Thoughts from the “Olive Grove” A Continuing Dialogue On The Nature and Essence of Works of Fine Art

Authenticity Rather than Originality as the Goal of the Progressive Artist

Sitting in a Florence café, drinking Italian coffee, with an unnoticed clammier of comers and goers all around. Across the square I watch the street artists plying their trade; suddenly struck with the notion of originality. Originality or any of its many synonyms; innovation, cutting edge, unique, which have become the sacred cry of contemporary critics, theorists and a great many academics.

As I watched it became apparent that the painters were repeating images with which they have great familiarity. Yet each piece produced by the individual artist working at her or his allotted workspace along the edges of the Piazza del Duomo, is original, done on site at that moment. Each composition appearing unique in and of itself yet accomplished with an awareness that renders each one a remnant of the many previous products composed through time and repetition rather than completely singular in form and concept. These are paintings done not for contemplation but rather to adorn the homes and experiences of Americans, Russians, Japanese or any other visitor.  Tourists, interlopers in this city of myth and magic, history and resurrection who just happened to be walking past these painters looking for a piece of Florence, memories to take back with them to the comfort of their homes and amassment of their friends, and families. The artist mechanic is a highly competent artist lacking the constitutional capacity to resist commercial norms.

All are original and none are original, original in the since lauded by contemporary critiques, post-modern historians and theorists. In their clammier for originality they, the afore mentioned, want the “other,” the yet to be know, that which has no predecessor, the utterly unique. Drawing from the myth of the “different” a notion fabricated for years by the inexperienced for the uninformed.

Because they do not see the component parts or processes that make up the whole only the latest manifestation, they are confused and believe that nothing has precede the finished product. This is a concern with results rather than process. Being uninvolved, existing solely in the status of observer they are incapable of determining the subtle, the nuance of change that has taken place.

Perhaps the notion should be, rather than originality, authenticity, the authentic artist. An artist whose personal creative vision is resists to imposition of commercial demands, gallery interference and cultural norms regarding taste, and genre or any other external restraints. Artists who are authentic will, by the very nature of their artistic practice, be “original,” but not clichéd originality based on the obvious tactic of being different for the sake of difference.

Re-envisioning the Academy



Olive GroveAt present, there are no, or few opportunities, for artists who have completed either a Bachelor of Fine Art degree and or a Master of Fine Arts degree to further their inquiries into the nature and essence of their personal artistic practices. Opportunities that are not structured within the format of the contemporary University rather than a reimagined Academy, an Academy in which the emphasis is placed on the development of the artist rather than adherence to some external formula required by agencies usually unaffiliated or unfamiliar with the demands of artistic practices.

To begin dealing with this need several colleagues and I have organized the VITA Institute for the Arts. The goal and ultimate mission of the Vita Institute for that Arts is to breathe life into the artist through small community workshops in places where culture and history stimulate the artist into visioning new ideas, concepts, and possibilities without restricting the experience by either a rigid format or an artificial grade structure.

The VITA Institute offers Learner-centered workshops based on the idea of Novum Est–something new. These workshops are led by nationally and internationally known artists and offer self-motivated individualized programs of study within the structure of a small yet dynamic learning community.

The workshops introduce participants to rich national and international artistic cultures and heritages. These are not holiday locations but rather locations that are researched with consideration as to how their traditions and environs can be experienced, emulated and applied to contemporary artistic practices providing possible directions for participants’ future studies and work.

Participants are encouraged to investigate her or his own vision of the world while developing skills with a purposeful inquiry and creative expression in locations both nationally and internationally. The Institute also encourages collaboration between visual artist and writers, collaborations that will expand and advance the dialogue between disciplines.

With a Learner-centered approach here your ideas and concepts are your own. Rather than the VITA Institute telling each participant what they should study and/or learn the Institutes workshops offer a general outline of topics and categories, such as the aspects of process, product, and response, from which each individual participant can construct their own personal workshop experience.

You determine your direction supported by the experience of the workshop presenters and your fellow participants. The workshops will encourage each member to investigate her or his own vision of the world. The workshop leaders will establish an environment in which each Learner can investigate a number of techniques, concepts, and principles that will build toward their idea of novum est. S

Committed to the idea of authenticity of place, being there, the workshops offer an opportunity to develop creative skills with a purposeful inquiry and creative expression.

If you are looking for an opportunity for artistic growth and personal development within the framework of a shared experience please contact us at the following e-mail address:

Where We Stand

downloadPosted: January 13, 2016

Where We Stand.

Writing in The Italian Renaissance: Culture and Society in Italy, Peter Burk observes, every society erects obstacles to the expression of the creativity of some groups . . .

Within the fields of contemporary art, art criticism, art education and aesthetics, an obstacle has arisen over the past half century, supported by those who once struggled against the norm and now fight to maintain an anti-intellectual status quo. This contemporary criterion is derived from a synthesis of Nineteenth century Romanticism, the anti-art movements flourishing at the beginning of the Twentieth century and a convergence of the Open Concept with Institutional Postmodern Deconstruction.

Following World War II, the predominate polemic in and about the arts has shifted back and forth between a philosophy based on the construction of works of art and a theory that has had little to do with works of art or the nature, and essence of art, and more to do with self-reflective language. An overly emphasized self-consciousness about the language used, rather than with a concern for the subject of the topic being discussed, talking about talk.

The current warranty is one in which artist are isolated from the mainstream of social, intellectual and academic life because more importance is placed on talking about talk rather than on the configuration of works of art. This idea is based on a belief system that asserts a denial of the classical western cultural concepts and canons which have established individual characteristics and essential qualities of art, capable of discoverability and independent understanding. Analysis that makes reference to actual works of art themselves is viewed as reactionary.

In the vernacular of this idiom, theories applicable to the visual arts, literature, cinematography and performing arts which incorporate a demand for a criterion of excellence are considered passé. Lacking a particularized nature or essence, according to this argument, art exists as subjective interpretation of ephemeral experiences, essentially uninvolved with any sort of discipline.

If we were to accept this declaration, that attempts to define the essence and nature of works of art are doomed to failure, that the arts are unknowable other than by dubious comparisons, then a number of hare areas exist.

We stand the very real chance that the idea of art itself, as something unique and valuable to society could vanish from the general lexicon of the language as a result of extreme ambiguity. I am convinced that no concept suffused with doubtfulness and uncertainty of meaning can long endure without agreed upon definitions. Lacking the knowledge of the discoverability and understanding of art, ambivalence would exist. Painters, writers, poets, performers and artist as well as patrons of all kinds would be cut off from their own traditions, traditions which extend in an unbroken line form the present day back to the Late-Classical Greeks. A form of unprecedented cultural suicide would be taking place.

The question that exists is, will those of us who believe that art can be understood within parameters precise enough to avoid ambiguity abdicate our responsibilities to the pressures of the status quo? Or, will we steadfastly offer our own protective paradigm(s) which identify those qualities and features unique to art and thereby preserve freedom of expression as well as progressive and evolutionary development in the future. From where we stand now, the choice is clear: will we struggle for freedom of expression or will we support the erection of obstacles to the express of the creativity of some groups?