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It was a sad day the day deKooning died. My fifth grade was in the middle
of an abstract expressionist project and we had just spent a day looking at
and discussing deKooning's work. A group of three fifth graders rushed up
to tell me about his death immediately after disenbarking fromthe school
bus. So we discussed the dilemma of his later work. One of them said, "If
I'm an artist even though I'm only in the fifth grade, then deKooning was
still an artist even if he wasn't feeling well."
It is my personal opinion that his later work is every bit as valid as any
of his earlier work. Every person changes. Time, environment, nature, and
health will effect that change, and the artist's production of art is also
effected by these changes, but as long as the art is produced, then it is
art. The viewer is free to make judgements about the artwork, but the
question of the art's validity has to do with the viewer-not the artwork.
The following is a selection from an Apr 1996 ArtsEdNet post. It was a
reaction to an interesting strand which you might like to look up on the
archive. Pamela J Glander <glander>, wrote an essay about the
deKooning dilemma. She emailed it to me but I don't think it went to the
list. Perhaps she'd share it with you if you express an interest.
>From: (Mark Alexander)mamjam
>Date: Tue, 30 Apr 1996 08:31:47 -0500
>Subject: RE: deKooning Dilema
> I think the key to the deKooning Dilemma is your personal definition
>of what art is. Does art have to be made by a person with a healthy mind?
>If not, then are we to also exclude VanGogh's work as the product of a
>demented person and therefore not art? Does art have to be made by a
>person? Is Ruby the elephant an artist? Ruby lives and paints at the
>Phoenix Zoo-do you know about Ruby? Her work is included in many many
> I happen to have a wide definition of what art is, but it varies as
>necessary to include or exclude objects, images, and concepts I encounter
>each day. Try to define art for yourself. Try to write a collection of
>definitions-a good aesthetics exercise for the art classroom. You will
>notice quite quickly that there isn't any one 'right' definition.
> ARTNEWS published a great article in the Fall of 95 about deKooning
>titled 'The deKooning Dilemma.' You've read it? I think that the author
>talked about alzheimers and how it effects different artists. For
>example, a writer who gets alzheimers stops writing because the disease
>hinders the ability to relate current thoughts with the past or future.
>Painters, like deKooning, can paint with alzheimers because the past is
>unavoidable as long as the artist faces the canvas. It all remains right
>there in the painting as a constant reminder. Of course the afflicted
>painter might need help finding the painting, but Ruby needs studio
Just last night on ArtsEdNet, someone quoted from Tom Robbins. I've lost
track of who posted it (sorry, astute person!), but I've been thinking
about it all morning. It seems to me to be such a neat and perfect
definition of an artist. Applied to deKooning, we see a man who observes
his world and shows us how he chose to alter it. Fits fine!
"On her small canvas, she recreated a section of the Crazy Mountains,
the range near Living-ston that they had admired earlier that day; that is
to say, she recreated the mountains not as she had originally seen them,
but as she eventually chose to see them, for a person has not only
perceptions but a will to perceive, not only a capacity to observe the
world but a capacity to alter his or her observation of it - which, in the
end, is the capacity to alter the world, itself. Those people who
recognize that imagination is reality's master, we call 'sages', and those
who act upon it, we call 'artists'." Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All
Hope this helps,
Lee H. Kellogg School
Falls Village, CT 06031
At 8:46 AM 4/12/97, tim wrote:
>Dear Donna Lyle,
> As I understand,in his later years deKooning was isolated from the
>people who cared most about his mind.I have videos of him painting whilst
>'ill',and his behaviour is not that of a man with alzheimers
>(spelling?).Nor do I believe such sophisticated work was produced by a man
>with said condition.Do you agree the work falls short of the pre'75,and yet
>surpasses the work of circa '86?How did he develop and improve if his mind
>was failing?Is the work from his hand?Yes,and he was ill.But I believe the
>diagnoses was wrong.Would anyone have an interest in misdiagnosing his
>mental state?Would anyone have wanted to gain legal control over his
>It was a tragic situation for a great painter to find himself in,and I
>cried the night I heard he'd died.I'll miss him.
>Regarding your question as to wether he was producing art or not.It's a
>silly question as you must be aware.Of course it's art,but is it art of
>quality?Art can be anything,but that doesn't make it high art.Aesthetic
>judgements should always come first,but alas,rarely do these days of hype.
>I'd love to hear your thoughts on this email,and hope you can find the time
>to reply.I tried replying online but it wouldn't work for me - problems?