First of a Series
My good friend Jacques Karamanoukian died ten years ago in May 2002. He was just 62.
We have some interviews with him on tape. This time though, I’m just going from memory. He was an artist, an “art dealer” and a writer. Also, he was a unique man. Many of us are one of a kind, but some more so than others!
He had a great sense of humor yet he could also be testy or teasing. He didn’t “suffer fools” very well.
Responding to “the news” or to art or “art politics” he’d often give in to passionate invective. He could cuss a bit, if need be. One of his favorites was “The Idiots! The Idiots!!” (recited with great fervor and passion).
One of my favorite stories he’d tell, was regarding the “misguided labors of art.” This entails the many artists who spend countless hours bringing their idea (or ideas) to fruition. They struggle and work for days or weeks on just one piece. This can be a good thing. Yet, in far too many cases, it’s all for naught.
As Jacques would say, they have an idea, then they labor intently to bring it to visibility. The problem is that this is all too often a bad idea, even an extremely bad idea! No amount of labor, skill or talent can save a work whose basic conception is faulty! At best, we can hope for such work to be interesting curiosities or funny jokes. I often think of this, when out in museums, galleries and so on.
Not everyone has an infallible “bullshit detector.” Yet, we need to develop the best one that we can. It’s important to be able to go through your work and tell which pieces are more successful, which ones are less so and which are somewhere in the middle. If you can be honest and true in judging your own work, you can do a better job responding to other people’s work.
We had similar tastes in art. We both found plenty to like in Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Art Brut, COBRA, Outsider Art and others who “pushed the envelope.”
We were no great fans of color field or “textural paintings.” In museums, we’d see all white or all black canvases. It’s an example of the “emperor’s new clothes” syndrome in the art critic. I can see little value in most of that work. I think Jacques saw even less.
I try to be generous and diplomatic in my opinions, but I have to draw the line somewhere.
Once, we ran across a cluster of these in some museum.
“That’s a good start!” Jacques said.
“Yes, I wish I could take that home and finish it.” I responded.
“Yes, it could use some improvement.” answered J.K.
Thus we’d make fun of paintings worth thousands of dollars and fantasize about using them as blank canvases. I suppose that I could always draw on a print (or color photo copy) of some of these masterpieces!