The Art of Fred Martin
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So in Need
an essay from my series "Art and History" published in ArtWeek during the years 1976-1992. I am not sure this particular one was ever published.

You meet them scattered here and there across the world. They are men and women like Vincent van Gogh said of himself, "A man of 30, and so in need of a woman’s love…" Perhaps because teaching art is a major component of my life, I think sometimes I meet more of these people than other people do… And, because church-going is no longer important to most of us, I expect priests and ministers don’t meet so many as once they did—except insofar as as they are such people themselves, searching for love by giving love, love to Christ, love to God. But, more importantly I think, they search for love by means of the love they give to their flocks… But, but, all that is aside. What matters here is to see clearly in this column a few of the artists, both men and women, that I have known who were "so in need of love."

I think I have met them mostly among the ranks of painters, although I can remember a sculptor or two. I don’t remember any printmakers, perhaps a photographer, but certainly no filmmakers and never a video/performance artist. I think that is because these latter media—film, video, performance—are very group oriented, and the people I am trying to evoke are among those who are alone even in a group. Although, now I do remember a video/performance person of this solitary type. My first recollection of him is when he was rolled up alone in a black canvas bag hung thirty feet off the ground between two trees for twenty four hours.

However, I think these solitary people usually are painters in part because the painter’s work in the studio in the 20th century is such solitary work. Studio work is the place where I think they have come to seek love because love has been denied them in the world. Or was it denied them in the world because there was a greater work they had to do, a greater creation they had to make than only a child or two… a greater creation, the children of art and to whom we might all for generations to come project our need to love?

But for some artists not only was love denied them in the world but it has been also denied them in art. Neither they nor their art are lovable. Both they and their art ask too much. Like Vincent, all they want is someone to whom to give all of themselves. And who ever wants all of that? Especially because, you’re supposed to give all of yourself in return. What a drag. They, these people I am talking about, when they look at you, you know they want too much; and when you look at their art, you know they want too much there, too. Decorous their work is not. Both the men and the women, whatever their themes—personal, social, aesthetic—decorum is not a criterion. Totality is.

Everyone talks about art as revolutionary, breaking boundaries, but no one wants art that really does… where the paint that paints the murder is as gross as murder itself (the way it was in the early, ugly, undesirable Cézannes, and as it is in one of the artists I’m remembering here), where the vision of nature is as sweet, dumb and ravaged as the hippie’s view of ecotopia raped by the American Moloch (as it is in another of the artists I’m thinking of here), or where the passion for the aesthetic extreme is vast as in Monet’s late work which was attributed in his time to senility and cataracts (as it might be too easily in another of the artists I’m thinking of here).

Well, I wrote this today to do honor to those artists so in need of love whom I know and care for; and to honor also all those others who must be legion whom I will never meet – like the tormented, clumsy Paul, like the archetypal grungy hippie, like the senile Monet. I wrote this to do honor, but these artists can’t have public honor. No glowing reviews with magnificent photos are permitted to stampede an art hungry public to their studio doors. Nor will they ever have private satisfactions to compensate for their lack of public success: they will never find the perfect mate, just for them. No, I can only give them the honor of evoking their solitary destinies in my reader’s minds, the honor of knowing that, to the extent those destinies ring for a moment in the mind of a reader, it is because somewhere deep in that mind also lies that solitude.