How A New York Art Critic Slammed My Work and Saved My Life

Holly Solomon Criticizes My Art

The lecture hall of the art museum was standing room only for what was sure to be a lively discussion. Despite over 1,000 entries from 12 states the juror of the 20th Joslyn Biennial was not impressed. The juror thought of us as uneducated and that our art would not even be considered acceptable in the world of art she lived in.

Her Juror’s Statement read: “it is apparent to me that these talented artists have little or no reference to the vocabulary associated with contemporary art and therefore very little possibility of achieving work which would be considered acceptable in an art historical reference. It is a great hope that this community, both the financial and intellectual, will support this institution and its staff in order to further educate the intellectual/artistic community”

Since many of the pieces she chose to exhibit were from university art professors and Bemis Foundation artists, it wasn’t long before someone challenged her opinion. In the ensuing dialog I sensed that she was genuinely interested in helping us understand her point of view. And her point of view needed to be carefully considered. She was Holly Solomon, an important collector of contemporary art and founder of the Solomon Gallery in New York City. And New York City was where art was sold, made, defined, and legitimized.

My painting singled out as an example of bad art

However, it became personal when she spoke specifically about my painting: “Don't get me wrong the work in the show is very well done, but my god, someone painted a cornfield”. I had been used as an example of someone who didn’t understand and whose art was not acceptable in her contemporary art world.

A New Direction

Rather than defend myself with my credentials and artwork, I challenged myself to re-examine everything I thought I knew. I studied what the art critics wrote, both past and present. I was determined not to be a “Sunday Painter” having no clue as to the meaning of fine art in a contemporary world.

I came to the conclusion that new media had assumed most of art’s traditional functions and the common man cares little for the theories, art, and events done in the name of contemporary art. The art world was obsessed with their theories, their message, with being the first to do something different. They were creating art for themselves. I came to believe what Francis Shaefer said:
Only when the technique matched the world view being presented could it be considered great art.
Bendykowski with his new art
A new direction, but the same message

Armed with a new technique to wrap my theory in my new work was a hit and attracted an art representative with connections. I was even accepted into a Minneapolis Art Gallery without them even looking at my work. I saw the promotion of my art and art as one. The more outlandish my work and promotion the more successful I became. But I realized that I needed to live and work in New York City if I was ever to attain my goal. With little money and 2 young children this was something I was unable to do. I put my art career on hold for the next 20 years and concentrated on a professional career that had nothing to do with the art world.

The Mating Dance of the Artist

The “time off” from making and thinking about art was good for me as it gave me a perspective on life and art I would not otherwise have understood. I realized that the artist wishing to make a name for himself in the fine art world really has little choice but to live and work in New York City and do the mating dance described in Tom Wolfe's book “The Painted Word”:
“Because he could close his eyes and try to believe that all that mattered was that he knew his work was great… and that other artists respected it… and that History would surely record his achievements… but deep down he knew he was lying to himself. I want to be a name, goddamn it! – at least that, a name on the lips of museum curators, gallery owners, collectors… even the journalists!”
And here my dear readers is the mating dance:
  1. The Boho Dance, in which the artist shows his stuff within the circles, coteries, movements, isms, of the home neighborhood, Bohemia itself, as if he doesn’t care about anything else; as if, in fact, he has a knife in his teeth against the fashionable world uptown.
  2. The Consummation, in which culturati from that very same world, le monde, scout the various new movements and new artists of Bohemia, select those who seem the most exciting, original, important, by whatever standards–and shower them with all the rewards of celebrity.

"No One to Blame But Yourself"

My Life Saved

Holly Solomon saved my artistic life by making me realize what was required if I wanted to live and work in her world. But I have rejected the path that so many take. Instead -
I have made a deliberate choice to live and paint in obscurity far from the art world. Without the pressure to sell or exhibit I am truly free to paint according to my own vision and convictions.
Maybe I have attained the modern ideal of an artist described by Tom Wolfe, and further edited by me:
“To be the unrecognized but free spirit, to cut himself forever free from the bonds of the greedy and hypocritical, to be the artist I desire regardless of the consequences of being out of step with current fads, to look at the world in a way they may not see–In short, to be the Bohemian.

Is it Just Corn?

"Hybrid" ~ Oil on Linen ~ 46 x 52
There was no doubt now that I had finally arrived. My painting hung on the sacred white wall of an art museum in a large city. Not in a gallery, but a museum. THE Holly Solomon, from New York, the center of THE art world, had chosen it to be hung there.

What NOT to Do in a Fast Food Joint with Roman Candles

Summer of 1968. The summer between my sophomore and junior year Jamie, Jim, Lance, Lamont and I decided to have roman candle duels in Lamont’s backyard. And why wouldn’t we do such a thing? Shooting them up in the air was so very boring.

Becoming the Artist YOU Want to Be

One of the most difficult and important things you will ever have to do is to decide just what kind of a artist you want to be. This short article gives what I think is the best advice you could ever get on becoming the artist YOU want to be.

Blowguns & Other Classroom Diversions

Let’s face it, in 8th grade sitting in a classroom can be SO BORING! Sure, you could stare at the girls that were beginning to bloom or Mrs. Reynolds (if you had her as a teacher you know what I am talking about), but even that would get old after awhile. Someone far more clever than I had just figured out that if you took the tip and ink tube out of a Bic pen, it could become a very accurate blowgun. The projectiles were fashioned by putting a small piece of paper in the mouth to get it nice and wet and then rolled into a ball with the tongue. Just put the wad into the hollow Bic pen, aim and blow. Of course this was outlawed by our oppressive school administration.

My Girlfriend and the Streaker

In the fall of 1971 I was standing in the great room of the Kappa Sigma fraternity in Laramie, Wyoming with my good friend Jim and his fraternity brothers. It was a sunny crisp Saturday morning, a perfect day to go to the Wyoming football game. I was all in for that, but when the entire house decided to go streaking through fraternity and sorority row I must have turned white as a ghost.

The Meteor and the FBI

Omaha, 1970. Most, if not all of our friends had curfews, so on the weekends Jamie and I often ended up driving around Omaha and the surrounding area very late at night. I had to have Pat (now my wife) whom I was going steady with home by 11:00, so after I took her home Jamie would often pick me up and off we went.

Of Picnics and Condoms

One beautiful fall day Jamie came over to my house with a couple of friends to visit me and my friend Jim Holtz, who had stopped by to visit on his way to the University of Wyoming. We all decided to hop in Jamie’s car and have a picnic. Jamie loved to drive and we ended up 100 miles south in Kansas at a park with food we had picked up at a fast-food joint.

I was taught by Lesbians

In high school my girlfriend worked for her mom at the Walden Bookstore at the Westroads Mall. I would often come and visit Pat about an hour before closing to see her and use the bookstore as a library of sorts, concentrating on the art books when the doors were locked and she was closing out the cash register. I learned a lot, boy did I learn a lot.

Sending a Bust Developer to My Girlfriend

Fall 1970. One day in my dorm room I was carefully studying the contents of a gentlemen’s magazine when an ad for the “Mark Eden Bust Developer” caught my eye. While my girlfriend Pat was more than a handful I’ll admit that popular culture had brain-washed me into thinking bigger was always better, and $10 was a small price to pay for a gift that promised to keep on giving.

My Awakening

I began skirting the wall of the kingdom of heaven when I was 11 years old, although I was only dimly aware that I had even come to a wall. Having lived a carefree life with few challenges, a wall was something I knew little of.

Falling in Love

May 1968. (Note: This story is a continuation of Never Let Anyone Pass a Note to a Girl For You!) I forked over two one dollar bills for the tickets to the play in advance, just to make sure the play would not be sold out. The day before our date I got to work detailing the chariot that would whisk us away to the ball and a whirlwind romance.

Never Let Anyone Pass a Note to a Girl For You!

This is a true story of lust and lies and proves the point that all is fair in love and war. And if you find yourself in love, never let anyone pass a note to a girl for you!

Undocuchallenges Art Show

I recently read about an art competition and show for the “UndocuChallenged”, and thought it illustrated how twisted and politically correct some would like art to become.

The Drive-by Art Opening

Something has always troubled me about art openings and decided years ago it was just not worth the effort to attend them. However, last night I drove two hours to attend several art gallery openings, something I have not done in over 25 years.

Postmodernism is the new Academic Art

Last month I reluctantly attended an art opening in a small town far from a major population center, and even further from a major art center. The gallery was in the downtown area long ago abandoned by retailers, but was now in the process of a slow renovation. Most of the buildings were vacant and boarded up, and the signs of drink and drug abuse were evident in the walk of the few people that wandered the sidewalks.