State of the Arts

September 22nd, 2013  |  Published in September 2013  |  2 Comments

State of the Arts

By Kevin T. Kelly

In observing the ever increasing polarization of virtually every facet of society, I’ve noticed the art world has also essentially split into two distinct camps: what I refer to, for lack of better terms, as the Conceptual and the Traditional. The Conceptual camp places more emphasis on the idea or concept than the resulting object, is largely funded by grants, championed by art journals and elitist critics and often seeks to create an ephemeral experience through “new media”. The Traditionalists are essentially creating plastic works, relying on sales to finance their creativity and tend to be more concerned with conventional modes of execution, ie: painting and sculpture. It can be said, for the Conceptualists, the idea is more important than the object and for the Traditionalists, the idea is the object. This is of course an oversimplification, because many artists (myself included) attempt to straddle both spheres of influence, but the rift is palpable nonetheless. And it seems as if both sides are continually moving in opposite directions.

“Grandma’s Cookin’ “
Acrylic on Canvas
71″ x 71″
©2002 Kevin T. Kelly,
Collection: Seth Harris, Columbus, OH


Firmly planted within the camp of the latter, I dedicated myself to the craft and impeccable execution of my work regardless of medium, be it painting, sculpture or within recent years, creating work digitally. But I found it necessary to plumb the depths of the other side as well, always searching for a conceptual skeleton upon which to hang my image. Early in my career, I created paintings addressing political and social issues which directly affected me (or so I thought) in an attempt to convey life’s seeming injustice. Looking ever inward for personal meaning in my life, I abandoned the notion of advancing an agenda in the hope of arriving at some semblance of Universal Truth. The conundrum I discovered with agenda driven work was that one was either preaching to the choir or further alienating an audience who didn’t agree with the message to begin with. Postmodern art has largely become a vehicle for the advancement and endorsement of a globalist worldview espousing ideological dogma best left to political pundits. Postmodernist critics and curators in decreeing that meaningful art must be “socially relevant” (ie: advancing a panoply of leftist programming from political correctness to global warming ), have abandoned their role as objective purveyors of aesthetic discernment to that of hucksters towing a political line.

I’ve never considered myself an “activist” in the conventional sense, in that I’ve never felt the need to join organizations nor participate in rallies or protests; nor has my art ever been concerned with changing the world per se, but rather with changing myself. For the past 25 years or so, I’ve explored aspects of the ego and delved into recessed shadow material in an attempt to better understand myself. These works evolved through imagery executed in a Pop style infused with cynical humor and a hyper-chromatic palette. In an effort to comprehend (and thus process) the dysfunction in my life, I created images which conveyed a message through visually assaulting the viewer on both a cerebral and visceral level. Visually shouting, as it were. Several years ago, no longer satisfied with nearly every aspect of my life, I reevaluated my entire belief system and embarked in earnest upon a Spiritual Quest. This involved a lot of reading, meditating and practicing the disciplines of Tai Chi and Qi Quong. While on this path, I became acquainted with the teachings of the late Anthony DeMello, a Jesuit priest and psychotherapist widely known for his books on spirituality. In one of his lectures, Father DeMello remarked, “Whatever you give your attention to, you’re tied to forever”. This statement alone had a profound and marked effect on my creative process and changed the way not only in which I view the world and myself, but in my approach to the making of art as well. Rather than seeking demons to exorcise, I now look for beauty, tranquility and serenity throughout my day. I’m constantly searching for things that make me smile and elicit a feeling of joy. In doing so, that same energy has naturally spilled over into my creative process. I once told Bruce Lewin, my dealer in New York, my ultimate goal was to create a painting so bright and visually powerful, one would need a welder’s helmet to view it. Today I’m taking the opposite approach. I’m still interested in making work that is strong and compelling, but finding the delicate balance of allowing subtlety to permeate my imagery as much as possible. It’s the difference between communicating with a shout or a whisper. It’s the looking at the space between the words, the silence in the talking and contemplating what Taoists refer to as nothingness, that space or instance which precedes thought, yet gives birth to everything. It’s the quest for transcendence and beauty.

In evaluating the state of the arts in this fractured and hyphenated Postmodern society, a quote by the American neoplatonic writer and public speaker, Ken Wilber immediately comes to mind. Wilber, is credited with formulating the integration of all fields of study into one single framework of understanding he calls Integral Theory. In an essay entitled: “To See A World — Art and the I of the Beholder”, Wilber poignantly states, “Just as rational modernity previously exhausted its forms and gave way to aperspectival postmodernity, so now the postmodern itself is on a morbid death watch, with nothing but infinitely mirrored irony to hold its hand, casting flowers where they will not be missed. The skull of postmodernity grins on the near horizon, and in the meantime, we are between two worldviews, one slowly dying, one not yet born.” Art is the mirror of society, just as surely as the external events in one’s life reflect one’s inner nature. Individually, we each create our own reality and make of it what we choose. We can focus on the negativity broadcast and reinforced twenty four hours a day by the Kingdom Of Fear’s media mill or search for thoughts, images and sounds that remind us of our forgotten divinity. In speaking only for myself, my activism is of the internal type; everything is inextricably interconnected on an energy level and when one evolves, so does the world.

Kevin T. Kelly
13 September 2013

My activism is of the internal type; and since everything is inextricably interconnected on an energy level, when one evolves, so does the world.


  1. Owen Findsen says:

    September 23rd, 2013at 3:17 pm(#)

    Most traditionalists are conservative; even retrograde, denying any art made since 1900. But Kevin Kelly is that rare original – a superb technician, and an entirely original eye. Tradition in subject and philosophy, but, by avoiding current fads, avant of the avant garde.

  2. Mary says:

    September 25th, 2013at 11:27 pm(#)

    I love Ken Wilber’s work and believe that the work of the abstract expressionists were the first ones to understand the interconnectedness and the energy of all of us as one. I still hold true to my internal workings. I experiment from time to time but return to my true, personal expressions. Keeping it real. Keeping it divine.