A Van Gogh!

A Van Gogh!
From the artists at ArtWorks945

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Spear Chucking

If I were a lawyer, and I had to defend in front of the Supreme Court of Art the thesis that Charlie Spear’s Falling Down Man is not only an instance of the type – piece of art that was accidentally damaged by human agency but nonetheless improved or in some way completed by the damage – but is perhaps the purest such instance in the world, I would read the following bullet points in increasing volume until I was shrieking the last one as loudly as I could. Then I would bow and scurry out of the room.

I. Falling Down Man is about the homeless at a time when homelessness is an increasingly serious and troubling problem in the United Sates.

II. The United States Postal Service abused Falling Down Man. (Everyone who has seen the painting agrees that it is difficult to imagine what could have brought about such damage.)

III. The symbolic connections between the abuse of a painting about the homeless carried out by a government agency and the abuse that the homeless suffer no doubt at least partly due to the United States government are so obvious and so poignant that Charlie Spear immediately felt the painting had been taken to a completely new level.

IV. Falling Down Man was already, before the abuse, an eloquent painting by an extremely prolific, well-established artist.

V. Those who have seen Falling Down Man in person think that it has been added to and perhaps even improved visually because of the damage – there is now a three dimensionality to it that wouldn’t be there were it flat.

VI. Finally, unlike Duchamp's Bride no one has altered Falling Down Man since it was damaged.

Scurry. Scurry. Scurry.

I believe the Supreme Court of Art would rule in my favor. Indeed, the case seems to me so overwhelmingly strong that I can’t help but think that the Universe played a role in the whole event. It just strikes me as so terribly peculiar. I think that Charlie is right: there is more going on here than the mere physical.

In any case, I do think that this event calls for a new term of art, a term that denotes the kind of action that the USPS performed.

In honor of Charlie Spear, I will call such an act 'Spear Chucking'.

To chuck a spear is to accidentally damage a painting only thereby to bring about its improvement.

Very few have chucked a spear into a work of art.

The USPS, however, chucked a spear into Falling Down Man.

Little did the USPS know, though, that Falling Down Man would stand up and thrive as a result of their spear chucking.

One must certainly hope that one day the same will be true of the homeless that Falling Down Man represents.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Some More Loosely Connected Thoughts

One great thing about teaching at a college is the ability to send esoteric questions over e-mail to the faculty and expect some kind of interesting response.

A few days ago I asked my colleagues whether anyone knew of interesting examples involving damaged art that is deemed by the artist to have been completed or improved in some way by the damage.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Perhaps most importantly, someone reminded me of Duchamp’s name – I recalled the incident from an art history class I once took but couldn’t remember his name.

But I had many other great responses and interesting examples sent to me.

For instance, I learned about auto-destructive art:

Auto-destructive art is art that contains within itself an agent that automatically leads to its destruction within a period of time not to exceed twenty years. http://www.391.org/manifestos/1960metzger.htm

I learned about a British sculptor, Cornelia Parker, who likes to blow things up and put them back together. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornelia_Parker

I learned that the architects of the rebuilt de Young museum in San Francsico intended for the gradual corrosion of the copper exterior to be part of the artistic vision. http://deyoung.famsf.org/about/architecture-and-grounds

And many more things.

I also received an opinion about the category in question that concurs with mine. Ruth Beeston said to me:

I think that occurrences like you are seeking- where a work is "enhanced" in the artists' eyes as a result of an accidental or deliberate act by someone else- must be fairly rare. I'd be interested in hearing about any genuine examples you come up with.

I think Ruth is right. It does seem to me that the number of paintings of this type would be very rare.

But I also think that Charlie’s painting is one such instance. Falling Down Man may not be one of a kind; but it certainly is a member of a very small club.

I realize, however, that I haven’t yet made an explicit case for the claim that Charlie’s painting is a member of that club.

In my next post, I will.

Monday, May 23, 2011


I am feeling very discombobulated today. I had hoped to write an eloquent post about Falling Down Man. But I’m not up to it.

So here instead are a series of loosely connected thoughts.

Charlie's painting, as a result of its subject matter, its quality and its being damaged by the USPS, has joined a remarkably small group of significant paintings.

The most famous example of such a painting is Duchamp’s ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even’, which hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


A quote from Wikipedia about Bride:

Going home from its first public exhibition, the glass broke in its shipping crate and received a large crack in the glass. Duchamp repaired it, but left the cracks in the glass intact, accepting the chance element as a part of the piece.

In one of his notes about Bride, Duchamp wrote: “Can one make works of art which are not ‘of art’?”

Most interpreters agree that Bride was on the edge of what might be called conceptual art.

One could, of course, accept the cracks in a piece of art because one is ‘stuck with them’, or one could accept the cracks because in some sense they better or make more complete the work of art. Duchamp, I think, was doing the latter.

Duchamp was right to do so. The randomness of the cracks fit perfectly with the idea of art that is not ‘of art’.

Most people typically think of damage as decreasing the value, aesthetic and monetary, of a work of art.

But damage could increase value, both aesthetic and monetary.

The following is a category of art: a work that is accidentally damaged by a human agent but that is made better or in some genuine sense more complete by the damage.

This would be analogous to an accident modifying an essence.

There are examples of this in biology.

There are arguably other instances of this in the art world, though many of the most well known examples aren’t quite as pure as Duchamp’s Bride.

Some Examples:

The Liberty Bell.

The Venus de Milo.

The Sphinx.

Problems with the examples:

The Liberty Bell was a bell and so not ‘obviously’ a work of art.

The Venus de Milo would now look worse with arms but that is because we have become used to her without arms, not because the lack of arms completed her or made her better right from the get go.

The sphinx was not so much damaged as subject to a combination of decay and damage by a number of distinct individuals. Moreover, it may look weird were it restored now; but it no doubt looked absolutely glorious in its day.

Even Duchamp’s Bride is not a pure instance of the category. Why? Because he modified it after the damage.

There are, no doubt, many more examples.

I am more convinced than ever that Charlie Spear’s Falling Down Man is perhaps the purest instance of the type I have described. At the very least, it is the purest instance that I know of.

I will elaborate more in a future post.

Until then, if anyone wants to trade a painting for Falling Down Man, let me know.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Charlie Spear

Charlie Spear painted Falling Down Man while participating in a project to revitalize a poor part of Indianapolis that contains a large number of homeless people.

The buildings of Indianapolis can be seen in the background of Charlie’s painting. In the foreground slouches a marionette of some sort who has fallen and cannot get up.

The marionette clearly represents the homeless.

What an image. I can’t stop scrutinizing the marionette. It has, it seems to me, two faces: one real, one lurking recessed in the knees. The pathos of the homeless almost seeps from it.

I couldn’t be happier with Charlie’s painting. I think it is brilliant. Eloquent and brilliant.

Of course, it is a bit unfortunate that the USPS abused Falling Down Man.

No, that’s not quite right: the USPS ABUSED Falling Down Man.

One really has to see the painting in person to appreciate that fact.

I have had two wonderful conversations with Charlie, one before and one after I got his painting. He of course was a bit upset at what the USPS had done. Here is a statement that he wrote shortly after our last phone conversation.

Hello Paul,

I wanted to write my impressions on seeing and hearing the news of Falling Down Man...as "an abuse of the abused." Poverty is not a declaration of a person’s worth. The sight of the frame and knowing that the work may be destroyed as a whole piece had a ring to it with a spiritual resonance. The crisis this country is in today financially has put a lot of people in Falling Down Man's place. My wife works for WorkOne an arm of Work Force Development of Indiana. She deals with everyday people who worked for 15-20-30 yrs. and find themselves out of a job and out of unemployment. They are stranded in a sense in this financial purgatory or limbo...I know she has probably saved a few people from cashing out. She is a sensitive caring person. Falling Down Man is now more about the possibility of homelessness for anyone.

The sick feeling my wife and I felt when we saw the damage was real. The piece should have made it. This is the first time I have ever seen this kind of treatment from the USPS. Fed Ex and UPS have shipped damaged packages in the past but have gotten better in recent years.

I can't help but think there is something more going on here. Vincent's paintings were about the poor and the destitute. Failing as a preacher he became a painter following the leading of his heart. We look at his art and have a sense of possibilities. Unfortunately after shooting himself he died poor and basically homeless...I still would want the USPS to make this right...but more might be afoot than we see physically.


It has been a true pleasure getting to know Charlie. Among other things, he has helped me to see just what a peculiar fortune the Universe has bestowed upon me.

But why, one might naturally want to know, do I think the Universe bestowed a fortune on me?

The answer to that question is a bit involved and will have to wait for a future post. I will, however, say that it involves Plato and Duchamp.

Oh yes. One last thing: if anyone wants to trade for Charlie Spear’s brilliant and now perhaps historic painting, let me know.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

You've Got To Be Kidding Me!!!!!

That’s what I felt like yelling at the USPS worker when he told me: Well I didn’t do it.

I had been practically gnawing my finger off in excitement at getting Charlie Spear’s painting Falling Down Man.

So when I looked upon the damage that the USPS had wreaked upon Charlie’s painting, I felt like starting a revolution on the spot.

But of course I didn’t. No. After filling out a form and talking with the postal worker, who of course was quite right in pointing out that he wasn’t the one who had warped Charlie’s brilliant painting, I said ‘Thank you’ and walked out of the post office in a daze.

I have included two different pics of Falling Down Man.

The first pic clearly shows the extent to which the frame has been warped.

It is not obvious from the pic, but the frame is incredibly solid. So I can’t imagine how it got warped like that. Someone must have put a piano on it.

The second pic is of the painting as it now appears from the front.

Charlie is an incredible artist, and Falling Down Man is, in my opinion, an incredible painting. I had planned on talking about Falling Down Man and the rest of Charlie’s work. And indeed, I will in a future blog entry. Here are links to two websites where Charlie displays his work.



At the moment, however, I have to turn from Charlie’s work and simply report that the Universe taught me a lesson today. Yes, it did.

One might naturally have thought that I would be downhearted, livid perhaps, at what happened to Charlie’s painting. And I was just briefly. Well not livid exactly but definitely beyond flustered.

Had the USPS just torpedoed the Van Gogh Project? Had I returned to square one? Would anyone trade for a damaged painting? These are the questions that swirled around my head for a few hours.

But as I sat in my chair staring at Falling Down Man, after having talked to Charlie on the phone about what had happened, I inhaled the air around me and suddenly felt incredibly tranquil. My despair quietly receded and I couldn't help but smile.

Believe it or not, I realized that the Universe had just given me an incredible gift.

That may sound crazy. I know. And I'll try to explain myself in a future post.

For now I can only tip my hat to art and the universe.

Yes indeed. Art. It truly is a matter of perspective.

And yes indeed. The Universe. It really does work in mysterious ways.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Excitement, Sadness, Yay!

I have arranged for another trade.

The artist has a studio in Indiana; and his art is without a doubt remarkable.

So yes, I am once again incredibly excited.

And once again I am sad.

I saw Dora Maar, hopefully not for the absolute last time, but no doubt for the last time in a long while.

Just as I have done with all the paintings, I parted ways with Jeanette’s painting at the UPS store. This time I had more tact – I didn’t blurt out anything as the agent took her away. But I sighed as I left the store. I loved that painting.

Excited and sad. Perhaps I have been teaching too much Sartre lately, but in the last month or so I have been particularly aware of latent contradictions in my psyche. If Sartre is right, there is no escape from such contradictions. One must simply live them out.

But I must admit – I don’t really like Sartre all that much. And I must also admit -- I’d rather not live with contradictions. Indeed, I’d much rather be excited than sad. So for at least now, I am going to act as if Sartre is wrong and simply go with excitement.

So once again: Yay!