Friday, September 21, 2007

“Anything can be Art.”

Jacobi, THIS IS ART, 2005 (digital comp for finished art, 30” x 30”, acrylic on plywood)

“Anything can be art.” Most anyone involved or interested in art has heard someone make this statement. But is it true? If this statement is true, then anyone can be an artist simply be declaring him/herself to be one. If that is the case, then the concept of being an "artist" becomes meaningless.

In what other line of work can a person "be" something, just by declaring so? Consider the following:

I am an artist, because I say so.

I am a plumber, because I say so.

I am an airline pilot, because I say so.

I am a surgeon, because I say so.

The piece above, THIS IS ART, is an assemblage I did in my final class in my course of studies for my masters degree in art education. It was really a follow-up to the course I had taken in the previous semester called “Art Trends and Art Education”, which had a focus on installation art and postmodern art in general. As someone coming out of twenty years as an illustrator, and moving into the area of teaching high school art classes (drawing and painting, not commercial art), I found myself thrust into an ongoing dialog with my classmates, my professor, and ultimately myself as to what kind of understanding I would have of the contemporary art world of today. The following is an excerpt from an “academic journal” I kept for the Art Trends class:

I would like to make a few comments on installation art and postmodern art in general. It seems to me that much of this work has its origins in Dada and in Duchamp’s “ready-mades”. Dada was, in large part, a response to the horrors of World War I. Disillusioned and disgusted by what the world had come to, Duchamp and the other artists of the Dada movement turned their backs on the traditions and values of Western culture and bourgeois society. Embracing a nihilistic position, they created an irrational art that defied understanding, and ultimately defied the traditions of Western culture itself. Although this work, indeed much of modernism in general, was embraced by what Tom Wolfe in his book The Painted Word calls the “culturati”, the public has in large part rejected it. Oliviera et al quote Guillaume Apollinaire as suggesting (in 1913) that Duchamp would perhaps be able to “reconcile art and the people” (p.11). I maintain that this has not come to pass. As I suggested in my presentation of this material to the class a few weeks ago, it seems to me that what we now have is a new elite made up of artists and art critics, existing in their own isolated world, apart from “the people”, who are for the most part confounded and sometimes even angered by much of the art that is currently being championed by the art intelligentsia (Wolfe’s “culturati”).

The progeny of Dada, postmodern art to a large extent continues Dada’s tradition of nihilism and the rejection of the traditions and values of Western civilization. Everything that was good is now bad. Everything that was bad is now good. How else can we explain the promotion and admiration (by the “culturati”, not by the general public of course; who cares about them- the “ignorant unwashed”) of “art” that features masturbation and autosodomy?

In the introduction to an interview with Donald Kuspit, author of The End of Art, Emmit Cole states:

“Typical postart [more or less Kuspit’s term for postmodern art] values include: a tendency to mock posterity, a tendency to elevate the banal to the status of the enigmatic and the scatological to the status of the sacred, and a preference for concept-driven art. Postart is art at the service of the mind and the product of joyless, “clever, clever” theorizing. Entertainment value and commercial panache are valued more highly than artistic ability or aesthetic worth and painting is perilously close to becoming a sub-genre of performance art.” (2004)

I have never been much of a fan of installation art, performance art, or conceptual art in general. This is not to say that I am a strict disciple of Formalism; I love a good idea or concept in a piece of art as much as anyone, but I prefer art that combines concept, design, and skill or technique. A work of art that shows a high degree of skill but has no idea or theme behind it would seem to be missing something; likewise, art that is strictly idea-based with no demonstration of skill and little or no concern for the art object is of very little interest to me.


Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 2005

Shortly after writing the above journal entry, I came to a realization that the term “postmodern art” actually covered a pretty wide range of art; no surprise really, the same could be said of “modern art” as well. Ultimately, we would really have to define postmodern art as any art since the end of the modern era (around 1970). On one hand, postmodern art would include conceptual artists like Damien Hirst, whose works include dead animals and cigarette butts, or Andres Serrano who utilizes blood, semen and urine (as seen in the photograph Piss Christ). However, it would also include the highly skilled work of “New Old Masters” (the term coined by art critic Donald Kuspit) such as Odd Nerdrum and Vincent Desiderio. We should also include the art that is sometimes described as “Contemporary Pop” or “Lowbrow”, as seen in Juxtapoz magazine, which at the time of my journal entry was outselling Art in America.

As things stand right now in the art world, there is basically NO consensus as to what is good or bad art, or even to what art actually is. I find it to be frustrating, maddening, and exciting, all at the same time. “Nothing is forbidden, everything is permitted.” -- Hassan-i-Sabbah

Nerdrum, Return of the Sun, 1986

Baseman, PiƱata, 2000

Sources for the excerpt from my academic journal:

Cole, E. (2004). Book review: The end of art, by Donald Kuspit. Retrieved December 9, 2004 from

De Oliveira, N. (1996), Installation Art, London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Wolfe, T. (1975). The painted word. New York: Farrar.

Robert Williams, In the Pavillion of the Red Clown, 2005

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Angelina Jolie-- too much of a good thing?

Angelina, acrylic, 24" x 30", 2007
(click on image for larger size)

I started this painting of Angelina Jolie a couple of years ago, and never quite finished it. As time went on, I began to get really tired of the increasingly massive exposure that she was getting in the media, and didn't even want to look at this painting, much less finish it. More recently, however, she has been receiving a bit less attention, so I thought okay-- I can go ahead and finish the painting. I completed this piece in late August, in the last days of my summer vacation.

Art Fair Art

This is an illustration I did for the Ferndale Art Fair poster for 1994. Created with Adobe Illustrator on a Macintosh computer.

This piece was somewhat influenced by the work of Stuart Davis, an American modernist painter whose work in the first half of the 20th century is considered to by influenced by his interest in jazz.

The Honorable Coleman Young

This issue of Detroit Monthly was published in October of 1989, during Coleman Young's campaign for a fifth term as mayor of Detroit. The design director of the magazine told me that he wanted to show the mayor as a crumbling monument. We decided to show just his head, somewhat reminiscent of the final scene in the original version of the film Planet of the Apes, where Charlton Heston comes upon the head of the Statue of Liberty, sticking out of the sand on the beach. The desolate scene in this illustration is very true to what much of Detroit looks like, unfortunately. By the way, Young won the election.

This somewhat provocative illustration was something that must have made an impression on a lot of people. I still have people tell me that they remember it, which is pretty cool.

Acrylic, ink, colored pencil, 16" x 22".

Food as Product

I used to do some product illustration, along with many other types of things. I once did a line drawing for some sort of cheese-related "Shedd's Spread"-- the drawing was reproduced on the actual product. It's pretty weird to go to the grocery store and see your artwork in the dairy section.

The piece above is a sample painting, acrylic on illustration board, 18" x 24", c. 1992. Yes, this one took a long time to paint. "Pardon me sir, do you have any Grey Poupon?"

Atomic Age

Graphic design sample created in Photoshop. This was done sometime in the early '90s, on a Macintosh Quadra 660 AV: 25MHz, 28MB RAM, 350MB hard drive, with a 13" monitor. How did we ever do anything on those old machines? Lots of patience, waiting for stuff to process.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Viridians and the Joint Poster Show

At the Viridian Bar, 18" x 24", gouache, 1993

Starting around 1990 I did a serious of drawings and paintings of these strange creatures that came to me one night while I was watching TV and drawing in my sketchbook. After a while, I got tired of referring to them as "those weird green guys", and decided to call them "Viridians". Viridian is a cool shade of green, and I thought the name had kind of a science fiction-like ring to it.

Unlike us, the Viridians have no hair. However, the top of their head grows, and needs to be trimmed occasionally. They go to their local head shop, where the top of their head is filed down with a machine similar to a belt sander. Then, decorative grooves are carefully cut into the top surface of their head.

Two of my other Viridian paintings are now owned by rock poster legend Stanley Mouse. I traded them to Stanley for an original oil painting of his. The deal was made at a rock poster show at Ubiquity gallery in Ferndale Michigan in 1993, where both of us had work on exhibit. The exhibit was called the "Joint Poster Show", and also featured work by Wes Wilson, Gary Grimshaw, and Mark Arminski.

Rick Jacobi, Stanley Mouse, Mark Arminski


Vampire, colored ink, colored pencil, 1990
Hot vampire chick...ooooh...scary!


These collages are from a class I took at Wayne State University in 2005 during my course of studies for my master's degree in art education. I had never really done collage before, and I really enjoyed it. The instructor was Jim Brown, who was also my thesis adviser, chair of the department, and an all-around pretty groovy guy.

The first three pieces are "integrated collages", meaning that they involve a combination of collage and painting. Self-portrait, and my two sons.



Jon cut the end of his finger off in an accident with the band saw at work while cutting some meat. OUCH!!! Really, it wasn't quite as bad as it looks-- I played it up a bit for dramatic effect-- but still... yikes! Fortunately, the surgeon did a great job, and you can hardly tell that anything happened (somehow, he still even has a fingernail), although his finger is a bit shorter than it used to be.

This one is made entirely from "prepared paper". I painted areas of color with acrylic on watercolor paper, and then cut out the shapes for the collage.

What to do with all those National Geographic magazines collecting dust? Cut them up and use them for a collage! As the sun rises, the golem slinks down an alley into the darkness of the early morning shadows. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the way that the consciousness of our dreams falls back into the darkness of our subconscious mind as we awake in the morning. Or, maybe it's just a golem.

Urban Blight

For the last three years, I have been doing an art project called "Urban Blight" with my 2D Art IV students at AAW. We go into Detroit, look for houses, buildings, etc. that have been burned or otherwise gone to ruin. We shoot photos, and then use them for reference for paintings. I did this painting mostly right in class with my students.

Legacy, 24" x 30", acrylic, 2004

This building was at the corner of John R. and Palmer St. in Detroit. It has since been torn down, and the whole block was plowed over. I think they are probably putting up some condos or something. There is a lot of that going on in this neighborhood, which is just north of Comerica Park, where the Detroit Tigers play baseball.

More Nudes

This one was also painted a while ago. A lot of times I don't put dates on my art. No particular reason... maybe it has to do with my commercial art background or something. I notice that I never signed this one. That would indicate that I was not sure if it was finished or not. I later decided that it was; I just never got around to signing it.

This piece was painted very spontaneously-- I think I did the whole thing in one evening. It's pretty different stylistically from most of what I do, but I like it. Acrylic on canvas, 24" x 30".

Nude Figure Paintings

Some people get worked up about nude figure paintings, for a variety of reasons-- they will sat that "the nude" has largely to do with things like male dominance over women, sexism in general, pornography, etc. Of course, the nude has a long tradition in art, and you can see nudes in paintings, drawings, and sculptures in virtually any art museum you may visit. Big deal.

I am not in the mood for a lengthy philosophical treatise on nudes at the moment-- suffice it to say that I like looking at them and I like painting them. If it was good enough for Michelangelo, it's good enough for me.

Here are three nudes that I painted a few years ago. They are all acrylic on canvas, 16" x 20".

The Reason for this Blog

Basically, I decided that it was about time to put some of my art on a website. I will probably be posting pictures in no particular order. To start with, it will just be things that I already have on my computer. Eventually, I will probably scan or take photos of other pieces as well. Don't be surprised if I go off on various commentaries or rants on art or whatever I may be thinking about at any given time. We'll see how it goes....

RJ - basic bio. info.

I am currently the instructor of two-dimensional art at Arts Academy in the Woods (AAW) in Fraser, Michigan, (near Detroit), and am now in my seventh year in that position. I also worked as an illustrator in the Detroit area for over twenty years, and taught airbrush illustration for five years at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. Prior to that, I was a full-time musician for about five years, two years of which I lived in New York on W. 82nd Street after moving there from Ann Arbor, where I grew up.

Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, graduated in 1971
University of Michigan, College of Art, 1971-1973
College for Creative Studies (Detroit), BFA 1980, illustration major
Wayne State University, MAT, 2005, art education major
Interlochen Center for the Arts:
National Music Camp, 1964-1969 (faculty brat 1953-1963)
Interlochen Arts Academy, 1969-1970

For more on my life as an artist, click here
For more on my background in music, click here, also here