"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Understanding commercial success in art

How about a movie starring Bill Cosby, Robert Blake and O.J. Simpson? I joked about this with a friend recently. Simpson would have to be sprung from prison first.
I'll bet a lot of us are revising our thoughts about Simpson. He definitely belongs in prison. But think of all the years his body got punished playing football, both at USC and in the pros. Time after time, he'd get the football and the opposing high-caliber defensive players would attack and converge on him. Often the consequences of such punishment take time to surface. Once they do, it can be incredibly tragic. I wonder if Vince Bugliosi has modified his thoughts too.
It is fashionable in Hollywood to not say a whole lot of nice things about Simpson as an actor. We should judge his acting separate from his enormous problem. He was part of the incredible three-man comedy team, joining Leslie Nielsen and George Kennedy in the "Naked Gun" movies. Simpson did the job totally. They say the best actors make it look like they aren't even acting.
The Naked Gun movies were not fine, sophisticated art, the way we generally think of that field. People who reach commercial success in the arts will tell you that their job is just as tough as for the "fine arts" people, if the latter is to be viewed as commensurate with college campus standards. Whether it's music, painting or theatrical acting, performing in a way that garners commercial success is incredibly exacting.
I remember exchanging letters with Mort Kunstler back in the pre-Internet days. I had just purchased one of his limited-edition art prints (showing U.S. Grant at Vicksburg). I liked his work and wanted to communicate with him. He also built a reputation painting covers for the men's magazines that we used to see on newsstands.
I had just read comments in a Civil War magazine from a competing artist, a guy who I rather viewed as a pain. The comments were thinly veiled as a response to quotes Kunstler had recently given about his field. This guy who I felt was a pain, last name of Troiani, talked about Civil War art as if it were "illustration." The point of illustration is to show something exactly as it is, or was. That's fine, if that is your objective. But "art" entails so much more than that. Art is judged by the emotional impact it has on the viewer. Many classic works of art based on history are not totally historically accurate. But they convey an important element of the events they're depicting.
Consider that famous painting of George Washington as a boy in which he has an adult's head! Or consider "Out of Egypt" which ought to have a desert-like backdrop but in fact has generous vegetation.
The famous Civil War artist Dale Gallon did a painting depicting George Custer and some of his charges, a painting where he came right out and said he took some "artistic license." A painter should not have to be defensive about this. But in Civil War art, apparently there is a fair amount of defensiveness because of the "Civil War nuts" who have a standard of historical accuracy that is really just a misguided obsession.
Kunstler
answered my letter. He was very nice but he stressed how he didn't want to get on any bandwagon of criticism vs. another artist. A very class guy. His point was that commercial success is very hard to achieve in his field. For that reason, he said, he had nothing but respect for his fellow successful commercial artists.
There was a time when Civil War limited edition art prints were quite the thing. I assume the main customer base was the Civil War re-enactors - quite the hobby out East. So many Civil War prints were being turned out, I had to wonder if the demand would stay sufficient. I hope Mr. Kunstler's career is still vibrant, unless he has chosen to retire. His craftsmanship is stellar.
I remember in the 1960s seeing those "men's magazines" here and there. I barely bothered to page through a copy. I found them disturbing. They seem to have completely vanished. Americana to be filed away in the dubious history category. I seem to recall a "damsels in distress" theme for a lot of that stuff.
Will O.J. Simpson ever see the light of day outside of prison? It would be best if he did not. The Hollywood record will show him as a quite effective actor, playing his role to complement the actors around him, which is the prime objective of acting. Ah, "Nordberg." A Scandinavian name for this African-American character. He took pratfalls big-time. Think it's easy? The good actors always make it look like it is.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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