Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Smooth Art Of The Bush Years

When Napoleon Bonaparte conquered France, he was not ignorant about the power of art to reflect his regime's ideals. He was also quite aware of art's ability to affect public opinion. He wisely chose Jacques-Louis David to head up the French Art world and gave him reign over the content, style and moral role that painting would play in the growingly oppressive Napoleonic empire. Jacques-Louis David was a great painter, and he devised a technique of working that would best serve the propaganda machine and methodology of the self-crowned Emperor.

Bonaparte realized that individual voices of dissent could grow and threaten his rule. It would become vital to neutralize these voices. David was employed to develop an approach to art-education and philosophy that would do just that. His most obvious tool was to eliminate the individual voice which comes from brushstrokes in a painting. When French artists created an artwork, therefore; it was imperative that they "erase" their individual voice. The school of David preached that smooth, flat surfaces were what all painters should strive to achieve and emulate. The school of David produced some gorgeously cool masterpieces which occupy a unique place in art history and the technical strength and allegorical impact of Napoleonic painting is beyond question. The works of these Napoleonic painters appear as polished, smooth, hard-edged and nearly photographic in their overall distribution of detail.

Folks, it took three generations of painters to free art from the strict cannons of smooth Napoleonic neo-classiscism. A fourth and fifth generation fought and died to bring the personal and expressive brushstroke to it's full articulation, purity and ultimately abstract power. Today, painting is seeing a resurgence. Realism, Impressionism, decorative applications, expressive solutions, International appropriation and even pop-culture cartoon stylistics are all choices available to the creative artist at the beginning of our twenty-first century. They are all valid, they are all widely practiced, and even marketable. How far we have come from the days when a single finger of art drove the entire body!

When The National portrait Gallery in Washinton D.C. announced last year that they would be hosting the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition in 2006, artists of all backgrounds across America joyously submitted a portrait that reflected their relationship with their sitter. The event would be amazing. Perhaps it would be a survey of the multi-lingual artscape that our country has finally become. A return to portraiture as a revered contemporary subject could spell walls and walls of paintings dripping with expressive humanity. The task of creation and rush to submit to the event was embarked upon by well-over four thousand artists. The competition would be great, as only fifty or so paintings would be chosen by a distinguished jury for exhibition in time to coincide with the National Portrait Gallery's grand reopening on July 4th.

Now that the paintings have been chosen and the winner of the twenty-five thousand dollar first prize has been announced, it is of historical and artistic interest to see what has in effect, become the official art of the George W. Bush era.

When I clicked on the website of the National Portrait Gallery to
view the paintings shortlisted for the grand prize, I was met with a group of beautiful paintings that all had specific things in common: They appeared to be polished, smooth, hard-edged and nearly photographic in their overall distribution of detail...

"Sacre Bleu!" Shouts the ghost of the long-dead Napoleon Bonaparte. "Vive Le Emperor!"

A recent article in The Washington Post discussed the exhibition in terms of it's obsessive embrace of a single harsh painting style. Painting comes in many forms, and it seems odd that such a severe photo-dependent product be so highly showcased to the exclusion of so many other choices and possibilities. I know of a hundred or so portrait artists whose work was not chosen for the exhibition. Many of them were working in various expressive or "painterly" styles of realism. Most of them employed unblended brushstrokes in their creative process.

Let's face it, judging art is a lot like judging a bar-b-que ribs cook-off. One judge might like hickory smoke flavoring, while another goes for sweet Missouri style sauce. Some like meat falling off the bone, while other judges might go for firmer mouthfulls. In the end, personal taste must prevail, and be respected. It is still remarkable to me that such a large jury panel was so enamored with this Napoleonic aesthetic, when so many styles were submitted. What does this say about the image of the American human in our time? What does this say about the expectations Washington D.C. Curators have about contemporary painters?

It is also interesting to note that across the pond, The London National Portrait Gallery has opened their annual Open exhibition, which also features a select group of paintings based upon the same Napoleonic severity. Additionally, the lack of color in the London exhibition is interesting. Historically color use in art is equated with periods of freedom, vibrancy, passion and liveliness of a culture. What does this lack of color say about our times? Or the artist's perception of their role?

Certainly, to have such prestigious portrait exhibitions is a triumph in the wake of the modernist jihad that tried to erase the language of realism from the face of the earth in the last century. These are exciting events for lovers of art and creators of painting. Still, I like to ask the larger questions at hand.

Do we realist-artists ever question our own philosophies? Were we born to simply "paint as real as we can" ? Are our individual voices -our brushstrokes- distractions to be smoothed over? In the future, historians will look back to our time and perhaps see an amusing parallel to another epoch. They will marvel at the way cycles of politics echo cycles of art. They will note who marched in step with these cycles...and they will note who embraced the brushstroke. Let's beat these historians to the punch. Let's ask these questions now.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Smile America! You Love Art!

"Nobody cares about art. No one really cares."

My friend Peter spoke these words aloud, and they hung there in the air with the weight of a comfortable reclining chair. He stared out his studio window, waiting for me to repeat his mantra. Before I could speak, he churned out another sorrowful statement, punctuated with a heavy sigh. "It just seems that nobody is interested in art anymore."

Of course, only an artist would ever say these words. In times of despair, they have come from my lips as well. But no longer. Why? Because they are so far from truth that it is almost hysterical. Maybe smack in the middle of the last decade a comment like that would have garnered a conquering chorus of grumbling hallelujahs, but not in today's America. Today's American citizen is absolutely in love with art.

With this in mind I broke the disparaging mood in the room by asking my defeated artist friend, "What was the number one movie in the land last week, and the number one best-selling book last year? I'll tell you: the frickin' Da Vinci Code. The story takes place in the Louvre Museum and is all about looking at art. And did you hear? Yesterday the highest amount ever paid for a painting was set in auction: 135 million dollars for a Gustav Klimt painting, beating out Picasso's chincey 106 million dollar price from two years ago! The Klimt is going to the Neues Museum in Manhattan, where hundreds of thousands of people will make their way to see it! And believe me, admission ain't gonna be free! They will all gladly shell out big bucks to get in, and then they will slap down the plastic at the souvenir counter to buy Klimt posters, Klimt refridgerator magnets, and Klimt oven mits"

My painter friend just stared.

"And another thing," I resumed, climbing up to stand on a table, "The number one shows on television today are about people... real people...involved in the art of singing and ballroom dancing! America loves this art thing! America is done with car-chase shows and folks eating tarantula intestines and caterpillar smoothies on a dare. They actually want to see somebody get better at their craft, even if it means risking getting humiliated. They want to see somebody just like them take a stand and become a singing star or a tango hero! Whatd'ya mean nobody cares about art!?"

I stood panting with sweat beads dripping from my forehead. My chest heaved passionately as I awaited a response.

"Mere circuses and cakes," Peter retorted, dismissing me with a wave of his paint-covered hand. "You call junk-culture art? You call inflated commerce an indication of our nation's taste? Our nation has taste all right, but it's in its mouth, and that's about it."

"Ah jeez!" I countered. "Step down from the ivory tower, your majesty. This junk-culture as you call it serves as a kind of, you know, gateway-drug. It's like an appetizer before you can swallow the main course. It's like stretching before you run a marathon. The world has to develop a taste for art before they are ready to feast on it."

Peter ignored me. " What about our government? Why is the American government willing to spend billions on the military to fight our current economic-religious war in the middle East while diminishing all arts funding at home? Our schools rarely embrace the arts, and less and less government funds are put towards this universal language of peace and expression. I mean my God, even someone as wicked as Hitler supported the arts. During World War Two even he considered the arts vital. If the "ultimate evil guy" supported the arts, why can't our "good guys" in Washington do the same, but with grace and wisdom?"

"Now you've done it!" I taunted. "Whenever people bring up Hitler in an argument, you know that they are becoming cranky. Good Lord, are you saying that Hitler was a moral keeper of culture? Please be open to good news! Just tone down your pessimism and release your demands that the whole garden bloom at once." I grew sage-like as my heart glowed with hope. I continued with my hand gently and firmly on his shoulder. "Allow a few flowers to blossom before the others. Allow a beginning to take shape. Think of it as a start. Our culture is letting art into daily life like never before. Be positive. Be open to the possibilities. people do care."

My friend looked quietly down at the floor. After a few moments he spoke. "I guess you may be right. Maybe people are thinking about art more. Maybe they will develop a real thirst for it. Maybe this is the beginning, when our culture begins to grow. Maybe art will join every aspect of life, enriching it and leading to a future of harmony, poetry and beauty."
He paused. "I...still don't have to consider McDonald's new breakfast croissandwich as Haute cuisine though, do I?"

I smiled. We hugged.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bouguereau And Abortion

“It’s like abortion. You are either for or against it. The same can be said about this controversial artist.”

With these shocking words, Scott Schaefer, the paintings curator of the J.Paul Getty Museum summarized a circus-like two-hour lecture called “The Great Bouguereau Debate” held on Tuesday June 6th. A near-rabid crowd of a few hundred art-lovers and art-makers crammed into the luxurious Harold M. Williams Auditorium at the citadel-like Getty Center in Los Angeles to gnash their teeth or throw roses at the evil arch-villain of academia, William Adolph Bouguereau.

Say “Boo-grrrr-OH”

No other name in art-history has set off such emotion. The debate over the virtues of this dead painter goes far beyond whether one likes his work or not. Stating your opinion about his sensual nymphs or sweetly posed prepubescent peasants is like loudly stating your political-alignment. Are you from a red state or a blue state? It’s like proclaiming your bedroom preferences over a megaphone: Do you go for missionary style or experimentation? You must lean one way or another: Are you a sickly vegetarian or a blood-thirsty meat-eater? Intelligence level can also be deduced by your love of this controversial artist: Are you a misguided farmer or a hip Cosmopolitan? Choose!

From the evening’s onset, the Great Debate promised to be juicy. While riding the tram up to the gleaming Getty museum, the supporters of Bouguereau whispered passionately about how repugnant Bouguereau-haters were, and Bouguereau-detractors loudly dismissed those who would dare to support such saccharine drivel.

Upon entering the bustling auditorium, we were confronted immediately by a seventy foot high projected image of one of Bouguereau’s salon paintings depicting two charming young girls with a basket of fruit. Guests either “ooohed and ahhhed” or emitted a cackle and sneered at the sight of it before finding a seat. A guest was overheard saying “It’s like a hostile wedding. Should we sit on the bride’s side or the groom’s side?” Keeping my eye open, I saw many well-known realist painters in the crowd; preening, posing, hob-nobing and furiously praising the painter amongst themselves. Around them sat the enemies of the French Academician, with their lips upturned in disdainful smirks.

The occasion for this debate was sparked by the Getty’s recent display of a Bouguereau masterpiece: The Virgin and the Angels. The huge painting, dating from late ninteenth century France, belongs to the Forest Lawn mortuary in Glendale California. It has been in their collection for decades, and until recently it was rather thoughtlessly hung twelve feet high and glumly displayed in a dimly lit "museum” at the mortuary. Covered with murky soot and old yellow varnish, the one room museum was a pilgrimage for all realist painters in the know. Every time I sat breathing in the smog on the crowded freeway below, I could always glance up towards the hill at the building which housed this amazing canvas, and I took solace in knowing that “At least there is a beautiful artwork up there…”

Recently the Mortuary agreed to allow the Getty to display the Bouguereau in their world class gallery in exchange free cleaning and restoring. I visited the sparklingly clean painting recently, and wow! It is gorgeous. It glows and invites the viewer to explore every detail. In the finely realized composition life size angels hover intimately around the sleeping virgin Mary, who sits with a handsome snoozing baby Jesus in her lap. The angels play delicately on musical instruments, treating the mother and child with heavenly melodies. Very cool…

Or is it? The debate was to answer the burning question: Is this all just sappy, corny kitsch? In art history, after all, many teachers declare that despite his flawless technique William Adolph Bouguereau was (and is) nothing less than the world’s worst painter.

The lights dimmed and curator Scott Schaefer began by introducing the panelists for the night: historian Gerald Ackerman, artist Peter Zokosky, and Patrice Marandel, chief curator of European art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The venerable Gerald Ackerman quietly began, telling us all how good the painter was by showing close up details of his paintings, his figure’s expressions and sentimentality made more poignant by the reminder that Bouguereau had lost a four-year-old child to Cholera, and his wife to fever. In other words, he knew deep emotion, and was not simply play-acting when he painted a mourning figure draped over the lap of a Virgin of mercy. Ackerman is a lover of all things smooth and classical, so no earth-shattering revelations sprang from his lips, (the exception being when he pointed out that, in The Virgin and the Angels, One ethereal being's violin bridge and bow form a perfect cross, hinting at the sleeping baby’s impending sacrifice and glorious death by crucifixion).

Artist Peter Zokosky was next, presenting as a pro-Bouguereau speaker. He was humorous and brief, primarily stating the points people make against the painter: Too Sentimental, Too Skilled, Too Popular, among other charges. In each case, he brushed the allegations away. “We demand skill from our barbers. Why not from our painters?” he asked the crowd, who applauded wildly. He was followed by the evening’s definite anti-Bouguereau panelist, Patrice Marandel, chief curator of European art, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. After a few disarming jokes, the mood in the auditorium was about to get heavy.

As if playing the role of Lord Darth Vader, Monseiur Marandel launched into a brutal attack against All things Bouguereau: His droll design, his lack of emotion, his lack of risk-taking, his sweet subject-matter, his slick technique, his inflated sales, his “unsophisticated” American patrons, and the questionable motives of his supporters were all topics. Marandel went so far as to imply that the artist’s sexual morals were in question by highlighting the number of naked young children found lounging around in his canvases. Dirt! Scandal! The crowd reeled from the assault, and reached a point of convulsion when Marandel aligned Bouguereau with “another painter you all know, one who panders to the approval of an uneducated public:” up on the wall sprang an eighty foot high slide of a Thomas Kinkade Cottage painting, windows all aglow with comforting light.

“I have just brought Thomas Kinkade to the J. Paul Getty!” crowed the crazed curator, with his arms raised in mock triumph. The crowd collectively screamed and averted their eyes.

Things got serious though when the microphones were opened to the audience. The first question for Marandel was direct: “Where is the Bouguereau that belongs to the Los Angeles County museum of art?” LACMA owns a small but beautiful example of the painter’s work called A Girl Reading. It is exquisite. No better example of late nineteenth century salon art exists within the museum’s collection, and as of late, it has been conspicuously…absent. Marandel stammered a bit. “Well, it doesn’t really go with the rest of the museum. I’ve tried it on this wall,Iv’e tried it on that wall. I finally put it in the American wing, since most of the buyers of his work were Americans. I tried hanging it above a horrible American piece of furniture, and it was o.k.” When pressed further, he admitted that he didn’t really like the painting, so it was now stuck in the museum’s basement. For this flippant comment, he was jeered by members of the now disillusioned crowd. I even “booed”. How one man in such a responsible position could deny art history that way was eerily disconcerting. I always suspected that the little painting was banished due to an individual’s personal taste.

Jeffrey Morseburg from Morseburg Gallery was sitting below me a row or two away. His head was turning bright red. Once he was able to flag down a microphone, he asked why frothy French painters like Boucher and Fragonard were allowed in the Museum, while a frothy Bouguereau was not. The Los Angeles County Curator shot back that Mr.Morseburg was wrong: “Bouguereau is not at all frothy, but rather dry.”

Make no mistake, the grand quibble over this painter was pointing to a greater elephant in the room. As Mr. Ackerman pointed out, “Bouguereau was a product of his own unique time, and it would be absurd to judge him by today’s standards. He and his work belonged authentically to a certain time and place which is now removed from our comprehension.” With so many twenty three year old academic art students currently worshipping Bouguereau and trying to emulate his style and surface finish, I wonder if they heard a single word when confronted by the question “Why would twenty first century realist painters not collectively paint for our fixed time and place as well?”

Everyone was confronted that evening with issues of academic fear and prejudice. In the end, Bouguereau challenges us as painters because we must ask: “Is the motive of artists to impress each other with technique? Is technique (or lack of technique) going to empower or silence me?” And the most blood-curdling question of all: Should I be a caboose, trailing after a faraway locomotive? Or should I dare to be a steam-engine, leading the way?” I hope that, as the audience went out to discuss the lecture at coffee shops around Los Angeles afterwards, the kool-aid drinkers of all persuasions dared to ask these most personal questions of themselves. In the end, Bouguereau was a hell of a painter. Bouguereau is dead. It is now our time to paint.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Art In The Last Hindu Kingdom

[The eyes of Lord Buddah peer out from the Swayambunath Monkey-temple, high above Kathmandu, Nepal]

Nepal called to me in dreams from the core of my soul. I don't know when I first thought of Nepal as a destination I had to see. Was it mentioned in some half-remembered travel program? A book on Hindu sculpture I chanced upon? A photo journalist essay featuring blurred photos of muddy Kathmandu streets? Somehow Nepal crept into my dreams and planted itself. I knew that "I would go to Nepal one day". By fate, a humanitarian urge and a prototype art project I had created for Tibetan refugee children were the seeds that brought me to Nepal finally in 2001. My trip was amazing. Since that time I have watched in shock and dread as the last Hindu kingdom on earth has become embroiled in a social and political tragedy that is testing every spirit in the tiny country and will direct the future of the entire Indian sub-continent.

It was a life-changing trip for me. I was able to experience my dream come true, while being able to meet people beyond my dreams. One of them was an artist named Kiran Manandhar.

Kiran is the most famous visual artist in Nepal. He is a charismatic, articulate and passionate man. As president of the Artists Society of Nepal (ASON) he holds great power in the eyes of his fellow Nepali artists. I met Kiran through some other very talented painters while visiting Kathmandu, the almost medieval city of mysterious temples, crazed tourist ghettos and chaos. "You must meet Kiran", everyone told me, and a meeting was arranged. The day finally came to visit him in his lavish studio, housed in a neo-classical palace which looked airlifted out of Vienna or London, and placed in the middle of a crumbling Nepalese neighborhood.

truly, the artists who keep their studios in this prestigious building are held in the greatest esteem. As artists of the Royal Academy, they are officially the brightest lights of Nepali culture. Kiran Manandhar's studio was the largest, housed at the top floor, with the roof of the building serving as his extended patio. The views of Kathmandu from the roof were stunning , but clearly exhibited the poverty of the city far below. The white neo-classical palace, with it's tall columns and decorative features was very much a citadel.

Kiran extended kindness and a warm welcome to us. He brought in hot milk-tea and snacks as my wife and I surveyed his paintings. Abstract expressionism was becoming the new movement in Nepal, and Kiran was a master of it. Vibrant colors, thick impasto strokes, written text and occasional found objects were his forte, with much of his work feeling as playful as Picasso's. Bright colors and confident experimentation helped each canvas to radiate with strength.

When asked about my own paintings, I introduced Kiran to my series of portraits of missing children. The social aspect of my work interested him and we talked about the future of Nepali art. How might it evolve? Abstract expressionism conveys emotion and activity to the audience, but can just as easily alienate and put off viewers. Could the art of the great Nepali contemporary painters address the heavier social issues facing the world?

Of course, some of the Nepali artists we met on our journey scratched their head when asked this same question. "Social issues?" They replied that they would rather paint the mountains , or the lush green landscape. Poverty, environmental concerns and the human crisis of girl-trafficking were all topics of conversations amongst us, but were not seen as content for painting. One topic especially was discussed very cautiously: The Maoist insurgence.

The topic of Art And Courage will resume in a moment, but I would first like to give you my own personal experiences with the Maoists. Without referring to ideology, I will let their deeds tell the story. During my stay in Nepal, every few days the Maoists would demand that all twentieth century life be stopped. For example: some days, just for kicks, the Maoists would demand that no automobiles be allowed driven. For that matter, no machines be allowed. All Buses would be shut down, all air travel postponed, all shops and schools would be ordered closed. Even the use of electricity would be banned. The Maoists demanded these restrictions be obeyed on penalty of violent punishment, and their whims were proclaimed randomly as a way to demonstrate their ability terrorize. The day we arrived in Pokhara, the once peaceful village clinging to the picturesque shores of Phewa lake , the airport had been shutdown on the insistence of the Maoists. We arrived in the last plane that they would allow to land and were met by our travel guide on a bike, while a porter begged to carry our baggage for us on a wooden fruit cart. The two of them argued over whether the use of these rusty machines would constitute a disregard for the Maoists strike. In the twentieth century we were risking being shot for our use of the wheel.

Many of our subsequent days in the city came to a screeching halt when mini-parades of mask wearing thugs marched menacingly past restaurants and tourist spots with loud speakers, screaming at proprietors to close their shops, and demanding that we capitalist pig foreigners get the hell out. Everyone would look away. Nobody dared to engage the Maoists in debate. We were all aware that thousands of people were dead from conflicts with them. And the death toll was rising.

Every morning, The Kathmandu Post ran an article numbly describing the recent horrors eroding at the civilized people of Nepal. The Maoists fancied themselves as Robin Hood characters. They were going from village to village, massacring the local police, and distributing all the dead policemen's household belongings to the poor. Imagine getting a free bed or a jacket from the Maoists. Imagine knowing that these "gifts"had been stolen from the home of a murdered neighbor. Imagine the frightening message that comes from that kind of manipulation. Of course, plenty of the villagers would eat this up. The Maoists were able to recruit many poor uneducated kids this way. The fact that even the Chinese have admitted that maoism was"49% failure, and only 51% good" seems to make no difference to the idealists who read and accept all of Chairman Mao's insanely backward ideology. All People, (especially artists) need to pay special attention when flags of any color start waving. Banners carried by camouflage wearing youngsters with angry expressions usually spells trouble for anyone with an individual voice and point of view.

How was the Government of Nepal dealing with this terror? The King was being criticized for not doing enough to squash the Insurgence. Should the army be called out to destroy the Maoists, or should the King treat the Maoists with respect and have lunch with their leaders? No clear decision was being made.

Anyway, when outspoken Nepali artist Kiran Manandhar was entertaining us from his studio rooftop, I could listen to Maoist rallies taking place in the streets below. I wondered how the artists would be able to justify their palace-style digs when the pitchfork carrying villagers finally gained momentum and stormed the Capital. Many of the writers and poets we met whispered about the new threat. They all felt that something was coming... Something that would change the country forever.

That something occurred on June 1st, 2001, when the royal family of Nepal was suddenly massacred. The shock and sadness of the event was made even more unbelievable by the mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths. It was reported that Prince Dipendra was distraught over his father the King Birendra refusing to support his marriage. The Prince walked into the family meeting room dressed in military costume and carrying automatic weapons. In two minutes everyone in the family was shot, including the Prince Dipendra, who finally turned a gun on himself.

The soul survivor of the Royal family was coincidently away that day, on vacation at a jungle resort. Gyanendra, brother to the now dead King Birendra was the new heir, and Gyanendra was crowned king amid increasing waves of suspicion. It was mighty odd that he and he alone was not present that night, and that he and he alone would be able to ascend to the throne in the wake of the deaths. (If you are interested in reading a detailed account of the bloody night of June 1st 2001 along with updates outlining the arguments both for and against a conspiracy, take a moment to explore this intriguing article:)

As the new King, Gyanendra decreed that the Democracy in Nepal be suspended, and that crackdowns on the Maoists be severe. By suspending the freedoms of the country in order to better fight terrorists (Hmmmm... That sounds familiar...) The King began to undo his own kingdom.

When the people of Nepal reacted in April 2006 by staging massive civil protests, they ultimately regained an amount of say in their country's direction. At the same time however, the Maoists are functioning less as an underground movement, and are now showing their numbers and force out in the open. The pending revolution in Nepal could be of the worst sort imaginable. And, as I have noted, artists tend to be the first folks at risk when flags fiercely wave.

Yet the politics and drama ultimately return us back to art. I was excited to read that the Nepalese painter Kiran Manandhar was recently featured on an internet article for Yahoo News. Kevin Sites is a journalist focusing on political "Hot Spots" and he turned his attention to Kiran and his response to the violence of the uprising and popular resolve of his fellow citizens. The actual interview, along with images of Kiran's passionate art can be viewed here.

To paraphrase from this article, Kiran is making a true adjustment to the recent events, and instead of producing his expected sensual paintings of abstract exploration, he is allowing distinctive political content to help drive his creations. His need is to communicate the images he saw while marching in the demonstrations, and to document what he felt. I do not know Kiran's political leanings. I do not speak for him, or link him with any affiliation. I am less interested in his politics than I am in the knowledge that Kiran ( and many other wonderful Nepali artists we met), are responding to these events.

It would be easy for these artists to continue to paint cute Nepali huts and basket-carrying children. It would be easier to paint snow-capped mountain peaks and picturesque green rice fields. It would be easier to create decorative splashes on canvas. Artists can be unaffected, sticking to standard habits,and deciding to retreat from the events of his day. For artists, there is a risk in his involvement. I wrote about the potential to withdrawal that we artists must face in a previous post called "Sleeping in a swarm of bees". When artists awaken to life, it is the birth of our greatest hope. Kiran, like the best of the artists from our collective art history, is responding to the unexpected crisis of life. As he does so, even this master of Nepal is bravely reinventing himself. Perhaps he navigates carefully through the rocks of conflict. Perhaps he takes a side, or none at all. The point is that he is responding, reflecting, and speaking. Artists are not soldiers. Is The act of creating in itself the stand that an artist should make? Surely, to respond is the requirement. This is what keeps art relevant.

I pray for the safety of my friends in Nepal and I pray for the strength of the individual voice.