Tag Archives: Robert Arneson

Art & funk; the happy crunch of kimchi

Mr. Scatter hasn’t been writing a lot lately, at least not for print. Lots of notes, lots of transcriptions, lots of interviews and looking at stuff and thinking about it, but not so much for instant gratification — Mr. Scatter’s or his readers’.

Tabor Porter, carved devil figure, courtesy Guardino GalleryIn case you missed it, he did have this piece in last Friday’s A&E section of The Oregonian, a reflection on that not-so-polite (and extremely loosely organized) form of art known variously as folk, outsider, naive, primitive, self-taught, you name it.

A recent trip to the Bay Area has got him to thinking about artists like The Hairy Who (from Chicago, but they had a big influence on the Bay Area Figurative Art scene) and Robert Arneson, and of course the splendidly loony master cartoonist R. Crumb, whose surprising take on the Book of Genesis is at the Portland Art Museum right now, and fun and funk, and the disappearing distance between high and low art, “taught” and “outsider” art. That’s what the A&E piece is about, in the context of Portland’s variously beloved and maligned Alberta Arts District scene. ‘Nuff said. Read it for yourself.

The view from Mr. Scatter's window: the pagoda in San Francisco's Japantown. Wikimedia CommonsWhile he was in Baghdad by the Bay, Mr. Scatter stayed in Japantown, where the view out his window was the pagoda at right. Best thing about the very good hotel where he stayed, thanks to an excellent online deal: the long deep Japanese soaking tub, which he filled with hot water nightly to wash away the stress of those up-and-down hills. He tried not to think about the ungodly amount of water he was using. Sometimes, a person splurges.

San Francisco is a great place to eat, maybe right up there in the United States with New Orleans and New York, and Mr. Scatter had a bite or two. About a third of the city’s population is Asian, and it follows that eating in Asian spots can be a good bet, even little ones that don’t get much press. That was the deal with a little Korean diner he found one night: good bubbling stew with soft tofu and little oysters. But the side dishes, or banchan, were knockout: nine little bowls of kimchi and other various fermented sprouts, cucumbers, radishes and the like, including a dish of dried anchovies that had been partially reconstituted with oil, giving them a sharp funky taste and a chewy, almost woody texture. Outstanding. San Francisco treat or not, Rice-A-Roni didn’t stand a chance.



— Tabor Porter, carved devil figure, courtesy Guardino Gallery.

— The view from Mr. Scatter’s window: the pagoda in San Francisco’s Japantown. Wikimedia Commons.

Craft commits suicide; art envy arrested on suspicion

The victim pulled the trigger on itself, detective Garth Clark says, but it was under the influence of Art.

That’s Art, no last name, sometimes known as Fine Art. And though the corpse keeps getting tricked out for public events like the stiff in the movie comedy Weekend at Bernie’s, the actual time of death was, oh, somewhere around 1995.

That, more or less, is the argument Clark gave to a packed and sometimes steaming house last night in the Pacific Northwest College of Art‘s Swigert Commons. Clark, a longtime gallery owner, curator and prolific writer on craft (the guy knows his porcelains), was lecturing on “How Envy Killed the Crafts Movement: An Autopsy in Two Parts,” and he meant every word of it.

As he delivered his wry and scholarly Molotov cocktail, Clark reminded me a bit of John Houseman in The Paper Chase, measured and severe but with a, well, crafty twist of humor to his delivery. He knew he was going to be tromping on some toes, and while he delighted in the process, he did so en pointe so as not to cause too many hurt feelings. “Hi, my name is Garth Clark,” he greeted the crowd. “I’m a recovering art dealer.”

What is this art envy? Good question.

Surely it has something to do with money. Clark quoted one excellent potter of his acquaintance who says he and his friends have a word for potters who make a living entirely from their craft. It’s unicorns, “because we’ve never seen one.”

And surely it has something to do with reputation, with being taken seriously. Artists are simply thought of more highly, as more creative beings, more intellectual, and therefore more important (and, let’s underscore, more worthy of high prices in exchange for their work).

Perhaps it has something to do with escaping an eternal past. “Craft has been overdosing on nostalgia,” Clark averred. “This is craft’s Achilles heel.” That’s not surprising, he added, since the modern movement (which he stretches back 150 years, a very long time for a movement of any sort) was born as a revival, and thus looking backwards from its beginning.

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