Panorama view of exhibition in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich.

Panorama view of exhibition in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich.

03 September 2017

Dr Great Art Episode 19: (No) Rules in Art


My newest Dr Great Art podcast! Episode 19: "(No) Rules in Art." This Artecdote concerns supposed rules in art, especially painting. It describes how there are really no rules in art, and it decries the obsequiousness of those who believe there are rules and who seek to follow them.
http://drgreatart.libsyn.com/episode-19-no-rules-in-art #arthistory #art

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This is the script (not a transcript, as I change elements when recording).

 Dr Great Art Podcast 19: (No) Rules in Art



Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 19th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast. I hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.

Today my Artecdote concerns supposed Rules in Art, especially painting.

"I've seen most creative minds of my generation destroyed by obsequiousness." Toadying to those who espouse rules for art.

One and all seem to want to rewrite the beginning section of Alan Ginsberg's wonderful first line of his poem Howl. The original: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, ...." Yet I could not resist, for in art, culture and politics, as well as elsewhere, I find my version to be true.

Recriminations run rampant in the artworld. What's wrong with curators? What's wrong with critics? What's wrong with galleries? I would like to add "What is wrong with us?" By that I mean primarily artists, but perhaps beyond that, all of us in all the mentioned categories.

Tessa Laird wrote of researching the artworld, that she "felt like [she] had stumbled into an anthill, where thousands of industrious (anty) intellectuals were going about their business of empire-building and ankle-biting." When exactly did we turn from manifesto screaming, naive-yet-hopeful creators-with-attitudes into fawning, trendy Sophists?

This podcast is the beginning of a rant I will likely return to in various fashions in the future in my podcasts. This one, however, was motivated by two particular discussions I recently remembered, although I had them years ago. It, and my complaint, concern painting, but thereby synecdochically all art.

I, as most Americans do, make paintings with somewhat deep stretcher frames, with the canvas or linen stretched around the side, stapled to the back, with an unpainted edge. Europeans tend to use very flat, rather flimsy-looking stretched canvas, often purchased pre-primed or at least appearing so.

I have done this for years, although now I also do paintings on top of wall paintings in large installations, even involving performance-lectures, which inspired these podcasts.

Anyway, a Swiss painter I know was very bothered by my, and other thicker, stretchers. This at first seemed to me to be rather unimportant, a simple visual preference one way or the other. They find ours (and us) too self-assertive; I find theirs too shabby and amateurish. Second, I heard from a curator, that while he really liked my work, he did not know "what to think," as this Mongrel approach of mine was something he "had never seen."

This can't be really important, just taste. Or is it?

I thought more intensely about this question after the conversations, and realized that it is very pertinent to my metaphor(m) theory, strangely enough, and to all art.

First --- if the second person mentioned had REALLY never seen anything like my art, that would make me one of the greatest living innovators! It would be something to delight, not befuddle you! It is of course not true, there are always other artists working similarly to anyone, earlier, later and especially at one's own time.

Second, and most importantly, EVERY aspect of a work of art is important. Tropaically, desperately important. And they must be worked out for the artwork AT HAND, not by following rules. The idea that this artist had, that paintings must have a narrow stretcher, "to express its flatness," has been learned by rote. It is part of a vast litany of prescriptions for painting, which although a supposedly "dead" entity, still raises the hackles of fear on the necks of many an academicist.

Therefore any painting-survivors must be administered the medication of ordinance, until they become well-behaved casualties. These zombie-paintings are required to have a relatively featureless, enervated surface facture; consist of indifferent, unmodulated paint, preferably apathetically diluted with excessive turpentine; be painted lackadaisically; have either drab, mundane forms as motifs or be based on dull photographs. All these admonitions serve to enervate and debilitate painting. Keep it in its place. Other art forms such as video and installation are encouraged to engage in dialogue with outside forces (albeit also only in decreed fashions), however paintings — that is, painters — are only allowed to solipsistically iterate and dissect their rudimentary, elemental components. And do so with the proper air of listlessness. As painter the late Charles Boetschi described such work, "those indifferent little bits and pieces made with a wearied sigh while cell-phoning an 'art facilitator' for the more important activity of doing lunch." Rules for imaginativeness cannot be memorized, but those for sycophancy and conformity can.

These directives resemble an enforced Munchausen Syndrome by proxy. It is time for all art, but especially painting to stop being enfeebled, flabby, a victim. To cease assisting with its maltreatment and vitiation. We can do it, one aspect at a time, by rebuffing such "understood" edicts and creating our own, vigorous and vital metaphor(m)s.

Stop being sycophantic, stop bootlicking. You canNOT memorize your way to greatness.

Goya in his ADDRESS TO THE ROYAL ACADEMY OF SAN FERNANDO REGARDING THE METHOD OF TEACHING THE VISUAL ARTS of 1792, one of the first speeches ever made to an art academy, made several points that are STILL problems for us. In fact I think I will read his whole speech as a future podcast. But back to my theme now:

He said, "there are no rules in Painting, and ...the oppression, or servile obligation of making ALL study or follow the SAME path, is a great impediment for the young who profess this very difficult art."

Study, learn, work, critique, argue, make make make --- but there are NO hard-and-fast-rules in art.

That was "(No) Rules in Art."

Thanks for listening. Podcast number 19. If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.

I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history, or look at your desired theme through the lens of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my entire painting-installations.

Some recent ones were on the entire history of Postmodernist Art from 1979 through today, on Metaphor(m) in Art History, and on Mongrel Art. Once again, I'd like to thank Chloe Orwell, Brad Elvis, and the rock band the Handcuffs for composing, performing and recording my theme song, "Shut Up and Paint," a tiny portion of which begins and ends every Dr Great Art Podcast.

You can find or contact me at


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