Weather Forecast


In art, it can take chutzpah

"Hey mom, look at me!"

Any time you are near a playground, a swimming pool or a beach, you hear the little kids shouting to their moms and pleading for attention. In political campaigns, the effort may be more grown up, but no more subtle: "I had real experience working with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher... I worked with Reagan in the early 80s developing strategy for the Soviet Empire."

Craving attention is universal. You probably read earlier this month about a young art student in Poland, Andrzej Sobiepan, who snuck into the National Museum in Wroclaw, Poland, and secretly hung his own painting on the wall. Sobiepan is a student at the Wroclaw Fine Arts Academy who wanted to draw attention to young artists who are denied exhibition space in museums. His small painting was a green and white drooping acacia (a tropical tree) leaf of swine leather. The painting hung three or four days before anybody noticed it. Sobiepan said, "I decided I will not wait 30 or 40 years for my works to appear in a place like this. I want to benefit from them in the here and now." It was another "hey mom, look at me." The director of the museum, Mariusz Hermansdorfer, acknowledged some security lapses but was amused by the "witty artistic happening." The painting is now on display in the museum, but it's in the cafe and will soon be offered for sale at a charity auction.

There is a Hebrew expression, "chutzpah" (pronounced hutz - pah) that refers to a quality of audacity, for good or bad, of bold, unmitigated gall. It's not the same as braggadocio, but it's related because it requires supreme self confidence. Anybody who shows that brand of nerve will often rub the rest of us against the grain, but sometimes it's necessary to achieve an objective.

Take Andrzej Sobiepan for example. He wanted to make a point about young artists being denied exhibition space in museums. He could have given a speech -- where? Who would listen? He could have written a newspaper column (who reads newspaper columns?). He could have published on Facebook or Twitter. So? But he needed to get his message out with a jolt -- nothing timid would have worked. So he resorted to chutzpah and crashed the gates of an exclusive party. He went directly to where he wanted his painting to hang and he hung it there.

Andrzej Sobiepan (his last name means "his own master") leapfrogged to the head of the line. His name is now known worldwide. If he's any good, he won't be forgotten, but he's not the first artist to use audacity as a tool to get attention. In art circles, the art of Frenchman Yves Kline was well known by the time he died at the age of 34 in 1962. How does an artist get to be famous by the age of 34? Chutzpah. Yves Kline mixed an ordinary ultramarine pigment with a polymer binder to preserve its chromatic intensity and powdery texture. It was blue. Then he patented the resulting color as "International Kline Blue." If that didn't grab your attention, he produced large paintings by smearing nude women in International Kline Blue paint then pressing or rolling their bodies on canvases.

The result was a series of paintings that were probably less interesting to see than the painting process itself. This "performance art" got Kline the label of the Painter of Space. This art movement became known as "noveau realisme."

How can an artist get by with that brand of chutzpah? It probably is the result of artistic license. Artistic license is the latitude allowed an artist to distort realism for artistic effect. We have all seen paintings of street scenes on a rainy day. The scene seems slightly out of focus. These are impressionistic paintings. The idea is that the painting depicts what the artist saw at a glance -- a reproduction of light as it appears when reflected from the surface of things. The overall impression is realistic, but the artist has the artistic license to add these distortions. On the other side of the spectrum, the artist also has license to reflect his or her strong inner feelings or frustrations. This art is much more dramatic and much more distorted. It is known as expressionistic art.

Enough. By now you realize this writer knows almost nothing about art. It takes a certain chutzpah just to write this much. The point is the young Polish artist Andrzej Sobiepan obviously thought it was necessary to pole vault over the tall fence keeping young artists on the outside. He may have thought his green and white drooping acacia leaf was a work of impressionism. Doesn't matter. But his act of hanging it in the museum was not an act of foolishness but an act of audacity.

I predict Andrzej Sobiepan is going places in the world of art. Remember, as Jonathan Swift wrote years ago, "He was a bold man who first ate an oyster."