Category Archives: General

Throwback Thursday – KCAC Forum Magazine Jun 1992

KCAC Forum Magazine June 1992

by Michael J. Pronko

“Art on the computer” or “Computer Art,” which sounds better? “Computer art” brings to mind mathematical equations, x/y graphs, parabolas and rectangular grids, and more like math class.  “Art on the computer” sounds like the Mo wink or some kind of computerized collection of paintings used to print up T-shirts. Neither concept is accurate or current. Today, the computer is being used more and more to create fine art, and fine art it is.

Although finding mediocre art of any time is not difficult, the computer has generated, perhaps, more than its share of bad artistic work. But those early pieces were mainly simple plotings of mathematical formulas and usually done by computer programmers, not by artists. It was fine programming, but not fine art.

Now, with the spread of computers into almost every aspect of daily life, artists are finding this powerful technology helpful in creating art. Rather than simply using the computer to churn out mechanical patterns, artists are finding that the computer provides a marvelously new and almost limitless medium.  To talk with area artists and witness the possibilities and potential of the computer in art is truly an energizing experience.

More than being just another new medium, the computer offers completely new processes, requires new ways to thinking creatively and provides some totally new directions for art altogether. Art and technology have always interacted explosively, but is this an artistic revolution? if the tremendous changes brought by the computer in the past few years continue to take hold in the art world, we won’t have to wait long to find out.

Bill Crist, artist and professor of art at UMKC, initially used the computer in the early 70s strictly to help him design sculpture. Now, however, he works mainly on the computer, because “there are fewer roadblocks.” Colette and Jeff Bangert have collaborated since the late 60s on progressively more involved art works using the computer. According to Jeff, they use the computer “because of curiosity, a sense of play, but focused and goal-oriented.” Still the reasons for working on or with the computer are not so simply explained, nor is the process.

The computer is capable of expanding almost all dimensions for the creative process. Crist says, “The computer affects the three parts of creating: art history, aesthetic concerns, and the design; the natural part, getting inside nature, relating to nature; and the artist’s own creative urges and needs.” Each of these parts is expanded and more easily manipulated with the computer. One can literally have a complete set of historical and personal images, patterns, and designs in the files ready to use. The computer can allow an artist to explore a natural object more deeply. A giraffe or a piece of driftwood can be analyzed from any angle, inside or out. Notes Colette, “I can see things that I haven’t seen before and think things I haven’t though before.” The computer can increase the awareness of the artist’s needs by quickly allowing them to be examined by various changes easily accompanies by the computer.

The artist, then, is affected deeply. Colette continues, “Who an artist is changed, broadened, deepened. Using the computer is an eye-head thing, instead of an eye-head-hand thing.” Crist notes that although he misses the tactile feel of the objects, he also does not have to spend as much time, for example, polishing metal, waiting for glue to dry, or carrying out the physical manipulation of objects. The computer allows him to spend more time on the creating or the conceptualizing aspects of the art. He says, “I can play with a lot of things… that I could not do before [as a sculptor], and save each step to go back if I want.” An endless number of possibilities can be easily tried on the computer, without spending huge amounts of time just “manipulating material in mindless labor.” The role of the artist inside the artistic process is sharply re-defined and at least partially liberated.

An important possibility for Colette and Jeff Bangert is that they can more fully collaborate on a project. To somewhat oversimplify their method, Jeff primarily does the programming, while Colette does the printing. Still, it is not that simple, because an image can be worked and re-worked by both of them in different ways.  The computer is a catalyst and facilitator in the interactive process. this interaction tends to “break down a certain narcissistic tendency in the artist and creates another aspect of the artist’s being.” they look forward to possible collaboration with other computer artists in the future. “The computer has expanded our lives, and lives are what goes into art,” notes Colette. Still, even with such positive enhancements to the artistic process as the computer provides, it is easy to think of the computer as just another medium. But, Jeff disagrees, “It is not just another medium, it is not like another medium. It  is intelligent, complex, and time-consuming.” It does not simply expand already existing processes, but adds a totally new dimension. There is a complex interaction between artists and machine.

There are always variables which make each result unique. The Bangerts say they cannot predict the result of any programming very accurately because it is too complex. So, rather than computer mechanizing the artist, which many people fear, “I can humanize the technology by bringing my understanding of the creative process,” says Crist. The number of variables is multiplex by the computer making the number of possible results limitless.  This quantitative change in the process transforms itself into a qualitative change in the process.

Crist and the Bangerts emphasize the unpredictability of the outcome. The process becomes spontaneous in a very unique way.  it is not simply manipulation of images or a paint program but something altogether new and different. “The computer does generate surprises,”  says Bill Crist.  For example, in filling in space or creating a three-dimensional representation from several two-dimensional inputs, the computer leaves holes or fills in holes unpredictably. It blurs lines, it bleeds colors, it drops things out. That is not to say the computer acts irrationally in some human way, but rather that the unpredictability is increased tremendously by the power of the machine’s capabilities.

Some of the things the computer can do are just not possible to do any other way.  And those new things require a new way of seeing and a new way of thinking.

The computer can input any image and manipulate that image in countless ways. It can take two two-dimensional shapes, plot the cross-dimensional object and look at any of the interior surfaces from any distance. One can look from inside that object outward to see what that object might “see.” Also, the object can not fit only onto some other object but into that object as well. Using the computer, the artist can manipulate the object to fit into another object at any angle or position also.  The new object can then be rotated to see what it looks like from any angle, inside or out.  Changing the size, texture or color is also as easy as pressing a button.

Mathematical equations can also be plotted three-dimensionally and the resulting object viewed from any angle. The possibilities are indeed without limit both in number and degree of abstraction. The computer then is different because it is not an extension of the physical aspect of creating art, but is an extension of the mental-conceptual aspect. This is something new.

One finds oneself searching for similar changes in history, the change after the discovery of perspective, or after the printing press, or after photography or after motion pictures. Each of these changes was comparable to some change before it, but was also extremely different. With all of these changes, there was resistance to change. Certainly the same is true with computers.

It is somewhat doubtful that all art will be done on computers in the future or that entire shows will be on a disk, but the change for these artists personally is clearly profound.  As a result of using computers, “I’m totally different as an artist,” says Crist. The Bangerts concur that it has expanded their view of art and of themselves as artists incredibly. “Everybody has to give up something to get something,” says Jeff, but with computers you get a lot. “Change is the key ingredient to being human, to being alive, and computers have changed us a lot,” adds Colette. From these artists and indeed from anyone who uses computers to create, there is this sense of somewhat bewildering passion,a n almost embarrassing zest.

On a larger scale as well, computers have caused a huge social and cultural change, so there is no reason to think that the same will not continue to happen with art. the most advanced computer capabilities of fifteen years ago are now available and affordable for home use. Computers are already an essential component of almost all art school curriculum. That trend will only accelerate. And with the rapid advances in holography, animation and virtual reality, it is hard to even imagine the future possibilities.

But, more important perhaps even than those future developments, is the prospect that the computer will continue to profoundly change how we see the world. Art has always changed and reflected change in technology, but with computers humans will be able to see and visualize previously unimaginable possibilities. “You can see what you are imagining,” says Crist. Perhaps, then, we’ll even be able to see ourselves and our world more clearly, and maybe even more correctly.


Throwback Thursday – KCAC Forum Summer 1980

In celebration of the Bangert Retrospective at KCAC, an interview with Colette:

KCAC Forum Magazine Summer 1980

by Alan Milstein

Could you talk a bit about how you work, how you go about communicating your ideas visually?

These days I’ve been working on Masonite. I use acrylics straight from the tube or jar, diluted with water. For a long time, I had been using brushes to put the paint down. But I got to the point where the paint didn’t work going on with the brush anymore. I finally evolved a way of doing it with rags cut up from old sheets. Pieces of rags, crumbled, make interesting clumps of color as well as lines and drags and marks. I can control it and get all sorts of variations. The acrylic will stiffen the rags gradually over a period of time and that adds different kinds of marks.

Generally, the colors tend to go down in layers, first one then another. When it seems about right to stop, I go in with a small brush and start defining what I’m seeing there. That’s the fun part of it. The hard, open-ended part is putting the color down. Once I start defining, it’s closed. When that process is done, the picture’s done.

Elaborate, if you will, on what you mean by “defining” what you’re seeing.

What I’m doing is making it absolutely clear for myself what it is that these colors are doing, what the spaces are doing. So what I’m doing is seeing what is down there. In a sense, I’m doing the seeing for the viewer. I think I’m making it as clear as possible so there’s no mistaking what’s there to look at. So when the picture has been defined, it’s absolutely clear where everything is and how it is to be seen.

Do you make any sketches or drawings before you start to paint?

The way I work is that each work is a study for the following work. So, in a sense, I don’t really make sketches. While I’m working on a piece other ideas come­—changes I want to make or an idea for a whole new thing. What I’ve just been working on relates to what I’m currently doing. Some works tend to be more complete than others; some tend to be more ideas. Sometimes it’s very clear in my mind what I want to do. Other times, it’s not until I’ve seen it.

The real bombs probably have new ideas embedded in the old form. It takes a long time to get the new ideas together with a new structure to carry them.

Your paintings, as has been said quite often, evoke the local landscape; yet, you certainly don’t render particular scenes. What is it, then, about the landscape that you are trying to evoke?

I’ve been making pictures all my life, and for a little over thirty years I’ve been working with what I call elements of landscape. I am involved with the Midwest landscape, the landscape around where I live. I’m not trying to pin down a locale.

Instead of specifics, I’m more interested in essences. Generally, my paintings have been about seasons or a particular time of year. And they do tend to be cyclic. One of the things I’m involved with, for instance, is light. Another is the space relationships I see here which are particularly Midwestern. It’s more stripped down out here which provides certain clarity for seeing things.

Yet your paintings are abstract. How do you manage to communicate your ideas and feelings about the landscape through rather formal experiments in line and color?

One of the things I’ve been interested in is how the picture gets structured. I’ve been dealing with verticals which I see as a private kind of symbol and as a formal device. In terms of landscape, verticals are trees; they measure people; things grow vertically and so on. In the beginning, I would make it very obvious: just take the paint on the rag and go straight down. Finally, it evolved to where I got to the point that I could imply the vertical and incorporate it.

One of the metaphors for the Midwestern landscape is the inland sea. So one of the things to do to imply the vertical is a crest of waves, repetition and so forth.

As you mentioned, there really is quite a bit of repetition in your work, both in single paintings and in your series. They seem to me to be quite rhythmical.

That’s what’s outside. Things are repeated. That’s what one sees: repetition, patterning. I really think it’s very simple. There’s an awful lot of sameness, yet everything changes.

Some of your works are open and airy, while others are closed and quite involved, almost muddled, to use that word without negative connotation.

You’re absolutely right. Muddled has been something I’ve been very conscious about. I see that way outdoors. Some people see a field as a green open area or you can see a green area plus every little leaf that’s there.

Obviously, the two evoke quite different kinds of moods. How do they relate to your emotions while you are creating a painting?

I think it has to do with two side of me. It works like a big diary anyway. It seems quite natural that it would be those two sides. Sometimes I am closed.

Aside from sensing these emotions, what do you expect to be the viewer’s experience with your paintings?

I’ve been constantly working to make it clear for the person looking at it, clear so the viewer gets it.

I get excited by what I see visually; I find it very interesting to look at. I want the viewer to see what I see, which I guess is impossible. But I, like every other artist, want people to see what I see.

It’s a matter of making as clear and as well as I can what it is I’m seeing. If I can understand clear enough what I’m seeing and put it down there, then the other person, the viewer, should be able to see it. It’s visual communication. Like any human being, I just want to be understood.


Throwback Thursday – KCAC Forum Sept 1985

KCAC Forum Magazine September 1985

by Frankie Jo Anderson Coleman

Is there a need for more affordable living and working spaces for artists in the Kansas City area?

Yes, maybe.

The detailed answer lies within the six page, 23-question survey supplied by the Kansas City Arts Council and the Kansas City Artists Coalition. Based on the attendance at a public forum, July 13, 1985, sponsored by both groups, there is real interest. Representatives from seven artist organizations, several gallery owners, artists, dancers, actors and musicians met at Pardoy Hall for the Saturday afternoon two-hour discussion.

Mel Mallin, developer of the So-Ho West condominium project in the Kansas City garment district, is interested in developing buildings in that part of town for artists’ use as well. “I’ve always had a soft spot for old multi-story buildings and for artists,” Mallin says.

He introduced Cheryl Kartes, executive director of the Artspace project in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Lower town area. Artspace Inc., founded in 1978, was created to assist in the location, development and management of artist’ living and working, exhibition, performance and support space. Its mission was adopted in the belief that providing sufficient and affordable artists’ space is crucial to the cultural and economic vitality of the twin cities. The non-profit corporation has served more than 3,000 artists, assisted more than 120 art groups, and supervised the rehabilitation and financing of more than 200,000 square feet of vacant or underused urban property.

According to Kartes, Artspace in the Minneapolis currently rents for between $2 and $5 per square foot ­ or, about $200 per month and up. However, Mr. Mallin noted that $2 a square foot would be unreasonably low from a developer’s point of view. The Minneapolis project also includes a loan and grant program to assist with grants for rehabilitation and remodeling of spaces. However, ultimate costs for such work in Kansas City are hard to determine at the early stage.

“Communication is critical to the success of an art space project,” says Ms. Kartes. “The primary motivation for artists and developers working together is to bring back the life and vitality into the downtown area.

Among those at the July 13 meeting were Kansas City, MO., Mayor Richard Berkely, who arrived during the slide presentation. Fiber artist Jean Van Harlingen also was present. She marked that, “The problem for artists is that they (are forced) to move around. Realtors are following artists who set the trends. We have to organize this effort so that it lasts longer than five to 10 years. I would like to see long-term lease contracts of 50-100 years; that way the city and community have a vested interest in the livelihood of the artist’s activities.”

Photographer Janet Ryan expressed another point of view: “I’m not sure I want to buy (into such project). The long time agreement and commitment to live in one place is somewhat confining.” At this stage, however, Kansas City organizers are still trying to determine what artists here want, need and can afford.

Throwback Thursday – KCAC Forum Mar 1987

KCAC Forum Magazine March 1987

by Robert Stewart

“I don’t believe anybody has the right to say whether my work is good or not.”
-anon. art student

Art students not withstanding, most artists appreciate the value of lively dialogue about art, which includes criticism in newspapers and magazines. In fact, it’s common for artists in Kansas City to lament the one-newspaper-art-critic situation here – a view shared, by the way, by the Donald Hoffmann, art critic for The Kansas City Star. Mr. Hoffman is not entirely alone, however. Ellen R. Goheen, Barbara Westerfield and Peter von Ziegesar, among others, regularly review art for a variety of media. That is a lot of talent. In addition, Mr. von Ziegesar and Ms. Westerfield are also artists, giving lie to the wag in The New York Times Magazine who said, “A critic is a man (sic) who knows the way but can’t drive the car.”

Forum decided to ask these four art reviewers for their opinions on art in the Kansas City area, as well as for some insights ti9nto how they approach art when reviewing, their ideas on art in society, their function as critics – why they are critics in the first place – and other things, public and personal.

“I came to art criticism by default,” says Mr von Ziegesar, who originally wanted to review books. “In Kansas City, there are not many people who know art and can also write. Artists should get involved in the verbal dialogue,” But, he adds, “Artists are verbally retarded. The cliché is that a picture is worth a thousand words. That’s baloney. You can always talk about anything. But artists have a psychological blockage; they’re afraid to be pinned down – you can be very nebulous visually, and a lot are.”

“It’s a real problem,” says Mr. Hoffmann, lamenting his exposed position as the only art critic with significant access to the general public. “Somebody else ought to have a wack at it for awhile. But I suppose people interested in serious art writing get themselves to New York. Even then, there’s not much of a chance to make a living at it.”
But Barbara Westerfield, who has worked as an artist and educator in such places as Mexico City, Washington DC, and Berkeley, California, takes a different perspective: “People are a bit spoiled here by the amount of art coverage. For the size of the art community in Kansas City, it’s more than adeq1uate, though people don’t seem to realize it. If you take the number of artists in New York and divide by how many reviews appear – especially of lesser-known artists – Kansas City is getting more coverage than New York.”

All critics have different motivations for what they do. Ms. Westerfield takes time out from her own art partly to help assure that artists here become better known outside of Missouri; but a more central reason is personal growth. “I’m an expansive person. I like to think and analyze and to look at as much as I can visually. That’s part of the art process for me.”

Ellen Goheen’s reason for art writing goes directly to the community: “In this particular community, education is more important than in other places where art is more familiar, such as San Francisco or even St. Louis. With all the gallery closings recently, we now have fewer places to go to learn.” She adds that in her years of writing and lecturing about art, people have appreciated the help. “They can respond to help, and they can make decisions,” she says.

Candidly, Ms. Goheen adds, “Art doesn’t have that major role here – it’s somewhat of a passive thing. People are more involved in theater or music. However, that’s the nature of the visual arts everywhere. If it were different, there wouldn’t be such a struggle.”

All the critics agree that there is strong art being produced locally. “It would be fairly easy to put together an exhibition of Kansas City art that, if shown in New York, would embarrass the stuff being done there,” says Mr. Hoffman

Mr. von Ziegesar, who is enthusiastic about many artists here, also admits that “Most people, who are serious artists, leave town after a few years. It’s a place to incubate because the cost of living is cheap, and there is a good support group with the Nelson and some 600 art students running around doing things. But it’s a dead end. There is no real financial support here.”

One ingredient necessary to enhancing the opportunities for artists in town, according to Ms. Goheen, is “a charismatic leader to excite and lead others.” She’s fascinated that the Kansas City Artists Coalition has instituted its Center for Contemporary Art, but she’s afraid such action won’t make a major difference without some dynamic personality to bring attention to the activities in town.

“If you started out here and stay,” adds Mr. Hoffmann, “there is just no way to get attention (on a national Level).” He points out that Thomas Hart Benton was already a national figure when he returned to Kansas City in 1945.

One gets the sense that these art critics are on a kind of Grail quest, pursuing some vision of an ideal art environment where artists can achieve financial success and fame, and still remain pure to pursue a personal vision. Those may be contradictory conditions, however. Mr. Hoffmann points out that our relative isolation probably promotes good art because “There isn’t the pressure to conform, to be caught up in New York expressionism or other trends.” Ultimately, the goal of national exposure may prove to be a false Grail, reminding us of Albert Einstein’s words in later life: “I now bask in that solitude which was so painful to me in my youth.”

In fact, nation-wide electronic communications have helped undermine the fine arts in general, says Mr. Hoffmann. “Most works don’t hold together, and it’s getting worse. Art has lost its intellectual basis, and there is no longer a feeling of necessity or inevitability.” Mr Hoffmann cites a decay of traditional education as one source of the problem and adds, “It doesn’t help to have MTV –rock videos – and such chaotic pieces of images that don’t make sense formally or provide a consistent emotion.”

Mr. von Ziegesar, whose personal art preference is film, adds that “Film is the art form of the 20th century. And the big trend in art is to reintegrate the pop symbolism of TV into fine art.” The irony, Mr. von Ziegesar points out, is that “The real issues of life and perception are being fought out in the fine arts rather than mass media. Yet, mass media also cannibalizes from the fine arts, adapting new-wave trends, for example, to commercial application.”

When reviewing art, Mr. Hoffmann notes that he has “no formal procedures. Everything starts as an emotional reaction.” He points out that there has been no formal degree one could receive in art criticism. “It’s something one should learn by doing.”

“Art criticism is really just talking about art, but its much more careful,” says Mr. von Ziegesar.

Ms. Westerfield believes there is “a sincere difference” between an artist who is a critic and someone who is solely a critic. “I have a conversation of sorts with the artist when I look at the work,” she says. “Artist to artist.” Ms. Westerfield claims a broad range of personal preferences in art – “anything from 19th century Romantics to American Indian Art.” Her approach as a reviewer is to look at art without bringing her own favoritism into play. Moreover, she adds, “I would never slaughter an artist in a public way. I want to bring praise to artists because we get so little of it.”

Mr. von Ziegesar agrees: “I have a little trick, taken from the French new-wave film makers of the early 1950s, who were also critics. When a contemporary did something (as art) they didn’t like, they just kept quiet about it. That silence could be pretty strong.”

But, Mr. von Ziegesar adds, “I don’t mind being critical of something that has a certain power (such as trends and institutions) when it is not a direct attack on someone’s ego. I have been very critical of the MID-FOUR annual exhibitions, for example. It has power.”

Mr. Hoffmann adds that “an art critic has no function in the art process itself. To presume to tell artists what to do is stupid – if an artist doesn’t have it within himself.” Mr. Hoffmann says that his intended audience is the public and not the artist of the work, but he adds, “A compliment is the most worthless thing in the world. It just makes you want to keep doing what you art already doing. The better artists can handle criticism, even if you don’t react favorably to their work,” he says. “It’s always the minor ones who get enraged and fight back on a personal level.”

Ms. Goheen finds it necessary to approach art from a historical context and formal analysis: “this is what art is about, formal problems and personal experiential contexts. My primary concern is the art itself,” she adds, “but one occasion, I found myself wanting to talk directly to the artist because he wasn’t clear in his own mind what he was trying to do. But normally, I avoid the Clement Greenberg type of role trying to shape an artist’s work.”

One problem for critics in a town as small as Kansas City can be that they frequently meet their artist-subjects socially – although, that is not such a problem for Mr. Hoffmann who jokes, “I don’t have any social life anyway.” As fair and objective as a reviewer tries to be, the truth is too clear, as author Somerset Maugham has written: “People ask for criticism, but they only want praise.”

Ellen R Goheen reviews art regularly for Forum and formerly reviewed art for The Kansas City Business Journal. She lectures frequently at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. She is currently coordinator of the Thomas Hard Benton Project at the Nelson Gallery and is a former curator of 20th century art there. She has a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Kansas.

Barbara Westerfield is a regional administrative editor for The New Art Examiner, a local reviewer for Art News, and an occasional reviewer for Forum. She has a Masters of fine art from The Mount Royal Graduate School of Painting, The Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, Md. She has been an artists in residence in Michoacan, Mexico, and is director of INTERCOMM (developed to further international understanding through art), Mexico City. She has published and exhibited her own work on an international scale.

Donald Hoffmann is art and architecture critic for The Kansas City Star; he has written five books on architecture with a special interest in Frank Lloyd Wright. He received a 1974 National Endowment for the Arts Art Critic Grand, among others. He has given papers on art and architecture at the University of Chicago, Columbia University, and many others.

Peter von Ziegesar is a contributing editor for Kansas City Magazine, reviews art for KCUR-FM, public radio in Kansas City, as well as for The New Art Examiner, where he is an associate editor, and for Forum. He is a graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute and has studied film at Columbia College in Chicago. He is an active film maker who has had frequent showings in Kansas City and elsewhere.