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Advancing Art for Art's Sake

by Keith Bond on 9/19/2011 12:10:59 PM

This article is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

 

 

Several months ago, I read an opinion piece by Rose Fredrick entitled “Redefining Contemporary Western Art” [1].  In the article, she addresses the topic of Western Art and asks if it is valid.  In developing her opinion (most of which I agree with), she returns to the ongoing debate of illustration vs. fine art. 

 

She says that fine art should “advance art for art’s sake.”  Real art (fine art) should “further the movement and evolution of art; to leave a lasting mark on society.”  It needs to be “honest work.”  Near the end of her article, she writes that art that doesn’t “further and advance society is of little importance.”

 

When taken in context of her argument, I understand her conclusions.  However, I have pondered some of these ideas frequently and am not sure quite where I stand. 

 

For now, I will attempt to understand some of my varied and divergent ideas regarding the topic of “advancing art for art’s sake”.  What does that really mean?  I don’t have any true answers here, but just random thoughts.

 

To be considered fine art does the art itself take on a higher level of importance than the creator’s idea?  Or does the strength of the idea automatically contribute to the advancement of art for art’s sake?  If there is honesty in a work of art, by virtue of the intent, does that art promote the advancement of art and leave a lasting mark on society? 

 

What about an honest work that lacks skill?  Is it still a true work of art?

 

In the article, she chides historical painters (she specifically mentions Howard Terpning among others).  She argues that they are “reiterating” works created by past artists.  These, she suggests, are illustrators telling a story, not fine artists expressing a genuine, honest idea from within.  She cites intent as the motivating factor.  But couldn’t such artists have a genuine and honest reason for painting such scenes?  Or is her assessment correct? 

 

This brings up a question in my mind.  Michelangelo painted by commission.  Certainly his works have contributed to the advancement of art and has had a lasting effect upon society.  But, much of his work depicted biblical events which took place long before he lived.  Does that mean that his works weren’t true art because he didn’t observe the events?  Was he just a historical illustrator feeding nostalgia?  Or does his deep faith provide that link that makes his work true and honest expressions of art?    

 

Taken his example, can an artist working today paint (or sculpt, draw, etc.) true and honest expressions of something that happened long ago if there is somehow, in some way a deeper connection – like Michelangelo’s faith?

 

What about someone who purposefully sets out to advance art for art’s sake?  If that is their goal and driving force, then is it a true expression from within or is it inauthentic and contrived?  Logic tells me that it is like recognizing your own humility.  As soon as you do, you are no longer humble.  I don’t think you can purposefully try to advance art for art’s sake.  I think that motivation overrides or dilutes any authentic voice from within.

 

Anyway, those are just a few thoughts that I had.  This only scratches the surface.  But I hope it causes you to ponder a bit and consider what art really is.  I’m interested in your thoughts.  Share them.

 

Best Wishes,

Keith Bond

 

[1] Unfortunately, the article is no longer on Rose Fredrick’s website.  It really was a thought provoking article.  And as said, I agreed with most of it.



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Topics: art appreciation | art history | FineArtViews | inspiration | Keith Bond | originality 

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 37 Comments

William Rogers
via faso.com
I am inclined to have the same thoughts you have about what is "real art". Much of the definition of 'fine art' is really just an arbitrary set of conditions, often pretentious and deliberately exclusive. Many Art museums and galleries dismiss too much work in this manner. This leads to what I personally fine relevant in art. Probably skill in execution ranks right up there with the 'message', and I think the best art has both- whether commercial or 'fine' art. A lot of dialog on relevance of work that goes on in most art schools could be replaced with skill sharpening. Many of them claim to be profound but I think some of these are just ramblings of imbeciles, and nobody takes them on because of the 'emperor's clothes syndrome'.

tom weinkle
via faso.com
I welcome any dialogue about art. The more the better.

I don't subscribe to views that try to build fences around what is important or not. It often takes the benefit of history to tell us whether something was important or not. Current views are more like predictions or wishes, as articulate as they might be.

Thanks for the article, very provocative for sure.

tom

jack white
via faso.com
Keith,

This is the best article I've read written by you. Was the early Monet work an advancement of art? Some of his early art was very weak. Some was covered in sand from the beach and others looked childish. But today his a Fine Art Artist.

Howard was a successful illustrator and perhaps that's her reason for the negative thoughts on him. Anyone who can sell a painting for a million dollars is doing something right.

Charles Russell and Remington didn't paint current life. Russell painted horses that were throughbred with fancy silver conchos. He worked on a ranch in his teens and that was mostly tending to sheep. Remington painted the Spanish Barb we find running wild today in Teddy Roosevelt National Park. Yet people will say Russell knew the west. Russell knew the west as he wanted it to be through his eyes. So did Remington. Remington was from upper state New York and never worked on a ranch or fought Indians.

I don't have a clue what art for art's sake is. I suspect it's a cover for those who don't make art that connects with buyers. We grunts who sell our work cannot ever do Fine Art. Which I'm sure is true in my case.

Thanks for this article. Jack

Megan Storrar
via faso.com
I believe there is incredible importance in all kinds of art. I don't agree with her at all. Paintings always make people think and leave a lasting mark, no matter the subjects. Western art in particular reminds us of a lost time, makes us think about and respect the land we live on. These paintings are hung in peoples homes and bring them joy. Joy is of great importance.

In this line of thinking you may also say that most still life paintings are of little importance. These paintings bring joy to the people who paint them and the people who hang them in their homes. However, how is a painting of flowers and fruit advancing society? Perhaps that painting is bringing balance and peace to a household, helping the people who live there live in a more spiritual, joyful manner. Who knows, maybe that little painting of flowers and fruit could make someone looking at it decide to do something kind for their neighbour or spouse. How can we know or say what a painting does or does not do for society?

While painting I have experiementing with feeling one emotion during the entire process of painting. I use music to help me keep that "mood". There is one painting in particular that I decided I would only work on in a joyful mood. Many, many people look at that painting and say to me that they don't know why but that painting makes them feel "happy". hmmm maybe that itself is useful to society in some way?

Kim
via faso.com
I dug up and shook out the dust from an archived entry from my (now dormant) blog that sums up my thoughts on what constitutes art, or 'legitimate' art:

What is art? Every time I thought I had it pinned down I'd come up with some exception to my working definition. The one attribute that seems to be present in or common to all art, however, is that it is a means of human communication (although the mind-boggling assemblages of male bower birds might convince me to rethink that). Perhaps the difficulties with art could be resolved if we stopped thinking of it as something apart or independent from language. Art is language, and as such it should share the characteristics of what we typically think of as language. Human languages share universal attributes, even as they evolve and diversify over time. Languages can go extinct if there are no ”śusers' to keep them alive. With language, people can refer to events of the past, the present and the future, as well as communicate about the imaginary or the abstract. Humans retain what works in language and invent and re-purpose language when needed. Aren't these all attributes of art? Grammars prescribe the rules and usage of language, but real people using language on a daily basis determine living language. Actual artists making art likewise determine what is art.
With art defined as language, there should be no more conflict between advocates of traditional art forms on the one hand, and modern to post-modern forms of art on the other. It's all language, and if it's being ”śspoken' then it's viable and legitimate. Art as language would allow for and encompass the existence of a diversity of art ”ślinguistic families' and ”śdialects.' There is a cultural component to human language--we first learn the language(s) of the culture into which we are born and/or raised at the time we make our first utterances--but we share a universal process of language acquisition, and humans do have the capacity to learn multiple languages. Likewise, humans have the capacity to engage in multiple expressions or forms of art. Some communications are more compelling or effective than others, and that is true of all kinds of art, whether representational or non-representational. Speak the art language that best communicates what you want to communicate.

crystal
via faso.com
Many people associate the term art for art's sake as meaning what Rose Fredrick defines as honest art which advances society. I disagree. In my opinion, a child's painting is purely art for art's sake and has little or nothing to do with advancing society. Children are completely honest and paint for the simple act of painting. The advancement of society through art is largely due to good marketing and how well the public receives the work - not just for the sake of being.

Teresa Tromp
via faso.com
The key word here is OPINION.

It is the OPINION of Rose Fredrick that fine art should “advance art for art's sake.”Ł
Whatever her statement means, it is not fact, it is her opinion.

If fine art is the only "real art", does that mean only non-fictional books are "real writing"?

Too many times we absorb critics OPINIONS in our hearts as if they were fact, and become discouraged with our own artistic expression.

Tim Holton
via faso.com
It would be great if you could find the article. From what you relate, her argument is nonsense. She says that fine art should “advance art for art's sake,”Ł and “leave a lasting mark on society,”Ł and art that doesn't “further and advance society is of little importance.”Ł Logically speaking, then, the art that she advocates, art that DOES “further and advance society," is not merely for art's sake but for society's sake. So she contradicts herself, no?

History is off limits??? More nonsense.

Let's face it: the whole art-for-art's-sake argument has long been completely discredited by everyone but those with too much at stake in making art as precious and rarefied and therefore costly as possible. Notwithstanding its belaboring by the dead-end that is "modern art" and by the "art-world-for-the-art-world's-sake," the argument's dead and we should let it stay that way.

Aline Lotter
via faso.com
This issue is as impossible to resolve as the mystery of life itself. I have always wondered (and "wonder" is the perfect word in this context) WHY it is that we love a beautiful painting or sculpture. But if we DO love it, then by God, it is ART.

Julia Bright
via faso.com
Totally agree with your last paragraph, Keith. Advancing art for art's sake sounds like a form of propaganda. And who is the arbiter of what is honest, anyway? For me, enjoying the process of painting, and adding to the beauty of the world is enough. No need to promote "ideas" for the supposed "good" of society!

Kim
via faso.com
Tim, it should be noted that there are a lot of people with a vested interest in making all styles of art more precious, rarefied and costly--take a look at any current representational art collectors' magazine! It's all about hype and cranking up prices, and aimed at a lot of hapless 'collectors' who apparently need to read it in a magazine before they can act instead of trusting their own response to art. Is that any more honest?

Carol Schmauder
via faso.com
Thanks for the article, Keith. It brought up several feelings for me; some of them quite negative. I think critics often make art seem so complicated when I feel it is really quite simple. To me art is the creation of something that is meaningful in some way to the artist and meaningful to those who view and enjoy it. My art may not mean anything to some but to those who purchase it or receive it as a gift it is meaningful. Does it advance society? Probably not, but it does bring joy to some and that is my purpose when I paint.

And to Julia: I think your comment is right on.

Tim Holton
via faso.com
Kim, I agree. The art-for-art's-sake argument is just another method for making art seem unobtainable -- and so that much more elitist and alluring.

The rise of that argument is expertly handled in Larry Shiner's _The Invention of Art_, which explores the historical origins of modern understanding of what art is - not least of all its separation from life as expressed by the notion of art-for-art's-sake. I highly recommend it.

Kim
via faso.com
Thanks, Tim, I'll definitely check it out because it sounds very interesting. I do think that modern art's focus on art for art's sake was not an invalid endeavor, but has been run with well beyond what I think was originally intended, that is, to try to find some kind of universal qualities in art that were operating behind the various specifics of any given expression of art. It's in interesting pursuit, but I think it's has been manipulated in the ways people have indicated.

Joanne Benson
via faso.com
Interesting post. I tend to agree with the majority of posters that the "advancement of society" stuff is not valid. I think art is in the eye of the artist and those that relate to the work no matter what genre or style it is.

Art as a commodity is one thing but art for art's sake is truly an individual pursuit. And the ever discussed question of "What is fine art?" can never truly be answered because it is different for each individual.

Now if we are talking about a commodity that is an investment which has been hyped by critics and the media, that is a totally different animal. Of course, in an ideal world, we would all want our art to be coveted by collectors willing to purchase it no matter the cost. In reality there are relatively few who achieve that status and beyond having skillfully executed work (in most cases) there is lots of hard work and marketing behind the product. Once a skill set has been acquired, notariety in many cases comes down to being in the right place at the right time and having the right connections, etc.....

As an aside, I run an art show for local artists every year. Most of the work, in my opinion, is excellent quality. I have many returning artists and some new artists each year. I generally let all of the work into the show even if I don't think it is "quality art". Inevitably someone will like whatever questionable pieces are in the show and so....who am I to judge....all very personal. It is a matter of taste and preference.....

If it were a sport then you would have rules to abide by. However, with art that is nearly impossible. Art competitions pretty much rely on the judge's tastes and preferences.

I was upset last year when the winner of "The people's choice award" was someone who copied a painting from an old calendar.....obviously a piece I wasn't familiar with....but when I asked him about his inspiration that is what he told me.....It was skillfully executed and beautiful but really just a copy....

Donald Fox
via faso.com
Just to be clear, the original article by Rose Fredrick was about art of the American West and not Western Art (i.e. Western Civilization). As such, she was attempting to create some guidelines for judging American western art within a context in relation to other art of its time. She raises some interesting questions while also doing, at least partly, what she criticizes others for doing: dismissing much of American western painting as irrelevant to art history. She does, though, try to make some guidelines for judgment, which is what any reasonable person attempts to do when faced with creative work. Not all responses end up being reasonable. Look at the responses here, for example. Some are based solely on feeling, some on direct personal experience, some have built-in prejudices either against critics or particular art styles, and some are inconsistent, logically or emotionally. Dozens (maybe hundreds?) of books have been written trying to answer fundamental aesthetic questions ”ô What is art? What is Fine Art? What is the purpose of art? What is the value of art? What makes one artwork more valuable/better/more successful/more appealing/more powerful/ more worthy/etc. than another? Hopefully, we don't resort to pat answers that already are or easily become clichés. Any serious artist, I would wager, will continue to ask questions rather than commit to specific answers. The artist knows that, given time, the answers may well change and more likely lead to other questions.

Caren Hyde
via faso.com
Rose Frederick's opinion is something I've come across, often from folks who share a rather elitist idea of what art is and what it is not. I have to agree with her point about "historical painters (she specifically mentions Howard Terpning among others). . . “reiterating works created by past artists" as being illustrational. If an artist's aim is to tell a story through an image, then it is an illustration, if the story supersedes all other painterly concerns. I don't believe Michaelangelo was just telling biblical stories in paint however. He was motivated to express genuine feelings and ideas through the human form (especially the male form . . .).

I agree that an artist who sets out to "advance society" is unlikely to be honest and genuine and only time will tell of a works true value to Humanity.

Monica Jones
via faso.com
I am an art collector and an artist.

For me, the most relevant considerations in buying and painting are whether the art feeds my soul, makes me laugh, makes me cry, or brings out my nurturing spirit, or not.

I paint to have a positive transformational influence on myself and my buyers. If I succeed in that, then my life has meaning and worth, and so does my art.

I want to hand down the art I have collected, to future generations with the stories about why I collected the paintings, as they speak to a time in history that has already passed.

I want my collectors to do the same.


Being passionate about what I do is the most important thing, and my passion will inspire passion, conviction and courage in others.

I believe those are principles that are badly needed in the world right as we go through one of the biggest transitions ever.

Marian Fortunati
via faso.com
I totally agree with Monica Jones...


Pam
via faso.com
Just to add a random thought of my own after reading your article would be a for instance...if it hadn't been for seeing my first Howard Terpning painting, I would haven't given western contemporary art a deeper study. Although I was drawn to his Native American subject matter, it was his style, his brushwork, his kaleidoscopic use of color, etc that drew me in. No other artists painting the same subject matter has his exact style. For me the warmth, passion, and mastery of his subject matter IS his unique, creative, artist touch. This supersedes the fact that as an "historical painter" he is being redundant or "reiterating works of past artists". His presentation of creative style caught my eye when I was an inexperienced beginner and still excites my imagination after an additional 15 yrs. I recognize his portrayal of a subject as being 'different' from others doing the same figurative work. At least I feel his heart is in his art (even if he has a history of being an illustrator) if that is an issue for some. Just a random opinion from an inspired artist.

Keith Douglas Warren
via faso.com
We must realize that the very definition of what is and is not 'Art', the History of Art as it has come down to us, is little more than a narrow selection of that which has been approved of and supported by the Elites of any particular age. So much has been lost by it's not having caught the fancy of some Noble.
The definition of Art is, and always will be, arbitrary. Our ideas and view of quality in Art has been shaped by these Elites. Our attempts at the 'avant garde' have frequently been backlash at a previous 'avant garde' which had become a concretized norm established by this same strata of 'Haves.'
The arbitrary class distinction between what is termed 'Fine Art' and what is termed 'Craft' has created unnecessary divisions between both Artists in community and within individuals who have learned to see their work as, are told that their work is, 'less than' simply because of this class perpetuated chasm.

From my intro page:

...It was an eye opening moment when I realized that I did not believe in the dictum 'Ars Gratia Artis', which had always haunted me as somewhat shallow. These three words held a block to my doing the work I love in a way in which I could be both satisfied creatively and spiritually. Rejecting the phrase, and the metaphor giving it energy, was liberating for me.
I realized this connection while conversing with a fellow artist on the grounds of a nearby art museum and sculpture park. We were discussing 'Art' and moved into the topic of it's having or not having a role in setting an example for social responsibility either directly or indirectly. Her off the cuff comment "Art is above and outside all of that" resonated at my core as both arrogant and untrue. This attitude toward Art as outside of consideration for the Human condition had been a fundamental reason for my own dissatisfaction with my forays into selling my own work. I realized that I held a strong conviction that Art should hold itself higher than as just commodity, should expect of itself to, somehow, play a part in the betterment of the Human condition beyond the creation and dissemination of the beautiful object. I also believe that Art can and should be more than the equivalent of a journal entry.

We may each define for ourselves what Art is to us and what it's role is in our life. If our conversations with others about this create division between self-defined Artists, then it is time to look at the ways to dissemble, not reinforce, any of the myriad walls which prohibit us all from taking full joy in each other and our shared creativity.


Brady Allen
via faso.com
This is such a subjective issue that it reminds me of the controversy of how many angels can dance on the head of pin.

The answer to that is similar to the whole "real art" question. The viewer determines what is art or not.

I have not read her article, but why does anyone buy into art's purpose being to "further and advance society" just because that is one person's opinion for the purpose of art.

What if I said that real art has to look cool, and any art that lacks a cool factor is merely the output of artistic Luddites? How many groupies can I win over with that?

Articles like this by "art authorities" are merely one more wisp added to the pillar of smoke that they balance tightly between clenched cheeks hoping that if they speak often enough and emphatically enough that they can continue to convince people to pay them (i.e. grants) to spout off opinions that sound reasonable, but are really a draft of hot air.

Here's the real answer.

The only art that matters is the art means something to me, and if I happen to be an artist, the art that I make.

All the rest of it is crap.










Stacey Peterson
via faso.com
Here is the original article on Rose's website, for anyone who would like to read it: http://rosefredrick.com/index.php?option=com_contentandview=categoryandlayout=blogandid=38.

Rose curates one of the top shows of Western American art, and does a fantastic job pulling together a wide range of styles and voices that explore themes of the American West. I think her actual article is not meaning to be elitist at all as indicated by some of the comments above, but is rather an honest exploration of the meaning of the genre of Western Art in the greater context of art history. It's a good read, and I think it's great that Keith brought some of the topics in it to light.

Jo Allebach
via faso.com
Your quote, "Logic tells me that it is like recognizing your own humility. As soon as you do, you are no longer humble." really bring this whole discussion to its meaning.
Art for art's sake and for the good of society is bogus.
As has been mentioned art is for the artist and the viewer. When I make a painting I want there to be a mental dialogue that brings joy into their life.

Brady Allen
via faso.com
@ Keith Douglas Warren: In the last paragraph of your comment I believe you meant disassemble, as dissemble means something quite different, But I do agree with the first line of that paragraph.



Virginia Giordano
via faso.com
Thoughtful, insightful and informative blog and comments. The title of this blog is 'Advancing Art for Art's Sake.' Art's sake fundamentally means art created for no other commercial purpose, eg, advertising, book jackets, packaging and the long list of visuals which surround us in the marketplace everyday.

Julia Bright
via faso.com
@Brady Allen: I don't agree with everything you said, but the way you said it is priceless! Love your writing - straight, to the point, no bullshit, and good metaphores. You should be a writer! :)

Keith Douglas Warren
via faso.com
@Brady-Thanks, typo for moi! Dissassemble, it is.

Tim Holton
via faso.com
@ Brady Allen,
You write, "Here's the real answer. The only art that matters is the art [that] means something to me, and if I happen to be an artist, the art that I make. All the rest of it is crap."

I can't resist quoting in reply the great art educator WR Lethaby: "Art is the humanity put into workmanship, the rest is slavery." Your phrasing echoes his. But he refutes the relativism in your statement - and in most people's understanding of art. Definitions of "good" and "bad" art may be subjective, but definitions of art are not.

A good place to start with any definition is the dictionary, which in this case defines art as what people make, as opposed to nature's (or God's, if you like) creation. The problem arises with industrialization, when the opportunity for free and joyful humanity to be put into virtually everything people made disappeared -- replaced by the opportunity to commodify any evidence of that humanity and place a higher market value on it.

Also, whether you personally like something or not does not necessarily mean it's not a significant reflection of, or play a meaningful role in, a larger community. If it's something someone made in response to a real need for it to be made, it has value to a community.

In other words, while subjective response is inherent to experiencing and making art, art is NOT a purely subjective issue.

Tim Holton
via faso.com
@Virginia Giordano,
I agree that art pandering purely to the market is debased. But the historical origin of the art-for-art's-sake ideal goes beyond that and paradoxically ends up being fueled by the market, which pays more for art the less utilitarian and related to the needs of life -- i.e., elitist -- it seems. In the twisted, separate, self-proclaimed "Art world", the more useless it is, the more it fetches on the market.

In relation to illustration vs fine art, there may be a meaningful difference, but it's one of degree not kind. Same goes for decorative arts (or what's unfortunately often called "craft") vs fine art.

Diana Moses Botkin
via faso.com
"Art for art's sake is a philosophy of the well-fed." ~ Frank Lloyd Wright

Brady Allen
via faso.com
@ Julia Bright: Thank you! I would write more but this pesky art thing gets in the way.

@ Tim Holton: That sounds reasonable enough, but communities don't like or look at art, individual people do. If you put a group of people together they might agree on some artwork, but secretly there will be a few that will not like the choices and admit to have agreed only to be agreeable.

Art is not for communities, it is for individuals. More than one individual may think it is meaningful, but there will be many individuals who do not think it is meaningful.

The word community is misleading. Is a community a group of people who agree, disagree, or a mix of the two? Only with the first will you get real consensus. But is consensus needed to have a community?

If a person looks at an artwork and hates it or loves it, that is all that matters. Because that person's opinion happens to coincide with other's has no bearing on the matter, unless the person needs emotional validation.

Art is important because individuals decide it is important, and that is what makes art magical.

@ Diana Moses Botkin: I can agree with that!





tom bisesti
via faso.com
I think we can drive ourselves crazy trying to figure out the answers to all these questions. I find it much more helpful when viewing a piece of art, to ask what is the context of it and what was the intention of the artist. That way we can judge it and appreciate it in an appropriate way. Example:I won't confuse a child's drawing with a Degas but each is valuable according to it's source. I can enjoy and appreciate each while understanding the intentions of each artist.

Sharon Weaver
via faso.com
The analogy that art is a language is a good one. Not everyone will understand my language, not everyone is a poet with their paints and the process of creating something which communicates a feeling are all valid and all subjective. The aspiring artist is trapped in the current "trends" and interpretations. Perhaps true art is only felt by the artist during the process of creation.

Leslie G. Nutting
via faso.com
Thank you for this blog topic, and the thoughtful comments everyone has shared.
I recently addressed similar issues in my blog entry "View from Wyoming: Why is Beauty a Bad Word?" http://leslienuttingfineart.com/blog
I was thunderstruck by art of the American West I experienced in Wyoming, especially Carl Rungius, but also many others from the past and today. I pondered why these amazing works must be "natural history" and "genre" material, and not take place among the greats in art history.
As a painter, I follow my own heart and try to be as honest and true to my vision as I can. Anything else would feel false. The best art should - in my opinion - reflect the deepest sensibilities of the artist, no matter what the current fashions. It seems a shame that the amazing talent and beauty of the great Western artists can't be appreciated beyond the American West. Perhaps future generations will think differently.

Keith Bond
via faso.com
I found the article. She moved it to a new page. The new and correct link should be:

http://www.rosefredrick.com/index.php?option=com_contentandview=categoryandlayout=blogandid=38andItemid=146

I hope you take time to read it. It is an interesting read. And she herself calls it an opinion.

Keith Bond
via faso.com
For some reason the link wont work. Go to http://www.rosefredrick.com

click on About Rose/
scroll down a ways looking at the side bar to the right.
In a darker color, you will see the words: Opinion. Redefining Contemporary Western Art
click on that link.










 

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