Professor Aulus Saunders Receiving Lichtenstein Resignation in Alternate Reality, Spring 1960

ResignationfinalLow
2019. Oil on canvas, 20 x 16″

I think I have formulated a revisionist art history. It’s time to take our PhD’s in other hopeful directions. Enough with the “masters”, who were never more master than any other prolific creators—just richer. Either while living or posthumously, it was millionaires and billionaires (sometimes even the CIA) that made them masters through celebrity and finance. We must get off this track, derail the train if necessary. Because Picasso was a man, not a marker. And Jeff Koons is a monstrosity from a hell made by ignorant billionaires, who are so dirty it hurts my brain so to think about them. Yet both set standards for the multitude of creative geniuses practicing arts not of the celebrity mold. And these standards are anti-art for those seeking master status in a subjective medium, aka: judgemental world.

I suggest a people’s history of art. Art always made by people for people, locally (until the Internet), not for Christies® and Hyperallergic®, which are very unpeople-like, especially in the realm of art making and sharing. They are co-parasites in a “look-at-me-now!” bubble. Like Donald Trumps and Kim Kardashians, show poodles at the poodle show—nothing more, and much less…

Last Saturday I stumbled upon a local antiques shop in a residential neighborhood of my small town. My wife is the driver of such things that I usually avoid, that is, until of late, when I suspect there might be a treasure of a painting to rediscover. Since I am searching locally for paintings made by colleagues of Roy Lichtenstein, I have been frequenting garage and estate sales, and now antiques shops too. By lazy Saturday chance I found the pot of gold to art history, or what needs to become the new art history, if people of substance are to matter ever again.

The usual artifacts—vintage tools, tchotchkes, and roller skates, record albums, post cards, coins, 19th century books, costume jewelry, tables, a chair, and yes, paintings on the walls. Mostly framed prints, a few originals by who knows who—rarely art historians, of course, because they’re not searching for the obscure lessor knowns…

Up in the corner of a far wall was the treasure. I thought I recognized the style. Sure enough, a Dr. Aulus Saunders original, signed and dated, 1981. A painting of a then local restaurant long ago out of business. On the tag was written “Not for sale. For future exhibition”.

In 1937, Aulus Saunders was picked by Ralph Swetman to head the art department at the State Teacher’s College of Oswego. He was instrumental in the hiring of every art faculty member until his retirement in 1978. He hired Roy Lichtenstein in 1957.

Unfortunately, via the uber-influential cult of celebrity, Lichtenstein got fame and fortune because millionaires were conned by other millionaires to buy his trinkets, to be in the know, to have collections in their names, and be spoken of with respect at high parties—the ones just like others, with toilets and sinks, and careful conversations. And the painting practice and pedagogic genius of Dr. Saunders bound to obscurity in an antique shop. The majority of Oswego professors Saunders hired to teach art and art history abandoned the man who gave them license to perpetuate the fraud of modern celebrity art. Thousands of students loaded to confusion with facts, interpretations and style about nothing really—impressionism, expressionism, surrealism, ad nauseism… Future art historians churning out more coffee tables books than a solar system could possibly want, unless necessary for house building during the final throes of the sixth extinction.

And then Steve the proprietor came over to me while gazing at the Saunder’s painting. He bought the entire collection years ago from the professor’s son. 80 paintings, cornered and covered in Steve’s home basement. He thought maybe one day he would have an exhibition, or maybe the college would be interested in acquiring a few for its collection. 80 original paintings by a man dedicated to art practice and pedagogy. Ho boy! And local to boot. An absolute dream to any non-convoluted historian. A radical concept. Art history without art celebrity. Painters who practiced literally what they preached. That is, a dedication to art and art-making. Productivity through creativity, and then shouldering the responsibility to carry on art traditions to a younger generation.

I tried to conceal some of my excitement. I’d take a loan out to secure these 80 paintings safe passage out of Steve’s musty basement. I just think I might.

So should any art historian worth his or her salt. Roy Lichtenstein made pop art a popular name. Aulus Saunders hired Roy Lichtenstein and many other practicing teacher-artists, and himself practiced art until he died. Both have value to the future. However, I shall always argue that one is of lessor substance, even if it happened to purchase a mansion in the Hamptons, and abandon art for commodities’ sake.

Dear art historians of today and tomorrow. Kill the Buddha to see how many million Buddhas are popping up all over the place. If I can find dead collections to come alive, so can you. Start searching estate sales and in your local antique shops. A people’s art for the future, and the little rich dandys can continue their prostituting to Sotheby’s of Dubai. They are so much old news, like Picasso in his underwear and Michelangelo lounging about the Pope’s brothel.

Colleges and Universities Must End Adjuncting Now!

Lichtensteinshrelinelow
Any Saturday in 1958, Roy Lichtenstein Took a Walk Along Lake Ontario 2019. Oil on canvas, 16 x 20″

[The following has been edited from my 2014 publication, December, subtracting and adding where necessary for more clarity. There were no adjuncts at Oswego State Teacher’s College in 1957. There were full time instructors hired with a salary between $5,140 to $6,250. Roy was lucky. He was taken on as an Assistant Professor at an annual payout between $5,570 to $8,640. No insurance plan back then. Just equality (white men) and dignity via work ethic and merit.]

Higher education in the arts. An oxymoron, but only because I am educated and think I know what that word means. So, English adjuncts (the writers) too, they join the fray, struggling with private demons day after day.
I have much to write on this subject, but I will try my best to keep it short and personal. Brevity is the new black, ever since our Internet gods have outlawed groupings of words taking up more than a page space to have us think on something that does not add to the bottom line. So here goes…
Number one: Any provost of a college or university who partakes in the adjunct system of hiring experts at a pittance needs a light tar and heavy feathering. This gang mentality of tenure-track professorship vs. under-insured, never-tenured, low-pay adjunct teaching is a paradigm replete with local collegiate classism. In a word it is disgusting. In a phrase—vile, petty, and incomprehensibly unfair weasel games. A nearby college where a friend of mine teaches will not afford him a private office on the hill. A room must be shared by all the lowly “unmade” adjuncts. Of course among the hapless professors in that room there may be a great teacher worthy of a private phone line, if not a club-issued award. The majority of students might sign up for his class because he is knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and talented beyond his official rank in the art of pedagogy. But the provost and her good ole girls/boys club does not inquire about actual teaching experience or ability when interviewing for the private office. The credentials can be equal, but one of those lucky 40 or 50 applicants gets the prize of being able to support a family and leave his day-old travel mug on the desk. The rest painstakingly struggle with a used car payment and harbor serious reservations about extra sprinkles on their kid’s ice cream cones.
It just makes for a vile, petty, unfair, even childish system of higher education. It puts fear into all players, nourishes elitism, tacit bullyism, gives men and women of the same age and caliber a false measuring stick to guide their lives by. It fosters competition toward the wrong ends (status and avarice), and of course the student body suffers. Heck, the latter have no idea about the immense gulf in pay, benefits and respect between the made and the unmade. They assume (their parents too) that the enormous sums spent on tuition is equally divided among the campus faculty, with slight variations in senior and junior pay. In fact, knowing the truth about below poverty income for their kid’s mentors, might make a significant number of parents rethink their plan to invest money in a school that is practically starving its local intelligentsia.
So, no more multimillion dollar buildings please, while good people are getting paid bad wages. Don’t believe administration, my adjunct professor friends, when it declares that your pay is equivalent to a dishwasher’s salary because the money for the big building comes from a special fund allotted to construction projects. They are lying to you. Their line is called “management confidential”. Confidential means “lie” on a college level entrance exam. Don’t let them lie to you anymore. Tell your students what you get paid, and what Ms. Cheese, the senior professor, gets paid. Show the gap to close the gap. Ms. Cheese teaches like a wet cardboard box. Some of you, I am sure articulate more meaningfully on relevant subjects than Ms. Cheese could with the help of a marching band. The kids don’t need to know what past credentials their teacher has layered thick upon her super smart sandwich. They want public and self respect, knowledge, and the ability to prove what they are capable of. Similar to the needs of an adjunct professor struggling to make ends meet on a line weighted down by mismanaged multimillion dollar colleges and universities.
Number two: Art faculty work everyday to silence their own art. What a conflict of interest! The more immersed and dependent on the university one is, the less her creativity can explore. The art teacher must be careful of how she is regarded among peers and powerful administrators. The problem builds over time to complete an endless circle. Careful teachers teaching careful art to students to become careful teachers themselves one day. Institutional art. In a hyphenated word, anti-art.
Yesterday, the Agora Gallery, a well-respected vanity show place in New York, linked an article for its Twitter followers. It was about the possible culture boom wrought by the fracking gush in North Dakota. The Agora hires people who have art degrees. Art in North Dakota. An oxymoron like “mountain man of the Bowery”. Men and women well drillers out to make some damn good art. They come home with twisted spines and chemical lung, and rush through dinner to express their dreams with pen or paint. I see it now, culture in North Dakota. Gay Paris. Painters in three-egg diners guzzling vanadium water instead of absinthe. Children being taught by well drillers who have aspired to art. Young adults graduating from the University of North Dakota with art degrees interviewed to adjunct at my local college. “Are you kidding us? We can get paid ten times that licking boots at the Marcellus Shale fields. Up yours with this insult to my climb out of poverty.”
So to art professors I say, Good for art, bad for oyster-fed artists, but truly, all art teachers must be made adjuncts, and live on rice and beans, and sometimes beer, or else!
That, for the artists. The rest of university adjuncts need to mob up, and storm the Bastille of administration to publicly shame the politicos who dangle their lives on a money string.

If It Were Not For Dr. Aulus Saunders, Roy Lichtenstein Would Have Died Unknown and Unrich

AulusSaundersLow
2019. Acrylic on paper. 19 x 23″

In 1937, Dr. Saunders was hired by Ralph Swetman to help turn the Oswego Normal School into a State Teacher’s College. He retired in 1970 and was instrumental in hiring many inspired art faculty over the years.

In 1957, he chose Roy out of hundreds of applications for the job as assistant professor of art. At that time the department was being stocked with several practicing artists, all serious about their craft, and some even dedicated to teaching.

Not Roy. He was ambitious in ways disconnected from pedagogy. I guess he would have stagnated in Cleveland, carrying on with barbeque and agonizing repetition if the good doctor hadn’t “plucked” him out of suburbia.

In this painting Aulus draws an autumn night at East Park in Oswego the first year he arrived. He was a great inspiration to men and women seeking self-improvement through art and teaching. He must have wanted to punch his new hire in the eye when Roy handed in his resignation.

 

In 1957, Joe Shoenfelt, Jewelry Professor at Oswego State Teacher’s College, Went On Sabbatical to San Miguel de Allende to Expand His Horizons. It Worked.

JoeShoenfeltLow
2019. Acrylic on paper, 17 x 22″

From a letter sent to students dated October 30, 1957:

“Tomorrow is the Day of the Dead and the streets are filled with candy skulls—little candies, big candies, candies of all shapes and colors, candy animals, skeletons, dolls, and baskets. They are the most lovely candies I have seen. But they all taste like plain sugar.

We went to one cemetery this afternoon and preparations were already being made for the celebration. A cemetery here is a very grim place. The people do not buy the lots:they just rent them, so that when the rent is not paid, the bodies are dug up. As we walked around we saw lots of skulls and human bones. Some of the skulls still have hair on them.

The Indian will have picnics at the graves of the recently deceased on Saturday, and that seems to be the reason for all the elaborate candy for which San Miguel is famous.”

Roy Was So Jealous of Harvey Harris Because He Went to Yale and Looked Like It

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2019. Open Acrylic (Golden Paint) on paper, 17 x 21″

Harvey Sherman Harris (1915 – 1999) was a painter and teaching colleague of Roy Lichtenstein at Oswego State. I imagine professional jealousy was a persistent worm in the minds of artists in 1958 as it is today. I think that’s because artists in America think individually (at times) that they are great with verve and originality—better than the rest even—when really, what they’re privately pining for is an Elvis Presley fame with a Wayne Newton effort at expression. Truth is, everyone is free to achieve the inner peace and realization that there was only one John Coltrane, and we all should be happy enough with that satori, making things and drinking beer.

But few of us reach this happier place. Hence, university art departments nationwide, born from the seeds of children loving to make art, yet growing twisted and gnarled up, to be professional children chock full of groundless envy and pride.

We all suck. Now, back to work!

Roy1959

The Pissant and the Painter

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2019. Oil on tablecloth made in China, 70 x 47″

Recent business news informs the lowly that it’s wrong to compound tariffs on China because it will hurt business and the economy. Some articles on the Internet begin with an image of a cargo ship loaded with colorful shipping containers, docked at port with no place to go. The oceans are rapidly acidifying and I am still being propagandized to think that shipping containers filled with fidget spinners and plastic paper clips will bring contentment to my loved ones—if only those ships are free to cross the sea and filth up our lives and ecology. Personally, I believe 2,000% trade tariffs should be charged on all international goods, except for illicit Chinese items (street heroin) which must be outlawed with brute force. I painted this image on a tablecloth made in China that was flimsy like wet Shanghai kelp, even after after being gessoed and dried twice. China makes crap. And the United States buys the crap. The crappiest kind of people get rich in the process, and buy more crap like yachts. Economically, both China and the U.S. are just crappy states of peasant people terrified of their own governments.

Good people feel guilty for making a carbon footprint in a musty basement painting pictures.

Bad people talk, write, and think about trade while spitting in the hot wind of their own making.

Though I understand that in order to survive socially sane and dignified in the modern age, a marketplace needs to remain open, and all people (good and bad) will partake on some level. When good people make a transaction for slight profit, it should feel like getting a strong urge to stool on a very hot day in an open marketplace without a single toilet nearby.

A good person will take the money, put her head down in shame, and run.

Established New York City galleries have placed enormous 1% tariffs on paintings they acquire and sell. Meaning that only the 1% could ever afford them, and also be the type of loathsome people to even want to.

In my painting, the New York City art market is always the pissant, and back in 1961, Roy was just another painter. The day he dropped off his six pop pieces to Leo Castelli was a great day. He left without a deal, taking a stroll to a nearby coffeehouse to dream. A few weeks later he returned and was offered representation and a path to fame and fortune. Most likely, Roy, like every peasant painter who came before him, got the pressing urge to stool. Unlike the majority of peasant painters, however, a great embarrassment overwhelmed Roy on the spot. He didn’t put his head down in shame and run.

He stood there and pooped his pants unabashedly.

 

Lichtenstein Worried Less About Nuclear Weapons Than I Do About the 6th Extinction

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2019. Oil on canvas, 23 x 24″

It is so easy to be an artist when it comes to pretending to occupy head space. Just draw a picture and let people guess at your profundity. As a 16 year old boy, often flabbergasted by the insensitivity and hypocrisy of man, I had no outlet other than a spoken word “why” to react to interplay with myself and a world gone wrong. A friend gave me the nickname “Philosopher Ron,” which I didn’t know what to do with other than add more “whys” to a lengthening list on the sins of friends and family. I was working class, poorly educated, and limited to wonder that never took me too far outside my caste. I had no mentor, no teacher, no guru. So, why did the chef at the restaurant where I worked my first job as dishwasher serve late arrivals spaghetti that he scooped out of the garbage? Was his life that interesting after punching out to save time on the clock washing garbage can pasta and reheating it, rather than boiling another pound? That week on my night off I watched “The Day After”, a made for TV nuclear holocaust movie that was all the rage among adults pretending to give a crap about their own government’s trespass on the rights of all life on earth. What was a moral dishwasher with the intellectual capacity of a stone, yet the sensitivity of a butterfly wing, to do with that information?

Naturally, for me in my station, as inquisitive young dope and novice dishwasher, I just asked “why”, and then went to bed.

I am sure Roy Lichtenstein either watched or at least heard about the movie, for adults everywhere always talk about things the TV wants them to. He was rich and well cared for in 1983, and although he had the eyes of many thousands of thinking peoples, he thought best to remain humble in his art and let Ronald Reagan be master of the weapons that would melt his loved ones. Roy made one political painting that year, a framed “abstract” entitled “Against Apartheid”, which was very safe and popular and showed that the millionaire artist cared very much about oppression in South Africa. The rest of his output for 1983 is more brushstrokes, more frames, and some apples. And he probably took Dorothy out for spaghetti late one night, at the hour when chefs get very bitter and angry over their station in life.

Today, Philosopher Ron can’t help but to think that all popular visual artists are lazy jerks to the survival needs of mankind. I think the same of priests of religion, pop musicians, and writers with best selling books. Each has a huge following, yet uses expression to maintain the means that keep them grounded to the same spot on the spectrum of goodness and badness. They reside where the money comes and popularity is maintained. Popular artists, like infamous presidents (all presidents), gain the world and lose their souls. It’s just a matter of fact.

Fear of insignificance keeps the ambitious producing nothing to prevent the race to our own extinction. Whether it be pretty pop paintings or the B83 thermonuclear bomb.