HEDDY ABRAMOWITZ REPORTED EARLIER on an exhibition in Jerusalem that centered on the work of Francis Cunningham and several students. Her conclusion—a regretful one—was that there is no telling what road a student might take. Some embrace their training, put it to work and build upon it. Others discard it to follow their bliss.

It is this second group that reminds me of a story Donald Kuspit once told. A few years after graduating from art school at Stony Brook, one former student in his art history class called him up. She invited him to her studio to see her current painting. Very exciting, the new stuff. She told Kuspit she had thrown out all her influences, stripped them all away. Now she was getting down to the nitty gritty of her authentic creative self. It would be so good if Kuspit would be kind enough come and see what she had done.

He did. He came, he looked, and pronounced: “Bereft of influences, there was nothing there.”

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BELOW IS ONE OF THE PAINTINGS that Cunningham exhibited in Jerusalem. The pristine austerity of it—the concentration on form, the balanced weight of the calibrated design—is the product of a true pictorial intelligence:

"Hickory, Butternut, Walnut, Nutcracker" (1981)


Another painting of similar sensitivity to the grace of minimalism in representation, is this haunting piece. At 6 feet high, it has the composure and presence of classical architecture:

"Forest Tools" (1985)

You can come to your own conclusions about what was surrended in transmission between teacher and student by looking at the installation shots of the Jerusalem exhibit on Cunningham’s blog. While you are there, take time to look at the work archived on his website. The section on still life and interiors is a particularly telling commentary on the value of holding one’s influences close.

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BACK TO THE DEVIL WORD practice for a moment. The current issue of the Journal of Artistic Research, out now and on the stands of your local opium den, has an article called “Doing Dissemination.” It asks this:

How do best practices circulate while contributing to the discussion on the specificity of the artistic research practice?

Huh? The question goes round in a circle and starts where it began, in a tangle of jargon. The gist of it, in plain English, is how can we promote ourselves? What is the best way to do it while still seeming to serve a Higher Purpose (artistic research practice)? In short, it is a question about image creation and maintenance, the crucial duo at the heart of promotion.

Nowhere do we learn what research practice consists of. You have to admit, it is a sober-sounding phrase. It has the ring and resonance of the podium about it. But, what, precisely, is being researched? And by what means? Silly question, really. The sound of significance contributes to the image. Image is all. Reference to meaning is a philistine distraction.

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Speaking of image, FilmsOnArtists makes its services available to artists, gallery directors, collectors and others involved in the art community “who need a film to document and promote an artist’s work and creative process.” If you want an inspirational documentary on yourself, save your dimes and call them up. Or, if you envision yourself as a collector, here is the way to enhance the image of your shopping choices. Get yourself videoed at home with all your stuff. Either way, artlings of all stripes can market themselves and their products on YouTube. Ones who are a bit more flush can rent a big screen and set it up in that white-cube-for-rent on 26th Street, Chelsea’s Rogue Space.

© 2010 Maureen Mullarkey


  1. Nice story about Kuspit. Our influences tell us who we are. Getting rid of them is a kind of suicide.

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