The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2011

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SEPT 2011 Issue

How to Proceed in the Arts (after O’Hara and Rivers, with love)

The following collaboration was inspired by the text “How to Proceed in the Arts,” by Frank O’Hara and Larry Rivers reprinted in “Frank O’Hara: Art Chronicles 1954-1966” (Braziller, 1975). Their “detailed study of the creative act” is a smelling salt for the bureaucratic tool in us all.

1. Do you know what you’re doing?

2. If you do, go back to sleep, dream of big paintings.

“Time is just Memory Mixed with Desire.” All photos courtesy the writers.

3. Because really, you should be painting. A serious painter works all the time, like a somnambulist. It is about arranging your life in order to have enough time to work. Just get to the studio. That’s what counts. If you’re not there, then it can’t happen. Work everyday. Even when you don’t want to. Especially when you don’t want to. In fact, if you fall asleep while painting, that is a good sign.

4. If someone is in bed with you, keep him there. You’ll desperately need companionship after about three minutes of studio time.

5. Did you hear them say painting is dead? We say, “Painting is the timid appraisal of yourself by lions.”

6. Abandon your ego. But remember, if you do, there may be no one home in the evening to fix you a drink when you get back from wherever you were.

7. Learn Photoshop.

8. Don’t jerk off to your paintings; jerk off to your videos (jerk off to videos of your paintings). But, whatever you do, don’t masturbate before you paint (or make love, if that’s your thing).

9. If you do, though, think of Piero della Francesca. But seriously, you do like Piero della Francesca, don’t you, man? Because Guston did. He was Guston’s favorite.

10. It is important to consider how your work is seen. Be ambitious. Remember that if you don’t remember anything, no one will remember you. Realize that each move you make will be considered, indeed scrutinized and judged, by the great weight of history, and of course by your so-called friends. So any action that you dare to undertake should be executed in the manner of the small rodent, fleet of foot, out on the tundra with the raptor overhead. As Miles Davis said, “If you are not nervous, then you are not paying attention.”

11. If you lack a ravenous appetite for musical innuendo, new, old, ugly, or sweet, you might as well bury your face in wet crayons and cry a new movement, something tender and casual, but NOT formal! What happened to irony anyway?

“For Elisa”

12. Don’t listen to music. It is a mere distraction and, in the studio, you must find your own inner rhythm. In addition to music and formalists, it is important to hate (in no particular order): other artists, abstract painters, straight people, square people, rectangles and triangles, politicians, the Bible Belt, schools of all kinds, and zealots. Do drugs, but not too much. Cultivate inner tranquility and study the Dharma, which you can read about at your local library. Keep one hand on the rudder and a weather eye out because there is no telling when the ship will come in.

13. Escape the rising tide of conformity and begin! No amount of glad-handing can get you through the dark night of the soul, not to mention the three o’ clock shakes. Indulge a practice that encourages the mysterious and gravitational. Know that nature is large and you’re a small part of it. Take a deep breath and contact your gallery—you do have a gallery, don’t you, girlfriend?

14. Take the trash out. Sweep and wash the floor. Dust. Accept whatever thoughts come to mind and allow them their proper space. Do not try to know the path. Simply begin and allow the natural course of things to take you downstairs for a coffee, then over to see a friend. Then come back and consider whether it might in fact be better to simply give up for the day, following Corot’s wise words: “Il faut pas chercher. Il faut manger des carrots.”

15. Corot’s carrots are a good place to start. Study them slowly, feel the orange. Get out your cell phone and paint! Now stop and have a smoke, watch the smoke swirl in the air, and consider how that relates to your carrots. In the words of Pope Benedict XXIX, “Know that the only thing better than water is dirt, and the only thing better than dirt is carrots.”

16. Ignore what everyone else has to say. All we know is that we are seated at the edge of a room at the edge of a city at the edge of a culture at the edge of disaster and that it is essential to know this and still manage to get up every day and pick up your brushes or your camera or your underwear or whatever it is that gets you going and start doing things as though you mean them. Because everyone else is. Take the razor blade to the eye of the sacred cow of theoretical discourse, process art, existentialism, irony, “bad art,” self-conscious art, art that eyes the market, casual painting, tuning, silly video work generally, painters’ painters, Adorno, unmonumentalists, and Weimaraners.

17. Expressionism has moved to the suburbs, and the suburbs have moved to the city. That being the case, don’t make any more boring graffiti art; make lofty bathroom graffiti fit for the particular atmosphere of your particular bathroom. Maybe you can get a commission to do so from a major museum. They are funding that sort of thing these days. Also, when asked a question please don’t respond with the same question. And don’t ask what someone does. It’s so vague and pretentious.

18. It’s all a bunch of garbage: that’s important. Remember to circulate. You know, it’s who you know, not what you know, and it’s better not to know too much. I once had an experience in which my best friend was sleeping with the manager of a company handling the VERY delicate. Excuse me, I just have to take this call…what was I saying? Oh yeah, well that was really weird.

19. Remember that form and color are profound in that they exist everywhere and, as such, are available to everyone. If you don’t like them you’re probably a jerk.

20. Fame will come, recognition will not. History will not judge you more harshly than your peers. Justice’s Balance forever favors the fleet of fancy.

Working: Being in a world that wants nothing to do with what you are doing

1. Entering the upper reaches of the atmosphere from the dinner table at which you have just been securely seated talking about fundamentalism and art, struggling not to scream, things get started. This was not a matter of choice... Like the way skateboarders never quite seem to finish a trick. And the way other tricks just get finished all the time, right under our noses. And who would want to be Jim Carroll, but thank God he’s there, because if he weren’t then you might be and that would be even worse. “Shit is shit,” as they say. Now it’s time. Things are getting heated up.


2. “Fire of all things is the judge and ravisher,” says Heraclitus. In art, in love, in practice of any sort, learn all you can about its fire: its flickering instability, its radiant warmth, its rage. Ignite and inspire the material at hand, which is also the state of one’s own nature. It’s both a celestial radiance and a hidden, psychic heat. How else to melt the leaden depressions of the mind? How else to dry up the soggy dews of oppression and distill a few drops of intoxicating clarity? It increases by degrees as the work progresses.

3. Spread ’em. It is said that the museums should be burned. But consider burning yourself first. Or perhaps start with a gallery. A modest one. Maybe something over past 11th in Chelsea. Or perhaps something on the Lower East Side. We are our own, most immanent prisons. Don’t worry about the art. Remove the mental diaper, and there you will find Plato, exemplar of our single greatest impediment to growth. At first it may be uncomfortable, working free and easy, the wind blowing through the mind. But through familiarity, love is born. Endings are beginnings.

4. That’s what they say at the dinner tables of the brokenhearted, anyway. Alas, objects spread before you, atmospheric shisha, some completely unrelated green paint. Zone out for a moment, or rather, zone in. The Fundamentalists won’t notice (they never believe in heuristic thinking). Dogs of Reason! Fools of Avarice! Worms of the Academy! What do you know about the trembling membrane that wets my every tendril? Why must you continue to sniff at the excrement of the Encyclopedic Brain? Sun Ra says, “This is the music of greater transition,” and we believe him. Wet mud and obsidian are our tools, airy concepts, all manner of fermentation. Now is the time to stop your sniffing, enter the festering heap, and feast!

5. Consider, as did Dubuffet, that it is only a philistine who expects the sum total of transcribed knowledge to be the measure of knowledge generally. Could what is said ever be anywhere near as ravishing as what is known, let alone what is felt? Just because it’s written doesn’t make it wise. You may think that this is a case in point (you may be right) but think for a moment of all that thought, through the ages, that went unrecorded. Think how huge a volume it is compared to the recorded thought. Think how it was attached to feeling and how it grew from experience and how it was applied by individuals, who never thought it worthwhile to write it down, to accomplish everything that has been done. Can a thought not be cogitated? Can it be lived instead in the guts, the eyes, and the hands? Now think of a light blue hue.


6. Enter the mind cave and move some matter. Airy, animated, inert. Conjured projections in sky blue sky. Follow Hyppolite on his sad, imagined wanderings, and, from the arching heights of the archipelago, looking out and around toward heaven below and hell above, greatness is in the air. Genius? A sad commercial word. Rather, be dumb in the approach, and in the arrival unwitting. Are you sure of disaster? Do you recognize, inevitably, your failure? “This is the artwork??” Pink and green make love while you are not looking and produce orange. Only orange. A whole world of oranges. “NOW.” Now? Now. The Revolution is ongoing. And, whether you like it or not, everything you do is a cause for or against it.

7. Work the Means of Transgression to the vanishing point of politics. Oh, Maximus, you heavy-shadowed torso of my midnight wandering, molten metal and sea foam spatter. You reveal the inky orange of the outer seas, the rolling translucence of inner transitions (And after that, from poyson’d Bulk he cast his Venom fell). Remember the walks and the seasons, the summer and the autumn, the winter in your heart and the apple blossom. Tender black of beet juice and cedar ash are your living application of density. How to circumnavigate these expanses of liquid silver? Where are the sextant and rose? When will our tamping iron of confidence be extracted? Who is Phineas Gage?

8. Do you believe in the Global Market? Sad delusion. Get it just right, motherless child. What will we make when our feet are securely rooted in the clouds? Does it make you sad to know that all this won’t get you anywhere you haven’t already been? Live in that deepest inner reality and it really won’t matter. Find that space and nothing is impossible.

9. There are, however, other reasons for the obscurity of this text. Secrecy is a mysterious deterrent, constituting a challenge to the heroic nature of she who seeks to innerstand. Transparency, they now tell us, is a necessary quality implying openness and accountability. But even the air swims with unseen phenomena. Money’s greatest victory was invisibility; do you seek the same fate? Look how the sharks approach, silently, fin by fin. Gaze into the fish’s eye, the appearance on the surface of a starry aspect gazing back. Does this exchange of glances bite you cruelly; are they not the true principles and beginnings of this art? Let us drop in the darkness and turn the waters red.

10. How do we end this terrible mess? It was fun though, wasn’t it? Was it fun? It was fun, as it should be. What fun should be is suffering the intolerable cruelties of hopeless progression! No, that’s not it. It floats somewhere between life and art.


Ben La Rocco

Craig Olson

Craig Olson is a former student of Thomas Nozkowski and regular contributor to the Rail. He is also an artist who lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2011

All Issues