The End of
What Foxy Knows
March 23, 1983
received a letter. It says:
“First: What are the best minds [of a generation]? Do we mean the most
innovative, dedicated, intelligent and passionate artists? Then, perhaps,
we can speculate a little on why and is it relevant [that painting
Painting may just be an obsolete means of expression competing with moving
visual forms that can probe in time and psychological depth.
painting is too introverted for the demands of our present society. (This
is part of what you suggest.)
Sypher suggests that there is a hundred years between major stylistic
changes in Western Art. We are approaching [the end of a hundred year
period]. We may be just before a major change in art concepts due to
innovative materials such as computers, lasers, etc.
painting become a woman's art because it is relatively inexpensive
compared to arts needing extensive machinery? (Of course, there are
exceptions, but I am talking of trends.) If so, it will not be taken as
seriously and as challengingly as a ‘man's’ art.
moved too far from simplicity, and to paint and draw and train one’s eye
and hand and hone one’s art on a two-dimensional level is too simple.”
was in response to the question which prompted my last two columns, Why
did painting fail to capture the best minds of a generation? The columns
were transcribed and cleaned up from some notebook entries of last May, a
time when the question seemed to me even more pressing than it is today.
This column will be the last to be transcribed from that book of nearly a
year ago, a time now as far gone as those sixties and seventies when the
question of the failure of painting first hit the covers of the art
magazines. Anyway, in many ways this is the end of what that painter knows
who is not dumb like an ox but would rather be dumb like a fox. As in so
many creative bursts, this one began with a question (Why did so many...
?), went on to a barrage of insights (the column two weeks ago) and ends
now with a series of authoritative statements:
is not for making magnificent decorations for the homes of the rich, nor
is it for making modest decorations for the middle class, nor is it for
making paltry gauds for the homes of the poor. But Foxy knows, too, that
painting can be magnificent, modest paltry—and decorative.
is not for political posters or murals in storefronts or civic palaces.
But Foxy knows that painting can be a poster, a mural—it can even be a
political act. It can be this latter because Foxy knows every act is a
political act (our times have taught him that) just as every act is also
an esthetic act (our times have tried to deny him that).
is not for money. The gift of the spirit, as Christ remarked, is not
renderable unto Caesar. But Foxy knows, though painting is not for money,
sometimes you can sell paintings. (And he likes that.)
is not for making empty tear bottles into which every Tom, Dick and Mary
can pour the tears of their lives. No, Foxy knows that if his own tears
aren't there first, full to overbrimming, no other tears (or laughter)
will ever find their fit.
knows that as long as tears and laughter, awe and disgust rip at his gut,
his painting will come dripping from his fingers like pearls and blood,
like sweat and dirt, like fruit and flowers, like mother's milk and
father's sperm, like—like everything else in this world that comes from
the bounty of God.
knows that when the tearing in him stops and therefore the crying that is
singing stops—oh, yes, when they stop—well, what else is dying for?
right, maybe Foxy knows all that. But what does Foxy say? Foxy says
nothing. His dialog is not speech with critics, curators, dealers or
collectors. His dialog is the calling and responding between his heart and
the canvas. That's why Foxy is today, as he was twenty years ago, “dumb
like a painter.”
Well, how do
I know what Foxy knows? I know it because I've been describing the dreams
of my painter friends of the early sixties, before their dreams were run
over by the juggernaut of the Triumph of American Painting, a hit-and-run
accident that squashed all the cubs in their burrows, stopped in their
tracks all the young foxes that were already running and shot dead
everyone who had begun the leap to freedom.
And what is
all this that I have written but regret for the youth which every
professional must leave behind—nostalgia for the dreams of youth before,
in the sixties, those dreams became only the dream of making it before the
age of twenty-five.
Fred, get out of the closet. You’ve always been a painter; you always will
be. Everything else is just your mask of the moment.