DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Creating a Masterpiece: Frank Moore

Frank Moore, 2011 photo by Sasha Cagen, cropped

Frank Moore, 2011 photo by Michael LaBash, cropped

One of my mentors, the California-based writer and performance artist Frank Moore, died last October at the age of 67. Frank was born with cerebral palsy and was unable to walk or talk, but he was determined to break out of his own isolation. Once he had done that, he kept on going in that direction, which led him to create a kind of initiatory performance art aimed at dissolving the artificial barriers between people, and between individuals and their own creative power. (Frank tells his own story in the classic autobiography Art of a Shaman.) I first encountered Frank’s writings in the MIT-published journal of performance studies TDR: The Drama Review, and in 1989 was privileged to experience “Journey to Lila”, one of his all-night participatory shamanic erotic ritual performances at Franklin Furnace in New York.

Frank Moore and his Chero Company at Franklin Furnace, NYC, 1989, photo by Eric Kroll

Frank Moore and his Chero Company at Franklin Furnace, NYC, 1989, photo by Eric Kroll

“Journey to Lila” was an eight-hour series of experiences, by turns silly, sexy, disconcerting, frightening, ridiculous, liberating, playful, warm, and bonding. By the end of it most of the audience was undressed and playing with each other like naked children. While some moments of it could be challenging, I never felt that I or anyone was unsafe or coerced or being exploited or laughed at.

When the World Wide Web came along in the mid-1990’s, I discovered that Frank Moore was a pioneer in using that new communication medium, with his extensive “Web of All Possibilities“. I was able to reconnect with him and his tribal extended family, got to know Frank personally, and participated in several other Frank Moore performance events over the years (I’m in the left background in the photo below). The first artwork I ever put on the web was on the Featured Artists section of Frank’s website. I consider Frank a mentor and one of the few genuine geniuses I have been privileged to know.

Frank Moore's "Free Tribal Hot Skin Passion Music/Dance Jam",  Surf Reality, New York City, 2002, photo by Michael LaBash

Frank Moore’s “Free Tribal Hot Skin Passion Music/Dance Jam”,
Surf Reality, New York City, 2002, photo by Michael LaBash

I’ve seen a lot of great performances and experienced many immersive theatrical events, but nothing has had such an enduring transformative effect on me as Frank Moore’s “Journey to Lila”. It came along at a pivotal moment in my life, and it opened my mind. I had recently moved to New York and was trying to figure out how to live my life as an artist. I was fascinated by magic and was reading about things like Tantra and alchemy, but magic remained a sort of abstraction for me. I had thought of it more as a subject matter for art, as symbolism or as fantasy, only pointing towards mystical truth. Frank showed me that magic can be the operational technique of art, that it is a completely practical approach to transforming reality or creating freedom, and that its materials can be utterly humble (a cup of water, a roll of aluminum foil, a Sonny and Cher song) and its actions very simple.

Frank Moore and dancers in the "Outrageous Beauty Revue", 1987, photographer unknown

Frank Moore and dancers in the “Outrageous Beauty Revue”, Mabuhay Gardens, San Francisco, 1987, photographer unknown

Ever since, I have understood that people deeply desire freedom, that they want to live in a world of love and joy, and that if you invite people to play with you in such a world, many of them will. It has nothing to do with the harsh things our society uses to drive and motivate people – fear, envy, guilt, competition. The magical way is the way of a pure heart – which, in Frank’s case, provides the perfect complement to a dirty mind. Frank showed me a wild but gentle way of freedom, and I still try to follow it in my own artistic career and in my own life.

Americans always talk about Freedom and Liberty as our great values, but everybody has different ideas about what these words mean. I grew up in the American West, where the icon of freedom is the lone gunslinger, and where a common notion of personal liberty understands it as autonomy, or as having your own turf where no one else can meddle, protecting yourself and your family or community with fences and guns, and if you’re rich, with dollars and lawyers. Of course, everyone needs a place to feel at home, and fiercely defending that is important, but to really feel free, to have the kind of freedom you need to make art, to make love, to nurture people, requires trust and connection, not autonomy but interdependence. That is the kind of freedom Frank Moore wanted to foster.

For a disabled person like Frank, dependency is obvious and it’s impossible to believe in the delusion of autonomy. Frank had to gather helpers around him, and he would never have been able to do all he did without the support of his larger community and his intimate tribal group, which, at the end included Mikee, Linda, Erika, Alexi and Corey. Any tribute to Frank is also a tribute to Frank’s people.

Frank was a rebel of the underground, and his use of sexuality and messiness and a deliberately crude aesthetic helped to keep him in that place below the radar where magic can be safe. I am sure that many people were transformed by his work as I was, and that the seeds he sowed will be producing nourishing fruit far into the future.

Frank Moore communicating with his head pointer, U. C. Berkeley, 1984, photo by Mary Sullivan

Frank Moore communicating with his head pointer, U. C. Berkeley, 1984, photo by Mary Sullivan

Frank Moore’s publishing company, Inter-Relations, just put out a posthumous collection of Frank’s writings called Frankly Speaking. It’s full of great stuff, but I’d like to share here a brief piece that gets at something profound about the creative process, wisdom that is often neglected by teachers. Since many of my readers are artists or art students, this should serve as a good introduction to Frank Moore’s way. I’ve interspersed the text with some of my own doodle-like abstract watercolor sketches, not as illustrations of Frank’s essay but just as my tribute to Frank Moore, examples of my own attempts to work with the kind of freedom Frank is talking about here.

Pedestrian Surge, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Pedestrian Surge, 2014, by Fred Hatt

CREATING A MASTERPIECE, by Frank Moore, published in Lummox Journal, March 2000, included in Frankly Speaking: A Collection of Essays, Writings & Rants by Frank Moore, 2014, published by Inter-Relations

An artist starts, let’s say, a painting with a set idea of what he is going to paint. Sooner or later he makes a “mistake” – a color or a line which doesn’t fit in the original idea – which “ruins” the painting. When this happens most people give up, thinking that they are not cut out to be artists, and withdraw back into the common existence. Others try to pretend that they didn’t make the mistake, that the color or line isn’t there on the canvas. They go on painting as before. When they are done, they have painted the shadow of what they wanted. Morevoer, this shadow is covered with a haze. Others keep starting over whenever they make mistakes, not accepting any mistakes. They are rewarded for their endurance with the perfect copy of the thought form which they had held for all this time. They are rewarded by what they think they want to create. Their thought form has been brought down into the material plane. The creation is perfect. But it is not a masterpiece. It is perfect within the limitations placed around it by the rigidness of the artist. The work is perfect, but not free.

Wetlands, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Wetlands, 2014, by Fred Hatt

A masterpiece is perfect and free. The master artist paints an adventure in color, words, or notes. What others see as mistakes, he sees as challenges, boxes out of which he has worked as the basis on which he creates a totally new, fresh pattern. These challenges, boxes, keystones, keep appearing as he works, demanding the artist’s flexibility. If the artist looks back, trying to hold on to what he thought the painting was or would be, he gets trapped in a box out of which he must battle or be turned into a rigid, bitter pillar of salt. The artist has to keep his whole attention on the swirling colors in front of him in order to be the creator.

Burning Bush, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Burning Bush, 2014, by Fred Hatt

To create a masterpiece, the artist has to use and risk every bit of himself. But he also has to create with God, for God is the one who creates what most people call mistakes, and that the master artists sees as his tools and materials. God does not create for the artist. God just provides the tools, the guiding bumps. It is up to the artist’s free will whether he creates or gets dragged down by the weight of the tools. When the artist is creating, he feels no weight.

Growth Spurt, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Growth Spurt, 2014, by Fred Hatt

The most important masterpiece is a lifetime. This is a statement of hard fact. Creating a masterpiece in every day living is governed by the same rules as creating a masterpiece in paint, but much harder because the artist is also the canvas. In every period of time, in every land, there are a few masterpieces of art and writing. But a masterpiece lifetime is much rarer.

Orb, 2014, by Fred Hatt

Orb, 2014, by Fred Hatt

“Creating a Masterpiece” is on pages 64-65 of Frankly Speaking: A Collection of Essays, Writings & Rants by Frank Moore.

Photos of Frank Moore and his performances were found on the web. Clicking on the photos will take you to the sites where I found the photos.



Barefoot, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Barefoot, 2013, by Fred Hatt

This post is an experiment. Some of my recent abstract watercolors, landscape sketches, and doodles have been randomly interspersed between the lines of Arthur Rimbaud’s synesthetic 1872 sonnet “Voyelles”. The original French poem and English translation by Oliver Bernard were copied from this site (where the fourteen-line sonnet is followed by a four-line “envoi” which is not included here below or in most versions of this poem I could find online). Oliver Bernard’s version is a prose translation, striving for the clearest expression of the sense of the original while sacrificing meter and musicality. If this version is too flat for you, check out Canadian poet Christian Bök’s fascinating version of “Voyelles”, translated five different ways.

These paintings were not inspired by this poem, and they have been sequenced randomly to avoid any specific reference to the colors or images mentioned in Rimbaud’s verses. When I draw or paint abstractly, I disengage my mind as much as possible from discursive thought and allow subconscious impulses to express themselves in the movement of the brush and the liquid medium. Imagery never drives the painting – any images are projections of the imagination, like the forms seen in Rorschach blots. I am trying to allow impulses of movement to arise from below the surface of awareness, as in my practice of Authentic Movement, described in this post. Perhaps this way of going fishing in the unconscious has something in common with the methods of a proto-surrealist poet like Rimbaud. Perhaps some accidental resonances may arise from the interleaving of sketches and lines of verse.  If not, please enjoy my humble doodles and Rimbaud’s delirious words separately!

Extinct Animals, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Extinct Animals, 2013, by Fred Hatt

A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles,

A Black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels,

Pastries, 201e, by Fred Hatt

Pastries, 201e, by Fred Hatt

Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes:

I shall tell, one day, of your mysterious origins:

Ego,m 2013, by Fred Hatt

Ego,m 2013, by Fred Hatt

A, noir corset velu des mouches éclatantes

A, black velvety jacket of brilliant flies


Autumn Wind, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Qui bombinent autour des puanteurs cruelles,

Which buzz around cruel smells,

Plant Spirit, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Plant Spirit, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Golfes d’ombre ; E, candeur des vapeurs et des tentes,

Gulfs of shadow; E, whiteness of vapours and of tents,

Path of Light, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Path of Light, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Lances des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d’ombelles;

Lances of proud glaciers, white kings, shivers of cow-parsley;

Pink Flowering Tree, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Pink Flowering Tree, 2013, by Fred Hatt

I, pourpres, sang craché, rire des lèvres belles

I, purples, spat blood, smile of beautiful lips

Electrical Storm, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Electrical Storm, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Dans la colère ou les ivresses pénitentes;

In anger or in the raptures of penitence;

Land Forms, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Land Forms, 2013, by Fred Hatt

U, cycles, vibrements divins des mers virides,

U, waves, divine shudderings of viridian seas,

Aromatic Tree, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Aromatic Tree, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Paix des pâtis semés d’animaux, paix des rides

The peace of pastures dotted with animals, the peace of the furrows

Mane, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Mane, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Que l’alchimie imprime aux grands fronts studieux;

Which alchemy prints on broad studious foreheads;

Green and Blue, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Green and Blue, 2013, by Fred Hatt

O, suprême Clairon plein des strideurs étranges,

O, sublime Trumpet full of strange piercing sounds,

Coral, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Coral, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Silence traversés des Mondes et des Anges:

Silences crossed by Worlds and by Angels:

Bosom, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Bosom, 2013, by Fred Hatt

— O l’Oméga, rayon violet de Ses Yeux!

O the Omega, the violet ray of Her Eyes!

Tracks, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Tracks, 2013, by Fred Hatt

I recently discovered the work of the comics artist Julian Peters. One of his specialites is illustrating poetry, including work by Poe, Keats and Eliot. He has a really beautiful comic of Rimbaud’s “Le Bateau Ivre”/”The Drunken Boat” – click on the appropriate title to see it in either English or French.

Color pieces in my post are watercolor paintings except “Green and Blue”, which is drawn with aquarelle crayons and blended with water. Black and white pieces are drawn with Tombow brush markers. “Mane” and “Tracks” are 11″ x 14″ (28 x 35.6 cm), “Ego” is 8.5″ x 11″ (21.6 x 28 cm), and all others are 5.5″ x 8.5″ (14 x 21.6 cm).


The Doodle Abides

Nature Boy, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I drew this this morning after a session of Authentic Movement.  It’s a kind of moving meditation, a group practice of discovering the impulses to movement within your body, following them wherever they lead you, and responding in the moment.  The practice called Authentic Movement was developed in the 1950’s by Mary Starks Whitehouse, a student of choreographers Mary Wigman and Martha Graham, and developed in later decades by Janet Adler, Joan Chodorow, and others.  My friend Peter Honchaurk, who studied the form with Adler,  introduced me to it twenty years ago, and ever since then it’s been one of my essential practices.  Nowadays I’m part of a peer group of Authentic Movers, and we meet once a month in Prospect Park in Brooklyn to move and witness together.  Many people treat the practice as a form of somatic therapy, but for me it’s always been most essentially a way to stay in touch with the creative spirit that resides in the body and in the relationship between the inner world and the world outside.

The drawing above is an expression of the connection with elemental energies that I felt moving in the park.  The remainder of the pictures in this post will consist of a collection of my doodles, most of which are done while at work, riding transportation, or talking on the phone, not in connection with Authentic Movement practice.  Illustrations are in random order, so the relation of text to images is mostly coincidental.  (Earlier posts on the art of doodling are here and here.)

Score for Solo Dance, 2011, by Fred Hatt

In Authentic Movement we usually move with eyes closed.  For a person like me, extremely visually oriented and, if not quite intellectual, at least mental, consciousness tends to reside mainly in the head, with the body serving as the vehicle to move the head around in the world.  When the eyes are closed, awareness naturally shifts downward into the body.  Eyes-closed orientation relies not on visual cues, but on contact with the ground or floor.   Proprioception and tactility supplant visual/intentional navigation.

Analysis, 2011. by Fred Hatt

If you’ve followed this blog for a while you may have gleaned a central theme, that I treat visual art as an art of movement, like music or dance.

Curandero, 2011, by Fred Hatt

All organic forms, the bodies of plants, animals, and people, the shapes of clouds and of the land, emerge from dynamic processes of movement and growth.

Generative S;iral, 2012, by Fred Hatt

To draw is to feel form back into the movement from which it arises.

Forest Runner, 2011, by Fred Hatt

You can get to know a landscape by roaming about it, feeling its texture with the soles of your feet and its contours as gravity reveals them to you.

Floor Plan for a Happy Drunk, 2012, by Fred Hatt

A blank piece of paper is a fairly homogenous landscape, so roaming about it with a brush or pen or pencil is an exploration of the hills and valleys of your mind more than of the paper.

Cogitation/Constipation, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Authentic Movement takes place within a space defined by the “witnesses” who observe the “movers”, and with their attention create a protected circle where the magic can happen.  A doodle happens in a space defined by the edges of the paper provided for it.

Mountain Mouth, 2012, by Fred Hatt

The doodle grows into the two-dimensional space of the paper as a growing houseplant expands within the space contained by its pot.

Bacterium, 2011, by Fred Hatt

If you’re dancing in a space, of course you can keep going back and forth over the same little patch.  When you’re making marks, you have to keep moving into territory that hasn’t been marked yet, as a plant’s roots must penetrate the as-yet unoccupied dirt.

Wreckage, 2011, by Fred Hatt

In movement or in drawing or doodling, you are always responsive to sensory input.  Marks or gestures may arise from internal impulses of nerves or emotions or imagination, or they may come from hearing a bird or feeling the wind.

French Curves, 2012, by Fred Hatt

This approach eschews concepts and plans.  There is no preconceived idea one is trying to portray.  There is simply a flow of moments, shapes that flow into other shapes, images and impulses arising in the mind, in the body, or in the world.

Treasure Map, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Of course, shapes are seen as things, and the imagination picks up images and runs with them, so free improvisatory doodling or moving is not necessarily strictly nonobjective, but I try to keep representational elements ambiguous, so that I retain the freedom to reinterpret them.

Old King Lear, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Most of these doodles are made without any particular idea in mind, but once they’re done it is much easier to come up with descriptive titles than it is for my figurative drawings.  There is nothing like mindless abstract movement to inspire the imagination!

Stiff Salute, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Organic movement is all about curves and spirals, meanders and branches, echoes and fractals.

Fleurs du Mal, 2012, by Fred Hatt

How does electricity move?  How does blood flow?

Tesla, 2012, by Fred Hatt

How do a flower’s petals unfold?  How do a tree’s limbs reach out and out, penetrating a space of air?

Pagoda of the Hairy Eyeball, 2011, by Fred Hatt

How do you slip on the ice?  How does water carve a canyon?

Man on Wire, 2011, by Fred Hatt

How does the wind wriggle through a gap?  How does a weed expand a crack in concrete?

Bird Lizard Blizzard, 2011, by Fred Hatt

How do dividing cells accrete into a spine?  How does heat make light ripple in air?

Water Cycle, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Why do arteries look like trees?  Why do trees look like lightning?  Why does a river delta look like a tree?

Jazz Hands, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Why does the large scale structure of the universe look like neurons?

The Devil Toupée, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I want the movement of the hand to reflect the natural movement of  growing things.

Writhing T-square, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I want the movement of the hand to reflect the movement of the mind.

Cul-de-Sac Subdivision, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I want a drawing to grow like a plant grows.

Indomitable Weed, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I want random things to come into the drawing just as random things enter into any experience, any environment in the world.

Museum of Maladaptive Mutations, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I want to create not by fiat, but by adaptation.

Shaft, 2012, by Fred Hatt

The movement of the mind does not stand apart from the world.  Like the movement of the body, it happens only within a world that has forces and pressures and countercurrents and resistance.  To make is to engage.

Thorny Vessels and Tricky Steps, 2012, by Fred Hatt


Sowing Seeds

Filed under: Abstract Art,Art and Philosophy — Tags: , , , — fred @ 22:41

Twixt, 2011, by Fred Hatt

How do you make change in the world?  Even I, who love finding beauty amid the world’s insanity and squalor, yearn for a kinder and juster culture.  Does art have any part in that, or is it just entertainment, an idle pastime of the privileged?  You surely see a lot of contemporary art that addresses injustice, stigma, corruption, exploitation, and violence.  But doesn’t much of that kind of art seem exploitive itself?  During a recent museum visit I saw mural-sized photos of homeless people in humiliating positions, and installations that made real footage of war and prison killings look like video games.  Do you suppose these works will change the minds of the powerful or offer any solace to the souls with whose real suffering they toy?  Do the artists who do this work or the curators who put it on display imagine that they are displaying a social conscience?  Ah, the abject of the world, the war-scarred, the enslaved – let them eat critical theory!

Perhaps it is pretentious for an artist even to pretend to care.  Social change is a complex phenomenon involving myriad conflicting and interacting forces.  The power that an artist has to influence the process of change in society would seem like the power of a mosquito to change the course of an ocean liner.  Even the mass-produced forms of entertainment such as movies and pop music no longer reach the vast audiences they once did.  The kind of art that shows in galleries or alternative performance venues, reaching a minuscule audience, must surely have no impact at all.

Ovum, 2011, by Fred Hatt

People think that the kind of power that produces change must be a direct push.  Huge advertising campaigns, political activism, legal crusades, large-scale economic offenses such as boycotts and buyouts, military or revolutionary attacks are all attempts to leverage monetary, demographic, or violent power to change things in a direct way.  History shows us that such efforts tend to produce unintended consequences such as political backlash movements or power vacuums that allow ruthless people to seize control.  There is a physical law that states that every action produces an equal and opposite reaction, and this often seems to apply to clashing cultural forces as well.

There is a different way of producing change, which may be described by the metaphor of planting seeds.  A seed is a tiny thing which contains the potential for the development of a tree or plant.  In nature, plants have various ways of scattering their seeds widely.  Most seeds will not find the conditions necessary to become a mature plant, but enough may grow to perpetuate and even increase the range of the plant that produced them.  Each seed begins to develop in darkness and obscurity and there is no way to see that it is growing until it is emerging into the world as a fresh new manifestation of life.  The very obscurity and indirectness of this process may make change that overcomes the reactionary recoil effect.

Radia, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The metaphor of the seed appears in a famous parable of Jesus, quoted here from the Gospel of Thomas, translated by Patterson and Robinson:

Look, a sower went out. He filled his hands (with seeds), (and) he scattered (them).
Some fell on the path, and the birds came and pecked them up.
Others fell on the rock, and did not take root in the soil, and they did not put forth ears.
And others fell among the thorns, they choked the seeds, and worms ate them.
And others fell on good soil, and it produced good fruit.
It yielded sixty per measure and one hundred twenty per measure.

In the canonical gospels, the seed is interpreted as representing the word of Christ, which may or may not take root in the hearts of those who hear it, but I think it works well as a wider metaphor of how the world works.  It even describes the evolution of species, in which mutations are scattered haphazardly like seeds, most fail, but a few find the conditions to flourish.  A process that might seem random and wasteful is the process that produces our world with all its wondrous variety.

Umbilicus, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Culture, too, is a seeding process.  In the internet era, an idea or style that sprouts and spreads in the culture is called a meme, and its explosive growth is called “going viral” (reminding us that a virus is also a kind of seed, and that the effects of a seed are not necessarily positive).  But viral memes are not all lolcats – Steve Jobs’ vision of friendly technology and Gandhi’s vision of nonviolent resistance are also powerful viral memes.

In a human life, anything that one does or says, demonstrates or communicates to others, may become a seed.  An artist plays with perception, expression, ideas, experience, and desires, and shares the products of this play with others.  An image, an idea, or a feeling thus communicated may connect with the receiver on a deep level.  Whether it stays in the memory or in the unconscious, it may later affect the receiver’s actions or thinking in some way.  At this point the seed is sprouting.

Elaborating on the metaphor, we could say that we are always scattering seeds.  Anything we say or do could be a seed.  Most of our deeds will amount to nothing, but occasionally something will take root.  We can’t know which of our actions or words will sprout, but we should be aware that some will.  We can’t check to see what is growing – the process of development begins in obscurity, and digging up a seed to check on its development may halt that development.  We should act as though everything we do is a seed of goodness, and we should let go of everything we do, trusting that the unpredictable process of the world will nourish and grow some of them.

Vortex, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Real change takes root over long periods of time, cumulatively growing from innumerable such seemingly insignificant experiences and actions of vast numbers of people.  This way of producing change through seeds requires faith.  One doesn’t seem to be changing or moving anything, and often doesn’t even perceive the invisible reactions that may show that the seeds are sprouting.  The power of this way of producing change lies in its invisibility, because since it seems to be nothing it provokes no reactionary counterpunch.

While artists may often engage in direct efforts to change people’s minds, even art which has no outwardly apparent political or intellectual content may be planting seeds.  Some art which does not seem to be making any statement may be an exploration of pure perception.  Since the way people perceive the world alters the way they experience and interact with it, something which expands or alters someone’s way of perceiving something even in a subtle way may be a powerful seed for change.

The illustrations for this post are watercolor on paper,  11″ x 14″ or 28 x 35.6 cm.


Curiosity as Cure

Filed under: Abstract Art,Art and Philosophy — Tags: , , , , — fred @ 15:29

Sound Suit, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Sometimes there’s something I’d like to write about, but I don’t have good visuals to accompany it.  And sometimes I have images I’d like to share, but can’t think of much to say about them.  I’ve always considered the combination of words and pictures to be the essence of Drawing Life as a blog.  Here I’m going to talk about some ideas that are close to the heart of my artist’s philosophy, my intuitive sense of the moment we humans find ourselves in.  I’ll intersperse these ideas with some of my recent doodles.  There’s no direct correspondence between the pictures and the words, except of course that doodling is what I often do while listening to someone drone on and on, and if I’m going to drone on in text, I may as well break up the words with some of my wiggly, loopy lines.

Multitask, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

In 1999-2000, the American Museum of Natural History in New York hosted a temporary exhibit called “Body Art:  Marks of Identity”.  It was a survey of tattooing, piercing, scarification, body painting and other kinds of body modification across many cultures and through history.  My friend Matty Jankowski, a tattoo artist and a collector and scholar of materials and artifacts related to the history of body arts, was one of the consultants to the curators of the exhibit.  Thanks to Matty, a few of my own body painting images were included in a portion of the show devoted to contemporary body art.

Herald Angel, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Matty also worked with the education department of the museum to present some special programs.  One day there was a kind of open house for the public to learn about body art from artists.  There was a henna artist, a tattooist, a piercer, and I was there as a body painter.  There was a slide show, and all of the artists gave brief presentations on their particular crafts.  People attending the workshop were given the opportunity to try out an electric tattoo needle on a honeydew melon.  The henna artist and I had our materials on hand to give temporary body art to anyone who wanted it.

Bug & Oak, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

There were a lot of parents with young kids at the event, and many of them formed an orderly queue at my body painting table.  Most of my previous experience of body painting was with adults, in my own studio or in art galleries or performance settings, but that day I had a long line of little kids, with their parents, waiting their turn.  As I was painting, I heard the parents talking to their kids:  “What do you want?  Just think about what you want and tell the man what you want?  You can get whatever you want.  Do you want a butterfly?  Do you want a dragon?  Decide what you want and the man will paint it for you.”  Kids were presenting their tiny arms and asking me to paint Furbys or Pokemon characters I’d never seen before.  A small minority, maybe one in ten, would show some curiosity, would ask questions about my paints or my experiences painting people, or would say, “Just paint whatever comes to you,” or “Go wild.”

Cornucopia, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Listening to the endless litany of “What do you want?”, I realized that indoctrination into the consumer mindset wasn’t just accomplished through TV commercials and mass marketing campaigns bankrolled by multinational megacorporations.  Parents were actively programming their kids to the idea that everything was about consumer choice and acquisition, about defining desires and having those desires satisfied.  Even such an odd experience as having a strange artist paint on your arm or hand or cheek was reduced to choosing a brand and displaying it.

Sole & Canopy, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Recall that the name of the exhibit was “Body Art:  Marks of Identity.”  The thesis of the curators was that body art was used to mark its wearer as a member of a tribe, to indicate a special cultural role such as warrior or bride.  These children, under the relentless prodding of their parents, were engaging in the modern form of this practice, something the commercial world calls “branding”.  (Of course the term derives from the practice of searing a mark of ownership into the hide of a livestock animal.)  We are encouraged to define ourselves by our choice of symbols, corporate logos, or popular culture.  It is no longer so much about our role in society, but about our status as consumers.

Cretan Goddess, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

The curious minority in my body painting queue hadn’t been steered to see every opportunity as a consumer choice or a branding of their identity.  They saw this as a chance to experience something fresh, to learn something new.

Coral, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

The consumer mindset says “The one who dies with the most toys wins.”  It’s a zero-sum game, a world of winners and losers.  The curious mindset says “We live in a world of inexhaustible wonders.  What will I experience today?”  It is a world of free play, a world of abundance for all.  It is not a zero-sum game because it’s oriented towards experience, not ownership.  One who collects experiences does not deny them to others.

Bicycle, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

We humans are now in the early stages of a great crisis.  The industrial revolution of the past three centuries has allowed the human population to increase tenfold (it has more than doubled just in my lifetime), and has provided to the common person comforts and luxuries once reserved for kings, even luxuries unimagined by kings.  All of this was made possible by fossil fuels – hundreds of millions of years worth of stored energy expended in an explosive orgy – and by an economic system in which constant increase is the only definition of wealth.  For a few centuries it worked, because there were always new natural resources to be discovered, always undeveloped places to develop and unexploited markets to expand into.

Beatrice, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Alas, we are now coming to that inevitable point where the exponential growth curve must become a bell curve, leveling off and sloping back down, if we are to survive.  The earth itself is beginning to assert its limits, to push back against unchecked growth.  Climate change and resource depletion are becoming costly problems that cannot be solved by ever more spending and extraction and ever more complicated technology.  Our economic system, based on lending at interest, needs constant growth, but facing the slowing of real expansion, it is now just blowing bubbles.  The owners of great wealth are trying to hold onto what they have by no longer sharing their bounty with the masses, but this strategy may ultimately fail too, as wealth defined as growth evaporates when growth stops.

Pipe Organ, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Everyone is in denial now, imagining that there is something that will make the material economy grow again.  But we don’t need more growth.  Human population increase needs to slow down.  Expansion in the per capita consumption of energy and natural resources needs to slow down and even begin to contract.  From the standpoint of the capitalist economy, the slowdown of growth is a dire crisis and even a disaster.  From the standpoint of planetary health, the slowdown of growth is an essential correction.

Eye Pop & Face Slap, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

A child’s body grows by leaps and bounds, but when maturity is reached, physical growth slows and stops.  Getting bigger is for childhood, but in adulthood it gives way to spiritual and mental development.  Wisdom, skill and knowledge, the immaterial aspects of the living being, can expand for a lifetime.  Unchecked growth of the organs and tissues in an adult is cancer.

Merkin Raygun, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

There is now widespread agreement that we need to find “sustainable” technologies and ways of life.  Many still seem reluctant to see that a sustainable economy must be a steady-state economy, not one based on constant growth, at least not as regards population and conversion of raw materials into stuff and stuff into trash.

Insect, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

The consumer/industrial economy says profits must get ever bigger.  Every generation must have more material wealth than the one before.  Our stores have become superstores, our houses mansions, our cars trucks, and our bodies obese.

Spaghetti Structure, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Marketing propaganda is so pervasive in our culture that we internalize it.  We base our sense of identity on our consumer choices, and raise our children to be good consumers above all.

Winehouse, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Our highest value is choice.  We associate choice with democracy and the modern way of life.  We have so many choices now we may feel paralyzed by indecision.  Constantly making choices gives us a limited kind of freedom, but it is constrained by the options that are offered to us:  Democrat or Republican, Wal-Mart or Target, paper or plastic.   The more we are focused on these choices the more we can be prevented from imagining what other possibilities are not being put before us.  The more we define ourselves by choices the more we box ourselves into categories the marketers can exploit.

Nutcracker, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

The curious mind is always wide open, finding interest and beauty in whatever it encounters.  It is always engaged with the unknown, asking questions, speculating, wondering.  The curious mind moves through the world on an exploratory path, following beauty and seeking knowledge.  The curious mind tries to maximize flexibility and avoid being boxed in.

Fruit Tree, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Our civilization faces a difficult period as natural limits awaken us from our dream of opulent consumption.  There will be a period of denial, recrimination, rage.  Those of us who have devoted our lives to curiosity and creativity already know there are pleasures deeper and more satisfying than those offered by consumerism.

Secret Language, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Even as we are forced to cut back, to use less energy and less materials, even as extravagant materialism slips out of the grasp of most people, opportunities for learning and experience will remain abundant.  Creative minds that can ask penetrating questions and imagine fresh solutions will be needed by all.  Curiosity and creativity will see us through stormy times.


Stealth, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

The doodles that illustrate this post were all made in the last few months.  All are made with Tombow brush markers on letter-sized printer paper.


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