who’s got ‘em?!?!? The number one resolution of 2017, as it turns out, is “To Be A Better Person”, which barely beat out “losing weight”, I think. Or going to the gym.

That’s a step forward! That, that; that, my friends, is worth celebrating.

I gave many hugs to strangers tonight and wished them a Happy 2017. I’ve never experienced the fullness of celebrating the new year like I did tonight. Dudes, mostly, but some chicks too. Everybody was FEELING IT. Seriously, bro. Feeling it. Convinced that 2017 will be the best year yet, partially because they say it can’t be as bad as 2016. But secretly they know that 2016 was pretty great in it’s own right.

I’m feeling it. Big stuff, yo. “Big Stuff”, as Larry David said it, gesturing to the engine of the Toyota Camry he was trying to sell. He had no idea what was under the hood…

In Search of Painting

I want to see paintings made unselfconsciously. Paintings painted by artists who had some ideal of perfection for which they strived, and who were not considering politics or ideology. There was Michelangelo and Rembrandt, then Van Gogh and Matisse and Derain. But what then? What about now? Who is painting seriously today?

Most of what I see is flat, dark, vulgar, and vapid. It has no content in and of itself: it requires the accompanying essay for appreciation. It explores politics in some vague and abstract manner. It touches on soundbyte themes like feminism or culture or man’s destruction of nature, but does nothing for these causes besides allusions: what does referencing feminism do for feminism? And what does a painting referencing feminism do for me on my wall, besides give me a script for the 30-second conversation I can have with my houseguest who wants to admire my new piece of art? Of what use are these pictures?

Great paintings have intrinsic value. They are magic. They hang on a wall and in exchange for your attention they provide spiritual manna: they feed your soul. Looking at a great painting is a positive, enriching, and worthwhile experience. Your mind can take a rest from interpretation. You look at a great painting for the same reason you smell a flower: you are drawn to it, it captivates you, offers itself to you and unfolds over time.

While some still paint flowers, landscapes, and figures, this is no longer considered valid as true art, and as such very few true artists can be found here. There are hobbyists happily depicting pretty flowers and sunsets, selling their paintings for $250, satisfying themselves when they get that nice little bit of yellow in the center of the flower, or the blue shadow of the tree or a particularly juicy stroke of paint, and especially when they apply their signature in the bottom corner. These pictures are equally shallow as the conceptual or political nonsense mentioned above: you and your houseguest can have a 30-second conversation about flowers or birds or San Francisco. You will never really look at this picture, because after the first glance it is dead: it has offered up all that it has, and from now on is nothing more than an object on your wall. There is no magic.

The artist today, if she pursues education, will be taught to deconstruct all ideas of art, to follow the endless downward spirals of her panicked mind, searching for something new, something dark and twisted and convoluted, and will only be allowed to stop and be patted on the back when she has created something thoroughly confusing or completely empty. Only then will she be allowed to teach at the college level.

Alternately, he may decide to forgo education and instead paint what he likes to paint. Unfortunately, he will be forced to get a job and in a few years will stop painting entirely, or he will be forced to make something marketable and become a whore to the whims of a tasteless society that will only respect the paintings they cannot understand and cannot afford, and will only purchase paintings of their backyard or their pet or a rooster, because they collect rooster things.

The painter with good intentions, who is not interested in expressing political views through art, finds no one to push her towards greatness. Nobody will tell her honestly what they think about her work. The critics and professors won’t even look at her paintings, and everybody else will say “great job” and “good for you” no matter how good or bad her work. She will paint the same thing for thirty years, in the same style, and die having done nothing for art, nothing for her patrons, and nothing for her own huge and infinite soul.

The serious painter walks a lonely road. He is mocked by great museums hung with complete nonsense auctioned at absurd prices, or patronized by cramped gift shops that will hang his paintings on over-full and poorly-lit walls behind cases of jewelry and glass figurines.

This morning, in search of painting, I do a web search for “painting blog”, and get as the top result the blog of New American Painting, and accompanied by a painting of a strange green landscape, the following “review” (please feel free to skip ahead):

There is constant irregular conflict behind the eyes—flash! electronic fusillades jumping viciously into the breach! burning, burning chemical warfare! psychological warfare, of the most personal and literal kind!—whether the brutal bedfellows Mercury and Mars, tussling for dominance and fucking to fuck you, or the constant recce and rendering benign of the dangerous and volatile thoughts accrued from the moment one awakes and slips into Society, or the punching of mirrors, or the delicate handling of nitroglycerin emotions, or the silencing of vicious tongues, or the bolstering of saintly patience, or the valiantly held redoubt, behind which happiness flies beautifully, vulnerably, the tattered and torn through—victim of a thousand missiles, from a thousand enemies, from a thousand directions—standard which, if all goes to plan (hah!) serves as both signal and spur … but few battles of the brain are more foundational, and therefore more potentially devastating, than the Soviet Spy style, low and slow, inevitable conflict between reminiscence and reality, the fungibility of memory a rose-colored radiation, seeping into every sulci, every incident, a terribly malleable foundation—Memory!—for us to build ourselves upon, leaving us all Houses on the Sand

What?

So perhaps I must write more about painting on my own blog. I can post images of my work and talk about my process. I can post images of paintings I love and talk about why I love them. If you have an artist or a painting that you would like to discuss, please contact me at gaberobertsart@gmail.com. I cannot promise any amount or frequency of content, only honesty and dedication to the magic of great painting.

I’ll leave you with a wonderful painting by Andre Derain:

derain-lestaque

I’m in Cochabamba

cochabamba

Cochabamba. I’m one week in to a three-month artist residency at the volunteer organization Sustainable Bolivia. How I’d ever have found this place on my own I have no idea.  Ever since spending a year in Barcelona and learning some Spanish, South America has been on my mind as the next destination.  As it turns out, I’m not as much of a world traveler as perhaps I thought I would be.  It’s been 8 years since Barcelona and aside from a brief trip to New Zealand, I haven’t ventured out of USA/Canada.

I’m in the “figuring things out” stretch of time here in Cochabamba.  One week in and I have figured out how to walk the city without getting run over, where to buy fruits and vegetables, and how to safely cook and eat without getting sick.  Everybody keeps telling me that I’m going to get sick at some point, but I refuse to believe it.

I can’t really believe that I’m here.  It seemed such a leap.  Bolivia?  I’d believe it when I was there.  It started to feel real when I got to Lima, Peru, and departing the airport, riding through the busy streets, I took in the bustle, the bright colors, the thick air, the sounds.  A whole world of life existing here of which I had no idea.

Briefly I wondered what I was doing here.  So clearly different: run-down, polluted, dangerous even. I’d launched myself into it as if on a lark: “Oh sure!  I’m going to Bolivia”.  Did I really take the time to consider what this entailed?  Was I ready to live in a 3rd-world country?  Since when am I a bold and adventuresome traveler?

I considered the effort I’d put in to get down here, considered the fact that I was already here, and I decided I’d better give it a go.

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McDonald’s “We Need to Talk” Ad: More Nonsense for a Dumber America

I’ve written before about a McDonald’s ad that makes America dumber.  Here we go again…

There’s a new McDonald’s ad that shows a young man receiving a text that reads “We need to talk”.  A montage follows of close-up shots of a woman—presumably the sender of the text—saying “We need to talk” in different tones; one tone implying that she’s breaking up with him, another implying that she’s pregnant, etc.

Then, over a shot of the young man looking puzzled upon reading the text, large words read “Avoid misunderstood texts.  Meet in person”.

The happy couple are then shown eating McDonald’s and talking and laughing.

The idea of meeting in person and not dealing with sensitive issues over text message is all well and good, but the ad sets up this dichotomy—meeting in person vs. texting—and fails to represent it in the actual advertisement.

The texting that is shown is a woman sending the text “we need to talk”.  We are supposed to believe that this is an easily-misunderstood text message, and an example of why we should meet in person.  Curiously, no matter what the young man might read into this text, he is merely speculating over what she’s going to say when they meet in person. In other words, her text says “let’s meet in person”.

While initially—thanks perhaps to his fears and insecurities—the young man may have the wrong idea of what she’s going to say, this is a text message that, fundamentally, cannot be misunderstood.  There is no way to read such a message and come away with any understanding besides the following: she wants to have a conversation, and NOT through text messages.

Misunderstanding the text message “We need to talk” would require reading it and thinking something like “She wants me to eat more citrus fruit”; in other words, you would have to be a complete idiot. Here is a much better example of misunderstood text messages: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naleynXS7yo

Somebody had the idea of selling McDonald’s as a great way to have a casual face-to-face meeting, akin to “grabbing a cup of coffee”.  They liked this idea of a low-pressure, easy-breezy meeting and paired it perfectly with some inexpensive chicken and fish sandwiches. They got a good-looking pair of vaguely international-looking actors and a really nice shot of them eating sandwiches and smiling.  Unfortunately, they didn’t stop there.

McDonald’s decided to take it a step further and tap into the popular “return to roots” sentiment that’s in the air these days: “Darn technology! Darn Facebook and text messages!  People texting while driving! People can’t even have a face-to-face conversation any more! RAWWR!”.  People LOVE this idea because it gives them something to feel united about.  “Returning to our roots” and taking our faces out of our cellphones for a moment is a cause as shining and perfect and vague as “The Children”.  Verizon is all over it: http://creativity-online.com/work/verizon-home/44593

So, once they had successfully tied their sandwiches to “returning to our roots”, all McDonald’s was left with was depicting a relatable pitfall of technology—specifically, what happens when you don’t meet in person and instead try to sort out sensitive issues over text message.

Well, shoot, nobody could quite think of an example of this, so they just went with “we need to talk”, because, obviously, this can mean lots of different things. Nobody noticed—or cared—that this is, in fact, an example of a text message used to arrange a face-to-face conversation.

In their effort to represent concept A versus concept B, they couldn’t find a good example of concept A, so they decided to use an example of concept B instead, and present it as an example of concept A.

“On to production!”, they said.

It seems to me that the machine that creates McDonald’s ads is so complex, so insanely enabled with funding, that they’ve long-since left behind a time when an actual person sat down and pitched an actual idea to actual people who listened and had actual conversations about the idea.  Perhaps the entire production is now coordinated via text messages.

Who cares? You might ask.  It’s just a McDonald’s ad!  What difference does it make?  A big difference, I say: the difference between sense and nonsense.  When something as completely nonsensical as this is presented without a hint of irony or awareness—and broadcasted on such a massive scale as a McDonald’s ad—everybody who sees it gets a little bit dumber.  Especially the children!

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