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at Goodart

by Miles Mathis

by Tim Tyler


For those who don't know, Goodart is a listserv (an online discussion) that is allied to ARC.  Begun by Brian Yoder, it is now an informal roundtable whose membership varies widely.  Fred Ross is probably the central figure.  Brian is still the moderator and he also posts pretty heavily.  Almost all posters are realists, though not all are allied to ARC.  The non-allied posters often tend to run into trouble eventually.  Many have been banned.  I posted often a couple of years ago, when I was just getting online.  Once I started writing for ARC I quit posting.  My recent reviews of New Realism and the ARC Salon have generated a lot of letters from the realist establishment, and so I thought I would return to Goodart to put myself back in the middle of it, to lower myself into the Lion's Den, as it were. 

        I have received a surprising number of positive responses to recent articles, not just from artists I praised but from artists and non-artists who agree with my wider contention.  However, I have to admit that, as expected, I have gotten a fair amount of mail from people who are "aghast" that I would presume to attack my elders—people who out-earn me and have painted princesses and presidents and so forth.  These writers are sure that I am just jealous, that I am munching on sour grapes, that my greatest secret desire is to paint or sleep with Cher or Prince William or somebody.  These people will no doubt find this article another example of my denial.  However, some may learn something of use from it, others may get a laugh, others may be offended enough to get off their duff for one reason or another—in which case my time has not been wasted. 

       Tim Tyler was good enough to step forward as first representative of the opposing camp.  If I wanted to air the differences between myself and the status quo in realism, Tim was prepared to oblige me.  As a lead-in, I will remind the reader that I criticized Tim's painting The Deconstructionist  in the ARC Salon Review for its political content, a content I found mainly gratuitous.  This was Tim's reply:


TT: As to critical analysis; a Goodart member just wrote me privately to suggest Miles would do well to spend more time being critical of his own work.  How long would such a discussion take? Abuse of  phthalos would be where I would begin.

       Did you all get that Miles considers himself the Michael Jordan of art? Look for his Nike shoe line anyday.

       Any of us would have chosen different winners because we are human. But not all artists are whiners and poor losers.  Miles would be wise to paint more and write less if he ever wishes to paint well.  [Tim then compares my critique of him to Walter Sickert's critiques of Sargent].


MM:  I never suggested I was the Michael Jordan of painting and I rarely use phthalos.   I use ultramarine and cobalt blues only.   My standard green is green earth, although I do use Chromium Oxide and Perm Green occasionally to boost my spectrum.  It's funny, because most of the colorists seem to think I don't use enough color—that I am too brown and gray. Tim apparently thinks I use too much color, since phthalos are famously powerful. I do push my tones toward the blue a bit, mostly by using yellow sparingly. I also like brown and gray. But this is a conscious choice, because it subtly accentuates the mood I want to accentuate. It is not because I don't know how to handle color. If Tim doesn't like this, that is his prerogative.  But notice that Tim is critiquing me on narrow technical matters, whereas I said nothing about his technique. I commented on his subject matter, the politics of it. I stand by my assessment, an assessment that would not be affected by seeing the work in person: in person, the technique might be better or worse, but the subject matter would not be affected.

[As for being a "poor loser", I remind my readers that I didn't enter the competition. I wrote as an observer, not a participant.]

       As for comparing me to Sickert, the comparison is really a stretch. My work looks nothing like Sickert's. In fact, most people have complained that, if anything, my brushwork is too Sargenty, a complaint I have, in part, accepted. After an initial love affair with Sargent I have been moving away from him for at least ten years, trying to regain some of the strengths of Van Dyck or Titian or even the 19th century Russians. This is not to say that I think I am on the level of any of these people, Sargent included.  But I no longer judge Sargent or myself or anyone else primarily on paint handling or technique. In using the Sickert/Sargent analogy, it is Tim who is comparing himself to Sargent.  If Tim thinks he is Sargent to my Sickert, I suggest he is not really paying attention.

        As far as my comments being from web images, while the ARC judging was done from slides, I don't see a big difference there.  Slides are a bit better than web images, yes, but the difference is nothing compared to the difference between slides and life. I am glad that Fred is happy with his purchases now that he has them in hand, but there is no amount of technical difference that would change my opinion of them, since my comments were all on subject matter and treatment, not on color or brushwork or other technical matters. There is no amount of technique that would change my opinion of Two Worlds.  As for my only liking work like my own, that is simply not true. I gave much higher awards to Daniel Greene than ARC did, although Greene is tight. His still life is very tight and very unlike anything I have done or would do. Nancy Fletcher's drawing is also quite tight and nothing like my own treatment would be. Faraut's sculptures are all tightly rendered, unlike my own or unlike, say, Rodin. In fact, I critique both Gerhartz and Oxborough for sometimes being too loose. If you reread my review, you an see that almost all my comments are on subject matter and treatment and not on technique. Another example is Aron Wiesenfeld, whose work is not like mine. What did I praise him for? His mood.


TT: Lets talk about design for a moment;

Can't you see how terrible this tree is for your design?


MM:  Let's talk about not digging your hole any deeper. Your arrows are badly misaimed. That tree is the hook of the whole composition.  Without it, not only would the couple slide off into the water, but the painting would lack several key elements. 1) the tree is acts as a foreground that gives the painting depth. In such a large horizontal with no sky, you need a hook in the foreground to keep the painting from being just one big middle-ground. It is part of the illusion of depth. 2) With the other tree and the figures and the sword, a rolling Z (or M, I guess) is formed that helps move the eye back to the focus. The eye first hits the heads. The tree helps force them to go from there to the hands—instead of to the naked butt, which is where they would go without a caesura in the middle of the bodies.  Eventually the eye wanders up to the naughty bits anyway, since you can't keep the eyes off that area indefinitely. Since the bodies aren't painted with a lot of focus, you then wander left to the sword and the left side of the painting. That tilting tree pushes you back to the middle, through the line of the sword and the bodies, back to the faces. Take out the main tree or move it to the right and you have a much weaker composition. The Z doesn't work with the right arm, for one thing. We have three "mountains" in the main line of movement, and this is a large part of the linear harmony of the work.

TT:  Nah....I don't buy it. Youth is good for athletes, it's hard on writers and painters. This is the time to learn, study and listen. The words from young mouths often sound pompous to everyone but their authors. You are a better wordsmith than painter, but like Sickert, I keep coming back to your work and it undermines your writing. You really need to study the art of painting ASAP and stop trying to sound as if you know about this complex subject. Your two figures, in large part due to the green tones, look as if they've been there for several days. I expect that was not your intention when you began.  Let your ego go and study or else you'll end up a bitter old grumbling "could have been", it's not too late. Enter shows, win shows, get your work on You might want to check the prices being earned by the artists (there) before you presume to appraise.  You will also need to establish yourself so that when someone does a google on you stuff pops up. A resume, associations, collectors, awards etc., these are all better than defensive explanations of your design. The above composition is a classic "tennis match design" by the way (this is taught in art school)... the tree is the net. Another term for this is a "swinging gate."  Sickert wouldn't have known this either, but he and you should know this before dictating to others.


[At this point one of the Goodart regulars, Mike, posted this:  Tim, excuse me for butting in, but I find this thread very perplexing.  If Miles is a "babe in the woods", as you imply, he is a babe in the woods of the ARC living masters section.  Searching his work on that site, and on his own also, one finds some very recent editions—one a very, very beautiful drawing.  So color me confused, or am I smelling something personal?]


MM:   Mike, Tim is mad because I said on my own site that I didn't particularly like his painting Deconstruction. I didn't mention any technical matters at all, just said that I thought the subject matter was political and therefore offensive to me for all the old reasons, which I have written about on ARC and my own site until everyone wishes I would just die. I am not going to die, though. I am going to keep at it until someone sees my point. I have nothing against Tim personally and did not mention Deconstruction to rankle Tim, although I can understand why he is rankled.  I like some of Tim's paintings—the little girl with the jug to name one.  I seem to remember some phthalo in the background of that painting, but it didn't matter to me since it worked, whatever it was. (That viridian shawl may have some phthalo in it too, since most cool modern greens are phthalos. But whatever.)  I saw the painting in person at Fred's house. It looked just as good in person as on the web. I am thrilled to see Tim paint more and more figures, since everyone knows I have a hard heart toward most still life. I am also happy to see Tim or any other realist have success—teaching, money, or otherwise.  We all certainly deserve it more than the phonies in the avant garde. However, I have the right to my opinion, not as the Michael Jordan of painting but simply as a working artist in the field who cares about the integrity of the field and the direction it is taking. If Tim needs to hate me for a while, that is to be expected. But I don't really see the point of his now fishing in my portfolio for errors to throw in my face. I was not fishing in his portfolio trying to be nasty. Circumstance dictated it. I commented on a lot of other stuff besides Deconstruction.  The main reason Tim should take a beat is that offering up complaints against me willynilly is not working for him. I have lots of weaknesses and would love to help him out, but he is not really finding them.  Taking on Tristan and Isolde was a bad leading move, since he has done nothing comparable. Once he attempts a life-size double nude out of doors in dappled light at dusk, with blood and a creative storyline and so on, then he can tell me how I mucked it up. His opinion that I should write less and paint more is also odd coming from someone who has the time for 10,000 posts a year at Goodart.  Tim can use his time as he sees fit, as can I.  My gallery at my own site is bursting with work old and new. I haven't seen any other major realist on the web who has posted so many works, period. For the record, I have done six oils and eight drawings this year to date. Several of these are already posted on my site. I don't work blindingly fast. In fact I work slower now than I use to, and not because I am old and blind. It is because I am often tighter than I used to be and because I am constantly trying new things.  I get all these things done not because I have a cookie cutter method (as Tim has accused Pino of having, probably rightly). I get them done because I do not teach or have a family. It is just the way things have worked out with me, for better or for worse. I have a lot of hours in the day to fill, and some of them are devoted to art, some to science, and some to being the most hated man in America. All are equally dear to my heart.


TT:  Your two figures [Tristan and Isolde], in large part due to the green tones, look as if they've been there for several days. I expect that was not your intention when you began. 


MM:  I'm sorry Tim, but have you seen the painting in real life? I ask because I have been careful to limit my comments to matters of design and subject matter. You are now judging subtle colors in a very large painting based on a webimage. But anyway, these two are not supposed to look their best. Go dump all your blood in a stream and see how spry you look. They are also underneath trees, which any idiot knows reflect light down. I have heard the same sort of complaints about my Shelley Altarpiece. I guess you "clean color" guys would recommend that Matthias Grunewald send his Jesus to the salon and hairdresser before putting him on that nasty old cross, or that Van Dyck liven up his sitters with a couple of weeks under the sunlamp.

        As for, etc, what does all this have to do with painting? It looks like PR to my eyes. So I am short on smiley PR?  I really could take lessons on that from you, but I think I'll pass.  Do you think it was an oversight that I didn't set up my own site as a sales and PR site? That I don't join the clubs and slap the backs? If that is what you were looking for when you became an artist then you have found it. Congrats. It is not what I am looking for. I am looking for creative freedom and a few knowledgeable clients. These clients aren't hanging around at or at OPA shows. I have won major awards and they don't mean anything. In fact they usually spell bad news because you end up painting what you think the judges want. Sound familiar?


TT: By the way, one of your loyal readers sent me your long treatise and was aghast to read it.


MM:  Good, I love it most when people are "aghast". Just so you know, no article I have written has generated so much positive mail, including my big ARC articles. I am making many new contacts here in Europe with people who didn't understand where I was coming from with the ARC alliance. They had thought I was X, but now I am Y. I didn't see it coming, and it was no outcome of PR, but it is nice anyway. It is also funny that the realists I complimented seem to have no problem with me being outspoken.  None of them has been offended at my presumption in writing about ARC or my fellow artists. If you compliment someone, they love you, if you don't they hate you. It is really that simple, and all the rest is just posturing. I am very far from being alone in my opinion of Deconstruction, too, if that means anything to you (not that it should). If you believe in the painting and really think that I am just a grumpy loser with no eye and no future, then why take offense?


TT:  Miles, I recall the Southernerns whimpering after the Civil War when the damn yankees ruined their fields and homes. The South always seemed to foregt who fired the first shot.


MM:  I know I fired the first shot.  I intended to fire the first shot.  And I hit my target, as I know from your dying screams.  You don't know where my field and home is, or my heart.  It is unlikely you could hit something you can't possibly see.

        I intended to attack all the art wonks who have taken over realism.  The wonks who are in love with their little rules.  Their creative reach is defined by learning rules and enforcing rules.  You have been good enough to continue to prove my point, with your choice of dying salvos.  You bring up my composition, I educate you at great length on composition, and all you can do is quote some dwarfish rule you learned in school about tennis nets.  You don't even bother to apply the rule to my painting, you just mention it as if an aside to the code is enough to send me running.  New realism is full of these tight-assed rules, rules apparently made up since the invention of fuzzy tennis balls, since none of the old masters bothered with them.  Similar rules concern "clean color" and not smudging your pastels and not using black and so on and on.  The clean color and not using black rules are promulgated by Sargent lovers, who fail to notice that Sargent relied on black, admitted he relied on black, who was not a clean colorist or a colorist at all, who used lots of muddy colors and browns and greys, and greyed out his colors, and so on.  If you put a Sargent or a Velasquez or even a Sorolla next to a Gerhartz (loose) or Shanks (tight), the former would look very drab. 

     The pastellists who forbid smudging also canonize Degas, who smudged and broke all of their other wonkish little rules.  They tried to give Aaron Shikler an award, Shikler who smudges and does whatever he likes, and he didnt even have time for them. 

      The problem is that these tiny people and their little artshow rules have taken over New Realism.  They are absolutely incapable of looking at a painting as a painting.  They only see the paint.  Tim is their spokesperson for the moment.  He is good enough to put it up for the record.  I have long known that I was dismissed for these asinine reasons.  So it is time to air it out.

     All these people are artistically very limited and must be confronted head-on.  They quite simply do not know what they are talking about.  Tim thinks he is Sargent to my Sickert?  Tim hasn't got any noticeable brushwork at all, how could it begin to be expressive.  Tim, you aren't like Sargent in any conceivable way.  You are trying to make up for a complete lack of expression with color and politics.  You avoid compositional errors by having no composition at all.  A single figure may have minimal composition, but it must make up for that with expression.  You have a girl with no expression in a box.  So you also have no design and no composition.  All you have is a title. 

     All the southwest landscapers and still lifers are just playing with paint.  They are obsessed with technique—usually loose oily paint—but they don't even have much technique.  They have no subject.  It is just pretty paint that almost mimics a mountain or a cloud or something.  The emotional content is zero.

     The figurative artists aren't much better.  They have chosen to believe Schmid or Leffel or Shanks instead of the old masters; they put their trust in wonks who tell them that design and color are everything, that edges are the thing, that the paint should be edible, and other ridiculous verbiage.  If anyone is aghast at my recent articles, you can be sure it is not because I am attacking the great Tim Tyler.  They are aghast because I am attacking Schmid and Shanks and Leffel and the big boys.  They see me burning my precious bridges, my links to the all important markets.  What they don't understand is that I never had any possible links to those markets, since those markets are defined by wonkism.  They are defined and controlled by technical careerists, the workshop cabana boys. My only hope in that direction was to begin to accept their rules, to begin turning out glitzy high-colored empty things. 

      These artists always mention Sargent and Rembrandt and Velasquez and the Russians (Repin, Shishkin, Serov, Fechin) and so on, but their work has nothing in common with these real artists.  These artists had great subjects and high emotional content.  Even their technique differs in most important ways.  None of these great artists keyed up their colors gratuitously or let design or brushwork overwhelm the subject.  Even Sargent and Fechin weren't technically obsessed the way the New Realists are.  Sargent had lots of brushwork that wasn't overanalyzed.  He had lots of passages that were just scribbled in.  Not scribbled in self-consciously, so that even the scribbles look planned out beforehand, but just put in any old way.  What Sargent understood is that if the whole painting is equally beautiful (in brushwork say) then no part will have a proper focus.  You must have beautiful paint on top of (truly) messy paint.  Then the beautiful paint has a proper foil.  Schmid never learned this.  For him, every stroke must be delicious.  This is precisely what causes the saccharine effect, an effect that has become endemic in New Realism. 

     The New Realists have over-refined their work.  They are the most technically obsessed artists in the history of the world, way beyond Bouguereau and the 19th century academics.  I suppose this is a reaction to the complete slop of the avant garde.  But I am always surprised at how relatively simple the old work is.  A Van Dyck is soporific compared to a Shanks.  A Van Dyck has almost no color, almost no edges, his warms and cools are ignored or upside down (upside down would mean here that the whites are warmer than the darks), and yet he is a thousand times deeper and richer than Shanks.  The Realists would be smart to study why this is.  It is because Van Dyck invested his figures with emotion.  Not with technical tricks, but by choosing models, settings and poses that generated subtle emotion, and then by filling the gaps with his own grace.  Van Dyck could make a boring person look interesting.  The new realists make even interesting people look boring.  I am not sure you can teach grace, but you should at least be capable of seeing it when someone else has it.  Otherwise you are just a brick in the wall.


TT: Miles you are going forth with more errors. Where did I once say "rules"? Several of my students read this forum and will tell you I don't teach rules.  You really must read more than you write.

      Brevity is the soul of wit. Surely you've heard that?  Also less is more. Must I teach you how to write too? I'm not even going to read that lengthy tirade.


MM:  First Tim is Sargent and now he is Wilde. The man doesn't know when he is beaten. Although the refusal to read my posts is a clue in that direction. But please, Tim, I am sure the world would love to see you teach me to write. I beg you to go on. Dig, dig my love. BTW, dying badly is not always considered good press. I definitely will publish your comments as widely as I can. You will be immortalized with Tom Taylor and Harry Quilter, lucky boy.


TT:  Oh Miles, by the way, please keep talking about my art everywhere you can. My hits go up and I get students and make CD sales every time.


MM:  Yes, you will be rich and I will be good and we will both have what we want. It's a sunny world after all.


I ended the conversation here.  One of the Goodart exes wrote me during the skirmish asking if I could concentrate on painting while these things were going on.  He didn't think he could.  I said I was a bit like McEnroe, in that I used it all as motivation.  I did start the fight after all, so I have nothing to complain about.  He said that my arguing with Tim Tyler was like McEnroe playing Bobby Riggs, Riggs wearing a corset and high heels.   Maybe, but these matches have to be played out sometimes, or the world forgets what tennis really is.  

     Besides, it is clear that Tim just got in the way of fire intended for higher up.  Tim is just a second generation student of Schmid or Leffel or Shanks or someone like that.  It is the Portrait Societies and the OPA's and the American Artist magazines and all the institutionalized wonkdom that is the real problem.  Pastel Societies that promote bright colors and smudge-proof plastic gloves and ventilators and workshops on the cape and metal-legged portable easels.  New Schools that teach the old religion by bringing back cast drawings and mannequins and portraits of vases.  Bloated master-painters who treat every head like a portrait of a vase or a gourd with eyes.  Experts who think that grapes are highly expressive or that toy dolls are poignant subjects.  Daring adventurers who draw from the nude but are allergic to pubic hair or penises or open eyes, who think that a woman showing her back is nude. 

      I am sure these people think that ignoring me will solve all their problems, but I am not going away.   I don't accept their rules or their world and never will.   I am the worst nightmare of the avant garde and the wonks both, and they had better get out the sandbags.  We are in for stormy weather. 


In the spirit of ARC (which I have not given up on, by the way—someone informed me that a few are dismissing this whole flap as a "bad divorce" between me and Fred.  But my firing from ARC did not cause this most recent move from me, it simply allowed it to happen.  While I was at ARC, I was encouraged to focus on the avant garde, which I was happy to do for a while.  Now I am more focused on the New Realists.  As ARC helps realism to pick up steam, the danger from the wonks increases, if only because the wonks are the status quo of realism.  But ARC is far from being wholly allied to mainstream realism.  ARC is still in philosophical formation.  Many of its theories are set in stone, some might say, but I believe that most of these concern its position regarding the 19th century, Bouguereau, opposition to the avant garde, opposition to Hockney, etc.  ARC's position regarding contemporary realism is in flux).  Anyway, in the spirit of ARC, I will close with a letter from one of my readers. 


Dear Mr. Mathis:  I just want to take a moment to say thanks for your discussion and insights about "New Realism": It's refreshing to know that someone with a relatively wide audience has taken time to call it like it is and to pose serious questions about meaningful content in contemporary realist art.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  Sincerely, Robert X

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