Stealing Lunches - Learning History

An artist must use recent and distant achievements in their art for education and inspiration.  You must know the work of your precursors on as many levels as possible.  You cannot not know the history of your art.  Imagine your art as an arena or as a schoolyard.  This schoolyard is full of upperclassmen and very tough classmates.  The quality of your work is directly related to how many of their lunches you eat or at least get a bite of prior to getting your ass kicked. The worlds of contemporary painting and music are over-crowded with wall flowers, people who huddle along the fences minding their own business, doing their own thing -  things that are always hermetic, untutored, pale, boring, frantic, peculiar, lame, self-absorbed and unfulfilling.  Get out in the center, walk up to Picasso, grab his lunch sack, add some onions or peppers to his bologna sandwich and call it your own.  The next day go over to Van Gogh, grab his lunch pail, take out his peanut butter sandwich and add some sliced banana and call it your own.  Every artist of note has confronted a wide array of precursors - they all got their asses handed to them, got their noses bloodied time and again for their audacity, for their courage.  They collected battle scars from their encounters with the work that defined their canon.

You can always spot an artist who simply looked at a lot of reproductions or visited a lot of museums and failed to actually experiment with paint - it is as if they had no encounters with the schoolyard dominators at all.  You can tell which musicians huddled over by the backstop with a small circle of admiring friends while the big boys controlled the center.  The torch of one’s art must be taken from many other artists who may be alive or dead.  You will get clobbered but there is at least a chance for a measure of pride for valiant effort.  Muhammad Ali, a great artist of the boxing ring, got hit so ferociously and so many times that he was permanently injured.

Force a series of encounters with the contenders in your schoolyard or be doomed to mediocrity.  “Hey Beethoven what did mommy pack our little music man today?”  “Jackson Pollock !  Yeah you - I’m talkin’ to you - let’s see it - what you got in the sack? Ouch!  Jackson packs quite a wallop.  “You guys wait here - I wanna bite of that Hendrix kid’s apple.”  Go after your precursors one at a time.  Get into their heads.  Steal as many of their ideas as you can process.  Picasso said, when accused of stealing ideas from other artists, “I steal from everybody - I try not to steal from myself.”