Sunday, September 19, 2010

Brian Sherwin's thoughts on Fred Ross and the Art Renewal Center

My thoughts on Fred Ross and the Art Renewal Center

What happens when individuals who are inclined to favor the art world oppressors of the past play the role of victim today? One need only observe the Art Renewal Center (ARC) to find out. Below are some of my thoughts concerning ARC and the viewpoints of its founder-- Fred Ross.

Once upon a time the academic tradition had a strangle-hold on the 'art world'. Rules were applied to every type of artistic expression-- though one could debate that works of the time were more like regurgitation of old rules rather than a form of self-expression. After all, how can you express yourself when strict rules apply? If one were to break these rules he would be considered unskilled, untalented, or the Devil himself. I say “he” because the fact remains that the strict art academy of the past often denied artists who happened to be female.

Eventually there was a clash between those who followed the academic tradition and those who broke free from the mold in order to create what became known as modern works of art. In the end we find ourselves in a world that is mostly tolerant of all forms of art. However, there are still some, Fred Ross of the Art Renewal Center for example, who cling to the oppressive former glory of the old art world-- and play victim while doing so.

The early experimental artists had an uphill battle against a highly structured ideology of how art was supposed to be applied. These free spirits risked being beaten in the street, locked away for charges of insanity, or ostracized from their communities. The reason’s for visual art oppression were often grounded in religion, patriotism, or simply societal expectations.

In a sense, these New Masters made the way for all of us who create today. However, there are still artists devoted to the academic traditions of the past. There is nothing wrong with that per se-- however, it would seem that some of them are just as narrow-minded as their forefathers. Many of these supporters end up aligning themselves with the Art Renewal Center (ARC)-- and take a hard-line stance as to what should be considered art.

Conveniently, the artwork they support as art happens to be the art they create-- paintings involving classical realism-- anything else is viewed as mere cultural sludge. ARC supporters have went as far as to start a campaign calling for the removal of Modern art and contemporary art in general from art museums in the United States. I’ve have also read articles stating that ARC desires art funding to be pulled from any venue that exhibits art that falls outside their guidelines. Needless to say-- I have a big problem with that.

According to the fundamentalist academic traditionalists involved with the Art Renewal Center one is not an artist unless he or she creates art with the discipline of the academic tradition. Everyone else is some form of ‘parasite’ that has plagued 'their' art for several decades and should be stamped out. The member tend to be vocal concerning their viewpoints. For example, one controversial feature on the site is the 'ARC Philosophy', a scathing manifesto of artistic hate written by Fred Ross, Chairman of the Art Renewal Center. The text reads like the paranoid ranting of a madman. Though I may just be brainwashed as Fred Ross would suggest.

Allow me to introduce you to some of Fred Ross’s views on Modern art as freedom of expression:

"Freedom of expression? Ironically, this so-called "freedom" as embodied in Modernism, rather than a form of "expression" in truth became a form of "suppression" and "oppression." Modernism as we know it, ultimately became the most oppressive and restrictive system of thought in all of art history." - Fred Ross

On art education:
"Our children, going supposedly to the finest universities in the world, being taught by professors with Bachelors or Arts, Masters of Arts, Masters of Fine Arts, Masters of Art Education ... even Doctoral degrees, our children instead have been subjected to methodical brain-washing and taught to deny the evidence of their own senses." - Fred Ross

On what modern artists discovered:
"Ladies and gentleman, they proved ... amazing, incredible, and fantastic as it may seem, they proved that the canvas was flat ... flat and very thin ... skinny ... indeed, not even shallow, lacking any depth or meaning whatsoever." -Fred Ross

On the Old Masters:

"And, as far as holding our works up to the old masters, that's what we want to have happen. If we are to accomplish things of true merit and excellence, we must germinate and nurture great masters in the next millennium, too."-Fred Ross

On what a work of art is:
"Just because something causes you to have a feeling of aesthetic beauty does not make it a work of art." -Fred Ross

On abstract art:
"The usual description of a modern "abstract" painting is that it is "a painting about paint itself". Its subject matter is paint, or the formal principles of painting. The first claim is nonsensical: saying a painting is about paint is like saying a poem is about the alphabet. A poem uses the alphabet to represent words, which can in turn be used to convey knowledge or express ideas. The second claim is just as banal. A painting that is "about" its formal principles is, again, like a poem that is about rhyme, about onomatopoeia, or about iambic pentameter. In other words, it is art as a jigsaw puzzle of the lowest order."-Fred Ross

On abstract artists:

"The people who are splashing paint on a canvas in pretty patterns, or brushing it on in aesthetically pleasing color combinations, are not doing anything abstract. They are merely depositing little tangible blobs of paint that do not stand in for anything at all."- Fred Ross

On why modern art is accepted today:
"Let me state in the strongest possible terms that the art history textbooks since the middle of this century are filled with nothing but distortions, half truths and out and out lies in their description of this era. They have failed in their responsibility as historians to report the truth of what occurred as objectively as possible. These texts amount to no less than propaganda brochures for modern art."-Fred Ross

ARC claims that over 200,000 people have viewed the text and that they hope that professors and students will read it and be inspired to return to the academic tradition. They equate the break from academic tradition as a form of conspiracy against what they view as ‘good’ art. Had enough? I have.

I would suggest that you all read the 'ARC philosophy' just to get an idea of how things once were for non-traditional artists as far as pure hate for their work is concerned. After all, the negative remarks that Mr. Ross spews upon his website is a dull reflection of the hostility academic traditionalist and their supporters once had for new art of any kind. Most of them became angry over the slightest changes throughout art history.

We must never forget that the academic traditionalists were once the majority. However, society changed and with it art changed. In my view the public changed this. The art you see today is the art of the people. What you can do with your brush is no longer dictated by religion or a select few who are in power. It is no longer the art of governments and the wealthy-- though they may be the only ones who can afford some of it.

It puzzles me when Fred Ross suggests that the majority of artists today and their supporters are oppressing academic traditionalists such as the members of ARC. It makes me wonder if he even knows what artistic oppression is. Do you see artists who try to paint like Rembrandt locked up in an insane asylum? True, it would make a great story-- but it just does not happen. Do you see them beaten out of town for creating their vision of art? No. Ross is naive for trying to compare it to what some of the early non-traditionalists experienced!

Furthermore, how can Fred Ross suggest that modern art is nothing more than propaganda? When it is a fact that the artists of the past he supports created what one could interpret as propaganda for royalty and the church! In many ways artists of the past were puppets-- I will even go as far as to say that many of the Old Masters were puppets! After all, they really did not have a choice in the matter. In a sense, what they were allowed to paint was controlled by who was in charge at the time or who paid the highest fee. Does that sound like artistic expression to you? It is alarming that Fred Ross and the Art Renewal Center support that breed of oppression.

Think about it. The religions and leaders that have control in the United States and Europe today may try to censor specific works of art, but they have not been able to do away with it all together-- nor would they be able to. Even Hitler failed at this! Why? Because of the public at large-- a public that generally upholds the concept of freedom.

People today have more power than the people who lived when Fred Ross's heroes were still alive. Thus, the art that is held in high regard today is the art of the people. It is the voice of the people. It is not an art chosen by a priest or king. In many ways the public-- especially due to the advent of the Internet-- decides what art has cultural relevance. Perhaps Fred Ross would not come off so paranoid if he would simply accept this fact instead of insulting the very public he desires to excite concerning classically inspired works of art.

Concerning the Art Renewal Center's views I will say this-- the state of art today has nothing to do with what the Old Masters might have thought. I appreciate their work, but aside from that they have no rule over what I do as an artist today. I prefer to call them Old Artists, because that is what they are. They are gone, we are here. Times change. True, art today captures the same emotions that the Old Artists embraced, but that is dictated by the human condition. Nothing more. Artists today convey it in ways that are more pure to the human condition in the sense that their creations do not have to follow a guideline or structure of oppressive fear-- unless they happen to live in a country that does not support creative freedoms.

Art reflects the society in which it is created. Art may have been more structured/strict with rules in the past, but so were the governments and way of life of those times. Today, many of us live in governments that are, for the most part, free-- at least compared to the rulers of the past. Thus, our art reflects that-- it reflects our freedom as individuals. Take it away and you might as well slam a bayonet into our backs!

As you can tell, my argument falls on sociology and the plight of the people. We have seen what happens when a modern governments tries to enforce strict rule over their people. For example, modern artists in Germany were ordered to no longer create 'degenerate art' during Hitler's rise to power. Many switched to a more traditional style of work while creating modern works in secret. Those who continued to create modern art were kicked out of the country, imprisoned, or executed. What does this tell us? More often than not, if the people are oppressed, art is oppressed. Yet the supporters of Fred Ross and the Art Renewal Center appear to embrace ideas of artistic control. It makes me wonder what else they would support.

As for me, I would not want to live in a society that embraces the academic tradition and classically inspired artwork over all other forms of art. I know what the implications of that are. In my opinion, Fred Ross and his supporters are not victims of a conspiracy spurred by the art world powers that be. They are fools-- misguided and reckless.

In closing, Fred Ross reminds me of a twisted Noah figure who feels that we must be saved from the flood of 'bad' art that, in his view, dominates our culture. It seems that Fred thinks that salvation can only be found by accepting the views of ARC. Sorry Fred, I choose to brave the storm. I rather enjoy it. Perhaps you can take off your tin-foil hat long enough to enjoy a dive into the world of art that you have denied.

I should note that Fred Ross is a millionaire who happens to own one of the largest private collections of classical artwork in the United States. He is also an avid collector of contemporary artwork that upholds the academic tradition of classical realism. Thus, his vested interest in promoting said work is obvious-- which may account for some of his fanatical statements and campaigns. To put it bluntly, Fred Ross would benefit financially if his views on art became the status quo.
Link of Interest:

Take care, Stay true

Brian Sherwin


  1. on their facebook group they say they are setting standards to become ARC Approved™ for artists, art schools, systems of training, museum exhibitions and historical scholarship, to bring guidance, direction, goals and reality to an art establishment that has been sailing rudderless for nearly a hundred years. LOL they have ARC Approved tradmarked! i think you are right by pointing out that this joker probably wants to profit from his collection!!!

  2. Fred Ross, a joker is right. although traditional methods of painting are worth learning, trying and viewing, it's not the only path for art. in fact moving away from realism was the best thing I ever did - that's what cameras are for right? :)

  3. Art Renewal Center Hypocrisy

    I'm a professional artist that works realistically and I've studied with one of the top realistic art instructors in the USA. In fact my instructor was a student of the late Frank J. Reilly who taught some of the most well respected realist painters in the 1960's.

    I was excited to see that there was a website displaying and promoting works of the old master. Unfortunately I have become extremely disappointed in Fred Ross the owner of the Art Renewal Center website. It seems that Fred has anointed himself and his cronies as the deciders of artwork that's good or bad.

    It's okay to have an opinion and after all that's what makes up a democracy, but Fred Ross is more of a dictator of realistic art. This Art Renewal group is basically promoting their own little group of atelier school students and instructors. They spend a good amount of their energy keeping other talented realistic artists out of their group.

    Giving the cold shoulder to other artists because they didn't happen to attend one of the Art Renewal Centers approved Ateliers is a complete hypocrisy. Fred rails against the corrupted modern art establishment, but he himself re-creates the same type of establishment corruption against realistic artists that are not part of his own little group.

    Fred also has a list of living masters on the Art Renewal Center's website, which will list you as a master if you pay their fee. Does this sound legit? Why not actually judge living masters by their skill and not their wallet. Looking through the living master section on the Art Renewal website you'll find very few if any of these so called living masters that can even stand up against the great old masters of the past. Most of the artwork in the living masters section is extremely mediocre and even poor examples of truly skilled realists.

    The ARC's Salon Competition is a complete and utter sham. Really excellent artists that enter the competition aren't even considered if they haven't been schooled at one of Fred's approved Ateliers. I also noticed that they tend to choose Winners of the competition that have attended an Ivy League school as well as one of the chosen Ateliers. Don't waste your money entering their art competition they won't consider your work if you're not already part of their little group.

    The Art Renewal Center is just another elitist organization. Sometimes it takes a little research to discover the corruption behind an organization that professes integrity.

    Keep in mind that Fred Ross is also an art collector and he promotes the work of artists that he collects to increase the value of his own collection. Remember the old saying from the film "All the President's Men", Just... follow the money.

    I'm not a big fan of modern art, but that's my opinion. It's also my opinion that people can look at and buy whatever artwork they want. I don't like corruption and I especially hate corruption in the arts. It seems that the self-anointed saviors of the art world are just as corrupt as the Modernist establishment. This is of course very sad for artists that have genuine talent and have to find a way around these establishment fascists. The Art Renewal Center is discredited, but of course that is my opinion.